This story is by Aletta Bee and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Candy and Sandy Fantini, the sixteen-year-old twin daughters of the Fantini Family, circus performers, had a mission on the night of April 17, 2018. That was the year before all animal acts in California circuses became illegal.
A new moon glimmered behind slow-moving clouds at midnight that Tuesday. Candy and Sandy were lying down in their kerosene-lit tent, hastily set up yesterday. The seven remaining camels lined up in the dirt of their wire cage, still wearing their sparkly cloth saddles. Five adult elephants slept on their sides in the dirt nearby, tail-flicking the hovering flies. A week-old baby elephant, Lalabelle, slept standing, close to the twins’ tent. Lalabelle was far away from her mother and the chains that bound her cut strips of raw skin around her legs.
Painful events had solidified the twins’ mission for that night. Two weeks ago, a fire ravaged the circus grounds. It killed six of the performers who had passed out in their trailers after a wild night of post-performance drinking. Two of those people who died were Candy and Sandy’s parents, George and Gracie. Police suspected arson and distrust permeated the atmosphere.
The shrieks of their parents burning behind them in the trailer seared them as neighbors pulled the twins feet-first from the flames. The sight of their mother and father reaching out to them through the fire, scorched them. The odor of burning flesh stabbed their nostrils, turned their stomachs.
A week later, as the girls watched the birth of a baby elephant, horror overcame them. Elephant Mom, Louloubelle, was standing in the dirt, and as soon as the baby plopped from her womb and hit the hard floor, the attendants swept the baby from under Louloubelle and whisked her away. The whole while Louloubelle screamed in anguish and strained to reach her baby. This circus custom was to break the elephants’ will.
That elephant birth was an unbearable reminder of their parents’ heart-rendering cries. It so enraged the girls that, with the help of the internet and their cell phones, they’d arranged everything. They just had to wait for the darkness of this new moon to provide enough cover for tonight’s mission.
Candy whispered, “You’re so still. Are you awake?”
“There’s no way I could sleep. We head out in a couple hours—as long as everything’s quiet,” said Sandy. She was the practical one.
Candy sat up. Sandy followed.
“Do you think we’ll ever be okay again?” Candy asked.
“It may take a while, but we’ve got a vision and a plan.” Sandy checked her iPhone again, ensuring she’d set it to vibrate. “We meet our contact at his van a quarter mile North from here.” She lifted the bed cover on their pushed-together cots. “The milk may be heavy to pull—all 12 gallons to last till the contact takes over.”
Candy said, “Baby Lalabelle will never, ever have her baby taken from her right after childbirth. And nobody will try to break her will. Even with everything that’s happened to us, we will do good things.”
“You know I’m with you,” Sandy said.
In a rage of remembrance, Candy pounded the bed with her fist. “I hate anything that tries to kill somebody’s will!”
Candy took a moment to collect herself. “And we’ll get money to pay Dr. Tang—at least something.” She applied lip balm.
Sandy said, “You still think we’re doing the right thing? Some might consider it stealing. I guess, literally, it is.”
“Absolutely!” Candy said, then quieted. “We stand for Love and Kindness for all sentient beings! And we are sentient beings too!”
Remembering their parents, they spoke simultaneously, as they often did, “Mom and Dad would be proud of us.” Their parents had taught them the motto: Love and Kindness for All. Both resisted crying.
Their agony made them resolve to honor their parents that night by carrying out another parental motto: When you hurt, make something better.
Their adored parents, George and Gracie Fantini, had been trapeze artists descended from seven celebrated generations. They thrilled the circus crowds with fear and longing as they swung apart and filled them with excitement and joy as they swooped together and kissed. Audiences longed for the same physical, emotional, and spiritual relationship.
Their own twins, perhaps, longed most savagely. More than ready to have boyfriends, they ached to be like other girls, normal girls, doing normal 16-year-old things. Like flirting, kissing, and later, going all the way.
