The music was really loud. That’s the way she liked it, Katy thought, smiling. But mostly Katy was happy because Mama trusted her – trusted her to ride on the merry-go-round alone, to show how grown up she was.
The metal pole had become warm and a little slippery. “Hold on every minute. Don’t let go. And sit up straight,” Mama had said. So Katy clutched the merry-go-round horse’s pole tightly, enjoying the loud music, the hard, warm wood of the horse she rode and the sugar-sweet scent of the air that brushed her cheek. She wore her favorite blouse – the one with the yellow giraffe with a yellow yarn mane. And on her feet, tucked firmly into the stirrups, she wore her best white shoes. Mama had told her she could not wear them to the carnival, but when Katy said, “They’re almost too tight, and I haven’t weared them out yet,” Mama had smiled and answered, “You’ve got a good point there, honey.” Katy just loved it when Mama treated her like a grown-up.
The only thing that spoiled the perfect ride was the little boy who sat atop the horse next to Katy’s. He cried and cried even though his mother was standing right next to him holding him around the waist. Katy looked at him with five-and-a-half-year-old disdain. He looked pretty big to be such a crybaby. But she couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for him. “He could sit on my horse with me if he’s afraid,” called Katy to the boy’s mother. After all, she reasoned it wasn’t really his fault if he was scared. The woman smiled, but shook her head no.
The merry-go-round began to slow; Katy’s horse hardly moved at all.. When it stopped completely, it was in the highest position. Katy blinked as bright sunlight streamed through the carousel’s woven canopy. She squinted her eyes. “Here, I’ll help you down,” said a man who’d been standing nearby. He must be the father of one of these other kids, she thought, as she placed her hand in his.
“Thank you for helping me,” she said in a whisper. “I don’t want Mama to think I can’t get off by myself.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” he answered, still holding her hand as they walked across the shaky wooden floor of the merry-go-round. His hand felt hard, like dried-out wood. Katy caught a glimpse of her mother’s face in the crowd near the exit. But there were so many people getting off that Mama disappeared from sight.
As she walked, Katy realized that she had lost her shoe. She started to turn back toward the horse, but the man yanked her in the opposite direction.
“Hey,” she said, angry at his rough treatment. “You let go!”
The man leaned over and spoke loudly, directly into Katy’s face. “I told you, that was your last ride. And I meant it.” His eyebrows were pulled down and he looked angry. His words didn’t make any sense.