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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ainslie

The Big Show

Billy leapt out of bed that morning. His mother barely managed to get a bowl of cereal inside him before he ran out the front door, chasing after his older brother. The summer fair had run all week and now it was ending. The morning was hot and muggy, and the horizon threatened a thunderstorm.

The day started off with Billy finding a whole string of tickets on the ground on his walk to the fair. Elated, he looked around, made sure no one else was paying attention then picked up the tickets and began to count them out. There would be enough to last the day and immediately his mind went to all the extra games he could play and all the valuable items he might buy, like those handcuffs he saw next to the leather hats he wanted so badly.

He pocketed the tickets and ran up ahead to join his older brother and friends. He was young enough that he couldn’t go to the fair alone, but old enough that he knew better than to tell the older boys about his fortune with the found tickets. He smiled inside, gripping the tickets in his pocket as his older brother slapped him in the back of the head and told him not to waste their time.

That day was all about being efficient, for one, because it was the last day of the fair, but also because it was the night of The Big Pageant when the entire town gathered on the baseball diamond to watch the big show.

For the past few years the main event was a group from the big city that traveled around imitating famous singers. The man who looked like Elvis had signed his brother’s autograph book one year. Afterwards, a debate ensued because the man’s writing was such that the children couldn’t make out what he had written. Some claimed that he signed his own name while others insisted that he signed “Elvis”. Billy’s brother still hadn’t decided which he preferred or frankly why he would even want a strange man’s autograph simply because he dressed up like a famous person. He figured that it shouldn’t count, “’Cause, otherwise I could just get anyone’s autograph on Halloween and what’s the difference?” The more he thought about it the more he wished he had never let this Elvis sign his book. If it weren’t for the fact that the autograph was on a page that shared the other side with one of his heroes, Max the Masher, he would certainly rip the page out and throw it away.

“Make sure you don’t screw it all up tonight.” Billy’s brother was talking to him about the play they would put on before the famous (or not so famous) people performed. First on the program were the winners of the animal contests. The goats and rabbits and chickens would be paraded on stage and people would clap and Billy would wonder why these animals were better than the other animals in the cages on the trucks. He asked his dad once and the answer was simply, “These ones are the best.”

Billy thought that this answer was the same as his question, but even last year he was old enough to know not to ask again. He then considered that usually the meat in the store was made from the best animals too, and then figured that these pageants were going on all over the country and that this must be how the companies find the best meat. He then wondered why anyone would want their animal to win if it meant that their animals would then go to slaughter and came to the conclusion that the losers must be the ones who were eaten. This brought him back to question of the meat being the best and he started theorizing all over again.

That was last year however. This year he wouldn’t be in the stands watching, because after the animals, after the teenage girls paraded in their gowns with ribbons and before the local firemen lip-synced to Soul Man by the Blues Brothers to warm up the crowd for the faux Elvis and Madonna, after all that, he would be on stage.

There was a section in the program where the teenagers would put on a show. Some might dance or perform a talent. Some chose to just lip-sync to pop music, while others actually played a terrible version of a pop song on real instruments. Billy’s brother and his friends had been coerced by the church group, at the insistence of his mother, to put on a play. After many failed attempts to extricate himself from this duty, his brother gave up. They rehearsed in the church after mass on Sundays.

Billy had wondered why he wasn’t involved in the play, and asked his mother if he could be. Immediately she decided that it would be a marvelous idea. Billy was thrilled. His brother, on the other hand, had become obsessed with having a perfect performance and didn’t want his little brother anywhere near this play. In fact, he was getting fairly tired of having a bratty little brother at all.

He made a big show in front of everyone, and made a point of making sure that Billy did not feel welcome, wanted or needed. His mother insisted and what choice did his brother really have? Billy would play a role and that was that. They wrote him a small part. Large enough to make their mom happy, but small enough so that he couldn’t screw the whole play up. He had two lines and one costume change.

The lines were easy. The costume change, however, was making him nervous since he had only recently started dressing himself. He still had no clue how to tie his shoes, though this wouldn’t matter since he was allowed to do the play barefoot.

All these concerns weren’t running through his head, however. At that moment he was busy keeping his mouth shut while his brother’s friend angrily ranted about losing all his tickets. He could have sworn he had grabbed them from his bedside table that morning, and that they must have fallen out of his pocket. Billy contemplated telling him the truth, but decided not to. After all, this boy was never nice to him and he could see no possible benefit to giving the tickets back. Instead, he told his brother he would meet him by the ball diamond before the play and ran off to enjoy his day at the fair.

