Satin Circus -- The Show Must Go On
“I heard it!” came Speedy's voice over the phone. “Keep it ringing!”
“Dial again!” Old Pete growled at Fin.
The otter nodded and punched the number into his cell phone with a dull claw tip. Clam snuggled his older partner's back, further rumpling their clown costumes, watching anxiously. Fin switched his phone to speaker so they could all hear it ringing.
“Got it!” Speedy's voice declared over Old Pete's cell.
For a few seconds they heard Speedy panting, ever louder as the cheetah ran around the circus, searching for the ringing phone.
“What if Zack turns it off?” said Clam.
“Better hope he doesn't!” Jason replied, hugging his own bare shoulders.
“The question,” Fin said, “is why hasn't he turned it off yet? Or picked up.”
“Costume wagon!” came Speedy's voice. Again, there was panting, a door-squeak and steps creeking under weight, then more panting. “I got... his phone...” Speedy panted. “...he's not here...”
“He left his phone behind?” Jason exclaimed.
Old Pete shook his head. “Zack's attached to that phone,” the old bear said. “He never leaves it behind!”
Jason blinked. “Except...” he began.
“...when he goes on stage!" Old Pete and Jason exclaimed together. “Ever since he dropped his phone during a performance and broke it that time!” Old Pete added.
“We never checked his perch!” Fin added. “I'll go!”
As Fin spoke, the organ played a Taa-Daa to the audience inside the Big Top. The four performers looked through a tent flap; two tigresses were rolling a spherical cage towards them.
“Oh no, Zack's supposed to be next!” Jason moaned.
Old Pete grabbed a megaphone and walked towards the flap, adjusting his sequinned top hat as he went. “Speedy,“ he told his phone, “c'mon back! Clam, Fin,” he growled, “buy us some time! Jason, you go check Zack's perch!”
Jason ran around the tent. Clam and Fin looked to each other for a moment.
“Spotlight routine?” said Clam.
“Okay,” Fin replied “I'll take the light...”
Jason snuck in through the back of the tent and hurried through the darkened part of the tent to the rope ladder up to the crow's nest where Zack's act began. He checked the white, ceramic-bladed throwing knives at his hips, making sure they were secure in their scabbards. Then he hurried up the ladder. In a minute he was looking down on the center ring, where Clam was trying to sweep up a spot of light on the ground. Fin kept moving the spotlight away from his partner's broom. In the dark. the audience chuckled. One hand at a time, the coyote put his fingertips over the edge of the perch, then peeked inside. A pair of bunny ears lay against the inner wall of the perch. Jason waved at the performer's flap, saw that Old Pete was looking back already and gave the older bear a thumbs up, (while his rapidly wagging tail told the same story.) Old Pete tapped his watch in return; Jason waved acknowledgement.
“Zack?” said Jason. He poked his head above the crow's nest wall. “What'cha doin' up here?”
“Waitin' for my cue,” the bunny replied, sullenly.
“We been tearin' the circus apart lookin' for ya, dumby! Why weren't you down with the rest of us?” (Zack looked away.) “Aw, honey bunny, what's wrong?”
“I don't want him to see me.”
“Who?” (Zack looked towards the corner of the tent where the performer's entrance was.) “Pete?” Jason guessed.
Zack looked at his feet, his big ears tucking themselves down around his shoulders. Jason slipped over the edge of the crow's nest, double-checked his knives, then took the bunny in a close hug. He petted Zack's bare tummy, careful of the straps of his bright, brief, feminine costume. Zack was trembling, although the early-fall air was warm near the top of the Big Top.
“We all heard you 'n Pete arguin' last night. It didn't seem that bad, though.”
“It was the worst! I...” Zack's voice caught. He looked away, tears starting to glisten in his eyes. “...I betrayed him! Oh Jay-Jay, he caught me flirting with a rube!”
Jason started, but snuggled Zack even closer as a tear smudged the bunny's stage make-up.
“You know how Pete feels about that! He musta... but he didn't yell much...”
“I wish he'd yelled! He got all quiet, then he started growling! Jay-Jay, he hates me now! What'll I do?”
Jason glanced over the wall at the rings below. Then he took the bunny's slender, ropey shoulders in both hands.
“Look, honey-bun, Fin and Clam can't keep up the spotlight routine forever. You're supposed to be on!”
“I know,” Zack replied, with a sniffle. “The show must go on. Just... got a tissue?”
“In this costume? Uh...”
