"I’ll have the little lady give you a call. She’ll get a kick out of hearing your voice."
"Bye, Gramps. Take care."
Everyone was in place, exactly as planned, bright and early on Friday morning. The coffee
was hot and the doughnuts were plentiful. Mandy and Violet took their assigned seats at a desk
and waited. And waited. Gary called once to say that it was slow but steady. At about eleven,
Mandy called Cassie’s cell phone to see what she was up to.
"Slow, very slow. I’d say there’s about two hundred dollars in the cash register."
"Two hundred dollars? That’s it? We’re screwed. Cassie, go drum up business any way you
can. Go stand out on the street. Show a little leg—anything to get people into the store! Didn’t
anyone listen to my life or death speech?"
"That was a little over-the-top. Give us credit for a few things. We know you’re stressing
out. We all are. Patience is a virtue; remember that. We’ll get through this one way or the other.
Isn’t that what you tell me all the time?"
"Here’s our choice, as I see it. We either continue to be gainfully employed or see each
other every day on the breadline. Which do you prefer?"
"OK, OK. I’ll call you again later this afternoon."
Everyone assigned to phone duty sat patiently waiting for the phone to ring with an order.
And they waited, and they waited, staring at the phone as if they could will it to ring.
Ring, ring. Ring, ring.
It was Mandy’s phone, and she was so shocked to hear it, it took her a moment to answer.
"Big Top Supplies. This is Mandy."
"Mandy Maloney, you are in deep shit."
"Who is this?"
"It’s your brother, William." "How did you get this number?"
"I called directory assistance and someone at your headquarters gave it to me. You’re in big
trouble with Mom for not showing up for Thanksgiving dinner."
"I told her I wasn’t coming. I was working."
"She wasn’t buying it. All she did was go on and on about her ungrateful daughter who
‘doesn’t even have the decency to come for Thanksgiving dinner.’ She went on and on about how
much money she loaned you. How much money did you borrow, for God’s sake?"
"I paid it all back!"
"We saw you a couple times in the commercial dancing like a lunatic in a clown costume,
along with a guy with crazy hair. I couldn’t convince her that that was better than you being there
in person."
"I give up, William. All she does is complain about why I can’t be more like you or Jillian. I
can’t stand it anymore. And I always pick up the phone, no matter where I am when she calls.
She has this sickening hold over me and everything I do. I can’t stand it!" Her blood was at the
boiling point. And her brother—he had some gall to call her at work
"Mandy, calm down. Trust me, I get it. She’s picked on Barbara so much over the years,
she’s filed for divorce. She can’t take it anymore either."
"Trust me, I didn’t bring that up at the dinner table. I told her that Barbara’s father was ill
and that she had to go to be with him. She said that that was fine with her since she didn’t like
Barbara anyway. Why I ever married her, she would ‘never figure out.’"
"And Jillian just sits there cooing at that no-good husband of hers. Am I right?"
"You got it. He’s a bum, that’s for sure. He didn’t shave and wore a greasy old T-shirt to
dinner. Then he let out a huge belch just as I took my last bite of pumpkin pie. I spit it out, I was
so disgusted. Jillian thought it was funny."
"Listen, William. I’m sorry I chickened out and left you to fend for yourself. I’m stressed
out over Mom, and my job is on the line.
The company is in a very precarious position and we’re all working our butts off to pull out
the holidays. She calls me all the time telling me to do this and do that. I just can’t take it
"Me too—at all hours of the day and night. That’s another reason Barbara left. We couldn’t
even have sex without the phone ringing. It’s like she knew."
"How has Dad been able to stand it all these years?"
"He tunes it out. I think he’s probably deaf. He sat watching football all day. Didn’t even
come to the dinner table."
"I’m sorry you’re getting a divorce. I truly am."
"I know, Mandy. You were always the only one who had a heart. How you ended up in this
family, I will never know. One bit of good news for you, though."
"What’s that?"
"The Christmas newsletter has already gone out. You didn’t get bashed too badly. No more
than usual. If it hadn’t already gone out, after yesterday you would have been toast."
"Listen, William. I’ve got to get back to work. Thanks for calling. Keep in touch." She hung
up the phone and laid her head on the desk. She was exhausted and was feeling very depressed.
"What’s the matter, Mand? You look like you’ve seen a ghost." Violet always called her
Mand when she wanted to show her sensitive side for a change of pace.
"My mother’s on a rampage and my brother’s getting a divorce." "Is he cute? I need a date
for New Year’s Eve."
Mandy glared back at her. "Violet, there is just no business. What are we going to do?"
"It’s not over until the fat lady sings. Or, what is it that Butane Bob says all the time? ‘This
will all be over once it’s done?’ Something like that."
The Big Top headquarters building was dark except for one light in Biglar’s corner office.
Biglar sat behind his desk contemplating his fate. What was once Lulu hung in the corner. The
red- and white-striped outfit that he adored stared back at him with an angry look. The helium
tank stood tall but with all its balloons now hanging limply by its side. The once neat-as-a-pin
desk was now covered with several inches of papers waiting to be read and signed. He had
purposely not listened to his voice mail so that his mailbox would remain full and not allow any
more messages to be left.
The banks were calling constantly and he was all out of things to say to them. The lawyers
were not far behind. He had no choice but to close the company. All because of his own
stupidity. He had no one to blame. He had let his family down. He had let Ronnie and Butane
Bob down, the most loyal friends a man could have. Biglar had had to let Ronnie go for good.
He couldn’t justify having him on the payroll anymore. They had spent a lifetime together. It had
been one of the most painful conversations of his life. Ronnie seemed fine. He kept saying that
he was ready to retire. But Biglar knew better. Working for the Toplers was the only job he had
in his entire adult life.
Next he would have to have the same conversation with Butane Bob, another truly loyal
friend who had stuck by him through thick and thin. All this pain and heartache because of his
own selfishness. Biglar had started to think that life was no longer worth living.
And those hardworking kids. Telling them would hurt the most. They gave their all, but he
had nothing to give them in return. Mandy worked tirelessly trying to collect money. Violet was
so creative and was getting the advertising back on track. Gary had redone the entire Web site
and sales were starting to pick up. But it was too little too late. He held his head in his hands and
admitted his defeat. He pulled the phone out of the wall and hurled it across the room. In one
swift motion, he swept all the papers off the desk into a heap on the floor.
Then he walked over to the helium tank, put his lips over the nozzle, and took a long, deep