Posts tagged circus
Posts tagged circus
The summer is coming. You can tell by the subtle changes in the air, the way that things seem greener and fresher and imbued with a sweet scent that sends a very particular feeling running down to your toes. The feeling you get when you go on holiday, and you’re walking through the town when the sun rises and there’s nobody else on the streets. The feeling that swells and fills your chest and makes you grin, and you can’t explain what you’re grinning about.
What you still lived at home, you often thought of travelling. There was so much more of the world than this tiny island could offer. And now you’re on the road, and you can’t decide whether you were right or not.
Home. It seems so far away and so far forgotten. And it must be said, forgetting is easier for you. But every so often something reminds you of what you left behind, of who you left behind, and you get to wondering. Is that someone waiting for me? Do they remember who I am, what I look like? Or has their memory of me started to wane, like mine?
You shake your head to clear the memories. At least, you think they are memories. Summer is coming, you tell yourself, and allow yourself to smile.
You’ve noticed the way you’ve been changing whilst being on the road. You’re thinner than before, you can feel muscles corded beneath the jeans you seem to wear every day, your arms are stronger. Your hair is longer. Someone said you looked roguish the other day, and you laughed loud enough to offend them. That’s another thing – you have a tougher skin now. You noticed it not too long ago, things don’t seem to offend you any more. And you’re sure your accent has changed. Little wonder if it has, there’s that many people travelling with you from all over the place you were bound to pick up something.
“Just be grateful it’s an accent and nothing else,” Wolfe had said, laughing.
Wolfe. You wonder where she’s gotten to now. Probably on the phone, organising another show – now that the weather’s thawing out, there’s more customers and Wolfe is busier than ever. Over the phone, people have a respect for her, but you’ve noticed the difference that comes with a meeting in person.
It’s little wonder. People expect her to be older, to look more like an office worker, to be more behind-the-scenes, to be more professional in the outward sense. You know that Wolfe is probably far more professional than anyone else in that kind of job, but inwardly. Her looks are a different matter. You went with her to the last one. She asked for you to be there, asked in her usual I-don’t-care voice that made you smile and agree, and you both dressed smart for the occasion. As smart as shirt and jeans can be, but they were clean, at least. You were intrigued about the running of the show and were looking forward to it. But that look in the woman’s eyes, the woman you were going to meet, the steely-eyed landowner with red painted lips. That look said it all.
You know that it’s her tattoos that make people disapprove straightaway. Even beneath the white blouse you could see them, and it stands to reason that the landowner could too. Black ink covering most of her arms and hands, and you knew they covered her entire body. Not that you’d seen, of course. She’d told you. It was a merit to Wolfe’s business manner – witty and straight talking –that they managed to get the site to set up the show. That and the way she managed to always paint a picture in mid-air, a fantastic shimmering mirage that hung in nothingness and then melted away. An image of the show in its full glory.
“Penny for them?”
Her voice jolts you out of your daydream. Quiet as a cat, as the cliché goes, the sleeves of her shirt rolled up to show lines of some ancient language inked on her skin. She takes a drag of her cigarette.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
You shrug. I was thinking of you. “Nothing. Just… thinking. You know.”
She rolls her eyes and gestures over her shoulder. “All hands on deck for unloading, Dolly Daydream. We need everything up and running before sundown. Home sweet home.”
You turn and follow her, watching the contours in her back as she walks in front of you, the way the afternoon sun adds a raven gleam to her hair. The feeling descends on you again, that summer feeling. But you know exactly why this time.
I often wonder whether you’re alright. If you still long for home. You’ve learned to hide your feelings quickly – either that, or you’ve mislaid them altogether. I seem to spend more and more time with you, talking about things that I haven’t said to anyone before. You have that inviting feel to you. I wonder if you feel the same around me, if we are really friends or if you’re with me simply because I’m the first one you met in this strange and wonderful place. And then I realise I don’t care – it’s enough for us to be in each other’s easy company, and if it feels right… Well, that’s what I’ve always gone on. I feel right around you.