Jason gave Old Pete a thumbs-up, then reached across the perch and grabbed one of the two curtains that was rolled up beside them. He applied a small, silk corner to Zack's face, making what fixes he could to the bunny's make-up as the crowd suddenly guffawed and applauded. (Below, Jason knew, Clam had “discovered” Fin playing with the spotlight, swatted him with the broom and lead him by his big, red nose out of the ring.)
“Ready?” Jason asked.
“As I'll ever be,” Zack replied. “Are you going down?”
“Too late, I'll have to wait 'til the spotlight's off the ladder. Break a leg, hon!”
“And now!” came the old bear's voice below them. “In the center ring! The amazing, death-defying performance of Zack, Queen of Gravity!”
Zack threw the pink, silk curtains over the side of the perch. They flew out over the bleachers, swinging from the taut cable their high ends were attached to, unrolling nearly to the safety net. The spotlight followed it down, then snapped back upwards. As it reached the perch, Zack jumped up into the light, arms spread wide. He fell forwards, over the edge, grabbing the nearer curtain just in time and swinging on it. He caught the other curtain as the organ started playing a tango. Zack began to wrap the curtains around himself in time with the music. He hung above the audience, now by his arms, now by his legs, now by his waist. He held each position for only a second or two, except for some of the more dramatic poses, which he held while the audience applauded. His costume was brief – some glitter-cord for a harness and a pair of short, lavender drapes that hung under his belly and tail -- yet in every pose, they always kept him covered, never quite letting the audience see too much. Even when he caught the curtains around his ankles and did the splits, his costume somehow clung together and hid him.
As the tango was nearing its end, Zack wrapped the curtains into a complicated knot around his legs and waist. He swung the curtains out of the safety net, so that they hovered over the ground instead. He posed... not a particularly spectacular pose... and held it until the organ had reached the closing bar of the music. Then, as the second-last note held, Zack let go of the curtains. The audience gasped as he fell, the curtains unrolling around his waist. At the last moment, Zack grabbed them in either hand and stopped himself in iron-cross position as the organ played the last note of the song. It added a grace note as Zack reached up, lowering himself to his feet. With a final grace note from the organ, he let go of the curtains and bowed, his long ears hanging over his head.
The audience stood, clapping loudly and cheering. Zack bowed towards every section, his long front teeth bared in a grin. Above them, Jason snuck out of the crow's nest at last, quickly climbed down the rope ladder and made his way around to the performer's area. Zack finished bowing and beat him there. He high-fived the other acts, then turned and headed for the costume wagon. Old Pete stepped in front of him.
“Just a minute,” the older bear said.
“I'm tired,” Zack said and hopped suddenly to Pete's right.
But Pete stepped easily back into Zack's path, as if he'd known in advance. “Stop, damn it!” he said. (Zack stopped and sighed.) “I think that was your best performance yet.”
“You always say that.”
“Well I always think so.” Zack stared at him; for a few seconds, Pete stared back. “What were you doing up in your perch?”
“Waiting for my cue. What did you expect?”
“Usually you hang around with the other acts 'til it's time to take your place. Now cut out the garbage and tell me why you were avoiding me.”
Zack glared for a second. His face fell as he looked away. He murmured something.
“You were what?” Old Pete asked, a hand to his ear.
“Ashamed!” Zack exclaimed. “I'm ashamed of myself and I couldn't face you!”
“You should be! I saw you with that guy! You know how I feel!”
“Pete, I'm so sorry! I promise, I'll never do it again! Ever!”
“You've said that before.”
“And how'm I s'pposed to trust you when you keep breakin' your word?”
“Because you ask too much!” Zach stepped nearer and took Old Pete's hands. “I flirt with other guys because that's how I am, Pete! I flirted with him because he was cute, really cute! But that's all he meant to me, just a cute guy who liked me! I need attention, like... like I need the spotlight and the applause! You have to trust me, Pete! I'd never betray you, not for real! I've never betrayed you, you know that! I love you, Petey! Please stop being jealous! It's eating us apart from the inside out!”
Old Pete fell to his knees. He took Zack into his lap and cuddled him close.
“I try not to be,” he whimpered. “I don't know how.”
“Well, maybe that's something we can work on together. Please, Pete, try with me.”
“I'd do anything for you!”
For a long moment, Pete and Zack held each other. Then Zack looked up as somebody started clapping. Some of the acts and a few hands were standing around them, watching. As more and more took up the applause, Zack stood up and bowed. This got them all laughing and clapping even harder. Old Pete buried his face in his hands and shook his head, a resigned smile on his mouth. “Ham!” he muttered.
Copyright © 2014 Allan D. Burrows, All right Reserved
Copyright © 2014 Allan D. Burrows, All Rights Reserved