Sunday, December 11, 2011

Esperanza, the Mighty Cholita

A year has passed now, since I set out to the west.  A whole year and I’m not even close to where I intended to go, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get there or if I even want to.  I’ll admit, I didn’t plan this trip well.  It wasn’t too long before I’d spent the little money I had on Motels, bus tickets, food, and cigarettes and ended up hitching rides, jumping trains, and bummin’ smokes.  I’m not complaining; it got easier as time went on.  I shed the luxuries I had known and a great burden lifted from my shoulders.  Life became simpler.  My only concern was food and shelter and the occasional bottle in a paper bag.  
I made it a habit to walk in to a donut place right as it’s closing and tell them that I’m starving, and I didn’t have any money.  They’re going to throw the donuts out anyway, what do they care.  It just saved me the indignity of diving in a dumpster for them.  Just like that.  A whole stash of donuts that I could eat off for a few days.
I learned a lot from the road and I made good friends.  Friends like Crazy Leg Jerry, the old hobo who was determined to make it big with the fits of epilepsy that he called dancing.  That’s how this story starts, actually, with this hobo jiving behind an old gas-station when the circus rolls into town.  It was a surreal scene, and when I looked at Crazy Leg he looked a little crazier than usual.  He looked intense and serious.  Suddenly he bolted around the gas-station right up to the weird caravan and put on a showcase of his dancing abilities that defied human biology.  He moved his limbs so violently that his torso looked as if it were levitating and there was a hum like that of a humming-bird’s wings.
It was amazing.  But what happened next blew my mind.  Some circus folk come up to him and explain that they just lost their best chainsaw-juggler and they need an entertainer to fill his spot in the show.  They offer him meals, booze, and a place to rest his head.  Of course he agrees, and asks if they have room for me.  Crazy Leg may be crazy, but he’s a nice guy.
”What can he do?” asks the guy with the top-hat and fu-manchu mustache.
”Hey, Junior, what can you do?!” he shouts over to me.  Hobos are always calling me Junior for some reason.
I think hard about that.  What can I do?
”I don’t really do anything.  I mean, I don’t have any particularly entertaining skills.” I say.
”Can you stand very still?”
”I suppose…”
”VERY still?”
”Yeah, very still.  Sure.”
”Fine, fine.  We’ll figure out something for him.”
And just like that, we became part of a circus.

            Everyday on the road I woke up fed and rested and thought what a strange and wonderful thing life is with its twists and turns and what-the-fucks.  The spot that was assigned to me by Fritz, the Circus-Master, was by far the easiest job in all the circus.  I was the Sword-Thrower’s assistant, which required only that I stand very still.  It was determined by the other circus members that standing very still was the only skill that I possessed.  It was an odd feeling at first having swords lobbed at you all the time, but I came to trust in the abilities of Sword-Thrower Ogami.  Now the most difficult part of my job is suppressing the occasional yawn.
            As the days went on I forgot all about the west and my trek through the nation.  Now I was zig-zagging through the states with these freaks, these strange people with strange talents, and every chance I could I took time to laugh at the novelty of it all.
            The nights after a big show are the best, when the circus folk drink and debauch around a series of campfires.  Nights like tonight.  The strong-man and the bearded-lady are engaged in a fierce round of arm wrestling.  Veins in their neck throb desperately as if ready to burst.
The midget plays mandolin while the monkey dances and the wolf-boy cries tears of joy because for the first time in his life he has friends.  The magician is making the prostitute who overdosed in his trailer disappear, though not with his usual methods nor with his usual charisma and grace.  The trapeze twins are falling over drunk, the lion-tamer is asleep in his chair, and the man who swallows flaming swords is sucking cock. 
            Meanwhile, the Clown and the Circus-Master sit in somber silence beside one another on a fallen tree, reflecting back on the tragedy they shared the last time their motley circus rolled through here, so many years ago.

