Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition 2018
The Circus of Delight
By Glenda Young
A scarf of red silk drapes over my legs as I work. My stitches are small but no longer invisible as they once used to be. I work quickly, repairing trousers for Freydo and Pav before tonight’s show. If only my fingers could work to repair our tent, but alas I do not have the skill or the material to fix what is needed. The tent continues to leak and lets in much light, even on the darkest of days.
I reach to the table to pull yellow silk to my workspace. I mend Freydo’s yellow trousers with red cotton because I have to make do with what I have, not what I would like. I do not notice Freydo approach the open door to my van. He coughs gently to alert me and I look up and smile. I break the red cotton with my teeth and drop the silk to my knee.
“The trousers are ready?” he asks.
“And the tops are almost done. Sit with me, Freydo,” I ask.
Freydo sits at the bench opposite and the van rocks gently as it welcomes his weight.
“Tomorrow we move on again, eh?” he says.
Every day we move on. We have to keep moving on. Those who know tell us to keep moving east.
“I have the heart sick, Aina,” Freydo tells me. His eyes glisten with diamonds of tears, ready to fall.
“I have the heart sick, too, Freydo. We all do.”
“Wallace is very sick today,” Freydo tells me. It’s news I did not know as I had not visited the cage yet today.
“He is dying, Aina. His last performance can not be too far away.”
A tightness hits my chest. Wallace is our last animal alive. If we lose our lion, people will stop coming to the show. And without an audience, what will become of us then?
I lift my eyes from my work to glance across the table.
“Freydo, did you speak to Tomas?” I ask.
Freydo nods. “He did not take it too well.”
“But he will stop?”
“He knows we need the gasoline. But he was angry, Aina. He told me that The Circus of Delight always had a fire act.”
“This is true,” I say. “My father was the first and he showed Tomas his ways.”
“Tomas ranted like a mad man. ‘You take my fire!’ he screamed at me, Aina. ‘And you take my soul’.”
I slide the yellow and red silk across the table to Freydo.
“They’re done,” I tell him.
He stands to leave and the van rocks again with its goodbye.
I lift from my work basket a pair of blue cotton drawers with white frills. The frills have stretched far away from the cotton and are in need of repair. The drawers belong to Duna who is married to Leon. It is a famous marriage, or at least, it once was when Duna and Leon’s trapeze act was marvelled by thousands. Now, they are seen in each village we visit by those who have survived.
I lift Duna’s drawers to inspect the holes where the frills should meet cotton. It is not the only item of Duna’s clothing to become stretched and in need of repair. Duna herself is stretching, yet Leon still believes the baby is his. Along with Miguel the ringmaster and Duna herself, I am the only person who knows it is not. Soon, Duna will have to step down from the trapeze to allow her baby the safety it needs.
Now, I take the mended clothes and step down from my van. I walk past the cage and see Wallace. He is still breathing, we may get tonight’s performance from him after all. The audience like to see him, they cheer for the exotic. But how much longer will he be the star of our show? Freydo and Pev are the best clowns around, but they can’t compete with the king of the jungle. Wallace has been ill for so long that Miguel simply walks him around the ring, perhaps once, but never more than twice, before Wallace collapses. The lion is exhausted, as we all are.
I tap at the window of Duna and Leon’s van.
“Just a minute!” Duna yells and when she opens the door, finally, I see Miguel in a chair, with a beer in his hand.
“Miguel is here!” Duna says too brightly. “We were discussing how to make the tightrope shorter as it is fraying at one end.”
This is no concern of mine. I pass over the repaired clothes and give a quick nod to Miguel. If father was still here, he would have beaten Miguel. That is, if I dared to tell father that Miguel had done to me as he has done to Duna. I am lucky that Miguel’s seed did not ripen within me as it has done with her. I often think about reaching the east where life can improve, as it surely must, and I will find a man, a kind man. I would never wish for a man like Miguel or a weak man like Leon. A man like Freydo, perhaps, but younger and not so heart sick.
Sylvie walks towards me as I step down from Duna’s van. I throw my arm across her bony shoulder, pull her towards me and lay a kiss on her head.
“No clothes for mending today, Sylvie?” I ask her.
“Still no spare cloths?” she asks by way of reply.
Sylvie holds out her hands to me, palms up, offering me bruises to see.
“I can not juggle any more with the stones,” she says. “Cloths will help.”
“I will do all I can,” I promise.
Sylvie casts a worried look towards Duna’s van.
“Is Miguel still inside?”
The tightness inside me grips hold. Has Miguel’s desire spread to Sylvie, too?
When I reach the tent, Ivor and Sam are working to mend the hole in the roof. They are strongmen with our Circus of Delight and in the ring they exhibit their prowess by lifting heavy weights. And when the audience have gasped at their strength they lift men from their seats. Ivor holds one man in each hand while Sam encourages the audience to cheer.
I enter the musty tent to arrange the seats for tonight’s performance. It is Pev who finds me there later, waking me after the tiredness overwhelms me.
“Aina, there is bad news,” Pev says gently, helping me stand. “It is Wallace. Our lion has gone.”
We walk together to the cage where everyone has gathered. Inside the cage Miguel is cradling Wallace’s head in his arms. Miguel is not the only one of us crying. No-one has yet said it, for no-one yet dares, but we all wonder what will become of The Circus of Delight now our star attraction has gone. Freydo walks to stand by me and covers my hands with his own.
“We must keep moving east,” he whispers. “Moving east is all we can do.”
Biography – Glenda Young
Glenda has loved writing stories ever since she was a child. But it wasn’t until 2015, after a lifetime of work in office admin, that she became a freelance writer. She now writes short stories for women’s magazines, including writing the first ever weekly soap opera Riverside for ‘The People’s Friend’, the longest running women’s magazine in the world. Her debut novel, ‘Belle of the Back Streets’ will be published in November 2018. You can find out more at glendayoungbooks.com