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"The Circus Life" by Nadine Darling



Kate went to Mel’s Magnificent Circus of Miracles looking for a position as head hootchie-cootchie girl but that position was filled and filled well by the Divine Madame Juggy. And he was very sorry but the position of head hootchie-cootchie girl stand-in was filled by Busty St. Claire.


“Thanks for your time,” said Kate. She tried to leave but he stopped her. He asked her what else she did.


“Nothing,” said Kate.


Mel nodded. He pulled a deck of cards from his pocket and shuffled them and stacked them on the desk in front of him. He asked her to tell him the first three cards in descending order without looking. She said, queen of hearts, five of clubs, jack of spades. Mel laid out all three cards. He stared at her, snuffing out his cigarette in a clay ashtray of the sun.


“The fourth card down is rules for stud poker,” said Kate, “You’re supposed to take that one out.”


“In theory, yeah,” said Mel. He led her to her trailer, newly evacuated by Vardock the All-Seeing, who was fired for trying to steal cable from the sword-swallower.


“I’ll bet he didn’t see that coming,” said Kate, and Mel put his arm around her. He was fond of sequined jackets and ascots, that Mel, and gold epaulets like great weeping biscuits that chafed Kate’s nose and mouth when he embraced her. 


Her trailer smelled of drywall and cedar and piss and smoke; it reminded her of the bathroom in her childhood home, the one started by Ralph the handyman but never finished because he had a nervous breakdown. “I can’t breathe,” he would bellow. “The walls are closing in!” This was just the way Kate’s trailer smelled.   


Mel came around every Friday for his cut and a tumbler of Wild Turkey. He smoked and lit up a second cigarette and set it in the opposite corner of his mouth for safekeeping. He sat there and counted his money and tilted back in his chair like a walrus with its tusks afire.


He said, “So, who died, desert fox? What boy or god forsook you, twisted your fine young pump in his hands and cast you out into this cold world to take that cold walk, that cold walk that ends in burlesque shows or soothsaying tents and always to the circus and to me to me to me?"


            “I don’t know,” said Kate. She took the longest cigarette from his mouth and smoked it. The smoke that wisped back from her body was green then purple then blue.


“Oh, love,” said Mel, bereft with one cigarette as he’d have been with one kidney. “Oh, what a cruel hoax is this, to only be at home away from one’s home, to only live in the present by seeing into the future.”


“Shit’s tough all around,” said Kate, her face enveloped in a gasp of green smoke like an immature jellyfish, and Mel didn’t argue with her.


In the middle of September Kate read for John. John felt silly about even being there- he said so. He said that he’d gotten a free thing by winning a thing, some blinking game of chance between the funnel cakes and the pink popcorn. He’d guessed something, or been strong enough, or knocked something over. And now he was here.


When she read his cards, when she saw that they would marry, that he would die in the evening hours of the Day of the Dead- by gunshot, by her own hand- she lit up, crossed her legs and said, “Well…”


            “Read them again,” said John.



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