High on Love
by Jim Harrington
Katarina promised Franco she would love him forever and ever, even if he never walked again. She stood in the fog with Tashia—a cotton-topped tamarin, wearing a tiny pink tutu and a rose beret, eating a banana—perched on her shoulder. Tashia always ate when she was upset.
They stood near the rear entrance to the circus tent. Katarina lifted a tiny hand in the air and fluttered stubby fingers at the back of the ambulance, its lights creating an eerie aura as it disappeared from view. A tear followed the path created by the scar on her left cheek and fell to the ground. She smiled.
Cheeklets he called them whenever he lifted her off the ground and kissed each one, but never in a derogatory manner. Her toes were piglets and her ears—and sometimes her breasts—were niblets. Her face reddened. Melancholy replaced the smile.
Tashia broke off a piece of fruit and placed it against Katarina’s lips. Katarina opened her mouth and let the white glob slip onto her tongue.
“We shouldn’t have had that fight,” Katarina said, her tiny voice barely piercing the humid air. “I was so stupid.”
Minutes earlier, Katarina had stood backstage unable to move, eyes wide, hands over her mouth, as Franco landed feet first next to the startled ringmaster and crumpled into a ball on the grass floor. She was unaware of Tashia hopping from one shoulder onto Katarina’s head and then to the other side, verbalizing her distress at each stop.
Before that, Katarina and Tashia watched as Franco, his sequined costume glistening in the spotlight, reached the middle of the wire and swayed and flapped his arms, making the audience gasp. He righted himself and acknowledged the applause, as he did in every performance. But this time, before he began the second half of his journey, he glared at Katarina and waved her off with a flick of his wrist, the movement causing him to lose his balance. The audience stared, mouths open, popcorn suspended on frozen fingers. A tiger’s roar, an elephant’s trumpet, a baby’s cry the only sounds, as the three hundred held their breaths in unison.
During the Grand Parade, Katarina rode on Franco’s left shoulder and waved to the audience, a forced smile on her face. Tashia formed a third tier. Upon their return backstage, Franco lowered Katarina to the ground and trod to the ladder without another word. Her eyes followed him as he stomped up the rungs to his perch fifty feet above the center ring. She’d watched Franco traverse the wire thousands of times; but the anger engraved on his face told her tonight would be different.