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by Peter Koronakos

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Duke Houston

Fitting In

Giancarlo stood uncomfortably off to one side, long, gangly arms hanging loosely from his habitually stooped shoulders, and let out another huge sigh, causing his barrel-like pants to bob up and down on their stretchy suspenders.  The waistband was easily three times the diameter of Giancarlo himself, so his arms actually hung inside the gaping fabric, hiding his nervously twitching fingers.  He glanced down through the twin tunnels of his pant legs, past his polka dot shorts and his tall stripped socks, at his comically oversized shoes.  The little daisy growing hopefully out of the hole in his left toe was a brief comfort.  Then he looked up and frowned again at the scene unfolding in the center of the sawdust-strewn ring.

Moments ago, there had been seven clowns crowded around a small green car.  One by one, five had climbed in through its open door, their hoop-inflated clothing compressing in the small doorway as they all squeezed into the improbably tiny space.  Now there were only two left.

Little Joe was leaning over the miniature car, one huge, hammy hand braced on its lime green roof, his cheek mashed against the doorframe.  His other arm disappeared into the open car door and wrestled with an unseen impediment inside.  Little Joe’s massive brow was knit, his small dark eyes darted back and forth, staring fiercely at nothing, his meaty lips pursed in displeasure.  Wang Zhou was on his knees, peering around one of Little Joe’s trunk-like legs into the dim interior of the little green car, which bumped and rocked on its springy shocks.  A muffled chorus of complaints grumbled from inside.
“It Clarence umbrella again,” barked Zhou in a curt whisper, “He hold it bad.  Not fold right.”

“Rmmfff,” said Little Joe, as he shoved his other arm into the car, leaving the bulk of his weight supported solely by the twisted bole of his muscular neck.  His cheek reddened under the added pressure and squished up to totally obscure one eye.

There was a short, shrill squeal, and something shifted inside the car, bringing a sudden smile to Little Joe’s lips.  He ducked his head and with unlikely grace quickly slipped his entire bulk through the door and disappeared into the tiny car.  Wang Zhou scrabbled in for a closer look and one of Little Joe’s beefy hands shot out, hooked him behind the neck and hauled the diminutive Chinaman in after him, long black braid and dragon-embroidered silk robes flapping, his signature pillbox hat flipping loose into the sawdust.
Giancarlo waited, holding his breath, his perpetually moist eyes shifting between the dark doorway of car and the crimson satin hat, bright and shining in the spotlight.  But nothing more happened.  The little green car had gone completely still.  There was no sound.  No movement.
Giancarlo took a hesitant step forward.  The daisy nodded its head encouragingly.  His pants gently bobbed.  He leaned forward and squinted.  Red hat.  Green car.  Nothing moved. 

Giancarlo gave two hopeful toots on a horn he kept tucked away in the inside pocket of his pants.  He waited.  He cleared his throat theatrically and said, “Hello.  Hello in the car.”  He shuffled closer, his big shoes scuffing up plumes of fine dust into the beam of the spotlight, the daisy looking somewhat embarrassed in the sudden bright glare.  Giancarlo cupped a white gloved hand to his ear and listened.  Silence.

Stepping high with exaggerated care over Zhou’s red hat, Giancarlo cautiously approached the open door of the car.  He reached out with one hand to grasp the door frame while the other hand fluttered absentmindedly to his face and began tapping a finger against his lips.  Slowly he leaned in, his head moving out of the bright spotlight into the dark interior of the car.  Giancarlo blinked rapidly and squinted hard into the darkness, but his eyes wouldn’t adjust.  He couldn’t see a thing. 

“Zhou?” he whispered.  His voice sounded large and hollow, like he was speaking down a deep well.  He stretched an arm out, blindly feeling into the empty blackness of the interior and called “Wang Zhou!” more loudly.
‘WANG ZHOU-U-UU!’ The echo of his voice boomed from the big top tent’s PA speakers at high volume, followed instantly by the splitting metallic screech of amplifier feedback.   Giancarlo covered his ears and jerked his head out of the tiny green car, knocking it hard against the doorframe on the way.  He stood blinking in the glare of the remorseless spotlight, rubbing the back of his head, and twisted this way and that, looking startled and afraid.  He took an involuntary step backward from the car, felt his foot come down on something yielding and heard a small whoosh of air and a muffled pop.  Looking down, he saw the deformed profile of the red pillbox cupped woefully around his heel.
Giancarlo reached down through his pants leg and plucked the hat from his shoe.  He lifted it to his face for a closer look and his eyes grew noticeably moister.  His lower lip started to tremble.  Fat tears containing fat watery reflections of the ruined red hat welled up and ran wetly down his cheeks.  They dripped from his long thin nose and off his wobbling chin.  He pulled out a giant multi-colored hanky and began to cry in earnest.  Tears fountained from his eyes, squirting in a surprising shower of great droplets that flew from him in all directions.  He was racked with great sobs.  He boo-hoo’ed piteously and issued loud rattling glottal snorts.  He shook his fist and gnashed his teeth, and had just begun to tear out patches of his cottony hair when the daisy, growing swiftly from the sudden downpour of his tears, curled up past the waistband of his pants to wave insouciantly in front of his face.
Like the clearing of a sudden summer storm, Giancarlo’s tears ceased.  And with one last slurping sniffle, he reach out, plucked the daisy from its stalk, brought it to his nose and inhaled grandly.  Brightening into a beaming smile, he pulled the daisy away to gaze fondly at it from arm’s length while the other hand clutched at his heart. 

“Ahhh!” he exhaled, and in his best thespian oratory exclaimed, “What r-r-ravishing bea-u-ty!”

There was a moment of silence.  Giancarlo held his dramatic pose. 
Then, from the darkness beyond the spotlight, came a steady, deliberate clap clap clap, an ovation of one pair of hands.
“Vely nice,” came the velvety, accented voice of Wang Zhou, “Vely nice. Glowing flower vely nice touch.  Zhou say you fit in fine.  Job yours.”
One more beat of silence, then the sound of faint cheering could be heard emerging from the doorway of the little green car, as if from a very long distance down a very long hallway.

Duke Houston used to write. His short fiction appeared in school publications back in the day. Then he got distracted by life. He thanks Clifford Henderson’s writing salon for bringing him back to fiction. These days—when he’s not working at visual design, or performing improv comedy, or playing tennis, or conversing with cats—some of the time, he’s writing again, and he likes that very much.

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Duke Houston
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Jory Post
D. L. Sansone
Jeanne Rosen Sofen

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First Prize
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