The Making of Mirabelle
(Cardinal County Series)

Excerpt

01 | Turbulence Lives Under the Skin

September, 1954 - As I stood at the threshold of the travelling carnival, I detected the enticing scent of a man’s cologne. I savoured its pleasing aroma by taking deep, slow breaths until all traces of it disappeared. My weekly trip to the library seemed dull compared to the blinking lights, loud music and raised voices of the joyful chaos scattered in front of me. Within seconds, I decided to buy a ticket for the carnival instead.

On the other side of the field, out past the carnival’s boundaries and beyond the tree tops in the distance, the early evening’s moonlight peeked through a thin film of clouds. I sensed the moisture suspended in the cool air. Leaves and spiders’ webs would capture dew drops throughout the night. Tomorrow morning, pools of shimmering liquid would last only as long as the evaporation process would allow.

“How many tickets, miss?” A young man’s voice drew my attention away from the cloud-covered moon.

“It’s just me,” I answered, smiling. “One ticket, please.” I slid my two quarters through the open slot of the booth’s window and across the counter.

He handed me a voucher. “Be sure to stop by Madame Constellatia’s tent. She’s a famous fortune teller.”

“Why is she famous? Are her predictions guaranteed?”

“Well…” he stuttered.

“What if she predicts something unfortunate?” A small bandage stuck to his skin, a few inches below his left ear. “Did you cut yourself shaving?” I imagined if we’d been standing in the morning’s light, two rosy-red patches would have appeared on either side of his face. I walked away, aware of my inappropriate smile, but unwilling to banish it for the sake of social propriety.

I slipped through the entrance leading to the carnival grounds and headed straight for the candy apple wagon. The man’s cologne found me for the second time. It coaxed me to forgo my sweet apple treat and wander through the labyrinth of food stalls, daring rides and kids waiting to take their chances with a bee-bee gun, ring-toss or ball throw.

I continued to follow the scent amidst a closely-packed crowd waiting to ride the roller coaster. Zigzagging between them, I tried not to touch anyone, but ended up tagging shoulders with a man dressed like a movie-set cowboy. “Excuse me, sir,” I said after pushing past him.

“No problem, little lady,” he said.

Standing five feet and nine inches tall, I didn’t consider myself little. As for the lady part, my parents would state the opposite to be true due to my lack of social graces and my preference to ignore the feminine clothes hanging in my closet.

“Get your fresh, buttered popcorn, folks.” A deep voice bellowed above the loud music of the merry-go-round. “Step on up.” I glanced in his direction. We made eye contact. “Come along then, miss. Don’t be shy.”

A chorus of screams went up into the air as the roller coaster riders turned upside down, going through one of the vertical loops.

“It’s really quite good.” A young man approached me from my right. He held out a paper bag marked by dots of melted butter.

The cologne I’d been tracking hovered in the space between us: concentrated and crisp. I noted his clothing, height and wavy hair. “Would you consider it too forward if I tried a sample of your popcorn?” I leaned closer to him. “Of course, it wouldn’t be fitting if we were strangers.” I held my hand out to him. “I’m Mirabelle. You must be an out-of-towner. I’d remember seeing someone like you.”

His hand gripped mine. “Clifton. I work for the carnival. Set up. Tear down. Odd jobs, mostly.”

Our hands separated. “Sounds exciting,” I said, reaching inside his bag of popcorn. “Anything is better than living here.”

“Don’t bet on it. Besides, this town seems like a nice place to settle down.” Clifton said, checking his watch. “I’m sorry. Have to go. I have to meet someone in a few minutes.” He passed the bag of popcorn to me. “Nice to make your acquaintance, Mirabelle.”

As he walked away, I watched him pass from spotlight to shadow. The bright colours of his thick plaid shirt flashed with momentary brilliance.

I tossed the half-empty bag of popcorn into the closest trash can, intent on following him. Clifton’s height made it easy to spot him in a crowd. Past the roasting hot dogs, merry-go-round and spinning tea cups, I kept him in sight. At some point between the go-carts and cotton candy cart, I lost him. The smells of food in their various stages of cooking obliterated any remaining traces of his cologne.

I stared at the pink puffy bits of cotton candy and couldn’t help but imagine them as chunks of fibre glass insulation on sticks.

Wandering alongside ringing bells, I smiled at the vendors waving their hands and continued to walk onwards, past the magician’s stage. Prepared to circle back to the main entrance and head for home, I spotted Clifton as he entered the fortune teller’s tent.

Using my fingers, I combed out the worst of the knots in my hair. Long, red and unruly, I couldn’t do much else with it under the circumstances. Unable to pull the sleeves of my sweater down far enough to cover my wrists, I decided instead to roll them up, closer to my elbows. Not my favourite sweater, but I hadn’t expected to run into someone more deserving of my everyday black turtleneck.

Unwilling to let Clifton disappear before I could talk to him again, I approached the tent. My hand shook a little as I grabbed the colourful fabric covering the doorway: a threadbare velvet panel ornamented with stars and moons.

It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Through the narrow opening, I saw two women sitting across from each other, staring at something resembling a bright, over-sized lightbulb. “I see… turbulence,” one of the women said, the beads of her bracelets clicking against each other.

“I’ve never travelled in a plane and I don’t plan to.” The younger woman’s voice sounded familiar.