31 Aug When the Circus comes to Town by Richard Soos
Christmas Lunch had been a disappointing affair without his Mother.
Archie put on a brief talent act for his uncles, who then told him that the only show he will ever be on is a freak-show.
And regarding presents – it was a disaster.
The cheap dartboard he was given, instead of being made of bristlewood, was actually a paper crepe streamer rolled tightly into a huge disc, with the dartboard printed on its face. In the overnight rain, it had swelled into a hulking blimp.
That week a thief had come by, and finding his garaged bike with 2 flat tires, left the gate open so the dog could wander off, and then cut a tiny slit onto his outdoor trampoline surface.
A few jumps in, the farting tear noise of the trampoline revealed what had happened. He got off the trampoline, saving the farts for when one of his friends would come by. Poorer for Christmas instead of richer, he looked longingly down the one-way street and found an arrow tucked along the curb. It was scrawled in chalk by a child, and here, and there, and 50yards further another and another.
E.R. was in her element. Whizzing by on her Malvern Star bicycle and scanning the street obliquely for space to lay her next arrow, she congratulated herself. All the boys will be in on the game. And she, she would just run and run, knowing she couldn’t be caught. She hadn’t told the other girls. Especially not that girl Kelly who said she knew Karate. Ugh, as if. Nor had she told that pill Archie, she thought as she had skidded past his yard and laid a hidden arrow out of spite What was it about him. She saw a small oil slick and recalled his story of when he saw a spatter of oil in rings of color in the wet gutter. How he had fled home in terror and screamed ‘Mum, Dad, Some of the rainbow has fallen down!’.
And so the game was afoot. An arrow chase was on and the trail was fresh. E.R., still a child on her pink bike, had started laying a trail with arrows of where she had been; inviting the neighborhood boys to the chase.
‘Hey, there’s a fresh trail of arrows outside. May I use the binoculars to see where the Arrow chase goes?’
‘No. Don’t you have a bike?’
‘Well if I had pumped up the tires would the bike have been left there?– so let’s pretend I don’t’.
Papa Pluta listened with wry amusement.
‘Aah. He who holds the pen has the power then. I’d chalk that up to experience ‘ And with that Papa Pluta motioned to the old blackboard his cousins had been using.
‘Thanks, Dad’, Archie said as he snatched a stick of chalk and dashed to the front gate.
Pitstops, Detours, and Shunting. Which was it to be?
Labyrinths, such as the Minotaur’s, were navigated by following a wall on the left-hand side and always choosing a right turn when possible. Other groups would use a thin rope and extend it from the entrance with them. Miscreants and ill-begotten beasts would sabotage and disjoint the trail.
For Archie, refacing an arrow towards his side gate was a sinch. Already he had a plan.
The Greatest Show on Earth. He chalked by his side gate. The incredible Farting trampoline and the beardless bearded lady. Above this, he hung his sagging dartboard with 5 darts drooping from its bullseye.
It was the classic reverse of ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’.
Little did she know that as she carried on laying her useless trails of arrows, Archie had shortcutted the trail with his own arrow to his front gate.
As the first chasing pair of bicycles whirred down the street, the sleuthing duo ‘weighed the anchor’ in a colossal skid at Archie’s command.
Sid! Tim!, get yourselves into the pit.
The pair looked uncertain. Clearly, the trail had only started. Why would they need to head into the pits?
‘You’re podium finishers, guys, get yourselves into the winner’s circle!’
‘Archie, do you know how many others are on the trail?’
‘Patience mate’, Archie tells Tim as they reach the backyard. Have a can of fizzy drink guys, he says as he offers them an off-brand carton of cans of Pineapple cocktail. The local post-mix company that mixes vodka and other cheap spirits with fruit juices resided locally, and with their excess capacity for the soft drink, they keep putting out boutique brands of the same product each Christmas. Nobody asks for the brand, but, you know, they’re sweet enough to mask cheap rum and ouzo.
Staring at the dried circular patch of grass from where the temporary above-ground pool had been placed last year, Tim asks – ‘What’s that?’
‘Oh, Arch begins, well you know that lately, the Air Force has moved our jets further North into Malaysia and Singapore. There is Not much South of Australia to be wary of. But sometimes in Winter the U.F.O’s come by from Antarctica.’
Perhaps he paused too long in his story to see how credulous they were, but Tim was getting stuck in on his tinnie.
‘And they landed here?’ Sid scoffed? ‘And gave you the cans of drink too. That’s funny.’
