2022
FLASH FICTION CONTEST
First Prize
$1,000 Award

THE BIG TOP

by John Blair

Dear Ringmaster,

I would like to offer the services of my elephant for your circus’s purposes. Ralph, as he is commonly known, was willed to me by my aunt. She was a lovely albeit eccentric old lady. It was her last wish that Ralph should perform in a circus company, besides which all the zoos have indicated they are presently overstocked with African elephants (of whom Ralph is one). Looking forward to hearing from you at your earliest.

— Hopeful


Dear Dopeful,

Thanks for your letter of September 31. Your elephant is no doubt a beautiful creature to behold, but we cannot accept just any kind of proboscidea elephantidae. To be eligible for work with a circus company, elephants must hold an Elephantine Specialty Trained (EST) certificate. This is a legal requirement, and I’m afraid that there is no way around it. Your interest is appreciated.

— Ringmaster


Dear Ringmaster,

Further to yours, received today, please find enclosed true documentation revealing my elephant (Ralph) to be in possession of the necessary EST certification. Please note, also, my name is Hopeful, not Dopeful.

— Hopeful


Dear Dopeful,

This notification will acknowledge receipt of your latest communication and its enclosures. While recognizing that your elephant is indeed fully qualified to begin a career as a circus performer, we have so many Loxodonta africana applicants and not nearly enough Elephas maximus ones, and we are especially fussy about the latter variety. Thanks, nonetheless.

— Ringmaster


Dear Ringmaster,

I have two serious concerns regarding your most recent piece of correspondence. First, in your salutation, you continue to address me as Dopeful; this, in spite of the fact that I have previously pointed out to you that my name is Hopeful. Second, I had informed you in the text of my original letter that my elephant was of the African species. Why did you wait so long before explaining your ample supply of these types?

In the meantime, Ralph is eating me out of house and home, although oddly he is losing weight. He needs an environment where people more capable than I can maintain his health and welfare.

— Hopeful


Dear Hopeful,

Please accept our sincere apologies with respect to the proper spelling of your name. This mistake occurred as a result of a computer error and took some time to correct. Technology is all fine and well, but oftentimes we are reminded of the flawed human element which created it in the first place.

We are also sorry to learn about your elephant not being as well as it ought to be. You will understand that a sick elephant is of no use whatsoever to any circus, even if yours happened to be an Elephas maximus (which, we have already established, it is not).

Kindly permit us to suggest a possible solution to your problem. Perhaps if you place your elephant in a zoo, it would receive the necessary and appropriate care.

— Ringmaster


Dear Ringmaster,

Do you not read my letters? I told you in my initial contact that the zoos will not take Ralph because they have an overabundance of Loxodonta africanas!

My poor elephant’s health is now rapidly declining (he is well beyond the human equivalent of merely looking pale). Something must be done! I have called several veterinarians for assistance, but they will attend only to elephants which reside in zoos—or in actual circus companies!

Please advise immediately!

— Hopeful


Dear Hopeful,

We are not normally in the practice of responding to belligerent letters. However, under these unusual circumstances, there is a means by which your elephant might yet be saved.

If you, yourself, were to obtain employment within our circus company, then we would be obligated to take care of your ailing animal (since this elephant is your legal property). After nursing said elephant back to health, we would subsequently be compelled to put your elephant to work for the duration of your employment with us. Therefore, it would be in your best interest to apply directly for personal employment with our circus, perhaps as a clown.

With hearty best wishes.

— Ringmaster


Dear Ringmaster,

In reply to your most recent letter, kindly consider this as my application for personal employment as a circus performer with your company. I will be happy to accept a position as circus clown, or any other available opportunity.

My elephant continues to ail, and smells something horrible!

— Hopeful


Dear Hopeful,

Thanks for your application for employment with our circus company. Regretfully, we have no available positions for clowns at the present time (although you are no doubt exceedingly well-qualified). As you may or may not know, these are difficult economic times.

There is one remote prospect. Should you have the good fortune to be afflicted with elephantiasis, we could certainly offer you a job. Pressure is constantly upon us to find suitable personnel for our immensely popular freak shows.

Otherwise, thank you for writing anyway.

— Ringmaster


Dear Ringmaster,

Ralph expired today and is peacefully rotting away in my garage. What should I do with his carcass?

— Hopeful


Dear Hopeful,

In answer to your brief note inquiring about the removal of your deceased elephant’s body, please be advised . . . we do not know the next course of action. It is unfortunate that you chose not to place your animal in our circus where, had such transpired, we have definite procedures which we would have implemented. We sincerely wish you the best of luck, and if we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

— Ringmaster

______________________________

John Blair is a high school English teacher from Toronto, Canada, and a hockey fan. He has had a handful of short stories published in U.S. and Canadian literary magazines. His recent YA novel Hockey Camp Summer is available from Amazon. Thanks to Gemini, John is enjoying his first writing contest win!

November 2022