"And what's that? And that?" She pointed frantically, stabbing everything in turn with her finger, wild to have it named and explained before it shifted out of view.
"Cotton candy - organ grinder - trinket vendor - hot dog stand -" He was out of breath, just as eager to explain as she was to have it explained.
"How can it be cotton and candy? How can a hot dog stand?" she shouted, pounding on his fist. Her blows felt like pinpricks, like ant bites.
"I'll get you some," he said simply, and slid her into his pocket. No one, absolutely no one, spent time examining other people's breast pockets at the fair unless they were looking for wallets, and he'd made sure to tuck his quite prominently in his back pants pocket. Someone would swipe it before the night was out - that was why he had his money tucked into his belt - but better that than that they should spot or grab Arrietty. The cotton candy lady, and the hot dog seller, couldn't have cared less what he had in his shirt pocket; their eyes were glued on the bills in his hand.
"Here." He ducked into a darkish place between a dunk-the-clown booth and a covered stall with cheap jewelry sprawled over its display table. Arrietty emerged from his pocket, her hair a bit fritzed from rubbing against his shirt; her eyes darted this way and that, double checking that the coast was clear. He smiled to himself; always that bit of wild animal in her behavior, of something accustomed to a harsh and primal world where one had to watch one's back.
He broke off crumbs of hot dog and cotton candy for her. He gave her the meat first, not wanting to spoil its taste with the overly sweet cotton candy. Her eyes went wide as she smelled, nibbled, and chewed; she shut her eyes, relishing the flavor. Next door, a huge splash and squeals and clapping announced a successful clown-dunk. Water splatted against the canvas behind him. He shifted to shield Arrietty from whatever splashed through the coarse fabric.
She wasn't as keen on the cotton candy. She almost choked, in fact, so startled was she by a substance that looked dry and solid and nothing like food and then vanished in her mouth leaving only a cloying sweetness. Her tiny coughs distressed him.
"Hang on, I'll get some water." He wished he'd thought of that before. It only took a moment to buy a bottle from a vending machine, but she'd turned red by that time. He tipped a few drops into the cap and anxiously watched her drink. It was like drinking out of a salad bowl for her, but she thought nothing of it. Borrowers were adaptable. If they had good food and clean water to drink, they weren't picky about the containers it came in.
"It's getting late," he said reluctantly, when her coughing had eased. "I should get you back."
"Just one more place," she begged. Her eyes shone like stars; hot dog grease and cotton candy mixed on her fingers, now laced together entreatingly.
"All right, we'll pop by the... the funhouse, then!"
It was a good choice. Most of the crowds were at the haunted house across the way - he had no intention of taking Arrietty anywhere near that place - and in a place full of distortions, people would be even less likely to notice a tiny person.
"Sho!" Arrietty squealed, pointing. "You're small!"
"So I am," he laughed, and waved. In his reflection, a tiny Sho with a pin-sized Arrietty in his pocket - visible solely as a flare of bright hair against his shirt - waved back. The mirrors did other things. The two of them were fat; they were amazingly skinny. They were bowed in the middle and stretched at the ends. And in one...
"Look, Sho," Arrietty whispered. "I'm... big."
Their eyes met, solemn with unspoken thoughts. Sho looked around, then lowered her to the floor and stepped back. People laughed around the unseen corners, but they were safe for the moment.
Arrietty turned again, regarding her enormous self. Her self, as tall as Sho - taller, even; her build was longer, lankier, and she was a bit ahead of him in terms of growth. This new, tall Arrietty locked eyes with Sho, until no one was sure who was a reflection and who wasn't.
X X X
Arrietty woke with a start. Irregular patches of shadow swam in front of her eyes; she rubbed her face, and they resolved into a rough dirt roof mere feet over her head. Grass roots poked through, some threatening to tickle the blankets.
"Arrietty, dear, are you all right?" Her mother was leaning over her, worriedly smoothing her nightgown. Arrietty had flung the blankets off some time during the night. "You were talking in your sleep. Something about big... Did you have a bad dream?"
"No... no, Mama." Arrietty caught the kind, aging fingers and quieted them with a sleepy kiss. "Not a bad dream. Just... a dream."
Her mother petted her a little longer and then, satisfied all was well, went back to bed. Arrietty got the blankets straightened out and sank back into the milk thistle mattress.
"The only bad part was waking up," she murmured.
And what on earth was a funhouse?