I was clearing the last plates as the guests ordered their coffee. I heard one ask Dad if I was the circus boy. Dad said no, that was his other son, and he went into the kitchen to get Marlon.
My big brother came out drying his hands on his apron. He smiled at the crowd. Since he was a little kid he’d been swinging from trees, cartwheeling, doing flips and handsprings. He jerked his thumb at me and we moved some empty tables, clearing a space in front of the cavernous fireplace. Burning inside were the thick ironbark logs I'd spent all morning splitting – which would have been Marlon’s job, but he'd been running around for two days with Becka from school. Although I'd stood next to him all night washing dishes, we hadn't said a word. The silence had soured.
Mum and Dad's restaurant was in the front part of the house, and we all worked there: me and Marlon and our two big sisters. But somehow Marlon was never around when there was wood to chop, or dough to knead, or a toilet that needed a scrub.
Still in his apron, he crossed to an old couple's table and, with a nod of his head, picked up a laminated menu. He flipped it in his fingers a few times. Then he leant back and placed it on his sparsely bristled chin, standing on its end. With his palms held out over the floor and his knees bent, he wove slow circles around the dimly lit room. Never too close to a table or the fireplace, never looking down from the top of the menu. It seemed glued to his chin, until he decided to stand up straight and let it tumble into his hands. His audience clapped and dinged their spoons against their glasses.
Next was a plate, then a lamp – Mum almost reached out to grab it from him – until finally he picked up a chair and stood it upright on his chin, balancing it on a single leg. Smart phones swayed with his movements, until he stood so still that the lights and the fire faded. The watchers drew a breath that lasted hours. Then he jerked the chair forwards and slid it under him. The clatter rushed back into the room, with Marlon at its centre.
No one expected him to stick around at home much longer. Sooner or later he'd head out to the city for one of the circus schools and disappear for years, returning toned and brown and probably married to some belly dancer.
But no one expected me to go first.