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by Rachael Smart

You notice the casual way the ride attendant’s hands work as he walks to each glitter car, pushing down on the metal bars to check they’re locked securely. Your son sits on the outer seat and you notice his small face only just visible above the safety barrier.

From the deep of the bleached field, a DJ catcalls “Scream if you wanna go faster” with nuances of Alan Partridge in his voice but your child is already going too fast on the gargantuan spider. You don’t want your son thrown. His tiny white-boned grip on the safety bar, the lines of his gritted jaw worries at you — that intricate skeleton you cushioned and partially hardened in utero, made less brittle with breast milk and probiotic yoghurt, protected neurotically with shin pads and helmets on his first scooter, the bike, cocooned safely in the shell of your arms at bedtimes. All that and then this careless rattling around in a fairground contraption that you didn’t have the presence of mind to check yourself. Before you know what you’re doing, you approach the man in his light-bulb-studded kiosk where he operates the ride. His blue eyes meet yours and you ask him if he can stop the ride.

He wants to know what bothers you about it so you tell him it reminds you of bad things here at the fairground; that the chilling screams and constant music remind you of a time as a teenager when you couldn’t find your way out the haunted house where the man in the mask had an axe. The difference in your backgrounds is audible in your voices: his broad and local, yours highly strung and intonated. He agrees that worry colours everything. You can’t stop talking and the ride goes on. Bravely or rudely, you explain that you can’t believe you’re expected to trust men operating machines who don’t even brush their nails and that rip you off to make your child go faster. Instead of being offended, he laughs loudly, his craggy teeth neon white beneath the crazy strobe lights and pressing rain.

In fact, you would pay him — the attendant — to make the ride last longer because his attention pays you. The air smells of horse muck and cotton candy and crushed peas and you are spooled up inside the fair’s hot stubborn scents and his electric eyes. Then the ride is over and as the machine slows down, the slant rain slows to mizzle and everything’s brightening up. You thank him, apologise for being fretful and insolent, tell him you’re relieved to get your son safely back on terra firma. Briefly, he puts soiled fingers on top of your manicured ones and tells you to come back without the children. You shake your head, laugh him off flippantly.

But you do. Much later. You go back to taste the loose change on his fingers, the rain on him, tree bark rough against your back.

Rachael Smart has a thing about words. Her short fiction and poetry have been published online, in literary journals and placed in competitions. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham. She writes best when the pencil loses its point.