by Kathryn Kulpa

When you’re like me, a girl without a talent, you just have to make the most of what God gave you, Ma said. She’d been on the trapeze in her early years and still had a picture of herself hanging from a swing, smiling with a rose in her mouth. After she broke her collarbone she went in for costumes. Her hands, dancing through air with a needle and thread. She took the flounce off our old curtains and trimmed my sleeves with it, snipped here and added there and my too-tight blouse was a halter. Starch-itchy but it made the headlights pop.

Nothing wrong with blowing your own horn, Ma said.

She’d tried to teach me to sew but I was hopeless, stitched my hand to a sheet. Couldn’t ride in the ring, got dizzy with heights. I thought I could set up my own tent and sell jewelry. I made earrings, hammered and painted tin, but she said nobody but a goat would want tin cans dangling from her ears. She tried to have Sully teach me juggling, got Bee to go over dance moves with me. Just watch the other girls, Bee said, and I did, until they turned and I was still watching as they fell into me. Bee didn’t squawk at me the way she yelled at them. She gave me a silent, tight smile and walked me back to Ma’s wagon. Bee spread mustard on her pretzel, tried to give it to Ma easy.

‘She’s awful cute. If her skirt’s short enough no one’ll care she’s got two left feet.’

Ma was born for the stage but I never found out what I was born for. Never even found out who my father was.

‘Some two-bit used-up clown,’ Ma said. ‘Keep clear of those bums.’

She kept trying to push me in George’s direction, but I could never go for the Tarzan boys in their leopard suits. ‘He has good teeth,’ Ma said.

But Tommy had kind eyes, just like a springer spaniel, and he smiled at me like a baby laying his cheek down on the world’s softest pillow. I’d hang around Tommy’s wagon, helping him do his makeup. I could tell he fixed it later, before his show, but he never said a word, not once. He wasn’t a guy to kill a dream.

My dream was the two of us, no Ma. Off in the big show, towns where you didn’t have to beat the dust out of your hair before you washed it. I’d open my jewelry shop and he’d be a movie clown, the next Buster Keaton.

The sky drooped above us like a wet bruise and I knew the sooner we got out of Tornado Alley the better I’d feel.

‘Let’s go tonight after the show,’ I told him. His hand brushed my leg and I shivered, all electric. Lightning split the sky, straight up and down. He leaned into me and I tumbled. Just like always.

Kathryn Kulpa has published work in Milk Candy Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Pithead Chapel, and Smokelong Quarterly. She is a flash fiction editor for Cleaver magazine and leads a veterans writing workshop in Rhode Island. You can find her at and @KathrynKulpa