“Would the owner of a little boy in blue jeans and a black Myrtle Beach T-shirt please come to Northwest Aqua Comfort to pick him up.” The loudspeaker crackled and shut off.
Marissa dropped the DeLux EZ Bun back on the display table and quickly scanned the crowd until she spotted Rob. He was checking out knives at Silver Valley Hunt Supply. Asa wasn’t with him. Rob caught her eye, smiled and waved. Idiot! Hadn’t he heard the loud speaker? How many little boys in black Myrtle Beach T-shirts could there be at the Spokane County Interstate Fair?
“I thought he was with you,” Rob said, stuffing a commemorative buck knife back in its tooled leather sheath.
“No. He followed you. Right after I got the cotton candy out of his hair. Remember?”
“Where the heck is Northwest Aqua Comfort?”
“What the heck is Northwest Aqua Comfort?” Marissa said, squinting over hundreds of heads. “Where would he be likely to go?”
Not back to the livestock barn, that was for sure. The horned goats with their yellow eyes freaked him out. Royally. The cows smelled, and the row of baby pigs firmly attached to their mother, made him cry, They’re eating her! as he tried to climb up Marissa’s legs.
Not to the Ferris wheel, which stopped after two rotations to let him off. The other passengers booed and cursed until the operator told them to cool their jets and took Asa gently out of the car. Rob followed sheepishly, then the giant wheel wheezed back up to speed.
Not to the midway where a bigger kid clipped him in the forehead with a bean bag, and the carny had inappropriate tattoos displayed in full color on his forearms.
“Maybe the chickens?” Rob said.
“They scared him.”
“The chickens scared him?”
“Yeah, the ones with the umbrella hair.” Marissa’s fingers flicked over her head.
“Whatever. He was terrified.”
“But the bunnies, he liked those,” Rob said.
“Too close to the chickens.”
They were power walking through the food aisles now, looking for Northwest Aqua Comfort. Only Elephant Ears and Kettle Korn and juice stand after juice stand and that infernal cotton candy machine spinning pink cobwebs with the holding power of Superglue. Three times, Rob ran up behind a little boy in a black T-shirt. Every time Marissa knew, even before the kid looked up in wonder at the lunatic apologizing to his parents, that it wasn’t Asa. She’d know her Asa from any angle.
“It’s the Myrtle Beach T-shirt,” she said. “It’s bad luck
“Your mother sent him that shirt.”
“It’s still bad luck.”
“It’s a T-shirt.”
Marissa had always hated Myrtle Beach. But it’s where you went to have fun if you were vacationing within a hundred miles of the place. The big day out was Myrtle Beach, S.C., with its stupid Swamp Fox roller coaster, and the giant carousel where she never got to ride the horse she wanted and the Tilt-a-Whirl where she always threw up afterwards. And the steamy heat and mosquitoes and, when she got older, the boys with cigarettes and mullets checking out her long blond hair, her halter top, her shorts.
“Why’d we even come here?” she asked Rob.
“Because fairs are fun! Once we find Northwest Aqua Comfort we can keep on having a good time.”
Marissa didn’t answer. Her gaze swept the fairgrounds like the Minelab X-terra Metal Detector Rob had tried out not an hour ago. But she refused to look at her husband. Rob. Who still kept all his 4-H ribbons tacked up the basement, who got excited about giant squash and exotic poultry. Who believed in pickle canning competitions and tractor pulls. If all these people just weren’t so tall. And fat. Like they ate Elephant Ears and Belgian Waffles for every meal.
“Northwest Aqua Comfort!” Rob smacked his forehead, his face lighting up as he remembered. He was off in a flash, shouting something over his shoulder. She thought he said “hot tubs.”
She flew after him and grabbed his arm. “You’re going the wrong way! The hot tubs. They’re back…” She flung her arm behind her, and they spun off in the other direction.
“We didn’t want to move him,” said the man in the orange barbecue apron and cowboy hat.
There lay Asa, in the deepest valley of the largest hot tub on display, lured by the serene fiberglass geography, the smooth dry steppes and plateaus, the blue vales. Marissa crept closer.
“The little guy’s all tuckered out,” added a woman with monumental blonde extensions and fingernails the exact same color as her orange barbecue apron. Northwest Aqua Comfort was embroidered across her chest. She winked at Rob. He coughed and blushed.
“Asa?” Marissa whispered and touched her son’s cheek.
Asa smiled in his sleep.
Sitting carefully on the edge of the hot tub, Marissa kicked off her flip-flops, swung her legs around and silently settled her bare feet on the cool plastic molding.
Asa barely stirred as she slid down the tub’s blue side and gently, gently curled herself around her sleeping boy.
Beth Cooley has published two young adult novels, “Ostrich Eye” and “Shelter,” as well as poems, short fiction and essays. She teaches at Gonzaga University. The last time she was at the Interstate Fair she misread a goat’s gender and said something ridiculous that her husband will never let her forget.