Delancy Brother’s comes to town!
March 8, 2015 § 5 Comments
Every time I lead the women’s writing retreat on St. George Island I create, for our last exercise, a fictional event, then each of us draws a character from the hat and tells the story of the event through the eyes of that character.
This year a down-and-out circus/carnival rolled into a small, failing town–we writers like to call that the “setting.”
Among the point of view characters on the folded slips of paper were: the kid just learning to read who sees the poster, the clown who dreams of getting off the road and settling down, the town’s evangelical minister who believes this sort of show is a sign the end is near.
My draw from the hat was Juno, the woman who runs the local, underfunded ASPCA. Here’s her story.
Juno slumped against the wall facing the row of cages and a chorus of yips and yaps with old Fred baying the low notes as if a full moon hung overhead, not a sixty watt bulb that barely lit the corners of the concrete box that was the Greensville ASPCA animal shelter.
Juno was the one charged with preventing cruelty to animals, as if doing time in a metal cage wasn’t cruel.
She needed more space, real runs for her animals, but with her budget that was a joke. Mrs. Hollins alone with her no-spay-or-neuter policy (she claimed it infringed on her pets’rights) kept the place crowded and hungry.
And now this.
At the invitation of their horse’s ass of a mayor, the Delancy Carnival-Circus was in town. Juno was okay with the dancing goat, and the dog act. Any one of her dogs would be better off sitting on the passenger seat of Bobo the Clown’s pick-em-up. The dog trainer who performed with a red bulb on his nose took good care of his dogs; Juno had checked.
“Sheeba” as the sign on her cage read, was moth-eaten, old, and lacked two of the curved canines needed for a tiger’s menacing grin.
When she huffed a warning exhalation her breath was rotten. Popcorn littered the floor of her cage. Her balding tail hung between the bars.
Her trainer was a bandy-legged little rooster of a man named Ronny who seemed to love the old tiger, but that didn’t enlarge a cage with no turnaround room or provide shelter when the cage was being trailered town-to-town. That had to be cruelty.
She’d thought about confiscation, but what would she do with a tiger she couldn’t house? And forget feeding. The only thing that came to mind was stray cats—but that brought her back to the cruelty thing.
She went to the vacant lot behind the five and dime for one last look; the show was packing it in. Nervous, Sheeba was letting out deep-throated grumbles. Given room she would have burned off her anxiety pacing.
Her trainer was patting her through the bars. “Come to say goodbye to the old girl? He asked over his shoulder.
Juno had stood by the cage as often as she could manage over the three days the mud show was in town, talking to the tiger when no one was around, explaining how she wanted to rescue her. But now she was overwhelmed with the desire to touch the big cat’s shoulder, the only place the fur still grew thick.
She reached, and an iron hand, bony and dry, grabbed her wrist. “Wouldn’t do that ma’am. She don’t know you, and Sheeba here’s still a wild animal.”
Yeah, Juno thought, like all the animals in my cages are still dogs.
“I have something for you.” She fished in her pocket and pulled out the citation for animal cruelty. “Here.”
Ronnie took it. Thumbing the ball cap back from his wrinkled forehead, he glanced at the piece of paper in his hand. “Thank you ma’am. I’ll put it with the others.”
Note: I sent out an all-call to the retreat writers for the writing they did for this exercise. I will add them as they come in. If they contradict each other it is because each of us imagined the event in our own way through the eyes of our assigned character.
Sharon Ketts, writing as the man who owns the field where the show will set up.
“Damn Yankees. And carnies to boot,” Alex said out loud.
He looked over the hay field that might just have one more cutting left in it. Except now it won’t.
“Damn, mayor. If he hadn’t been my brother-in-law, there’s no way this broken-down circus would be settin’ up in my field,” he said to the crows.
He walked back toward the house breaking up clods with his scuffed-up boot toe. He noticed the green shoots poking through and mourned the loss of the few bucks the season’s last cutting would have brought.
Oh, well, he thought. The grandkids will have fun. They’ll spend way too much money, but Martha will love dragging them to the games and feeding them all the crap their mama won’t let ‘em have.
He smiled when he thought about how much Martha loved cotton candy and how much the sickly sweet smell made him gag. He’d choked back his nausea the first time he and sweet Martha had come to the carnival and she’d made a beeline for the cotton candy machine almost the first minute they’d walked onto the fairground. Almost fifty years ago.
