Jan/Feb 2008  •   Spotlight

Prospero at the Parade

by David Bulley

Photo by Steve Wing

Photo by Steve Wing

Before the parade, I spin the paper-white cones around the whirling sugar, first the reds, then the blues, then the greens, each one built up big, then covered in plastic, then placed into the holder. I love the hum of the machine, the gentle sweetness of it. I love stickiness, literal and figurative, the pasty smack-your-lips together grimace when you eat it, almost like a sour taste, but no, not sour, just sweet, sweet, sweet. I will make it a nice day today, brisk but not too cold. That's how I'm feeling: brisk.

I love traveling, town to town in my used UPS truck, converted to work carnies in the weather, and I love walking out, working the crowd, soliciting. Isn't that such a nasty word? Soliciting? And it is nasty, too, the overly familiar speech I use with total strangers: Hey little girl, want some candy? The total perv cliché, but I'm not a perv, and I've said those words. People don't care what you say to them so long as you say something. Hey sweetness, want some sugar? And yes, yes, they do. Tell your daddy to buy you some candy, I say, and am stunned at my own audacity, shocked at my freedom.

I step out into the mild chill of a Christmas parade, a big small town dealio with a couple of bands and all the usual floats. I just need a couple hundred bucks to get me down south for the winter carnie circuit. Here you go, ma'am, here you go little man, here you go, sweetie, and a few more and I'm doing fine, I'll get my money no problem.

I do not own a credit card or a cell phone. I have no house. I am free, and my only constraints are self-imposed, by love or duty or honor or conscience. I am free except for like now when this cop eyes me up and down, lingering, doing his thing of judging people in the same nasty way I talk to them. His gaze is overly familiar like mine when I sell, but he ain't selling. He's a cop and hates freedom, because we both know the truly free must be anarchists, and anarchists break laws. He swings in behind me and will probably follow me out of town.

Here you go young sir! Red for you, Blue for your mom! Don't be blue, mom, no need for that. She says she likes the flavor, which I hear a lot but never correct them to say it's all the same.

On the corner is the anti-me. I see him snuggling up to his wife's ass just a little, just a tiny bit naughty but not really. He smirks at his own wit. She smiles because she married a pretend rebel with a good job and comes home every night and blah blah blah, but once in awhile he does a secret naughty like that and makes her smirk. They have a son and a daughter with them. I hate them, their bright colors and new ski clothes. Bet they don't even ski. I see on his lapel, a flag pin with the words, "Freedom isn't free," and now I hate him solid and black.

Hey hey, little boy, get your republican parents to buy some sweet cotton candy, hey-huh? Two bucks is all, DE-LIC-IOUS! Here you go, and it feels good to talk my nasty talk and ingratiate myself in that way of solicitation and walk away, but then the little teeny-bopper bitch takes offense about my ass crack showing. She just has to take issue.

A chill swings down on the street and my mood, the crowd shivers together, murmurs brrr under their breath all at the once. The girl rages on about how my having my pants slung low is such an assault on her sensibilities. She somehow likens it to global warming. How political of her, how rebellious, and how cold. The parade slides by, and the music sounds crisp in the descending cold.

The cop heard the word "assault" and steps close. I swear, I swear, if he tells me to pull up my pants, if he makes me a clown, if, if, damn it, he does! I turn to see the mother smirk, the cop raise an eyebrow, the kid munch candy, and the daughter flounce. Snow begins to swirl.

Come down, cold, descend and inhabit, cling and creep. Come, snow, come faster now and faster still. Freedom isn't free. How inane, how awful, how fatuous and full of wrongness. How cold. Blistering chill, swing down and blow.

I've had my fill of teen girls, may I say. I've had my fill of parades and people and warmth. Come, cold. Come, wind. Come, snow. Cover all these sins.

At the end of the street, climbing into my van, destination south, I hear two snaps. I know it is the mother's fingers, and the sound fills me.