TWA #17 – Short Story “Big Top Barry and Tammy the Lion Tamer” by Danny Brophy

Circus Short Story

“Big Top Barry wrapped those big hands around the bar and bent his knees. His thin tank top stretched with old sweat across his smooth muscles. The crackling speakers let out a drumroll. The audience in the dark held their breath, held the hands of each other, and waited. Using an overhand grip, Big Top Barry hoisted the bar from the ground. The single spotlight on him shuddered. The two pyramidal weights, each with a white stenciled 300 on every face, trembled and yearned for the ground again. He held that position, knees bent, the bar below his chin. A mighty inhale…a hurricane of an exhale…And the bar raised up above Big Top Barry’s head. He straightened his legs and roared. A perfect lift. The crowd applauded and cheered and whistled and chanted, ‘Big Top…Big Top…Big Top…'”

“I love it, Mommy. Tell me another one.”

“No. You got school.”

“But I did my homework.”

“Hon, it’s past nine. Daddy’s waiting for me.”

“Why is he waiting for you?”

“None of your beeswax, missy. Go to bed.”


“Don’t ‘mom’ me. You think that little trick of yours works?”


“I feel sometimes I speak to the pillow behind that head of yours.”

“Tell me another Big Top Barry story and I’ll promise to go to bed.”

“Hmm…I don’t think Daddy would be happy that I’m keeping him up.”


“Fine. Sit back. You comfy?”


“Ok…hmm…all right. Here we go. So, in this circus that Big Top Barry performed in, there was a lion tamer, named Tammy the Lion Tamer. Tammy wasn’t her real name, it just sounded good. Big Top Barry had a bit of a crush on Tammy the Lion Tamer, but he was very afraid of talking to her. He thought how beautiful she was, how brave she was to tame the lion, even though the lion wasn’t dangerous. You know how Buddy is? Just lying around and sitting on your lap?”


“That’s how the lion was. He was named Buddy, too. So Big Top Barry, he was the star of the show. People loved to see him lift these gigantic weights, flex his muscles. But despite all that strength, he just couldn’t find it in himself to go and talk to Tammy.”

“Did Tammy know that Big Top Barry liked her?”

“Of course she did. Women know these things. But back in those days, it wasn’t proper for a woman to approach a man.”

“What’s ‘approach’ mean?”

“Uh…going closer to someone, but in this way, it means a woman going to the man and asking him out, instead of the other way around. You know you’re supposed to look a word up if you don’t know what it means.”

“But I’m supposed to be in bed, Mommy.”

“Fair enough. So one day, after a really great show where he lifted the 600 pounds seventeen times over his head, he felt such strength within him to finally go up to Tammy the Lion Tamer. It was something about the applause that night, something about how before the show, he walked around the midway, that’s where all the booths with the games and the sideshow are, and all the kids and all the people looked at him. Not like how you’re not supposed to look a person, like you’re making fun of them with their eyes. They looked at him in awe. This was a small town, and everybody had come for that one night only show. And Big Top Barry was the man of the show. Everybody loved him. That day, the looks of awe they gave him made him go out and have the best performance of his career. But, he would only have one more show after this.”


“When Big Top Barry went searching for Tammy the Lion Tamer, he found her talking to the owner of the circus. Elgin Winters. He was a small man who had the grossest mustache.”

“Like Daddy’s?”

“No…wait, you think Daddy has a gross mustache?”

“It tickles me when he kisses me.”

“That’s why I make him keep it.”

“Keep going, Mommy.”

“Ok, I should hurry this up, though, because it’s getting awfully late. Maybe I’ll tell you the rest tomorrow—”

“No. Please? Please please—”

“Ok, ok, ok. You win. You’ve seen me make that pouty face to your father, haven’t you.”

“Uh-huh. Finish the story, please?”

“Ok. Big Top Barry didn’t want to bother the boss while he was talking to one of his employees. He was about to walk away and wait until she was done talking when he heard a loud slap. He turned and Tammy was holding her cheek, looking shocked at Elgin the boss. Big Top Barry didn’t know what exactly happened next, but the next thing he remembered he was holding Elgin the boss above his head, yelling to never touch her again. He dropped the boss onto the hard dirt, and Elgin went PLOP. Big Top Barry realized what he’d done, and he ran to his tent and waited to get in trouble. Tammy couldn’t believe what she just saw. And she had a realization, too. No one had ever stood up for her. No one had ever made her feel like they were on her side. She’d always been alone. She had gotten so used to it. But what Big Top Barry did, it made her happy. ”

“Wow. That’s so sad about Tammy, Mommy. Why did that bad man hit her?”

