Eve’s nighttime dreams all had one thing in common. Somewhere in the dream a carousel went around and around. In some of the dreams Eve rode the carousel. Sometimes on the wide back of the hippo. Sometimes nestled in the feathers of the ostrich. Occasionally, she sat on the zebra. And when she was feeling small, she sat on the Shetland pony. In other dreams, the carousel was still there. Sitting on a dresser. Or in a store. Or in her hands.
But what did it mean?
“Maybe you feel like you’re going in circles, not making progress,” her physical therapist, Alene, said.
“Maybe it’s really about the animals,” Jorge, the super said.
“Maybe you feel sorry for the carousel – always going around and never going anywhere,” said Mrs. Cannady, the gentle neighbor.
“Maybe you spend too much time staring at that damned carousel,” Eve’s mother said. “At least with Oprah and Ellen I know what’s going on in the world.” She said “world” as if she belonged to it.
Mother was right about one thing, for sure. All day, every day Eve watched the carousel. From their third-floor flat, through the window, she followed the dulled, washed-out colors of the tired-looking animals endlessly turning. When night finally came, the carousel’s lights reflected off the chipped gold, turquoise, and fuchsia swirls painted on the saddles and headdresses of the carousel animals, brightening them minutely.
During the day, Eve could hardly hear the calliope’s incessant call over the roar of delivery trucks, honking horns, and thumping car stereos. When the street activity died down, the carousel music floated through her single bedroom window, open or closed. Mother kept the windows closed, except on the hottest days of August, when they “needed that cross-breeze,” But no cross-breeze came with the three windows of their flat facing the same street, the busy street lined with the shoe repair shop, drycleaner, deli, and the faded brick J.C. Penney store that Mother said, “Used to be the place to shop.” The street with the carousel one block away on the opposite corner.
The nightly glow of the carousel competed with the blinking vertical sign of the old movie theater on the corner. Eve had never been inside the theater. “Trash,” Mother said. “That’s all they show now. Skin and swearing.” Then she would regale Eve with stories of the Golden Age of movies. Mother would take a drag on her cigarette, holding it in front of her face like Bette Davis, saying, “People knew how to behave in those days.”
Eve wondered if they behaved so differently, or if it just seemed that way. She didn’t ask Mother.
One Monday, the carousel stopped. Sitting in her recliner, Eve nervously picked at the fraying threads of the woven fabric of the chair’s arm. Through her window she watched as workers removed a bench from the carousel platform. The bench had sat between the cow and the baby elephant. The baby elephant’s trunk curled over it, so someone sitting on the bench could rest their arm or head against it if they wanted. Now the baby elephant’s trunk hung in space, resting on air. Eve waited for the trunk to droop and rest on the platform, but it never did.
In the empty space, the workers set a large object draped in canvas cloth. They left it covered overnight.
And the mystery tantalized Eve so much that sleep evaded her for hours.
As the Tuesday morning sunlight crept over the buildings and flooded the street, traffic picked up.
Awakened by the noise, Eve hurried to get up and watch for the workers who came and gently removed the canvas. She sucked in her breath.
On the platform between the cow and the baby elephant stood Pegasus. Her iridescent white coat and wings glistened in the fresh morning light. Her nose lifted into the air as if she were sniffing this new place. The other carousel animals seemed to settle in their dinginess next to her, their permanent smiles stiff and prim.
A wish, then a hope spread across Eve’s chest. At breakfast, she tried to make her voice sound light. “Mother, the carousel has got a winged horse now! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to ride!”
“A winged horse,” came the dry reply from the living room. “Ridiculous. The only thing I could abide about that horrid carousel was the fact that it had only real animals. God’s creatures. None of that heathen mythology trash.” Silence indicated a drag on a cigarette. Then a cough. “Besides, Eve, we’ve had this conversation before. You are too weak to get on any ride like that. Your sensitive stomach – you’d be barfing before we could get you off. And your legs would cramp up on one of those contraptions. No. I won’t risk my baby.”
Disappointed, but not surprised, Eve made her way into the living room, ignoring the “baby” remark. She was nearly finished with her high school home studies. No baby was at that level, she thought. As she leaned on her walker, breathing heavily, Mother set her cigarette in the ashtray. Searching Eve’s face, she said, “It’s good to see it from here, isn’t it, Baby? We can make popcorn tonight and I’ll watch it with you for a while. That’ll be good, right?”
