Marcel opened his eyes and stared at his boots which looked majestic in the morning sunbeams that broke through the gaps in the thin curtains of his trailer. One had fallen over like the first of the Twin Towers. He loved his boots but then he remembered, groaned, and closed his eyes but it was too late. The events of the previous night returned to him like a punch from drunken mechanic. He sat up and swung his legs out of the covers and spent a few seconds looking at his wiggling toes. Except for his boots and his hat he was already fully dressed.
Four trailers over Maria held her breath and waited for the sobs to stop. If they did then she promised herself five more minutes sleep, ten at the most. Okay, half an hour. She was owed about five hours because it had been well past midnight, probably more like 2am, before she had gotten Mouse off to any kind of sleep and even then he’d still woken up, what seemed like ten times an hour, making that wretched noise. At first she’d comforted him by lifting him and rubbing his back but as the night went on she’d been able to settle him by gently shushing from the sofa where she lay.
Mouse could not believe Rosa was dead and he wanted to stop crying but couldn’t.
Outside Adam smoked and watched the door to Marcel’s trailer open. Marcel didn’t know he was being watched, this was clear by the way he cocked his hat in the reflection of his door. Adam’s head shook at this sight. Marcel didn’t draw his finger guns and blow the tips of them, and that was something, as Adam would surely have laughed on a morning when laughter wasn’t really appropriate. Adam waited until Marcel had his hat just so before coughing. Marcel looked over and raised a hand. Adam nodded but said nothing as Marcel made his way over the assault course of hitches and cables which lay between them.
It was clear to Adam – clear to anybody with face eyes – that Marcel saw himself as a real life cowboy, with his hat and boots and denim. It had taken a Russian named Selenya to point out who the cowboy really looked like. “Tchoistora!” Selenya had announced excitedly when she was pointed towards Marcel and told he was the person to apply to for employment. Those who heard and could care enough assumed tchoistora had meant ‘boss’ in foreign. It turned out, to the delight of Adam in particular, that she was actually saying ‘Toy Story’ and ever since Marcel had been known as Woody. Selenya, to her own delight had only worked for two weeks. She got a job in a brothel when they went through Nevada.
“Are you okay?” Asked Marcel, more for something to say rather than any real concern. He knew nothing phased Adam. Adam was the toughest one here.
“Are you okay?” Adam responded without any trace of concern, real or fake, and Marcel knew full well this conversation was only going to end in an argument, if it wasn’t already in one.
“Rosa…” He offered and left it hanging there. He figured if he didn’t say too much he might still be able to diffuse the situation and, he thought, it really wasn’t the time for scoring points. Rosa was dead and it wasn’t his fault. A lot of things probably were – definitely were – but the passing of Rosa was not one of them.
“What are you going to do?” Asked Adam during the process of looking at and then lighting yet another cigarette.
“We should call somebody.”
“Who?” Asked Adam, again not quite showing the compassion Marcel felt he was entitled to so he responded with a forced out sigh. He didn’t know who they should call in such a situation but he reckoned there must be someone. It didn’t seem right or fair that he be left to deal with all this. This was just one more kick in the britches. This on top of everything else which really meant everything else.
He hadn’t been here the longest. Hell, Rosa had been here years when Marcel rolled up all excited and looking for a change. It turned out a change wasn’t as good as a break. Where he expected to find wonderful characters he found mostly drunks. Really bad drunks. Drunks who really had no right to survive what they drank. His drunks. Marcel’s drunks.
So being the man in the chair wasn’t nearly as fun as he’d expected and a week after he arrived he was already planning his exit. The best plan he came up with was getting on the train really early, and he would have done it too, had it not been for Adam. His escape would certainly have been successful. No one would have looked for him so Adam was responsible for a lot of what was bad with Marcel’s life, when you think about it, and that’s why he wanted a bit of compassion the day after the death of Rosa. Because this was it. The was fucking it!
Adam took one last suck on the cigarette and flicked it powerfully away. Marcel watched as it landed a bit too close to a butane tank. On any other day he would have have said something about this and judging by Adam’s narrowed eyes she wanted him to say something.
“What will you do?” Asked Marcel and immediately regretted it. Adam was going to reply ‘don’t worry about me,’ that much was obvious. Marcel had simply wanted to know what Adam would do, hell, what all of them would do if he just called time on the whole thing. Marcel wanted to know. Although he hadn’t quite admitted it to himself the idea that he was going to have to walk away was beginning to form in the way that truths do. They don’t need to be brought to the front of your conscious thoughts, they can lurk at the back, just allowing themselves to be seen now and again.
“Don’t worry about me!”
Marcel couldn’t help but chuckle.
Adam had deliberately misinterpreted that question as Marcel’s way of declaring ‘I am the boss’. His way of demonstrating his authority – authority they both knew he didn’t have. Marcel was responsible for the place, for sure. He dealt with the shit since the death of his great father but he didn’t have the authority of his late father. He had done better than most expected in keeping the wheels on for the last six years, and he liked to kid himself that the place couldn’t survive without him. It could. It could survive without Marcel. But Rosa?
“I do worry about you”, said Marcel, as casually as he could. Adam turned to face him, her bottom lip went behind her upper teeth and Marcel knew she was going to swear.
“Fu…” she managed before, with a squeak and rattle, a door opened, cutting her off. Maria came almost dragging Mouse by the hand. Mouse looked around, his eyes red and puffy, and then up at Maria before burying his face in her dress, a dress that had so many layers it was impossible to guess where it ended and she began. Mouse’s head disappeared up to his ears and Maria laid her hand on the back of his head and made a sad face over to Marcel and Adam. Marcel responded with his own sad face and Adam didn’t finish her swear.
