"From what I just read, she was enough."
"Enough to be getting started with, I guess. You can't run a sideshow with only one attraction."
"But what an attraction!"
"That's true. She was the foundation of his fortune, right enough. 'Course, she ruined him too." Hank leaned over and spat in the can by the wood burning stove, then tipped back in his chair, front legs off of the floor. "You never saw her, I collect?"
"You know I never did, Hank. That was all before my time. Hasn't been a carny through here since I was a boy."
Hank nodded. "Has been a long time at that. Used to be we'd get 'em three times a year, spring, summer and fall, like clockwork. All us boys'd skip school to watch 'em set up. 'Cept in the summer, of course, there was no school in the summer in those days. We'd sneak into the sideshow to see the geek, and have nightmares for days. I recollect how Bobby Hill terrified our entire boyscout troop with a dead chicken head after that. But I'm rambling. It gets that way after a while...."
"So go on about Bolinda, Hank."
"Oh, yes, Bolinda of Bolivia, the Living Atlas. 'Course, she was really from Brooklyn, but it's not like anyone was paying to hear her speak. They had this booth, d'ye see, a big booth with canvas all round, open to the sky, and a little stage at one end, with a curtain behind it. You'd pay your nickel to get in, and then she'd come out from behind the curtain wearing a few inches of cotton. 'Tain't nothing to what what you see on TV these days, like that Pamela Anderson, but let me tell you back then it was hot stuff, with North and South America curving down one side, and Africa on the other. All us boys knew that after supper they did a special show, where you paid 50 cents and got to see the Azores, and maybe even Australia. We thought a lot about Australia in those days. Never met anybody who'd actually seen the special show, though some boys liked to claim they did."
"So how did she ruin him?"
"Well, it was the drinking, wasn't it."
"She was an alcoholic?"
"'Twasn't so much that as the beer. You throw back enough sixpacks while sitting on your little stool behind the curtain, and it's bound to have an effect. Got so she'd come out from behind the curtain in stages, like the phases of the moon, and then she'd be so tipsy she'd kind of sway. We're not as scientifically backward out here as the cityfolks like to think, but I guess twarn't no one wanted to see continental drift up close and personal." Hank spit into the can again. "I finally got to see Australia when I was in the Navy. It's a fine place, but it didn't have a patch on old Bolinda."Posted by Will Duquette at November 1, 2002 07:02 PM