I only recently heard the story myself when I asked Sword-Thrower Ogami about the sudden and uncharacteristic despair that had come over them.  What follows is more or less the story he told me:

The Story of Esperanza, the Mighty Cholita and Stiff Roger, the Alligator

When I was but a young knife-thrower new to the circus and my knives still wore the occasional red, before the idea of throwing swords had ever crossed my mind, there was a woman.
            She said she was a cholita from Bolivia, but she could’ve been a warrior from the Amazon by the looks of her.  She stood over six feet tall and her soft curves disguised the extent of her strength.  But, those who had ever seen her in action knew that her ample breasts rested on a shelf of solid muscle and the perfectly rounded cheeks of her buttocks could crush a man.  You would’ve guessed she was a goddess by the way she walked through the crowds of our tent-city.  Everyone she passed became silent, stupid and gazing.  She was Hercules and Helen of Troy and even her opponents were awed by her beauty.  The more she pummeled and body-slammed them, the more adoration they felt for her, until her adversaries became submissive and almost appreciative of the beatings they received at the hands of such a graceful creature.  Men would line up to face the mighty Esperanza, our lady of the ring, but as soon as they were in her presence they would wither into timid school children.  Men would challenge her just to be close to her.  I’ve never seen people happier or more willing to have the shit kicked out of them.  They would smile at her through mouthfuls of blood or try to wink at her with eyes swollen shut or kiss her with busted lips or hug her while she strangled them.  One night there was a man that repeated the phrase “Yes Ma’am, may I have another?” like a mindless sorority pledge every time Esperanza stomped on his face.  And with every stomp of the cholita’s heel the man’s words became more and more slurred until finally his words and his face were unrecognizable.
She was just as brutal as she was beautiful and Fritz talked to her about maybe not hurting people so bad.  Maybe not breaking any bones or spilling so much blood.  But she seemed as if she suddenly forgot how to speak English.  Mercy was not in her dictionary.  Then finally, after a particularly violent display, Fritz the Circus-Master decided that he must change the show, before Esperanza killed anyone.  He suggested staging her fights, or introducing rules or protective gear but she refused.  If she could not fight in his circus, then she would find another.  She complained that the men were too weak, too fragile. 
”I want to fight a bear!” She exclaimed, but Fritz shook his head.
”We don’t have any bears.  We just have that un-godly large, dinosaur-looking mother-fucker over there.” And he pointed at Stiff Roger, the ‘Alligator’.
Her eyes lit up.  She’d forgotten entirely about Stiff Roger because he was always so still and a bit of a philosopher. 
Of course Fritz had reservations about letting his star performer go one-on-one with an armored tank with teeth like a demon and a tail like a heavy club, but she had threatened to leave if she could not have this fight, and she did so while she choked him in a headlock.
Esperanza was a woman wholly consumed by her desire for violence.  Like an addict craves a fix or the sun wants for the moon, her only drive was the thrill of a good fight.  It was her sole purpose, the core of her being.

A week later the beautiful cholita had her first match with Stiff Roger, the ‘Alligator’.  The campgrounds were silent.  The chimes and frivolities of the circus ceased to be.  There was only this match.  Only the cholita and the 30ft killing-machine.  Fritz was pale and hesitated before he took the megaphone.  He cleared his throat and wiped his brow with a foppishly embroidered handkerchief.  The lights dimmed around him.

”Ladies and gentlemen, tonight you will witness beauty versus the beast and you may see an angel smite a demon…BUT,” he stoped dramatically and looked around at the audience, “you may witness a performance tonight that is so moribund, so grotesque, so visceral that the memory of this night will haunt you psyche for the rest of your lives.  Be warned that tonight’s show could be our lovely cholita’s last.”
Fritz’s voice was weak, his usual flair and charisma were drained.  He felt the fear she should’ve felt but didn’t. 
“Now, without further ado, let me introduce this evening’s combatants!”
A six foot spot of light appeared at the tent’s entrance just as Esperanza emerged.  She looked feral and murderous and kept her eyes focused on the rumbling, hissing cage draped in red velvet that stood in the center of the main show tent.  
“The heroine in tonight’s drama stands a full 6’2” or 6’5” in heels.  Our very own Valkyrie, Esperanza the Queen of the Cholitas! “
Everyone applauded.  Not a single man whistled a cat-call at her.

