Harvey watches the carnie get chewed out good. The boss walks away and the carnie flips him the bird, then sits right back down on the lawn chair. He lights a smoke.
Harvey forks over a buck. Whack-a-Mole’s his favorite game at the St. Barnabas Carnival. And not just for the tickets the machine spits out. Harvey likes beating hell out of the stupid, chickenshit moles, giving good he gets. His father beats Harvey with objects not half as soft as the Whack-a-Mole mallet.
“Hey Mr., got anything harder than this?”
“Sorry kid.” The carnie sinks into the torn plastic fabric. “That there’s standard issue.”
“What stander issue? You’re just sittin’ there.”
The carnie draws on his cigarette. “Play again or not? Cost you a buck.”
“Here’s your buck.” The game starts and the moles come popping up in any of the four holes. Harvey enjoys the sensation of the mallet landing true on the moles, just the right resistance, just the right give. The strikes feel real, the creatures alive, until their guts squeeze out their sides beneath the carnival colored panels. Here’s something to try in the woods back of the house with Jason Dever, the choirlady’s son.
“Say kid, do me a favor.”
“Sit here and man the game while I fetch some beer.”
Harvey’s got an idea. “Gimme your money. I’ll get the beer.”
“You’re too young.”
“Look at the line. Pit boss comes back before you, you’re finished.”
The carnie looks over. Looks Harvey up and down. “What happened to your face?”
“I’ve seen that kind of nothing before. Hurts.”
“I said, it’s nothing.”
The carnie flicks his cigarette onto the asphalt. “Suit yourself. How you gonna get me a beer?”
“Leave it to me.”
The carnie shrugs his skinny shoulders and hands over three bucks. Harvey makes his way through the crowd to the long brick concession building. It’s in the middle of the parking lot where not long ago he played kickball, getting out his aggression on the third graders by whipping the ball at their feet, sending them ass over teakettle across the asphalt. Until the teachers saw.
He knocks on the side door. An old lady in an apron sticks her head out.
“I’m looking for my father.”
“Who’s your father, dear?”
“Called Tom Sr.”
“Are you Tom Jr.?”
This startles, then confuses the old lady. She shuts the door. Harvey listens and hears her call above the din of pots and dishwater, “Tom Sr.! Your boy’s at the door. Tom Sr.?!”
The doorknob turns, door opens slightly, a knotty fist followed by a bulging forearm. Tom Sr.’s through the door, sees Harvey.
“I got no more money for you, boy.”
Harvey flashes two bills.
“I swear, boy,” Tom Sr., raising a hand. “If you’re out there stealin’.”
Harvey hands up the bills. “Pour me out a beer.”
Tom Sr. snorts and snatches the money. He pulls the door shut. In a moment he’s back with a plastic cup, an inch of foam on top. The dripping cup is cold and sticky. Harvey sticks his lips in the foam and takes a pull, making it easier to navigate the crowd jostling in the dark below the whirling carnival lights.
The carnie takes a giant gulp and offers Harvey a free shot at the moles.
“No thanks,” Harvey says. He looks over the midway, thinking of all the thirsty ride jockeys and carnival shills out there, men just like the guy in the yellow CAT hat willing to shell out for beer.