In the Fantini Family acts, the twins juggled, tumbled into many-limbed tangles, and did double splits. Their act made fun of how difficult it was to do things together, with Candy running one way, Sandy running the other way.
Their enforced togetherness was not easy for the vastly different girls. Candy got cold easily, Sandy, hot. Candy, the extrovert, liked makeup and dresses and often laughed until she cried. Sandy, the introvert liked jeans, video games, and was stoic.
Because they wanted to honor their parents and because they were hurting, they were determined to make things better in the world, For Love and Kindness, for baby Lalabelle, for future mates, and for Dr. Tang.
At 2 a.m., they were ready. Candy had packed peanut butter sandwiches, an overnight bag with a change of clothes, their passports, a dark-colored blanket, and a rope. Sandy had oiled the milk wagon, texted the contact that they were on the way, and checked Candy’s packing.
In the dim light, they crept to get Lalabelle, who snorted a hello. The girls put the rope around her neck, unhooked her chains, and walked the wobbly baby towards the camp exit.
Passing the last trailer, a wagon wheel clunked against a rock. They heard coughing inside and stopped, holding their breaths. Once all was quiet, they walked on.
Near the contact point, helicopters suddenly chopped the air above them. Sandy jerked the wagon under a tree and spread the blanket over everything
They waited and waited. Candy bit a hangnail, Sandy batted her hand away from her mouth. After three long minutes, the copter left.
Sandy’s phone vibrated. It was Rickles, their contact. “We’re ready for pickup. We have you in our sights. Come forward to the van, just a hundred yards more.”
Rickles, a wide-smiling, red-headed, retired clown, greeted them with a cartwheel and handstand. Upside-down, looking at Lalabelle’ s privates, he said, “Pleased to meet such fine young women, elephant included.”
The twins laughed, their first laugh in what seemed forever. Rickles stood, patted Lalabelle’ s hide. “I am downright piss-ant mad about how they treat our animals. I’m happy to be part of the cause.”
Rickles opened the van’s door, pulled down the ramp. “So sorry about your parents.”
The twins nodded an acknowledgement and kissed Lalabelle on her cheeks. “Goodbye, dear friend.”
Rickles grabbed a gallon of milk, held it up in front of Lalabelle and coaxed her into the van.
Candy cried and wiped her face with the hem of her dress. “Oh, no, another goodbye. I can’t take it.”
Sandy gave her a handkerchief and waited while she mopped her face.
Rickles raised his forefinger in a wait-a-minute gesture. “Now for your fun part.” He went to the cab and returned with a metal briefcase, flipped it open. “Count it. Twenty-three thousand.”
Sandy smiled and touched his forearm. “We trust you. Mom and Dad recommended you, so we knew you would be on board with our mission for the animals.”
Candy picked up their overnight bag, Sandy, the briefcase. They left the milk wagon with Rickles and walked fifteen minutes towards their reserved room at Motel 9.
Sandy said, “I can’t feel my legs or hands.”
Candy smacked her thigh. “I can’t either.”
When they got to the motel, the night clerk was sleeping. Not wanting to attract attention, Sandy moved Candy’s skirt to cover their midsection, which they were born sharing– along with a liver.
Not wanting to be found, they were thankful the disoriented clerk hadn’t realized they were conjoined twins.
In their room, they eyed the double bed. Candy smiled, said, “In six months, we won’t have to stumble around bound to each other. We can bumble and tumble around with boys and, then… yikes… men.”
“But only with Love and Kindness, right?” Sandy teased.
As they knelt on all four knees beside their double bed that night, Candy added to their prayers, “And thank you, again, Mom and Dad, for helping us find Dr. Tang, and organize our separation procedure.”
“Procedures,” said Sandy.
They slept well, into the afternoon of the next day.
They stayed a week at Motel 9, until their plane left for Thailand and Dr. Tang’s operating facility.
Within two weeks, they had lost their parents, were no longer bound by circus life or its cruel animal policies. Within six months, they became bound less by their own fleshy connection.
They remained committed to Love and Kindness and made something better whenever they hurt.