February 13, 2020

Circus Days


Gd news: my new collection of short stories was just accepted for publication. I'm now working with my technical staff, and hopefully the thing will be listed on Amazon in June or July. In the meantime, I wanted to provide you guys with a few samples, as I have been doing. Here's one of my favorites:

There was an annual fair that came to our town, which included circus acts, magic demonstrations, and all kinds of other shows. One year, when I was seven, my parents took me to it, and bought me a large cone of cotton candy. It was pink, and tasted of sugar. I ate the whole thing, then threw up in a nearby garbage can. When I finished, I looked around, but my parents were nowhere to be seen. You'd think that I would be afraid, start crying or whatever, but instead I had a heady sense of freedom. Ours was not a happy home; my parents were always fighting. I often dreamed of running away, and now, suddenly, the opportunity had presented itself, like a prison break.

I began making my way among all the tents and displays. In one, there was a fat lady with a moustache; in another, a man riding around on a bicycle with only one wheel. Finally, I stopped at the magician's booth. The magician was tall and handsome, wearing a tuxedo and a top hat, and sporting an elegant moustache. His assistant was a very pretty lady in a bathing suit. He did things like pull a rabbit out of a hat, or "saw" his assistant in two—which she miraculously survived. I had by now pushed myself up to the front row of the crowd. Mr. Miraculo, as he was called, was holding a balloon in one hand and a long, thick needle in the other. He announced that he was going to pierce the balloon, but that the balloon wouldn't pop. He leaned over to me and asked me to touch the point of the needle with my finger.

"Is it sharp, sonny?" he asked me. I nodded. "Tell everyone here," he said. I turned to the crowd behind me. "It's sharp!" I declared. Then his assistant, who was called Miss Yvette, held the balloon in her hands, while Mr. Miraculo pushed the needle into it. The balloon didn't explode; instead, the needle went through it like butter and came out the other side. Mr. Miraculo took a bow, and the audience applauded.

I was dumbfounded. How in the world could a sharp needle not pop a balloon? Mr. Miraculo and Miss Yvette did a few more tricks with cards and coins and handkerchiefs, but I wasn't interested. All I cared about was learning the secret of the balloon trick.

It was late afternoon by now; all the stands were packing up, including Mr. Miraculo's. I approached the stage, looked up at him. "How did you do that?" I asked him. "Do what, sonny?" "Put a needle through a balloon," I answered. "Oh, that's a trade secret," he said; "a magician never gives away his secrets. But maybe someday you'll become a magician, and then you'll know all the secrets." He smiled broadly. "Why not right now?" I asked him. "You could teach me." "Shouldn't you be getting on home?" he suggested. "It's getting late." "I have no home," I told him. "My parents disappeared the other day, and I've been sleeping on the street." I faked crying. I guess that was my magic trick. "There, there, sonny." He bent down, put his arms around me. "We should probably go to the police." "No police!" I shouted; "no police! Let me live with you!" He and Yvette lived in a large covered wagon. "Let me stay in your wagon. Look how big it is."

Mr. Miraculo looked over at Yvette; she just shrugged. "Why not?" she said; "we might even be able to use him in one of our acts. Come on up here, sonny; we can fix a bed for you right below ours." And so began my apprenticeship with Mr. Miraculo—and Yvette.

The three of us toured the countryside, performing tricks in various towns. Mr. M. showed me the secret of the balloon: you coated it with oil. Then, when the needle pricked it, the oil moved in to seal the spot before any air could escape. Oil was also poured into the inside, so that the same thing happened when the needle emerged from the balloon. I was really excited by this, and Mr. M. let me practice with it until I got it right.

He and Yvette were really kind to me; I never figured out why. Mr. M. used me to "test" the needle for the audience, and gave me pocket money for this. They shared their food with me, took care of me. I was finally free from my parents, and I was in heaven. This was my idea of a real family.

As we tended to get up very early, we all usually went to sleep around 9 p.m. Every night, for some reason, he and Yvette would wrestle on their bed, and she would moan and groan. Should I say anything? I worried that he was hurting her. But the next day, she always emerged with a big smile on her face. She apparently enjoyed these wrestling matches, so I decided it was OK.

I began to pester Mr. M. to teach me some magic tricks. And slowly, he did. I learned the rabbit-in-the-hat trick, and the saw-Yvette-in-half trick. Meanwhile, Yvette introduced me to the Tarot. "These cards," she said, "tell the person for whom you are reading what is happening in his life, or her life. Sometimes, they can foretell the future. But you have to know how to read them correctly. I'll teach you, and then we'll set you up with a table next to the stage. You'll read for people, and charge them fifty cents. You get twenty-five, and Mr. M. and I get twenty-five. OK?" I nodded happily.

"People want to know that their lives are on track, that things are going well. Or if not, they want some idea as to how to fix things. Women always want to hear that they are going to meet a tall dark stranger. Men want to hear that they will soon be rich. You understand what I am saying?" Again, I nodded.

"Now take this card, for example. Death. It's part of what we call the Major Arcana. It could, of course, represent death, but it could also stand for a major change in a person's life—which could be a good thing. So when you're doing a reading, instead of telling your customer that he or she is about to die, tell them that some big change is going to occur in their life, and that they should be ready for it. Get the idea?" I said yes.

