Deirdre is in whiteface. This is strange because Deirdre hasn’t been a clown since she left Gorman’s Circus fifteen years ago. She scoops out an extra dab from the tub and paints it thickly around her right eye, edging as close to the lower lid as she can to hide the bruise Jeffery gave her before he left for work.
        In the supermarket, children point and squeal, “Mommy! Look! A clown!” 
	She wants to twist them, like balloons, into animals. Into geometric shapes. She wants to stomp on them and hear them pop.
        He’s a joiner now – works for the PVC window place down the road from the government pork farm where he used to work. He beat her less back then, with salty bacon fists made weak by whatever he downed at Denny’s pub. That was before the debts grew monstrous and he started betting to make things better. As if it would. As if imagining Spain would change the dreary Irish weather.
        This morning he said, “Do you know how much we fucking owe, Deirdre?”
        She’d only asked him for a fiver.
        “Do you now how much it costs to fix your useless, ugly gob?”

* * *

	She stops at the newsagent for the local paper to search for work she can do that Jeffery won’t find out about. She leaves and looks both ways before stepping off the kerb, and sees him outside Harry Maher’s Bookmakers on the corner, smoking a cigarette. It’s half-past noon. He’s gambling his lunch break again. The horses. The dogs. The football. He’d bet on raindrops if he could. He’d bet on children racing in the park. He’s convinced it’s the same as investing. He’s convinced that one day, it will all pay off.
	She turns to see Margaret and her heart drops. Margaret Lamm, God help her now. Everyone will know if they didn’t already. 
	Margaret opens her mouth to say something, but Deirdre steps into the van and waves a frantic goodbye, looking in a hurry. Looking busy. Looking like an emergency clown on her way to make someone happy. 
	Jeffery sees the van and squints. He shoves the betting slips into his pocket, tosses his cigarette into the gutter, and spits. 
	When she gets home, she calls Dr. Bill, her dentist, and cancels her Monday appointment. He’s already asked once about the bruises on her wrists. Can’t get a root canal in whiteface. Impossible to fool someone who won’t be fooled.

* * *

	At dinner, she can see the silver scratch card dust all over his hands and under his nails. He always wins a few quid. Two or five or ten. Fifty, once, on Christmas Eve the year of the big storm. He says it’s free money, so he buys more cards with it. Some days he can stand at the counter for an hour, scratching and winning crumbs, trading them for more crumbs until his pocket is empty and the folded losers sit in a pile in front of him. She reckons he must spend a hundred or more a week on cards. Then fifty twice a week on Lotto nights. Always the same numbers. His lucky numbers. His lucky numbers that never win.
	“Is this supposed to be white sauce?” he asks.
	“Yeah.” She looks to her lap, hiding the bruise from him because it makes him angry that she bruises.
	“It’s fucking horrible, Deirdre. Tastes like dirt.”
	“Sorry. Will I get you some brown sauce? That always --”
	Before she can finish, he picks the plate up and slams it on the table upside-down, and pushes his chair out. “I’m going to the pub.”
	She calmly stabs a bit of gammon steak onto her fork, slides it through her mashed, dips it in the parsley white sauce, and quietly slips it into her mouth. She chews until he’s out the door, then finds the strength to swallow. Only two molars left now, Dr. Bill has suggested that she think about becoming a vegetarian. He says it will do her the world of good. Says it’s healthy. 
	The opposite of wanting to die, which is what she is.

