Carnival Surprise by Tasha Coryell

People often mistook him for a Walmart greeter because of the smiley face pin he wore on his chest each day. He had never worked at Walmart, though he did do a brief stint at K-Mart the summer before he had started graduate school. It was just that he really liked smiley faces. They made him feel smiley on the inside.

Josh was a man filled with passion. Some people never find what they want to do in life and Josh was lucky. Josh knew as soon as he joined the Student Life Committee his sophomore year of college. Above all else Josh wanted to curate events for college students.

There are many amazing things about the world and one of those amazing things is that there is an advanced degree for people who want to spend their lives curating events for college students called “Student Affairs and Higher Education.”

Josh graduated at a time of cuts in the academic community. No one wanted to hire someone to spend more money to distract the students from their studying. That’s when it all started, when Josh decided to throw a small birthday carnival for his friend Heather.

Josh had been in love with Heather for all of college. People often asked if they were dating, which hurt his heart a little each time they said it. “No,” he said. “Just friends” and everyone laughed because there was something funny about unrequited love.

While Josh was getting his master’s degree, Heather had become a high powered lawyer who wore suits each day. Josh never wore a suit. Josh always wore jeans, a t-shirt and his smiley face pin.

Josh wanted to do something really nice for Heather’s birthday and he knew how much she had enjoyed the spring carnival the college had thrown each year and so he took out a small loan and rented some equipment and set up a carnival in Heather’s front yard for her to wake up to in the morning.

Heather was very shocked and surprised and said, “Oh my gosh, Josh,” and then they laughed because “gosh” and “Josh” rhymed. Heather rode the rides a couple of times and ate a plate of cheese curds and grabbed some cotton candy and then said,
“Well, I have to go to work, thanks again, Josh.” She hugged him and it felt so nice.

Josh still had the rides and the food stands rented for the rest of the day so he checked, Facebook, one of his favorite social networks to see who else was having a birthday that day. Josh had an extensive Facebook presence due to his heavy involvement in various collegiate activities. He felt it was important to send friend requests to as many students as possible in order to keep them fully informed about all of the events happening on campus. He was pleased when he found that Byron, another friend from college, also had a birthday that day.

Josh and Byron had never been particularly close and had not kept in touch after college, but Josh was able to find Byron’s address through the alumni directory that he kept in his car at all times. He led the carnival on a procession through the suburbs of Chicago before arriving at Byron’s house. Byron was even more ecstatic than Heather had been. Byron apparently, had not yet gotten a job since graduating three years prior and was still living in his parent’s house. He had gained forty pounds and his girlfriend had left him. The carnival was the only nice thing anyone had done for him in years.

“Thanks, man,” he said as tears rolled down his cheeks.

Josh had such a nice time setting up carnivals that day that he extended his rental contracts and brought his traveling student activity center from birthday to birthday. Soon he was getting requests from former classmates, ones that he hadn’t even really known, to show up at their doors. This is when he started getting behind. Many people had relocated after college and sometimes it took him several days to reach their homes. Still, he vowed, he was going to get a carnival to everyone who wanted one.

Instead of a birthday carnival, it became known as the carnival surprise. Graduates of the college woke up on random days throughout the year to find Josh standing at their door with his smiley face pin and a myriad of rides behind him.

“I was worried you weren’t going to make it,” they said before they hugged him. It was always that hug that brought Josh the most satisfaction.

Some of Josh’s former classmates, ones who had been less successful, started to join on Josh’s caravan. They traveled from Chicago to San Francisco, to Texas, to Boston, to Canada. The only Student Affairs counselor to ever bring the activities to the alumni in their homes. There were only a couple of people who didn’t appreciate the surprise, who said, “Who are you? Please leave my property.” Everyone else was so happy to have a party, so happy to see his smiling face and his smiley face and to shove cotton candy down their throats early in the morning.

tashaabout the author:

Tasha Coryell is an MFA Candidate at the University of Alabama where she is working on a novel about murderous sorority girls. Her work has been featured in [PANK], The Collagist, Word Riot and other journals. You can find Tasha tweeting under @tashaaaaaaa and more work from her at