Cramp entry: During a power-outage, Grandpa Ed recalls a circus from his youth
|Ed placed another kerosene lamp on the table. Smokey shadows soft-shoed across the walls. Dalton held his Batman flashlight in a death-grip, jerking its beam to each window as thunder crashed. "Grandpa, how long now?" he pleaded, his voice shaking near as much as his hands.|
"Still don't know, Boy. They'll get the electric back on as soon as able. Don't fret. Every storm passes. We'll just ride it out . . . okay?"
"I don't wanna ride it out! I want it GONE! " Dalton scrunched his face, his body racked in sobs. He looked smaller to Ed than he had, earlier in the day, when swinging from tree branches. Grandpa Ed lifted the child, patted his back, and carried him to the recliner.
"Shhh . . . shhh. Thunderstorm's ain't nothing to be afraid of. You're a bit big to be scared of something so silly, ain'tcha?"
"And clowns are a real threat?" chided Grandma, as she lit a burner and pulled out a cast-iron pan.
Ed shook his head, "Now, woman, why you gotta bring up clowns? Ain't we got enough to worry about in here?"
"What about clowns, Grandpa?" asked Dalton, pulling his head from Ed's shoulder and his sleeve across his eyes. Ed grinned towards the kitchen. Dalton assumed it was a Spam-smile; Grandpa sure loved his fried Spam.
"Well, since the cat is out of the bag, I might as well --"
"What cat?" asked Dalton, flashing his dimples. He peeked around the chairback and raced Batman's beam across the floorboards. He plucked the gimmie-cap off Ed's head, gave it a once-over then squashed it back in place. "I don't see a cat."
"No cat, you rascal. Now, you wanna hear 'bout cats or clowns?" Ed repositioned both cap and kid then threw up the leg rest on the La-Z-Boy. Dalton shone the light in Grandpa's eyes and announced his decision.
"Clowns it is then." Ed and Dalt stared out the backdoor, watching lightning shatter onyx skies, as Ed recounted his first and last trip to the circus. "Me and Jimmy Wainsworth were at Grand's Food and Grain, turning in bottles, when we saw the poster: Cyrus's Traveling Enchanted Circus Carnival. For the next three weeks every kid in town was sayin' 'please' and 'thank you' and offering to do chores in hopes of a penny. I musta mucked out every stall in Texas, then polished every boot that kicked through 'em . . . twice."
"Finally, the Pied Piper came to town. All us kids for miles 'round followed Cyrus and his convoy down Main street. Even the old folks gathered outside to watch them parade through town. There were trailers painted up like picture books, covered cages that roared, big ol' trucks. A few of 'em rode horses alongside and tossed out candy in shiny wrappers. It may as well been raining gold.
"Got any left?" asked Dalton.
"Nope -- ate it all. When they got to the grounds, we watched from the fence as they set up tents and rides. They shouted in strange tongues and used words I didn't hear again until I joined the service. The smell of cotton candy and roasting peanuts nearly keeled us over. I had my face pressed against those pickets so hard -- trying to catch sight of a carmeled apple -- that I was digging splinters outta my cheeks 'til October. I saw th --"
"Did they have roller-coasters?" asked Dalton, his flashlight now laying on the side table.
"Nah. It wasn't that enchanted, just a Ferris Wheel and carousel; but, that was enough. Half us townfolk still didn't own a car, so any ride without hooves was high-class. Next morning was Christmas-Day-come-early. I ran down the midway throwing darts and tossin' rings. Dodged a kiss on the Ferris Wheel and whipped me a wooden-pony or two around the carousel. I entered a few raffles and even placed fifth in a hotdog-eating contest."
"What'd you win, Grandpa?" Dalton's eyes lit up like the flashes outside.
"A full stomach. And believe me, there wasn't nothin' on a shelf that woulda pleased me more. See, now instead of wastin' money on food I got to spend it on sweets and shows."
Dalton stared longingly at the kitchen. Over the boy's growling tummy, Ed barely heard him ask, "What movies did you see?"
"None. I saw attractions . . . a turtle with two heads, an albino alligator, world's strongest man, a bearded lady . . . " Ed lowered his voice and leaned in close, "that's how I met your Grandma, ya know." Threats to burn his Spam came from the kitchen. "I went through a maze of mirrors and a house of horror. It was the greatest day of my young life.
"That afternoon, was the main show. The Taj Mahal itself couldn't hold a candle to that faded tent. We oohed and ahhed and cheered. Performers danced from strings and shot confetti from canes. There was an elephant named Daphne. Even a lion tamer did his bit; but, all in all, I don't think that lion had any spirit left to tame. He just set there, roaring for treats like a beggerly ol' house cat. Acrobats swung through the air. Music shook the bleachers. It was one heck of a show.
"'Bout halfway through, the ringmaster came out again and called out a name and number. My name and number. I raced down the bleachers, waving my raffle ticket like it was on fire. Everyone hollered and clapped. I nearly split my face smilin'.
"They were celebrating Manny the Clown's birthday and I won the honor of helping. They gave me a red nose, painted my face up, and issued me my very own whipcream pie while the ringmaster thanked everyone for coming. But as they wheeled Manny out on a big cake-throne-cart thing the lights started to flicker. Then the music cut off. The lights flashed again then it all went black. People on the floor around me were running and shouting, wavin' lights and cussin'. And there I was, standing smack in the middle of it all. I held on to that pie, hoping like the Dickens that that ol' lion preferred whipcream to little boys. A couple minutes -- it felt like hours -- later, I heard the generator start up and the lights came back on."
Ed fell silent. The storm hushed in anticipation as well, grumbling quietly. "When the lights came on, I saw Manny on the ground, face-down. He was twitching and floppin'; shaking like nothing I'd ever seen. Clowns pushed pass me, squeaking and jingling. I got knocked down, and stayed down, watching from a sea of giant shoes as they rolled him over and restrained him. One clown pulled off his own sock and stuffed it in Manny's mouth. His make-up was all smeared, there was sawdust stuck to his skin and lips. His eyes were rolled back in his head and it was snappin' side to side. His limbs were spas--
"Ed! Honey . . ."
Ed jerked at Grandma's voice and followed her gaze to the kid in his lap. Dalton sat frozen, fresh tears welled up. "Sorry. He was okay, Dalton. Manny was alright." Ed hugged him and continued, "I just didn't know what was going on at the time. He was just havin' a fit, that's all. I don't know whether he was diabetic, epileptic or what. Sometimes our bodies can do some strange things. Things we can't control. Things that can seem scary if we don't know what's happening. Like a fever or a tic, like --
"Like goosebumps or like throwing-up?"
"Yea. Exactly." Ed grinned. Dalton thought about grinning. "The next day Manny was up and performing again. Jimmy said he was great."
"You didn't watch?"
"No. I looked up at all those painted faces, and started craw-daddyin'. Boy, I hit those flaps runnin'. They shoulda put that in the house of horror instead of stringing up a plastic skeleton. I still get the heeby-jeebies when I see a Ronald McDonald commercial." Ed chuckled, took a plate from Grandma and thanked her. As they ate their Spam sandwiches and cornbread, the lights and fans came back on.
"Thank goodness. See, Hon. The storm's over and we're okay." said Grandma. "Wasn't nothing to worry about."
"Yea . . . the sky was just havin' a fit, huh?"
"Yep," nodded Ed, giving Dalt's shoulder's a squeeze, "Them clouds were just havin' a fit."