Carney Nights-a Short Story

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It was an ongoing argument, one that hadn't seen an end for more than seven years. 

"Mother, please don't patronize me. I'm not your sixteen year old daughter any more; I happen to be twenty four, in case you've forgotten!" 

"Twenty four and you still live under my roof!" she fired back, knowing full well that she was striking a tender nerve. When her daughter, Jolene, ran off with a lad she'd met one night at the traveling circus, she was only sixteen years of age. The 'affair' lasted less than a week before her mother begrudgingly welcomed her back into her home; she hasn't gone out with another lad since. 

The details of those missing nights are few and far between. But whatever happened, the events changed Jolene forever. Once an outgoing, vivacious young woman, upon return to her mother's home, she was an empty shell of her former self. She shunned her girlhood friends, and outwardly cringed when her mother demanded that she run down the block to pick up a few groceries. Despite many initial attempts, her mother had long since given up trying to decipher the events of those few nights. Instead, she resigned herself to the fact that her daughter was a recluse, and virtually destined to be an old maid. There would be no sprightly grandchildren from her slender thighs, or the sounds of joy and laughter to be heard within the walls of the old 'Mason Place' again. 

But it was a dark and evil secret that robbed Jolene of her innocence. An evil that wasn't quite finished with her yet. It was destined to come out, and although Jolene dreaded the day that it did, she realized deep in the pit of her stomach that it couldn't be any other way. The truth would set her free, or so the self-righteous claimed. Little did they know of the truth that plagued her! 

But her mother was in an exceptionally surly mood this morning, despite the bright sunlight streaming in through the frilly lace draperies. She was determined that Jolene would share in her dark mood, since it was probably her fault, anyway. "There isn't any fresh milk in the icebox. Why haven't you gone to the store and gotten some. This shit stinks! Don't you ever check it? You know I don't like the smell of sour milk." 

For the first time since returning to her mother's house, Jolene didn't cringe at her mother's gravelly voice. Instead, she apologized for the souring of the milk, though she had no idea why it was her fault, and said she would run right out and get a fresh quart. If she needed an excuse to go forward, she had just been given one. 

After being momentarily taken aback by her daughter's eagerness, her mother quickly found her voice and retorted, "And don't be long, I haven't had anything to eat yet this morning, thanks to you!" 

For conflicting reasons that Jolene wasn't ready to analyze, she hurriedly threw on her light parka and headed through the kitchen toward the side door, the door originally intended for admitting the hired help. She was almost through it, when she suddenly realized that she'd forgotten her coin purse. Spinning abruptly, she almost bumped headlong into her mother. Standing there in her worn and faded housecoat, the tattered leather coin purse held out in her right hand, she grumbled grouchily, "You would forget your head if it wasn't attached to your shoulders. Now don't be long." 

Snatching the purse from her, Jolene spun on her heels and shot out the door, suddenly unable to breathe within the confines of the old mansion. As she came out in the carport, she turned toward Tenth Street and hurriedly shuffled along the cobblestone drive. When she reached the sidewalk, she turned to her left, away from the direction of the store, and set off at a brisk pace. For the first time in seven years, she knew exactly where she was going, and why.