The Serk du So Lay


I WAS IN SAN FRANCISCO, on the roustabout circuit. Jarret was in Austin, halfway through a divorce. It seemed impossibly urbane to me, a guy my same age, twenty-three, already done with his first marriage. I envied him, especially on late nights when the circus was packed and the customers were rude and my fingers got caught in the cotton candy machine. After the show was over, I’d go collapse in my tent. There was one power strip all the roustabouts drew off of. This Moroccan guy always had like nine things plugged in, a blender, a cell phone, a vibrator, a Tesla Coil that connected him directly to Allah. I’d free a plug for my laptop and then listen to his glottal-stop curses. Or maybe they were prayers. No matter what the time difference was, Jarrett always IM’d back immediately.

ME: You makin’ bacon?

JARRET: I’m watching CSI

ME: Little Rock or Boise?

JARRET: They do a sperm scan with a green light and, yup, there’s a Pollock across the sheets

ME: The killer’s always the actor with the Yugoslavian name. Zelko Ivanek. Or Bistik Vujinic

JARRET: Too bad the credits are at the end

ME: how’s things with Lara?

JARRET: There should be an emoticon for doom

ME: That bad?

JARRET: Even worse. Lawyers and imagined betrayals and screaming cinematic arguments on the front lawn in the pouring rain. While the neighbors watch, sipping bourbon.

ME: Sorry, brother

JARRET: yeah, well, you told me to leave her at the alter

ME: I did, didn’t I?

JARRET: Yup. That’s why you’re the only person in the world I trust

ME: but I was just being a dick

JARRET: Within dickishness lays difficult truths

ME: Huh. So what’s next?

JARRET: Oh, I dunno. Maybe retire on a cop’s salary. Marry an old hooker. Grow snap peas in the mountains

ME: Don’t you have to be a cop first?

JARRET: Details

JARRET: U there?

ME: sorry, fixing an airplane bottle of Jack

JARRET: and coke?

ME: straight. they never heard of ice in this parking lot

JARRET: Tough day?

ME: Crazy, actually. Beyond weird

JARRET: you make it with the bearded lady?

ME: heh. no. it was tent washing time

JARRET: oppo of weird

ME: well, the thing is, they don’t just drag it on the

JARRET: ground and?

ME: hose it down. They raise it. Fucker is like four stories tall

JARRET: I always wondered. You know, the flags snapping in the wind

Release the Kraken

ME: It takes a hundred people, all pulling ropes. They put ads in the paper to fill in the ranks. You should see who shows up for six an hour, cash

JARRET: I’ll bet

ME: all the dregs of

       JARRET: humanity

ME: Every drunk. Every toothless meth

JARRET: head

ME: Yup. Anyway, I think a girl

       JARRET: U there?

ME: Sorry. Re-pour and then piss. I think a girl died

JARRET: Huh? wait, what?

ME: a few hours ago, she

JARRET: Died died, or

ME: was standing right next to me

JARRET: Where?

ME: after the big top goes up, they pick a team and put you in a harness. Like climbing gear

JARRET: You scale the tent?

ME: There’s ropes tied to the poles. It attaches to this deal on

JARRET: your waste

ME: Waist. you climb the vinyl. Slick as hell. It doesn’t seem all that high from the ground, but…

JARRET: Get back to the girl

Imagine you're just below the light rigging, hanging by a couple straps and some Velcro

ME: I am. So we’re up on top. Dude, you feel small. You can see for miles. And we got this crew of morons

JARRET: Quick aside on world population v. moron percentage: why so many? Why everywhere?

ME: you get issued a broom and this high-pressure suds thing. It’s like scaling Everest

JARRET: Tenzing Norgay

ME: That used to be a good reference, but now with the internet he might as well be David Bowie. Anyway, the climb is fucking terrifying, but it’s better than cotton candy

JARRET: eating?

ME: No, selling. Did you know cotton candy comes in these gallon jugs of tiny pink crystals that are like

JARRET: Crystals, not liquid?

ME: Hard little fuckers. Dishwash detergent. You put a cap full of them in the extruder and it makes about 18 million cones at six bucks a pop. Total scam.

Sheer poison, plus a finger eater

JARRET: Wait, you’re telling me the circus isn’t a bastion of ethics and just commerce?

ME: But the worst part is these pink strings get in your hair and face. They dry like fiberglass. Like asbestos. It tears off your skin. It’s

Really not that exaggerated

JARRET: whatever. Explain about the girl already

ME: the tent is so high you can see the Sierras. Big blue and yellow stripes. Makes you dizzy to look at, dizzy to look down. But here’s the crazy

JARRET: already sounds

ME: thing, they don’t let you wear shoes. You got to wear, like, these kid’s rain boots so you don’t scuff the vinyl. Like boots you wore to kindergarten. No tread, no traction

JARRET: beyond stupid

ME: it’s impossible to keep your balance. You’re dangling on this rope, steep angle, vinyl swaying in the wind


A bunch of minimum wage douches too cool to barista


ME: There’s six of us. It’s me and the Moroccan. He’s been up there before, too. There’s this muscly French kid with a ponytail, I swear he probably dreams all night of

JARRET: himself?

