bias, Carnival, COVID19, empathy, fiction, Fun House, insight, Mirrors, prejudice, racism, relationships, religion, short story, truth
Chapter One: Mere Mirror
The hot, humid, cloudless August day offered not the slightest breeze of comfort. The girls had finished their snow cones only three minutes ago, and they already felt the stifling heat. They looked around for some shade. Jean jumped up and down and pointed excitedly at the large wooden structure ahead of them.
“Jean, I don’t want to go in there. I hate Fun Houses.”
“This one’s cool, Wilm. Totally! Outstanding mirrors.”
The sun shimmered on the Rye Playland sidewalks. Sweat beaded on Willamette’s forehead. “Some old pervert’s always trying to grab at you in there.”
Jean nodded and then laughed. “Maybe some cute young guys too. Ever think of that? Come on!”
“I don’t want to be groped by anybody, Jean!”
“No, me either. But, you know we might meet some cute guys. What say, Wilm?”
Willamette half-smiled in surrender. They sauntered over, trying to time their arrival to coincide with any nearby hunks. Sure enough, a couple cute guys were about to get in line behind them when two white trash hillbillies slid in first.
Willamette rolled her eyes, knowing that some stupid skeleton would flash in front of her and make her scream and she told herself she wouldn’t but she always did anyway. She wondered why she had let Jean talk her into this.
This time was no different. She screamed when the skeleton jumped out, just as she knew she would. She cursed at herself for it. Then, she nearly fell flat on her face when they stepped onto the stupid steel rollers. She was about to protest to Jean that she still hated these places. But Jean had disappeared. Willamette could see the house of mirrors around the corner. At least, she thought, this part won’t be scary.
Willamette looked in the first mirror. Her eyes Zombied. In the mirror in front of her stared a horrified old man with pasty white skin and unkempt dirty black hair. What an illusion! She laughed. But the laugh that came out was an old man’s whisky-roughened laugh. Her eyes slowly gazed down at her hands.
Her hands were gone.
In their place were the gnarled fingers of an old man, white skin, blue veins, dirty fingernails.
And, then she screamed at the gravely sound of her own voice.
Chapter Two: Mirror, Mere
“Come on, y’all’ll enjoy it.”
“Sounds stupid. Ain’t been in a ‘Scare Houses’ since I was twelve.”
“This here one’s great!” Jay-Bob snickered and winked at his buddy, Willard. “’Sides, you can cop a feel.”
Willard’s pale skinny finger fluttered toward the facade. “Looks like the same stupid grinnin’ clown and the same ugly witch as back in ‘Bama.’ What’s so special about this’n?”
“These New York dudes got themselves some whiskey cool mirrors.”
“One’s thang’s for danged sure. These here Ryeland tickets costs ’bout ten times our state fair for the same danged rides.”
“Come on, Willard, give it a go.”
“Fine.” Willard spied two teenage girls joining the line, and sidled in behind them. One had tight slacks but the other wore a loose cotton dress. Didn’t she know about that blast of air? Or, maybe she did. Liked, in fact, showing off her panties. Pink? Black? He wondered to himself.
The dark, the pop-ups, the rollers. Willard’s eyes adjusted slowly to the dark. The youngsters eyes adapted much faster and they immediately sped ahead out of groping range. What’s next? Stupid House of Mirrors. Willard turned the corner. Where the hell was Gene?
“Screw him,” he muttered aloud and wondered whether he’d be a beanpole or a midget.
He looked in the mirror.
Willard didn’t want anyone else to hear his question so he used a stage whisper — though he had no idea what that term meant.
“What the — ! Gene, how they do that?”
But Gene had disappeared.
Willard blinked again at the cute, black teenage girl gaping at him in the
mirror; blinked; stared down to see skinny black hairless arms and the bluely
sparkled fingernails; screamed in that high girly voice; watched the ample
Then he screamed even louder at the sound of his thin soprano voice.
Chapter Three: Mirror, Mirror
“So, how’d we do, Gene?”
“Mmmm. The conditions were there, but no insight. No change. No enlightenment. Frankly, I think we’re in trouble, Will.”
“Maybe the thing with human beings is…. I don’t know. If they’re too freaked out, they can’t reflect on their own prejudices. In fact, I don’t think they can reflect on anything. They just become scared bunnies.”
“But if they are too comfortable, they never change. They just sit and — whoa! — Gene? What was that kind of trumpet blast sort of noise?”
“What do you think? We’re being called into judgment.”
“Already? Where? Over there? It’s so damned bright!”
“God is light. No surprise there. Hey, we gave it our all.”
“Small comfort, Gene, when we both fry to embers. I can’t see a thing.”
“It’s too bright. There are brilliant lights omnipresently. All places seem to be light, bathed in light, reflecting light. I can’t see where I’m going.”
“All paths lead to the one path.”
“What? Oh, great, we’re about to be fried and you’re waxing philosophical. Not to mention Zen. Wrong religion. What is it about you people?”
“We what people? Black people? Is that what you mean? People of color?”
“Christ, Will, how many millennia have you known me? No, of course I don’t mean because you’re black! I mean, ‘you people’ as in you intuitive types. You have to learn to think things through logically.”
“Excuse me, Gene, but you have to learn to listen to your intuitions! God IS ZEN.”
“COME HITHER!” trumpeted God.
Chapter Four: Mere, Mere
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“You’re the real black.”
“You’re the real whitey.”
“You’re just a youngster.”
“You’re a thievin’ female wench. Give me my body back!”
“You pervert dirty old man! Your body disgusts me!”
“You stole my body!”
“Man! What?! Why on God’s green earth would I covet this ancient body? Why? I had my whole life ahead of me. I hate crappy wrinkled fingers — fatty yucky sides!”
“Yeah, well I miss my –. Never mind. I liked bein’ a man.”
They sat on very separate stumps in an unending forest of stumps. Overhead, the sky shone pale blue. No crows cawed in the distance. No planes vapor-trailed. No faraway cars hummed along the Interstate. They stared into the infinite horizon of flat waveless ocean. They sat silent for a long, long time.
Finally, s/he spoke. “Does it really matter? I mean, here, does it matter?”
“Maybe it don’t. You might have a point.”
They sat for a moment looking out silently at the endless sea.
“Did it ever really matter? Really?”
“Dunno. But we need water. Fer sher. Not sea water. Fresh water.”
“Check. I’ll search that-away. Yell if you find anything. Deal?”
Willamette and Willard took ten steps apart; turned back simultaneously, stared, shook their heads in unison and laughed. It can’t be truly said that it was a hearty laugh, or even a pure laugh, but it was a laugh. It was a beginning.
How to find water? If water reflects sky, might not sky reflect water to those with open eyes and open hearts …when human survival depends upon it?
One may hope. One may hope.
Pattern for Collaboration: Find and Utilize Diversity
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