Short Story: Carnival Ride of Life

Mumbled voices from down the carpeted hallway distract me from writing my bucket list, carnival edition. I can feel it from my dry toes to my bald head that today will be a great day. The voices grow closer until they rest outside my door, and I realize that one belongs to my doctor. “Her results came back,” Dr. Robertson tells someone else,“and her counts…” I get up from my chair by the window and tiptoe closer to my room’s door. I make out bits and pieces of the conversation and as I do, my hopes slowly drop to the bottom of my soul. “… not good… need to call tonight… she has such a good spirit… treatments… five years now…”

I open the door abruptly, stopping the conversation between Dr. Robertson and a new nurse. “Hello, Dr. Rob. Heard you outside my door and thought I’d let you in early!” My voice pitches up at the end causing me to flinch at my social skills.

“I’ll talk to you later,” Dr. Robertson says nodding to the nurse. As she heads down the fluorescent-lit hallway, he steps into my bare room. “Rachel, your results are back-”

“I know, Dr. Rob. You don’t need to tell me,” I interrupt. He tries opening his mouth to talk again, but I raise my hand silently telling him to stop. “I came here for my mom. Now she has two more children and a husband. I’ve accomplished things that a normal teenager would do, with my mom by my side, despite being diagnosed four years ago. Now I just have this list,” I tell him, motioning to my bucket list on the table across the room. “Just let me go.”

Dr. Robertson stares down at his clipboard, flips through the numerous papers, takes a deep breath, and looks back up at me. “Rachel, you are an amazing young woman. I am glad that I got to be here with your journey.” He sets his tanned hand on my shoulder. “Go finish your carnival bucket list. The carnival is here this weekend.” He turns toward the door, pauses, and turns back around to give me a brisk hug.

“Bye, Dr. Rob,” I say, robotically patting his back. When he leaves the room and takes a left towards the elevators, I walk back to the window and stare down at my packed duffel bag with carnival scenes on it, and I glance at my bucket list. Looking out the window, I imagine that I can see the ferris wheel rising high above the clouds. Today is the day.

* * *

My eyes connect with the carts of the ferris wheel as I pull into the gravel parking lot of the Tulsa State Fairgrounds. The ferris wheel is at the center of the carnival like Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. My trek to the ticket booth is long and hard on my post-chemo body, but the slight pressure of my bucket list’s crisp corners in my denim pockets keeps me moving up the gravel-lined path. The small red and white striped shack is hard to see over the line of heads before me. I pull out my carnival bucket list and stare at the printed words:

  1. Ride the bumper cars
  2. Get stopped at the top of the ferris wheel
  3. Hit the top of the clown with the hammer
  4. Eat cotton candy
  5. Eat funnel cake
  6. Watertank
  7. Go in the funhouse
  8. Enter a pie eating contest
  9. Do an obstacle course
  10. Balloon Darts
  11. Guess my weight

“How many tickets do you need?” I wrench my head up at the unfamiliar voice talking to me. Looking around I see I have unconsciously moved up the hill as person after person got their tickets until I arrived before the shack. I adjust my black beanie to make sure it covers my bald head that’s slowly starting to sprout hair.

The boy stares at me expecting a quicker response. “Um, I don’t know actually,” I mumble, tripping over my words in the process. “See… I’ve… uh… I’ve got this… this… thing.”

“What kind of thing?” the boy asks, which now looking at him I see he is around my age. He has brown stubble starting on his chin creating an early five o’clock shadow.

“Well, I sort of have, umm,” I look up at the sky and see the top of the ferris wheel. “I have a bucket list, carnival edition. I need to complete everything on my list today.”

“Today? Why today?”

“Just because.” I shrug my tense shoulders nonchalantly hoping he’ll get the idea not to ask questions.

“Well, let me see that list.” His calloused hands break the invisible barrier between the booth and the air outside. I lift up the crisp paper and glance quickly over it before handing over my most prized possession. His blue eyes graze the surface. “You won’t need any.”

“I know I’m not the best at math, but I’m going to need a good amount of tickets to get into this carnival,” I assure him.