ME: Exactly. In the future, when you can order a clone off Amazon? Like to take tests or wait in line at the DMV or go buy toothpaste for you? This kid will spend all his time in bed, giving it to himself in the chute

JARRET: Strangely, I know a number of people who fit that description

If not almost exactly like this guy, frighteningly close.

ME: There’s also this black dude with a beard. Who’s talking to himself.

JARRET: Samuel Jackson?

ME: Snakes on a tent. Then there’s this tough hipster chick who looks like the bass player from

JARRET: The Pixies

ME: How did you know? And what’s her

JARRET: name again? Kim Deal.

ME: Freak. So it’s me, Morocco, Samuel Jackson, Poop Shoot, Kim Deal, and the dude leading the crew, this tall bald pirate sort of guy who is also one of the acrobats. He looks exactly like the lead singer for that Australian band

JARRET: Midnight Oil?

Was cool for about nine minutes. And then opened his mouth.

ME: God, did they suck. He’s got the earrings in each ear and everything. So Midnight Oil climbs up top, with this massive fire hose

JARRET: entendre?

ME: P.T. Barnum said “sometimes a hose is just a hose.” Anyway, Midnight O’s hanging onto the center pole. We each pick a panel of vinyl, suds it up, broom it, and then WHOOSH

JARRET: he soaks you down

ME: Man, in those boots? You can barely stand anyway. He lays on the hose and, shoop, you go flying


ME: Dangling

JARRET: How much they pay you again?

ME: Twelve an hour, plus meals. And a tent.

JARRET: You’re getting rooked.

ME: I was born rooked. So it’s hose and scrub, hose and scrub. We slowly go around, washing. Samuel Jackson is swearing his ass off, really cursing Midnight Oil out. I want to, too, but I need the job. Or at least enough money to fly home.

JARRET: I’ll send you some. Fly home right now.

ME: You have no money.


ME: Finally, Samuel Jackson’s had enough. He’s like “fuck this” and tosses his broom and starts rappelling down.

JARRET: good for

ME: which you can’t do! You gotta walk in a line, or it sets off a chain vibration.

JARRET: So Jules is screwing you guys over

Muthafuck your caption

ME: we’re getting knocked around, yelling at him to stop

JARRET: But he’s not listening, he’s decided to walk the earth like the guy from Kung Fu. He is his brother’s keeper. He

ME: Yeah, I get the Pulp Fiction references. No, he just keeps going. Then Kim Deal starts to lose it

JARRET: like, panic?

ME: I tell her to be cool. The Morroccan

JARRET: prays for her

ME: but she starts heading down anyway. Way too fast. Letting out too much rope

JARRET: And so

ME: Midnight Oil turns on the hose. I guess just to fuck with Samuel Jackson, but

JARRET: it hits Kim Deal

ME: Right in the chest. The end of her line zips through the clamp. I reach out to grab her sweater, but there’s no chance. She picks up speed all the way to the edge and all I see are these two huge, round eyes, before she goes over

JARRET: fuck

ME: me and Morocco and Poop Chute get in a row and rappel down like you’re supposed to. Samuel Jackson is already on the ground, running as fast as he can. The dude is past the fence, halfway to the exit ramp

JARRET: and he’s running because?

ME: probably that Kim Deal is lying on the asphalt. One leg bent backward. In a pool of

JARRET: blood. jesus

ME: there’s these midget acrobats all surrounding her, whispering stuff and sort of petting her head

JARRET: petting. God, that’s so…creepy

ME: One of them is on this tiny little cell phone, calling an ambulance. She’s unconscious. I tried to hold her hand, but they wouldn’t let me near her. I couldn’t tell if she was breathing or

JARRET: the paramedics, they

ME: strap her in, eventually. Midnight Oil just hoses off the stain

JARRET: and then

ME: I got twenty minutes to change into my costume and get to the cotton candy booth

JARRET: that’s it?

ME: no one said a word. It was like, hey, it’s a shame, but the show

JARRET: must go

ME: on.




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About Sean Beaudoin

Sean Beaudoin (@seanbeaudoin) is the author of five novels, including The Infects and Wise Young Fool. His new short story collection, Welcome Thieves, is just out with Algonquin Books.
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4 Responses to The Serk du So Lay

  1. Gloria says:

    you and your friend are like an old married couple, the way you complete each other’s sentences. also, I’m doing the math here and you must be way younger than I thought you were.

  2. Mike Reed says:

    One of my all time favorites, new and improved to near perfection. …”near” just to leave some room.

  3. Zara says:

    Brilliant. As ever.

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