And now, lying on top of the truck staring into the never-ending night, we seem to fit with each other. I can feel the rise and fall of your chest, the warmth of your body lay next to mine. I’m not a rational person, not in my actions and impulses, I jump before I can see the ground and so I move my hand until it’s touching yours and when you don’t move away, I feel a small thrill in the pit of my stomach. It’s been too long. I doused anything more than friendly affection when I ran away from home, hardened myself so the homesickness wouldn’t overtake me. But you seem to override that. I feel… I don’t know what I feel, what I don’t feel. You confuse me, and I’m glad. Things have been straightforward for long enough. You disrupt my routine, I fall behind in my work because we spend so much time together just being, and it’s what I need. What I have needed for a long time.
Even when you take my hand, we keep looking skywards. Your fingers lace through mine and I smile, knowing that you’re smiling too. I gave up wishing on the first star a long time ago. Maybe I’ll start again.
It’s amazing how well you can see the stars around here. We lie on our backs on top of the truck, watching as lazy clouds drift across the constellations, the mint imperial moon giving them an unearthly glow, and you think does it get better than this? Well, does it? Not at the moment, and that’s all we live in. There’s no point in thinking about tomorrow because we don’t know what it will hold, no point in thinking of yesterday because that’s gone and there’s no room in our suitcases for those memories. We start fresh every day. It’s simpler that way.
We passed a fair last night as we drove to the small patch of countryside that was our destination. The ferris wheel was turning slowly and we could hear the shouts of people on rickety roller coasters. But it was all a blur as we drove on. Like as not there were some of the fairground people there, almost kindred spirits with us, but we don’t stop. It gets tiring, sometimes, when the light is dying and you’re spending every day with the same people, learning their flairs and their faults. Something is changing all the time, but we can’t tell whether it’s us or the people around us, or whether the two are the same. We fall into patterns, a sort of slow and beautiful dance. Dancing the same steps all the while, falling into pace with each other and creating our own rhythms to sway to.
It’s getting darker earlier. The nights are drawing in, the cold is creeping in through the closed windows and the leaves are curling at the edges. You only notice when the sun goes down. The way breath clouds in the air, the streetlights seem brighter but you know it’s only because the nights are darker. The engines take a little longer to turn over and the fires lit don’t quite reach the chill that settles in the bone’s marrow. Even the stones are cold.
The autumn is here, and soon the winter. The time we fear, when the ground is too hard to drive the tent pegs in and you can’t get warm when you’re sleeping in the back of a truck. People are less eager to come outside, no matter how many posters we put up, no matter how colourful the canvas, no matter how much we sell our talents. The audiences drop with the temperature. It’s the time of year where we lose people as well. And it’s this point where we realise how much we had. The cliché is true. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Every time the air gets tighter people realise what they have left behind. The first winter is usually fine – we stay because we want to prove that we can do it, we want to show people that this wasn’t just another phase we were going through. So we stay around the same area, we get part time jobs stacking shelves or cleaning cars and we carry on with the shows. Sometimes we’re lucky and we find somewhere to stay, a relative who doesn’t mind a few guests or, once or twice, a wealthy audience member who takes pity on us. We’re not proud enough to refuse charity. But sometimes luck is not our lady, and we stay in the back of the trucks. We huddle together and try to keep some of the warmth in but the will to stay escapes. And then spring comes round and we seem to forget how difficult it is. It’s the second winter that people leave. You can tell, then, who has somewhere to go. There’s a few of us who have seen out many winters here simply because there’s nowhere else for us to whether the weather.
We miss those who leave us. You live in these conditions for long enough and you become a family, despite many people’s best efforts to keep to themselves. So when the winter does come around, and when our numbers do deflate, we lose a little bit of ourselves every time. Sure, we build ourselves up again and grow another layer of tougher skin, but we carry the ghosts of everyone with us wherever we travel to. It’s like we’re told when we get here – the things that seem valuable at the start get replaced with broken watches and old photos and the friends that we lose to the real world.
The moon is orange tonight, the glow of the sun reflecting off the pockmarked surface and bleeding into the sky around it, a watercolour painting that hasn’t had time to dry. We sit on the roof of the main truck and breathe smoke into the cool night, making unnecessary small talk when we know we could just sit in silence. Content with just being in easy company. Three people left us today, apparently eager to beat the frost on the ground. We’re avoiding the subject. Flickering lights of planes trace patterns over head, we must be close to an airport if they’re flying this low. We don’t mention it, but we’re thinking the same thing. Each wondering whether the other will be here when the winter truly arrives, whether the temporary home we have forged will hold against the temptation of a warm bed and brick walls. And who could say for certain? The one thing we all learn passing through here, nothing is predictable when you depend on the road and the crowds under the canvas. When you put your foot on the accelerator and just pick a direction in the hope that there’ll be something at the end of the journey… You can’t second guess yourself. We carry on how we always have, simultaneously dreading and longing for that pull in the stomach that means it’s time to move on.
