by Guy Walker
“What deity in the realms of dementia, what rabid god decocted out of the smoking lobes of hydrophobia could have devised a keeping place for souls so poor as is this flesh. This mawky worm-bent tabernacle.”
― Cormac McCarthy, Suttree
A winter gust howls through the valley as the caravan of carnival folk teeter along their broken path of carriage tracks, and a fat man in a purple velvet top hat behind the reins of the lead horse turns back to his apprentice, a despondent depressive type with ginger hair that has since lost its luster, and offers him the near empty bottle of bourbon. “This may not cure the blues,” the fat man smiles, “but it’ll help define them.” The ginger man grabs the bottle without a word and returns back under his canvas tunnel for the rest of the journey.
It’s Christmas Day, 2043, and Prince Harry is the operator of the Gravitron ride at Kollapsing Kingsley’s, a popular traveling carnival. They made an unexpected stop in Pinedale, Wyoming, its downtown architecture a trembling conclave of Americana nostalgia, its stunted corridors of dentist offices and barber shops huddled together in crammed forced amusement, real estate fronts keeping their listings lit up through the night like Wanted placards for wandering tourists to look at like moths to a porch light. Bars with saloon swinging doors, the whole congregated shamble mimicking an archaic western fortress. A Christmas shop remains closed and vacant for years, with handmade ornaments and nutcrackers dangling from hooks like marionettes, cobwebs and dust and mouse turds groomed into wild installations of decay. His unfamous appearance has left him unnoticed for years. His once well groomed ginger beard has been set loose into a grizzled mane, like a trap of tumbleweeds caught into the corner of a fence and set ablaze. He is bald of course, his skull a glossy orb the color of cream, with a freckled strata of haphazard constellations. His paunch belly bulging smoothly under his unwashed ribbed wifebeater, with stains of bar-b-que sauce and mustard smeared from only eight fingertips at the sides, from having lost the other two from trying to fix the broken gears of the ride some years back now. He’s leaning against his command station, with an air of pretense, finishing a cigarette in the exact same pose as the Marlboro man, looking out at the world through his yellow-lensed aviators, scowling internally at the world he knows he’s better than. A north wind whistles against the carnival’s haphazard skyline of strange obelisks, rotating clockwise against a broken frontier, its falling towers and pendulum swings, the Kamikaze and Helter Skelter slide shimmering against the low winter sun like spinning phalluses, cruel mockeries of libidinal angst against a foreboding sky. The Ali baba ride has been disassembled into loose contortions of agonized metal like corpses of giants sprawled out in the back lot.
Prince Harry gave up the royal family and his duties for an unknown actress; they bought a fifty million dollar house in Santa Barbara and then needed a way to pay for it. And so he went on Oprah, he did a show for Netflix, wrote a book called Spare that was the highest selling book in all of England for a while. He became more famous than any of his family members, but it was the wrong kind of fame. It wasn’t infamy, because infamy too has its virtues of respect and fear. It was a bitter and vulgar fame, a desperate melancholic madness, the kind of lobotomized gore that you only feel sorry for. He was criticized for a while for his own criticism of the media while simultaneously worshipping it and becoming an old whore for it. The things we’ll do just to make a buck. But this was never a fair critique. Some said he simply wanted to use the media on his terms. But it doesn’t even have to do with thatbecause that’s what celebrities demand, and Harry was always more than a celebrity.
When Meghan left Harry, she sued him for everything, and she rallied worldwide support for her cause because she beat her head against the kitchen counter until it split open and told the press that he did it. The book deals and contracts for Netflix series unanimously dropped out, and he was left destitute, exiled from his family of cruel lizard people stalking the flower-choked banisters and marbled staircases, waving at the jeering crowds as they always have. He did the only sensible thing one would do after being divorced from both your family and your wife—he took up gambling, and before long he lost what remaining watches and family heirlooms and pocketfuls of rubies and diamonds he had stolen from his grandmother’s jewelry box when he last left. He pawned off everything, starting touring as a one-man show, called “The Harried Truth,” where he devolved into perpetually getting drunk and cursing out the children who sat hunched over, eating their cotton candy on the wooden bleachers.