“See, there was something that Big Top Barry did not know: Elgin had been seeing Tammy.”

“Ew, like kissy-stuff?”


“Like how you and Daddy kiss?”


“Why was she doing that with that bad man?”

“Well, Tammy was being threatened to be fired if she didn’t do kissy-stuff with Elgin. She needed the money, and she found a talent doing this, performing. She tried being an actress, not because she wanted fame or money, but she just loved performing. She loved making people happy. She loved coming up with stories for her performance with Buddy the Lion. And sometimes, the audiences wouldn’t like it so much, but other times, Tammy got almost applause as loud as Big Top Barry did. That night, Elgin the boss made her angry. She was fed up with him, and didn’t want to do the kissy-stuff anymore. That’s when she got hit, and that’s when Big Top Barry defended her.”

“Didn’t Big Top Barry get in trouble?”

“No. The boss ran to his trailer. And that next day, Tammy went to Big Top Barry’s tent and asked him to go for a walk. He didn’t want to go, because he was afraid he would be fired. But she had seen the boss that morning, getting everything ready for the last show that night, and he acted as if nothing had happened. He even told her ‘Why would I want to lose my best show’ because she went right to him and told him not to get rid of Barry.”

“Where did they go for a walk?”

“They went all around the town. Little kids kept asking them for their autograph. They went to the diner there, Curly’s Diner it was called, and they ate lunch and had milkshakes and she was astonished. Here was this man, this sweet sweet man, who was so funny and so smart. And he kept stuttering and tripping over his words.”

“Daddy does that with you sometimes.”

“I know. So adorable. Where was I…ah. Ok. She had never really talked to Big Top Barry before. She’d only been with the circus a few weeks, and she still didn’t know that many of the other workers and performers. She never saw Barry, because, as she found out, he liked to read. When he wasn’t making himself big and strong for the show, he was in his tent, reading away.”

“He’s like me!”

“If you keep interrupting, I’ll never finish this story. Daddy’s wondering where I am, I bet.”

“You’re right.”

“Hi, Daddy!”

“Shouldn’t you be in bed, little one?”

“Mommy’s finishing a story.”

“Okeydoke. See you in a bit, babe?”

“If I have to.”

“I hate when you say that. Goodnight, sweetiepie.”

“Goodnight, Daddy! Finish the story now, Mommy.”

“All right, calm down. You’ll never get to bed all worked up.”

“Sorry, Mommy.”

“Don’t be sorry. Where was I?”

“They were talking in Curly’s Diner.”

“Yes. She was astonished at this wonderful man. She was still kind of young. She was 24. He was a little older. But that didn’t matter to her. Nothing mattered to her. She had never met anyone like this man. You know why?”


“Tammy was very beautiful.”

“Even more than you?”

“Ahh. You’re so sweet. Yes, even more than me.”

“But that’s stupid. No one is more than you.”

“Ok, laying it on a little thick there?”


“Ok. When they got back from the circus, she didn’t know when it happened, but she found herself holding Big Top Barry’s hand. How smooth it was surprised her. How completely normal it felt though, her hand in his, it made something flutter in her heart.”

“Something was wrong with her heart?”

“Yep. It fell in love. I know it sounds rather silly. But, hun, when a man and woman fall in love, it can happen when you do not expect it, when you don’t want it, when you can’t even imagine it ever happening. That whole time where they talked, he didn’t treat her odd or was odd, besides the stuttering, around her. Guys had always tried being nice to her just to be with someone pretty. He treated her like a lady. She’d never had that before.”

“But didn’t he like her at first because of how pretty she was?”

“At first, yes. Big Top Barry had no luck with girls. He had his heart broken a long time before, and it wasn’t until he saw Tammy that his heart felt like it was beginning to mend. It’s hard to explain. You’ll find out someday.”

“Is that what happened with you and Daddy?”

“Something like that. That night, the last time Big Top Barry performed, he was once again last to go on. Just as he was bout to walk out onto the center ring, the lone spotlight on him, Tammy kissed him on the cheek. For luck, she told him. You could probably see how red he was when he walked out to where his giant weights waited for him. There’s a secret I should probably tell you, hun: See, despite all his strength, both in his muscles and in his mind, those weights were actually fake.”


“Yes. Sure, they were heavy, but no one could lift 600 pounds that high, that far over their head. I think they were actually about 150 pounds total. You see, hun, the idea was to make people believe that someone possessed that strength, that someone was so capable to lift that much and make it look so easy. The circus is full of that. It’s like that in movies.”

“Like Star Wars?”

