Ten wigged and costumed bodies. One Austin Mini painted in purple and orange psychedelic swirls. Josh eyes the car with distaste. He stretches his stubby legs, sticks his arms out and pushes hard on the air with the palm of his hands. He twists at the waist. His spine cracks and the heat builds up in his lengthening muscles.
“What’s the matter, there, Josh-oh? Afraid you won’t un-crumple tonight?”
That’s Ben. Ever since Ben had the brilliant idea of resurrecting this routine, Josh positively loathes him. Ben is very, very tall and very, very skinny. He drives the car because he’s too tall and too skinny to do anything else. Last in, first out, that’s Ben. Meanwhile, Josh has to go in first and come out last. He ignores Ben’s stupid remark. He is busy carefully breathing calm into himself and carefully breathing anxiety out.
Tonight is their tenth time doing the routine. For some unfathomable reason, the spectators love it. Josh hates it but he needs this job. He’s three foot ten. Can’t stand behind a counter. Can’t drive a cab. Never made it to law school. This is the only work he’s ever known. He was trained for it and quite literally inherited it after an elephant stepped on his father during a matinée.
Josh bends at the waist to touch the ground, feeling the pull in his calf muscles. Breathing deliberately again, he thinks he might try to convince Ben or the limey brothers to put together a slapstick routine. He loves slapstick. The untalented can’t do it. It requires balance and good control. The best routines show finesse… “You can be real subtle when you do slapstick,” Josh thinks. “Like Chaplin.”
The other guys are gathering around him now and their noise pulls him out of his reverie.
“In you go, Smolash,” says the stage manager.
Josh trundles over and nimbly climbs into the back of the Mini, scrunching himself up into a ball on the floor, his head against the back of the driver’s seat.
“Not to worry, Josh, it’s only for a short while,” says Gino, taking position next to him.
“Shit, Gino!” barks Moffiore, cramming himself in so tight he shoves Gino’s elbow and hip into Josh, “We told you no garlic before the show!”
“Sorry.” Gino says, trying not to exhale too much. “I forgot.”
The limey triplets are next. They all wear the same costume. The crowds think they’re cute. The clowns know better.
“Sod it, Peter, I said I was first in on this go!” Daniel snaps, shoving his brother aside to climb up on Moffiore’s back.
“Right… right… of course.”
Daniel settles himself widthwise at the back of the car, his elbows on a little shelf over Josh’s feet, knees slightly bent, feet pressed against the side of the car, to avoid stepping on Moffiore’s head. His fluorescent orange wig is askew. His foot slips as he adjusts it.
“Hey, watch out, ya jerk!” protests Moffiore.
“Sod off, pea brain. Right, Peter, get in!” he orders.
Peter carefully takes his place beside his brother, elbows on Moffiore’s middle, buttocks on Gino’s back, feet pushing on the side of the car just over Josh’s back. “You all right, mates?” he asks. Josh and Gino grunt vaguely in response.
“Will you guys hurry up!” Moffiore growls.
“We could scramble in and maim you all, couldn’t we? But we don’t, do we? Noooo. We’re trying to be polite!” retorts Paul, pressing his bony knee down between Moffiore’s shoulders to prove his point.
Josh feels the weight of this third brother keenly. It presses him into the floorboards, impeding his ability to breathe. A cold, gelatinous ball of fear forms in his gut and tries to escape through his mouth. At the same time, a two hundred degree heat wave engulfs him. He closes his eyes, deliberately relaxes his arms and legs, stabilizes his breath, decides it is time to get clinical.
“It takes six minutes for all of them to get in. The drive through the entrance and around the ring takes one minute and forty-five seconds. Then they open the door. That always helps. Another three minutes after that and I’m free. I just have to hang on another five or six minutes.”
Five or six minutes feels like an eternity right now, but the trick works. The gelatinous mass in his belly softens. The heat wave recedes. Josh breathes in. He breathes out. He allows his attention to go to where they are in the process. Jean-Guy is swearing his way in now. He’s the last one to go before Ben sits in the driver’s seat. That means that Bibitte and Legendre are already in the front, one on the floor, the other sitting on his back. “Thank God,” Josh thinks.
“Your cue, Ben,” shouts the stage manager, who has been keeping an eye out for the light changes. “Come on! Get going!” He shuts the passenger door, just as Jean-Guy pulls in his right hand. He runs to Ben and shoves him toward the car.
“Alright, alright, don’t get your shorts in a knot!” says Ben, folding accordion-like to fit himself in. Gino breathes a sigh of relief as the stage manager shuts the door on the driver’s side. This is the crunch. The hardest part, when all of them are jammed in. It doesn’t last very long but it is incredibly uncomfortable. Josh counts in his head … one hundred and eighteen Mississippi, one hundred and nineteen, Mississipi. Four minutes to go.
The limeys mumble about sore muscles from holding their positions. Ben makes an odd gasping sound, but nobody hears it because Bibitte is trying to make jokes, while Moffiore tells him to shut up and Jean-Guy impatiently wants to know why the Estsie-de-Ben hasn’t started the car yet.
Ben hasn’t started the car yet because he has suddenly realized that he is trapped in an Austin Mini with nine other guys and will not be able to get out until the monkey in the ring opens the frickin’ door. This knowledge has iced the blood in his veins, contracted his heart muscle and now causes him to hyperventilate. He tries to open the door but can’t reach the handle. It has been positioned for the monkey’s height and ease. Every frustrated attempt to free himself gets Ben more frantic. Trying to get the stage manager’s attention, he leans both hands on the car horn. Nothing.
Inside, the other guys wonder what’s up. Josh realizes he’s made it to two hundred and sixty-five Mississippi and the car still hasn’t moved. That is not right. Just then, Ben starts to scream.
“Get me outta here! Get me outta here!” Panic is contagious. Soon mob mentality takes over. The men shove each other, pushing with all their might against the doors and windows, screaming to be let out. The fight or flight response starts in Josh’s belly and climbs as quickly as a thermometer dipped in boiling water, but just as it is about to explode through his head, a funny thing happens. The terror dissipates and he is blessed with complete clarity of mind. He reaches up, grabs the handle and gives it a quick pull down.
The door opens and Ben spills out of the car, quickly followed by Jean-Guy and a couple of limey brothers rudely clawing and kneeing their way out of the vehicle.
Josh ducks to avoid his colleagues’ flailing limbs but he stays in the car, laughing hysterically.
“What’s so goddam funny?” Ben snaps, certain he is being laughed at.
“This routine,” Josh manages between spurts of wholehearted laughter. “You know other people use a trick car, don’t you?”
This was story published in Concordia University’s The Void, A Sleight of Hand Issue, Vol 6, Issue 2, November 2007