‘Yep, I thought so mate’, Archie deflected. ‘That’s why I told you,’
There was a moment of faltering silence where he wondered if this was going to pan out.
‘Dazza!’ Archie roared to his mate Daryl. Daryl was silently popping a Mono on one wheel as he stealthily rode down the driveway. ‘Podium finish, well-done Mate!’.
Tim shook the carton to get another can free and handed it over. Archie winced, knowing those cans had to last or the crowd would disperse too soon.
‘Top that Arch. I bet you never popped a Mono like that.’
‘Full Marks. But I‘ve popped an enormous Mono – for 3 days. I was in the City once, and this Falun Gong guru was there. He was 200 years old and had these powers from the East. He waved his hands across my belly and I don’t know how but it kick-started this chakra wheel in my gut. I could feel it spinning. Revving like a petrolhead. And when I would walk and bank to the left, from conservation of momentum I could feel it wheel to the right. When I stopped, I could feel it idling. And once, when I climbed the stairs.. It popped a Mono.’
The sugar had kicked in, and they were laughing. Loud enough for Nadine to ride in boldly into the yard on her scooter without conferring with the arrows out the front. ‘Hello boys’, she beamed.
Good stuff, Archie thought, E.R. will hate it that another girl is here.
He grabbed her hand before Tim gave away another of his F&^%$N cans of drink.
‘Hey Nadine, come and look at my Farting Trampoline’.
Archie bounded onto it and with a crouched jump, it elicited a small rip as if it were peeling one-off.
This brought a roar from the boys. Actually, their number had grown again.
Nadine was so focused on boys, but they hadn’t caught up with her yet. Last year when Archie’s Mum was around, she would shoo Nadine away. ‘She’s a bit of a tart’. That was all his Mum would say.
Nadine was still wearing last year’s dress with very slight cut-out holes in the shape of flowers. She asked Paul once if he liked it. He replied perfunctorily, ‘yes, it’s very nice.
‘Except’, said Nadine, holding the slight holes to the light, ’it’s a little bit rude here – and also it’s a little bit rude here’.
Poor Archie was only 9 years old then. He was clueless. All he could do was recover by asking ‘Nadine, that’s a nice name, where is it from?’
‘MMM. Good Army’, he concluded and turned away.
For some reason, she put on an emotional turn and told him ‘Oh you don’t care!’
And now here he had her attention with his Farting trampoline; except it wasn’t quite ringing them out and he more had to wade across it. He alighted the trampoline by leaping onto the rotary clothesline and swung 3 rotations on it before its arm buckled.
Well, that gag lasted about 2 minutes. ‘Gather round kids and witness the birth of Archie Luxury. Nadine, Pay attention now! This will be you in a few years!’. Archie slid under the trampoline on the dewy grass where he took off his jeans and t-shirt. Then from underneath the trampoline, his head probed at the hole in the trampoline, smearing his cheeks into jowls as he slowly ‘crowned’ through the trampoline. ‘Mummy!, he howled. Mummy!’
The group was ecstatic, Nadine was appalled. But E.R., she still wasn’t here.
‘Tim, put down them bloody pineapple cans!’ Archie yelled.
‘Sure, I‘ll put them in the pool to keep them cool. And so Tim started hurling the few remaining cans and then opening a fresh carton, piffing them one by one into the pool.
Tim then ripped off his shirt and bombed into the pool. ‘Podium finish’ he called out as he cracked open another tin and poured it over his head.
Archie was furious and charged into the pool, but Sid could see what was happening and called ‘Everyone into the pool – Whirlpool!’
Archie and Tim were in a clutch, and Tim was surprisingly capable. From this tight knot they started whirling so that the eddy became a vortex.
Tim hopped out and threw in the plastic lawn chairs, watching them dance around the perimeter of the pool’. The party of 12 was now occupied with charging the whirlpool into a maelstrom.
Nadine squeezed Archie’s hand and vulgarly spoke into his ear., ‘Get out of the pool, let’s try it Siamese style’.
They were under the trampoline mat in no time, and together they tried to emerge as a pair of Siamese newborn twins.
‘Mamma’ They wailed!
The hollering was colossal. His father slid the door aggressively to the backyard.
Heaven knows what Papa Pluta’s eyes fell on first. The limp arm of the clothesline, the tightly wound dance of garden furniture in the pool, the Siamese twins renting the trampoline or E.R.’s thunderous face as she rode in.
‘Your uncle Jeffrey was right!’ Papa Pluta screamed. – ‘You really are a Freakshow’.
Don’t call her a Freak, said Archie – She’s E.R.. the Beardless Bearded Lady!