”And her opponent, hailing from the scorched banks of the river Phelgathon, the grim and grimacing monster, the terrible tooth, the biggest-fuckin’-alligator-I’ve-ever-seen, STIFF ROGER!!” he said tugging the velvet curtain down around the cage. 
People gasped, some screamed, others just stared silently in awe of the behemoth in the cage. 
“You can’t send that poor woman in there with that…that THING!”
”It’s not an alligator!  It’s a dragon!”
”Is that cage strong enough to hold it?”
The crowd was in an uproar.

“People, please!  Lets all calm down lest we rile up ol’ Roger.  People!  Please be calm, I assure you, this cage is specifically designed to contain a demon such as he.  Please be seated.”
Reluctantly, the circus-goers returned to their seats, their eyes wide and faces white.  Esperanza walked directly up to the door of the cage, unaffected by the panic that surrounded her.  Handlers with sticks poked Stiff Roger ushering him away from the door as Esperanza stepped through and locked it behind her.
            I trembled watching Esperanza pace around the alligator’s den.  Many times she volunteered herself to stand against my target and be outlined with my knives.  I knew her as a warm, caring, maternal woman but as she stared down the great beast in front of her she emanated only a savage intensity.  This was not the woman that had been so kind to me, but a creature just as primal and dangerous as the colossal reptile before her.
            It was Esperanza who struck first, kicking Stiff Roger in his right eye and leaping away before he could whip his massive head around and bite off her leg.  Blood flowed like tears from his mangled eye as he tried to maneuver his body towards her without success.  The cage was too small for the beast to move with ease.  It swung its heavy tail at her like a morning star but struck the cage instead, leaving a heavy dent.  The audience reeled back, prepared to flee should the cage give.
            Esperanza carefully hid in the alligator’s blind spot and climbed the cage wall with inhuman speed and agility.  As Stiff Roger struggled with the limited confines of the cage, Esperanza leapt from it and drove her knees into the base of his massive skull.  There was a pause.  She circled around the beast but he didn’t more.  Stiff Roger was unconscious.  The crowd could breathe again. 
            Then the applause, like a raging torrent.  The night was a huge success.  Fritz was happiest of all.  He’d gambled his star and Lady Luck had smiled at him.  He pulled an ornate flask from his coat and took a long swig.  It was the first of many that night.  After the last guest had left and Stiff Roger had been secured in his cage the circus erupted into drunken revelry with Esperanza, the dragon-slaying cholita, at its core drinking even the largest men under the table. 
Clyde the Clown had imbibed his fair share that night and had retired to his trailer stupidly drunk.  It was about four in the morning when the door burst open with a bang.  Clyde rolled onto the floor shouting unintelligibly through the blankets that entangled him. 
“Who’s there?” he managed to articulate.  But the shadow moved nearer until it towered over him.  It leaned towards him and whispered.
“Make love to me.”
“What?!” he leapt up and scrambled towards the light, but the dark shape grabbed him and hurled him to the ground, pinning him there with its body.
The shadow figured smelled feminine with a hint of alligator breath.

”Esperanza?!” he exclaimed.
She lit a nearby gas-lamp.
“But why?  I’m just a clown?”
“Because you make me laugh, clown.” She answered, ripping off her clothes to reveal the hourglass perfection of her body.
“Now make love to me or I will make love to you!” she demanded firmly, “but first, put on the clown-nose!  The red one that squeaks!”
At this point Clyde found it impossible to disobey her.  He found the nose resting on his costume trunk and attached it to his face.
“Now make it squeak!”
He reached up and squeezed the prop nose several times, nervously, until she pounced on him like a lion does a gazelle and devoured him, sexually.

