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Seaside Sideshow

by Stephanie Scarborough

Lola the Amazing Tattooed Girl watched in wonder as Thor the Human Cannonball hurtled out of the orange and blue striped cannon. Ziggy the Human Torso wheeled himself next to her to watch the spectacle. They’d both seen it a thousand times before, but it never got old.

“I don’t know how he goes so fast,” Lola said.

Ziggy shrugged. “Them bald people aren’t just funny looking, they’re also aerodynamic,” the limbless man offered with a smile. “Thor told me he shaves his entire body three times a week just so he can go faster. But you probably already knew that, didn’t you, Miss Lola?”

Lola smiled and pulled her cape tighter around her petite, tattooed frame. The crisp fall air was especially chilly to Lola in her two-piece swimsuit. She never missed Thor’s show, though.

After soaring through the air, Thor landed safely in the safety net, like he always did. Lola applauded, and Ziggy would have. The bally introduced Lola’s act. She bounded out before the crowd.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, cast your eyes on the lovely Lola! You’ve got to see her to believe her! Over two-hundred tattoos of all shapes, sizes and colors!”

Lola struck a pose for the audience.

“Don’t be afraid to stare! Over two hundred tattoos of every stripe!”

She turned around, raised her arms, bowed, smiling all the while. She received the usual mixed bag of reactions: grimaces, lurid smiles, puzzled stares, awe, curiosity, bewilderment.

“Two hundred tattoos, and all of them real! Step right up and have a look! The lovely Lola doesn’t bite. Step right up, it’s the tattooed lady! You never saw such a colorful sight! Come one come all, see a tattooed doll! The lovely, lively Lola!”

Lola spun and posed a few more times before the bally moved on to Ziggy, the Siamese Twins, the contortionist, the fat lady, the midgets, the bearded lady, and the man without a stomach. Lola enjoyed starring in the freak show, but she had another act that she enjoyed even more.

* * *

Once the freak show was over, Lola retreated to the back yard to prepare for her other act. Sweet Janine, the fat lady, cradled Ziggy as they kissed and talked about adopting one of the pickled punks. The Siamese twins were playing a game of chess on the porch of their trailer. Lola ran into Thor as she passed his trailer. He was still in his human cannonball costume.

“Hey, Lola,” he said, “wanna go for a swim? The beach ain’t too far away from here.” Thor was tall and muscular with blackish brown eyes and a creamy complexion. He was, as Ziggy previously mentioned, totally hairless, except for his fine, black eyebrows and a pencil-thin mustache.

He wrapped his muscular arm around her shapely, tattooed waist. She melted, wishing she could spend the evening with him. But she still had one more act, and she felt lousy for not telling him about it. Only one other person knew her secret, and that was Big Mouth Jim.

“I can’t,” she said sadly, kicking the ground with her black leather sandals. “I have to do some work for the bally. But I can come by your trailer tonight.” She kissed him on the cheek and skipped off to Big Mouth Jim’s trailer. She wanted to tell Thor her secret, but she was too scared. It was just so strange. She knocked on Jim’s door before letting herself in.

“Lola! I’ve been waiting for you!” Big Mouth Jim was a young man in his twenties, handsome, with deep olive skin, short, curly black hair, and smiling black eyes. He wore a sharp black suit and a top hat and walked with a cane even though he didn’t need it. “We’re on in ten minutes. You ready?”

Lola wrapped her sealskin cape around her entire body and felt the transformation begin. The sealskin clung to her, almost suffocating her as her arms shortened and grew small claws, her legs fused together into a tail, and soon, on the floor before Big Mouth Jim sat Lola in her seal form.

Sally the Wonder Seal was her sideshow name. Jim smiled his approval, picked Lola up, and headed for the tent where she was to perform. Sally the Wonder Seal was one of the most popular performances in the sideshow, and Lola received half of Sally the Wonder Seal’s ticket sales.

