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Price of Admission

At this show, it's the performers who won't believe their eyes

By Vanessa GonzalesPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 5 min read
Price of Admission
Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

The traveling circus rolled into town like thunder on a sticky-hot summer night. Lydia and I were right there to meet it, all fizzy inside with excitement. We hadn't had a circus come in at least twenty years—maybe thirty. I guess word gets around on the entertainment circuit.

Holding hands, we picked our way through the long, wet grass in the park, past the swings with their rusted-out chains and the slide that had fallen over on its side like a dead cow. We saw the big carbon-arc lights ablaze at the abandoned fairground before we were even halfway there, and when we popped out between the trees at the edge of the park, we both had to stop and squint for a minute or two. It was like to strike you blind, that brightness.

"It’s like the sun," I told Lydia, who was younger and couldn't remember that far back. "Maybe even stronger. Are you listening to me?

"Uh huh," said Lydia, clearly not listening at all.

I had to admit, the commotion on the fairground was enough to distract anyone. Two men passed right in front of us, sweating hard and hauling a lot of striped canvas attached to ropes. A little way off, a lady in a red leotard did a backbend, kicked her feet up in the air and walked a few steps on her hands. Hammers clanged on metal stakes, people shouted to each other, and underneath it all, if your ears were good enough (which ours most definitely were), you could hear the restless rumbling and grumbling of penned-up animals waiting to be fed and exercised.

Lydia was still holding my hand, and now she gave it a happy little squeeze. “You remember when the last circus came, Sissy?”

“I remember.”

“It was fun, wasn't it?”

I nodded.

“What was your favorite part?”

“The acrobats,” I said.

Lydia giggled. “Not mine. My favorite part was when we—”

“Hey, you kids!”

Together, we turned and saw that the voice belonged to a man as tall and thin as the picture of President Lincoln that still hung in the town hall. Like the President, he wore a top hat, but instead of Lincoln's black suit and string tie, he had rolled-up shirtsleeves and blue canvas work pants that were all grubby at the knees. It made the hat look out of place, as if he'd put it on by mistake, but I knew better.

“The ringmaster,” I whispered to Lydia as he approached us.

“Aren't you girls out kind of late? Your folks know where you're at?”

“Yes sir,” said Lydia, gazing up at him as only Lydia could, with those big eyes of hers as sweet and melting as brown sugar in your porridge. “Daddy said we could come down and watch a while. You gonna set the whole circus up tonight?”

Grown-ups always thought Lydia was cuter than a basket full of puppies. I could tell the ringmaster was no exception. It made me grin. I bowed my head and gazed down at the ground as if I were shy, to hide it.

“You bet,” he said. “By the time you wake up in the morning, it'll all be ready, and tomorrow night we'll do the show.”

“And are there gonna be elephants and horses? And a tightrope walker? And a lion tamer?”

“All that and then some.”

I was imagining it—the roar of cannons, the glitter of spangled costumes, the smell of animals and popcorn and sawdust—when I glanced over and realized Lydia was giving the ringmaster that look, the one she used to get when we were perusing the candy display at the old five and dime. She drew a slow, deep breath, like the first half of a sigh, and leaned toward him with yearning written all over her sweet little pixie face. Before she could get any farther than that, I stuck out one of my brand-new Sunday shoes and trod on her foot hard enough to leave a crater in the soft black dirt.


“Oops,” I said. “Sorry, Lyds. We've got to get going now, mister. We'll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“I'll look for you,” said the ringmaster, and tugged playfully at the yellow ribbon on one of Lydia's braids. “You girls be careful on the way home. There's bad things in the dark, you know.”

“We know,” I said.

“We're going to get them all as soon as the show ends anyway,” Lydia whined as I dragged her back through the empty park, heading for home. “Mayor Gibson said so at the town meeting. What difference would it make if I have this one now?”

“Because there's no show without him, dummy! He's not just some old carny, he's the boss of the whole circus. If you hurt him—if you so much as spook him—they'll pull up and leave, and then I won't get to see it. And I been waiting too long to let that happen.”

“But Sissy—”

“But Sissy nothing.” I curled my lip and showed her the tips of my long biting teeth, gleaming in the starlight. “If you mess this circus up for me, Lydia Jones, I will get up early one night and hammer a two-by-four right through you, just see if I won't.”

“Honestly,” Lydia huffed. “Anyone would think you didn't want to kill them.”

“I want to kill them all right,” I said. “But after the show. Don't forget whose fault it was that I almost missed it last time.”

That shut Lydia up. We trudged on, with my legs just outpacing her shorter ones.

“The stars are real pretty, aren't they, Sissy?” Lydia offered after a while, wanting to make up already, or maybe just hoping to avoid being staked in her sleep. “So big and bright. It'll be a nice night tomorrow.”

“Yes,” I said. “It sure will.”

I could already taste it.


About the Creator

Vanessa Gonzales

“Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.” - Neil Gaiman

When I'm not writing, I take photos. You can see them here.

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