“No, you’re not, because I am going to help you,” he declares simultaneously slamming the ticket shack window shut. I hear a thud from behind the shack, and the young man strides out from behind it, his hand sticking out in the air towards me. All I do is stare at it, so he nods his head towards his hand. “You’re supposed to shake it.”

“I’m… I have a…  lowered immune system,” I say, not wanting him to know I’m sick.

“You’re outside. Your immune system must be fine if you can be outside where the germs float and roam freely throughout the air.” His smirk at the end makes me smile and grab his hand in a rough shake. “I’m Tyler.”


“Well, Rachel, let’s get started on this bucket list of yours,” he asks me, turning towards the entrance of the carnival and begins walking up the hill.


* * *

“How many do we have left?” Tyler asks once we leave the cotton candy tent. My fingers stick to my bucket list as I pull it out of my pocket. My eyebrows rise at the number of events crossed off from the list. All I have left is 2. Get stopped at the top of the ferris wheel., 8. Enter a pie eating contest. “We just have to enter a pie eating contest and stop at the top of the ferris wheel.”

The midday crowds meander through the paths, slowing to look at prizes or buying food at booths. “Come on, I think the pie eating contest starts soon,” Tyler announces from ahead of me. Stopping he briefly looks to me and grasps my bony hand to pull me towards the main stage. There’s a crowd that’s trickling in with us from the main path and gathering at the base of the makeshift stage.

Tyler walks up the stairs on the side of the stage, and I follow without a pause. I stand slightly behind Tyler, looking around and shifting my weight from side to side. Despite being welcomed all day by every worker I’ve met, I am still weary that one will tell me no. Tyler gestures towards me, and I see the woman study me from head to toe. Her eyes stop at the base of my hat. I reach up to pull the fraying edges down even further. I give her a small smile as she takes two steps to stand in front of me. “What’s your name,” she demands before I even know hers.

“Rachel,” I mumble, scared she’s going to figure me out.

“Well, Rachel, I’m Tara. I sure hope you’re hungry,” she tells me, offering a smile to Tyler. She turns back around and adjusts the microphone stand one last time before announcing all the participants of the pie eating contest to come on the stage.

“Are you ready?” Tyler asks, eyes big with anticipation. “I know you are skinny, and probably don’t eat a lot of food. But I totally believe in you Rachel.” With a quick slap on the shoulder, he bounds off the stage dodging the oncoming participants. I wait a few seconds to watch them take their seats before I go and join them at the long, rectangle table. The metal chair scrapes against the wood stage as I pull the chair back to sit down. Searching for Tyler’s familiar face, I look out to the crowd and chuckle when I see him in the first row grinning.

My fingers toy with the edge of the off-white tablecloth while Tara introduces each contestant to the crowd. “The rules are simple, people. Eat your pie with no hands or utensils, and eat it quickly.” I look down the table and see others hunched over, so I follow suit. “On your marks! Get set! Eat!” A buzzer sounds off and everyone’s faces smash into the pies creating a splatter of stains on the tablecloth. Nervously, I take a sloppy bite from my apple pie. I haven’t had a problem eating the cotton candy or funnel cake today, but my chemo stomach can’t handle much. This fact I learned hard over the past year. As I bend my neck and head down to take another bite, I feel the last bite working its way back up my throat. I twist away from the table and start throwing up all over the stage. The participants stop eating and turn in their chairs to watch me.

When Tara’s feet come into view along with a garbage can, I look up gratefully. This lasts a second before I start vomiting again. I feel her hand softly rub circles into my back, and her voice whispering in my ear, “You have cancer don’t you? My daughter does too. She’s been fighting for five years now, so I know cancer when I see it. I don’t know if you’ve told Tyler, but you better before he gets too attached.” When she finishes talking to me, she sets down the can and walks away.

* * *

The sun sags in the sky and its colors spread across the skyline as the ferris wheel jerks to a sudden stop. I look down and at the surrounding carts to see that, just as Tyler asked the conductor to, we are at the top. “There you go. Cross off number two,” Tyler tells me. The words Tara said comes back to me as he sits to my left staring at me expectantly. “Tara said you had something to tell me.”

