Normally, I don’t write here on the weekends, but last week I wrote about being a bona-fide writer. About doing things to get me to feel like a real writer. Well, here goes. A little writing contest by WordPress. The scope: to write 1000 words based on this photo. I’m going to go the fiction route on this one. If you have a WordPress blog, join in! Would be curious to hear your slant.
A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS:
THE UPHILL TRAM
She ran to me, her sandals flopping with each leap across the tracks.
“Billy!” she had shouted, only moments before.
And now she was here, hugging me. An embrace full of relief and familiarity.
“Billy. Holy crap. You are the first person I’ve seen in days under the age of sixty,” she said breathlessly with a smile.
I was shocked that she had such friendliness in her voice. The last time I had seen Charity was when she had slapped me across the face with her cold, boney hand. It was 2011. Two summers ago at clown school in Wisconsin. And I had given her crabs. Yes crabs.
I didn’t even know that crabs existed, but it turned out Happy the clown (female) had them and I had not a clue when I passed them off. I thought Happy was thirty-seven (that’s what her ID said) but she was actually eighteen. And apparently crabs were common in that age range, among clownfolk.
So, yeah, I cheated on Charity.
But she wasn’t happy in our relationship, and neither was I; and it was really starting to affect our clownmanship.
I watched a piece of her blonde hair fall into her eye as she explained why she was on a tour with a bunch of senior citizens in the middle of Europe. Clowning had taken her down a dark path. She had become addicted to potato chips and french fries. You heard me- potato chips and fries. It was causing her to become lethargic and unproductive. She dropped out of clown school. Her family staged an intervention and told her they would send her on a trip to get away- a place that would have no fried potato products… The European Summer Detox Trip for Seniors.
She had been on this trip for four weeks now, working out with a widower named Sal who ran a boot camp at his retirement home in Boca Raton, FL. Every morning Sal pushed her to do burpees, squats and lunges. He tirelessly ran her up hills. The guy was a rock star at 75. In fact, he had skipped the tram entirely, sprinted up the hill and had taken this photo of us. He was an amazing part of her recovery. She was eating from all food groups now, drinking Metamucil cocktails, and attending yoga (she flexed her toned arms for me). She looked good; happy even.
We began to walk the large, flat steps down the hillside. “So, what brings you here, Billy?” she asked, taking one giant step per stair, her floral coolots flowing behind her.
I wasn’t sure how to answer her at first. Do I give her the truth and tell her? I didn’t know if I was ready to. Tell anyone. Do I give her the revised version- or just lie to her? My infidelity and STD had already caused enough pain and anger. But she seemed… healed. Ready. Strong, even. Maybe even supportive.
“Why don’t we go to this cafe down here, and I’ll explain everything to you. You do eat other foods now, right?” I glanced at her with sympathy.
“Yes, of course!,” she was enthusiastic in her response.
We found a cafe on the corner with colorful outdoor seating. She slipped into the chair facing the street, I next to her. I couldn’t believe we were here together. Randomly. After so many years.
“Why aren’t you on Facebook, Billy? I’ve been trying to find you forever…,” her voice trailing, as she pulled her iPhone out of her hot pink fanny pack. “I’m trying to check us in. Are you under some different name or something?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Harry Snugglebottom.”
“Your clown name?” her eyes flickered for a moment. I could’ve sworn she thought back to the time we had picked out my clown name together- and it wasn’t Harry Snugglebottom.
“Nah. Just liked it is all,” I said.
Her agile fingers flew across the screen as she checked herself into the cafe, and began the search for Harry on the app. “So, tell me, what’s going on?” I could tell she was anxiously waiting for me to say I’d made it big in the European clown scene without her or something. But I was traveling too- my requisite khaki shorts, fraternity t-shirt, and travel knapsack over my shoulder were a dead giveaway.
“I’m just visiting here. Thought I’d check out the sites. I’ve always been interested in trams and cable cars, so I’ve been traveling the world riding trams. I’m doing a documentary on them. Really fascinating,” I said. I had opted to go with the half-truth version.
“A tram documentary? Well, that’s quite a departure from clowning, if you ask me,” she responded, sounding disappointed.
I was on a quest to find every tram in Europe. I had already written a coffee table book called, Trams and Cable Cars of America by Harry Snugglebottom; Forward by Sandra Bullock, and my publisher desperately wanted a sequel. I was kinda big-time in the tram world.
A lot had happened in two years. Especially what I hadn’t told her.
“Ok, Charity, I’ll be honest with you. You know I left clown school immediately after our break-up.” I paused.
“For one, I needed to get the crabs treated. Sorry about that by the way,” I looked at her. She patted my arm.
“I did go into tramming. I studied trams and took my love of photography and writing and merged them with my love of trams. I wrote a book on trams, I’m writing a second one and filming this documentary concurrently.”
She nodded as I continued.
“Now, what I haven’t told you is this… my mother – was not who I thought she was. I was adopted.”
She gasped. “You mean, Harriett is not your mother? She is so amazing- that woman.”
My adoptive mother (as I had discovered) was amazing. She took advantage of her sixth toe at all times- winning several collegiate swimming competitions in the women’s butterfly and breaststroke, later becoming a successful coach and wonderful mother to the fourteen of us kids.
“No. My biological mother was actually a tram operator. And I’ve been trying to find her, and thus far, all roads have led here. To this cable car line. It matches the one photo I was able to find of her. I was delivered on a tram and left, abandoned here, thirty-two years ago. It explains why I am drawn to trams, yet so afraid of them… it all culminates here. It was this very uphill tram line- the 4A- that my naked trembling infant body was found. You caught me at a very emotional time.”
At last, I had said it out loud. I had been keeping that a secret for years. Relief flooded over me. Clown school was just a diversion from having to face the reality… of who I was. I was born and left on a tram. “I am a tram operator’s son, and a clown school dropout.”
It was at that moment, I knew Charity would be in my life forever.