The Renaissance Fair

by Kristin Sample

I sit in the backseat of the Volkswagen Jetta. Three across with Nicole, her little sister, and me. We are squished, but I am giddy and do not care. I am never allowed to ride with Nicole’s family. But today my mother lets me and there are not enough seatbelts for my sister too. We are going to the Renaissance Fair. A place I will go twice in my lifetime.

The first time we go to the fair is with Nicole’s family. This moment feels exquisite—like a Sugar Plum Fairy turning, turning, turning across the stage and stopping just as the music ends. We play in the wheelbarrow full of rainwater and soggy leaves when Nicole’s mother tells us to get in the car. We abandon the witchy, rust-colored soups and scamper to the driveway.

The windows of the Jetta are open. There is no breeze. The heat just hangs there…surrounding us on all sides. Even in mid-July, even in this not-the-heat-but-the-humidity, Nicole’s father won’t use the air conditioning.

Saves gas, Angel says and smiles coyly at me. His arm rests on the passenger seat as he turns his head to us. His arm looks like a hairy tree limb.

Angel’s smile haunts me again years later when we visit the old neighborhood for a birthday party. Upstairs he visits the older kids. Big girls, he calls us. There is a burping contest going on downstairs. His youngest schooling her uncle in the belching arts.

Their house is never tidy like my mother’s. Even for parties. My mother’s house smells like Clorox and Pledge. And we are never to play with soup ladles in the living room—even if the ladles make the best puppets for a show behind the good couch.

Hey, big girls, Angels says. Elizabeth, you look so beautiful. You got so tall. But he doesn’t look at my length. My shirt feels tight against breasts that won’t stop growing, growing, growing. The Barbie in my hand is lifeless plastic. The toys stare at me too with their waiting eyes. I drop the Barbie on the floor and scramble to pick it up. I fix a red pump on her tiny foot. Angel lurks in doorway still. I feel my neck flush.

I wish Nicole’s father would leave. She will get breasts soon. She is younger than me, but not by much. I could have been in her grade level. But my mother needed me to start school as soon as possible. I was smart enough, she says.

Nicole is thinner than me too. I know this because in the back seat of the Volkswagen I measure our thighs. Mine look like bratwursts sticking out of my cut-off denim shorts. I lift my knees higher and peel my thighs off the hot leather. They look smaller. I put them down to check again.

Up.

Down.

I keep them up. I should always sit this way.

Delfina makes a smoothie before we leave. She gives us some…even though it is a diet shake mostly for her. A Weight Watchers recipe, she tells my mom. Us kids clamor in that cramped kitchen. Rubber soles shuffling on the sticky linoleum. The index cards with Spanish words pasted everywhere.

Everywhere.

la pisa

la mesa

leche

la silla

Both Delfina and Angel speak Spanish already. We share the smoothie—thick, greenish, chocolatey sludge—and Delfina explains about the cards, “To help Nicole learn.”

This makes no sense.

I accept it as truth anyway. A good idea even. Because Delfina says it. And Delfina can braid hair. And she makes her own birthday cards with tiny scrapbook stickers. One is blue and has a teddy bear holding a balloon. The string from the balloon is red and white bakery string. I know it’s not, but I still think this birthday card is the most marvelous creation I have ever seen.

Angel is from Spain. And when they visit, Delfina writes my mother letters. And Delfina sends pictures of Nicole holding a chicken. But my mother tells me that the letter says the chicken will be dinner. I never hear either Delfina or Angel speak Spanish. I hear their parakeet say hola.

But never Nicole’s parents.

Never.

nunca

The Renaissance Fair is the most beautiful place I have ever been. The women look like princesses. The sun shines on everything—it makes the grass greener, and even the stone buildings of the college campus look alive. Flowers spill onto stone walkways disobeying their borders. The dresses are trimmed with gleaming gold embroidery.

I want a dress. Nicole wears one. She slips it over her clothes in the parking lot when we arrive. I want a costume like Nicole’s. She looks like a bride.

Delfina does braids for all the girls before we leave. So, I have the braid…but not the costume. I know better than to ask for a frivolous costume at my mother’s house. We don’t have money for that, she will say. I have a Care Bears costume from Halloween. A pink tent for my body. A mask with eyeholes that are too small. It makes my face sweaty when I wear it. I usually prop it on my head and then I have two faces. Two sets of eyes.

But the costume doesn’t really matter. There is a maze to get lost in. And Nicole to laugh with. I love our laughing. We run. And we hide in the maze. And while I know they are watching, the parents don’t bother us. They are talking adult talk and laughing adult laughs. They do not understand our girl giggles.

There is a boy too. He is dressed like me. No costume. And he likes Nicole or me but doesn’t say his name. We play in the maze.

Tag.

You’re it.

Tag.

Freeze tag.

At one point, he corners me, and I think I might burst. It’s like when I ride my bike at full speed over the busted-up part of the sidewalk around the block. If you hit it just right, your bike will float for a split second. And then you ride around the block and do it again.

About the Author

Kristin H. Sample’s work has appeared in The Passed Note Literary Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine. Her debut novel North Shore South Shore was one of the first Kickstarter success stories for fiction. Follow her on twitter/IG: @kristinsample. Visit her website kristinsample.com