We went to the Pike,
rode the Ferris wheel,
ran through the house of mirrors,
and saw the two-headed baby.
My older brother said it was a total fake,
but I knew it was real
because the left head had mad eyes,
and the right head had sad eyes,
and when I looked at both heads together
my heart sank,
like the whole world had forgotten about me.
That’s the way I would feel
if I were a two-headed baby
put on display in a glass jar
for fifty years.
We walked up the boardwalk
toward the pier,
past the tattooed old men,
fishing and drinking Miller High Life.
The air stunk like a wet dog
wearing Aqua Velva.
A man with a python on his shoulders
rolled by on a skateboard,
blasting a sermon from a tape deck
strapped to his back.
I laughed when my brother raised his hands
to the sky,
speaking in tongues,
falling backwards against the railing.
Nearby, girls dressed in shorty shorts
were hanging with the sailors in their blues.
Their high-heeled legs glistened in the sun.
I smiled at them.
One of the girls threw her long hair back,
and blew me a kiss with her big juicy lips.
My grandmother grabbed my hand.
My brother waved them off, “whores,
All of ‘em.”
My grandma bought us hotdogs
and cotton candy at the food stand.
There was a handsome fella
who used to sell shrunken heads
right where you kids are standing.
My brother said they were probably plastic replicas,
mass produced in China.
My grandma looked at him,
He traveled to the Congo, smarty pants,
to buy curios to sell.
Went missing there in 1941.
My brother smirked,
They probably captured him,
shrunk his head,
and traded it for a bottle of booze.
She put a Kent cigarette in her mouth.
I lit it with my dead grandpa’s lighter,
the one I kept in my shorts pocket.
How ‘bout one for me, Squirt?
my brother motioned,
throwing his cotton candy into the trashcan.
She handed me a cigarette from her pack.
I lit it in my mouth,
took a drag,
and passed it to him.
Let’s go home now, kids.
You can fix me a Tom Collins,
she winked at me.
You can have a virgin, she said to my brother.
He chuckled under his breath.
On the drive back to her house
I thought about the two-headed baby
floating in formaldehyde,
it’s little fists
raised in defiance.
I looked out the car window.
A man wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt
was screaming at the traffic,
karate kicking the air.
He stood on the center divider,
holding out a bucket.
I thought we were going to stop
and drop some money into it,
but my grandmother kept driving.
I thought about the shrunken heads.
I wondered if they were still out there,
Wendy Rainey is author of two books: Hollywood Church: Short Stories and Poems and Girl On The Highway. She is a contributing poetry editor on Chiron Review. Her work has appeared in Nerve Cowboy, Rusty Truck, Misfit Magazine and beyond. She studied poetry with Jack Grapes in Los Angeles and creative writing with Gerald Locklin at California State University, Long Beach.