House of Mirrors


When I was five, and there wasn’t much left, my mother took me to the Perth County Fall Fair. There was a petting zoo. For a dollar, a donkey with a slumped spine and flies in its ass carried me around its sawdust pen. A German farmer shouted “Squeeze!” and pointed at his cow’s teats. I warmed a white, hyperventilating chickadee in my hands. A dung-toothed goat licked my face. On the midway (a K-Mart parking lot), there were three rides. They had names like yard-sale paperback mysteries: The Zipper, The Octopus, The House of Mirrors. The last one was a trailer truck full of shiny warped metal that made you fat, thin, multiple, and not there at all. My mother tried to win me a stuffed giraffe by tossing rings at Coke bottles. The man inside the booth looked like Jimmy Durante and spat blue hork in place of laughing. He kept his hand out and said, “Don’t let the little fella down!” My mother’s dirt-wrinkled elbow showed through a hole in her sweater, and she kept a cigarette in her mouth as the rings were thrown, bobbled, and rejected. At the end, with the last of the money my father had stuck under the ashtray before he left, she bought me a pair of plastic binoculars. Putting them to my eyes, I looked up at the darkening limestone sky and found the moon, a blue-veined headlight.

Originally published in The Quarterly.