A former legend, a brave assistant, and a traveling caravan: An offering of flash fiction where one moment of inaccuracy changes everything…
by: Ali Mckenzie-Murdoch
The care assistant’s jaw moves as silently as a ventriloquist dummy. Mr Prince’s hearing aid lies forgotten in the bedside cabinet like the shells he collected as a boy.
Mr Prince scans the room under hooded eyelids and chuckles to himself. Applause and a drum roll fill his memory. No one knows that he was once the legendary Pony Prince. They only see a curled up carcass, leathery skin, wispy white hair, a cardigan the color of toffee chews. His hands, gnarled in his lap, hold an orange and a wooden-handled fruit knife. He runs his thumb over the blade. He might not hear, but his eyes are still good enough to hit a target.
At first, Mr Prince rode a piebald pony in his family’s travelling circus before getting his first knife in 1955. He popped balloons pinned to the Wheel of Death, red circles spinning on white, and loved the sickening thunk as his knife embedded in the painted plank. His sister May, the target girl, preferred holding a flower stem between her teeth for him to lop off the flower head. It was May who christened him Pony Prince, changing it to Pony Skinny Prince after he had pneumonia and was bedridden for months.
Pony’s favored technique was to throw from the blade with a half spin. Anything would do, from pocket knives to hatchets. With a spin, he generated enough power to stick a pencil in drywall and it penetrated deeper. Unfortunate for his sister.
A clatter of hooves echoed from the horsebox beyond the Prince family’s caravan. Pony’s shirt fluttered on a washing line in the fading light, the collar stained with stage makeup impossible to wash out. He watched from under the branches as his family and other members of the circus roasted marshmallows over the embers. Balloons hung in the trees for May’s sixteenth birthday and he took his knife from his belt and pushed the tip of the blade into a silvery skinned globe. After the bang, a string of shrivelled grey snot hung from the tree. Strains of happy birthday floated in the air. He stepped over a guy rope and walked into the striped canvas circus tent, scuffing sawdust with his feet in the dark. Moonlight entered through a rip in the fabric and above him, the trapeze glittered.
Mr Prince pushes a fingernail into the dimpled surface and smells a faint burst of tangy citrus. Memories return of sun-bleached streets and fruit like bowling balls hanging from a tree.
Nothing could beat the first orange he ever tasted. Wrapped in yellow tissue paper, twisted in a tuft, placed in a white ceramic bowl on a fold-up picnic table outside their caravan. The circus was travelling and they had left the steamed-up windows and putrid smell of boiling Brussel sprouts behind. Christmas in England smelt of farts but here it smelt of bergamot and crumbly biscuits made with olive oil and sugar wrapped in wax paper. Made by nuns, Ma said. Sometimes he thought he could smell the briny sea on the air, but they were still some way off from the coast of southern Spain. Juice flowed down his chin, orange pith got under his fingernails, the smell was bitter, the taste sweet.
He wanted more. Scaling a wall and reaching for the biggest orange he could find, he peeled back the thick, horny skin in swathes, to reveal a dried up shrunken fruit.
After the high wire, a magic act, fire eating and whips, Pony Prince stood in the spotlight. Blindfolded, he smelt wafts of May’s Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo as she spun on the board, covered with sheets of newspaper. He threw five knives. Like air escaping from a balloon, he heard a gasp from hundreds of mouths, and commotion around him, people pushing past, May’s screams. How long did he stand there with the blindfold on? His father ran and tore away the paper. The knife pinned May’s leg to the Wheel of Death like a butterfly specimen. Right through her shin. They took her off the board, but the knife stayed in. Someone draped a coat around her and she hobbled out. In the hospital, May told everyone she had miscounted the knives and moved before Pony threw the last one. Lucky for his sister, the doctor said, that he threw with such force. Hitting her squarely, the knife stayed in the wound and limited the bleeding.
Mr Prince knows there was another life after he removed the blindfold, but he snatches only black and white fragments, shaky like the movies they used to project on a bed sheet strung between trees. Kissing a woman, holding her broad hips, standing under a Mimosa tree, pompoms tickle his face. He knows Mimosa is yellow, but in his mind, they remain grey. The name Daphne echoes in a corridor, a wiry jet black Terrier yaps next to a bicycle chained to railings. He is in an office with a ledger. He hears the clunk of plastic calculator keys.
A mouth is moving. He’s learned to lip read.
Mr Prince, says the mouth with the lipstick. Lips part to reveal perfect teeth. There’s a red smudge on her incisor.
The lips of the big matronly one move, forming the shape of the words,
Careful with that one.
Pretty teeth, as he has nicknamed the young care assistant, replies, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Mr Prince flicks his thumb against the blade and closes his eyes.
Ali Mckenzie-Murdoch is a UK dancer who lives in Zürich, Switzerland with her husband and son. Her work has been published in El Pais. In between running her dance studio and writing, she enjoys lifting heavy weights and wild swimming.