Ozark Empire Fair

The Missing Link

by Michael Lloyd Gregory

Loyd’s mom was an alcoholic. He didn’t know it until his parents divorced when he was thirteen. His dad apparently knew the secret because he put the kibosh on all drinking early in their marriage. Loyd never saw his dad drink a drop of alcohol in his life. The only time Loyd saw his mother drink in front of his dad was on New Year’s Eve, when she would down a punch cup of spiked eggnog with the cousins while they played pinochle. Unbeknownst to Loyd’s dad, his mom also was fond of drinking a can of Coors with salt in it while she bowled in her afternoon ladies’ league. She once told Loyd not to mention it to his dad and he never did.

Loyd’s parents didn’t get along. It became more and more apparent over the years until they sat him down on the front porch the summer after seventh grade and told him they were going to switch bedrooms because they no longer loved each other. They told him not to worry, because Loyd was the most important thing in their lives. They would stay in the same house for his sake until he finished high school. That night, Loyd’s bed was moved into the bigger bedroom where his parents usually slept and his mom moved into his old room. He and his dad were going to be roommates.

Ozark Empire Fair

The following week, his mother filed for divorce after the first and only fight between them Loyd ever witnessed. His dad moved out while he and his mom stayed in the only house Loyd had ever known.

His mom’s disease progressed rapidly, eventually tearing everything apart within two years’ time. Loyd became the caregiver in a sad situation completely out of his control. He learned to make coffee, prepare meals and put out the fires his mother started in the sofa when she drifted off while smoking. After a while, his attendance and grades got so bad the school contacted Loyd’s sister, who lived in the same town. She went to the house where she found Loyd passed out on top of the floor furnace grate and their mom asleep. She took Loyd with her. Loyd never lived with his mother again. Later that day his best friend’s mother found his mom blacked out in the bathtub after attempting suicide. She was rushed to the hospital where they pumped her stomach and saved her life.

Ozark Empire Fair

Loyd felt tremendous guilt because he hadn’t been able to protect his mother from herself. It didn’t matter that she could have killed him by giving him a tranquilizer so he could sleep. He never even made it to the bedroom that last night. He felt guilty about lying to the rest of his family about car accidents and mysterious knots on his head. He had lied to his dad about how the garage door got broken. He didn’t tell his dad about helping his mother drive to June Ann’s to eat breakfast on a school night after the bars closed at 3 A.M. Loyd sat in the middle of the bench seat and operated the steering wheel while his mother handled the gas and brakes. They made it all the way to the restaurant and back home safely but ran into the garage door and broke it when his mom didn’t stop the car in time.

Over time, Loyd’s mom got sober with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. She set about trying to fix what had happened best she could. She worked at repairing her relationship with Loyd, and one of the things they did together while they healed was to attend the State Fair. The State Fair and its remarkable Pronto Pup corn dogs were a favorite of both Loyd and his mom. They visited many exhibits and grabbed Pronto Pups fresh out of the fryer with mustard twice that day.

Ozark Empire Fair

As the day wound down, the pair encountered the section of the fairgrounds reserved for the less wholesome exhibits. There was both a freak show on a large trailer and a smaller one purporting to contain the “One and Only Missing Link” on display. Brightly-colored paintings decorated both attractions, sure to attract the eye of every potential customer. Countless fair goers throughout history had been disappointed to find that the advertised natural wonders they lined up to see were actually creatures sealed in glass jars of formaldehyde like the ones which lined the walls of Loyd’s high school biology classroom.

However, according to the signs on the outside of the smaller attraction, not only did they have a half-ape/half-man from Borneo on display, he was ALIVE! Even though Loyd was nearly grown, his mom was not about to let him witness the horrors of the freak show but she relented when he begged to see the Missing Link. They had just enough tickets left to enter.

Inside, they discovered only two other observers. Silence enveloped the room, most likely a side effect of the very human desire to see something forbidden even though the experience brings with it paralyzing shame. In the middle of the room was a square enclosure — more of a low pen — about two feet high all around. Inside the pen was a man crawling around on all fours but somehow limping at the same time. They could only see his back and it was hairy, just like every other square inch of his body. Dark blonde hair was everywhere, culminating in a scraggly beard and a longish mop of hair on his head.

Ozark Empire Fair

A moment later the Missing Link turned toward Loyd and his mom, who had risked the requisite number of tickets and possibly their lives to witness his ape-like, unpredictable behavior. He was surprisingly unlike anyone Loyd could imagine hailing from Borneo. His facial features were nothing like the pictures decorating the inside and outside of the exhibit.

The Missing Link’s blue eyes met Loyd’s mom’s horrified gaze and he exclaimed, “Well…Hi, Irene!”

Once her initial shock dissipated, she haltingly replied, “Hi, Billy.”

Billy was a regular at his mom’s AA meetings, and apparently had a part-time gig as the Missing Link. The couple across the room immediately turned and left hastily. Once the very awkward moment had passed, Billy gathered himself up from the floor and stood as tall as he could. He truly was short in stature and walked with a limp, but all semblance of Missing Link genes seemed to disappear when he said, “It’s time for my break. Can I bum a smoke?”

As soon as the cigarette was proffered, Loyd and his mom high-tailed it down the steps and to the car. They didn’t even consider stopping for a third Pronto Pup.

Loyd’s mom was a lot of things, some better than others, but Loyd is fairly certain he is one of the elite group of people in the world who can state without fear of contradiction:

My Mom knew the Missing Link!

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