I’m in Flamineo’s trailer when we hear the ringmaster yelling that the fire-eater left to marry his high school sweetheart. We’re in bed, pretending I’m a stranger in the audience and Flamineo’s guessing my name. The ringmaster must knock three times before we pick our way over Flamineo’s sorcerer’s hats and the snake costume I wore last night.
He didn’t even leave a fucking note, says the ringmaster. He just told the ceiling-walker he was going to Iowa.
He sits at the formica table and pours wine without asking.
Fuck high school sweethearts, he says. You’ll be a cobra for five more minutes to make up for his act.
I say I can’t manage five more minutes with my legs curled over my head.
Of course you can, he says.
But when Flamineo starts lifting him by the wrists, the ringmaster pulls away, blows his nose and says he’ll fill the time himself.
After he leaves, Flamineo says the fire-eater made a good bargain, trading fire for love. I remind him the fire-eater said that swallowing fire is like swallowing a comet and he’s sure to trade love for fire again. Flamineo says I’m just saying that to make him feel better because the fire-eater was lucky enough to have a high school sweetheart.
I remind him that all the women in the circus want him, but he kicks me with his heel and says he doesn’t want to be with someone who loves him because he can read minds, lift weights twice his size, and recite Hamlet backwards. He wants someone who loved him in high school before all that. But he ran away to be a circus freak and he’s nothing but a four-foot pill bug. He wraps himself in the quilt and won’t talk.
Flamineo isn’t a pill bug. When he introduces his act he’s a flaming tumbleweed. All the women in the circus want him and we never know whom he’ll sleep with next. Once he read that microbes were 90% of the human body and said he’d drink a bottle of antiseptic and be 100% himself–larger than any of us, who are only 10%. We took turns keeping watch until he said he was joking.
Eventually, Flamineo faces me and once more pretends he’s guessing my name. He guesses three times before he gets it right. It’s thrilling to be forgotten and remembered.
Thaisa Frank’s sixth book, Enchantment, a collection of short stories and flash (Counterpoint) was chosen for Best Books of 2012 by the San Francisco Chronicle. Her flash has been widely anthologized, most recently in Micro-Fiction (Norton) and Short Fiction (Bloomsbury). She is a member of The Writers Grotto.
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