inkslinger - Circus Hands (3,090 words) I’m Stanley Smith, and unlike the countless idiots trying to be different, trying to blend out, I’m trying to blend in. People don’t know how simple they have it, taking their mediocre, run-of-the-mill lives for granted. Your everyday blue-white collar worker; the Average Joe… well, what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with fitting in, with looking around and finding that you have security? No, you’re not some sub-par being, you’re John Doe. What more do you want? I go to sleep at night and I dream about living in a three bedroom house with a fresh lawn and a white picket fence, married to the typical wife with the typical, simple son and daughter. I wake up to breakfast, go to work, and come home to find the family at the dinner table. A nice run over of my newspaper and then it’s off to bed, for I have to be up bright and early! Sometimes the dream of my desired John Doe existence varies a bit. Sometimes the wife and kids and I take a vacation; why not to the Grand Canyon, New York City, Niagara Falls, Disneyland! All those touristy places you see happy families in packs, showing off their smiles and flashing their cameras. Oh, what a life. I wish. When I wake, even before I do, I find my mouth already curved into a frown. My subconscious even knows it’s all one big pathetic wish. I’m fooling myself if I think even for one second that my life will ever turn down that road. No… no, I will not have the typical All-American family. I’m Stanley Smith, and nobody worth knowing wants to know me. I guess that’s how it goes. The nobodies with the nobodies, and then there’s the rest of society, the norms with the norms. The nobodies with the nobodies and the norms with the norms. It makes sense. It’s just… you can’t help it, you know, sometimes wishing, hoping. “Forget about it,” says Allison as she stands in her booth. Her eyes are droopier than usual and her pointy hands hang over the counter, her stance slumped. She looks as gaunt as ever. Never was the peachy one, Allison. “Don’t even think about it,” she tells me, “it’s all one big fantasy. What a laugh.” I don’t know what she means. I tell her so. “Do you think people actually live like that?” she says shrilly. She scoffs dismissively. “We’re the lucky ones,” she says, “we don’t have to strive for that manure, because we’d never amount to anything, but at least we know… at least we know. We’re not spending our lives fooling ourselves.” Allison works with me, a booth operator as Silv, our boss, calls it. We stand behind booths all day cheating customers out of their money. Do you actually think you’ll win that bear, little girl? HA! Joke's on you. You have to spectacularly out-skill the cheats we have locked down on these games. You’re a fool, little girl, and so is your father for thinking he’s going to win you that bear. I have gotten past the point where I feel guilty for knowing the underhanded methods to cheat customers out of their money. It becomes droning, the people faceless, their disappointment meaningless. So you didn’t win the poster, big deal! Try living my life and see what disappointment really is. “Do you ever stop being such a mopey mess?” Allison asks, shaking her head. “Guess not,” I answer. She sighs as she stands up a bit straighter. We haven’t seen more than five customers the entire day. It’s a slow day, Wednesdays. No one wants to come to the Circus on a Wednesday. I wouldn’t be here if I had somewhere to go… “Stanley,” she says exasperatedly, “we’re different, me and you. This… this is where we belong. Those people out in the city, with their normal lives, they don’t want us. Nobody does. It’s a big ‘oh well’. At least Silv gives us a place to sleep. He’s… he’s here for us.” I watch her as she speaks, her speech slow and her face dead-pan. Then I look around me, at the other booths with my other friends behind them, and I see defeat. Really, if defeat had a face, it would be that of a Circus booth operator. …we weren’t even good enough to be Circus performers. Tightropes? Lion taming? Juggling? That’s a funny thought; we weren’t good enough; we were freaks and freaks don’t have a talent other than to be ugly. “I guess you’re right,” I say, caving in. I always cave in; it’s one of those things to know about me. I’m a nobody and I am a self-admitted pushover. “I shouldn’t dream about that junk; it’s a waste of time.” She nods and reaches out with her pointy fingers to give me a pat on the shoulder. “That’s my Stanley, a nobody just like me.” She smiles, her few teeth showing. “Now, here comes a customer, scoot!” I waddle off, past two men who are waiting to be served their hot dogs at the food stand. If there’s another thing to know about me, Stanley Smith, it’s that I’m socially incompetent. I see those men as I’m about to pass them and my eyes fall to stare at my clumsy feet. I don’t make eye contact with strangers. I’d rather gawk stupidly at my feet as I teeter around like a fat penguin. I feel those men staring at me; I know they are with a disturbed face. It’s the same face every other John Doe gives me. It’s a, “what’s wrong with you?” kind of stare. They go on with their conversation as I pass. I’m sweaty I’m so nervous. My breathing quickens. “Did you see that new episode of I Love Lucy last night? Bertha made me watch it, but boy was it a laugh!” says the first man as he’s handed his hot dog. “I