Meanwhile, as the celebration began to wind down Fritz, bleary eyed and dry-mouthed, wanted to see Esperanza one last time before he retired for the evening.  Sam the Fire-Dancer told him that he’d seen her around Clyde’s trailer not too long ago.  Fritz stumbled over there, rehearsing in his head what he’d say to her and the intonation his voice would have when he said it, but as he neared he noticed odd sounds emanating from the thin walls of the trailer.  It sounded like Clyde was being strangled and tickled simultaneously.  Fritz raced over and looked in the small glass window to see the young clown seemingly catatonic with Esperanza nude straddling him.  Fritz stood there for a moment or two, unable to avert his eyes from the perfectly rounded orbs that were Esperanza’s bare breasts dancing in a sliver of moonlight.  Confused, but mostly drunk, Fritz ran off into the night to gather his thoughts.

The next morning there was no rooster call, but a symphony of groans and grunts as the circus-folk covered their heads with their arms and rolled away from the cruel sun that molested their eyelids.  Everyone except Fritz who had fallen asleep some distance away on a bed of moss wearing a mask of hungry mosquitoes.  For several hours we searched for him. 
”What do we do?” asked Terry the Torso, who played the piano with his face.
”The show can’t go on!  We’re doomed!” exclaimed the histrionic strong-man who carried the Torso in a backpack. 
”Relax fellas, we’ll find him.  We just need to split up and cover more ground” suggested Clyde, who looked just a little more haggard than the rest of them.
And so we separated from each other and scanned the areas that we had been designated to. 

I was the one who discovered him that morning, laying piteously there, a buffet for biting insects.  He was still clutching a liquor bottle with his pants around his knees and his head resting inches away from a puddle of drying vomit.  I yelled his name and shook him, but it would take more violent means to rouse him from his stupor. 
He was still a bit drunk when he woke and instantly started rambling off about Esperanza, love, and betrayal.  I listened to him until he had finished, then slowly he moistened his chapped lips with his tongue and asked me the time.  I told him.  He lifted his pants to his waist with only a faint shade of embarrassment and said “we have a show to do!” and marched off with resolve into the wrong direction.

Everyone was already preparing for our third and final day at the camp when we arrived.  No one said anything to Fritz, but someone handed him a pair of sunglasses and some eye-drops.  The day carried on with rehearsals and other such exercises in general preparedness, although some found it strange how brutally Fritz criticized Clyde and his Clown crew. 
“No, no, no.  It’s all wrong.  You’re out of time with the band.  Why do we have a band if you’re not going to be in time with them?  Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question.  Listen, lets try it again, but this time…Just don’t act like a bunch of buffoons.”
“But Fritz, man, that’s the whole idea of being a clown in the first place.”

