I recently attended a wedding at the circus. I mean a circus-themed wedding, not an “under the big top” wedding, though there was a lot of fanciful shenanigans and enough slapstick that one might have a hard time telling the two apart.

Near the entrance to the store was a table laden with circus curiosities presented as gifts for the guests to enjoy. One could eagerly snatch up a Dudley Do-Right sticky mustache or enjoy the taste of pure spun sugar candy. Or perhaps the more pragmatic guest (with December just around the corner) could choose one of the red foam noses, which makes it doubly useful for Christmas. But to me, it seemed like a risky temptation of fate to choose the mustache, as I had recently seen little hairs sprouting from my upper lip where there had been none before. And while I’m easily tempted by sweets, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a snob in believing that consuming it from a pre-packaged bucket deprived it of all the delights of its fluffy purpose and sticky intentions. My lack of pragmatism (but to my credit, my knowledge of that lack) spared me from the red foam nose as I would never be able to locate her in her time of need. It would surely reappear one day behind a dresser or under a stack of books during a cleaning spree, probably around Easter, so it would be a moot point on the end of my nose.

I was about to exercise my freedom not to choose, which is out of character for me since I love gifts, when I noticed something magically appear on the third of the three-ring centerpiece. Tiny real human hands, each perched on a straw, were placed in a vase to mimic a tiny bouquet of beige daffodils. There was a devilish beauty about them, and I was instantly amused. Without thinking or hesitation, I took one out of its previous arrangement and chose the finger puppet of a tiny human hand to accompany me throughout the evening.

The little hand and I do not part soon. In the weeks that followed, I would often roll down my shirt sleeve and place the small hand on my finger to allow the real, doll-sized version to do my bidding. I high-fived the energetic store boys who carried my trunk. To ease the monotony of bored waiters and waitresses, I smacked it against my cheek in restaurants as if trying to make a tough decision on the menu. I sat in my car at stoplights and stroked my tiny hand to my chin, offering fellow drivers the insight of someone pondering the universe, and told them a fun story to share across the table or between office cubicles. All of these little acts seemed to bring humor in some small way. And to think I had a hand in that.

I grew quite fond of the Lilliputian limb and its meaty rubber fingers, each the size of a matchstick; so much so, in fact, that I carried it with me in my bag, like a little phalangeal talisman. Then one day I saw an opportunity to use my little hand to bond with my teenage son. He and I were in the car together running errands, albeit somewhat reluctantly on his part, and I could tell from the impatient fidgeting and waning conversation that he was getting breathless from the fatigue of the process. Young people today have no resistance against the waves of boredom that incessantly hit the shores of everyday life, so I moved quickly and made a rash decision, as so many do, robust with good intentions and utter lack of foresight. I did not spend a moment considering how this action would be perceived. I was getting rogue.

I pulled into the drive-through lane of his favorite fast food place, and he sat down with the excited expression of a dog hearing Kibbles drop into a bowl. We placed our order and I opened my bag to retrieve my credit card. The tiny hand was there, greeting me with a friendly hello. Even small gestures deserve recognition.

I rolled down my sleeve, placed the miniature fleshy hand, puppet-style, on my index finger, and wedged my credit card between its rubbery phalanges. My son stared at me and, with adolescent economy of words, he simply said, “Uh-uh, no way.” I interpreted this to mean do it! I know the language of teenagers. With the hiss of the car window opening, I extended my arm to the unsuspecting clerk who was simultaneously reaching for his window to get my payment. He flinched and reflexively pulled back, but after a brief pause, he saw the humor in my tiny hand, now peeking out from the end of my covered fist, and proceeded to remove my credit card from its tiny grip.

His resulting laugh grew exponentially to what one in this medium could only define as “full-size,” and the mortification mixed with fascination emanating from my son was as satisfying as applause for a comedian. Comedy does not have to be a market produced and consumed solely by young people; we old people can be perversely capricious.

The clerk, still enthralled by the nonsense, handed the card back to me, carefully inserting it between the flexible fingers of the tiny hand. As he delivered our fried food, he announced that the laughter was worth more than the food and therefore it would be “On Me”, which I mistook for the joke, not the food. I left with a little hello, a thumbnail greeting, and a polite “Thank you.”

As I walked away, my son looked at the receipt and announced, “Damn Dang…it was free, seriously!” to indicate that our food had, in fact, been issued free of charge. I was surprised, flattered, and moved that my capricious act had brought me such overwhelming happiness, twice, as I watched my teenage son devour a dozen chicken nuggets, empty a carton of French fries, and empty the entire wad with a liter of soda So who says you can’t feed a family with laughter? Talk about a happy meal.

Moments later in an office supply store, searching for the perfect fineliner, the fast food clerk’s previous act of kindness and generosity still permeated the air, like the aura of perfume. I couldn’t shake this happy mist in my midst, nor did I try; I wallowed in it. However, it won’t be fully experienced (even after you get the perfect fineliner) until it’s fully recognized. This act of kindness required retaliation of the smartest kind.

Fat and happy, my teenage son wanted to come home at the height of the day, but I pushed him over the edge by saying, “Wait, there’s more” and he slumped in his seat. “We need gas…fuel, gasoline” to which there is no answer. I went into the station and parked, not near the pump, but near the gate. He made no move to release his seat belt, indicating his intention to wait in the car. Once again, I used my maternal lube to release him from his own stubbornness. “I’ll get you an ice cream, big baby.” He gets out of the car and, as he’s been taught to do, holds the door open as we walk into the store together.

As the friendly young cashier collected the ice cream, I ordered the one and only item I came for. “What kind of lottery ticket would you like?” was all she said, before a barrage of questions and recommendations shot out from the crowd of helpful strangers in the store. She naively did not know that this request would come with options or generate such assistance. “I want a random one for the next billionaire thingy.” And then I added, “Wait. I need two.” I turned to the ice cream room and said, “One will be for us.”

Returning to the fast food joint and past the squawk box, I walked over to the window. The same employee was still there. He pushed the window open, looking confused, since he hadn’t made any requests. This time he saw a lottery ticket folded in the tiny hand and nestled nicely between the meaty digits. “This is for you,” I told him. He took the bill and looked at it with a mixture of surprise and confusion. I continued, “It’s the Lucky for Life ticket. The drawing is tonight at eleven. What you did earlier was very generous and now I’m paying it forward, and well, backwards too, I guess. I hope you win a billion dollars.” “. And when you do, I hope you do a lot of good things for a lot of people. Have a great day.” I peeled myself off, leaving the plastic tag with his name on his shirt still unread.

The silence in the car lasted three traffic lights before my teenage son spoke up: “If we win, I get half, right?” he asked him, between licks.

I slap the tiny hand to my wrinkled forehead, “Eureka!” I told my son, who was busy pushing the ice cream down his pie hole. “Even better than that,” I said, “I’ll double your investment, which is… oh wait… you didn’t invest, s-nothing. You’ll get, nothing.” I burst out laughing, and although he tried very hard to appear nonchalant, I saw the invisible smile on his face.

She shook her head and murmured through the puree in her mouth, “That was great, Mom. I wish I could have gotten it on Snapchat.”

The next day, the newspaper headline read: FAST FOOD WORKER WINS LOTTERY. The story that followed: An anonymous old woman with small hands donates a lottery ticket to a fast food worker who wins THE BIG ONE. Mr. Lucas Petitemain, in honor of his wounded warrior brother, plans to establish a foundation to provide bionic limbs to those in need.

Well, at least it’s nice to think about… that, that could have been.

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