My voice is snatched from my throat. “Um…” My mind grows blank as a little monster in my head screams at the top of its voice to tell Tyler about my cancer. All I need to say is three little words. “I have… a uh… a condition.”

“Like hair loss,” Tyler offers, his eyes snatching up to my hat.

“No, but I wish. I have cancer,” I say looking out to the purples and navy blues emerging in the sky.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” His face shows the hurt that I’ve placed in him. Immediately, I regret not telling him sooner.

“I wanted to be normal.” I’m surprised when he places his hand on mine and gives a brief squeeze before releasing it completely.

“Next time something important comes up, just tell me.” He turns his face away from mine, but my heart jumps at the idea of being friends with Tyler.

* * *

My rusted car rumbles and jolts to a stop in a parking stall in front of my family’s apartment. “This is it,” I tell Tyler, who sits in the passenger seat, before I push open the creaky door of my car to step outside. I walk up onto the sidewalk and to the apartment door before I glance back at Tyler who is slowly emerging from the car. I tilt my head to silently tell him to hurry up and walk into the apartment my mom moved to after my hospitalization. “Mom!” my voice carries as I walk into the apartment leaving the door open for Tyler to enter through.  “Gertrude! Geryd!” I hear their shrieks from down the hall to my right, so I turn and face the attack.

“Ray! Ray!” my twin siblings yell while galloping on their play horses. I bend down and pick them both up when they reach me. Their similar blonde hair tickles my cheeks as I swing them around until I get dizzy. When I look up, I see my mom leaning with her hip against the doorway to the living room. Her hair is showing the gray roots and her eyes are beginning to develop crow’s feet at their corners.

“Hey there, baby,” Mom says, entering the room and enveloping me in a hug. “Want to introduce me to your friend?”

I turn around and smile at Tyler before introducing him to my mom. “Mom, this is Tyler. He works at the carnival and helped me finish my list.”

“Tyler, why don’t you come in,” Mom says motioning towards the maroon couches lining the walls of the living room. He closes the door and barely sits down before the phone starts to ring.

“I got it,” I tell the room full of people walking over to the phone on the wall. “Hello?”

“Hello,” the caller says, “It’s Dr. Robertson, Rachel’s doctor. May I ask who I’m speaking to?”

“It’s Rachel. Why are you calling?”

“We never got to fully talk about your test results this morning,” Dr. Robertson answers me before continuing,”and I believe you may have gotten the wrong impressions.”

“Dr. Rob-”

“No, let me talk now. Your test results showed that your counts and white blood cell counts were all good. Rachel, you’re not dying. You’re going into remission.”

“What?” My knees weaken. I turn to lower myself to the ground against the wall. Tyler and my mom’s faces both show concern, but I can’t get the words out to them that Dr. Robertson is saying to me.

“You’ll have to come in for some follow-up…” His voice falls into the background as tears fall onto my face. My mom comes and takes the phone from me. I start to laugh as she turns away and talks to Dr. Robertson.  I hear her cries of joy as he tells her the good news. Tyler gets up from the couch and sits down next to me on the floor.

“Wanna talk about it?” he asks me, staring at me from my right.

“I’m not dying,” I tell him. “I’m not dying!” I feel his arms wrap around me and pull me to him. We sit on the floor for what seems like forever, me crying and laughing with joy, and him smiling and laughing right along with me.

After a few moments of silence Tyler asks me, “So what are you going to do now?”

“What do you mean,” I reply.

“What are you going to do with the rest of your life?”

“Well… I guess I’m going to live. I never was able to think about that before, you know cancer and all,” I tell him. I stand up, and go to around the corner into the kitchen, searching through drawers for a paper and a pen. I hear footsteps creak behind me. My search comes up successful. I turn around to see my family and Tyler looking at me. “I’m going to make a new bucket list.”

I walk into the living room, sit down on the couch, and begin to write.


  • Go to Disneyland.
  • Go to college.
  • Get married.




One thought on “Short Story: Carnival Ride of Life

  1. Pingback: June Wrap-Up | A Writer Named Charley

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