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The Circus by Cezarija Abartis

Three apples blurred in the air. The juggler pranced and smiled and stretched his mouth. “Wanna see more?’

We clapped our hands.

“The magic show is inside that tent.” He pointed to a silken tent on a truck bed, a miniature version of the big tent that would be set up at the grounds; it seemed to breathe in the diffuse light of the overcast summer sky.

My little brother’s mouth was open. Probably mine was too. We had been sent to buy milk, bread, and apples at the corner store. Mother had told us to be good, to go to Gorzock’s store, come home, and help with fixing supper. We were diverted from our task by the circus parade, and we followed the circus people down the street. I saw old Mrs. Sherburne watching the parade too. She wore a frilled sleeveless dress that showed her wrinkled and loose arms. The trumpeter marched at the front by Heineman’s mortuary, the calliope rolled on wheels at the rear, and in the middle was the strong man wearing a leopard skin across one shoulder and a bandana at his throat. He stuck out his tongue at us children, and I jumped back and pulled on Leo’s hand.

“Maggie, that hurts,” Leo said.

“Sorry, honey.”

“I’m not ‘honey,’ and I’m not a baby.”

“Okay, okay. There’s the lady on the horse!” She wore a pink spangled outfit. I longed to look like that–golden curls, green hair ribbon and matching green eye shadow, crimson lips. She waved her hand from side to side like a princess of the realm.

The air was humid and the sky heavy. The clown with his red nose romped by and Leo tightened his grip on my hand. “We should go to the store,” he said.

“You’re a scaredy cat.”

“Don’t call me that!” he shouted. He pulled at the waistband of his shorts as if the shorts were hot and sticking to him. “I’ll tell Mommy you disobeyed. We’re not supposed to cross the big street.”

“I haven’t disobeyed. We’ll go to the store.” I had the money in my pocket. We had the price of admission. I touched the paper dollars: we were supposed to bring back change. “But we just stopped for a little while.” A skinny dog watched us from the alley.

Actually, the procession was already beginning to thin. I wanted to pretend it would go on for a long time–maybe until I grew up. My own life consisted of school during the year and babysitting my brother and living in a boring house. I yearned to be somebody and have adventures. To sail to Byzantium and Nineveh. To fight evil villains and dragons. To marry Prince Charming.

A lion roared in a cage. A horse whinnied and dropped manure on the street. My brother pinched his nose in elaborate disgust. “Pee-yew.”

“It’s just manure,” I said. “Farmers put manure on the ground for the vegetables you eat. The apples too.”

“No sir!”

“Oh yes.”

The sun was fire on my head. Leo pulled at the hem of his khaki shorts. He kicked at me, but I moved away and slapped at him. He was tired and crabby. Leo needed to be disciplined. I struck his outstretched hand. He stumbled and fell. He cut his knee on the curb, and I saw a fine line of crimson blood. He let out a wail, and I held his shoulders and shushed him until he stopped.

The last man limped past. He dragged a shovel and a broom. When he turned to our side, I could see that his left eye was missing. The trumpet and calliope could barely be heard. The dog was gone. Two girls licking red lollipops walked away. The wind blew around a green paper advertising the circus in big Gothic typeface.

Cezarija Abartis‘ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Prime Decimals, Underground Voices, Wacccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. One of her flashes was included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 list of flash fiction of 2011. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.

© 2012 Cezarija Abartis