The Show Must Go On by Oonah Joslin

So -- let me get this straight," Tickle was saying. “Julianne somersaults off your back onto my shoulders and then we tumble out of sight. Then Benny the mouse chases you once round the ring and exit ringside."

“Stupid mouse!" said Tiny.

“Okay, Tiny. We know. Now, do you want to rehearse?"

The rehearsal was flawless. The ringmaster was very pleased. Pyro sat up on the high-wire pedestal watching the new act and he cheered at the end. Of course only Tickle and Tiny heard this but they always appreciated his enthusiasm.

All went right on the first night until -- out of nowhere a real mouse appeared and ran across Tiny’s path. Julianne and Tickle tumbled out of the way just in time as Tiny turned tail, almost trampling Benny in his mouse suit and headed straight across the centre of the ring for the exit, at full pelt, leaving a very confused Benny, a furious ring master and a delighted audience laughing their heads off.

Tiny was in a lamentable state.

“So you’re afraid of mice," said Pyro afterwards. “So what? I’m afraid of knights in armour. Everybody’s afraid of something. Isn’t that right, Tickle?"

“But now everybody knows the truth," said Tiny. “And they laughed at me."

“It’s not so bad being laughed at. Isn’t that right, Tickle? Better than frightening folk…" Pyro was trying really hard and he looked at Tickle in desperation wishing he’d chip in, or agree at least.

“Well, as you pointed out before, Pyro, I chose to be laughed at," said Tickle, “whereas Tiny here… Well he’s just made a fool of himself in front of a large audience and he doesn’t like that. I can see why he feels humiliated."

“ Thanks a bunch!" said Tiny. “You clowns really know how to put the big boot in, don’t you, Tickle. And I thought you were my friend." The tip of Tiny’s trunk was right down in the dirt and he looked greyer than the greyest grey ever.

“I am your friend," said Tickle “but there’s not much point in friends lying to one another, Tiny. You feel humiliated. I’d feel just the same if I were you. But -- be honest, we’ve always known this might happen."

“You have?" said Tiny.

“We’ve always known you were afraid of mice," said Pyro. “How?" Tiny was genuinely astounded.

“Anyone," Tickle said, “who has to say I’m not afraid of the 'stupid mouse,’ every day for this many years, has to be terrified of the things!"

For a grey animal, Tiny did a terrific pink blush.

“You know Pyro, sometimes friends need a little practical help," said Tickle folding his arms which he usually did when he was plotting something for the act. “Maybe there’s a way to redress the balance?"

Tiny did his running-away-from-the-mouse act night after night without incident. His pusillanimous stampede out of the ring had actually increased ticket sales. Then one night, once again, a little mouse ran right out into the ring.

Julianne and Tickle tumbled out of the way just in time for Pyro to swoop from the high wire pedestal where he’d been keeping a look-out every night. Down in front of the elephant he dropped, prepared if necessary to scorch some dust.

“Who are you?" asked the startled mouse.

“A friend of Tiny’s" said the dragon, pleased he could be seen, “and if you or any of your family try to embarrass my friend Tiny here again, I’m going to barbeque the lot of you and eat you like snacks. Got it?"

Small mammals are very perspicacious, and this one thought retreat the better part of valour.

Of course nobody else could see Pyro, only Tiny who, quaking though he was, stood his ground so that to everyone in the crowd, it looked as if he was facing down the mouse, all by himself and when the terrified creature turned and ran across the sawdust, there rose a great round of applause and all the audience stood and cheered the elephant. Tiny winked at Pyro, drank in the accolade, trumpeted and took a bow.

Pyro took a deep bow too and though nobody other than Tickle and Tiny saw it, he was proud and content.

“ Thanks," whispered Tiny.

“Bravo!" shouted Tickle from the side.

“The show must go on," said Pyro. “After all -- that’s what makes the whole 'freakin’ circus work. Right?"


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