Cornelia Bullen-Smith


Load shedding

The shirt was a tight, white, cumbersome affair. Part of the hated uniform.
The fair ground, his play pen for now, was at a Saturday high. Peter, his name tag read in blue writing. Ice-cream Peter in bold letters. A casual.

‘Strawberry – str a w be-he-rr ry!!!!!’ pushing the fruity sounds out like in the song from Porgy and Bess. He’d always fancied that part of the musical. Judged the whole performance by how that particular singer could hop over the notes and make it sound sexy. While he’d been living with Clare he’d made her watch it twice. Back in the day when the sun still shone out his arse. Before Danny showed up.

‘Strawberry, str a w be-he-rr ry!!!!!!!’ – the cadence brought attention, so he followed it up with ‘choco-choco-chocolatttohhhhh vanillllllllllllll la!’ Tickling his tongue around the l.
‘Come and get your flava!’
Damn shirt.
‘Here you go superman, one chocostrawberry tower for you’.

It had been Danny’s plan of course to set up operation on this fairground in the middle of town. Danny the mastermind, Peter the bitch. This would be their big coup, practised and finetuned over the last nine months.

His cell peeped twice – five minutes to go. Aim for the ghost rides. He pushed his sunglasses down from his head over his eyes, kept his head down. ‘Be invisible dude, more invisible than normal’ Danny had threatened him a hundred and twenty times.

Better not serve anyone for now, just make it to the ghost rides on time. He stepped into a puddle, winced, pushed on, socks squooshing in his black sneakers.
Two minutes. Don’t sweat, don’t look back.
This had to work otherwise he had no hope in hell of ever getting out alive. Danny would hammer him if he messed up.

He was in place, spot on time when invisible Danny kicked into action for ‘lights off’, the show stopper! Generators coughed, rasped and were strangled into silence, the rollercoaster died upside down, the roundabout horses did another half ‘up’ in their slow trot, gave up. Silence. Fairylights blinked in surprise, closed their eyes.

He heard his breathing as he moved forward towards the goulish face of the ticket booth at the ghost rides. Counted to 30 very slowly. By 13 the screams started.

Children yelled, mothers first laughed hesitantly, unbelieving, then
‘Jonny, where are you?’
‘Mommy’s here!’
‘Lizzy darling …?’

He stepped around the puke-green flaked cheek of the witch’s grimace. Had practiced this by the river at night. 27, 28 and moving in.
It was where Danny had said it would be. He fingered the box, exhaled, farted a stinker in relief. Everything was as he had been told.

No announcement – Mr.Uberboss was away for the week-end, no one else would have the brain power to look for the loud hailer. Now people were beginning to scramble like blind mice, shouting for each other. Cell phone torches danced an unchoreographed firefly ballet. Some youngsters still laughed the haha of young bulls running against a wire fence: ‘yo man, don’t touch me like so, ooi!’

He forced himself into slow-mo, slid the box into the ice cream cart, plop on top of the cherry ice, then made for the deserted toilets.

Fuck ice-cream, he really wanted a drag now. His gums were dry, his teeth like cardboard soldiers battling a mouth full of dry pronutro.

The lights came on when he heard the first cop car sirens. The toilet mirror was small, smudged but sufficient. He used the battery powered pocket razor, took time to cut and clean his fingenails, washed, got changed and arranged. The music had started blaring again, loud voices and laughter around all corners. Time to move.

Danny was slinking around the Strong Man near the parking lot, looking smart in power jeans, not giving anything away. Not seeing him either although he was close, taunting fate.
He walked slowly, swinging his hips, thinking of Clare on a night out, taking small steps.
He’d chosen the blue bag with the strong leather strap although the loot was only paper weight, fitting in snugly, promising a foothold on the bottom rung of the escape ladder. It went with the outfit, the bag.

‘Lady! Can I give you a lift?’
He turned his head slowly, almost smiled, said that would be lovely, thank you, stepped into the Merc.
Danny lifted the Strong Man’s hammer, passing time, waiting for Peter.

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