“The Bryan and Barney Circus,” Friend, Aug. 1987, 8
“Tara has chicken pox?” Barney and I gasped when Sister Cluff told us the bad news.
“That’s right. She broke out yesterday afternoon.”
“You mean she wasn’t at the circus last night?” Barney asked.
Tara’s mom shook her head.
I looked at Barney, and he looked at me. I felt sick just thinking of Tara missing the only circus that had ever come to Maryvale.
“You boys had better run along now,” Sister Cluff told us. “I’ll tell Tara you came by.”
We started home, but as soon as Sister Cluff closed the front door, we crept around to Tara’s room at the back of the house. We peeked in through the open window and saw Tara lying on her bed, looking at the wall.
“Hey, Tara,” I whispered, “how do you feel?”
Tara rolled over and looked at us. “Terrible,” she moaned. The way her voice quivered, I could tell that she’d either been crying or was about to start.
“Is it that bad to have the chicken pox?” I asked.
“The chicken pox aren’t bad at all,” she sobbed. “It’s missing the circus that’s so terrible.”
“Maybe another one will come to town,” Barney said, trying to cheer her.
“No it won’t. That’s the very first one that ever came to Maryvale. If another one ever comes, I’ll probably be an old lady and won’t care about going to it.”
“We could tell you about it,” I offered.
“No!” Tara cried, grabbing her pillow and covering her ears.
“We’ll have to think of some other way to cheer Tara up,” I told Barney as we left.
Barney kicked at a clump of grass and muttered, “I wish we had our very own circus. Then we could —”
“That’s it!” I practically screamed at him. “We’ll bring her our circus.”
Barney scratched his head. “But, Bryan, we don’t have a circus.”
“Maybe we don’t now, but by this afternoon we’re going to have the Bryan and Barney Circus.”
All morning Barney and I rushed around the neighborhood, putting our circus together. Everybody wanted to be in it, and it wasn’t long before we had more circus people and animals than we knew what to do with.
Tara’s mom was going visiting teaching with my mom at 2:00 P.M., so that’s when we told everyone to meet in Tara’s backyard.
Barney and I were the first ones to reach Tara’s house. Since I was the ringmaster, I wore black pants, a white shirt, and a stovepipe hat that Mom had helped me make out of an oatmeal box and newspaper. Barney was a clown. He wore his dad’s bib overalls with the pant legs rolled up; he’d stuffed old rags down the front to make a round belly, and he had on his uncle’s tennis shoes. They were so big that they wobbled and flopped when he walked. His face was painted white, and he had drawn huge red lips around his mouth and taped a red balloon to his nose.
I rushed around to Tara’s window. “Hey, Tara,” I called out excitedly, “guess what!”
Tara didn’t even look up from the book that she was reading.
“You’re going to see a circus!” Barney burst out beside me.
“The circus left this morning,” Tara whimpered.
“Yeah, but a better one showed up,” I told her.
“And,” Barney got out between giggles, “there’s going to be just one performance—in your backyard!”
“You’re fibbing,” Tara said, putting her book down. Looking at us for the first time, she gasped, “Barney, what happened to your face?”
He grinned. “I’m part of the circus.”
“And,” I said, “you’re going to have to pull a chair up next to the window if you want a front-row seat.”
Just then Kyle began to blow his trumpet—a paper towel tube—while Annie and Jackie marched across the backyard in their swimsuits, twirling batons and carrying a big sign that read, “The Bryan and Barney Circus.”
I grinned at Tara, who was hurriedly scooting a chair over to the window.
I marched back a few steps, bowed, and shouted in a deep voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the greatest show on earth, the one and only Bryan and Barney Circus! For our first incredible act, Jesse Jim, a daring young man, is going to swing on the high trapeze!” I pointed to Jim, who was standing on a stepladder by the Cluff’s maple tree. He had tied a rope to one of the branches and was getting ready to jump. “This tree,” I went on, “is five hundred feet tall. Jesse Jim’s going to be the first man to swing from it without a net.”
Just as I finished speaking, Jim came swinging over the lawn. Before I could move out of the way, he banged into me, knocking me down, then crashed into the patio furniture.
“Why didn’t you wait till I was out of the way?” I squawked, jumping up.
Jim was lying on his back. “I slipped,” was all that he had breath to say.
