From the Vaults: Cotton Candy

The old man’s face glistened with the faint sheen of sweat. Beads of it shimmered at his temples, reflecting the Christmas-light colors of the lights along the midway. He was dressed up, as if for a date, for this occasion, in a short-sleeved cotton shirt, striped in Oxford red, with the collar pressed into crisp points, suspenders, and his best khaki pants, breaking just so across the top of his shoes.

They were old man’s shoes: sturdy brown leather, with steel shanks and rawhide laces. He called them ‘work shoes’ – although the only ‘work’ he still did was to putter in the kitchen or the garden, these days.

A woman in a yellow sun dress and matching sandals, her olive skin smooth despite the greying streaks in her wavy black hair, her dark eyes glowing with contentment, walked beside him, her arm looped through his, her body angled toward him. Her red-tinted lips moved rapidly, but her affectionate nagging was drowned out by the calliope music and the incessant chatter of the little girl with them.

The little girl. The apple of the old couple’s eyes, this child danced around them the way young children do when they’re pumped up on fun, her strawberry braids bobbing in time with her innocent chatter. She halted in front of the cotton candy, watching the hair-net clad women spinning colored sugar into fluffy clouds on paper cones. “Grandpop, may I have some?” she asked. And of course he said yes.

Years later, when the old man was older still, and his work shoes never even visited the garden any more, he would smile into space, remembering the buzzing of mosquitoes, the tinny sound of the carousel’s calliope, and the sticky cotton-candy kisses of a little girl long since grown, who never visited often enough.