BY HARRY POSNER
Copyright is held by the author. This is an excerpt from an upcoming collection of flash fiction, And Maybe You Float Away.
YOU’RE FLAT on your back. Sawdust tickles. A pile of still steaming elephant shit from the previous act stinking away just six inches from your head. Only half a house tonight. But you don’t care. You’ve done this bit so often, you find yourself drifting off to a time before the Big Top, when you dreamt of a stand of oaks at the edge of five acres of sweet black earth. You’d save up and make your living off the land. Taters is what you’d grow. Fat ones. Perfect for fries. You’d be a true farmer’s son.
You only half hear the goose-honk as the miniature VW Bug comes flying at you, Glumpy at the wheel. As it always does. Exactly halfway through the show. Half hear and half see. You’ve been mailing it in for some time now, lazy with the cues, getting heat from the guys. Sloppy with the grease paint. Costume practically shredded from constant abuse and neglect.
Hey, Smuggo, fix your make-up, says Rizotto. You look like a skanky slut.
The guys rubbing it in every chance they get: Hey Smuggo, ever seen a needle and thread? Latest thing.
But you don’t give a flying fig (hey, there’s a name for a trapeze act — The Flying Figs).
So you’re flat on your back and the Bug’s picking up speed, and you better move your ass or else it’s curtains! Kiddies screaming, Get up! Watch out for the car! Your cue to lift your head, look at your giant pocket watch — They’re late! — then lay back down.
Bug barreling. You looking up at the canvas ceiling of the tent, reliving the accident yet one more time, as if it were projected like a movie onto the taut white fabric. And the movie is called THE INVISIBLE BOY. And the same scene plays over and over, the one where the little boy is out in the cornfield, playing hide and seek with his invisible friends. And his dad, trying to get the crop in before nightfall, pushing the harvester at top speed. The boy hearing, too late, the sound of the combine, and not knowing which way to run, and then tripping in his panic, the machine suddenly upon him, and then the pain, white and endless. Waking up in the hospital, a bandaged stump where his hand once lived. In which his dreams were, once upon a time, clutched.
Kiddies out of their minds with worry. But laughing. That’s the key. They worry, but they laugh. Tragedy happens to me, I cry. Tragedy happens to you, I laugh. That’s comedy. Honk honk! Slap, trip, fall, flip, stumble, stagger, collapse.
As a clown you always try every way but the one that works. Ask Martha, she’ll tell you. That clown, she’ll say, funny guy, hopeless husband. Love him, can’t stand him. Martha, the once wife. Called you her second hand man. Funny, huh? Loved you in spite of … Two years in, took up with your fellow big topper, chubby guy goes by the name of The Amazing Hambone. Juggles rodents: rats, mice, gerbils. Your wife threw you over for a two-handed gerbil juggler. Yuck yuck.
You don’t care any more. One way or the other you’d have found a way of screwing it up. Trip, fall, stumble. Smuggo funny. Smuggo alone. Smuggo dead from the heart up. Head full of taters and fries as Bug barrels forward, filled with clowns, crushed by the dozen. Weighty joke. Hope they get it. Aw, sure they will. Any case, the Bug always pulls a crazy wheelie just as you roll out of the way — the kiddies pissing their pants, going mental—then turns and heads towards the exit. Har har. Woo woo.
Except this time. Because Glumpy, who’d lost his only boy in a car accident, putting back (with your sympathetic help) multiple vodka shots before and after every performance, is losing control of the Bug, and the brakes failing, and you not bothering to roll, the smell of elephant shit in your nose, and the crowd howling with laughter at… at… tragedy.
You pull a potato out of the black earth with your gritty hands. Wipe it on your overalls. Take a bite. Crunch. It’s sweet and earthy and very very unfunny.