The tent floor was covered with straw and smelled of popcorn and candy and shit. Clowns were juggling and strong men were lifting. Must be Scotsmen, I thought to myself. The night was sticky and the cicadas competed with the calliope inside. A food passer in a red skirt with black diamonds on it walked around with a tray of elaborately decorated petit fours. Gregor took one and offered it in my direction. 

“No thanks,” I said, “you know my track record with tiny cakes.” Not to be outdone, though. I made short work of the cotton candy, kettle corn and even a caramel apple with bright pink sprinkles on the outside.

There were beautiful women riding the elephants and crazy men tangling with tigers. But in the center was a mermaid in a tank. I couldn’t tell that’s who it was to begin with. I could only see the bluish-green glow on the children’s faces as they watched her with fascination. Her tail was iridescent and shimmering. Red hair just a shade darker than my own. She was smiling on the outside, but her eyes were dim. Soon, they locked with mine. And I couldn’t shy away. All I could hear in that moment was the din of confusion: the music, the laughter, pops and cracks from various areas of the tent.

I felt like I was on the carousel and everything around me was still moving and sounding, but I was standing motionless. It’s how I felt the afternoon my mother died when everything around us went up in flames. An explosion. Confusion. Collateral damage. A glimpse of a raven’s wing. Was the Hatter there that day?

Couldn’t be.