It’s been a while.
The wheels have finally stopped rolling and the curtain is ready to go up. It’s show night. And you’re nervous.
It’s understandable really. You spend months travelling with these people and you still don’t know their real names, and they don’t know yours. But does it matter? Here in this madcap world of fake faces and smoky taboos, the truth seems overrated. It’s all about what’s on the surface. What lies beneath is something best left untouched.
You seemed to slip quite easily into this rolling life. Nobody asks questions, nobody expects that much of you. It’s just one of those things. You get the sense that if you were to leave, no-one would care. Not that you’re planning on leaving. There’s nowhere else for you to go.
You lean against one of the trucks and scuff your shoe on the dirt, staring at the mismatch of tents, the fairy lights softly glowing against the ever encroaching night. You can feel it. Something in that night, something waiting. As if the whole world had taken a breath and was waiting for release. A hand touches your shoulder.
She looks at you with laughter in her eyes and you can’t help but smile back. You nod. Your mouth is dry. She grins and pushes you towards the main tent.
“Come on then, pretty boy. Time to earn your keep.”
It’s been a while.
Shameless advertising for the play I am currently directing. Circo Fantasmi, here we go!
“You don’t get it. Everyone depends on me, everyone tells me their problems because they think they have none of their own. They think I run this thing and they think that the smile on my face is a real one. But it’s not. And I don’t say anything. Because if I break, who’s going to hold the rest of them up? What would happen if one day I woke up and said, fuck it. Do it yourselves.”
She’s sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees, staring out at the tents. The rain has slowed to a slow drizzle and it’s sunset. She’s been sitting out here for just over two hours.
“I feel that way sometimes, you know. Like throwing in the towel. Like sitting in the corner of the truck and closing my eyes and refusing to move. Like letting the world go to hell without me because I can make my own way there. And every so often I look at letters from home and I cry harsh, hard tears. Not the dainty crying that ladies do, it’s a strangled cry and it gives me a nasty fucking headache afterwards. I sob till there’s nothing left inside, and then I wipe my eyes and carry on. It’s a cleansing process. I don’t tell anyone about it. Well, not till now.”
Dead ends of cigarettes litter the roof of the truck and the one in her hand shakes as she perches like the sole guardian of this travelling show. Her dark hair is plastered to her forehead and her thin jumper soaked through to the skin.
“I have trigger words for my tears, four of them. I want my mum. I say those words over and over and over again and my throat closes up and I feel so fucking alone that I cannot believe it. It’s the only time that I ever let myself face the reality of what I’ve become. I’m alone. Yeah, I have the show and I have my sister, but I’ve left everything else behind. My education, my family. My mother. And the worst thing is that if I turn back now she would welcome me back and not blame me for anything that I have done to them. For abandoning them. And I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t go back there because I can’t stay in one place, I can’t be stuck somewhere because the truth is I think I will fail. If I keep moving I can’t form attachments and I can’t get hurt. I just hurt everyone else.”
She shivers. Presses a saturated sleeve to her eyes, sniffs and carries on.
“If I let myself think about what I’m actually doing, I panic. That’s the real me. Racing ahead and ignoring all my problems because if I face them head on I will collapse, more so than now. I don’t sleep properly. I have the worst nightmares available to mankind and I get up in the morning and hate what I see in the mirror, I’m jealous of everyone who’s prettier than me or who seems more in control than me, anyone who is loved because I wish I could do that. I wish I could give up. Just go home and hug my mum and have her tell me everything will be okay. Just leave everything behind. But that’s the cowards way out, isn’t it?”
This isn’t the girl I know. The one I know is smart mouthed and always grinning. She punches walls and spits insults. She doesn’t cry. She never cries. And this is the first time I’ve seen her anything other than utterly self assured.
“Or maybe the cowards way is to do what I’m doing. Not facing anything. Running away from my problems. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing but I can put on a good enough front that people trust me. People think I can do it. And the truth is that I’ve never been so out of control.”
