The International Writers Magazine:Circus Follies
discovered the circus, eighteen years earlier, as a young twenty-eight
inch dwarf from Bulgaria. He was discovered by The Bingling Brothers,
a touring American Circus, and by 1952 had become an international
star as the worlds smallest magician.
In the diminutive
social circle of circus performers Bruno had many friends and discovered
his soul mate, fell in love and married the star of the sideshow. Wilmas
dermal deformity of mysterious scales, gave her top sideshow billing
as the Alligator Woman. Despite their vast differences, Bruno and Wilma
seemed happy. Together they enjoyed top billing and drew curious tent
filling crowds at each performance.
Life was good and as living, side-show spectacles found joy in each
others arms. But intimate relations were not without its challenges.
Because of his skill performing magical tricks Brunos small, skillful
and supple hands were able to create conjugal bliss.
With time the twenty-eight inch Bruno became confident enough to expand
his repertoire of magic tricks. He was able to make small objects like
rabbits, mice, birds, and fruit vanish. Then the day came when he felt
it was time to try something of a grander scale. His magical skills
had developed to an artistic level of performance. The lesser and smaller
mysterious illusions now bored him. It was time for the ultimate test;
to make something larger disappear.
He began by practicing with his new bride. As he succeeded his amazed
audiences grew larger. They watched quietly as the Alligator Woman stepped
into a wood box. Bruno would wrap the box in chains then fasten several
padlocks to tightly encase the alligator woman inside.
Lights dimmed and Bruno danced around the box waving his cane, shouting
some incantations as a curtain fell from above, then rushed to unfasten
the chain as the curtain rose, open the box and there would be no more
alligator woman. The box was empty. The audience would stand and shout
for more. After the audience calmed down, she would reappear sometimes
on a high trapeze or an elephant or sometimes in a small clown car circling
the center ring. Their act made the circus owners happy and drove the
spectators crazy with excitement.
There were times when Bruno would vanish, leaving the Alligator Woman
standing alone with an empty box. Night after night; town after town,
the audiences were stunned, excited and stood applauding the dwarfs
The Alligator Woman, clowns, horses, llamas, the bearded lady, and anything
or anyone Bruno chose for his act would disappear before awe struck
circus goers. His fame spread. The big top filled. Audiences screamed
with delight. The Alligator Woman was happy, no longer a freak on the
sideshow, and she shared in Brunos prominence and, most notably,
Mr. Bingling was happy.
Then along came Gladys.
Gladys, a young 1500 pound Ugandan hippopotamus, was newly purchased
from a small bankrupt zoo in Indiana. She was timid but when she met
Bruno it was love at first sight. Gladys was a born performer and like
a large puppy followed Bruno as he went about his day to day routine.
Soon after, with very little coaxing and training, Gladys proudly stepped
into center ring with Bruno and the Alligator Woman. A dynamic team
was born and the three were quite a sight. Bruno, wearing his new black
derby to make himself appear taller, rode in atop Gladys as the Alligator
Woman, with sequined scales that glistened under the lights, walked
Bruno would begin the performance with some simple magic tricks as Gladys
and The Alligator Woman watched. Gladys would nod her head, open and
shut her huge mouth and the Alligator Woman pranced about proudly as
Bruno performed his trickery. Then it was on with the disappearing act
that everyone came to see; the act that made him famous.
Some observers remarked that Gladys smirked when Bruno made his bride
disappear from the wood box but when he vanished she became restless,
agitated and seemed disoriented until he reappeared. It wasnt
long before Bruno began using the more popular Gladys in the act more
frequently than his alligator bride. The audiences reaction was
at a fever pitch when the young hippo opened her great jaws then grunted
and smiled (so some say) just before she disappeared.
A special circular curtain had been constructed with a hidden, black
painted and covered platform to support Gladys weight. The screen
would drop from above over the stage hiding the two from the audiences
view. Seconds later the curtain would rise quickly. Gladys would be
gone; sometimes Bruno; sometimes both would disappear. The curtain worked
It wasnt long before Gladys replaced the Alligator Woman altogether.
The Alligator Woman was not happy. Following each nights performance,
Gladys would wait outside Brunos trailer until morning then follow
Bruno as he went about his daily circus business. Gladys was happy.
Then along came Frank.
Frank, a photographer and journalist with a local paper and drop out
from big city journalism stress, was enjoying a near anonymous life
in the small town. Frank had developed a large red, vein-stressed nose
from years of drinking that protruded from two large black circles under
reddened eyes. He was anything but good looking. He drank more to smother
his loneliness than the stresses of the business. The more he drank
the better he thought he looked.
Then along came the circus.
As the circus approached town, Frank decided to do a human interest
story on circus performers; an excuse for a paid day off. Perhaps he
could find some place to hang out for awhile and maybe write something
more interesting than the usual obituary or trite editorial comments
on local politics.
