As they round the corner the pier reaches out in to the early evening gloom before them, colourful lights glow and flash, calling them forward; a magical wonderland of pulsing stars, glistening in the dusk. As they get closer the noise starts to build, the cheery organ music from the older stalls tinkles along over an electronic bass thump as the fairground evolves, new exciting rides sitting alongside tradition, wooden horses merrily going round and round whilst spaceships swoop and spin overhead. Laughter and screams, shrieks and shouts punctuate the thinning air.
They wander past the outer stalls, smiling as they are beckoned in for a quick game, an easy game of skill. Come on Sir, you look like you have a good aim, you can’t lose! Hoops, balls and targets, stalls lined with lavishly cheap looking prizes for the successful.
At the next stall there are yellow ducks bobbing on the slowly circling current, a weary teenager looks at them as they pass, his eyes full of all the hope someone who wishes they were anywhere but here can muster. She glances back then turns, tugging his sleeve. He glances at her and his heart melts all over again as her excitement bounces them forward. The stall teenager looks up as they approach and intones the price and rules of the game for the thousandth time.
They pay and both pick up their weapons, first one to get a duck is the winner! They laugh.
She was so excited, babbling about her own childhood memories, this first test of skill and achievement still vivid in her mind, brought to life for him through her smile, her wide eyes scanning the ducks as they drift past, choosing her victim carefully.
He lunges forward but misses his first few attempts, the ducks bobbing on what is suddenly a faster current than before. He doesn’t care; he can hear her beside him, laughing in her wonderful cadence, cursing as she too misses then, at last, a triumphant exclamation!
Turns out the ducks aren’t all yellow and she’s managed to snare a red one, a top prize awaits and she immediately points at the large teddy bear. Soon it’s in her arms; she holds it close like a child, a tender poignancy in her eyes as they softly close. It’s never far away, even on days like today.
Maybe the fairground was a bad choice, he thinks.
Her eyes open and she holds the teddy bear out in both hands, giving it to him. One prize she can give. The melancholy is etched on both their faces now as their hands touch and he pulls her in close, enveloping her and the teddy bear in a hug.
“It’s ok” he whispers.
“I know” she says, and turns her head to kiss his neck.
They set off again, quietly determined to have fun. The smell of hotdogs drifts over them and soon they are munching away as they wander. Later on they laugh in the hall of mirrors, scream on the ghost train and on the giant swing she closes her eyes as they spin higher and higher, a single tear rolling down her face, chilled in the evening air.
Candy-floss next and with sticky faces they head for home. Leaving the heaving sounds to the night behind them. They walk home in silence, holding the teddy between them, one paw each, swinging it back and forth.
He can remember it all to this day, the excited buzz of the crowds, marvelling at the strongman as he bent an iron bar as thick as his arm, gasping as the latest greatest ride rocketed people around the sky in spinning circles, up and down, higher and higher until their delighted screams became one, and the lights merged with the stars above them.
They didn’t go back to the fairground again. Life moved on or rather it moved on around them. They remained where they ended up, stuck, lost, unwilling to change, scared to let go of their grief.
Sitting on the edge of the bed he realises he is crying, silent tears drop to the floor as he clutches the rediscovered teddy bear in his arms. He had made it through her clothes and belongings, through well-meaning friends and old photos. He didn’t realise the unspoken memory was waiting here all along.
She is gone and he will be soon. Gone from this house at least, the last vestiges of their belongings being boxed up, shipped up, thrown out, moved on. He found the teddy on a high shelf at the back of the cupboard in the bedroom, out of sight for so so many years and as soon as he reached for it the memories were quick to follow.
He knows he has to let go but he’s so tired of all of this. Tired of going through it, tired of putting on a brave face. It’s only stuff, they say, things that don’t have value, and anyway you’ll still have your memories, they say. He doesn’t want to tell them that the memories are fading, he can’t hold on to them long enough when they arrive, and they are nothing but blurred, grainy, over exposed photos that fade further day by day.
He wipes his face with the back of his hand, holds the teddy out at arms length for one last look, then drops it in the box marked Trash. It falls back and looks up at him. He turns away, everything is past now.
Later that day he sits and waits for them to pick him up. They arrive on time in their fancy big car, all emblems and corporate imagery. They’ve sent two of them as if to remind him of his change of status. His place in the world is different now; he is no longer the key-holder and feels small and weak as one of them lifts his suitcase, the other his arm to help him out to the car. They fuss over his seatbelt and throw his suitcase in the back. He doesn’t complain, just stares out the window at the home he’s leaving, the life once lived.
As the car pulls away his eye catches the pile of bin bags and boxes lying on the pavement, ready to be collected. The final parts of his life. A sorry pile. Next to it is a box marked Trash. He can see the ragged ears of the teddy, its face tilted to the sky, glazed eyes raised to the heavens.