“Step right up step right over, behind this curtain is the most fascinating farm animal you’ve ever witnessed.”
I didn’t buy it. Every carnie on the fairgrounds regurgitated that same hook, pointing around with their canes and blinding us with their red striped suits.
“Only ten bucks and I’ll tear away the curtain, revealing the most talented monstrosity in the park!” Like an owl the man swiveled his gaze in my general direction, the golden afternoon sun casting a shadow over his eyes. He thrust his cane forwards, selecting his next target. “Say there little cowgirl, you’d love what I’ve got here for ya!”
Samantha’s eyes widened. “Daddy daddy see. I told you I was a cowgirl I just knew it!” She ripped her hand out of mine, trampling the already trampled grass to answer her true calling. The plastic Stetson she’d begged for earlier in the day bobbled on her head as she ran, reflecting the sunlight like a disco ball. She dug her brown boots in the dirt as she slid to a stop.
“Well hello there, little girl!” The carnie directed his barking at Samantha, hypnotizing her with his voice and yellow toothed smile. “Or should I say little cowgirl.” He tipped his hat, the entirety of his face covered by the brim.
“So, what’s the gimmick?”
The carnie shot his dark eyes up towards mine, but his skin continued to wrinkle as he shined that same smile.
“I sure hope you aren’t calling me a cheat there ol’ friend.” He poked Samantha’s belly with the foot of his cane, smearing some dirt on her red leather vest. “I wouldn’t want to disappoint a ruthless ranger such as the one standing before me.”
“Yeah, that’s me alright!” Samantha began galloping with excitement, swinging her plastic Stetson over her head as she rode upon the steed pictured in her mind.
“Let me guess: A man in a costume? Some glued together cardboard?”
“I see you’re a skeptic, these other carnies must’ve led you astray with their demonstrations.” He leaned close to me, stretching his neck like a broken rubber band. “Tell you what, I’ll chop a dollar off, just 9 dollars and I’ll let you take a listen.”
“Take a listen? To what?”
The carnie swiped his cane to the sky, sending a soft breeze and strands of grass right past my face. “Can’t ya read? Bertha the Accordion Cow, that’s who you’ll be hearing!”
We all cricked our neck’s up to read the cracked, wooden sign. Samantha stood dead silent as she studied it. Her brow scrunched with infinite curiosity, first at the sign, then at the curtain, then at me.
I reached for my wallet, pulled out a tenner, and presented it to the carnie.
“Oh, I hate to break it to you my friend, but I don’t have change for that there Hamilton.” He snatched it before I could change my mind. “I’ll just consider it a tip.” His free hand reached up for a rope, tassels tangled together at the bottom. He wrapped his knuckles around it, exposing the white bones underneath. “Cowboys and cowgirls, may I present to you the most amazing accordionist in Alabama – Bertha the Accordion Cow!”
Samantha’s mouth gaped open as the carnie pulled down the rope, her plastic Stetson slipped out of her hand. She paid no notice. I watched the curtains as they flapped away, unfazed by the bovine standing behind them. It chewed on some grass, and nothing more.
Samantha’s childlike wonder turned to unsure wonder, her expression looking more like mine: blank and bored. “That’s it?” She flung her pudgy hand at the cow, boggled and backstabbed by the carnie’s colorful depiction of the creature.
The carnie reached under his stool, pulling a whip out from the blades of brown grass that covered it. “Oh heavens no.” He cranked his arm around and, with alarming speed, cracked the whip above his head.
A faint girlish squeal rang out beside me, I yanked my arm in front of Samantha out of sheer instinct. The beast in front of us suffered more so. The back half of its body cracked and crinkled toward the head, folding and wrinkling its leather skin. Bones broke and cracked as it halved the length of its body, and every time it opened its mouth an unnatural braying sound shot out. Samantha covered her ears, struggling to block the scratchy, accordion like sounds blasting out of it. We staggered back as the animal screamed.
“Ain’t it just music to your ears?” The carnie closed his eyes and cuffed a hand, as if he wished to amplify the shrieks of the creature.
Its spine and ribs pushed against the walls of flesh and its muscles continued to bend. Samantha’s tears splashed against her boots, her cries muffled by the bellowing of the beast. I grabbed her by the hand, her skin vibrating against my palm as it trembled. As we walked off, the carnie poked the ground with his cane.
“Hey, little girly,” he said, attempting to yell over the hollering cow. “You seem to’ve forgotten your Stetson.”
Samantha couldn’t hear, her right hand covered one ear and my hand covered the other as she clenched my fingers. The cow continued to cry. We staggered away.