I can’t remember the last time I was on a carousel. But walking through Pier 39, you can’t help but notice the monolithic thing: two stories of twirling, colorful animals from zebras to sea lions. There are benches, too, for the less-whimsical riders.
I was staring at the nearby wine shop when the trio of children demanded to ride the carousel. Oh god.
Their parents were indulgent. “Let’s all go!” They smiled at me, and I smiled back; my small, uneasy smile, forming doubtfully under the dark sunglasses that hid my eyes. The three blond girls were excited, but when they looked at me, their older, tall, scary cousin, their excitement diminished somewhat.
I like children. Mostly from afar, I admit. But I’m eager to have my own one day, and sometimes the little buggers can be cute. But other people’s children are like fine bowls of china, and I’m the proverbial elephant in the china shop. I never know what to do with them. (Or is it a bull in a china shop? I can never remember. I like elephants better).
I was therefore startled when one of these tiny china bowls was put into my care.
She was half of the set of twins, although they looked so alike to their third sister that they seemed like triplets. I couldn’t remember what her name was, and she didn’t know what mine was. I had only met her once before, when she was too young to remember. It was with some relief that I realized she was probably still too young to remember this encounter in the future.
The other two sisters went off with their chaperones. I was left on the carousel with the third.
“Well.” I looked around. “Which animal do you want?”
She studied the ones nearby and set off for a dolphin. Great; an elephant and a dolphin. That’s not an awkward pair at all.
“This one?” She nodded, so I awkwardly hooked my hands under her arms and hoisted her up, hoping I wasn’t hurting her. The little thing was heavier than I expected, and I fumbled, but I strapped her to the dolphin without further incident.
I tried asking the usual questions. “You in school? D’you like it?” Thankfully, the carousel began turning, and I focused on making myself bright and cheerful. “Look at the view! You can see Koit Tower from here!”
I think she enjoyed herself, but she was quiet, and didn’t smile much. At one point she was staring down, which I thought was odd, so I followed her gaze and scowled. A couple bedecked with tattoos was making out in the spinning teacup on the first level.
“Look, the ocean!” I shouted, directing her gaze elsewhere.
After the ride was over, I helped her down. Her foot got caught for a second on the dolphin’s tail. I couldn’t even lift and take down a small child, let alone talk to one. How lame.
I breathed a sigh of relief when we reunited with their parents and mine. It was over, my role as Older Cousin complete. We were about to head over to the sea lions now, and parents were doing their parenting thing and holding the children’s hands.
She reached up and grasped hold of my hand. I looked down, surprised. She had large blue eyes, still a little wary, but mostly trusting. After all, we had survived the carousel together.
With a little smile I tugged her along. Or maybe she was tugging me.