And his criticisms didn’t stop with the clowns.  He criticized the whole circus on their shabbiness, threatening to cut off heavy drinking the nights before a performance if they didn’t manage to shake it off by show-time.  Needless to say, no one was happy about that and tension was high as people started to show up to the circus that day.  The people could feel it all around them.  They saw it in the angry and exhausted magician rushing through his set with sarcasm in his tone and boredom in his sleepless eyes.  They felt it as they visited the freak-show where they could overhear Devon the Minotaur and Billie the Bearded Tranny whispering to one another about Fritz’s prohibition threat like children gossiping in class.  They knew it from the Clown show and all its odd satires with anti-authoritarian undertones.  The night was quickly shaping up to be a disaster but Fritz hoped to salvage it with his grand-finale.  He’d done well to avoid Esperanza.  His feelings for her made him confused and ashamed.  But now, he had to find her, make sure she was prepared and maybe, if he had the courage, reveal his feelings to her; the feelings that made him act like such an asshole.  He passed by Stiff Roger’s cage on his way to her tent. 
“Put on a good show tonight, eh Roger?”
Stiff Roger looked as stoic as ever.  His eye-would was starting to look infected. 
            Esperanza was applying make-up when Fritz approached her.  The thick black lines that circled her eyes made her look like a jungle cat and her lipstick was the color of dried blood.
“You gonna stop that ol’ gator with your beauty?” He said.
“My beauty is half my strength.’
“So it is.  Tell me, are you prepared for the show tonight?  Well rested and all that?”
“You should be more concerned about Stiff Roger.”
“Don’t underestimate him, Esperanza.  We’re not talking about an ordinary alligator here.  In fact, we’re not even sure he is an alligator.  We just call him that for convenience.  All I’m sayin’ is don’t underestimate him and please take this seriously.  No one wants to see you get eaten, least of all me.  I’d be devastated.  Can you imagine the guilt?”
“Relax Fritzy, I’ll be fine.  Stop being such a bitch.
“I’m not being a…Listen, I care about you, Esperanza.  I have feelings for you.”
Esperanza dammed her laughter behind her teeth.  She didn’t know what to say.
“I’m sorry Fritz, but I can’t share those feelings.  I don’t know what love is like.  All I know is bloodlust.  A lust for violence consumes me.” She said after a long while of deliberation.  The sad sincerity of her words surprised her.
“Don’t give me that!” shot Fritz, deflating by the moment until his head hung like melted wax from his shoulders.
“I know about Clyde.  What does he have that I don’t?  He’s a clown for fuck-sake!”
“The clown?  I don’t love the clown.  I only raped him.” She said simply.
”You what?  You can’t go around raping!  That’s illegal!”
“Only if a man rapes a woman.  It’s not illegal for a woman to rape a man.”
“Yes, it’s still totally illegal!  Rape is always illegal!”
“THEN I’LL PUNCH THE LAW IN THE FACE!” yelled Esperanza, slamming her fist onto the table.
            And for the first time, Fritz realized that Esperanza was completely insane.  He finally looked past her beauty and saw the mad barbarian in her heart.  What a fool he had been.  What an ass he’d made of himself.  “No more rape!” he said firmly, and raced away from the trailer to make things right with his circus and apologize to the clowns.
            They had just finished their final show of the night when he approached them. 
“Guys, I’m sorry.  I’ve been such a dick.  I was just jealous of Clyde here.” He said with a gesture towards Clyde.
“Jealous of me?!  But I’m a clown!”
“I thought you and Esperanza…I stumbled by your trailer and…I know that she raped you, and I’m sorry.  I’m ashamed to have fallen for such a monster.” Fritz said, embracing Clyde.
“It was horrible.  She was so rough.  There was nothing I could do.” Clyde managed to express between sobs.
            The other clowns snuck away from the awkward scene, still unsure what to make of the whole thing, thinking well, that was weird, even for a circus and probably wishing they had been the one raped by Esperanza. 
            Meanwhile, Esperanza had just entered the caged ring where stiff roger sat apathetically.  She couldn’t wait any longer, the anticipation was killing her, so without Fritz to introduce the combatants and stir the crowd with his usual over-the-top monologue, Esperanza let out an earth-trembling war cry and stomped up to the cage, demanding it be open.  And just like that, the match was under way before the last people filing into the large tent could be seated. 
Esperanza leapt onto Stiff Roger’s back, screaming and beating him with the edge of her fist.  Those who hadn’t been seated when the fight began stood where they were to watch the mad cholita woman unleash her fury on the alligator who thrashed around in pain or confusion beneath her. 
Once she’d bloodied her fists against the thick hide of her foe, she grabbed him by the tail in an attempt to throw him by it, but found the monster’s mass far too heavy for even her might.  Instead she just stood there holding the heavy, armored tail, her face and cleavage turning pink from exertion and her muscles bulging as if ready at any moment to burst until Stiff Roger whipped his tail from her grasp and then immediately back at her, striking her in the sternum and sending her flying into the cage wall.  She gasped for air, her back pressed against the iron bars that enclosed them when he charged at her with his mouth wide open to receive her. 
She was quick enough to doge the alligator’s bite, but as she circled around him Stiff Roger snapped his tail out again, this time with enough force to fell both her and a segment of their iron-barred confines.  The already tense crowd erupted in a frenzy with everyone at once rushing as far away as they could manage from Stiff Roger, who, despite his nickname, appeared quite agile that night, moving with the ease and fluidity of a martial arts master. 
Fritz, who had arrived only minutes before, was screaming at the bumbling handlers to take care of the situation until finally he decided he’d need to take matters in his own hands.  He reached into his heavily sequined stage coat and produced a palm sized snub-nosed pistol.  And with trembling hands, the Terrified Fritz lined up his shot and fired three times in hurried succession.  Stiff Roger seemed to have hardly noticed the three bullets that struck his thick hide and kept moving towards his wounded opponent.  Fritz again shouted hysterical orders to the handlers only to look around and realize they’d fallen to ricocheting bullets and lay bleeding in the dirt. 
Esperanza, battered and barely conscious, swore bitterly in shallow breaths.  With great difficulty, she managed to bring her self to her knees, her face only a yard away from the hulking reptile.  She stared at it for a moment with her face twisted in a lupine snarl, but then a strange thing came over her, as if suddenly she had life-changing realization.  What ever it was she thought in that moment, it softened her features and she looked at the monstrous swamp dweller with something like love and very slowly leaned towards it, as if for a kiss.
In the next second Esperanza’s body lay limp, her skull and its contents crushed within Stiff Roger’s massive jaws.
Fritz was frozen looking at the moribund scene, overwhelmed with fear and grief.  Roger turned his head towards the helpless Circus-Master to look upon him with his one pus-crusted eye and the shattered remnants of Esperanza’s once beautiful visage still tightly clamped in his jaws. 

