It’s All Fun and Games

by Jean Cambareri

“Oh shit, not again,” I said, pointing my fin to the dopey-looking pet shop employee with the mop of blonde hair and a black net in his right hand. “Look at the calendar—it’s carnival season.”

May, read the calendar above the cashier’s desk, littered with pictures of puppies and kittens. 

“You freak out every year about the carnival, and every year no one throws that little white ball in our bowl, and then we get to come home. It’s a few days outside of this hellhole, how bad could that be?” Reggie, my tankmate, responded tiredly. 

But I don’t care, I hate the carnival. The mixing smells of teenage sweat and fried foods make me sick. Besides that, the anticipation night after night of not knowing if or when we will be plucked from our comfortable tank and placed in those small clear containers, just waiting to be aimed at with white plastic balls by middle schoolers… it gives me the shivers just thinking about it.


When we are finally inside that huge tank, just in between the snow cone station and the Ferris wheel, it’s all even worse than I remembered. The lights flash around us nonstop, the children never seem to stop screaming and running and crying, and this is all before our station even opens. 

The first few days are a blur of anxiety and waiting and gross smells, but on the very last night the fair is open, everything changes. 

I was distracted, just for a moment, by a teenage boy and his date. He was shooting a ball into a hoop and she was smiling. It seemed nice on the outside, just for that second. Until reality came down in the form of a greedy black net and I was scooped out of the tank and placed carelessly into a tiny clear bowl, the walls of which seemed to be slowly closing around me.

Thankfully, most of these kids can’t aim for shit, so by 9:30 on closing night, I assumed I was in the clear. That is until a little girl with pigtails and a rocket for an arm stepped up to the table and got a ball into a bowl on the left side of the table on her first try. Reggie’s eyes widened in the bowl beside me as if to say, “what a shot!” I was less impressed and more worried as her father paid for her to take two more turns.


The next thing I knew, the white ball was floating above me, and I was being manhandled and tied up in a bag by the meaty hands of the guy working at the fair. 

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me… I thought to myself as the little girl swung the bag at her side and skipped as she walked away. My eyes fixated on the ground where her sparkly pink shoes hit the gravel as I tried my hardest to stay calm and figure myself out of this one. 

All around me the lights and noises began to blur. I tried to look back, but Reggie and the tank and the man with meaty hands were all far out of sight. 

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