A Place Where the Sky Never Ends
by Jeff Baker
When you’re sixteen the world can swirl around you.
That happened to me literally at the Kansas State Fair in 1978, but I wasn’t planning on it. Mark Dundee and I went to the fair to ride the rides, look at the livestock, eat and check out girls. I hadn’t figured out for sure that I also liked guys but I didn’t tell Mark that. Anyway, we both went to school in Millington but Mark’s Granddad owned a farm just outside Pending about fifteen miles away and I went up there with Mark sometimes. We were city kids but we got to help out at the farm. Granddad Dundee grew wheat but he also raised a few chickens and had a cow. Mark and I were city kids but over the last few years we’d gathered our share of eggs and played in the one-hundred-year-old barn across the road, and even made out there once. After getting out of school, Mark’s Granddad picked us up in his truck and drove us to the fair where he essentially turned us loose with combined birthday money and money we’d earned on our summer jobs.
That Friday we wandered around, kicked at the straw under our feet, smelled the smells and gawked at the show chickens, looking like something glowing and colorful from another world. And, of course, we rode the rides. Our favorite was the swing ride. It spun you around while you were sitting on (and securely belted in!) swings like the ones on the grade school playground Mark and I swore we’d grown out of. We rode the swing ride about five times, laughing and looking down at the colorful tops of the fair tents along the midway and then up at the swirling, spinning sky, going dark with dusk, stretching out forever and never ending. The last time I got off the ride and everything was swirling around me. I shook my head and closed my eyes.
When I opened them, things were different. I looked around and Mark was gone. Some of the rides looked the same but I saw a hot dog booth and the prices of the dogs had gone up. I glanced at the people; nobody was wearing bell bottom jeans, most of the guys were clean-shaven. I shook my head a minute. Suddenly Mark came around the corner. He was taller and his face had cleared up. He was laughing and holding cotton candy in one hand and the hand of some girl in the other. They kissed.
I shook my head again; was this the future? I knew I had no chance with Mark but why was I seeing this? I glanced down at one of the programs blowing across the ground. I caught a date: 1989.
I heard Mark’s voice.
“I’ve been coming here every year since I was a kid. My best friend Jayce and I came here all through school.”
“You should have called him up,” the girl said.
“Naaah, he lives in California. We haven’t seen each other in years. Hey, let’s…”
I blinked my eyes and it was 1978. Mark was tapping me on the shoulder.
“Hey, Jayce, let’s get some cotton candy!” Mark said, decked out in his WKRP t-shirt.
“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Sure.”
Life spins around too, I thought. Soon, you step off and everything’s different.
I looked up at the stars. Enjoy it all while it’s happening, they seemed to say.
The stars winked at me. It was a knowing wink.
Mark and I ate our cotton candy.