feel like doing that with Bertha, dividing the house up; here’s your end and here’s my end.” He gives off a grunted laugh. The other man joins his laugh. I break out into a run, if that’s what you want to call it. It’s rather uncoordinated and sloppy, but it’s my own private run. I run down the aisle of nearly empty booths until I reach our tent, where we booth operators stay. It’s empty itself and I’m grateful. I don’t know why, but my heart is jumpy and my nerves are panicky. I feel like I’m the only one on the planet to feel this way. The tent we sleep in is just that, a tent. It’s a big, bright orange and white tent with a middle part as the entrance. Inside, there are rows and rows of cot beds and a few dresser drawers here and there. It’s not very home-sweet-home, but you grow used to it. I head right for my cot, the third row, fourth one down. You’re allowed to keep whatever you want underneath your cot, and I don’t really have much of anything. I have a brown box full of different things and that’s it. I plop down and reach for that box. It’s hard to find what you’re looking for. I keep everything just tossed in and on top of each other. I rummage through the things and pull out the one possession that calms my shaky heart; no more stomach churning for me when I lay my eyes on it. In my hand is a photograph of Trista Underwood, the one and, well, the only, love of my life. Oh, she’s so beautiful… so simple and put together. Cornflower blue eyes, pale skin, curly red hair, curving lips and a pointed nose; she’s nice to look at, her features are what they’re supposed to be. Looking at her, seeing her smile, thinking about the past, it makes me float up and for only a few moments, I’m back. I’m Stanley Smith and I’m normal, because I’m accepted. You can’t possibly turn me away, because Trista doesn’t. Trista is a norm and I’m with her. She… she loved me. She almost said so. I’ll never let go of her. I can’t and I won’t and she doesn’t want me to. She couldn’t have been lying when she said those things. She meant them, every word. Then, it’s gone. No more scenes of laughter and smiles and hands laced together. I’m sitting on my cot bed with this photograph in my hand and I’m quivering. How could it come and go so swiftly? I yelp, voice strangled. It’s not fair. It kills me how unfair it all is. I don’t know how long I sit here with her photograph in my knobby Circus hand. I forget time hardly matters when you’re a freak; you have nowhere to go and nobody to be. & * & * & Saturday is the biggest day for the Circus. The booths have lines and the performance tent is full to the last seat. This Saturday I’m handing out heart and star-shaped balloons. They’re very nice and pretty. I want one myself, but Silv says they’re for the people. From every direction I can hear fits of giggles and children talking with their friends and siblings. They skip around with popcorn and cotton candy, having the time of their childhood. Usually their parents are tailing them from behind, lazy and with an arm around each other. The older kids, the teenagers, are usually the one’s to poke fun. Allison and the others have had to bail me out more than once, when some older kids think it’s funny to make me nervous. I don’t know how they know I’m so weak, but it’s as if they’re drawn to me. I’ve tried to defend myself, but it fails. I never know what to say. I stutter and sweat and shake. They laugh. Silv pops up and kindly herds them away, only to scold me for bothering customers. I guess it’s like Allison says. It’s a big oh well. Today’s been lucky so far. No trouble-makers harassing me. I hope no one does. I’m handing out nice and pretty balloons and it’s a bright, airy autumn day. It feels like a happy day. And it is. I'm down to my last few balloons when I see her. I stiffen, eyes wide and my mouth hanging open. My heart flips and it doesn’t beat. I’m too surprised for breathing. She is too. Her eyes are as wide as mine and she blinks and can do nothing but stare. A long moment of staring goes by. “St-Stanley,” she chokes. She blinks some more and let’s go of the arm of the man she’s with. “I… didn’t know you worked for the Circus. How… how are you?” I can’t even answer. I still haven’t moved. My lips spread into a goofy smile. She smiles herself and shares a small glance with the strange, stupid man she’s with. “It’s been so long,” she goes on to say, “I… you look… good.” I have to stop smiling; my drool is starting to pool. I swallow and nod enthusiastically. “Yeah,” I say finally, “it sure has been a long time!” The man whispers something into her ear and she nods. He slips away and disappears into the crowds of families and friends. Trista turns to face me again, and she smiles. I forgot how white and pearly her teeth are… “E-Everyone at Yorkfield misses you; many of them still ask about you. I don’t know what to tell them when they do, of course, because we haven’t seen each other in so long,” she tells me, finishing with a small laugh. I laugh too. “I miss Yorkfield and I miss you.” She shifts and her smile flickers. “Oh, thank you. I’ve… missed you too. You’re a very bright and nice person, Stanley.” “Sometimes I want to leave here and go back to the city,” I confess suddenly. The words spill out one right after the other; I can’t stop myself from telling her. “I think I can blend in if I try, maybe… maybe. What do you think? I think I can, but