Read This Month's Free Short Story

A Fair Affair

      "Well, girls, I think this may be the place," laughed Susannah Bowles as she opened the door to the Exhibit Hall of the Pearl River County Fair. "I feel like Howard Carter at the entrance to King Tut's tomb. I see wonderful things!"

     Hope and I entered the building behind her, eager to view the entries from around the county and to check on how our own entries fared in the judging. For me, the best part of the fair was seeing how children how used their creative abilities to put together colorful projects. Next best was seeing their eyes light up as they found their creation on display, especially if it won a ribbon.

     "I'm wondering how my cinnamon streusel coffee cake rated," said Susannah. "When I brought it in, the competition looked pretty stiff."

     "As if anyone could beat your coffee cake," I said. "If you didn't get a blue ribbon, I'd wonder why."

     She smiled and thanked me for my vote of confidence, then hurried to the display of baked goods in the food section.

     "Let's find your crocheted entries," said Hope.

     "Let's find your canned goods first," I told her. "I'll bet your watermelon rind pickles get Best in Show."

     "I hope you're right. That recipe was a favorite of Grandma’s....I always feel as if she's smiling at me when I make it." Hope’s wistful smile touched my heart. Although she had suffered great loss, she remained her sweet self. Arm in arm, we followed Susannah to the food display.

     Sure enough, Susannah's cinnamon streusel coffee cake sported a blue ribbon. The smile on her face belied her simple "Well, good" response. She couldn't hide her happiness.

     Hope fared well, too. Her corn relish held a red ribbon, as did her bread and butter pickles. Her beet pickles and sliced dill pickles showed blue ribbons. And, just as I predicted, her watermelon rind pickles hid behind an oversized lavender Best in Show rosette as the lavender ribbons cascaded from the shelf.

    “You did it, Hope. You got Best in Show!” Suzanne said, hugging Hope in her excitement.

     I patted Hope on the back. “You both did well. I’m so happy for you!”

     “Let’s go see how your crochet was judged,” said Hope. “You seem to be reluctant to check on your work.”

     I had to admit, I feared how my work might have scored. This was my first year competing since my return to Cypress Point and I worried I might have done poorly. But the two of them tugged at my arms and nearly dragged me toward the needlecraft area.

     As we crossed the Exhibit Hall, a series of staccato crashes shattered the air. I pulled my sister and friend down and under a table as the noises continued.

     “Mercy McKay, what on earth are you doing?” asked Hope, her voice a taut whisper.

     “Stay down,” I said. “It could be gunfire. Keep your heads down. One of you call 9-1-1 while I try to see what’s going on.” I crawled toward the end of the table, against the pull of Hope’s hand on my ankle. I looked back to my sister.

   “Be careful, Mercy,” she mouthed. Fear etched her face.

     I nodded and continued my crawl, ignoring the protests coming from my knees. When I reached the end of the table, I rose to table top height. I peeked up and down the hall. Others were crouched low and looking around in confusion.

     Finally, I spotted the source of the noise. A small boy stood beside a table full of wooden pieces, and he shoved the table in a steady rhythm. With each shove, another wooden exhibit fell over on the table or onto the floor. The crashes came from the pieces landing around him.

     “It’s a little boy,” I called back to my companions.

     No one else seemed to be moving. I signaled for Hope and Susannah to follow me and I got to me feet and walked toward the boy. I heard the girls behind me as I hurried to the child.

     “Hey, little guy, what’s the matter?” I asked as I gathered him into my arms. “You might hurt yourself on the mean old table if you’re not careful.”

     He fought me as I tried to direct him away from the table. Tears streamed down his cheeks and I realized his eyes were not focused on anything around him. Was this little one blind?

     I worked a path away from the wooden shapes on the floor and then sat on the floor with him in my lap.

     “My name is Mercy. What’s yours?” I struggled to keep a grip on the boy, who appeared to be about six.

     “Georgie,” he sobbed. “I want my mama.”

     Hope knelt next to us and smoothed his chestnut hair back from his damp forehead. His attack on the table had taken a toll on him. I rocked him gently, trying to soothe him. He seemed to be uninjured except for his panic.

     “Georgie, do you know your mama’s name?” Susannah asked. “I can try to find her for you if I know her name.”

     “Her name is Mama,” he wailed and cried even harder.

     I saw the look of frustration which crossed Susannah’s face for a moment, before she turned and walked away. A few long minutes later, I heard an announcement over the Fairgrounds’ public-address system.

