His first taste of alcohol was vodka given to him by a dwarf. It was July, and the first night of the circus’s stay in Cleveland. The day had gone well, they had a good crowd, and the clowns and dwarfs sat around a campfire, some of them with smudges of makeup still on, playing guitars, ukuleles, toy wind instruments, and makeshift drums. A bottle of booze made its way around the fire.

Pauline drank with the rest of the clowns. Mike thought she’d be disappointed if he did. Tonight, Pauline and Steve the Trapeze Artist ran off into the woods, and Leo the Dwarf insisted that Mike take a swig. Mike took a small sip, his lips only opening enough to let a couple drops pass. He felt a warm, clean sensation on his tongue and his heart sped up at the thought of how bad he was to be drinking, how cool the circus performers were, and how he wanted to grow up and impress someone.

He lowered the bottle from his lips and smiled. “You fakin’ us, son?” Leo scolded. “You didn’t even take half a sip–much less a real circus swig. Are you a man or your sister’s puppet?”

Mike took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and tilted the bottle up to his mouth and drank the biggest swig he could imagine until he almost choked, dropping the bottle and coughing with his eyes watering and throat burning. The clowns and dwarfs burst into a raucous laughter like only drunken circus performers can do.