Everyone in town knows her mother’s face got taken off by a razor. Some meth head wandering out of the corn like a zombie got her in daylight next to the toolshed where she bled to death. Beannie was too young at the time to remember, but not long afterward she started setting traps outside. Trip wires and shallow holes covered with grass, butter knives stolen from the kitchen and pressed straight into the mud like stakes. Now her security systems are all covered in weeds. Now she’s in eighth grade, getting ready to go to the state fair with Jason, a boy from school, frail and pale, with bones like a bird. Her sister calls him easy prey.
Beannie’s dreams for catching possible maniacs were simple enough at first. But nowadays she combs through hunting catalogues and military handbooks and wishes her dad had the money and leniency to let her get a crossbow or a Bangalore Torpedo. The tiny pits around her house have started growing flowers, and Beannie lets them blossom. Not because she doesn’t care but because the tricks seem old.
Beannie’s picking out her bows now, one for each ear. She can’t find the other green one, and she’s got on a green tee-shirt and green flip-flops, so if she has to go with blue it means a whole entire other outfit. She knows her dad will drop her off at the fairgrounds and pretend to leave, then come back and prowl. Four years ago he caught Beannie’s sister Olivia on a date there. Olivia’d been careful and not even worn a skirt, but the fat man from the freak show was still there at that point, and their father, at that point, was still annually friends with the fat man, and so the fat man had tipped off their father, who had found Olivia in one of those model fall-out shelters, sitting next to a boy with long hair and muscles, holding a rose.
Beannie used to crawl in with Olivia at night, and with their legs braided Olivia’d ask if Beannie liked boys yet, and Beannie’d respond about how wouldn’t it be wonderful to live inside a prison? Such thick walls and special security systems and also guards on your side. And Olivia’d say, hey man you be careful, we gotta play we don’t care Dad didn’t move after the Mom thing—that he’s got two guns and two dogs, and that I’m good with a knife, and you’ve got your little holes, and whoever doesn’t think we’re smart and fine and healthy is an asslord.
Beannie finds the other bow and kicks into her sandals. Her father is yelling pleasantly from downstairs. She’ll meet Jason by the human cannonball, across from where you can pay ten dollars to get your picture taken with a bear. She doesn’t have any money but Jason might. He feels guilty about what they do in the corn and ends up buying her a lot of pop whenever there’s a machine.
At the entrance to the fair, she and Jason see each other right away but right away they look at other things. Obese ladies on scooters, signs advertising donut burgers, damp looking children on leashes.
Four years ago, after she watched Olivia get whipped by their father, Beannie strung a trip wire at the foot of his bedroom door and spent most of the night waiting for a thump. She finally heard his floorboards creak around three, but then instead of falling, she was pretty sure she heard him laugh. Beannie got so mad she spent the rest of the week stringing wires everyplace she thought he’d cross. She even put one in his car, at the driver’s side door. But all that happened was he started carrying shears around, to cut his way through each system.
Beannie was careful after that. Not just with traps, but about the boys she chose. She knew from the beginning they should be pimply with braces, probably a few pounds lighter than she. Absolutely no one with long hair who looked like he might own a guitar. Jason is perfect because he’s too ashamed to blab. His parents take him to church two times a weekend, but more often he ditches his bike on the highway side of the corn and goes in and whistles till he finds her. They lie down and mark each other with their braces, and once he brought a hairbrush and stuck it handle first into her furry whatsit. Beannie asks her father if she can walk in the corn, and he suspects nothing. He’s merely happy that she seems suddenly and finally unafraid. Perhaps she’s forgotten how someone on drugs came out of there holding a razor when she was still a baby. A social worker has told him it might be therapeutic for her to return to this place, to the corn, and the fact that Beannie lowers the flag on their porch to half-mast every time she goes only confirms the ritual for him.
The water at the fair is expensive, but Jason buys it for her, and he must have been saving up because they also get an unlimited rides pass. They climb onto The Casino, which goes upside down and around and around, and no one can see them through the blur of the gray clanking machine, not even her father, if he’s there. Beannie shoves her hand up the leg of Jason’s shorts and waits for him to start nervously listing roller coaster death statistics. But he doesn’t.
“After this,” he says quietly. “Let’s go into the corn.”
She kneads his slowly hardening flesh and thinks of how this is what has come to scare her. Not that someone will find out, but that they will try to stop her. And as she scans the spinning landscape for the warning of her father’s face, she is pretty sure she sees her Mom.
Notes from Guest Reader Tara Laskowski
It’s been years–uh, 10–since I accepted this story for publication, but I still often think about it. I find it so terrifying and yet also full of hope and promise. I’m also mad-obsessed with creepy carnivals, and Kathleen does a great job of capturing that whole scene here.