The Cole Bros the Greatest Show on Earth

Submitted into Contest #152 in response to: Set your story in an oracle or a fortune teller’s parlor.... view prompt


American Historical Fiction Romance

My family, the Renbargers, had always been cursed with bad memory. Almost to the point of feeling crazy, where me, my dad, or my grandpa would put something down and immediately look down and it wasn’t there. My grandpa said it used to happen to his dad and his grandpa. Dates, events, and facts would just completely vanish from memory. The men in the family were always faithful and kind to our significant others so the memory thing was tough for the ladies in the family but I guess bearable. Even my girlfriend gets upset at my terrible memory, and thinks me telling her that I’m cursed is dumb and that I just don’t want to take blame, which is understandable. 

But one day as a kid, I had asked my grandpa about it and he told me that we have actually been cursed, then begins to tell me a story. I guess back in the early 1900s, a traveling circus was decently common especially in small towns on the way to bigs ones. He tells me that his grandpa, Heinrich Renbarger, immigrated here from Germany to start a new life after the recession his family had endured in Germany during the Napoleonic wars, the religious constraints, and the difficulty to make money. He immigrated here to Indiana and found a job working in construction of houses. He had worked with the company for many years. Somewhere in the middle of that he met my great, great grandma, Florence. Fell in love, got married, and have been together for a long time, no kids at this point yet. She was American,  big blue eyes, dirty blonde hair and met him at a pub down the road, she had always praised him and supported through his journey here. They knew each other’s quirks like when she would read him his horoscope in the newspaper in the morning. “That is hogwash” he would always say, a skeptic if you ever met one.

On his way to work, there was an open field about a few acres, surrounded by forest except for the view from the street.

They would sometimes hold state fairs, little carnivals, and every other Sunday, farmers markets. He drove by this field everyday both to and from work. One day he goes to work and he sees large structures and tents laid in the field. He finds it interesting, he wonders what they could be doing. After a long day of work he’s coming home later than usual. Coming down the street he sees a glow of lights and passes by the field he slows down to read the sign, in huge letters it says “The Cole Bros the Greatest Show on Earth”. “Oh a circus!” He says to himself “Florence is gonna love this.”

Rushing home, sees Florence in the kitchen and walks to her “guess where we are going tonight” she says “ I don’t know, dinner? That’s good because I didn’t cook anything”

“Even better” he responds 

“We are going to the circus!”

He sees her face light up, her eyes getting wider, as if he was watching it in slow motion. “Really?!“  she exclaimed. Heinrich says “Yup slap on your face and we are going”. She’s says “well I’m not doing all that, but I will change” emphasizing the “will”

So maybe 30 minutes pass by and they are ready to go. They get in the car and to her surprise, it was pretty close. Heinrich then begins to mention how he saw them building it on the way to work. So they park, a quirk Florence had was how Heinrich would always park enormously far, even when there was spots closer, but she is just happy to be here so doesn’t say anything this time.

They get out the car and start walking towards the entrance. It was a whole festival ground with little sideshow attractions, games, and food vendors. In the back was a humongous tent ,where it was pretty safe to say, that’s where the main show takes place. They just enjoy the time there, laughing, eating pretzels, and playing games. They walked to a table, where you had to throw a ball at a 3 stack of almost wood-like bottles, two on bottom one on top. “ This thing is so rigged” Heinrich scoffs but notices Florence has got a little glimmer in her eye for a something on the prize wall. “Well why not?” Heinrich puts some money on the counter and attendant gives him three baseballs. The distance from the counter to the target was maybe fifteen to twenty feet, first throw hits nothing but air far left of the target. “Strike one!” The attendant shouts.

I better focus he thinks to himself, picks up another ball and sends it with a hurling throw, knocks off the top bottle.

“So close but strike two!”

Heinrich looks over at Florence, stares into her hopeful eyes for a moment, she smiles.  He turns to pick up another ball, grips it tightly, lines up the shot, and bang! Knocks em all off to the surprise of the attendant as well, begrudgingly says “okay, okay pick a prize” Heinrich turns to Florence and says “ go ahead honey, anything you want” She points to a powder blue little elephant with small doll eyes.

“Thanks for my elephant” she says while grasping the stuffed animal tightly

“Aye, lucky throw” he responds

“You should give yourself more credit”

So they walk towards the gigantic tent to to the price stand and buy two tickets. They see a spectacle of things from, lions, elephants, fire breathers, to trapeze artists. The show was about an hour long, so, they are walking out, Heinrich looks over his shoulder to see that they are prepping for another show already. They start walking towards the exit and see a stand that they don’t remember seeing before. It was small, a deep purple, with gold crescent moons printed on it and on the outside there’s a little stand up sign reading “Where will your life go, come see if you would like to know”

Florence is excited, while Heinrich rolls his eyes. “We have to go in here!” She says “but do we actually?” replies Heinrich.

“ Yes!” She exclaims. 

After some slight convincing they agree to go inside. Inside, the only light source is a large warmly dimmed glass ball in the middle of a small table with three wooden chairs, one on the other side of the table and two right in front of us. The tents inside was like a lenticular print of black and grey, like the ones that move depending on your angle.

Behind a curtain on the other side of the table a slim young lady reveals herself, wearing a purple head wrap heavy blue eyeshadow, and red lipstick. She was brunette and looked like as if she could be in her mid twenties to early thirties. She sits at the table and tell us in a Russian-like accent “My name is Lavinia, do you wish to have your fortunes told?” “interesting accent“ Heinrich says pontifically, Florence forcibly nudges his arm. “ I see you are a skeptic, that is fine, let me start with your fortune eh?”

Heinrich looks at Florence, at her hopeful eyes, “sure” Heinrich responds as he puts some money in a jar to the right of the set up. She notions for him to sit and for his hands on each side of the glass ball, Heinrich obliges. “Close your eyes while I look into my crystal ball as I unfold your forthcoming”

Some humming, some light flickering from the ball, and what sounds like ocean sounds pass.

“Hmmm I see, you will have a death in your family or a close one to you”

Heinrich is taken back, “We pay you and that’s the kind of garbage fortune you give?”

“I am only reading what the signs and the crystal ball is telling me” she responds

More agitated Heinrich gets up and slams his hands on the table “Do you think it’s funny to say things like that to people!?”

Florence grabs his arm urging him to calm down. Heinrich had many people he loved pass away through his life and hearing someone tell him, who he believed to be just an entertainer, genuinely upset him. Out a fit of bitterness, Heinrich knocks over the crystal ball, hitting the side of the pay stand and shattering to the floor. Florence still grasping his arm, the fortune teller gets up slowly, “I lay a curse on your family name Renbarger, you will forever be cursed with fleeting recollection, like a mist of remembrance, you and every son born of that name!” Then Lavinia looks at Florence with what seemed like a pittance of benevolence, and says “You will forget everything you need” as she catches eyes with Florence for a moment “but not everything you love.” She finishes then Heinrich grabs Florence’s hand and storms out of the circus.

I ask my grandpa “so that’s the curse? Wait how did she know our last name was Renbarger? Is that even true?” My grandpa responds “Only if you can believe it, some say it could just be a hereditary thing with us, but hey you never know” 

“So what happened grandpa did someone pass away?” I ask

My grandpa just gets up dusts his overalls off, and walks out to the barn, we didn’t speak that whole rest of the day.

June 30, 2022 00:18

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