Anne Johnston

Naive Attraction

The summer before last I was working the night shift at the local carnival to save up money for college. It was not my dream job by any stretch of the imagination: I either sat at the operator’s panel or went around checking that the belts were fastened properly. One day I had had a really tough practice in soccer, and at my day job I was standing for the entire six hours at the cash register. By the time I got to the carnival, I was so beat that I could barely keep my eyes open. I was paired with Andy for the night, and since I’m the senior employee of the two of us I got to kick him on to buckle duty. I took the bar-style swivel chair and microphone at the operator panel. I went through the safety precautions as quickly and indecipherably as possible. I really wasn’t in the mood that night. Until…

When I saw her walk by for the first time, I perked up pretty good. I even offered Andy the swivel chair, jumping on my small glimmer of opportunity that she might take my ride. I figured if she came over here, I could try my hand at talking to her. She was with a small posse, maybe six or seven girls. No guys yet.

She wasn’t the prettiest one in the group, but I could clearly identify her as the center of attention in an instant. She had smooth, dark skin. She might have been Puerto Rican or something. She was a little on the short side, her black hair straightened and left down to blow in the breeze. All of the others oriented themselves around her, but I could tell she was just glad to be there as their friend, not as the center of attention. I have never gotten such an impression of modesty in power by just looking for a few seconds. I just felt drawn to her, though I knew my chances were slim.

While they were walking around, me and Andy scoped out the situation. I had reserved all speaking rights to my girl, and we picked out one for him, too. She was tall and slender with dark blonde hair. She had bright eyes and a bright smile. She was pretty cute, always talking and laughing. I had nothing wrong with her, of course, but my loyalties were already set.

After an hour or two, they finally made it around to my station where I was ready and waiting, but not quite sure what my game plan was. I had been watching the target closely, and was seeing some wiggle room. Several of her friends had trickled away into the night, mostly taken by guys, leaving a more manageable number: The singles ones. My chances were growing as each minute passed, and even Andy’s gal was sticking it through.

As they approached, I tried to look as nonchalant as possible, leaning casually on the operator’s panel with one elbow. I glanced down at my watch—it was only a few minutes until we closed! I suppressed my panic instinct and mentioned it calmly to Andy. He likewise looked at his watch and sagged a bit. The crowd was thinning out, and the reduced posse was not far from the front of the line. Probably nothing to worry about.

The girls had noticed us by this point, so I smiled at mine, and she smiled back and waved a little. I turned back to Andy so that it didn’t look like I was goggling. He had apparently found similar success. The loudspeaker came on and gave the five minute warning, which means we’re allowed to run one more ride. As the last customers boarded, the girls made their way to the last remaining seats. But someone had vomited. All over the seats. It was gross.

The spill was going to leave one girl out, and my girl volunteered cheerfully, although each of the others had insisted that she shouldn’t be the one to sit out. She brushed them off lightly with a smile and stood by the side and watched as the ride started up. I stared in shock as she made her way beautifully over to the operator’s panel.

“Hi,” she said. I can’t remember if a girl has ever approached me, so I was obviously excited beyond belief. Andy purposely busied himself with the control panel; I hoped he would let the ride go extra long. I was surprised to fall easily into conversation with this girl who just a few hours ago had been an unattainable idol. We talked for a few minutes, and I really began to like her. The way she talked, the way she moved her head and body to express an infinite range of interest in what we were talking about; it felt really nice to just be standing there with her.

Her name was Kiana.

I asked Kiana if I could take her on one very last ride with me. She smiled and even blushed a little bit, and said she would love to. Andy slowed it down and the second to last batch of carnival-goers made way for the king and queen. I took her hand and helped her into the car. She didn’t let go and as we sat down asked me if it was a scary ride. I said it wasn’t too bad, but she still didn’t let go of my hand and said it was just in case, because she got scared really easily. I smiled at her and she smiled back for a moment until the car jerked forward suddenly. She jumped a little and squeezed harder. For my first time ever taking a girl on a ride, I’d say I did pretty well, ‘cause we had a really fun time together. When it stopped, I helped her down and led her back to our group of waiting friends. Andy was talking enthusiastically with his girl, transfixed by her bright eyes and bright smile. Her name was Jodie.

In an instant of either brilliance or insanity, I carefully and casually slipped my arm around her waist and closed my eyes for a moment of hopeful but dreading anticipation. Like an angel of mercy sent from heaven, hers followed even more calmly and comfortably than mine.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.