“Just like that. You know that Luke Skywalker and Han Solo aren’t real people, but they’re as real as you believe. Just like Big Top Barry. Even just like Tammy the Lion Tamer.”

“It’s good to believe, isn’t it, Mommy?”

“Of course it is. No matter how fake something is, if you can believe in it, it’s true. So Big Top Barry went to the weights. He hunched over them, gave them a little tug. All for show. then he gripped the bar. He squatted. Held his breath. And he lifted. And then…he screamed.”


“He fell to his back and yelled and howled in so much pain. Tammy ran out to him. He had pulled something fierce in his back. A doctor from the audience came rushing out to the center ring. An ambulance arrived. Everyone, the audience, the performers, all watched hushed as Big Top Barry was rushed to the hospital.”

“What happened, Mommy?”

“Well, that bad man Elgin had the weights replaced with real ones. So that fake 600 pounds was actually 600 pounds. Tammy found out that night when she went to tell Elgin and found Elgin talking and laughing to one of the carnies about how funny it was to see Big Top Barry, thinking he was so good, on the ground rolling and in pain.”

“That’s awful.”

“Well, hun, after everyone in the circus had gone to sleep, Tammy decided to get her own revenge.”

“Did she break Elgin’s back, too?”

“Nope. Elgin woke up to find Buddy the Lion’s mouth around Elgin’s throat.”


“Yes. You see, as much as Buddy the Lion is like Buddy your cat, Tammy had trained that lion to do exactly what she wanted him to do. When Elgin woke up, Tammy told him if he didn’t do exactly what she said, then Buddy would have himself a snack.”

“That’s awesome!”

“Tammy made him pay for all of Big Top Barry’s medical expenses, and then made him pay a year’s wages to Tammy and Barry. She stayed with the circus until it had to close for the winter a few months later. And not a day went by where she didn’t call or write Barry while he was in the hospital, or visit him if the circus was nearby. And all the while, Elgin the boss couldn’t do anything because he knew that if he tried any other funny stuff, then Tammy would sic that lion on him. Once the circus closed, Barry was better enough to leave. She and him then ran off and traveled the country on their money. They got married in a beautiful chapel by a kindly old preacher who said he had never seen a love like the two of them had. And, as you like all stories to end, they lived happily ever after.”

“That was the best story, mommy. I loved it a lot more than any of Big Top Barry’s other stories.”

“But that was a Big Top Barry story.”

“I know, but you never mentioned those other people. Tammy is my favorite character you’ve made up.”

“Who said I made it up?”

“What do you—”

“Goodnight my angel. You need to sleep.”



“Aunt Sally always calls you ‘Tammy.'”

“It’s just a nickname, silly. You know my name is Ann.”

“Just like me!”

“Just like you. Go to sleep.”


“Ha! Goodnight, angel.”



Be sure to vote for your favorite story here!

Daniel Brophy has been writing for nearly ten years. He has finished less than that number of stories and books. He has had one short story published, but that was six years ago and the name of the now-defunct publication escapes him. Born with a thirst for words and stories, Daniel owns enough books to open a small library, or to re-enact the ending of the Twilight Zone episode where the bookworm breaks his glasses at the end (spoiler alert). Thankfully, Daniel has eyes like baseball legend Ted Williams, so broken glasses are not a problem. It should also be noted that his pop culture acumen borders on worrisome, due to a Tarentino-level of knowledge. Dream projects for Daniel include: writing a book set in the Alien universe; building a life-sized replica of the TARDIS and setting it into a wall to act as a door to a room, giving off a ‘bigger on the inside’ illusion; and making a low-budget horror movie about a graveyard. Daniel gallivants across this perilous journey through time and life with his wonderful girlfriend, a joyous woman light-years smarter than Daniel, and whom he hopes sticks around long enough so that he won’t have to edit this author bio ever.

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  1. You know, I love my blood and gristle and gore as much as the next guy, but every once in a while, it’s wonderful to find a sweet, well written piece. Love the dialogue-only narrative, and the tongue in cheek humor it allows you to slip in. Saw the ending coming from a mile away but, really, it made the whole thing that much more interesting to read. Got my vote.

  2. You have a great framing device – the bedtime story – so why does this read like a script instead of a story? I like the dialogue, I like the humour, but I really would like a little more actual story. It feels like something fundamental is missing, as if I’d been served a wonderful meal but not been given a plate or any cutlery.

    Concentrating on what I’ve got in front of me, and despite the damage it’s doing to the tablecloth, this works. I want to follow the story, and while I’m wondering what the mother left out or glossed over, I’ve enjoyed reading it. I’m smiling at the end, so that must equal success.

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