by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
Uncle Acid drove his dead beat nephews, nieces, sons and daughters to the circus. He’d arrive with the gang and leave with some money. The kids would learn a lesson today.
The morning was moist and the empty lot was soft underfoot, clinging to all the hand-me-down shoes of the young troupe. They made their way, shortest to tallest, toward the striped tent. Cotton candy, kettle corn, funnel cakes, fried chicken wafted into their hungry noses. Not a single kid, however, turned his gaze toward the vendors.
“Straight for the tent.” Uncle Acid had said. He didn’t speak much but he underlined his points with beatings, so talking wasn’t necessary.
Uncle Acid, following a few feet behind, stopped at the beer cart. Something about today was making him extra thirsty, but water wouldn’t cut it. Never did. A pain was slithering up from his gut to his chest. A familiar pain. The same pain when he left his sister at the foster home as a kid. The same pain as when he took the money from his partner and skipped town. These were not the first beers to reduce the pain and they would not be the last.
Holding both beers in his hand, Uncle Acid reached a wrist through the tent flap and pushed it aside. Entering the tent, he looked around for the clown in red coat tails. The sooner he found him, the sooner he could get his money, and more beer.
In the center of the arena, he saw the kids standing in a semi-circle around the clown he was meeting. Uncle Acid watched by the entrance.
The clown was blowing up a long balloon. It shot out like a sausage casing being filled with meat. It grew and grew, longer and longer. Uncle Acid frowned. The balloon kept growing. With each exhale from the clown, the balloon grew. It was curling around the pole leading up to the trapeze artist’s perch.
The kids, their backs to Uncle Acid, slowly turned around to face him. They all looked at him, holding his two beers. The clown kept blowing, now the balloon was reaching out across the wire to the other side of the arena.
Uncle Acid gulped down one beer and dropped the empty cup. He pulled a cigarette tucked behind his ear and lit it. Looking up at the balloon, he couldn’t see the end of it anymore. The clown still blew, so it must still be growing.
The kids started walking on the balloon, they followed it’s curling path around the pole and across the tightrope. As they did, they seemed to shrink.
Uncle Acid felt a tap on his shoulder, it was the end of the balloon. The clown stopped blowing and tied up the end.
“HA HA HA HA HER HER HA HA HE HE…” the clown laughed. Uncle Acid turned back to see the end of the balloon. The kids, now the size of cigarette butts, hopped onto his shoulder and began climbing into his ear. Just as the last kid climbed in, Uncle Acid touched the cherry of his cig to the balloon. It popped, along with the clown, the tent, and the muddy lot.
Uncle Acid had another flashback. When he came out of it, he told us all to hop in the car, we’re going to the circus.