Elsie was sweltering in the Tennessee dusk. She rolled down her window to catch a breeze and the scent of deep-fried hot dogs and cotton-candy sweets were heavy on the air. She glanced over and saw the carnival was in town.
She could see the lights of the Ring of Fire circling the track.
A constant loop, put together by people who appeared less educated than her. The carts rolled to the top of the loop and then upside down, dangling the riders in an amusement park noose, their faces bright red and their hair hanging down like absurd monkeys in some freak zoo.
Elsie had ridden the Ring of Fire. Once.
She had stood under its twinkling lights, waiting in line with the boy in the backwards baseball cap. They got in the cart together and pulled the lap bar tight over their legs. The train began to move, up one side of the arc, back down, and roaring to the other side, until it met at the center point of the rickety circumference. They hung at the top and she clung to her safety bar until he reached over and made her let go.
The train flew back down the track and stopped. Elsie got out first and ran to the exit ramp, adrenaline giving her courage. She turned around to tell him, but her words caught in her throat. He’d exited on the other side and disappeared into the sea of people and twinkling lights.
A carnival ghost.
She always imagined him still on that ride, his hat turned around, his grin illuminated by the rush of blood to his head. And Elsie was the antagonist of every Taylor Swift song, where Romeo was riding the Ring of Fire with Juliet and Elsie was the poison Romeo would take.
Elsie looked away from the Ring of Fire, turned up the music, and took the exit to Nashville.
She’d sworn off country music years ago, anyway.
With the exception of Johnny Cash.