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False Gorilla

             Newton ’s outrage mounted with each unfunny clown act, each paunchy, shuffling acrobat. The ringmaster was a mumbler, his lips brushing against the microphone as he spoke. The free refills on popcorn were nice, granted, but the bleacher seats were cold and the big top wasn’t even striped. It was just one color: an unappealing blue, like a tarp you’d throw over a lawnmower you couldn’t fit into your shed.

            Tammy patted Newton on the shoulder and said, “Lighten up, Newton . It can’t go on much longer.”

            Newton said nothing. He was waiting for the onset of a headache so that he would be able to later say in all honesty that the circus had been so bad it had given him a headache. In the center of the ring, a performer was botching a juggling trick in front of a packed house. There was standing room only, just like at an event that deserved actual support and recognition. Acts that didn’t immediately fail outright received raucous ovations. Acts that never took off or didn’t even seem to be acts were encouraged by a shocking number of clapping-enthusiasts.

            “No!” shouted Newton at the appreciative crowd as the trick-botching juggler jogged out of the ring to delighted cheering. “No! No! Have some self-respect! Show some discernment!”

            People sitting near Newton turned and grinned at him as they clapped, happy to see him getting in on the fun, somehow unable to perceive his big frown. Even Tammy clapped politely. “Can’t you just be glad that other people are having a good time?” she said.

            “If only these people had seen one real circus in their lifetimes,” said Newton . “They’d know better. They’d demand more.”

            “They’d go home feeling ripped off and disappointed,” said Tammy.

            “As they should.” said Newton .

            “And now,” mumbled the ringmaster. He paused for dramatic effect or to swallow the excess saliva in his mouth. His microphone cord was patched with duct tape and coiled dangerously through his legs. He wore a cheap, gray suit with bright fabric stars sewn onto it. He said, “And now,” again, and then, “The Mighty Gorilla Ronnie. Here’s Ronnie.”

            Newton groaned as Ronnie shambled into the ring. “It’s a man in a costume,” said Newton . “Look, Tammy. Look at how low they’ll sink.”

Ronnie was galloping in circles in the ring and waving his arms over his head while children in the audience shrieked and laughed. Ronnie stopped for a moment to adjust the straightness of his head with his hands. Newton said, “A real gorilla would never do that.” Tammy wouldn’t talk to him.

The ringmaster brought out a battered, green ten-speed bicycle and propped it up in the center of the ring by its kickstand. Ronnie ran towards the bike and the ringmaster sort of pretended to be scared and left the ring at a somewhat hurried pace. “He’s gonna ride it!” shouted a grown man not far from Newton . “Oh wow!” shouted another from the other side of the tent. “He really is!”

            Ronnie mounted the bike and, after a false start when his rubbery feet slipped off the pedals, began to ride around the ring. After a few laps, he let go of the handlebars with one hand and started a continuous, unsteady wave to the crowd. Many in the crowd waved back between fits of ecstatic clapping.

            “I see a zipper!” said Newton . “I see a zipper on Ronnie’s back!” Suddenly, he was on his feet, pushing his way down the row towards the aisle, accidentally knocking several loosely-lidded fountain drinks out of peoples’ hands and onto his feet, soaking his loafers and white socks.

            “ Newton , come back!” shouted Tammy. “Where are you going?”

            Once Newton gained the aisle, his path to the ring was completely unobstructed. There were no security guards, no bouncers. None of the circus strongmen were standing watch between their displays of commonplace might. Newton trotted down the steps two at a time, hopped a small, wooden barrier, and he was in the ring. The heat of the lights pulled sweat to the surface of his skin. He could sense the expectancy of the crowd. The people seemed to think he was part of the act. The ringmaster was still nowhere to be seen. He probably wasn’t even watching.

            As Ronnie wobbled past him on the bike, Newton reached out and grabbed him by the arm. Ronnie tilted towards Newton and put his feet down on the ground to steady himself, still straddling the bike. He tried to jerk his arm out of Newton ’s grasp, but he was too feeble, and Newton was already reaching for the top of Ronnie’s head with his other hand, his fingers grasping a clump of the thick, fake fur. Then Newton jerked upward with one swift motion and Ronnie’s mask came off. Newton held the slack mask aloft in triumph. He waved it in a small circle over his head and threw it to the ground. The crowd gasped and then moaned.

            “You see?” shouted Newton . “Now you see!” He pointed at Ronnie’s unveiled face. Then he turned to behold the true Ronnie for himself. His accusing finger went limp, his arm fell to his side.

            Ronnie’s face – the face of a real gorilla – was covered with pimples. His fur was thin and there were dead-white, bald patches of skin on the top and sides of his head. His animal eyes were sunken and watery and filled with shame. His head looked disproportionately small sticking out the top of the bulky gorilla suit that encased him. Ronnie spun around in a circle, seeming to take in the horror of every eye upon him, and then ran howling from the ring.

            “I’m sorry!” Newton shouted after him. Then he turned to the crowd and shouted it again. “I’m sorry!”

            But the crowd was heading for the exits.