Freddy squinted a bit when Dr. Chaver held up the inkblot card. He tilted his head a little, trying to figure out what he was seeing.
“So,” Dr Chaver moved the card a little closer to him, holding it carefully by the lower corner, her glossy red fingernails reflected the bright light from the window. “What about this one?”
She always had her nails beautifully manicured; they always caught his eye when he was in her office. It seemed a contradiction. She was always modestly dressed, her brown hair pulled back in a neat bun tied with a dark ribbon. Her glasses were angular but black and otherwise nondescript.
Her face wasn’t elaborately made up, her lips just barely pinker than her skin, and they drew into a gentle smile.
He scrunched his lips in a flat line, turning the corner of his mouth down as he thought.
First, he’d seen the shiny red gloss, but then he moved his eyes and saw what made him think of crisscross metal plating patterns. In his mind, it was distinct, dirty, spattered with paint and rust, scuffed, and worn, and in that thought, he heard excited screams of joy.
He remembered a Merry-go-Round, the dangerous type when he was a kid. Everyone would hold tight to the bars while they ran around and around, speeding it up, until they could run no faster and leaped up, grasping each other and the bars to keep from being thrown off. Spinning around and around, laughing, sweating, out of breath. None of them spun perfectly, and he remembered the round and round wobble that slowed as it ran down.
When He'd been older, he went there alone, by invitation, to his old school. It lay just off the road, surrounded by flat, bright yellow fields in the August sun, hot, dry, filled with the buzzing sounds of insects and chirps. The Mt. Vernon, Indiana summer memories always felt like someone else’s life. This stupid inkblot memory was clear, his life.
The playground had always been a barely up kept field of dry, prickly grass, gravel here and there. The only cool grass was directly near the red brick school. There were hopscotch stoness, and beyond that, the tall chain swings, the monkey bars, the water fountain that only bubbled up bland, warm, well water. In the distance, in the far far corner, was an ancient willow tree, stately but wild and wise. The whole yard was gilded by rusty chain-link fences easily climbed by the agile, but unforgiving to the unwary.
In the center, the Merry-go-round was the altar of the yard. The ground around it was worn and bare, stomped flat and hard with the tread of thousands of tiny running shoes and feet around it over the years. Very few could resist its magnetism, and even tho Freddy had been out of elementary school for a few years, he could still feel the pull of that loved device.
Ella was already there waiting for him, she sat looking out, as he approached, her legs dangling, touching the ground with her white sneakers and pink socks with lace around her ankles. She thoughtfully pushed herself back and forth, her eyes fixed on him as she moved it slowly left, then right. She had a tall glass bottle of Coke and was sipping it with a bright blue straw.
As he had approached, she stopped the rhythm and stood, smiling.
“I thought you’d chicken out.” She grinned when he’d stopped before her, she tilted her head a little. “You’re burned.” And swiped the blond bangs out of his eyes.
Freddy was facing the sun, hot and low, and blinding behind her. She was just shy of his height and her hair shone yellow, like the fields around them, with the sun. He looked down and smiled. “This place is always fun.”
He had been nervous. They had spoken many times before and once, in the back pew at church, they had secretly held hands. She had turned her head and smirked at him and then squeezed his hand briefly. Those kinds of secrets always made him smile. He was eager to repeat them and learn more about her.
“Come on, spin us.” She said, stepping out to set her bottle of coke on the ground, and then climbing to the center of the old rotating platform. She put her palms on the bars that converged in the center and then grasped them slowly as she spread her arms across them. She looked back at Freddy with a sly grin. “Not too fast, Freddy.”
And he stared up at her, watching her fingers curl around the bars, he saw her fingernails painted red. How had he never noticed that before?
He smiled up and started walking around her in the center, holding one of the merry-go-round bars in his hand as he moved. He stepped up the pace a little more until it was going at a nice clip.
She grabbed tighter to the bars “not too fast!” she laughed and leaned forward as she grinned at him. “Come up!”
It wasn’t spinning precariously but was fast enough that the inertia still wanted to throw him off, and he leaned in as he grasped across to one of the other converging bars. He eventually held one bar next to her hand and she glanced down quickly as if making certain he was touching her.
They spun around and around, laughing as the heat of the late day cooled. They were so dizzy. Two figures, spinning around and around, leaning closer and closer to each other until she leaned forward to his lips, and he met hers.
“Freddy,” Dr Chaver said in a more singsong voice looking bemused. “Are you there?” She tapped the card again with her perfectly manicured red nail.
He smiled for a moment.
“What do you see?” she asked.
“A first kiss.” He said.