I Already Hear the Calliope Music ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
“I hate my name,” Ruth Ellen said. “It sounds like a farm girl. I’m going to change it.”
Mother turned from the stove, spoon in hand. “Change it to what?” she asked.
“I haven’t decided yet. I’m thinking of either Viva or Lucky. Maybe Roxanne. Something with pizzazz.”
“There isn’t anything wrong with the name you have,” mother said. “We’ll stick with that for the time being. When you get out into the world on your own and are making your own living, you can call yourself whatever you want.”
“I can think of lots of good names for her,” Clive said, trailing the tines of his fork through the egg yolk on his plate.
“There’s a girl at school named Cha-Cha and another one named Jeepers,” Ruth Ellen said. “Those are names with pizzazz.”
“Surely those aren’t real names,” mother said. “Who would name a child Cha-Cha?”
“I’ve seen Cha-Cha,” Clive said. “She has a harelip and she’s in special education.”
“She is not!” Ruth Ellen said. “You couldn’t possibly know anything about her.”
“She wears a black leather jacket with a swastika on the back and she carries a switchblade in her purse. She was voted most likely to end up in the electric chair.” He held out his arms and shook all over to simulate being electrocuted.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, as usual.”
“She belongs to an all-girl gang of juvenile delinquents. They shoplift and smoke dope.”
“If anybody ends up in the electric chair, it’ll be you,” Ruth Ellen said. “And I hope I’ll be there to see it.”
“I think that’s enough talk about electric chairs,” mother said.
“I was asked to join a gang,” Clive said. “I said I’d think about it.”
“Would that be a gang of ugly losers?” Ruth Ellen asked.
“I think I’ll join. It’ll add to my prestige.”
“Who asked you to join a gang?” mother asked.
“Just some boys at school. I don’t know their names.”
“He’s just making that up,” Ruth Ellen said. “Nobody would ever want him to join anything. If they wanted him, it would just be so they would have somebody to slap around. ”
“Everybody’s got to start somewhere.”
“As long as you’re living under my roof, you will not join a gang.” mother said. “That kind of talk makes it sound as if you weren’t brought up right.”
“This is what happens when children have to grow up without a father.”
“He’s only been gone six months,” Ruth Ellen said.
“I don’t know that we really needed him in the first place,” Clive said. “I don’t miss him at all.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say about your father,” mother said.
“Let’s face it. Even when he was here, he really wasn’t. Some people just aren’t cut out to be parents.”
“He went off and left us without a penny,” mother said. “We’d be destitute if it wasn’t for the money my mother left me.”
“Destitute is a relative term,” Clive said. “You’d say you were destitute if you had to buy a cheaper brand of face powder.”
“He knew he wasn’t really needed,” Ruth Ellen said. “That made it easy for him to leave. When his business failed, he had no reason to stay.”
“Other men would think their family was reason enough to stay,” mother said.
“Well, I guess he wasn’t one of those,” Ruth Ellen said.
“He always wanted more than anything to be a clown.”
“You mean like in a circus?”
“Yes. He was always fascinated by clowns. He dreamed of chucking everything and going off and joining the circus and becoming a famous clown.”
“I can easily picture him as a clown,” Clive said.
“Every day I expect to hear from him,” mother said.
“To give us some money?” Ruth Ellen asked.
“No, to ask me for a divorce so he can become a clown without any encumbrances.”
“Are you going to give him a divorce?”
“I don’t think I will. I believe that when you marry, it’s for life. Marriage isn’t something you shrug off whenever you feel like it.”
“That’s so old-fashioned,” Ruth Ellen said.
“You may call it whatever you like. It’s just the way I am. Marriage is an eternal bond.”
“Maybe he’ll want to marry somebody else,” Clive said. “A lady clown.”
“As long as he’s married to me, he won’t marry anybody else unless he wants to go to jail for bigamy.”
“I don’t see him doing that,” Ruth Ellen said.
“What if you died?” Clive asked. “He could marry somebody else then, couldn’t he?”
“When I was eight years old,” mother said, “my parents divorced.”
“Oh, no!” Clive said. “I knew it was coming!”
“My father committed suicide a few years later and my mother was married many times. Can you imagine how confusing it is for a child to have one stepfather after another? After a while, you can’t keep them straight anymore.”
Ruth Ellen made snoring sounds but mother ignored her.
“My brother left home at an early age and ended up a drunkard, in trouble all the time, in and out of prison. I’ll always believe he had a wasted life because he was from a broken home.”
“How is Uncle Stanley these days?” Clive asked.
“My sister ran off with a married man who abandoned her in a cheap hotel room in a faraway city. She called and begged us to send her money so she could come home. She was broken and humiliated. She was never the same after that. Because of all this chaos in our lives, I swore that if I ever got married it would be one time and one time only. The last thing I want is to be like my mother.”
“She left you money, though,” Clive said.
“I’m going to make sure we all stay together as a family. Even if your father is far away and we never see him, there’s an invisible bond connecting the four of us together as a unit. The only thing that will break that unit is death.”
She went down to the basement to put a load of clothes in the washer, leaving Ruth Ellen and Clive alone in the kitchen.
“She gets crazier all the time,” Ruth Ellen said.
“I know something you don’t know,” Clive said.
“I doubt that.”
“No, really, I do. I. Know. Something. You. Don’t. Know.”
“Are you going to force me to make you tell me what it is?”
“I got a letter yesterday. In the mail.”
“Who have we been talking about, dumbbell?”
“What did he say?”
“He sent me ten dollars and he said he hoped we’re all well.”
“Is that all he said?”
“No. He’s been to clown school. Graduated with top honors and he’s joined the circus.”
“As a clown?”
“He said it’s what he’s always wanted and he’s never been happier.”
“Why didn’t you tell mother?”
“I was waiting to surprise her.”
“I don’t think she’ll see it as a happy surprise.”
“The circus is coming to town this week. He sent me three tickets for the matinee on Saturday. One for me, one for mother and one for you.”
“Do you want to go?”
“Of course I want to go,” Clive said. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
“Does the circus have a freak show?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t say.”
“Do you think mother will go?”
“We’ll have to persuade her,” Clive said. “He wants us to come backstage after the performance.”
“Do you think he’ll ask mother if he can come back home and pick up where he left off?”
“He doesn’t want to come back home. He wants a clown divorce. He says a clown has no business being married.”
“I suppose he should know.”
“I’m excited about seeing him perform as a clown in the circus,” Clive said. “I think mother will be excited about it too.”
“It might just be the thing that finishes her off,” Ruth Ellen said. “The ultimate indignity: Her husband ran off and left her—not for another woman—but to join the circus and become a clown.”
“You don’t think she’ll take it well?”
“She’ll make it into the most tragic event of her life. Everything else that’s ever happened to her will pale in comparison.”
“Are you going to tell her or shall I?”
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp