It was a starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Of course, my mom wasn’t gonna take me, she hadn’t got out of bed in what seemed like a month. Since the break-up. My sister was working double shifts dancing seeing how her best friend got knocked up and will be out for at least a couple weeks having the baby. You wanna bet who’s gonna be babysitting that squalling piece of bad judgment? Yeah, for free, too. I’ll bet my best jeans on it, and those jeans never let me down.
I’d wear those jeans to the circus if I could just get a ride. The bus doesn’t come out this far, and my friends all turned on me once they found out my particulars. You know, that I’m poor. Not decent, hardworking, down on your luck poor. No, just poor. But I don’t drink all day. Or dance half-naked for money. And I don’t have a boyfriend. If I did, you betcha he’d pick me up to go to the circus. He’d be that type to bring flowers even if he hadn’t done anything wrong, just because.
I put my jeans on, anyway.
When I ask momma if she’ll take me she says, “Real life’s a three ring circus honey, three rings. You got childhood with the bright lights. Teens with the oohs and aahs. Then old age when you think maybe it’s just a bunch of bells and whistles. That’s really real. You don’t need to pay to see all that. Just sit tight, it’ll parade in front of you. Trust me, love buckets. Don’t I know it?” She pauses. My silence hangs in the air, an answer without words.
“No ‘preciation, like I didn’t give you life, or nothin’.” Momma swings her swollen hand down into the empty air beside her bed. It takes several swipes for her to realize there’s nothing to grab. She syrups her voice again, now that she needs me to save her an ounce of energy. “Bring me my purse, sugar?”
I bring it to her, after deducting my personal tax. I know she’s gonna rack up the Home Shopping Network purchases again. At least then she won’t notice if I’m gone.
Loving cheap thrills runs in my family. Like my dad, he never heard a bet he wouldn’t take. Guess that’s why he risked it and joined the service, hoping to avoid action and come home with a ticket to school. They say I get my smarts from him. If he’s so smart, how come he hasn’t written to me in a year and a half? I don’t care how busy it is over there in the Middle East, they got phones, and he shoulda used one by now.
I slip out, tiptoeing like a cartoon robber through the clear night. I’ll get there and have some fun, even if it kills me. When all the circus cars, trucks, and buses drove by, they blew up enough dust to choke an elephant. Didn’t slow down or nothin’, seeing as they were still a mile from town. Lord, I hope they have elephants, this better be worth it.
It’s a do-able walk to town, momma forbids it though. Says it’s too dark, I’m too pretty, and the world’s too full of idiots to risk it. Why, then, do I have these jeans? If I’m never gonna go out, why did Leslie give me these jeans when her belly grew so bulbous she couldn’t even pull them over her knees? The perfect blue- not too light to be dorky, not too dark to be preppy. Fitted to my lean shape, but not itchy in nooks or scratchy in crannies. I don’t need a belt with these, and the cuff falls at my ankle no matter what shoes I choose. When I put on these jeans, I remember who I really am.
Sneaking in is a cinch. They use these rubber stamps to mark the hands of the people who paid to get in. All I do is see somebody freshly stamped, like this little girl begging her mom for a corndog. I lick my hand and slam into her, aiming my hand to line up on hers. Sure, it’s smudgy but it’ll do. Being pretty and wearing these jeans doesn’t hurt. The pock-marked man checking hands squints, but nods me on in.
I just stand a minute and breathe in, out, in. This place is alive with the best sounds of the worst kind of entertainment.
People bump into me. I’m standing still in a swarm of bodies moving upstream. I wonder if momma knows I’m gone yet. Only if she runs out of soda, and I filled the Big Gulp cup to the brim before I left.
I need this, a night out, a night just for me. Under the big top, in my lucky jeans, blending right in with the loud colors and flushed audience. I pick a seat, near an old guy. He won’t bug me, he looks half-dead. It’s hard not to grab his hand in excitement as the lights go down and the spot light finds the clown brigade. I laugh like a child, believing every crash, ripped pair of pants, and honking nose.
I use my mother’s crumpled dollars to buy the biggest size popcorn. Laughing, I stuff my face with the greasy, cardboard flavored kernels. Then I see him. The clown staring at me with familiar, dark-rimmed hazel eyes, mirror images of my own. He’s the right height, average build, bald on the top, pinky ring…Dad?
I gag loudly and blush. Then it goes down wrong and I choke harder, drawing stares. The more I try to stop, the deeper the rebel kernel lodges. I gasp and splutter. I try to Heimlich myself. I punch my chest. Popcorn spills on the smooth denim over my thighs, creating dark smudges. No way are those stains going to wash out.
Megan Gregor is a novelist and day dreamer. She has a short story titled, ‘SIGNS’, epublished with Untreed Reads.