WHAT FLORENCIA HAD THOUGHT were people rappelling down the side of the big top were, in
fact, people rappelling down the side of the big top. Two men and a woman with long black hair were re-connecting a red piece of tent that had come loose and was flapping in the wind, while several other men stood on the ground holding the ends of the rappel ropes. From the surprisingly long line for tickets that ran along the gate surrounding the big top, Florencia watched as the woman bounced her way down the side of the tent, landed on the sand with a definite flourish, and unhooked the rappel line. She handed it to a burly man in suspenders as she gestured to the torn big top.
Iris was thrilled. She wanted to rappel down a circus tent, too.
We’re going to need good heath insurance, thought Florencia.
“I can’t believe this line.” Jenna looked around. “Last month there was barely anyone here.”
An older woman with lipstick the color of the circus tent leaned forward and said, “Darling, last month this divine circus hadn’t yet been featured on every NPR station in town!”
“‘NPR?’” asked Florencia.
The older woman opened her eyes in astonishment, although her eyelids were strangely stationary. “National Public Radio, of course, darling! Oh, you poor thing, are you from the Valley?”
“Actually, they have NPR in the Valley,” said Jenna under her breath.
“I just got here from Nebraska,” said Florencia, shooting a glance at Jenna. It wasn’t like her to take such a strong dislike to someone. Florencia made a mental note to ask her where the Valley was.
“Well, that’s all right, then. Now, if you want my advice, make sure to get tickets in the middle section. If you sit too far off to the side, you’ll miss out, and if you’re too far back, you can’t see the details.”
“It sounds like you’ve been here a lot,” said Florencia.
“I have been here four times this month alone! I tell everyone I know, ‘My dear, you simply must see the Circus of Lost and Found. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced!’ I’m bringing my pool boy next as a special thank you for his services; that’s why I’m in line now. He hasn’t had much chance to broaden himself with things like this, the poor boy. I want him to see what you can accomplish if you only put your mind to it! Why, I hear that the man who created this circus had no arms and no legs! It’s a testament to the American spirit.”
Jenna coughed loudly and ducked out of line.
“Thank you for your suggestions,” said Florencia politely. “But I think my friend here is choking and I should probably go pound her on the back for a while.”
“Sorry,” said Jenna as they repositioned themselves in the back of the line. “I just can’t stand it when people talk like that about other people. It makes me nuts. I don’t even think the guy who started this circus is from here.”
“I know,” said Florencia. The two men still working on the big top had paused and were staring right at Jenna with that look that men sometimes got when they saw her. What would it be like, Florencia wondered, to have everyone look at you as though you were a gift, something to be thankful for, proof the world was good. Florencia glanced at her bare feet.
“Want to get a pedicure after this?” asked Jenna, following her gaze. “My treat, a welcome-to-LA gift. You’ve never had one before, right?”
Florencia wiggled her toes. A part of her thought she might be sad for her toenails, as though painting them was like telling them they weren’t good enough. Still, though. She imagined polish the color of cotton candy, polish the color of platinum, polish the color of the summer sky. They felt like freedom, these colors. “No.”
“Good. I know a place nearby.”
“Hey, belle femme,” called one of the men from the big top. Jenna giggled the way she always did when anyone said anything nice to her that she thought was sincere, and waved at them. One of them grabbed his heart, a grand swooning gesture. The other blew her a kiss.
“That’s sweet,” said Jenna, still smiling.
At the base of the circus tent, the rappelling woman spoke intently to the man in suspenders. She was so tiny that the burly man could see right over her head. He made a hold-on gesture and walked up to the gate.
“Excuse me,” he called to Jenna in accented English. He was balding and cheerful, his muscles huge. “You are distracting my men. Would that they get any work done, perhaps you might stand on the other side of the ticket counter?”
Jenna blushed and shrugged; the men hooted and called. It was all good-natured and somehow innocent. Florencia shifted her weight to her other foot and put one hand on her stomach and hoped her daughter would someday have a friend as kind as Jenna.
The tiny woman turned. A look of recognition crossed her features.
“Oh, hello,” she said to Jenna, her English as flat as anyone from the midwest although she looked Chinese. She stuck out her arm, which was covered in a brown leather glove that reached to her elbow, and whistled. A seagull soared out of the air and landing on the glove. “I thought I might see you here. Did you get my card?”