by Helen E. H. Madden
This post is about me, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaall about me. When it comes to writing, I am the lone wolf. Hear me howl! Awooooooooh!
Seriously, I work alone. I have critique partners, but I've never had a writing partner. Contrary to what you might have heard, this is not because I'm a pain in the ass to work wit-- Okay, maybe it is because I'm a pain in the ass. I don't know. It's not like I don't have writing friends to play with. I just... don't have a writing friend to play with.
I do however have three computers and a split personality, so whenever I get tired of writing by myself, I summon up Me, Myself, and I. Our writing sessions go a little something like this:
Me: Has anybody seen this week's story? Huh? Bueler? Anybody?
Myself: Have you tried checking the computer?
Me: Which one, dumb ass? We own three, and they've all got different stuff on them.
I: Well if you synched the computers like you were supposed to, they'd all have the same stuff and we wouldn't be hunting for a story right now, would we.
Me: Shut up. No one asked you.
I: Well I never!
Myself (roots through the computer files and runs synching program): Guys, please. We have a weekly deadline. Can't we just work together? Oh hey! I found our story, "The Flame Thrower."
Me: I hate that title.
I: Me too.
Myself: Well at least you two agree on something for once.
Me (grabs the keyboard and starts reading): Jesus! Who the hell wrote this crap?
Myself: What? What's wrong with it?
Me: Someone snuck in last night and added a bunch of garbage to it! It even has 'The End' written on it!
I: I finished it last night, thank you. You spent all day yesterday bitching about how you had writer's block and couldn't get anything done, so I did it for you.
Me: It's shite!
I: It's ART!
Myself: Whoa, hold on. Everybody calm down. Let's just read what was written.
(All three peer at the screen to read the story).
Me: You've got to be fuckin' kidding me! You spent twenty pages rambling about some stupid contortionist and her boyfriend clown. Where's the heat? Where's the sex?!
I: It didn't need sex. It wasn't that kind of story. This is a tale about a relationship, a love triangle and the emotions that affect everyone in i--
Me: It's CRAP! Crap, crap, crap!
Myself: Okay! Enough already. We've got a deadline, so let's just calm do--
I: If you don't like it, Miss Bitchy Butt, you write something better then! At least I finished the damn thing. All you did yesterday was sit on your fat ass and moan about how you had writer's block and your head hurt and you were hungry and why weren't there any cookies in the house and wah wah wah waaaaaah!
Me: I am so going to punch you in the nose!
Myself: No! No punching! Me, you promised you wouldn't hit anyone again!
I: Oh let her try! Not only can she not write her way out of a wet paper bag, she can't fight her way out of a wet paper bag either!
Me: I'll write you, you stupid bitch! I'm gonna line edit your face like there's no tomorrow!!
(Me takes a swing. I ducks. Me hits a lamp instead and breaks it. An all out brawl ensues. Absolutely nothing is getting written at this point).
Myself: Guys! Guys! Oh fer chrissakes. Every single frikkin' week...
Aaaaaand that's why I probably shouldn't have a writing partner. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go fix a broken lamp.
The Fire Eater
by Helen E. H. Madden
He still carried a torch for her, even after all these years.
"Carla." Frederico Ardiente, fire eater extraordinaire, approached the figure that twisted and twined on the warped planks of the sideshow platform.
Carlotta Corazon gasped in surprise then released her ankles, disentangled her arms from around her knees and sprang upright, bouncing onto her toes.
"Freddy! It's been so long. Have you come back to Cirque Noir? How are you?"
Frederico's mouth tightened to a thin smile. There was a time when Carlotta would have jumped into his arms, wrapped her supple limbs around him and greeted him with a heated kiss. Her tongue, he remembered, was just as sinuous as the rest of her.
"Good, cara mia. I'm good. It's lovely to see you again."
The love of his life minced down the platform's steps to stand before him. The sight of her lithe little body, clad in strategically placed spangles and gauze, sent a shudder through the Spaniard's athletic physique. She still smelled the same, of sweat and sawdust, popcorn and candied apples, all the odors of the circus mingling with her fragrance to become an intoxicating perfume that inflamed his senses. But there was something else now, a bitter tang that corrupted the scent he once loved.
It was the odor of cheap grease paint. He spotted a smudge of white on her neck and sneered.
"You're still seeing him."
Carlotta blushed and pirouetted away.
"Slappy? Oh yes. We're getting married next week."
Frederico suppressed a snarl. To think that fool still claimed the heart of the one he loved!
"You must join us for dinner tonight," Carlotta added before dancing back onto her tiny stage. "Slappy will be so delighted!"
"Of course, cara mia," Frederico murmured. "I can't wait."
