It’s been 48 years since the incident. Over the years, I have told no one ~ ever ~ of the events seen at the midnight hour of a warm August night in 1963.
I was at the tender age of 15 and the carnival was in town. I grew up in a small southern town. Anything out of the ordinary was exciting and so was the carnival. Little did I know that the events of the night would leave an impact on me for the rest of my life.
There is just something about the smell of popcorn on the air, calliope music and the mingling of many voices that stirs some primal excitement in me. All my life, that primal excitement has prompted me to do the unexpected. I have shocked myself at times, but it is an instinct that cannot be bound in any form of rationale.
From experience, I can tell you that a small, sleepy, southern town lulls one into a sense of security. It’s kind of like being wrapped in a blanket, warm from a good night of sleep, then awakening to the comfort of a bed, safe from the world. In a small town, every day is predictable, which lends itself to the growing boredom of a long summer out of school. Any break from that boredom was welcome…
My best friend lived across the street from the fairgrounds. An invite to spend the night and permission granted by my parents set the stage for freedom from all the rules. My friend’s parents, once thought to be progressive, later deemed to be too permissive, always allowed my friend more freedom than I, or any of my other friends ever had. In retrospect, I think that allowed her to grow up faster. She was mature beyond her years.
So, there we were…my friend and I…enjoying the county fair, the carnival rides and the exhilaration of a couple of 15 year olds, high on freedom and a sugar rush. As we walked up to the gaming area, my eyes lit upon the most gorgeous, exciting bad boy that I had ever seen. His shiny black hair was combed up and over on each side of his head, ending in a curl down the middle of his forehead. His eyes a piercing black with just a twinkle of light ~ winking ~ each time he laughed. My 15 year old heart was smitten on sight! Made more brave with my evening of freedom from the chains of my parents, I approached him with all of the charm and allure that I had to offer…at age 15. My earlier rush of excitement with the fair was paled in comparison with the rush I felt up close. His skin was moist with a light covering of perspiration, his upper arm muscles kept the black panther tattoo in perpetual motion. I wanted to bury my hands in that wonderful hair. *sigh* It was just all too wonderful. As my heart went pitter patter, my brain was shouting to the high heavens…”He likes me…He actually likes me!!!” Then he asked me if I would like to meet him after the fair closed that night – that there was something he wanted to show me. I almost shouted “Yes, yes, YES!!!”, but with all the grown-up composure that I could scrape together, I uttered a demure…”OK”… He went on to tell me that they closed down at 11:30 pm and he would be free before Midnight.
WOW!!! I was walking on air as my friend and I crossed the street to her house. My excitement was over the moon about my first real date when I wasn’t even allowed to date yet!!! I chattered about what I should wear and how I should fix my hair. I was totally oblivious to my friend’s stricken face. When we were well out of range of being overheard by any other person, (you learn this in a small town if you don’t want everything you do to reach your parent’s ears…LOL), my friend began talking in earnest. “Please don’t meet him…you don’t know him…you don’t know what he wants to “show” you…please listen to me…YOU JUST DON’T KNOW – HE MIGHT RAPE YOU OR EVEN KILL YOU”. But her pleas fell on deaf ears... By golly…I was not going to allow her to spoil my first date. Seeing that I could not be swayed, she said “Well, at least let me follow you. I promise to stay out of sight.” I agreed to that with a warning to her that she better not show herself.
Just minutes past closing time, we crept out of the house under cover of darkness. I don’t know why we snuck out since the loud snores from her parent’s room were an indication of how much alcohol they had consumed. HA! That little tidbit of information had not reached my parent’s ears yet… Scanning the night ahead for anyone who might see us, we continued to sneak back to the fairgrounds, then to the midway and the designated spot for me to meet him. My friend hung back just enough to conceal herself in the shadows as I went forward to meet my new beau. As I approached, he stepped out of a tent, took my hand and re-entered the tent, pulling the flap over the entrance way as we entered. He turned to me with his finger on his lips and told me to just wait quietly for a minute. I allowed my eyes to wander around the tent, but all I could see were cages in many sizes from very small to huge. In the dim shadows, I could barely make out the creatures in the cages. I wanted to get closer to see better, but he held me back with one outstretched arm. While we waited, I glanced nervously at the illuminated dial of my wrist watch. Midnight! I had never been out alone at night! What was I thinking??? As common sense quickly returned to my errant brain, my muscles tensed, ready to bolt! But, before I could run away, he whispered “NOW…LISTEN” as a melody of voices began to fill the air. As I listened to the song, which was “Rockin’ Robin, by the way, I was astonished to realize that the singing was coming from none other than the animals in the cages. The range of voices was perfect for the song… “All the little birds on Day Bird Street, loved to hear the robin sing tweet, tweet, tweet ~ Rockin Robin, tweet, twiddly dee, Rockin Robin….” Ok…so they might not have gotten all the words right, but, nonetheless, I was enchanted. The singing went on until 12:01 am, at which time, all became quiet except for noises one would expect from a tent full of animals…shuffling of feet, snorts and rustling of hay. Still speechless, I allowed him to guide me out of the tent and into the warm night. I turned to look up into his beautiful eyes, twinkling with amusement, when he told me that in every town, he finds just the right special girl to share his secret with. He went on to tell me that every night, contrary to the belief that animals only talk at midnight, Christmas Eve, the animals do talk. He told me how they sometimes comment on the day, complain about weather or food, crack jokes about funny people seen that day, or simply break out in song. It lasts only one minute before they are unable to talk again until the next night.
Then, with a pat on my head, he said “You must never tell of this night until your hair is grey. Then you may tell as many as will listen. Unfortunately, no one will believe you, so best that they think, instead, that you have lost your senses to old age. Now, run along sweet girl.” With a wink, he was gone.
As he slipped away into the darkness, my friend ran up to me to make sure I was okay. She heard the singing and wanted to know what happened in that tent. I told her that the animals sang, to which she replied…”Sure they did and I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale!” I never spoke of it again until this day. My hair is grey, my eyes are dim, but my memory still sparks at the thought of the handsome young man who shared a miracle with me that warm midnight in August 1963.
A work of fiction
By Darlene Cirinna
Copyright July, 23, 2011
All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission of author.