So now, Prince Harry works the carnival. He shivers unwillingly from the cold, rubbing his frostbitten todger, as if he has crabs, or some ailment of never outgrowing puberty. His boss approaches from the big top circus tent, a yellow and blue striped mini arena with two steep points instead of the usual one, standing erect like a modern-day sleeping Glumdalclitch and the cruel despair of her nipples frozen in the cold. The man’s lower lip is filled with tobacco, the wet inky globular mess staining his teeth in outlined streaks between each tooth. He spits at the ground as he arrives. “Hey Leroy,” he addresses Harry, “I need you to take over for Wayne for the rest of the day. He’s in the hospital and they say he won’t back for a few months.” Harry waits a beat, and wipes his bright red nose with the back of his hand. “Who the fuck is Wayne?” he mumbles without making eye contact with the man, just staring out at the frozen barracks of an unused town, his eyes sealed into the permanent glaring mimicry of Clint Eastwood from the spaghetti westerns. The carnival is the excited center of this municipality. Everyone has come here to celebrate Christmas together. Two boys run past them in a frenzy of giggles, one older than the other, chasing his younger brother with a hatchet. Harry’s lip quivers as they disappear behind a bramble of sumac and sassafras sticking through an old scabby crust of frozen snow. “‘Who’s Wayne?’ You can’t be serious,” the bossman finally interrupts his own quiet dismay. “He works the Haunted House of Mirrors. You do remember the Haunted House of Mirrors, don’t ye?” Harry doesn’t answer. He’s lost in thought about his own brother, the other once-handsome celebrity bachelor, forced to appease a drooling and bucktoothed people, forced to wave at the pathetic cries of regular citizens. It always seemed cruel to Harry, to have to smile and wave peacefully at this crowded grotesquerie of a physically ill-equipped gentry as they shoved amongst themselves like fat Christmas hams in paddocks along the trampled cobblestones, their bovine squawks of besotted pride deafening everything else. Harry always hated them. He never wanted to be amongst the people, but he hated his family more. So it was a decision he had made, and been forced to commit to. Harry turns away from the bossman, and walks out towards the frozen plane, slow undulating dunes of petrified grasses sprouting in tufts of haphazard spurts across the frontier. The bossman yells to him as he walks away. “Be there in an hour, or I’m reporting it to your parole officer!” Harry disappears behind a swale of clean snow. He unzips his trousers, and pisses into the snow, digging a miniature ditch as he manages a crude outline of a dick and balls, the piss steaming callously through the now still air, a lull between the violent gusts. He then drops to his knees and signs “Harry” under the balls with a swollen blood-filled finger, and “Willy” (this is what he calls his brother, look it up) under the dick. “We used to be brothers, used to be a unit, you pretensions prick! I was actually the spare cuz there’s two nuts, you fucking idiot! And you and everyone else dismissed me forever.” He spits at the frozen ground. A raven watches with an air of judgement from a nearby limb arching towards Harry like a witch’s accusing finger, almost as if it knows a grown man shouldn’t be so shrill. Tufts of sumac and primrose and buckthorn stand plainly. A black-tailed prairie dogs stands watchful and curious from the entrance of a tunnel, unsure what to make of the trembling orange bearded freak crying at his piss-drawn dick in the snow.
He kicks the snow, ruining any evidence of his sentimental drawing, wipes his eyes dry, takes a few deep breaths and clears his throat, and returns to the carnival. He goes to the gate of the Haunted House of Mirrors for instruction of his new job. Maybe I’ve burned all bridges with love and family and fame, he thinks, but this is my family, this has always been my family. And I love them. He takes a swig of bourbon from the flask hidden in his chest pocket, and smiles at the runny-nosed children lining up at his gate. I’m home, he almost says audibly. Thank god I’m finally home.