* * *
That evening, Frederico watched Carlotta perform in the main tent, in one of the smaller side rings at the edge of the spotlight. Carlotta, once his partner and a star of the big top, coiled and twirled, flipped and danced to a crowd that ignored her for the flashier, bigger acts of the center ring. No one cheered as she arched backwards until her hands reached her feet and her smiling countenance peeked out from between her knees. No one gasped as she leaned forward to grip a short metal post with her teeth and then curled her body over her head until her buttocks rested on her scalp and her legs extended horizontal to the ground. Needle scales and Marinelli bends, Durvasa poses and triple folds; Carlotta performed each move flawlessly as she tied herself into knots, turned herself inside out, and then unwound with the grace of a prima ballerina, all to mediocre applause.
She was so beautiful, so amazing, and it pained Frederico to see her relegated to sideshow status. When they had worked together, Frederico Ardiente and Carlotta Corazone had been headliners, lighting up the center ring with feats of astonishing flamboyancy and flexibility. He had only to close his eyes and inhale the scents of the circus to relive those nights.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" The ring master boomed over the noise of the crowd. "May I direct your attention overhead, to the wonderful, the amazing, the fiery Carlotta!"
But every eye was already there, transfixed by the vision of the lithesome acrobat who dangled from a slender rope high up in the air. Carlotta, dressed in fiery red spangles, began to swing, the spotlight following as she swooped around the big top, clinging to the rope with only her limber, muscular legs. A second spotlight focused on the ground below, where Frederico lifted a torch to his mouth, swallowed it, and then spewed a stream of fire at the acrobat as she passed overhead. The flames hit the trailing scarves of her costume, transforming the filmy fabric into a comet's tail. The blaze raced up Carla's back across her shoulders until she spread her arms wide to display wings of fire. She streaked through the air, dazzling all who looked upon her.
"The legendary Phoenix!" the ring master cried. The audience roared its approval.
Yes, Frederico remembered it all. The only thing hotter than their act had been their love life -- nights of searing passion spent in tangled sheets, the friction between their bodies so intense, the fire-eater swore they must die from spontaneous combustion.
It was their relationship, however, that exploded. Frederico, hot head that he was, couldn't keep from arguing with the woman he loved.
"No! No, no, no! That's all wrong!" he roared at her during rehearsal. "You're ruining the whole routine! You're supposed to spin on the fourth count, not the third. Start again. We must practice everything from the beginning!"
"But we've been at it all day and I'm tired!" She slid down the rope, weeping. "And look at me -- blisters everywhere, hair and eyebrows singed. You're roasting me alive!"
"If you would just do as I tell you, you wouldn't get burned, you stupid girl!"
"Oh, so I'm stupid? Well then, you climb up the rope and hang by your toes, while I spit fire at you! See how well you do up there!"
And so they fought over everything - the choreography of for the act, the color of their costumes, the order of their names on the handbill, even what groceries to stock in the tiny pantry of their trailer.
"Cara mia," Frederico would say afterwards. "Forgive me." He always apologized for his bouts of ill temper, and why not? The best part of every argument was the lovemaking that came afterwards. But all that incessant shouting and vituperation began to take its toll. Carlotta grew cold and withdrew from their bed, which only fanned the flames of Frederico's anger, until the minor flare-ups between them grew into an endless conflagration.
The crack of a whip and the ring master's voice interrupted Frederico's reverie. The show in the big top ended, and the crowd trickled away through the egress. Frederico followed them out, then slipped away to the back of the tent. There, he found Carlotta, stretching and sighing in the late evening gloom. He wanted to rush up and grab her, kiss her passionately until she once again burned for his touch. But before he could reach her, another hand stretched out to swat her on the behind.
"Hey ya, toots! Wanna blow my horn?"
A rotund figure in polka dot pants and striped suspenders cavorted before Carlotta, waving a bicycle horn beneath her nose. Giggling, she squeezed the bulb at its end, releasing a comical blast into the night.
"Whoa-ho-ho!" the clown chuckled. "Now that's what I call making noise. Here, squeeze my ball again!"
Slappy the Clown tickled Carlotta's chin with his gloved hand before groping at her chest. He honked the horn twice more as he squeezed her right breast.
"Disgusting!" Frederico muttered under his breath, but Carlotta only laughed harder at the clown's ham-handed display of affection.
"Come on, doll." Slappy hooked arms with the delicate acrobat. "Let's you and me go back to our trailer and make bee-yoo-tiful music together."
"Oh, but we have company tonight!" Carlotta clasped his hands. "Frederico's back. I saw him today."
"That shmuck?" The painted smile on Slappy's face couldn't hide his sneer.
"What'd he say to you? Did he make you cry again?"
"Oh no, nothing like that." Carlotta pulled on Slappy's suspenders, drawing him closer. "He's an old friend, that's all. I thought we could get together, have dinner. Please?" She ran her fingers through the clown's fire-engine red hair, cuddling close to him. "Let's just let bygones be bygones."
Carlotta grabbed Slappy by the ears and pressed her mouth to his until the clown's left leg began to shake uncontrollably. When she released him, her face was smeared with red and white grease paint in a grotesque parody of Slappy's own insipid grin.