It’s like a dream, isn’t it? I had the same reaction when I first got here. Everyone calls me Wolfey, and you are..? Excellent. Nice handshake, by the way. You can judge someone by their handshake, you know. Limp fish handshakes rarely make it past the first tent. Come on in. Let’s get you a cup of tea or something, you look half frozen.
This way, mate. You can stare in a minute, I’ll take you on a tour once we get rid of your stuff. Nothing too valuable is there? Just pop your bag down there… Do you take sugar? Sweet enough already, yeah? Right, get that down you, sorry about the mug, it’s a bit chipped. They get like that after a while. What? No, don’t be daft. It’s free. Now, before we go in, I have to tell you.
Once you’re here, you can leave when you want. You are under no obligation to stay, and we’ll welcome you back. People usually stay for a couple of months and then move on, but there’s a few who have been here for years, decades even. There’s no time limit. Time seems slower here.
We move around a lot. That’s probably why you couldn’t find us sooner, we’re constantly on the move. So personal possessions have to be kept to a minimum. I can see that you’ve got one bag, that’s fine, but you’ll amass things along the way… You’ll find that the things worth keeping aren’t necessarily the most important or most valuable. Phones and iPods and books turn into broken watches and pressed flowers and an anonymous handwritten letter.
It’s very close living arrangements. It ranges from bed and breakfasts to sleeping in the trucks. There is no such thing as personal space, not unless it’s in your own head. If that’s not something you can cope with, you just have to man up and deal with it.
Folk keep themselves to themselves. Everyone has their own story, and sometimes people are willing to talk, but there are taboo words. Family. Home. Past. These things get lost here, you have to accept that. It’s a case of do-your-own-time.
You’ll change in here. Get new skills, meet new people, all the usual jazz. But you, your own self, will change. Every day, you have to be willing to lose a little more of who you once were and become something else. I can’t tell you who or what that will be. It’s not for me - or you, for that matter - to decide. It just happens. And the more you change, the more you grow into this new life that you have chosen, the more distanced you will become from the outside world. You’ll see things differently. The world as you know it now will begin to lose its flavour and there are only two solutions to that. You can absorb yourself even more into this new life, discover different ways to see things and more ways to live than you thought possible. Or you can leave. Travel. That’s what most people do after a few months, they go to other countries seeking culture and vitality.
The outside world won’t want you. You won’t have a place any more. And you won’t be able to change that.
Still interested? Excellent. No, there’s nothing to sign, no paperwork at all. Totally free environment here. Now, the show starts in a few hours. Can you do tickets? Front of house, all that? I’ll show you the ropes, don’t worry about it. But I think we should get some food first… Don’t know about you but I’m bloody starving. You can meet the rest of the crew as well.
- It’s always bastard raining when we come here. Pure fact, that is. The weather doesn’t agree with us.
Inhale/exhale. Smoke curling through the deluge.
- Do we have to wait?
- Yeah. Nobody’ll come out in this.
Cough into a fist. Shake head.
- Stupid bloody weather.
Cough. Cough again. Can’t see the eyes. Silhouette. More smoke.
- That’ll kill you, you know.
- Thanks for the warning.
- Doesn’t it worry you?
- What? The smoking?
- No. Death.
- Death’s nothing. You can’t be afraid of nothing. You can be afraid of dying, that’s fine. But death? Not at all.
- You can be afraid of nothing. What about when you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and you’re stood on a bridge and there’s no way forward and no way back. You’re surrounded by nothingness and it’s one of the most terrifying things in the world.
- But you’re afraid of what is in the nothing. You can’t be afraid of nothingness itself. You need something to set your fear against, it needs to lean on something. Fear needs support, it needs a purpose.
- What are you afraid of?
A silence. Inhale. Exhale. Tap the ash off the cigarette.
- I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid that one day someone will turn round and tell me that I’m not good enough and I have to go. That someone else can do this job better than I can. I’m afraid of having to go back to my parents and say “You were right.”
- You know that wouldn’t happen.
- Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe it would. I’m only twenty, William. There are people out there who have trained in this sort of thing. At the end of the day, I’m just a thief who knows how to network. And then there’s the show.
- The show must go on.
- Rightly so. Come on, we’ll shrink if we stay out much longer.
Door opens, door closes. Cigarette dies in a puddle of rain. Eyes watch in the shadows.