Fall Issue | 2015
A History of Carousels
by Charles Ramsay McCrory | firstname.lastname@example.org
In my best memory of my father I am eight, the fair is in town, and he is telling me a bedtime story. As he does every night, he drags the oxblood leather armchair from his study to the side of my bed. My lamp runs shadows through the crags and fissures in his alcoholic nose.
“Do you know,” he asks me, “the history of carousels?”
I say no.
“Before I tell you,” he says, “I should preface that recreation and torture share a common history. They are advanced by minds who see them as the same thing.”
My father, the historian, has been let go by four college history departments and my mother. Many years later I will learn that he deliberately resigned from three out of the five, which is the greater shame. Tonight I say, “Okay,” and burrow deeper into my pillow.
Dad says, “Take carousels. The first proper carousel was erected in Seville, at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. A pack of unrepentant Protestants were hitched to wooden horses and jolted up and down until their internal organs ruptured.” A footnote, under his breath: “Told her never to send you to that Catholic school.”
I say, “Did that really happen?”
He says, “Or maybe that’s not it.” He leans forward and picks at the crack of his ass, a rhetorical strategy I’ve learned to recognize and will regretfully, in later life, adopt. “Maybe,” he continues, “a hunting party was riding unlicensed through a queen’s wood. The queen discovered them and had their horses impaled to spokes on a giant wheel. The hunters had to ride in circles until their animals rotted beneath them. This queen would have looked a lot like your mother.”
This must be his way of telling me we aren’t going to the fair this year, massaging the centuries until his laziness, in the present moment, comes out as conscientious objection. He is still going:
“The first golf ball was a severed head! There would be no taffy pull if not for the rack!”
I say, “Dad, please.”
“You don’t know it yet,” he says, “but I’m doing you a favor. You’re only going to find out for yourself. One night you’re riding a painted horse behind a girl who smells like a kind of shampoo you can’t even buy around here, and before you know it the screws are in your thumbs instead of under your feet, and that lovely lurch in your stomach is a twenty-year pit you can’t climb out of.”
I start to think that if I make my body very heavy I can sink through my sheets and mattress and bed frame, through the floor, and drop into a different bedroom, where a different father will tell me a real story. Sometime while I have not been listening, Dad has finished. He tucks me in, and it’s like when I’m riding passenger and he cups the back of my seat with his hand while swiveling around to back out of a parking space, or when a cat brushes against your leg to mark you as its designated feeder: utility disguised as affection. I wonder, alone now in the dark, how he is already remembering us.