November 9th, 2021 | Jason D. Janicki4 mins read
“Ladies and gentleman,” the loudspeaker blared. “The Salinas Rodeo is proud to announce that the Bull Riding will be starting in just twenty minutes! So, grab your popcorn and hotdogs and settle down for some of the best Bull Riding action in the country!” Earl glanced up at the announcement. “Sounds like they’re startin’ soon.” Bill nodded. “Yep.” They stood together under the Section D bleachers, backs to the partition wall. A hot dog stand, set against the aluminum frame of the bleachers, blocked access to the area beneath the stands, save for a narrow gap at the back. Spectators talked and laughed above them, the aluminum planks bouncing and vibrating with movement. Trash of all kinds, wrappers, cans, bottles, straws, and food, all dropped or fallen from above, littered the hard-packed earth. Bars of sunlight leaked in through the gaps between the benches, leaving gold stripes across the dirt and refuse. Pulling a red rubber ball off, Bill rubbed at the tip of his nose. “Damn thing always gets me itchin’.” “I tried the rubber, couldn’t abide it. So, I just go with the paint,” Earl pointed at the diamond of red paint on his nose. Bill shrugged. “I’m accustomed to it now.” “That does happen.” They stood in silence, Earl with his arms folded as Bill fiddled with his rubber nose. A spray of popcorn fell across Bill, bouncing off his battered cowboy hat. He glanced up, then with a shake of his head, brushed a few stray kernels off his bright yellow shirt. Earl plucked a piece off Bill’s shoulder, popping it into his mouth. Bill frowned at him. “That was likely stepped on.” “I’m feelin’ a might peckish.” “You shoulda partook of some of that cake in the backroom afore we left. It was mighty good.” “I’m partial to pies.” The bleachers above them squeaked and shuddered as more spectators found places to sit, their legs cutting across the thin beams of light beneath. Each time someone sat down, a little more light vanished. Bill tucked his rubber nose into a pocket on his bright red and white checked shirt, while Earl poked at a big rock with the tip of his boot. An empty water bottle spun down, bouncing off an empty beer bottle before coming to rest. “I heard Thunder’s here this year,” Earl said. “The one that nearly killed Hicks?” “The one. He’s put damn near twenty clowns in the hospital.” “Thirty, more like it.” “Just ten more minutes until the start of the Bull Riding competition!” The loudspeaker announced. “We got some of the best, meanest bulls in the country here, so the clowns’ll have their hands full today! But for the folks that don’t know, the clowns distract the bulls if a rider gets bucked off. Many a clown’s caught a horn protectin’ a rider, so give ‘em a big hand when they come out!” Bill shook his head. “I gotta say, I ain’t too keen on catchin’ a horn today.” Reaching over, he adjusted an elbow pad through his shirt. “Me neither.” Earl shifted to the right as a stream of soda splashed next to him. “It is mighty comfortable down here, gettin’ littered on notwithstandin’.” “We are outta the sun,” Earl agreed. “Ain’t nobody gonna miss us.” “Also true.” Somewhere above them, a child wailed, the sound muffled in the general din. Earl pulled off his cowboy hat, his straw wig coming off with it, revealing cropped black hair. “New wig?” Bill said. “Yep.” Earl passed the wig over. “Just got it. Got some new shin guards, too.” He tapped a boot against his shin. “I might pick up a new pair myself. I’ve had these seven, eight seasons now.” Bill held the wig up to a shaft of sunlight. “Nice.” He passed it back. “Thanks.” Earl dropped the wig into his hat, then set both on the bare dirt next to him. Another bar of light broke into pieces, cut by the legs of the spectators shuffling into empty spaces above then. “We’re loosin’ the light.” “Yep.” The smell of hot dogs wafted across them and Earl stirred. “I should not a’ skipped lunch.” “Ain’t good to eat too much ‘fore goin’ out.” “Ayep.” Earl stretched, a heavy-duty chest protector outlining beneath his loose, colorful clown garb. “We are goin’ out, ain’t we?” Earl glanced over at Bill. “What’re you sayin’?” “It’s just…I ain’t much in the mood to get gored. Things are good an’ me an’ Ellie are talkin’ about maybe…y’know…gettin’ hitched.” “I hear ya.” “So…maybe we sit this one out. They got plenty of clowns.” “I will admit, I’ve been havin’ similar thoughts.” “Five minutes to the start of the Bull Riding competition! Staff, riders, an’ clowns, y’all need to get to your posts if you ain’t already!” The movement on the bleachers above them increased, as spectators jostled and shifted, making room and scooting over. Another soda spilled towards the front, the brown liquid cascading down to the dirt, with a muffled ‘crap!’ from above. Legs shuffled, then settled down. A deep gloom settled on the clowns, as only a few stray wisps of sunlight shone through the stands. “Lights about gone.” “Yep.” Earl reached down, pulling his straw wig on as he straightened. “Is it on right?” Bill leaned in, squinting in the darkness. “It is.” Fishing his rubber nose from his pocket, he blew out the hole to get rid of any debris. Earl settled his hat on his head, as Bill affixed his nose. Both men paused as the noise above them subsided, the rattle of a bull banging against a chute ringing clear. “After you,” Earl said, with a small bow. “Why, thank you, sir.” Bill stepped towards the booth. “We ain’t too bright, are we?” he said as rounded the bleacher frame. He flattened himself against the hot dog stand, shuffling out towards the public area. “No,” Earl followed him out. “No, we are not.” The two clowns disappeared into the sunshine.