With arms and legs splayed as wide and long as they could reach, Annabelle, the human X, plastered her five-year-old body across the back seat of the family Plymouth. She had the whole back half of the car all to herself that Sunday because her sister, Inés, who’d been coughing and sneezing all night long, had to stay home with their mother.
So it was just Annabelle and her father in the car on their way to Coney Island to spend the day with Nonno. As they pulled out of the parking spot in front of the three-story apartment building in Fresh Meadows, Annabelle’s father had made a deal with her. If she was good in the car – no jumping, no screeching, no whining -- she would get to ride on the merry-go-round.
At first Annabelle sat on the passenger side, where she could lean forward without annoying her father, then she slid over to the middle where she watched the cars on the road behind her through the rear view mirror. After awhile she hopped over to the side behind her father where she studied the back of his head up close, the freckles on his bald spot, the white hairs among the black. She flipped herself over and tried lying on her belly. Then she dropped to the floor and hunkered down behind the hump in the car floor. It was cozy and dark down there. She folded her arms to form a pillow and rested her head. Pretty soon, lulled by the motion of the car, she drifted off.
When Annabelle’s father took her to the merry-go-round, he would only let her ride on the white horse.
“But I always go on the white one. Why can’t I ride on that horse, daddy,” she would say, pointing to a bright red steed with a flowing mane.
Her father would shake his head. “No, Annabelle, you’re still too young for the horses that go up and down.”
Oh sure, the white horse was pretty enough to look at, but the problem was, when the calliope whistle blew, when the merry-go-round lurched forward, that white horse just stood there with his front hoof raised as if he were about to make a move — but he never did. He just stood frozen stiff as the merry-go-round turned. Meanwhile, Inés, who was almost eight, was allowed to ride on the up-and-down horses – the palomino, the chestnut mare.
But today it was Nonno who would take her to the merry-go-round. Her father had some paper work to do for Nonno – his bills, his taxes.
Nonno was a slender, handsome old man with a bushy mustache and a friendly smile. He walked with Annabelle down the blocks that led from his green asphalt tile row house to the boardwalk. Annabelle held on to her grandfather’s hand, skipping beside him to keep pace.
It was just Annabelle and Nonno — tall, kind Nonno in his grey cardigan, his black suspenders. She told Nonno she was old enough to go on the up and down horses.
"I wanna go on that one,” she begged, pointing to the shiny red up-and-down horse with the yellow saddle trimmed in blue.
Nonno picked her up, walked over to the horse, propped her up on the yellow saddle and stepped down from the circular platform so he could wave at her from the sidelines. The merry-go-round began to turn.
Annabelle held on tight to the neck of the wooden horse. At first she was able to hold her own. But it was rough going. The up-and-down motion was a force she’d never before experienced; she had to grip her arms and legs tightly to stay up straight. Other kids made it look so easy. Other kids held on with one hand only. Other kids had one arm free to reach out and grab … what? What were they grabbing at? And why? She’d never been sure.
A golden ring. She saw it now and knew the reason the kids were reaching out. On the outer rim of the merry-go-round platform, on one of the poles that supported the roof, a golden ring stuck out like a tongue. As the platform turned and their horses passed the pole, the kids would reach way out to their right, straining to hook their index fingers into the shiny hoop, pull it out of the slot. (If they were skilled enough to snag a ring, they could redeem it for a free ride – Annabelle learned this later from her cousin Frances.)
Annabelle wanted one of those rings. She was feeling more confident now. She reached out and tried her luck at grabbing the ring, but her arm didn’t want to stretch as far as she needed it to. On the next go round, as her horse approached the golden ring, she leaned her body out beyond his neck, straining to reach the prize.
By the time her attention jerked back from the ring, back to what was going on with her body there on the red horse, she had already begun to slide off the yellow saddle.Though she clung to the horse's neck, her body was slipping further and further down the side of the horse. Her arms ached.
Just as they were about to give out, Nonno jumped onto the moving platform, ran to his granddaughter’s side and caught her in his arms. She buried her face in the curve of his neck and let him carry her off the merry-go-round. As they walked back to Nonno’s house together in silence, Annabelle wondered if he would tell her father about what happened to her on the up-and-down horse.
Later on that afternoon, Annabelle sat at the kitchen table with her head propped in her hands, watching her father cut the horseshoe of hair that remained on Nonno’s head, clip the scraggly fur on the back of his neck, shave his beard and trim his mustache. Snippets of coarse white hair flew from his eyebrows, his nose, his ears. Finer, softer hair floated down from his head onto last week’s edition of the Brooklyn Eagle spread flat on the linoleum floor under his feet. Nonno sat patiently at the head of the table, a white towel draped over his shoulders, gazing out the back door at the long, narrow backyard, the tomato garden, the grape arbor, the fig tree. From time to time, he beamed his gaze Annabelle’s way and winked at her.
Ann Capozzoli lives with her husband, two standard poodles and a Quaker parrot in Kingston, New York. Writing satisfies a hunger in her. When she doesn’t write for a couple of days, the hunger returns.