no one else thinks so.” “I think you can do anything you want to do, Stanley…” “I want to, I really do. I miss you.” “Stanley…” “What?” “I have to go see the show now; it’s starting in ten minutes,” she says as she checks her wristwatch. I move forward to grab her pretty hands and she pulls away. “Stanley!” she snaps, stepping backward. “What are you doing?” “I want to hold your hand,” I say sincerely, pleadingly. “I have to go.” “Don’t you want to talk to me?” “The show starts in ten minutes; Edward is waiting for me.” “Who’s he? What about us?” “I have to go, goodbye, Stanley,” she says as she backs away further and twists to turn. “Can I see you after the show?” She doesn’t say a word. She turns and walks off, blending into the crowd. Everyone looks like everyone. I stand there with the balloons in my hand and I feel a knot in my throat. I’m going to cry. My monster fingers are wrapped around the balloon strings, and I force them open. It’s hard for me to move them, they’re slow, my fingers. The balloons go up, drifting into the bright sky. I know a few people notice I’m crying. I slouch when I tear up, like I should have a shell. I don’t know where to go. The music from the performance tent is loud and bubbly. I try to move, but everyone’s passing in front of me, so many shiny, smiling faces. I push my way through and I hobble awkwardly toward the tent. In my mind is a picture of Trista and Edward, seated together, their faces the shiniest of all. I’m angry. I’m burning. I feel ridiculous. I don’t know why I care so much. Someone like me shouldn’t have the ability to feel this much. The show is already going on. The audience looks on with awe as the performers expertly do their tricks. I scan the masses, looking for Trista. She’s blending in. The norms all look alike. The act catches my attention. Two tightrope walkers, a man and a woman are walking the thin line midair from opposite sides; they’re going to meet halfway. The man is chiseled and dark and handsome; the woman reminds me of Trista, red hair, pale skin, grace and poise. They do meet midway. They kiss. The crowd goes wild with approval, applauding and cheering. I’m not angry. It’s gone in a big sweep, replaced by the same disappointment that greets me each morning when I wake up. I don’t bother to frown. There’s no point. I turn away and leave the packed performance tent, and no one knows the difference. The show goes on. & * & * & Night has fallen when the show is completely over. Everyone leaves the big tent tired and yawning. The crowds of people head toward the sand parking lot to get into their cars and drive off, back down the highway road to their safe haven norm city. I stand by the edge of the sand parking lot, watching as the people get into their cars. No one looks at me. I’m part of the circus, like the two poles holding up our big, flashing, neon red sign. No one acknowledges those two poles, no one acknowledges me. They might as well not even be there; no one would know any different. If just one person would stop and turn and look at me, I’d be happy. Oh, if they asked me to come with them, hop into their car along with them, and zoom off to the city, to be an Average Joe with them, I’d probably die from happiness. Silv creeps up beside me and I hardly notice. It’s when I see Trista with Edward walking toward their car that I can’t control myself. “Trista!” I yell desperately. “Trista!” I call again. She doesn’t stop; she only glances in my direction, and then speeds up with Edward. “Trista!” I say one final time. I know it’s useless, but it’s always been, and it’s like no matter what I just can’t let go of her. She’s such a part of my life and she doesn’t even know, she doesn’t know how much she means to me. She doesn’t get it. I almost hate her for leaving me; I would hate her if I didn’t love her so much. “Forget about it, Stanley,” coos Silv into my ear. He’s blue in the night’s darkness. His words seep into my head. I don’t say anything. In the dark, Silv smiles. “She doesn’t want anything to do with you, Stanley. It may hurt, but it’s the truth. The novelty of nursing someone like you has worn off. She’s a pretty woman with a nice future. You, you’re you.” He chuckles and puts his arm around me. “It’s all about being realistic. You’re no one and you need to accept it, or you’ll only make life harder on yourself. Look at yourself, Stan, you’re a disfigured mess. But it’s okay, because you’ll always have a place here with the rest of them. Don’t kid yourself, you can do no better.” I don’t defend myself. I’m a pushover, remember? I know what he’s saying is true. “Now go on and get to bed; Sunday is our second biggest day,” he says with his grin. I do as he says. There’s no disagreeing with Silv. Without Silv, all of us freaks would be dead by now if left on our own. We need him. He provides us with a place to sleep and he’s there to tell us we can do no better. I guess you can call it tough love. I enter our orange and white tent, and it’s already full with my fellow nobodies. I don’t think anyone understands me. Each freak sitting on their cot beds has calmly and willingly accepted their fate. I know I can’t. I’ll always have my sleep, where I’m that John Doe with my wife and my two kids. I look normal and I have two nice hands. Be satisfied if you’re normal, be happy about it. When you’re different, you’re alone. I’m Stanley Smith and I sure am.