);

LOVE RUNS AWAY TO JOIN THE CIRCUS by Kieron Walquist

The Ringleader lets the circus run itself into the ground, unsupervised. Ever since the accident, he hides himself in his trailer. Away from the police, the press, the public. All who lie in wait outside, hunched and hungry. Ready to ambush. Ready to accuse: how could you let this happen? Confined by choice, the ringleader doesn’t eat much. Drinks religiously. Sleeps. Occasionally peeks behind the dusty blinds at the sun. You stay with him in his misery. Longing to be loved. But he refuses to want you. Says: you don’t belong in the circus! Go home. You tell him the back door is unlocked. That anyone could break into such sadness. 

***

The Acrobat makes the dance look effortless. Without the weight of wings, she flies. Streaks the skyline of the tallest circus tent. Bound in a blood-red ribbon of silk, she unravels. Becomes undone. Tumbles towards you. The cops, the cameras, the citizens. Down below, everyone evacuates. Clearing a patch of hard-packed earth for her. There’s no safety net. Suddenly, she stops. Hangs herself by an ankle. Unharmed, the acrobat spreads her arms. TA-DAH! But the onlookers leave, having seen it all before. You promise that she was enough. That your love is enough. She swears it isn’t. Sighs. She really felt it this time. Fame. You tell her they wanted a fall. One more circus catastrophe.          

***

The Beast Tamer feeds the menagerie of animals raw, red meat. Refills the empty stock tanks with cool, crisp water. Scrubs the dust and dirt off the elephants. Tousles the winter coat of the black bear. Playing nice, the beast tamer puts on a show for the authorities, the anchormen, the audience. But you know better. Before the accident, his animals were often sedated and starved. Never let loose. You want to be abused. To have that harsh, heavy kind of love. He says you’re feral. Too wild to hold down. You counter that his crime is obvious. That others will see the suffering safari and wonder: where did the meat come from? 

***

The Fire Eater buries the evidence deep inside a burn barrel. With blistered and blackened hands, he rains gasoline over the remains. Strikes a match. Ignites a fountain of fire. Inhales the smoke. Singed by the hush of heat, he walks away from the blaze. Burning up. Bejeweled in beads of sweat. You follow. Feverish from head to toe. You vow to keep it all a secret. You won’t tell a soul. Not the rangers, the reporters, the residents—no one. He thanks you, but rejects the thought of romance. With you, it’s just too cold. You ask, if he eats fire, when did he become so scared?     

***

The Magician replays and rehearses the old routine. He shuffles the cards, carefully picks the one unknown. Stuffs a rabbit into a top hat. Makes it vanish, then reappear. He saws the pretty girl in-half, but she always comes back together. Every trick he has up his sleeve works. He makes no mistakes. Nothing goes wrong. Yet, something did go wrong. Just once. And they want an explanation. The law, the live broadcast, the locals. You come to his defense. A good magician never reveals his secrets. That’s what you love about him. He begs you to leave. You’re only making it worse. You have no trouble disappearing on your own.   

***

The Fortuneteller meets with the ringleader. The acrobat. The beast tamer. The fire eater. The magician. Welcomes them into her sanctuary. A small space—a room crowded by candles. Air thick with the scent of incense. Roses. Beeswax. Something dead. With milk-white eyes, she considers her crystal ball. Translates her Tarot cards. Looks over the lines pressed into palms. She forewarns them of a frightening future. This time, they believe it—before, they had laughed. You believe the fortuneteller. Offer your hand. Ask: is there love between us? She looks. Shakes her head. I see no future with you

***

You were the brave volunteer. Out of hundreds of outstretched hands, they reached for yours. Chosen, you were carried from the crowd. Brought up on the stage. Held still by the ringleader, the acrobat, the beast tamer, the fire eater, the magician. Electric, the circus performers declared dangerous acts. The swell of sound from the audience—cheers and cries—left you feeling frozen. But you couldn’t have backed out. Not in front of the high-wire. The black bear. The flamethrower. The water-filled tank. You had to play the part. And you did. But before you died in the accident, you looked back at the performers. Thought they all felt it. Love

Read Next: AJAR by Ankita Banerjee