The Geek loped in circles after the chicken. His gangly arms and legs swung in clumsy arcs. Thick drool trailed from his chin. When he ran, translucent plumes of snot and saliva erupted from his face as he gasped and laughed. He would jump towards the chicken, the chicken would veer off at the last second, and he would grunt as he hit the dirty ground, sending up a cloud of dust.
The gathering audience laughed and cheered.
The chicken ran in circles while it clucked with terror.
Bawk. Bawk. Bawk.
The Geek smiled and followed the clucking chicken with his eyes which were large, glassy, shining, black, and empty. His pupils contracted into tiny condensed dots full of darkness. The crowd could see The Geek’s posture shift as he made slow calculations with whatever it was he kept contained inside his large, conical, and bald skull. The Geek crouched low and leaped. The chicken clucked. The Geek grabbed it tight and pulled it up towards his open mouth and revealed jagged, uneven teeth.
Bawk. Bawk. Wet crunch.
The Geek chomped the tiny skull and smiled. A thin trail of blood and spit coursed fresh rivulets down the thick layer of dirt and dust coating his filthy chin.
The crowd groaned because it was expected of them to be disgusted, but their eyes still smiled. They feigned horror and pulled out their wallets, hungry for the freak show to begin.
I saw it happen. I was there. I was eating fire. My mouth tasted like gasoline spiked with cheap vodka. My tongue burned. My inner cheeks burned. My eyes and lungs burned thanks to the harsh chemical fumes wafting off my torches. I saw you, and I felt everything. I noticed everything. Through the haze, I found something resembling clarity.
You know because you were there. I noticed you because you cried. You were the only one who cried, and right then, I knew I wanted to leave the freak show behind. I just wanted to drink your tears. I knew they would taste sweet. They would be cool and refreshing. They would wash the chemicals and fire from my mouth and leave me healed. I would be baptized in the purity of those tears and reborn as something better.
I approached you. You took my hand when I offered to help you up. I saw the faint hint of a smile borne from my own act of kindness and felt a real sense of purpose for the first time in my life. I could show you kindness, and through my kindness, help you forget, or at least forgive.
My heart. My love. My wife.
We left the freak show hand-in-hand.
Sometimes, in the years that followed, I would turn around. I would hear the applause, the jingle-jangle of loose change, the laughter from The Geek, the shout of The Barker, and I would consider returning. I would remember the taste of fossil fuels and alcohol and fire. Sometimes, I wanted to taste those poisons again. But always, your hand was there – and then other hands, smaller hands – and together, you and the family you gave me would pull me back so I could remember what really matters and understand.
My heart. My life.
The Geek smiles only because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
You know. You care.
And now I do too.