Antarctic Shores

Originally published by Full Mood Mag, December 2023

They’re taking down the tents. Metal poles clang within the morning mist. By the end of the day, the caravan will be moving along to some other place, to tug some other old fool back into his past, I guess.

For you, I’m certain you don’t even think of me. Is there any reason you should? For me, you’re merely a mote floating amidst dusty memories, but the yearly dismantling of the Spring Festival still forces me to see you clearly. I’ve long since realized I was only a landing pad for the damage you’d suffered from some dude who broke your yet-to-be-broken heart, broke it so badly you were willing to simply collapse into a stranger hanging around the carousel. A dreamer whose magic lamp never held a single wish.

Friends convinced me to go with them to the Spring Festival that day—I came bearing a six-pack of Kokanee, buried within a school sweater—but after I’d gone around the ferris wheel for the fourth time, I ditched the boys and tried losing myself within the crowds. For a while there, I was sitting on a stack of milk crates at the edge of the carousel, wiping my eyes and not caring a whit as the kid atop the undulating gorilla whacked me with her sticky cotton candy cone every time she went around. Again and again. You came out of nowhere, slumped down on the dead grass below me. I hopped off my perch, landing next to you. Your eyes were red. You were chewing a sassafras leaf. You clenched the stem between your teeth like it was the one thing that might save you. A tether. In the near distance, past a white and cornflower blue tent, the tip of the maypole blocked the sun, allowing for me to see you clearly. I was willing to save you.

When boys are young, we have foolish hopes that certain events will inevitably occur in our lives. Epic road trips. Wealth bequeathed to us by rich grandparents. How we’ll plant our feet on Antarctica’s shores, even on the moon. Or how an unknown girl will cry in our arms because someone else didn’t love her right.

Eventually though, boys grow up and we know better.

We kissed at the carousel, you and I. The now-vacant gorilla grinned at us, again and again and again. We said goodbye that night. We agreed to meet up the next day, but both of us were either too stupid or too ignorant of the days of the week to realize the festival was over. I returned to a flattened field littered with familiar beer cans and cotton candy cones. The maypole’s ribbons waved lazily in the breeze like a sad stripper in an empty club. A man folded up the white and blue tent, methodically, as if attempting to make a giant paper airplane.

You weren’t there. Maybe you knew you wouldn’t be.

Maybe now, wherever you are, your annual festivals remind you of nothing. But every year when these tents come down I ache a little. The misty field echoes of thin promises and could-have-beens, reminding me how Antarctic shores could never be meant for every boy.