Can’t Get Off the Carousel: A Short Story

Updated on February 19, 2018
JenniferWilber profile image

Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.

Can’t Get Off the Carousel

I still have the diary. So much has changed in my life since Jack gave me the diary two years ago. I’m not even sure if I should still be using it. A diary is meant to be a chronicle of one’s life, but my life has changed so much that, maybe, it can’t even be considered the same life anymore. Perhaps it would make more sense to get rid of this thing and start fresh. But I guess it’s useless to try to destroy the past. The past is what lead us both here to the present, after all.

Donny is still in bed, though it’s nearly three in the afternoon. I didn’t hear him come in last night, but I think it’s safe to say he had a rough night and needs his rest. I don’t know where he goes most nights and he never tells me, but I respect his privacy. A man needs to have a life of his own. We’ve been together for over a year now, but there’s still so much I don’t know about him. But I can’t imagine anyone loving anybody more than I love Donny. And he needs me, just like I need him.

I remember when I moved here to Twin Rocks, Oregon. The day after my high school graduation, I fled town. My parents had already disowned me, because of Jack, and Jack had grown bored of me. I was simply a temporary diversion in his life, and he never had any real intention of leaving his wife. Shortly after my 18th birthday, Jack began to lose interest. I guess because I was no longer so forbidden, I was no longer a thrill to him, and he moved on to the next young thing. And so, I bought a bus ticket and never looked back.

My first week in Twin Rocks, I met Donny. I got a job at the local carnival just to make a little extra money to help get my life together. I found Donny passed out drunk on the carousel one morning, broken, dirty, and homeless. I helped get him cleaned up and we hit it off right away. Anyone else would have seen him as a homeless drug addicted bum, but I could see him as the free spirit he is. Though he reeked of booze and cigarettes and hadn’t a penny to his name, there was something about Donny that drew me to him. I know he has his problems, but he’s had a tough life, even more so than me.

I have to be honest, the drugs and the late nights out do bother me, but I have to learn to accept people for who they are. He’s been through a lot and I have to understand that. I called him out on the drugs once, but he only got angry. He says he’s got it all under control. But still, I worry. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night when he’s gone.

Donny’s awake now. I just heard the bedroom door open. He’s coming into the living room, where I’m sitting listening to music, trying to drown out all the bad thoughts that have been plaguing my mind lately. Linkin Park is playing now. They always have a way of comforting me when I start having doubts. I know I shouldn’t be thinking these things. I feel so lucky that he’s in my life. I’ve learned so much from Donny, such as the fact that Jack didn’t know a damn thing about making love. No wonder Jack’s marriage wasn’t working. Yes, things are great with Donny. I couldn’t ever ask for more.

“Hey honey,” I said as Donny stumbled into the room, still wearing the clothes he had been wearing the day before. His hair was a matted mess. “Sleep well?”

Donny just grunted a reply that couldn’t be deciphered. He’s not really a morning person, but really, who is?

“Maybe you should start taking it easy, babe,” I immediately regretted the suggestion as the words escaped from my lips. I know I shouldn’t be telling him how to live.

“Don’ ‘ou be ‘ellin’ me ‘ow ta live,” Donny tried to yell, but his words dribbled out in a slurred stupor. “Try’n’ ta ‘ontrol me li’ my damn motha’.”

I didn’t say another word to him as I waited for him to recover from the previous night. I turned to the diary, which was all the company I needed when Donny was incapacitated. It’s funny, two years ago, I was overly dependent on the man I thought I loved, but now that I have Donny, who I know I am truly in love with, I don’t even need him to spend every second of every day with me. I guess I’m just more mature these days.

“Donny just woke up,” I wrote in the diary. “Perhaps when he comes to his senses, we can go out for a nice dinner tonight. I think he’ll like that. After that we can come back here and make love. I can’t imagine anybody loving anybody more than I love Donny. And with him, I actually do mean it. We were meant to be together, I’m sure of it.”

I wonder if Donny will ever want to get married some day. Perhaps in a year or two, we’ll be married and have a child. I know that Donny will make a wonderful father. I know that he’ll get clean one day soon. I know that he has to make that decision for himself, but I know he will when he’s ready. He loves me more than anything, and I know in my heart he will do what’s best for us. I just have a feeling.