"Why do you and Mr. M. wrestle every night, when we go to bed?" I asked her. Her face turned as pink as that cone of cotton candy I had eaten long ago.

"To keep fit!" she said. "It's really good exercise."

"I was afraid he was hurting you," I said.

"Oh, no, not at all; it feels really good."

"Could I try it?" I asked her. Her eyes widened. "What, with me?" she exclaimed. I nodded.

"No, sonny. In order to wrestle properly, you need a girl your own age. You'll do it when you get older, you'll see." I was deeply disapointed, but I didn't say anything. Meanwhile, I started running "Oscar's Tarot Table" next to the stage, charging fifty cents per customer. It got easier as I got more practice with the cards. Yvette was absolutely correct: the women wanted to meet a man and fall in love, and the men wanted to make lots of money. So I tried, when I could, to steer the readings in these directions. But what my customers wanted, above all, was that things come out "all right" for them, whatever that meant. I discovered that all of them were worried about their lives; often, very worried. What they most wanted from the readings was reassurance, and I did my best to provide it. This often led to generous tips.

One evening, instead of the usual wrestling match, Mr. M. and Yvette had a big fight. I was sitting outside the wagon at the time. I wasn't sure what the fight was about, but I heard her cry, "Look at all the years I've put in! Look at all the loving I gave you! Don't you think it's about time?" She jumped out of the wagon, ran into me, put her arms around me, and cried like a baby.

"Yvette," I said; "what's wrong? Tell me."

"He won't marry me," she said, angrily. "After all these years of being together, all these years of being his faithful assistant, he says he doesn't want to get married. Jesus, what else does a girl want, anyway? I have half a mind to leave him."

"Why doesn't he want to marry you?" I asked her.

"Oh, the usual male nonsense about wanting to be free, needing space, and so on. I think he might be interested in another girl."

"No one could replace you, Yvette; no one," I told her.

"Thank you, honey; you're such a doll. Can I sleep in your bed tonight? I don't want to sleep with Guido right now."

It was kind of a strange arrangement, that night. I curled up in Yvette's arms, and smelled the fragrance of her body. She was still wearing her bathing suit, and I pressed against her. "You're such a great kid," she kept saying. "I wish I could have a kid just like you."

The fight with Guido blew over for a while. Yvette was still angry, but she wasn't ready to go off on her own. After all, what could she do? Read Tarot, probably, but that was all. She was an assistant, not a magician.

Then a dark cloud suddenly appeared. The next town we got to, there were posters with my face on them, stuck on walls and telephone poles. MISSING they said; REWARD OFFERED. "OK, Oscar, no Tarot this time around," said Guido. "You need to stay in the wagon, out of sight." At one point a cop even came by, carrying a poster. "You haven't seen this kid by any chance?" he said to Guido and Yvette. "Apparently he ran away from home."

"Sorry, officer," said Guido; "haven't seen any sign of him." The policeman laughed. "Kid probably ran off to join the circus," he said jokingly.

That night Yvette, Guido, and I had a "family meeting." "Listen, kid, we're in a bit of a bind here," Yvette explained. "If you get caught, we could go to jail for kidnapping, even though we didn't kidnap you. Do you want to go back home?"

"This is my home," I told her. Yvette shot a look at Guido. "What do you think?" she asked him. He shrugged. "Let's take the chance and keep him," he said. "He just hasta stay outta sight in those towns where the posters are up. Meanwhile, he can keep earning money from Tarot readings, and I'm going to continue to train him in the magical arts. That way, when he gets older, he'll have a craft." Talk about kindness.

So I stayed. The sleeping arrangements continued to be kind of weird. Two or three nights a week Yvette would wrestle with Guido; the other nights she slept in my bed, hugging me tightly. Guido didn't seem to mind. As for me, I loved her body, loved the smell of it, the sensation of it. "You're going to make some girl very happy some day," she told me. I was now eight years old; I had been with her and Guido for over a year, and was not to learn the joys of "wrestling" for another seven. (More on that in a moment.)

In any case, we finally got caught. Someone had identified me from a poster, and turned me in to get the reward. Guido and Yvette were arrested. At their trial, I testified that coercion had never been involved; that I was never kidnapped, and had in fact imposed myself on them. The judge accepted this, but jailed the two of them for a year for harboring a minor and failing to report it to the police. I went back to my parents, who were still fighting all the time, and pretty much suffered in silence. I was not allowed to visit Guido and Yvette in jail, but I wrote her two or three times a week (she saved all my letters). When she was released, I met her outside the jail, and we hugged and cried. I also got together with Guido, and thanked him for teaching me to do magic, which I practice to this day.

I go by the name of Mr. Fabuloso, and have a lovely assistant named Peggy. As for Yvette, she finally left Guido and married a prosperous wheat farmer. She and I kept in touch, and she also acted as my "wrestling" coach, told me what to do and how to do it. Let's just say that her instructions were very precise; clinical, really. For this, Peggy has always been her biggest fan, and we wrestle quite often.

Yvette also joined a dance troupe, and Peggy and I would go to see her when she was in town. "How is the farmer at wrestling?" I got bold enough to ask her, one time. She pinched my cheek. "Like a tractor, kid."

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