     “Will Georgie’s mother please report to the Fair office immediately? I repeat, Georgie’s mother, please report to the Fair office at once.”

     While we waited, Hope procured a cup of water for the boy. He sipped the cool water, then said “t’ank you.”

     “You’re welcome,” said Hope. “How about letting my wipe your face so you will be all clean and handsome for Mama when she gets here?”

     Georgie agreed and Hope wiped his face with a damp paper towel she had obtained when she got the water. As the tears were wiped away, a charming face emerged.

     “Why, Georgie, you’re a handsome boy when your face is clean,” Hope told him. His shy smile answered for him.

    I heard a rush of footsteps behind me.

     “Thank God, thank God,” a woman’s voice called. Jeans-clad legs came into view, followed by two people in khaki, and Susannah.

     “Mama, Mama, where was you?” said Georgie, turning toward the sound of his mother’s voice.

     She swept him out of my arms and held him close. “I’ve been looking for you, silly boy.

     “I was here, Mama, but I got stuck. I couldn’t get through.” The boy’s voice quivered.

     “One of the tables blocked his path,” I explained. “So, he tried to push through it. I don’t think he’s hurt, just frightened.”

     “Thank you for helping him,” she said. “He disappeared while I was paying for his corn dog, about fifteen minutes ago. I was in a panic. All the fair staff has been helping me search the grounds. I don’t know how he got in here.” As she spoke she stroked his hair and face.

     I struggled up from the cold concrete floor. The young woman before me appeared to be in her late twenties. Her soft chestnut curls bobbed as she kissed her son.

     “The peoples brung me,” he told her. “So many peoples. I was in the middle of the peoples and they brung me here.”

     “You mean the school group I told you about?” she asked.

     “Yes, Mama, all the school peoples. They was like me, kids. We walked together.”

     Ah, mystery solved! A young boy, caught in a school group and carried along with the crowd in the instant his mother was distracted, ended up in an unfamiliar place and panicked.

     The ladies responsible for overseeing the Exhibit Hall joined our little human knot.

     “What a mess! It will take us an hour to get things back in order,” complained Donna, as she surveyed the damage. “I certainly hope no one’s entry was broken.”

     “Just be glad the mess is wood and not glass,” said Cathleen. “I’ll take care of this, if you’ll check the rest of the displays, okay?” Her conciliatory tone seemed to calm Donna, who walked away.

     “When we got the call of a missing child on the radio, we rushed out to join the search. I guess we should have looked around in here first,’ Cathleen said. “I’m glad we have a happy ending. A lost child is everyone’s worst nightmare.” She set to work reorganizing the display of woodworking crafts.

     “My name is Mercy McKay. I’m so happy to see Georgie in your arms.” I reached out to shake the young mother’s hand. “And I’m sure Georgie is glad to be there, too.”

     “Karen Marchand,” she replied. “How can I ever thank you? Georgie’s blindness isn’t a problem in a familiar location, but he’s never been to the Fairgrounds before. My husband would never have forgiven me if I lost Georgie.”

    “Everything’s fine,” I said. “I’m glad we could help.”

     We three (LOL)4s watched as mother and son left the building. I hoped the little fellow would get his corn dog.

     “Now to the business at hand,” said Hope. “On to the needlework entries.”

     She pulled me to the displays with Susannah on my other arm, and began looking at the tags. I drifted over to the youth entries and found what I was looking for: the hat and scarf crocheted by my young protégé, Keisha. The girl had taken to crochet with a passion. Even though she lived with a foster family now, she and I got together each week for a lesson. Her late grandmother had crocheted and Keisha learned in her memory. Her natural aptitude showed in her work and a blue ribbon hung from her name tag. Hurray, Keisha!

     Then I turned to my own projects. The baby blanket carried a blue ribbon; the booties and hat set, a red. A new project for me, a crocheted collar, held a blue ribbon to my delight. The adult watch hat earned a white for third place. My pride and joy, a crocheted prayer shawl, held a blue. The shawl was to be a gift for Hope and I felt great joy in knowing it was a blue-ribbon winner.

     “Look how well you did, little sister,” said Hope. “I don’t know why you were so reluctant to come over here.”

     All I could do was shrug my shoulders and smile. The day was a success.

     We left our day at the County Fair tired but happy. As we headed back to Cypress Point, we chatted about our projects and speculated about what we could enter next year. I love a County Fair!

© 2017 Mary Beth Magee      BOTR Press, LLC