- Terelle Jerricks
“After dinner tonight, I’ma put it on you” boomed the R&B singer from the trailer’s sound system, which Ed had upgraded no less than ten times. After dinner, he would have loved to put it on someone, if finding someone wasn’t so damn tricky. When he became too stoned or drunk to conjure a fictional vocation, women usually ran at the first mention of his job.
He had done his other duties for the afternoon–unloading platforms and dollies and packing them into the warehouse truck–and was now in the first paces of what he called Big Ed’s Downtime. He took out the dime-bag of weed. This was Circus Venus’ twentieth tour on the San Pedro docks and all the “potheads”–hippies, whatever you called them, they were all gypsies–had already made their local connections for getting their fix.
Ed’s connec: Fisherman Dave, a tweaker of a boatman who was virtually barnacled to the docks.
If Ed ran out of weed, there was always Utro’s: a shaggy dog burger shack mere feet from the wharf that had beer, a passable substitute. Big Ed thought he had bought enough weed for the whole tour (Fisherman Dave having sold him two week’s worth before sailing off into the horizon). But he’d blown it all in one lung-huffing week.
He packed the final nug into the little silver box, the vaporizer, which burned the herb (so said High Times, as well as other aficionados) at the “perfect” temperature: 365 degrees Celsius. Joint in hand, he scanned the lonely trailer. Midget Marge, his trailer-mate, wouldn’t be back for another two hours. A good thing, Ed knew. If his brain hadn’t went and turned a wrong corner–into a vulnerable spot, as the horses roped not from his trailer started neighing. This was not the horses’ usual crying, when the circus set down in a new town. Being the last two days of this tour stop, the horses’ high register wails were unlikely, as they were well settled in–and even a little creepy, Ed shuddered, given it was Halloween.
The resident tarot card reader and “Lady of the Occult,” Madame Occula, said that the animals could sense Ed’s demon, and tried to warn him of the spirit’s proximity.
The thoughts circled again like sharks: the demon and his side-to-side dance, deceptively playful at first, then suddenly terrifying to a twelve-year old child’s eyes. At any moment, one of those arms could fling out and snatch up little Ed and take him away, kidnap him, just like his dad had tried to kidnap him from his mother, a few years after the demon’s first visitation.
Old thoughts turned to recent images: tarot reader Madame Occula, sliding her cards off the table and putting on her other hat, psychic, whispering in the mini-tent:
“This…is a premonition demon.”
It was time for a walk.
Ed trudged past the other trailers, many of their windows plastered with beach towels of their favorite major league teams, from the Kansas City Chief’s to the Arizona D-Backs; for Carnies came from far and wide, all running into the Great Big Nothing, which to them was Everything, wrapped into an endless coil, like “The Gigantor Lolli-Pop of Numinous Color” that folded in on itself: in then out, just like the rhythm of the road.
In the alleyway of trailers, Ed wheeled around. He watched the stuntman–whose trailer warned “STUNTMAN ON BOARD” and “DRIVER DOES NOT CARRY CASH”–walk to his six o’clock launch. With the stuntman helmetless, Ed thought the stuntman looked like a vampire, garbed in his sweeping black cape with shiny red trim. But when he slipped on that golden helmet, with the little iridescent rod sticking out that made it look it could catch so many radio signals, Vampire Donny disappeared. Don had admitted to Ed that this private moment, making the long walk outside the tent as the crowd roared, was what kept him in the Circus.
And though Circus Venus was a Circus, all of its employees were Carnies. “Same difference”: Ed had heard people repeat this oxymoron over the years as to the difference, to show there really was no difference.
Ed passed trailer after trailer, habitually checking each slit for the peeking, prancing demon. Looking back again, he could see the exterior security manager, Wanda, flirting with the younger of two perimeter guards. She was far shorter than the young buck. She stared up and into his eyes, and Ed could only dream of what she was saying:
Something whispery, he guessed, and by the lick of her lips, something laced with sexual innuendo. Some Carnies didn’t need to hunt for tail at the end of the day’s performances, and this also applied to the pumas and cougars. They kept sex in-circus, as they said, trading from a list of partners that would have made kissing cousins blush.
The security dude’s partner, affording him a minute’s privacy, threw a football onto the tarpaulin and watched it roll down the incline until it dropped for him to catch it again, an imaginary crowd cheering for his touchdown.
Ed didn’t have to pry for details about anyone on the Venus payroll: These two boys, one doing a little victory dance with the ball and the other pumping his fist, were failed football hopefuls who hadn’t made it past their first year of college play.
The two young men, and their superior, a divorced middle-aged woman, were all running from their own demons.
Only their demons aren’t real, Ed thought.
When Ed reached the horse in the makeshift stall, blanketed in manger-like straw, the mare was still whinnying. Ed passed through a slit in the fence–anyone could have come in or out if they chose, including the little Hispanic woman now pointing and grinning at the gorgeous mare.
Didn’t the Spanish also have superstitions about animals? Ed thought. Does she know that the horse knows? That the horse can smell and sense the demon’s presence?
His stoned mind digressed to Kwanzaa, a holiday he had heard of when he was in middle school: Kwanzaa, a holiday none of the African American carnies ever mentioned, as the high note of each Venus holiday season was not spiritual, but pecuniary, in the Christmas green form of an annual bonus check.
Ed’s half-baked plan was to head to the wharf, to Fisherman Dave’s ship, hoping Dave was back from his “journey.” Ed ran his hand along the green sheath that had been stretched along the broken fences surrounding the circus grounds. This emerald curtain afforded the Carnies privacy, and created some of the allure of their secret society, which to them was really their Secret Family, as many had run from bad or no family situations.
Ed passed through another break in the fence, reentering the carnival, zigzagging to lose the demon between the circus and real world. That–or he was delaying, or even abandoning his plan to head to the wharf. When he picked up his head, a high-pitched scream racked his nerves.
Wheeling around, he saw the little girl, who had covered her ears as she screamed, as if shielding herself from her own scream–and Ed’s whispering voice now, which was trying to assure her that he was part of the Family, and that he wasn’t about to snatch her away.
Typical Carnie kid, Ed thought: Anyone on the Family Grounds who didn’t look like, or wasn’t instantly recognizable as a Carnie brother or sister or aunt or uncle, startled them. The ragtag girl cut a left around one of the big blind corners made by the trailers, running into the woman’s arms: Ten-Trick Lynne, Occula’s cousin, the resident card trick huckster. Ed knew Lynne plenty, but the kid didn’t ring a bell. Maybe she was a hand-me-down child they had picked up in Tempe, from Lynne’s side of the family.
But the girl screamed…, Ed thought, …as if I was the monster…
He remembered screaming as this little girl had screamed, running back into his own mother’s arms out on the plane tarmac, when the authorities captured his dad at the airport. His dad, being handcuffed, and going feral as not one but four officers detained him: then disappearing off a long ramp that looked like a pirate’s plank from one of Ed’s adventure books, which he started reading with his mother after being left in her sole custody, before she died–not from his father’s potentially murderous hands, since he was gone, lost in the drugs, but by God’s hand–and then Ed was really all alone.
The memories, mixed with the tang of sea salt and the wail of a horse and the roar of the crowd for the short flight of a stuntman, stunned Ed, freezing his limbs.
He would have sat and cried, if the benches weren’t lined with bird shit: more demarcation signs from the animal world that was always one step away, as humans were two steps from the demon world.