The sun was relentless as it peered down on little Gabby. She clutched the hot metal of the small merry-go-round. It burned into her tiny hands. The metal was not yet hot enough to be painful. It was the good kind of burn. That pleasant sensation that starts at the exposed part of the body and moves through you. The way the sun feels on your face at the beach. She knew she would have bumps from the metal imprinted on her palms as soon as she released her grip. She looked forward to the way her hands would feel when she clutched the handlebars of her bike on the way home. The tingling of the skin reforming and trying to recreate itself onto a new object.
She sighed heavily as she waited impatiently for her brother, Peter, to come out of the market. On Mondays and Fridays, her mother would ask her children to stop at the market on their way home from school. They were told to bring her home a bottle of milk. Peter used to do it alone. Now Gabby accompanies him.
The door opened. Gabby looked up expectantly, but it was not Peter. Mr. Deanus waved at her. In his wrinkled hands he carried an apple. He stopped every day at the market to pick up a different piece of fruit. A few years ago, Gabby remembered, he used to buy two. Now, he bought only one. For some reason, this made Gabby sad. She turned her attention to an ant that had begun crawling up her arm.
Gabby looked up. Peter was striding out of the store. He looked angry. Peter always looked angry lately. He resented these stops at the market. She knew he wished to get home and see Lily next door. Peter had just turned eleven. She hoped she did not scowl as much when she turned his age.
“Gabrielle, do you really need to ride that thing again?” Peter asked crossly.
Peter was the only person in her family who always called her by her full name. Her mother told her it was because Peter would stumble over the word when he was younger. “Gabieeelle,” he would call her. He would skip over the “r,” and lengthen the “e.” That was a long time ago.
Gabby turned her head up defiantly. Two years ago, Peter would have insisted on claiming his tiger. She climbed onto the merry-go-round. She would alternate the animals on each day that she came, so they would all receive a turn. This time, she chose the giraffe. She stroked its long neck. The ant was still on her arm. It tickled. “Do you want to ride with me?” She whispered to it.
Gabby turned to Peter and ignored his earlier question. Instead she called, “I’m ready!”
To the ant, she softly sang, “Hang on.”
Peter reluctantly put the quarter into the machine. The carousel began to turn. Gabby grasped the giraffe’s neck and threw her own head back. Now everything appeared upside down. She loved to view the world this way. The parking structure next door now had cars floating in the air. Peter’s frown turned into a smile. Round and round she went. Her long braid almost touched the yellow floor of the ride. Peter became blurry with each pivot the animals made. She imagined that she would spin so fast, she would fly into the sky. The thought thrilled her. She gripped the giraffe’s neck tighter.
Too soon it was over.
She lifted her head back up and delighted in the dizziness that overtook her. After the world came together again, Gabby carefully stepped on each colorful star as she bounded off the ride. She patted the white bunny on her way. “Next time,” she hummed into his large, hard ears.
Peter was waiting with her bike ready. “Just a sec,” she told Peter. He got on his bike. He pretended he was leaving. She knew he wouldn’t. At dinner each night, he still ruffles her hair. He fills her glass with the milk they had gotten together. And he always smiles when she bangs her belly like a drum and bellows like a gorilla at their dog.
He would wait for her.
She crouched down under the chipped yellow paint of the merry-go-round. She laid her new friend on the ground in the shade. “You have a good day now, okay?”
She pressed her head closer to the pavement to hear if he answered. In her mind, she thought she heard a small happy laugh come from the ant. Gabby climbed to her feet. She dusted her jeans off.
“Let’s go,” she called to Peter.
This time he smiled. “It’s about time!”
They climbed onto their bikes and began the short ride home. Behind them the carousel creaked in the heat. In three short days, she would visit it again.
* This story was written in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge. The photo is courtesy of Michelle Weber. Thank you for reading!