After a long day he stood waiting by the dugout that had been converted into a staging area for the performers. He leaned against the wall, trying to look cool while he watched Cindy Lauper and Tina Turner smoke cigarettes and talk about some local man who they had thought they liked. Billy got the impression they had changed their minds. He was trying to look casual, as if he weren’t paying attention, when his brother and his friends showed up and told him to follow them back stage.

Backstage was actually a make shift hay wagon with some tarps tied together for shelter. It wasn’t fancy, but it worked. On the other side he could see the fake famous people’s trailer and wondered if they were able to live inside it, and if so, for how long? He had little time to think about it however, as his older brother threw clothing at him and barked for him to put it on. One outfit was a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt, while the other was a bathing suit. Neither fit. When he complained about this his brother told him not to bother them and to make sure that he was dressed on time and that he knew his lines.

Billy sighed and changed into the first outfit. He didn’t enjoy it very much. The clothing was damp and smelled like it had been in a gym bag for weeks. He folded his own clothes and placed them on a box with his second costume, laying the swim trunks on top. He counted the remaining tickets and thought about how short the lines to the rides would be while everyone was watching the show. He then went and stood by the side of the stage and watched as the other kids performed. Soon it was time for him and his brother and his brother’s friends to head out on stage. For his first part of the play, Billy was careful to do everything right. He said his line on time and then exited the stage.

He went to where his clothing had been left and saw that someone had thrown them onto the ground. He looked around, but saw no one so he put his clothing back onto the box and picked up the swim trunks. A question then dawned on him that had not occurred to him before. Does one wear underpants when on stage wearing swimming trunks? Billy decided against it, since it seemed wrong and the trunks had built in underpants anyway.

He stripped naked, and as he hobbled on one foot someone shoved him off balance from behind. He hopped, regained his balance without falling, and then turned around to see his brother’s friend with the remaining tickets in his hand. “Where did you get so many tickets, punk?”

Billy had no answer. This is not to say he didn’t know the answer. He knew perfectly well where he had found those tickets, and he also knew to whom they belonged. But while that was the truth, and it seemed to be correct in every way, it also seemed entirely like the wrong answer. So he said nothing. He stood there, mouth open, half naked, one leg inside a pair of oversized swimming trunks with someone else’s skid mark inside them. He felt vulnerable. His mind raced for a response that might satisfy this older boy who he had stolen from. He thought of many but settled on, “Um, they aren’t yours. They’re mine.”

It was the wrong answer. He knew it as soon as he said it. He knew it as he said it. He had even known it before he said it, but for some inexplicable reason his brain had said it anyway. His brother’s friend looked at him, then behind him at the stage, and then smiled. Why he smiled Billy couldn’t figure out. He was expecting anything but a smile from the boy, but then he turned to see where the boy was looking and rather quickly realized why he was smiling. He turned back just in time to see the boy’s foot shove him hard onto the stage.

The next moment took exactly three point two seconds to unfold, however, in his mind Billy could have sworn that years went by as he contemplated a way to stop and undo the moments leading up to this one. Nothing occurred to him, and so his buttocks slammed against the stage floor, his back rolled with the flow, and he bounced upwards quickly, and landed on his feet on stage. Right beside his brother. On stage. In front of the entire town. On stage. Naked.

He stood there a moment, the crowd growing silent. He looked at his brother, and his brother stared back at him, shocked. He knew that he couldn’t pull his shorts up because he could see them a few feet away off stage, next to the boy who had pushed him. He looked out at the audience and wondered if they even noticed he was naked from so far away. Maybe they thought it was part of the show.

So he said his line. “Come on in! The water is great!”

Then, for some reason that is still unknown to him this day, even though he had lied away countless hours thinking about it, he decided to dance a little jig. His head knocked back and forth and he smiled big as he swayed his shoulders around. He felt himself swinging down there and for some reason this didn’t make him stop. Rather, it encouraged him to swing it even more.

Suddenly it occurred to him that everyone could see what he was doing and that they knew it was clearly not part of the show. He stopped dancing and looked over his shoulder at his brother. He hoped for some type of support, but all that came was a roundhouse punch to the jaw that sent him flying off stage, and right onto the lap of Mrs. Barker.

