Bolts

Every Saturday, after Church, my father would take me to the beach to ride on the carousel. The carousel was one of those ones where you sit on it while someone pushes you, and it was a bit lopsided, but it was immensely fun to spin around with the dizzying blue of the Aegean on one side and the village of Molybos on the other. Especially after the pomp and ceremony of the liturgy, it was quite refreshing.

The problem with the carousel was that it often broke, with the bolts mysteriously worming their way out and vanishing into the thick sand. This was in fact such a frequent occurrence that Alexandros at the hardware store kept little carousel repair kits ready to go in paper bags. You only had to go up to the counter and ask, and he would vanish into the back room and reappear a few moments later, ceremonially carrying a sack filled with bolts and nuts. If he thought you didn’t have a wrench, he would offer to lend you the hardware store’s wrench, shaking his finger at you as he reminded you of the consequences for not returning it.

By collective and never explicitly mentioned agreement, everyone in the village took a turn fixing the carousel. As a general rule, if you took your children to the carousel to use it and it was broken, you would fix it, unless you didn’t have the time, in which case you came back later, secretly hoping that someone else had fixed it in the meantime. This system meant that the carousel worked around 30% of the time, which was enough for most of us.

My father fixed the carousel multiple times, and in fact got in the habit of bringing a carousel repair kit with him whenever we went, in case it needed to be fixed. In retrospect, I suspect that many people were well aware of this, and that he may have fixed the carousel more than he needed to, with the generous Greeks allowing him to do it since he obviously enjoyed it so much.

They believed that because he was American, he must have money and ample spare time, despite the fact that he worked in the fields with everyone else and sent his daughter to go to school with all the other children. Visitors to our house always used to surreptitiously check in nooks and crannies, looking for our treasure. It didn’t help that my friend Anna’s father was some sort of car company executive taking an unspecified amount of time off from the company, and they had money. She had money, ergo we must have had money because I played with her.

One day, my father came up with a brilliant plan for the carousel. He went into the hardware store and asked for epoxy. Alexandros regarded him with deep suspicion, grilling him on why he wanted epoxy, and commenting to other patrons about the peculiarity of the American wanting epoxy. Eventually my father won the argument, and Alexandros reluctantly sold him a tube of epoxy and gave me a piece of baklava.

My father didn’t have long to wait before the carousel broke again. He executed his plan with care, waiting until Friday evening to fix it, under the assumption that the carousel wouldn’t be used for most of Saturday because everyone would be in Church. This time, he coated the bolts and nuts with epoxy before attaching them and wrenching them on. Much to my dismay, I wasn’t allowed to use the carousel, because he wanted the epoxy to fully set. Instead we caught fireflies in a jar and walked back home, releasing them all in the yard in a cloud of briefly brilliant light before dinner.

After Church the next day, I was bounding with eagerness to use the carousel, as was my German friend Anna, who waited patiently for me to emerge from Church so that we could go to the beach with my father. When we arrived, several children were using it, and we patiently waited our turn to whizz around in the sunshine, perilously crammed onto the surface of the carousel with way too many people and inciting my father to run faster.

Several weeks went by without incident, until the residents of the village began to get concerned about the fact that the carousel hadn’t broken. The ever-dysfunctional carousel was sort of a running joke in Molybos, but it was also a mascot, and people were concerned that perhaps our collective good luck was running out. As the carousel became the talk of the town, my father realized the gravity of his mistake, and wisely decided not to disclose his insider knowledge about the situation. My father suggested that perhaps the last person to fix the carousel had simply wrenched the bolts on especially tightly, and that undoubtedly they would work their way free in a few months.

By the time we left Molybos, the bolts were still firmly fixed, and the episode had drifted to the back of everyone’s memory, as these things do. The village’s good luck had not, in fact, run out, and people began to attribute it instead to the butcher’s cow with the perfectly star-shaped patch on its shoulder. I still remember, however, the last time we went to the harbor for a fish before we left, when my father stopped and talked with Chrysanthos, one of the fishermen, mentioning that we were leaving the island, and Chrysanthos expressed dismay, as he had always been rather fond of us. The two stood in the gathering dusk for a while while I examined the fish on display so that I could pronounce my judgment when my father was done.

“It’s a funny thing about the carousel, isn’t it,” my father said conversationally.

“Funny? More annoying,” Chrysanthos commented. “For years I’ve been taking the bolts off to weight my nets, and now I have to buy them at the hardware store!”