Flash Fiction Fridays: What a Show!
Under the Big Top
By Rosemary Biggio
The harvest moon, like a seamless pumpkin, hung in the night sky, unnoticed by the folks of Clayhatchee. Ida, bookkeeper at the A&P, stuffed the money bag for the assistant manager Hank Ridley's night deposit. He corralled the carts scattered in the parking lot and locked up. Mr. Ridley had come to Jesus by way of Gideon’s Bible, compliments of the Budget Motel. Reborn, Hank would take the yoke of matrimony by resolving to make an honest woman of the bookkeeper. He pulled a circus flyer off the window of his pickup and shoved it into his shirt pocket. Ida hoisted her short body into the cab, snuggled close and pulled the flyer from Hank’s pocket.
“Hey, you didn’t tell me about this. “ Ida pouted.
“Just found out. Now, don’t get your panties in a knot. I was just about to ask if you wanted to go Saturday night.”
Ida punched his arm. “Of course, I do.” She giggled. “And don’t be talking trash about my panties.”
With Ida’s ample breasts pressed against him, Hank forgot about storming heaven.
Toby had finished stocking shelves at the supermarket. He waved at the couple in the pickup and headed home on his bicycle. Taking the long way home, he followed the river that paralleled the old railroad tracks. The tracks crackled, signal lights flashed, the train gasped emitting a whoosh. Mealey’s Traveling Circus appeared out of nowhere and pulled into the station. In his sixteen years, Toby could not remember another circus train in Clayhatchee. At home his father snored and his mother sputtered in syncopation. He knew the roustabouts would set up the big top tomorrow. For Toby, sleep did not come.
The call of the calliope lured him from school to watch the circus parade down Main Street. A gilded wagon housing the instrument was drawn by a white stallion. The gold pipes whistled and steamed. He thought of the picture he had seen in Sunday school of the Ark of the Covenant. The clowns tumbled behind the jugglers. Uncle Sam on stilts made his way through the crowd blocking Ace hardware. A float blooming with American Beauties drifted by. Men hooted. Sequined girls twirling batons closed the parade. Boys and girls followed the music out of town.
Toby closed the gate and saw his father on the porch, a fresh switch in his lap. He leaned forward in the rocker.
“Teacher sent a note home with your brother. She says you cut school. That right, son?”
“Yes, sir.” Toby stared at his untied sneakers.
“Your ma says you’re too big for this switch, so you’re grounded for the week.”
“But, I had plans to go to the circus on Saturday,” Toby pleaded.
Mr. Martin, a foot taller than his son, stood up, tossed the switch, lifted his straw hat, scratched his head.
“You can go, but you’ll take your brother.”
“I’d rather have the switch. Benny’s a pain in the butt,” Toby scowled.
His father raised his hands as if bestowing a blessing. “That’s it; I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
Saturday came; Toby dragged his brother past the barkers and circus freaks. Benny left a trail of peanuts. Ida greeted them when they entered the tent. Bending down, breasts overflowing, she pinched Benny’s face. His eyes widened, the propeller on his beanie spun.
Benny looked at his brother. ”Whatcha call that?”
“The Big Top,” Toby said.
When the Ringmaster began, Ida wiggled away murmuring,”Nasty, nasty boys.”
The crowd, necks craned, watched the flying trapeze artists. Toby saw no safety net. A whip cracked. Lions roared. Slick seals tossed balls. Dogs, dressed as jockeys, rode galloping horses. Exotic ladies tightened their grip as the elephants stood up. Bewildered, Hank Ridley watched a lady swallow a sword. For a finale, Rocket Man shot out of a cannon. Returned to earth, he kissed the ladies in the audience. Ida puckered up as he draped his cape around her. Hank clenched his fists, flexed his jaw muscles but did nothing.
The circus packed up, pulled away and traveled under a starless night. Ida had clipped money from the bank deposit to run off with Rocket Man. She left Hank Ridley holding the bag. Benny strung clothesline in the backyard, making a tightrope. He fell and fractured his right arm. Toby took his first date to a movie billed “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Somewhere beyond Clayhatchee, children heard the calliope’s call.
Rosemary Biggio was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. A retired high school teacher and college instructor, Biggio is now a freelance writer.