Part 1: Carriage, Chase me
Today, Marcus would give anything to be on time.
He stood by the cotton candy stand; his wiry frame pressed against the cold metal bars that drove it into the ground, keeping it from fleeing. Freezing wind chased festival goers from tent to tent, and rain pelted the muddy path in sheaths. And yet, Marcus held his ground; didn’t budge as rain bounced off the path, soaking his shoes and calves and sending chills racing up his spine. Frankly, he needed the distraction.
Look for me wearing a yellow carnation, she’d written, and if you’re lucky, I’ll tell you my name.
Marcus itched, barely able to contain himself while anticipation clawed at his insides, scratching his throat and chest and begging to be set free. Acid welled up inside, and he clenched his fists to force it back down.
Always running late, Marcus arrived to this year’s spring festival an hour and a half early, pacing past wet booths and striped tents until handwritten ‘no loitering’ signs specially for him were duct-taped to the posts overlooking the path. Marcus didn’t mind—he was too busy trying to figure out what to do with his hands, trying (and failing) to quell the twitch under his left eye.
In twenty-eight hours, Marcus hadn’t slept, eaten, or changed his clothes; he hadn’t even thought about it. The only addition he’d made to his unfortunately rumpled wardrobe was a yellow carnation pinned carefully to his speckled green scarf. This, he’d done with great care, paroozing several flower shops before delicately selecting a glowing yellow blossom from a grocery store discount bin. Truth be told, he couldn’t tell a carnation from any other flower beyond the little labeled doodles on the letters she’d been sending him, but he made a valiant effort.
Now, Marcus stood with his arms crossed heavily across his chest under the awning of the only vendor who hadn’t had the heart to ask him to leave. Marcus bought a pink cotton candy cloud out of guilt, and it promptly melted when he stepped into the rain. He was glad—the sugar hurt his stomach, and he didn’t want the polite middle-aged man spinning sweetness into dreams to see him throw away his careful handiwork.
Marcus glanced at the place his watch should be and frantically searched his pockets for the missing timepiece. No such luck. Reluctantly retreating to the too-generous cotton candy vendor whose tent stank with too many damp, musky people hiding from the rain, he said “do you know what time it is?” The vendor stared for a minute, eyes glazed before turning to check.
Once again, Marcus was late. His curses were met with blatant condescension from passers-byes as he dashed into the rain-soaked path and made his way toward the Ferris wheel.
It loomed ahead, neon lights flashing and dizzying. Marcus stumbled into an inconveniently placed puddle as the lights abruptly changed from bubblegum pink to a rapid, flickering rotation of green and blue and white and gold. Marcus popped back up from the ground with barely a glance at his dropped cotton candy-less stick, soaked pants, or muddied elbows. He could feel his carefully-placed flower dislodging and his hair expanding as ran, tight curls unfurling from humidity and rain and sweat.
Marcus made it to the Ferris wheel just as a girl with a bright yellow flower tucked behind her ear climbed onto an oblong carriage painted with horses and daisies. Was it carnation? Maybe—it was yellow.
“Wait!” he called, rushing for the doors. The girl turned, frizzed caramel curls swishing across her back as she smiled. And such a smile it was. It lit the sky and peeled the dreary wallpaper of rain right off, leaving hazy clouds in its wake.
Both faces alight, the pair climbed into the carriage and watched as the operator shut the gate.
Part 2: Apex, Leave me
The Ferris Wheel jolted into motion, and Marina Checked her watch. 3:12. Marcus was due in three minutes. She pulled a Ziploc bag from her purse and emptied its contents onto her lap. She idly flipped through them to pass the time. Six letters, all in the same slanted writing, all sloping off the page.
Letter one ended with: “I know you don’t know me, and you may think me overly forward or verbose, but I’m lonely. Please respond.”
And Marina responded. She didn’t put her name or number (she had yet to discern whether he was a stalker) and drew a yellow carnation in place of her signature. By the time she received his second letter, she realized it was silly to be afraid because he already had her address. But she liked her new name. It made her feel vogue and mysterious, so she kept it.
Dear Yellow Carnation, started the second letter. Marina smiled. Perhaps she would never tell him her other name – exist eternally as a prim, wild blossom.
I’m tired of winter, she responded, and dreaming of spring.
Me too, he said. I’ve never been colder. Marina knew he wasn’t talking about the weather.
After composing a heartfelt and appropriate letter, Marina wrote an uncharacteristically coy question in the postscript under her blossoming signature.
Why be blue when you can be yellow?
She imagined a mournful voice she’d never heard chuckling from far away.
The fifth letter from Marcus included a request to meet, the sixth confirmed the details. Rain or shine, it said. It was pouring now, tiny droplets steadily drumming their fingers across the tinny roof of the Ferris wheel carriage. Rain or shine. Marcus would be here.
Marina neatly stacked the letters and tucked them back into her Ziploc baggie. 3:18 Marcus was late.
Much to the operator’s chagrin, Marina had arrived forty-five minutes early to claim a carriage on the most popular ride at the festival. She sat by the window overlooking the line, yellow carnation tucked behind her ear on full display. Anyone waiting for a spot would be able to see it.
Marina’s carriage inched lower to the ground. Her pulse quickened. A few boys clustered around the control booth. Were they looking for her? She scanned them, but no carnations revealed themselves.
There was one. A yellow carnation folded into the hair of a pretty girl with golden-brown skin. That hair seemed to have a life of its own. Marina frowned—she’d thought Marcus was a boy’s name, but…
No. There was Marcus. Wiry frame, lithe movements, yellow flower pinned haphazardly to his green speckled scarf.
Marina raised her hand, about to call out. She halted. There. What was that? A grin. No, not a grin: a lift.
Was that smile meant for her? No. It was meant for the girl in the carriage ahead of her. The one wearing a yellow flower (notably not a carnation) and slipping into the box painted with colts and daisies. Marcus grinned and something behind that smile shifted. A weight lifted. A boy reborn.
Marina paused, unsure. She had never seen a smile like that. It brightened the dark sky and halted the rain. When the girl turned, her face mirrored his. The pair of them, sunshine in a ceaseless sky. Marina could only watch.
Those smiles were mesmerizing. They made her heart thump with maybe, her lips twitch with again. She wanted to see those expressions over and over, tuck them into the plastic bag holding her letters and preserve them, fresh for a later viewing.
And yet, they weren’t hers.
A blossom clipped; a flower plucked.
And yet, Marina grinned.
She had helped grow those smiles, tended the garden and pulled out the weeds. She’d watered the hopes and snipped off the dead leaves.
The Ferris wheel rumbled, Marina’s car approaching the peak. It was time to make a decision—Marcus would see the flower in hair if she still wore it by the time she reached the top of the wheel, on full display in her little painted box. Now, she was the dead leaf.
It would be a gift from her garden. Let them be happy. Those smiles weren’t for her.
As her carriage reached the apex, Marina smiled and pulled the yellow carnation from behind her ear. She slipped it into her bag.
Marcus didn’t write again.