We turn the lights down after hours, once all the children and the cranky mothers are gone from the museum, and we lean back on the circular bench and spin beneath the famous artist’s blown glass installation. We spin slowly, beneath the tiny sculpted world suspended above us—babies and shells, snakes and cerulean blue spheres, all lit from the atrium above—and the colors smear across our bodies, painting us beautiful.
“Lean here,” he says, hooking me close, his palm guiding my head to his chest. The thrumming inside him vibrates my skull and we spin some more, so slowly.
He plays a pirate in the children’s theater play. Has been a fox here too, advising the turtle on how to race the hare: Negative splits, track suits, Go Baby, Go. He’s always sexy. I’ve loved him from the beginning.
“Let’s never get off,” I tell him, humming a stanza along with his chest’s far away song.
“You wanna go up and take a ride on the carousel instead?” He laughs into my hair, “You spin me right round baby, faster faster faster.” He auditioned for the hare in the show but I think the fox was the right role. My fox pulls me onto his lap and puts his hands around my waist.
We’ve only every made out in the family bathroom near the dinosaur exhibit, where the framed vintage posters on the walls above the toilets are of ominous monster movies like The Land That Time Forgot and Behemoth the Sea Monster and his arms are welcome tentacles that move across me. “Monsters launch attack against earth,” he whispers, tongue on my neck.
I am a Jack of all Trades at the museum. Sometimes I usher the theater shows, taking tickets and pointing out the stroller parking area, and I can watch my sexy fox strut his stuff when he’s not between acting jobs, painting houses or landscaping. Other days I prowl the preschool wing and fix the waterscapes after the babies have thrown their pacifiers and chew toys in and clogged the works. I sweep the micro-fine grains from the floor at the sand play table, watch children giggle and throw the glittery stuff into the air again.
I lean down and kiss his nose, then tease his mouth, and then I hop off my Fox and he chases as I run up the ramp from the basement, up from the depth of all that pressing color of the glass. We emerge to the full majesty of the glass sculpture, which reaches four stories through the atrium, an iceberg of swirling, snaking, blues and reds and oranges practically hollering through the air. We make ourselves dizzy running around it all the way to the top floor. The near-ancient carousel’s repainted tigers and horses wait for us in the darkness, a near-hundred-year menagerie of promised joy.
On days when it’s my turn to be the Carousel Chaperone I give the safety speech on the loudspeaker: You must be at least three years old etc. and I push the button that blares carnival music that tests the sanity of every parent in the vicinity (Can’t you turn it DOWN?) and I put my hand inside a tiny monkey puppet and I make him clap the cymbals sewn into his hands while the children, strapped to their horses, spin, mouths agape.
The Fox and I push the red power button together and the machinery makes soft creaking sounds as the carousel gets up to speed; no music tonight.
“I want to defile you on this beast.” He points to where he wants to do it on the back of the static tiger’s shellacked stripes.
“Maybe instead on one of the little benches where the moms sit with their infants?” I am unconvinced.
While I was checking the safety belt of a particularly hyper child, I once overheard a mom alarm her friend with the news that her husband wanted to drink her breast milk “From my breast!” The carousel is the least sexy of all places.
“Come on. This thing makes me hot,” his says in his pirate accent with a wink and an Arrrrgh! I roll my eyes a little and wonder if he really could make it in New York, off-Broadway—his persistent dream. He’s quite young and stuck here in his hometown, by choice, to be near his sister who is continuously sick with a childhood cancer she can’t shake even though she is no longer a child. I love how the kids in the theater here delight in his antics on stage, that they are proxy for his love. He’s not still here because of me—this I know. It’s okay.
“This is a sacred space!” I advise, jumping onto the platform. He sighs, his smile a charm. He will get what he wants, eventually.
I wave him over to a trio of fancy horses that slide along their poles in a vertical dance. He climbs onto the white horse next to mine, and we hold hands across the space between them, his palm smooth against mine.
One day I’ll leave this place and become a teacher or go back to school and become an architect or maybe I’ll stay here forever and become Director of New Programs. Tonight we just move in a creaky silence beneath the Christmas lights hung above the contraption of dreams to fool us into believing the museum has a retractable roof and we’re peering at real stars and galloping in ever-widening circles until we’re absorbed by the night itself to become a small galaxy of our own twitching desire.
Katherine Gehan received an MFA in fiction from Emerson College and, among other places, her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Muddy River Poetry Review, Literary Mama, Literary Orphans, Crack the Spine, SundogLit and Mojave River Review. Her Whiskeypaper story was featured on Wigleaf’s 2014 (Very) Short Fiction Longlist. Find her at www.kategehan.wordpress.com or @StateofKate on Twitter.