He thought about Seth and April, the oldest grandkids, on the verge of joining the adult world. Maybe they’d be finding their loves over the cotton candy machine or next to the ratty animal cages and they’d be rememberin’ fifty years from now.
He sighed. Ah, maybe it won’t be so bad to sacrifice the last cutting after all, he thought. And besides, they say elephant dung makes good fertilizer.
Robin Ecker, writing as the owner/manager, worried that the mud show was going broke.
JD’s voice thundered over the cacophony the show made when it was being set up—pounding of spikes to hold the rigging, sputter of winch motors, the animal’s snorts and mewls—it seemed only his crew was silent as if any talk would use up the last bit of energy and momentum they had.
“Claude, tighten those hubs—if it comes loose again…” JD kept walking as he shouted the commands—it was up to the crew to catch his orders best they could. “Jody, you got to hurry up this gotta be done so’s you can help Shoshona get the horses curried. They got to shine. We ain’t no two-bit…they got to get their money’s worth…”
Jody had stopped, holding the wrench to hear JD, then turned back. JD didn’t expect or want him to hear it all—he figured his tone was enough.
JD had to take a load off. He glanced around to make certain nobody shirked. Back in his office—an old Airstream, silver and humped like King of the Desert, the camel—JD pulled the ledger off a desk so battered it looked as if JD spent all his time kicking it. He sank into the faded chintz-upholstered Laz-E-Boy.
If they didn’t pull in half again as much as they did last weekend he’d never make payroll. He had some cash in the safe, but just enough to partially fill the diesel generators. He kept his ear trained on the open windows, gauging the progress outside by the noise.
Nothing yet coming from the Tilt-a-Whirl. That SOB, Tommy, had probably snuck off already to score some weed. JD would…
He could leave. Grab the money in the safe and head out. Not look back, not look forward. Go to Texas or Louisiana and get a job on an oil rig. Roughnecking wasn’t no picnic but maybe the creditors couldn’t find him. He closed the ledger and tossed it back on the desk. He heard the grind of the gears and knew Tommy had got back. He’d better go make sure Tommy hadn’t crossed the control wires like he done over to Mountain View last month.
Susan Williams, writing as the mayor who hopes bringing the circus to town will boost his chances of reelection.
Jim Geoffrys loved this town like his Daddy had, and his Daddy’ s Daddy. The family’s long line of men never saw the tired dilapidated store fronts, the lack of population growth, or time standing still. The Geoffrys men saw reliability, promise and prosperity in the small town of Holdendale-unwavering, never faltering.
Jim was careful walking the line between maintaining healthy friendships and business relations, or tripping over into the other side and giving in to a popularity contest.
He’d heard the concerns of the townspeople. Bud Hughes needed more folks to buy his local produce and consistently attend Saturday’s Farmers Market. John Gibbs missed seeing the family gatherings on Sunday afternoons in the town square. Father Mark just wanted pews filled at church. The Clancy Brothers Big Top Circus might do the trick.
He’d bring in the colorful parade of characters for the people of Holdendale. He could see the big top going up, he envisioned all the townspeople gathering together for good, clean, hometown fun.
Jim Geoffrys would stand along side the ring master, the families of Holdendale would cheer. He’d welcome them, give them a wave, and through wholesome family entertainment, he saw himself being be well on the way to securing another term as Mayor of this town.
June C. Lloyd, writing as the midway ring toss operator who snuck out of the town ten years earlier, leaving her husband.
Kind of funny really that I found permanence in a traveling carnival setten’ up the ring toss.
Jeff and I would never have survived together. The meth lab he set up in the trailer was the last straw.
I thought marrying someone from a good family would make everything all right but, he was just slumming and I was easy.
We’d have never gotten married but his Momma insisted.
She thought it would help him grow up. I was 16, he was 22.
His Momma never knew about the bruises on my arms or on my face.
I was trash, he had family.
Heard he settled down some after he was caught and spent 18 months incarcerated.
To my mind he probably just met more people like himself. People who had chances and blew ‘em. People who had families that wanted to help.
Don’t know when the drugs and the deceit really took him over.
I thought marrying him was my one way out of hell; it was just to another room in it.