“Step right up, come one come all! It’s Sally the Wonder Seal! She’s the seal you’ve heard all the neighbors talking about. She can balance a ball, but that’s not all. She can front-flip, back-flip, do a little dance, play dead, roll over, she’ll do anything I tell her to. Get your tickets now, before they’re gone! Be the first one on your block to see her! Only a dollar a ticket! Come one come all and see! Sally the Wonder Seal can do it all!”

A crowd of adults and children gathered around, waving their dollar bills. Lola waited patiently on her platform, playing with a ball to keep herself occupied until the show began.

Once all the tickets were sold and the audience had settled down, Jim tossed a ball to Lola. She caught it and balanced it on her nose effortlessly. Then she tossed it back to Jim with a flick of her nose, rose and slapped her front flippers together, balancing carefully on her tail.

She then began rotating in circles as she balanced on her tail and followed that up by springing into a back-flip. When she landed, Jim tossed the ball back to her and she caught it again. The crowd squealed and applauded. Lola felt so at ease and playful in her seal skin.

After the show, Jim took her back to his trailer where she shed her seal skin and became Lola the Amazing Tattooed Girl again. She was exhausted, but exhilarated.

“You were fantastic, Lola!” Jim said as he sat at his tiny desk, counting the fat wad of ones her show had brought in. He handed half the stack to Lola. “I don’t know what we’d do without Sally.”

Lola smiled, blushing a bit. She tucked the bundle of ones in her grouch bag, under her cape. Riding the high of her performance, Lola got an urge to go swimming. Since the beach was just a short walk from the fair grounds, she figured she could go for a quick swim and still have time to see Thor later. She dropped her grouch bag off at her trailer, then skipped out to the beach, eager to transform again.

When she got there, she found a secluded corner behind a large rock and wrapped her cape around herself again.

“Lola! Lola!” She heard Thor’s baritone voice calling her name from the other side of the rock. Lola tried to shrug her cape off, but it was too late. The transformation had already begun. Her body became one with her sealskin and within seconds, she was a sleek, black seal again. Her sandals and bikini lay on the sand next to her. “Lola!”

Thor stood above her now, looking back and forth, concern in his coffee-black eyes. He looked down at the black seal and picked up the top of Lola’s swimsuit, cocking his head to one side as he got closer to the seal.

“Sally?” he asked. “How’d you get away from Jim?” He reached for the seal. She backed away, trying to decide if she should reveal herself to Thor or not. Just as he wrapped his meaty arms around her, Lola shifted back to her human form. Thor stumbled back. Lola rose, with only her cape covering her pale, tattooed flesh.

“Lola,” he gasped. She couldn’t quite place the look on his face. “What did you do? Where’s Sally?” He backed away.

“How’d you know I was here?” she asked.

“I saw you leaving your trailer. Where’d Sally go?”

Lola stepped forward, trembling, trying to decide what to say.

“I am Sally,” she said quietly. “I’m a shapeshifter. I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t know how.” She brushed her blunt, black bangs out of her eyes and waited for his response.

“How did you do that?”

Lola started putting her swimsuit back on.

“I just do,” she said, “it’s what I am.”

Thor shrank back, staring at her in a way that made her shiver inside.

“Thor, what’s wrong?” she asked. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You’re an animal?” he asked.

“I’m both. Is that a problem, Thor?” She walked towards him, but he shrank back the closer she got. “Why are you running away from me? You’ve seen stranger people than me. What about the half-man-half-woman, or Ziggy?”

“They’re humans, Lola, not animals. I... I need to go back to my trailer... and think,” he said, turning to leave. “I’ll see ya later, Lola.” He strode away.

Lola didn’t try to catch up. She sat on one of the rocks overlooking the ocean, wiping tiny tears from the corners of her eyes. Soon the sun set, and Lola wrapped her cape around her body once more. When the transformation was complete, she leapt into the ocean, ready to go wherever the waves took her.

Copyright © 2009 by Stephanie Scarborough

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