The circus paraded through town with Bruno in the lead as the star performer
riding Gladys. Behind them the band and calliope played as they marched
ahead of trapeze artists, wagons with lions, elephants, clowns teasing
onlookers, acrobats on horse-back, freaks from the side-show, and other
entertainers strutted down the small brick streets. Spectators howled
with delight and children laughed and screamed as they tagged along
behind the parade to the fair grounds. Frank was excited, too. Something
strange, like a childhood fantasy of running away to the circus, swept
over him. He stood in the street for a long time as he watched the parade
and towns people fade into the distance. He took another drink from
his hip flask then slowly followed the crowd towards the big top.
The Alligator Woman was standing on stage next to the Bearded Lady when
she spotted Frank in the crowd who was busy taking notes; sipping from
his hip flask; taking pictures. When he finally got close enough he
looked up into her eyes and saw her looking down at him. Each saw sympathy;
a need for understanding; loneliness and a craving for companionship.
They saw a need for each other.
Frank wrote as fast as the Alligator Woman could talk about her life
in the circus; her marriage; how it was she came to be in the freak
side-show; how Bruno replaced her with Gladys in his magic show and
how abandoned she felt. Frank didnt look at the Alligator Woman
as a freak and she didnt see a red-nosed alcoholic. Both were
sympathetic with each others sadness. But by understanding each others
afflictions, they found an irresistible mutual affection that made everything
all right. The Alligator Woman and Frank spent many hours together between
acts and as Bruno and Gladys were performing in the big top. Frank learned
what only Bruno knew. The Alligator Woman had a name. Iris. It was the
only name she could remember. It wasnt long before she had to
tell Bruno that she was compelled to leave with Frank.
It was the last day the circus would be in town. Bruno pleaded with
his wife to stay with him; not to leave with the town drunk, unfamiliar
with circus life. He promised to return her to his act; no longer use
Outside, Gladys heard the loud pleas; heard the Alligator Woman threaten
Bruno with divorce; threaten to clean him out; take everything he had;
leave him with nothing but a fat useless hippo. Bruno begged tearfully
sensing his fame was near an end. Gladys heard it all; saw Frank sitting
on a bale of hay, drinking from his flask, waiting for Iris; waiting
to take her from the circus. And she saw her leave with Frank after
the yelling stopped.
Bruno sat on a bale of hay next to Gladys, tears streaming down his
face. He told Gladys he could no longer work at this circus and would
disappear during the performance. He would find another circus, perhaps
one in Europe, where he began so many years before; one where his wife
couldnt find him. Then he would buy Gladys so they could resume
their famous act together. "It was time for a change anyway,"
Show time and Bruno was running late.
The crowd roared with delight as Bruno and Gladys entered the big top.
Through his tears he remembered the showmans creed, "the
show must go on," at least one more time.
He started with some little, meaningless tricks. He noticed that Gladys
seemed upset so he took more time with the warm-up tricks. Rabbit out
of his derby; rope tricks; card tricks; audience participation tricks
and anything to keep Gladys calm and put his plan into action.
Then it was time to disappear. Bruno jumped onto Gladyss back
and bowed deeply; first to one side then the other. The audience stood,
yelled, applauded. Gladys yawned and grunted. Bruno held his hat high
over his head as the lights dimmed. Then the spotlight danced over the
curtain as it descended obscuring Gladys and Bruno from the screaming
The circus lights swept over the audience; over the curtain where Bruno
and Gladys had last been seen and then the spot light was on Gladys
who was standing alone as the curtain quickly rose. On the ground lay
Brunos derby. The crowd roared in a standing ovation wanting more
but Bruno didnt reappear. Gladys turned slowly and as the spot
light followed, walked out of the big top and returned to her place
next to Brunos trailer and waited. She and Bruno would be together
Several weeks passed and Bruno did not return. Police were summoned,
searches made of the town and circus grounds but no Bruno. He had really
disappeared this time. The authorities and his friends were puzzled.
The circus continued to travel to many more small towns without the
Alligator Woman or Bruno. Frank and the Alligator Woman had also disappeared.
Despite the circus vets best efforts, it wasnt long before
Gladys fell into a stupor; refusing to eat much or drink. She died quietly.
Everyone was saddened and blamed it on Frank, the town drunk; on the
Alligator Woman for talking badly about Gladys (maybe poisoning her);
and some blamed Bruno for disappearing and breaking her heart.
And then the vet investigated further.
autopsy was called for and the vet made an astonishing discovery.
Gladys had not died from a broken heart or poison but from obstructions
in her lower bowels. Some undigested bones were found that pierced
her stomach and in her intestines were lodged a pair of very small
Corwin Feb 2006
Gorda Football Authority
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