"Well... okay," the clown agreed. "If it means that much to you. But after dinner..." He held up the horn again and honked it twice.
Carlotta giggled. "After dinner, I'll even let you wear your shoes to bed. Now go on. I want to talk to the ring master about our act for next season. I'll meet you at the trailer."
Carlotta disappeared back into the tent. Slappy waved after her then wandered off, singing and honking his horn. Unseen by either of them, Frederico slipped out of the shadows and followed the clown.
Slappy's trailer had changed since Frederico had last seen it. The carnival stripped exterior now sported a more feminine touch, with stylized pastel flowers painted around the door and lace curtains hanging in the windows. While Slappy tromped through the front door, Frederico slunk around back to the kitchen window. It was here, at this window that he'd first learned of Carlotta's infidelity. He had followed her after their last fight, ready to apologize yet again so he could take her to bed. When she entered the clown's trailer, rather than knock on the door and ask for her, he looked through the window. He found her sitting at the fool's table, weeping as though her heart would break.
"Doll face," Slappy had said. "You can't keep letting that Spanish shmuck do this to you. I understand the sex is great, but is it really worth all this heart ache?"
The clown reached into his pocket and pulled out a bright red handkerchief, offering it to Carlotta. She pulled on it and another handkerchief followed, and then another handkerchief followed that. Carlotta kept pulling and pulling, one silk swatch after another piling up on the floor at her feet until suddenly a pair of plaid boxer shorts popped out of Slappy's pants pocket.
"Whoops!" the clown said. "Wrong handkerchief!"
While Slappy scrambled to gather up the silk scarves, Carlotta's tears transformed into laughter. She grabbed the clown by his ears and kissed him on his bulbous red nose.
"Thank you, Slappy," she said, wiping away her tears.
"For making me smile. I haven't done that in such a long time."
Their faces hovered close to each other. Frederico stood outside the window, holding his breath, willing Carlotta to let this fool go and return to their trailer, so that he could give her a reason to smile. Instead, she bent her head closer to Slappy's and planted the first delicate kiss on his lips. Like the handkerchiefs, another soon followed, and then another after that, until a long unbroken string of kisses led to Slappy scooping Carlotta up in his arms and carrying her off to his bed.
Now Slappy bumbled about the kitchen alone, firing up the stove and bustling about with pots and pans, preparing dinner for the man who stood outside his window with hatred burning in his eyes. Yes, the moment Slappy carried Carlotta off to his bed, everything that Frederico had ever worked for went up in flames. Their act ended in a screaming match during a performance three days later. Carlotta stormed out of the ring and into Slappy's arms. Frederico rushed back to their trailer, gathered up all her belongings and torched them in a nearby parking lot. Police were called, and firemen. Carlotta pressed charges, and then dropped them, but by then the ringmaster had insisted that Frederico take a sabbatical from the show.
"Perhaps a few months away from Carlotta will cool your ardor," he suggested.
A few months became a year, and then another. Now, five years later, he watched Slappy dance around inside his trailer, and his ardor -- and his hatred -- burned as hot as ever.
From his hip pocket, Frederico withdrew a flask and a book of matches. He strode to a short distance away from the trailer, taking a mouthful of kerosene from the flask. He swirled he fuel around in his mouth, taking his time as he opened the book and tore out a match. He was about to strike it when a gust of wind blew up.
"Oh no!" he heard Carlotta wail.
A flurry of loose papers swept over him. Frederico reached out and grabbed one. It was a handbill dated for next month. In large letters, it read:
Come Twist and Shout with Slappy and Carla!
Beneath that was a picture of Slappy, honking his horn and waggling his hips at a lovely, lithe figure that stood on point with one leg snaked around her back and over her shoulder. Her face was painted with red and white grease paint and she wore a pointed dunce's cap and a tutu. Frederico stared at the hand bill, seething with rage.
"Freddy, is that you? Why are you standing out here..."
Frederico looked up. Carlotta stood before him, clutching her handbills, her face pale and frightened. Her gaze was locked on the matchbook in his hand. She looked to the trailer behind him and began to shake.
"Oh, please." A single tear trickled down her face. "Please! I will do anything. Only, don't hurt him, Frederico. It wasn't his fault..."
What could he say, with his mouth full of kerosene, and an unlit match clutched in his fingers? To think that she would plead for the man who had turned her into a clown! He wanted to crumple the handbill, throw it to the ground and burn it with that fool in his trailer. He could feel the fire even now, the one that would reduce his rival to ashes, and yet...
And yet, he couldn't bring himself to do it. Frederico hung his head. In all their years together, Carlotta had never smiled as brightly as she did in the picture on the handbill. She had cried many times, too many to count, but when had he ever seen her smile? Only with him, the fool, the clown.
Frederico took a step toward Carlotta. He tucked the handbill back into the pile in her arms and pressed his lips against her forehead one last time. Then he turned and strode away, lighting the match as he went. He swallowed the kerosene, the match, and his pride. The last burned the hottest all the way down.