THE PURPLE POODLE


by Randy Reynolds

At the 1960 St. Tammany Parish Fair, I lost all my money first thing in the morning at the shooting gallery and walked around hungry the rest of the day with the smell of corndogs in the air. Traumatized by hunger (no money, no food, no way home until the bus delivered me back to Lee Road late in the afternoon,) I promised myself I'd never again waste all my fair money before I even had a chance to eat a corndog.

Six years later,when I took Sherry to the fair, I ate two—mine and hers, (taking advantage of the fact that she was still too shy to eat in front of me.)

Later, on the Tilt-a-whirl, as she joyously screamed bloody murder and held onto me for dear life, my stomach rolled independently of centrifugal force and I gripped the safety rail in misery. (Lord, why did I eat that second corndog?)

When the Tilt-a-whirl stopped spinning, Sherry said, “Your face looks kind of green.”

I opened my mouth and responded, but not with words. Spewing up corndog, Co-Cola and souvenirs from meals gone by, I looked to her for sympathy before I died, but all I got was, “Be careful. Don’t get it on my shoes.”

When I was at my lowest, on my hands and knees, dry-heaving in the midway, she said, “It’s after eight. We better be getting home.”

I panicked. It wasn’t time to leave. Nine o’clock was her curfew and I had big plans in mind for this girl, this night... before the clock struck nine. I couldn’t take her home yet. I had to get her in a better mood so I could spring my trap. What could I…

My gaze fell upon the shooting gallery. I hated that shooting gallery for taking all my money in 1960. I had come back each year since, seeking revenge, but never got it. What made me think things would be different now? Nothing. But I needed more time with Sherry and so I said the first thing that came into my mind: “Let’s try the shooting gallery.”

“We really need to get going, Randy.”

I spat the last of the bile from my mouth and pointed to the wall of prizes. “I’ll win you that purple poodle.”

The purple poodle was the largest stuffed toy on the wall.

“Okay,” she said, matter-of-factly.

My bluff had been called. I could stand there and shoot in that rigged gallery forever and never win a prize; which would be more time with Sherry, but I’d be spending it making a fool of myself, getting ripped off again, like all the times before.

But miracles happen: Either Jesus came down and directed my shots or that carny was so distracted by the pretty girl at my side that he didn't do what he should have done to make me lose, and I won the purple poodle!

Sherry, whose belief in me was apparently (and unaccountably) unlimited, said, “I knew you could do it.”

We took the scenic route home from Covington to Robert by way of Mandeville, stopping on a strip of Lake Pontchartrain shoreline that, despite its lack of sand, we called “the beach.” We ran and played among limbs and tree trunks left over from Hurricane Betsy’s passage the year before. Stopping to catch my breath, I leaned against a fallen oak, reached out for her hand and said, “Will you marry me?”

“Me? You want me?” she said.

She’d seen me at my worst that night, throwing up the last corndogs I would ever eat. She’d heard and believed my outrageous promise to win the purple poodle, a valuable clue, if one was needed, about my personality. And now this rash (?) proposal …because I could no longer imagine life without her… Could she square all that with whatever dream she had of the life she wanted for herself?

She made me tell her twice that I was sure and then she said, "Okay." And it started raining and we ran to the car and turned on the radio in time to hear The Lovin' Spoonful's Rain On The Roof, which we took to be a sign. (Of course, everything's a sign when you're in love.)

She named the purple poodle Pierre and slept with him, holding him desperately tight, as tightly as she could, every night from then until the following June, when I took his place.

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