Heart sinking, Eve stared at the frayed grey rug. “Yes, Mother.”
“That’s my good girl.”
That evening, they watched the carousel together. To Eve, the lights seemed brighter than ever before.
People were gathering to watch the glowing Pegasus rise and descend above the platform. A few even rode on it. But most only watched.
They sat in silence, Eve munching her popcorn one kernel at a time; Mother’s continuous smoking interrupted by occasional swigs from a Diet Coke can.
After Mother tucked her in and Eve heard the chattering TV, she slid out of bed and crept to her window, grasping the dresser between the two. Grunting, she opened the window a crack, allowing the organ-style music to fill her room.
The carousel lights still shone brightly. But Pegasus didn’t glow anymore. Eve rubbed her eyes, hopefully. The winged horse’s coat was dull, greying. Her wings sagged. Her perfectly formed nose now aimed toward the floor.
I am too tired. Eve crawled back to bed and stared at the ceiling. She checked the nightstand clock every minute. It hardly moved. Maybe it’s broken. Like Pegasus.
Shining through the threadbare curtains, the streetlamps illuminated the peeling paint on the ceiling as Eve’s resolve took shape. When the TV shut off and the space under her door went dark, the clock said 10:00 pm.
She sat up and gripped her walker, slowly standing. Peeking out the bedroom door, the only light she could see was the faint bit straining through the thin living room curtains.
As Eve edged the walker into the main room, a wheel caught on a chair leg, dragging the chair an inch. She froze at the scraping sound. Nothing stirred. Holding her breath, she moved toward the coat closet. When she slid her coat off the hanger, the hanger bounced back. The jangling wire hangers echoed the jangling in her chest.
She glanced into the dark behind her. No Mother yet.
Unchaining the lock and easing the front door open with a tattling creak, she slipped out. Before clicking the door closed, she made certain it was unlocked, as she did not own a key. Down the dimly lit hall, she trundled past Mrs. Cannady’s door with the colorful plastic “Welcome” sign. Easing over the ragged brown carpet past the overflowing metal trash can smelling of stale French fries, she finally reached the elevator.
With a firm push on the button, the elevator doors jerked open with a resigned “ding.” Rushing in, Eve’s foot caught in the space between the hall and the elevator, and she fell into the box, the walker clattering against the back wall. The doors slowly met behind her.
She rolled over, dragging sweat-soaked bangs across her forehead and huffed, “I have to push a floor.” As she looked toward the worn wood floor, her thin chest thumped against the flimsy nightgown. Eve crawled back to the control panel and pushed “L,” her stomach twisting as the elevator slowly descended.
She pulled herself up to stand with her walker as the doors opened, then eased toward the entrance, hoping she looked calm and natural. Her heartbeat at her chest wall as she anticipated the elevator doors opening again, followed by Mother’s shriek.
But the only person she encountered in the dim lobby was a woman she didn’t recognize. Staring at the old TV, made more ancient by the black and white movie playing, the heavy woman barely glanced at her. Her bulging eyes darted toward Eve, then turned back to the small screen without a word.
Eve exhaled deeply as she heaved her shoulder against the glass door.
A light breeze cooled her brow as she stood still on the sidewalk for a moment realizing she had never left the building without Mother. Eve looked both ways down the long dark street, inhaling deeply. I can do this. She took a step left. Chilled by her cooling sweat, she pulled her coat tighter.
Down the block in front of her, the carousel glittered like a floating jewel. With each step the music grew more insistent. She crossed at the corner, alone.
Months ago, on her birthday, Mother had brought her to watch the carousel for the first and only time. They’d gotten a snow cone, gingerly licking the sweet ice, watching the riders get on and off, circling endlessly.
Tonight, the carousel was larger than Eve had remembered. It was louder too, with no street traffic to compete with the song. Her heart pounded, and now she couldn’t discern excitement from exhaustion.
After crossing the side street, she was there, leaning against the safety fence.
As the carousel rotated, a white-haired man, with a cane lying across his knees, sat on a bench on it. A pair of teens held hands as their fairytale horses rose and fell rhythmically. What would it feel like to hold the hand of the one you loved? She watched them until they disappeared from view.
“Would you like a ride on my carousel?”