Lipika Nath Frith, writing as the six-year-old kid just learning to read, who sees the poster.
“Comb one, comb all?” the boy sounded out the words on the poster hanging in the window of Mantey’s Drug Store.
James’ eyes flew to the picture, a sketch of a toothy tiger and a ringmaster who looked like Planter’s Peanut with a tuxedo. James knew he would beg to go, that Mama would say no, and he’d have to pick up pine cones in Grandma’s yard and sweep her porch before he could ask if she would take him.
A tiger! He’d seen tigers every Friday afterschool of Kindergarten last year, but only on the side of the animal cracker boxes that late pick up children got.
This would be a real tiger. And if he could be brave, maybe the ringmaster would let him come into the ring. Then, Tommy and Josh wouldn’t push him off the monkey bars and call him Lame James.
He scanned all of the words underneath the picture, looking for something short enough to sound out.
“Strong man,” he read and smiled proudly. He could be a strong man, too. Then he wouldn’t cry when they stole his glasses. He would be the strong man’s strong boy.
“Friday,” it said. He only had two days. He raced past the diner to the hair salon where his mom worked.
Ding, the door chimed as he pulled on it and slipped into the salon. Marni, the receptionist winked at him and held her hand up for a high five. He quickly obliged and strode by her to his mom’s station.
James’ mom was arranging the combs and hair picks in the blue vase of liquid that James often thought might taste like blueberry.
“Uh, Mom?” James began.
“Hi, babe,” Mom said. “Here, get a snack,” she turned and handed him a dollar from the tips in her apron. He looked down at the dollar. He was hungry, but he was hungrier for the circus. He slipped the dollar into the back pocket of his too-short jeans.
“Can I go to the circus on Friday if Grandma can take me?” he asked.
James’ mom watched the receptionist file her acrylic nails.
“We’ll see. Let’s call her after supper.”
Mary Wescott, writing as the fundamentalist preacher who thinks this sort of show is a sign the end is near.
Time to prepare my sermon for Sunday morning, said Reverend George to himself, but I just can’t get that disheveled band of circus performers out of my head.
Surely, there’s a Bible quotation or lesson about watching this traveling freak show and giving the circus this town’s hard earned money. Sometimes I think the clowns are the worst, and all they do is scare the little ones.
The Reverend got up from his small single bed, ambled into the kitchen and got his morning coffee this drizzly Saturday in New Dawn, Indiana. His mind continued to obsess about what he would say in his sermon Sunday, how he could convince his parishioners to believe as he did—the circus coming to town next week represented a sign that the world as we know it was rapidly cycling to a terrible end.
The circus represented a freakish kind of Stephen King catastrophe where all the weird people—the fat lady, the midget, the clowns, the trapeze artists, and all those poor animals held in captivity—would bring on a kind of end of days.
He could see it: lighting, thunder, elephants falling into deep crevasses, lions scattering down dirt roads of the town, the huge tent, whose better use was for a revival meeting, would fold in on itself, blow like the wind of Dorothy’s tornado and it would all wreak destruction on not just their town, but all the Midwest towns for miles around, even spread east to New York.
Reverend George thought about it—maybe he was being a bit melodramatic, maybe it was an ordinary circus, one like those that had performed for decades like PT Barnum or Ringling Brothers. Weren’t children supposed to like them?
But he couldn’t help seeing the circus as a further sign of decadence in America, that the tent had better uses (that involved him). There was something degrading about people selling their freakishness—wouldn’t they just want to stay inside and hide? And the debauchery of traveling together, the filthy pens of the animals, the skimpy outfits of the trapeze women–just a further sign of the coarsening of civilization, the lack of religion in our daily life.
Why, he would throw the money changers out of the temple! He drank another cup of coffee and considered calling the circus manager. Well, he would just stop them from coming at all,he sputtered to himself.
“The manager depends on me. I am pretty much in charge of everything around here.
” Yes Sir, you can check out anything here, and you won’t find any problems. All the fire exits are marked, open and clear, animals in good condition, side shows just like advertised. The rides all checked out by me to meet every code. No problems with our show.
“Well yeah, we did have that little problem in Florida last week with the Ferris wheel, but if that fool kid had not decided to climb down with the wheel running he would not have been hurt. And if he had not caught hold of that seat and turned it over, that other couple would not have been dumped.
