copyright © 2004 Laura Tuggle Anderson

Pickled Freak Show Retiree Found in Dumpster

By Laura Tuggle Anderson, 2002



My heart lived outside my body. Like a third breast, hanging alone. I wore a shirt with a hole in it for shows. I felt somewhat nude but that’s what they wanted — to see it. Sometimes I tried to make it beat faster to watch it wobble in front of me, like a loose tire. I wondered if I could make it break off my body, fly off and beat into the dirt.

Some people who came to the show would stare too long on the other side of the glass separating us. Upper lip pulled up, mouth hanging open. Then they’d get pale in the face and puke on my glass.

I wasn’t allowed to speak to the guests.

I’d smile and swing my feet, wave. Try to get them to buy a postcard of me; all proceeds going to buy me an operation for my heart.

Sometimes when it was real hot and nobody was coming through the show, I’d breathe real deep and rumble out a fart. My heart shuddered then, belched out like a blue stress ball squeezed real fast. It looked neat, bulging with veins.

I always wanted to do that for a guest, maybe a little boy or girl who wasn’t afraid of me.

They said I had a Siamese twin that shriveled up inside my mother, that I sucked the juice out of her and stole her heart. They said my parents were Satanists, that I was their punishment. They said it was sad, very sad, but at least I was making a decent living. Sometimes they would snort and squeal like the racing pigs. I just smiled and dangled my feet. When I heard them talk like that my heart would punch against the skin sac, faster and faster — they’d walk away then.

No one ever touched it. Not even accidentally. No one went through the gate to poke it or slap it or grab it.

I fainted once and fell off my chair onto the straw floor. Herb, the nice man who works at the fair and would come by sometimes, he splashed lemonade in my face. I curled my legs into my chest, and waited. I hoped that my heart had stopped, but it hadn’t. Herb carried me back to my chair like his baby, and gently placed me down, never getting near my heart.

My heart started looking grey then. I couldn’t make it beat very fast anymore. It seemed to get flatter, like a balloon slowly losing air.

I dreamt that Herb made a daisy chain for me and wrapped it around my heart like a crown, and then he picked me up and held me against his chest, so I could hear his heartbeat.

I dreamt of one of the drunks grabbing me, clutching me like an offensive insect, crushing me between their fingers, squeezing, squeezing.

That was what I most wanted in the world —

The press of a body, in hatred or in love, pushing slowly, slowly, until my heart burst, a skinned tomato flattened and pouring red.


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