We decided to go to a little truck stop at the edge of town for dinner. The food wasn’t great, but it was good enough for me. As long as I’m with him, I can be happy anywhere. I ordered a cheeseburger and fries. While we were waiting on our food, I noticed a few little red marks on Donny’s arm, small, round, about the size and shape of needle puncture wounds. Nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but I asked Donny a stupid question.

“So, where is it you go late at night?” I asked without thinking.

“What, so now you don’t trust me?” Donny retorted in an accusatory tone. “It was that same bullshit from my mom and everyone else that drove me away before!”

“Sorry, forget I asked.” I was out of line. It’s none of my business. The waitress, thankfully, showed up with our food before I could do any more damage. We ate in silence.

I looked at Donny as he ate his dinner. I couldn’t tell what was going on in his head. I hoped that he wasn’t still mad at me. I knew that I should just let him live his life the way he wanted to. I just wanted so badly to break the silence.

“So...” I began. I didn’t know what I was saying. “Where do you think we are going? I mean, do you see us getting married someday? Or having kids?”

Donny looked up from his plate. His bloodshot eyes seemed to pierce right through me. “You think you can trap me? Keep me tied down? I just want freedom. I just want my life to be my own! Why can nobody accept that!?” He threw down his plate and stormed out into the darkness and rain.

I sat in that diner for several hours before realizing that Donny wasn’t coming back. I should have followed him. I don’t know why I didn’t. Perhaps I thought he’d be back, or maybe subconsciously, I wanted him to go.

I walked home in rain, hoping that I’d find Donny somewhere in the shadows. Once I reached the apartment complex, I knew that I wouldn’t see him again that night. This wasn’t the first time Donny has done this. I guess I just push him over the edge sometimes. I feel like I’m messing up this relationship at times, and I don’t know what I can do to fix it. Sometimes I feel like I’m just not worthy of Donny. Maybe someday I’ll really be good enough for him, but until then, I’ll just have to work on improving myself.

I didn’t get any sleep that night. I guess I was waiting up for Donny, but he never showed up. I wrote in my diary “I think I really upset Donny this time. He ran out during dinner. I hope he comes home soon. I’m really starting to get worried.” I heard a police siren in the distance. I wondered where Donny was at that exact moment.

It’s been three months. Donny still hasn’t come home. I’ve found myself reading the newspapers daily. The obituaries and the police reports mainly. I don’t even know what I’m looking for. I look for him every time I’m walking down the street. I glance down every alleyway I pass. But he’s never there. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since he disappeared. I fall asleep wondering where it all went wrong. If only I would have been more supportive and hadn’t been so controlling. But I’m beginning to realize that, if he wanted to make it work, he should have made more of an effort on his part. But still, he was damaged. He needed someone to help him along, and I should have been there for him more than I was. I feel as though I’m on a carousel that can’t be stopped.

Author Notes

I wrote this short story for a creative writing class years ago. It is meant to be an alternative extended ending for the short stories No One’s a Mystery by Elizabeth Tallent and Teenage Wasteland by Anne Tyler to answer the question of what happened to the main characters of each of these stories after their stories ended. This story is based on the song Carousel by Linkin Park, which is about two terribly damaged people and reminded me of the characters in both of these short stories. The two original short stories take their titles from popular songs, so I wanted to continue that theme with this story using a song from a band that I am more familiar with.

I assumed the unnamed narrator from No One’s a Mystery would end up going from one abusive relationship with someone who was all wrong for her to another similar relationship, which happens all too often in real life. I also assumed that Donny from Teenage Wasteland wouldn’t change much when he got older. Because he ran away from his parents and school, I assumed that he would end up homeless and continue to rebel against society by abusing drugs.

I took some creative liberties with the interpretation of both short stories and the song on which I based this story.

© 2018 Jennifer Wilber


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    • JenniferWilber profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Wilber 

      2 years ago from Cleveland, Ohio

      Great idea. Thank you for the suggestion!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      2 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Well told, Jennifer. One idea to develop the can't get off the carousel theme even more would be for the narrator at the end to fall in love and live with a third man who is no better for her than the first two. She's so grateful that he's shown her by comparison what an awful person Donny had been—not seeing that this new man is the worst yet and that she's going around on the merry-go-round again.

    • KatWin profile image

      Kathy Burton 

      2 years ago from Florida

      The characters are well developed in a short period of time. Interesting the basis for your story. As an instructor once told me when she liked a piece “keep writing forward.”


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