“And that little problem in Texas last season ? Now that was a real problem for us, but not our fault. Kept us shut down in Texas for three weeks. That woman jumped from those swings. She kept screaming she was pushed.
“Officer, you ever heard of a swing pushing anyone out of it?
“Judge said he hadn’t either, and he let us go. We lost three weeks there in Texas.”
“Yes Sir, you can look anywhere you want, and you won’t find any problems with our show.
“What do you mean officer, you want me to empty my pockets ?
“You are right officer. That is not my gold watch. I found it in the big tent just a few minutes ago while inspecting to be sure everything is ready for the show today. I was just on my way to lost and found with it when I spotted you.Thought you needed some help.
“The gold compact with the fifty in it? No sir, it sure is not mine. I am just keeping it for Dolly, the fat lady, while her show is setting up.
“Officer, there must be some mistake. Slim Pickens is no pick-pocket.”
“Truth is, not many pockets that would be worth picking in the little towns we play. This can all be straightened out.
“Officer, can I offer you a funnel cake? Jonsey won’t even miss it.”
I used to think this was a pretty cool show, but that kid named Josh from last season who I stayed with took me to a real carnival at the Georgia State Fair and now I know what a shabby mess of a hell hole I’m living in.
Pop says I’m too big for my britches, but I’m tired of hearing that. My britches fit just fine, and I’m not a kid anymore. I want to go to a normal junior high like Josh does, not be stuck with these crappy old books that Ma bought at Goodwill.
Home-school schome-school. It’s just a lousy excuse for not letting me be in band or meet girls. The only girls I get to see every day are smelly old Jessica and pimple-faced Margarita. Yuck. Someday I’m going to meet Scarlett Johansen. I don’t care if she’s older, she’s hot! That green dress she wore at the Oscars was smokin’!
The only decent girl I ever met with this nasty bunch of losers was Charlotte, the Tilt-a-Whirl operator’s daughter. But Pop ran them off when he caught Charlotte’s dad doing it with that lady who sold corn dogs and fried Oreos. I say it was nobody’s business who either one of them wanted to do it with, but Pop with his dopey born-again bullshit had to get all high and mighty and run them off. I think it’s really cuz Pop knew I’d taken a liking to Charlotte, if you want to know the truth.
Well, Pop isn’t going to ruin all my fun forever even if he’s tryin’ as hard as he can. We just had a fight about me goin’ out tonight after closing with Chuck and Jason. Just because Chuck got his license, now I can’t hang out with them. And Chuck was going to score some weed tonight, but now he’ll know what a damn baby I am, all protected by Ma and Pop and never allowed to do anything.
Well, I’ll show them. Right before Charlotte and her pa left, she sneaked me a half bottle of vodka she stole from her old man, and I’ve saved it ever since in the skinny hidden zipper pocket of my suitcase – good thing some rich guy donated the bag to Goodwill just cause one of the zippers sticks.
Anyway, nobody’s found that vodka, and I mean to sneak out tonight to Chuck’s truck before they hit the town. Maybe I don’t dare go with ‘em cuz Pop would beat my ass, but we’ll have us a little drink or two before they go. Chuck says you can’t smell vodka.
I’ll show you, Pop.
Well, Lucinda, here we are again, plopped down in another little burg, the last one on the circuit. You and me has been together for a long time, givin’ the people what they want—you with a fake mane tied on you, pretendin’ to snarl, licking your lips as you eyeball the hicks and their kids in the front row, and me, puttin’ on the daring lion-tamer costume, tucking my hair up under a top hat and gluing a mustache on me.
The best part is where I lower my voice and say “Down, Lucifer, down!” so’s people feel like they got their two dollar’s worth.
I don’t know, old gal. This might be the last gig for me. A diet of cotton candy and canned corn ain’t exactly what the doctor ordered. And being our own gaffers at my age takes its toll. Too much work, too little pay, not a place to call home except the sleeping bag in the back of my truck.
So whaddya say, Lucy girl? I don’t know what’s waitin’ for me with Social Security and such, and I don’t think there’s any Medicare for lions, but maybe it’s time, maybe it’s time.
What more would we need than just a little shack in a little hick town, with a little wood stove where a cat can curl up and nap?
I dream of it, Lucy. I really do.