The Carnival Prize

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I’d been up on the high shelf for a month, luring gullible punters in for five quid a pop. We’d travel with different carnivals, into different villages, parks, run-down towns – but everywhere felt the same.

Us big ones rarely left the stall, they fixed it like that, giving out plastic consolation prizes, you know – the kind of crap you couldn’t give away. Anything to keep them quiet for five minutes, they would say. Still, you could see the kids’ faces drop when they realized Daddy wasn’t winning that giant fluffy bear after all.

So it all went pretty much the same way. Holiday weekends were the worst. They’d run about like dogs on heat, begging for another ride, another shot. I’d hear them kicking and screaming as they were dragged away by exhausted parents – and those were the well behaved ones.

Course, every now and then you’d get a proper player. The kind who could play them at their own game – the kind who had seen it all before and knew the inside tricks. That was their biggest fear.

When I was won I knew it was coming. He was one of those scruffy, unwashed types who looked like he’d been reared on fried food and tobacco. As I watched him approach the stall I knew he was a player. Cocky and menacing – exactly the type Panda went to on the first week. They’d stepped up the game since them, said it wasn’t watertight enough, cost them too much to lose us big ones.

This one didn’t even have a kid with him. Probably the type who got off trying to impress strangers, prove himself better than them. He could’ve started with a bar of soap.

So, Scruffy picked up the rifle and bingo.  Bang, bang, bang – every shot on bulls-eye. He clenched his fist in the air and took off his baseball cap, revealing this chip-fat greasy hair suck to his scalp. They asked him what prize he wanted and I squirmed as his bony yellow stained finger pointed right at me.

I was tossed into this old beaten up truck and driven to his place, which was unsurprisingly a shitty caravan. It was dirty and brown, full of old takeaway boxes and empty beer cans. I was chucked in the corner next to a stained blanket which reeked of sweat and piss. Just what I’d always dreamt of.

Most of the time he sat around watching television, those shitty daytime shows which make you contemplate suicide as a holiday.  He swore a lot to himself and to inanimate objects. He chain smoked and drank a lot too. He must’ve done some sort of dodgy work ’cause he would disappear for hours at a time and come back, emptying wads of cash onto the table.

It was when I overheard him on the phone I found out he had a kid. He must’ve been on pretty bad terms with the woman ’cause generally his responses were hostile and bitter. From what I figured, he wanted to see the kid but she didn’t want him to. The last phone-call had ended with him lobbing the phone towards me, denting my nose and then kicking the old TV with his boot, smashing the screen to pieces. The glass never got swept up, becoming a glamourous addition to the ambient squalor look.

The next few days he seemed grumpier than usual and never left the caravan. One night he got drunk and scowled at me, muttering, “might as well burn that,” and pinged his cigarette into my stuffing. Man that shit stung.

The night after I heard him on the phone again, standing outside the door. It must’ve been pretty bad as his voice reached a new level of rage. At the end of the call he began stomping around erratically, throwing chairs about, grabbing stuff from the cupboards and smashing it against the walls. He pulled a container out from under the sink and was pouring liquid everywhere, swearing and panting like a rabid dog. Over the sofa, chairs, carpet, over me.

Petrol.

I watched in fear, every movement he made hinting towards a finale, a crescendo of his anger.   Then he stopped suddenly, as if he’d just heard something. He looked down.

Somewhere on the carpet, amongst the broken glass, rusty cans and crisp packets – the phone was ringing.

His shaking hand reached down and he answered with a spiteful roar. His face was red, sweat pouring from his head. But as he listened, he became quiet. Whatever was being said seemed to please him and his expression softened as he sat down.

The fumes from the chemicals were making me dizzy, and I stupidly hoped, prayed for a way out. I listened tentatively as his chat became amicable, friendly even. He chatted for a long time, smiling, even laughing before finally hanging up. I’d never seen his spirit so lifted. He reached for his cigarette, and with a satisfied sigh, struck the match to light it.

I was lucky, I guess. Some do-gooder spotted fire tearing through the roof and put it out before the flames reached me. Unlike Scruffy.  Just as well he’d put me in the corner furthest away.

After the people came, they took me away, washed me and now I’m back on a shelf in one of those crappy second hand markets. But that’s how it goes.  Next life I’m hoping to be one of those high end teddies, the ones rich folks buy and treat real special.  Well, a bear’s got to dream, right?

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