Art Pact 85


The good news was that far from having missed the target, Simon had nailed it square on - the baseball punching the metal plate back along it arm and flipping the mechanism behind it. Their teacher seemed to hover in the air for just a second like a cartoon coyote, then his precious gravity got hold of him. His eyes were wide with surprise and shock, and as he began to descend he too must have seen Ms. Galvanos standing at the side of the cotton-candy stand, her mouth open ready to take one delicate bite from the top of the wispy pink cloud she was holding in front of her. His mouth opened, as if to try to explain something to her (even though she was far too far away to hear), and then an instant later he was in the tank with a gigantic splosh.

"You did it!" Boris yelled, pumping his fist in the air. Simon, still looking the other way, was buffeted from side to side as the three other boys shook his shoulders in triumph, trying to direct him to the sight of Mr. Quail thrashing and spluttering in the ice-cold water. But Simon was transfixed. He thought that if he took his eyes off her she might vanish, but she stayed exactly where she was, stood at the edge of the carnival tent, staring out at him. The blind-fold that had made her the statue of justice was pulled up onto her forehead, and from beneath her fierce brows two blood-red eyes stared out at him. To either side of them were black streaks, as if she'd been crying and wiped damp mascara away, but he could tell that she had not been crying - he would have bet at that moment, staring into a gaze so alive, but at the same time so alien and distant, that there was nothing that could make her cry, that the very idea of crying would seem weak and foolish to her, as he had to pretend it did to him.

Her arm was raised to her temple, shielding her eyes from the harsh rays of the early afternoon sun, and at the end of each green finger he could see a stumpy nail, iron-coloured and sturdier than one of his. He had not imagined it, then, not earlier, when he'd seen for an instant her grip on the scales shifting. He tried to take a step towards her, but Boris's grip on his shoulder (he was still shaking with laughter and excitement) prevented him. He tried again - it was unthinkable to him that he should not get closer to her, but her irresistible force and Boris's immovable object conspired between them to twist and crush him in place, so that he could not take a step forward nor stay where he was.

"Look at him!" Boris shouted, roaring still with gales of laughter, doubling up but still keeping one hand on Simon's shoulder. "He looks like a total idiot! Take some swimming lessons!" he shouted at Mr. Quail, still flailing wildly in an attempt to pull himself out of the water. It would have been deep enough to drown him - had to be, in order to prevent the unlucky victims from injuring themselves on the bottom - but there were plenty of handholds. It was enough to keep his head above water: Mr. Quail was in no real danger. Nonetheless the carnie who could have helped him out seemed less inclined to do so than he had with the girl earlier, so Mr. Quail fumbled at the handholds and get slipping off them when he tried to get his feet up, tumbling back into the water with a comical splash that set Boris laughing like a madman each time, so much so that the boy could hardly speak. Simon twisted to look back at what he was missing, and in seeing the apoplectic expression on Quail's face he realised that he had freed himself from ever feeling intimidated by the man again. He had also freed himself physically, Boris's hand on his shoulder shucked off by his new position. Turning quickly, he began to rush back towards the tent.

The girl was gone. He looked around, desperate to catch a glimpse of her, but the crowd had thickened up behind the booth as more and more people stopped to stare at the spectacle of Mr. Quail splashing like a dying fish. He pushed his way between a couple by the toffee-apple stand, then ran through the alley between the tents to get to the edge of the crowd.

There - a slender green ankle disappeared behind the banners blocking off the petting zoo. He gave chase.

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