Circus Smirkus

When the phone call came, when Vincent won the school raffle for the family pass to Circus Smirkus, the father was the one who answered. He put his hand over the talk end of the phone, looked at the two of them, his wife and son, said, "The tickets are only good for today, so we've got to go I guess. Today, I mean."

"What about my mom?" asked the mom, meaning Grandma.

"Can we bring a grandparent?" asked the father. "Okay, okay, Christ."

He shook his head at his family.

Later, the bedroom door was closed, and Vincent knew he wouldn't get to go if he screwed this up. At school, Kelly Thomas had her butt-ugly sister telling everyone Vincent was too poor to go to the circus. The girls, they were the meanest, skipping rope singing "Vincent Harris wants to go. Vincent, Vincent, He's too po'."

"That's not a word, you fat bitches!" And then that pinch on the back of the neck and through the halls half tripping, teacher behind pushing, the tall gray door, then shut and Vincent left alone with the mops and smell of chemicals.

Ticka ticka ticka went the white road lines. He was going to see the grizzly bear that could eat a whole head, the one the circus showed in the commercial.

Dad said, "What do you want to eat?"

Mom said, "It doesn't matter, you're the one's hungry."

The boy said he wanted chicken chicken chicken.

"Look, there's bones all over the seat. Vincent, Goddamnit."

But what in the hell was he supposed to do, throw them out the window and therefore Litter? Eat them?

"Sorry, Mom," he said.

"Why'd you want chicken again anyway?" she asked.

Wind gushed through the window. Dad tossed a chicken leg into the center of the highway.

"Litterbug," Vincent whispered under the wind rush. "Litterbug, litterbug, litterbug."

"Do they sell anything at this thing?" Dad asked. "Like souvenirs. Do they have those games you can win stuff at?"

The car was getting hot. Mom picked up all the bones and stuck them back in the box. On the box was a picture of a yellow chicken in a red cowboy hat. The grease made it so you could almost see right through the cardboard. Vincent wondered if there was enough grease, if you could see through walls like Superman, and why not make a big grease shooter then?

Just a field with sticky weeds, but for two weeks each summer, it was a parking lot. After today, it occurred to Vincent, this field would no longer be a parking lot for cars, and he felt like it must get lonely. In the background were the bright red and white striped tents themselves. A great number of people other side of the orange plastic fence moved from tent to tent.

A boy with a cigarette waved the car away when they tried to park.

Dad got mad.

"What, you work here?" he asked the boy.

The cigarette tip pointed at a pin on his shirt, it had a picture of an elephant on it.

"You sure you're not just saving a spot here?"

A car behind them honked, a fat arm shot out the window.

"Mom," Vincent whispered. "Is that the fatwoman behind us?"

“Vincent!" she said. "You're going to be fat someday for that."

Vincent was scared all of the sudden. What if he got fat? Could you see through him like the chicken box?

"I don't care if you need to fill other spots first," the father was saying to the boy with the pin. "I see that one right there. That's the fucking spot I want. Get out of my way. Move!"

"Are you drunk, mister?" the boy asked. He kind of laughed and Dad pressed the gas pedal, and then the boy hit off the bumper a little and Dad got the spot.

"Nice, I hope he remembers this when he grows up," Mom said. "I can't believe you live like this."

"I don't live alone," Dad said, "And you can tell that kid doesn't work here."

But he was wrong. Because after they were told the grizzly bear got sick and crazy and had to be sent off, and the father said real loud, You mean they killed it! After they went and got cotton candy and the father said it made him sick to watch the two of them stuff that in themselves, that it reminded him of the fiberglass he had to sheetrock over. After the mother smacked Vincent when he peed his pants on the teacup ride and then told him she was sorry, but all of this was too much for her, the people and the noise, Vincent crying like a seven-year-old baby. After all the times the father threw the ball at the milk jugs and missed and screamed Rip off, telling Vincent that he should never have wasted the two dollars on the raffle ticket that put them there, the family returned to the field where they'd parked the car and the car was gone.

Vincent could read the note left in the spot on the big piece of posterboard that said No Parking and then in little letters I got your lisince plate number.

But the mother just walked back into the circus with her hands over her eyes and said over her shoulder that this wasn't living life at all, and the father went off after a woman he mistook for the parking boy, so Vincent was alone when he realized that these people were not his real parents and began to search among the bobbing heads of the crowd for his mother and father.

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