On a moonless August night when I was twelve, I climbed a wall of hay
bundles stacked beside the elephant's pen and from that high perch
witnessed six clowns, one of them a midget, one of them a mute, all
taking turns screwing the lion tamer's wife. Nadya, that skinny, trapeze
whore, Russian gymnast, Olympic failure, who would do anything for a pint of cheap vodka. I watched two clowns mount her, one after the other,
then pull up their suspender-pants, at which point the midget clown
handed each a fat cigar.
I ran to find my father, as I had always been instructed to report anything unusual that I observed. I found him by the chimpanzee cages, sitting on a milk crate. Though shirtless, he was still wearing his red britches and black knee-high boots.
When I was close enough to shout I saw he was puffing the stub of a fat cigar, blowing perfect smoke rings at a baby chimp whom my mother, the fat lady, had named Caesar. At that moment I heard my mother calling my name, so I swallowed my secret, felt it burn my throat and drop into my belly like a stone, as I ran frantically toward our trailer, our little home on wheels, every part of me aching to be smothered by the soft, warm folds of my sweet mother's flabby arms.
I never spoke another word to my father. Not one. Not even after I had my turn with the lion tamer's wife who referred to me only as The Quiet Boy. I seldom spoke to anyone but my mother, and after she died of a heart attack I conversed only with Caesar, that clever chimp, whom I trained to light my cigars.