His face hurt. He was shamed and lying on his back, upside down on her lap. He couldn’t move. As if he were contagious, Mrs. Barker would not touch him, instead, she shrieked an incredibly high-pitched yelp. For whatever reason the yelp caused Billy to start peeing. The yelping did not stop. Rather, it got louder, and then she was joined by her daughter, who was the same age as Billy and in his class at school. She made eye contact with Billy for the first time, very briefly, before shutting her eyes tightly to deflect the urine he was spraying in her face.

Mrs. Barker threw the boy off of her and he bounced naked onto the floor and stopped peeing. He sat on the floor and shut his eyes, hoping that the entire town might just go home and forget all about this incident. This thought was disrupted by a soda pop in a paper cup landing on his head and splashing him with orange soda followed by laughter. The longer he sat there he realized that not only would they not be going home, but that they would most likely never forget this incident, and so he decided to put all his effort into forgetting the incident himself.

He had worked hard to that effect, but despite all his effort he had had failed to forget that moment, and even now, twenty seven years later sitting in this job interview he was thinking about it still.

As the man sat behind his big desk looking through William’s paper work, Billy, now William, was thinking of the school year after that dreadful event at the end of summer. The children at school did not forget and try as he might, they did not let Billy forget it either.

He wondered what his brother’s friend was doing now and then he realized that he didn’t even remember that boy’s name. This boy, likely the single most influential person in his life, was nameless to him. How could he have forgotten his name? Why had he not written it down and plotted over the years a way to exact revenge? He couldn’t even do it now even if he wanted to. Perhaps his brother might know, but that would involve bringing up the incident and dealing with the consequences of that. Besides, what would he ever do to this boy that could possibly make them even in the grand scheme of the universe. No. He decided he wasn’t meant to win. If he had been he would have by now, and besides, the Universe had made one thing abundantly clear to him over the course of his life – that he was, and always would be, a loser.

He wasn’t going to get this job. He knew this already. Even before he stepped into the office and saw the man behind the desk, he knew it. It was far too good a job for him. He never got anything good that he wanted. He never would because somehow, no matter where he went and whomever he met, he was always that boy who fell off stage naked and peed on Mrs. Barker at the town fair.

He wondered from time to time how they always knew, but he always just assumed it was the same way he knew that this man sitting before him in the expensive suit and the high paying job was the kid who threw the winning touchdown when he was young. Life was just this way. The Universe enjoyed balance. His life was miserable because this other man’s was great. Who was he to question the Universe? He was just a fat, bald loser whose life was in the hands of a good-looking Aryan businessman who probably never had a problem in his life and probably never would.

This man would never lose his job. His children would be just like him and procreate more perfect children that would probably boss Billy’s kids around some day too and the universe would continue to laugh at his bloodline for eternity.

He thought for a moment of ending it. I mean, why should he bother? He was a loser. He wasn’t equipped to be anything else. He would probably raise loser children too, and they would be sitting in a chair years from now thinking the exact same thing if he didn’t end it all right now.

All this was spinning through Billy’s head as he listened to Mr. Perfect reject him in the kindest possible way. What happened next was a shock even to Billy, but he would never regret it, not even for one little second.

Before Mr. Perfect could finish his rejection speech Billy stood up, dropped his drawers and hopped onto Perfect’s desk and started swinging it around in Perfect’s face. Before Perfect could do anything Billy started to pee. This time he was happy about it. He laughed and he laughed as pee showered down around the office, on the carpet, on the desk and all over Mr. Perfect’s gorgeous, expensive suit.

Once his bladder was empty he looked down at Perfect, who was sitting completely still, the way a person does when they are wet and don’t wish to be. Billy pulled up his drawers and stepped off the desk. He picked up his briefcase and said, “Thank you so much for your time sir. I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but kindly do let me know if there are any openings in the future.” And with that, he walked out of the office and shut the door behind him.

For the first time in his life, as walked down the hallway towards the elevator, Billy understood what it meant to have a bounce in one’s step. He felt happier than he ever had his entire life. Happier than his wedding day and prouder than the day his son was born. In fact, he hadn’t felt this great since that morning he found those tickets.

For a moment he wondered if it was all worth it. If all his lifetime of suffering was a price worth paying for the joy he now felt. He didn’t have the time to answer himself because he was disrupted by a security guard who presently tackled him to the ground and shoved his face into the carpet which he now noticed was filthy.

As they held his arms behind his back and escorted him out of the building he smiled, because he knew the universe was again in balance and he was, once again, a loser.

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