The end of the circus, p.1
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       The End of the Circus, p.1
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           Bernard Fancher
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The End of the Circus


  The End of the Circus

  by

  Bernard Fancher

  Copyright 2011 Bernard Fancher

  All Rights Reserved

  The story that follows is fiction.

  *********

  The End of the Circus

  The alkaline smell of the screen assaulted his nose, triggering a tingling, watering reaction at the base of his tongue until he pushed up the screen, leaving only the base odor of old rain-plastered dust in the window well.

  His right hand maintained a grip on the sill as he backed out on the ledge. Carefully pivoting on the ball of his left foot, he withdrew his right leg from the window. And then he was free, standing uncertainly, still holding onto the sill while his left cheek pressed to the clapboards from which even after the heat of the day he could detect the chalky scent of cracked paint. He turned from the house pressing his palms to the clapboards behind him. The sensation of illicit freedom made him nearly giddy with pleasure as he breathed in more deeply the pleasant scent of the spruce tree mingling with the outer night air, imparting a slight turpentine smell clean as astringent.

  Tyler made a stepping probe with his left foot, as if testing unknown waters. His shoe went up through a pliant surface of needles and found a foothold upon which he deployed more and more weight. The branch drew down like a loading leaf spring until resting on the ledge it stiffened enough to support not only his foot but the weight of his leg. He leaned on it while holding to the branch above, gradually adding more and more of his weight; finally confident enough to fully commit, he stepped out.

  He reached suddenly, committing with his left hand, and his fingers touched the scaly center of the tree. He then bent and gripped the limb with his right hand and began to let himself down. Another branch supported his feet. And then another, until he let go the last one as his feet touched the ground.

  Strange noises rose from the park more subdued than before but still distinct from the rest of the village in the quieting evening. Where the road began its steep descent towards the downtown a view of the carnival opened before him. Even now at the end the lights and sounds still promised as much as when he first beheld them. He crossed the road where the hill leveled momentarily and ran along the length of the old rail bed until the sight of the inwardly collapsing big top stopped him.

  He stopped and momentarily watched from that slight elevation the dome of the big round tent deflating, before continuing, descending the gradient to pass behind the old wooden grandstand. By the time he came out onto the parking lot on the other side a large man with bared arms and shoulders stood already bent at the big top’s now collapsed periphery, pulling stakes with a long-handled tool as if lifting dead weight with a peavey. Tyler recognized the man as the same hairy broad-shouldered carnie who only a few short days earlier stood in nearly the same spot swinging a double-faced maul setting stakes in preparation of putting the tent up. Behind the collapsed big top, yellow and blue carnival cups still turned and revolved, though only a few people sat in them. The lit Ferris wheel stopped and the seats swung, mostly now empty as well. Across the grassy way separating the rides in the center of the converted ballpark, an already dwindling array of sideshows and game stations at the far edge of the park remained open, though the barkers called out to the remnants of the weekend’s crowd with unmistakably diminished enthusiasm.

  Tyler looked for and then saw the small trailer and canopy of the shooting gallery where he had tried and failed over the course of these days to win a stuffed tiger until the cute girl behind the counter finally whispered at sundown for him to go and return later and she would try to meet him at eleven o’clock by the cotton candy machine. He looked to see if he could make her head out among all the others. But he could detect for sure only the white hat of the man in the lit glass booth creating swirling pink clouds of cotton candy.

  She stood waiting halfway between the machine booth at the end of the left field fence and the fortune teller’s tent. She waited until he approached and then looked away. He let his eyes drift too, catching a last glimpse of the sword swallower sitting on a chair, smoking a cigarette. He thought of the long shiny blade going into his upturned mouth, continuing down his throat until the hilt met his lips. But then he forgot about the sword when he looked back and the girl’s eyes met his.

  “Daddy says you look like a nice boy and he trusts me. But I can’t go farther than a hundred yards in any direction, and I have to be back by midnight.”

