The Snake Charmer and the Human Unicorn
A Love Story
or one week in summer, red cloth and steel polls transformed a vacant lot into another world. Strange creatures danced like demons, beautiful women tamed wild beasts, and ordinary men demonstrated a host of supernatural powers. The sideshow had come to town. The sideshow! The bastard child of the circus and the absolute bottom rung of the theatrical ladder. In the days before television swallowed the world, the sideshow was the ultimate in voyeurism. You could ride every rollercoaster, play every game, eat every delicious treat the carnival had to offer, but it would be the sideshow you would remember forever. Some memories fade like the dawn, but others are destined to die with you.
A clear, blue Monday morning, opening day. The crowds attacked the carnival grounds like an angry swarm of locusts. Across from the row of rides was a long tent, purple and crimson, with a rickety, wooden stage near the entrance. A man in a white pinstriped suit and Panama hat stepped onto the stage and lifted a megaphone to his lips. Bentley, the sideshow talker. The bally had begun. “Ladies and gentleman,” he bellowed, “have I got a treat for you. This is, bar none, the greatest show in the galaxy. We’ve got beautiful, Hawaiian hula dancers, Marco the Magician, and Vesuvius the fire breather! We’ve got a cow with two heads! Guaranteed born alive, or we’ll hand you a crisp, clean hundred dollar bill! Come see the show, folks! We’ve got more thrills than a fish has gills! See Jade the sword swallower! When she swallows a light bulb, you can see it shine in her belly! Now, have I got a treat for you today! Come a little closer, and enjoy a free show! That’s right, free! Free as the air you breathe!”
At these words, a tall, curvaceous woman in a tiger print leotard climbed onto the stage. Wrapped around her shoulders was an immense, black and gold python. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Bentley continued, “this is one of the stars of our show, Sabrina the Snake Charmer! Show ’em what you do, honey!” Sabrina lifted the snake from her shoulders and, arms outstretched, presented it to the crowd. The women shrieked and moved back. A few men told their wives they were moving in closer to look at Sabrina’s snake but, instead, they helped themselves to an eyeful of Sabrina. Suddenly, Sabrina lifted the snake over her head and slowly lowered its head into her mouth. The crowd gasped. She opened her mouth and released the snake, kissing it gently. “Isn’t that great, folks?” Bentley said. “Of course it is! And that’s just one of ten acts you can see, all for fifteen cents. That’s less than a penny each! Still not convinced? Here’s Marco the Magician!”
Marco quickly donned his top hat and cape and boarded the stage while Sabrina rushed into the tent to get ready for the real show. She brushed past a tall man in a blue denim shirt, ignoring his hellos. The man in the blue shirt was entirely unremarkable, save for the fourteen-inch horn protruding from the center of his forehead. The Human Unicorn watched Sabrina hurry to her stage and deposit the snake in a large, bamboo basket. The Unicorn trudged back to his stage and waited for Bentley to “turn the tip,” or bring the crowd inside. Suddenly, Marco flew past him, holding onto his top hat with both hands.
“They’re on their way!” he shouted. “Get ready, Unicorn!”