Kendel had been sent by her mother to the store to get sugar and flour. As always, she wandered over to the field where the great wheel stood. The great wheel towered over the overgrown field. It was once painted bright blue, red, and white, but the paint now looked more like the scales of a prehistoric monster. The seats, buckets they were called, used to swing as the goliath turned. They now hung frozen mid sway on their rusted axles. The grass that surrounded it was in places taller than Kendel and vines had choked the controls.
As she stood below looking up at the once brilliant wheel, Kendel could see nothing but the large spoked circle. Her granddaddy had told her the story many times. He would tell her about the twister that grabbed up tents, clowns, animals and even the bearded lady as it swept through town. After that night, he said, the carnival never returned. The great wheel was all that remained.
Kendel liked to try to imagine what it was like to be at the carnival that night. All the lights and music, children and parents, candy and fun would have been a sight. She imagined the freedom she would feel riding high in one of the buckets.
Kendel found a wonderful book in the library that showed big bright tents and clowns in crazy costumes. She even found a picture of a bearded lady and wondered how even a twister could carry off a woman like that.
When she was staring at the great wheel, Kendel felt like she was somewhere else. Something pretty great was right there in that field once. It seemed like this was the only place in this whole town where anything great had ever happened.
She was born in Clayton and had never been more than a few hours away from home in her 12 years. The great wheel sat there in this same small town year after year going nowhere. It never had the chance to go the many places that most carnival rides got to go. She wondered if the wheel wanted to be somewhere else, somewhere different. She knew she just wanted to be somewhere besides on her grandaddy’s farm.
Kendel sat down on the large tree stump, the one that become her favorite place to sit and watch the great wheel. She looked up and wondered what it would have been like to ride. She often imagined how she would feel looking over the whole town while the wind blew her hair all around. She would wave down to all the people below and yell down to her little brother. He would never ride with her because he would be too scared. It would be great.
As she always did, Kendel sat and stared at the great wheel in all its still glory. She tried to imagine it turning and the buckets swaying back and forth as it moved. As she daydreamed something happened. It started to move. One of the buckets moved first. Just a little jerk, like the wind had moved it. Kendel thought she must have imagined it. Then it moved again. This time it swayed back and forth and then another and another until all of the buckets were swaying.
Kendel watched, still not believing her eyes, as the whole wheel began to turn. She looked and she was the only one around. There was no one else for her to ask if they saw it too. Maybe she should get someone. She thought about it for a moment, but the thought was abandoned when she heard the music. It sounded like one of those music boxes her momma had on her dresser.
She walked closer to the wheel expecting it all to stop. Instead, as she got closer she could see that the wheel was not scaly anymore. The blues, reds, and whites were all shiny and brilliant. Kendel was mesmerized as she watched the wheel turn and the buckets sway. It was just as beautiful as she had imagined it would be. Then the lights came on; bright and white as anything she had ever seen.
Kendel noticed something out of the corner of her eye and turned to see a man standing in the box with the controls. He looked like the men in the pictures from the library book. He wore a bright red waist jacket with long tails dangling behind, shiny brass buttons down the front, and a tall black hat. He smiled at her and waved for her to come to him. Before she could even remember moving she was standing at the gate. The man reached his hand out and said, “Ticket, please.” She reached into her pocket thinking maybe she would give him the money that her mama had sent her to the store with, but instead she pulled out three small red paper tickets. She handed one of them to the man and he motioned for her to enter. She stepped forward toward the great wheel as a bucket came to rest right in front of her. The man lifted the bar and helped her into the seat.
As she was lifted off the ground and into the air, Kendel looked down at the field. She rose higher and higher. When the bucket reached the top, the great wheel stopped. The wind whipped her hair this way and that. Kendel turned and could see the water tower off in the distance, and just beyond that the Anderson farm. She could see the lush green fields and the rust colored barn that stood next to the Anderson’s white farmhouse. She looked to the other side and could see her grandaddy’s farm. It looked so small from up there. She could see her momma out on the front porch. Her granddaddy was at the barn and she could see that he was feeding Mable, the milk cow.
She yelled down, but they must not have been able to hear her because neither of them even glanced her direction. She stayed at the top of the wheel for a long while just looking around at the ordinary things that she passed every day and marveling at how small they looked and how pretty Clayton was from way up there. She thought this must be how a new place looked when you saw it for the first time.
When the wheel started to move again she was a little disappointed. She wanted to stay up in the air where she could see everything. She had never felt so free. The bucket came to a stop right where it had picked her up. The man again lifted the bar and helped her to the ground. “Thank you, sir.” He only nodded and smiled.
Kendel walked back to the gate and back into the field. As she walked away from the great wheel she turned to look at it once again. There it stood, rusted and scaly as it had for all the times she had come there before. The wheel had stopped and the music and the man were gone. She must have been dreaming.
She sat back down on the stump and stared at the wheel for a long time as it stood unmoving. After what seemed like hours, she heard her momma calling. Kendel raced back to the farm. She had forgotten all about the sugar and flour and when her mother saw that she was empty-handed, she demanded the money she had given her. Kendel reached into the pocket of her skirt and handed her momma the money.
“What is this?” her mother asked. Kendel looked at the money in her momma’s hand and she could not believe what she saw. There, with the money were two red paper tickets.