There was chat about who had slept and who hadn’t slept as others appeared from their trailers, vans and cars, but there was little chat about Rosa.
Since Marcel had first sat down Adam had smoked at least five more cigarettes and he knew he could put it off no longer. He announced he was going to see her. This caused Mouse, who had been calmed to a degree with a coffee laced with some kind of liquor, to release a low moan of anguish. Marcel straightened his hat, said, ‘well’, to himself and started for the ring. Clear of the trailers he turned back and wasn’t surprised to see everybody following. He didn’t wait, though, seeing them all look at him when he said he was going to see Rosa had emboldened him. He saw they were looking not just at him but to him and for a moment he felt like his father.
Marcel was taking charge and maybe he could do this. Maybe it wasn’t all over. But that optimism evaporated as soon as his eyes adjusted to the darkness inside the tent and he caught sight of Rosa. His knees momentarily lost their ability to hold his weight and it took him three or four paces and a couple of short sharp deep breaths to regain his balance. He turned to see who had seen him nearly faint but all eyes were on the body laying just off centre of the ring. Rosa’s body.
Seeing her there, a white panel on her side, made from the sunbeam that was coming through the entrance to the tent, made him think of his boots that he’d regarded in a similar fashion that morning. Both sights had conjured up a fundamentally similar feeling of awe.
The purpose of the rope ring in the sawdust was to separate the performers from the audience. It couldn’t physically do this, of course, being only a length of red rope forming a circle some forty feet across, yet nobody was willing to step over it. Instead of keeping excited kids and drunken townsfolk in the stalls, and away from interfering with Wong or Chuckles or the Elastic Sisters – all usually drunk themselves – the rope kept the same performers and one reluctant circus owner away from Rosa. Rosa the Indian elephant who had keeled over and died about ten minutes into her act with Mouse. It had taken rather less than ten additional minutes for the audience to realize the death of the animal was not part of the act. They were alerted to this fact by the screaming of Wong.
Wong was the strongman but his strength was only physical, faced with any sort of crisis that couldn’t be solved by lifting something above his head he would fall to pieces. Despite his name he was actually of Iranian descent and would boast of his family’s performing arts heritage stretching back hundreds of years. He had been known as Abdu the Incredible up until that tragic morning of 9/11. After that morning, proud heritage or not, he was Chinese. The moustache, traditional hat and shiny red waistcoat more than made up for any lack of genuine Oriental features.
Mouse, of course, had been the first person to be aware that something was wrong. Rosa hadn’t moved with anything approaching haste for a few years but she had never been as slow as on her final night. Once upon a time, not too far in the past, she had been capable of really playing soccer, including chasing the ball. It had been a wonderful act but the last few months that part of the act had been reduced to Mouse kicking the giant ball to where she stood so she could, in her own time, kick it back. At some noticed but unspoken stage she had stopped kicking the ball and so Mouse would have to kick it at her harder so it would, if all went well, bounce off her leg and some of the time the rebound would even go into the oversized goal. People cheered regardless, they were, it seemed, just happy to be able to witness an elephant, a dwarf and a giant soccer ball all in one magical place.
With Rosa down, her front legs folded and her rear ones out stretched it was clear she was dead. But Mouse didn’t believe it, he had tried to coax her back to her feet while the audience laughed. They laughed until Wong came streaking out from the sides, screaming and hitting himself on the hat. This broke a spell and others, including Maria and Adam – who always watched the performance as their wagons were closed at showtime – ran to Rosa and Mouse. The audience, who to their credit didn’t need to be told that this wasn’t Broadway, or in anyway the the kind of place where the show must go on, filed out past Marcel. Marcel ,who stood in the aisle at first not sure what to do, who to deal with, the audience or his people. He offered half-hearted apologies while not taking his eyes off drama under the lights.
What the lights really illuminated for Marcel, and the reason he couldn’t look away, was Adam. As he stared through the families hurrying to get away, and while ignoring the platitudes of ‘nice show, buddy’ all he wanted to do was go and hug her and hold her. Like he used to.
It was no surprise that now it was Adam who first stepped into the ring, and after a beat the others followed. Marcel stood back. His father had bought, or won, or God knows how exactly, came into the possession of Rosa the Indian elephant probably about the time he ‘wooed’ Marcel’s mother. Mouse had been at the circus since the beginning, as had Maria who, given her job description, should have seen this coming. Most people had been here far longer than Marcel. Even Adam who was a similar age and the world’s worst bearded lady (she didn’t have a beard, apparently it can skip a generation, but she did have a man’s name) had lived her whole life at the circus, and seeing these people around Rosa brought home to Marcel the fact he would always be an outsider.
Marcel slowly broke through the mourners, went to Rosa and stroked her head.
“I’m going now!” He announced loudly, not looking up from Rosa’s face. When he finally did he went to Mouse and grabbed his shoulder. “It’s yours now,” he said and then broke back out of the ring and out of the tent. He thought he heard somebody say, ‘see ya, Woody!’ but he didn’t stop. It was incredibly bright in the open air and it made Marcel shield his eyes as he had one last look around. He was surprised and glad that he wasn’t crying and with his eyes used to the glare he went to his pick-up. Everything he needed was in there, everything being his wallet. He sat behind the wheel, the passenger side door opened and in climbed Adam. Marcel smiled. “Where shall we go?”
“Surprise me,” said Adam.