  “Like Cinderella?”

  She smiled at his little joke but didn’t say any more, so he filled the void in their first private conversation with questions. “What do you want to do? Where do you want to go?”

  “Let’s go for a walk to the Stardust.”

  She took his hand and pulled him away. His head turned briefly back to see the deflated big tent. They crossed the parking lot and continued up a narrow walk to the back of a building where they entered through a narrow door and continued down a short narrow corridor past the men’s room to a bar. The man wiping the counter nodded as the new couple came in but then went back to wiping the bar as they took a table and sat near the far wall. Tyler looked at the girl. Her eyes again fell shyly away to the side but then rose and reengaged his.

  “I won’t drink,” she said. “Daddy wouldn’t like me. But you can if you want.”

  He went to the bar wondering if he would be served and imagined her watching as the man behind the counter opened a bottle and then dipped a glass into ice and filled it with a nozzle dispensing a fizzy dark drink. Tyler returned to the table and put the glass in front of the girl before sitting himself down.

  “I got you a rum and coke,” he said, “without the rum.”

  She smiled again as her fingers enclosed the glass and he noticed for the first time her nails, long and perfectly rounded, the color of dark twilight sparkling with starlets.

  “Oh that’s okay,” she said, still smiling. “I don’t care as long as it’s cold and carbonated, and non-alcoholic.”

  She lifted the glass and he lifted the bottle and for a moment they watched each other drinking. He noticed the curl of hair dropping down like a long and delicate spring brushing each cheek. And then he noticed her darkly kohled eyes.

  “Would you like to play some pool?” He asked the question just to say something, and disengaged his eyes from her gaze to look over her left shoulder where the table stood. The triangle rack lay roughly centered upon a lit green velvet field next to the unmarked white ball.

  “I don’t know,” she said. “How good are you?”

  “I’m okay.”

  “Better than me, then; I’m not good at all.”

  “Oh, I bet you are. Come on.” And with that he rose and waited as she lifted herself too and walked with him.

  They each took a cue from the rack on the wall and as she twirled the leather tip of her stick into a square of blue chalk, he reached under and brought up all the colored balls from under the far end of the table. Collecting them at a point on the table he tapped once with the cue ball before carefully lifting the triangle, backing away as the girl leaned over the other end preparing to break. He watched as she drew back the thick end of the stick while resting the slim tapering end on the outstretched other hand, supporting it between her thumb and splayed forefinger. The stick pushed the white ball into the triangle and the colored balls parted, one of which dropped into the far corner pocket.

  “Stripes,” he called softly.

  “Yes,” she affirmed, already lining up the next shot. The cue stick again pushed the white ball and another ball fell.

  “I think I’ve been suckered,” the boy said.

  “No,” said the girl. “I just got lucky. Here, I
ll prove it.” And so she did, pushing the stick forward, knocking a blue ball into a red, which rolled up to and rested against the opposite side cushion.

  Still, somehow she won the game and they decided to play another. This time on the break the boy knocked the cue ball so hard against the leading ball in the triangle that the two balls loudly clicked as they kissed and started a chain reaction of the other balls ricocheting apart. Two balls dropped, one striped and one solid. Tyler chose to play the solids and put in two more before losing his turn. But the girl failed to do as well as at first, and so the boy eventually won.

  Deciding to quit with one win apiece, they placed the cue sticks back in the rack on the wall and finished their drinks, leaving the empty bottle and glass on the counter as they passed. The boy followed the girl, nodding to the bartender as they made their way to the back door. Outside, they walked close and within a few steps Tyler felt the girl reach for and take his hand.

  “What’s your name?” she asked.

  “Tyler,” he said. “What’s yours?”

  “Cinderella,” she said, teasing, smiling at him.

  “That means we don’t have much time.”

  “But you already knew that before we started.”

  They crossed the road into the village park passing the drinking fountain built of stone to sit together
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