Eve jumped. A man with a grey moustache that stuck out past the sides of his face stood beside her. His white suit matched his perfect white teeth.
“Oh yes!” Heart fluttering, she moved forward as quickly as she could.
The tinkle of metallic tokens chimed from the old man’s pocket as he swung open the gate.
Eve’s hope slipped into doubt.
“I’ve no money.” She looked at the ground, then up at him through tears.
“No money?” The blue of his eyes seemed to glow in his brown face. “What shall we do?”
“I don’t know.” Eve watched as Pegasus made another pass behind the man. The horse’s wings appeared to droop more with each turn.
“Tut,” said the mustached man. “Perhaps a trade.”
“But I have nothing.”
“Nothing?” His bushy eyebrows arched.
“My coat! Do you want my coat?”
“Whatever would I, an old man, do with a young lady’s coat?”
“There’s nothing else.”
“I know someone who could use it.”
“I can’t. I need it. Mother would kill me. It cost so much.”
He pursed his lips. “You can’t give it to me? You need it? Mother would kill you? Untruths – all of them. One thing you say is true. That it is costing you so much.”
Eve leaned on the walker. Gazing up at him, a wave of fatigue rolled through her, and she trembled as if she were a leaf just losing its grasp on a branch. She felt like she’d been gone for hours. Maybe Mother was right. I am too weak. I should never have come. It’s my fault Pegasus is drooping.
“Do you want a ride, or no?” His crisp voice snapped Eve out of herself. Now he frowned.
Letting her eyes slide back to watch the carousel, she waited for Pegasus to come around again. She shivered and forced her knees not to buckle as she saw that Pegasus was fading. Her mane and tail were grey wisps, feathery, translucent.
“You can have the walker.” The strength in her voice surprised her. “You can have the walker.”
The old man’s moustache twitched, as he held out his arm.
Eve tucked hers under his and they ascended the three steps to the platform. The music subsided as the carousel slowed, and Pegasus rested in front of her, glowing white again. Eve brushed fingertips along her flank, as if the horse’s beauty might burn her.
The man swung Eve onto Pegasus’ back in one movement. She wrapped her arms around the winged horse’s neck. Around they rode. The smiling cow rose and fell in front, never looking to the right or left. The baby elephant followed behind, Eve could just see its trunk from the corner of her eye.
Under the streetlight, the man stood, one hand on the walker.
Eve quickly looked straight ahead between Pegasus’ pricked up ears. “It’s only us,” she wished aloud to the horse. She leaned her forehead against the hard, alabaster mane of Pegasus. “Be real. Be free. Please,” she breathed into Pegasus’s ear.
The ear flitted, and a deep inhale expanded Pegasus’ chest.
Eve’s heart expanded until she thought it would burst.
Pegasus’ wings ruffled, then spread. Feathers flew as the wings beat against the wood floor. The horse struggled against the power of the binding bolts.
Eve held on, her heart beating to the rhythm of the struggling wings.
Cow and Baby Elephant looked straight ahead. Calm, smiling, unruffled. The other animals remained unfazed by the cacophony close by.
Eve knit her hands into Pegasus’ silky mane. Pegasus rocked. The bolts loosened.
Craack! Polished floorboards splintered as Pegasus broke the final bolt. Her wings whooshed in the air.
Seahorse did not turn his head as Pegasus nosed in front of Zebra and dove past him. She swooped under the carousel’s awning and pulled her hooves up to clear the wire fence. Then her wings spread fully – twelve feet tip
Eve buried her face in Pegasus’ neck, laughing now, her arms wrapped around the muscled snow-white neck. They soared straight up. Over the dirty brick apartment buildings, the dark dry cleaner, and the lonely deli. The movie theater sign blinked erratically. Up they flew, the trees in the park fluttering farewells.
Finally peaking down, Eve saw the old man holding her walker. He lifted one arm and called something that she didn’t hear. Waving back, she looked toward the skyline. When she glanced down again, he was gone. The walker sat alone by the rotating, faintly musical carousel.
Between the bright stars above and the flickering tapestry of city lights below, Eve and Pegasus flew. Pegasus’ majestic wings pressed on, cutting through the sweet night air, toward the misted mountains between the city and the coast. If either of them had looked back, they would have only seen the slowly fading light of an ancient carousel.