* * *

	Someone burns down Harry Maher’s Bookmakers on the following Friday. Jeffery slips into bed at four in the morning stinking of diesel and Deirdre curls into her pillow and  thinks about how life would be without him. She thinks back to when they met.
	Summer of 1989, Gorman’s was still a decent name. The matinee would still draw a decent crowd. The Moroccan tent men still followed orders and didn’t threaten to sue for more pay and better conditions. They did the work –  set up, pulled down, ushered, drove, helped Frank Gorman with the generator when the wagons would go dark because too many performers were using their showers or hairdryers or space heaters. The life of one night stands in towns no one ever heard of, moving on at three AM, lorries stuck in the mud of football pitches littered with candy floss and empty popcorn bags - the life of circus, as crazy as it was, was still decent.
	Jeffery had been looking for work to get him out of hometown trouble. He wanted to run away and become a performer. The only talent he had was brutality. 
	So they let him train camels.
	Looking back, she sees his strong back, his bulging arms. She sees how charismatic he was, and how that first time, a small slap, was a clue she should have noted. But he was her rescue. She hadn’t wanted to be Deirdre Big Feet all her life. She’d grown to hate the giggles of children, the look of awe on their faces when she’d squirt them in the face with the flower on her red, polka-dot lapel. She’d grown to hate their stupid, squeaky-voiced questions, their older brothers who would try to set the tent alight. She’d had enough of making other people happy while she grew miserable.
	The diesel smell turns her stomach. When she is sure he is asleep, she goes to the kitchen and picks up the telephone and places it on the table. She stares at it. She doesn’t know he burned down Harry’s, but what she does know is that Jeffery owes Harry a lot of money, and he smells of diesel. What she does know is that Jeffery has been stealing from the joinery to pay Harry a weekly bit. What she does know, since talking to Dr. Bill’s receptionist yesterday to reschedule her root canal, is that Jeffery got fired and still hasn’t found a way to tell her.
	“Who do you think you’re calling this hour?” he barks from the doorway.
	“What?” Before she can shake off her surprise, he has her by the hair.
	“You want your old man locked up, eh?”
	“Let go of me.” She frees her hair from his menacing fist, “I wasn’t calling anyone.” 
	He walks out to the hall and digs something out of his coat pocket. He returns and slaps down a wad of pink Lotto tickets in front of her. “There’s a winner in here. I can feel it.”
	There are a hundred or more. 
	“Jaysus! That’s a week’s wages!”
	“MY week’s wages,” he says. “MINE, Deirdre.”
	“But there’s bills. I…I…need to buy food.”
	“Didn’t you hear me?” 
	She crosses her arms and stares at him. He truly thinks they’ll win. She can see it in his eyes. Innocent. The same as the idiot children believed her feet were really that big.
	“We can’t eat Lotto tickets,” she says. 
        His face contorts. Before she can move, he grabs her hair at the scruff of her neck and crumples a handful of tickets and shoves them one-by-one into her mouth, roughly, leaving paper cuts on her lips and jarring her nose hard with his fist, so it bleeds. She can’t breathe, and as she tries, he stuffs the tickets in harder, and she feels the inside of her mouth become dry. The ticket paper sticks. It’s in her throat. It’s in the spaces where her molars used to be.
	“That’ll teach you to keep your fucking mouth shut,” he says, letting her weak head flop onto the cup-stained pine tabletop. He grabs up the rest of the tickets, storms out into the darkness of early Saturday morning and takes off down the gravel driveway, spinning angry wheels.

* * *
	Harry Maher has told the police that Jeffery burned down his place. After Sunday Mass, they question Deirdre about his whereabouts. She tells them everything – from the diesel smell to the fact that he didn’t come home last night.
	“He’ll kill me,” she says, showing them the yellow-green eye from last week, the paper cuts around her mouth, and her missing teeth.
	They promise to lock him up once they find him and leave their phone number.
	She locks the doors behind them and switches on the midday news and sits back with a cup of tea and a thick slice of brown bread. She attempts to listen to the headline stories, but her brain is on automatic – trying to figure out an escape, fifteen years late. She considers taking the ferry to see her sister in Bristol. She considers taking the bus north to find her younger brother, who last she heard was working for a bank in Dublin. She considers Gorman’s Circus again. Eight months a year being dragged from mucky field to mucky field, entertaining misbehaved, sugar-fed children.
	The weather report comes on and snaps her out of her own thoughts.
           Rain. Wind. Clouds. 
        She catches the recap. Protests at government buildings. Two murders in Dublin housing estate. A missing girl is found safe. Rain. Wind. Clouds. And someone won the Lotto last night, but hasn’t come forward yet. 
           She’s frozen as they rattle off the winners. 12, 16, 23, 34, 36, 39 and 25.
          And then, she is in the kitchen bin, uncrumpling pink tickets still stiff with her spit until she finds it and double checks the numbers. 
            Triple checks. 12, 16, 23, 34, 36, 39 and 25.
        She smoothes it, folds it, and tucks it safely into her bra cup, and walks down the hall to her bedroom. There, she inspects her hollow, molarless cheeks in the dusty mirror, packs a few clothes in an old carpet bag, and rings a taxi.

A.S. King has recently returned to Pennsylvania after a long time in Ireland. Her novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs, is due from Flux in February 2009.














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