I shoved my stovepipe hat back on and continued, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, Terrific Tyson, the lion and tiger tamer, is going to go into a den of the most ferocious, deadly man-eating tigers and lions in the whole world!” I looked toward Tara’s window, and she was actually smiling!
Tyson marched out with a rope whip in one hand. He made a big bow, then shouted, “Send out the lions and tigers!”
Tony, Kyle’s big St. Bernard, came bounding out with a big black wig tied on his head. He was supposed to be a ferocious lion, but when he reached Tyson, he sat down and began tearing at the raggy old wig on his head. “Down!” Tyson shouted at him, waving the whip over his head. But Tony was already down, and the only thing that he cared about was getting rid of the wig.
Then Pop and Pete, Joe’s two bassett hounds, ran out. They had tiger stripes painted all over them. When Tyson saw them coming, he waved his whip and shouted, “Down!” But the dogs didn’t pay any attention to him. One went running between Tyson’s legs, almost knocking him over, and the other grabbed one end of the rope whip and began playing tug-of-war.
I shook my head disgustedly, then looked around desperately for Barney. “Are you ready?” I whispered loudly. When he nodded, I warned, “Don’t blow it like the others.” Then I announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, now we will show you the most terrible monster ever to be found in a circus. Baritone Barney has captured and trained a man-eating, two-horned unicorn. He will—”
Even before I could finish, Barney’s pet goat, Harriet, came galloping around the corner of the house, pulling a red wagon. Barney, flopping around in his clown suit, chased after her, waving his arms and shouting, “Harriet, slow down! I have to get into the wagon.” But Harriet didn’t slow down until she’d reached the other side of the lawn and started eating Sister Cluff’s petunias.
I shook my head. So far, this was the worst circus in the whole world. I swallowed and began to shout again. “Ladies and gentlemen, for our next act, we have the world’s strangest animal, a two-headed cat!”
As I spoke, Annie came out carrying her two cats wrapped together in an Ace bandage with both their heads sticking out. The cats squirmed and twisted until they broke free of the bandage. As they jumped out of Annie’s arms and dashed for the tree, Tony spotted them. He ran after the cats, with Pete and Pop following him, barking and howling.
When Barney’s goat, Harriet, heard the racket, she bleated and started charging around the yard, pulling the red wagon behind her. Barney lunged after the goat but tripped on his floppy shoes and fell flat on his face. His balloon nose popped, and half his belly stuffing came out.
When the dogs realized that they weren’t going to get the cats, they charged after Harriet. Harriet went crazy. She ran in circles, still dragging the wagon behind her. She knocked over the lawn chairs, then raced up and down Sister Cluff’s petunia bed.
I knew that we had to stop Harriet before she tore up every flower in the Cluff’s yard, so I lunged for her and grabbed her around the neck. She just shook her head, kicked her legs in the air, and sent me crashing into the flower bed!
As I started to get up, I heard a terrible scream. The Bryan and Barney Circus came to a sudden halt. All of us—the animals, too—turned around and saw Sister Cluff staring in shock at the terrible mess in her yard. “What’s going on here?” she yelled. “Look at my … Oh, my!”
None of us answered. I felt sick inside. I didn’t know how to explain to Sister Cluff what had happened. I stuffed my hands into my pockets and stared at the ground.
Then I heard someone laugh. At first it was just a little giggle, but soon it exploded into side-splitting laughter. I lifted my head a tiny bit and looked toward the house. There was Tara at the window, laughing so hard that big happy tears were rolling down her cheeks.
“It’s the Bryan and Barney Circus,” she explained to her mom between laughs. “And it’s the best circus that’s ever come to Maryvale.”
Tara nodded, still giggling.
“But who’s going to clean up this mess?” Sister Cluff asked. She didn’t sound angry anymore, though.
“Oh, we’ll clean up the mess,” Barney spoke up, beaming and grinning. “The Bryan and Barney Circus is a lot more than a regular, ordinary circus. We clean up messes too.”
Sister Cluff looked at me. I nodded and smiled. Sister Cluff smiled back, and before she could say another word, the Bryan and Barney Circus started cleaning up the yard.
When we were finished, I turned to Tara, who was still at the window, and said, “I wish that you could have seen Annie’s snake act, Justin’s frog race, and—”
“Maybe I can see that another day,” she cut in merrily. “And as soon as I get over the chicken pox, I want to join the Bryan and Barney Circus.”