Fritz knew his time was up and he had so many regrets.  But before he could list them all in his head Clyde appeared from the detritus on a tiny tricycle.
  ”Hurry!  Hop on!  I’ll pedal us to safety!” he shouted, rousing Fritz from his somber introspections.  Through the weakness of his knees and the chaos of his mind, he made his way to Clyde and climbed on his back, wrapping his limbs tightly around the clown’s body.  Clyde pedaled hard to compensate for the extra weight, and slowly the two made began their escape.
They had traveled about ten feet when the tricycle collapsed beneath them.
“Why did I have to be a clown?  I should’ve listened to my mother and gone to medical school.” said Clyde, sitting in the debris of his bike with Fritz still clinging to his back and crying like a child. 
            They were sure they would be eaten now, but Stiff Roger had gone back to being as stiff as any statue.  He hadn’t budged.  He let the expired cholita drop from his bloody maw, her body twitching at odd intervals, and in a deep, throaty voice the alligator spoke:
“Farewell, fellow sufferers.” he said, then set off in the direction of the swamp and was never seen again.
            Clyde and Fritz sat there for a long while, haunted by the words of Stiff Roger, but moreover by the fact that he had an eastern European accent, which was highly unusual for a Florida alligator.  

                                                    *        *        *

            The sword-thrower Ogami had finished his story and sat in silence, drained of words and consumed by reflections.  I was at a loss.  I hadn’t known Ogami to lie, or exaggerate and he was far too serious for this kind of joke.

“Wait…is this a joke?” I said finally.  It was all I could think to say.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if you want my opinion, but I'm going to give it anyway. I really don't think you need to apologize for this story. There are, perhaps, some places where it could use a bit more editing, but overall, I liked it. The frame works really well. I was really intrigued by the way you set up the circus from the perspective of this nameless guy. I particularly liked the bit about what the various performers do after a big show. I also liked the absurdism of the end. "I'll pedal us to safety!" was really amusing. There were a few times when Ogami's tone in the Esperanza story seemed to get a bit conflated with the tone of the frame narrator, but that's not really a problem unless you want them to be really distinct. Maybe you don't. If anything, I would like to see Esperanza and her insanity developed more. But I enjoyed reading it, and I hope that, wherever he is, Stiff Roger is having a good life.