Circus Life

by Breanne Mc Ivor

The lions roared. The bars of their cages shuddered and squalled in an indignant symphony of sound. The smell of blood, like wet iron, drifted from their cages into Eric’s caravan. Eric was cleaning the serrated and smooth knives that he used to cut the lions’ meat. He gently lowered the knives in boiling water, gripping the handles tightly. Bubbles formed on the bloodied flat surface of the blades before rising to the water’s top and popping. Steam spiraled slowly from the pot.

Knuckles thumped on his caravan door. Eric ignored it, turned off the stove and swiftly lifted the pot- pouring the boiling water into the sink, which hissed softly. Using his steel tongs with the red rubber handles, Eric removed the knives and lay the blades on the flat plastic surface that he had installed on his kitchen counter for that purpose.

The second knock rattled his caravan; Eric inhaled deeply and marched the couple of metres to the door before snatching it open. The Hilarious Harpo, without his clown makeup, but still wearing his neon green and yellow polka-dotted costume, was standing there, slumped over the railing. There was a smudge of blood on Eric’s cheek and top lip.

Harpo began to cry.

“Now’s not a good time,” Eric snapped.

He pushed the door outwards but Harpo thrust his size twenty-two shoe between the door and wall. “I can’t do it!” he howled.

“Neither can I,” Eric said. He shoved Harpo so hard that the clown stuttered backwards, falling with a staccato thump and pop.

“I can’t juggle,” Harpo cried from his fluorescent heap on the floor. His hands fumbled in his pockets and his coloured balls spilled out and down the steps. Rolling in all directions along the soft earth, they created an intermittent rainbow around the caravan. Harpo thrust his veined hand at Eric – each finger shook at a separate pace. His wrist was a pulsing flamboyant lump.

Harpo clutched the side railings of the caravan and hauled himself to his feet. “I haven’t had a drink for three days.” he sobbed. “But the shaking is getting worse.” He pushed past a stoic Eric and crumpled onto the first folding chair. “A clown who can’t juggle, who can’t ride the unicycle has no place in the circus.” He pulled a three-metre long coloured string of handkerchiefs from his pocket and blew his nose loudly. `

Eric sniffed. The softened innards on the boiled knives were polluting the air but he actually did not detect Harpo’s traditional cologne of white rum and coke. Shakily, Harpo fidgeted with the knots tying the handkerchiefs together and glanced furtively along the caravan; he tried to peer through the crimson curtains separating the bedroom from the main area.

“Whom are you looking for?” Eric barked.

Harpo spasmed. His left leg kicked a metallic pail containing a few bloody entrails and half a heart. Eric snatched the pail and hauled it to the kitchen. It clanged when he dropped it to the floor, its soup of blood and bodily fluid sloshed at its edges.

“Sorry,” Harpo whimpered, wiping his eyes. “You just cut up meat for the lions?”

“An hour ago,” Eric said flatly. His lion tamer’s whip, which he hung on the wall when not in use, arched behind him like half a black wing. Seizing a battered toothbrush that had been soaking in warm water, he began running the bristles along a knife’s edge.

“What are you -”

“Cleaning,” Eric snapped. “Sometimes when animals struggle they leave bristles of hair on the knives. Or sticky bits of gut.”

“Oh, I didn’t realise you killed anything,” Harpo squeaked. “I thought the meat was delivered.”

“One of the Great Goats of Gibraltar became arthritic.”

“Oh? I didn’t know. I guess Melville didn’t tell me.” Harpo looked at Eric wiping the knife with a wet cloth and shuddered. “Actually,” Harpo said in a tiny voice, “I came to see your wife. Is she here?”

“She’s with the lions.”

“She always has a solution,” Harpo eventually mumbled. His eyes poured over the caravan, catching sight of a transparent purple robe thrown over the back of a chair. He still had tears in his eyes.

Eric slid the clean knife into its slot in his knife block, the handle facing him. He began weaving the toothbrush in and out of the serrated edges of the second knife.

Harpo’s middle and ring fingers began to tremble frantically and he forced his hand into a fist. “Two night ago, she suggested that I could do a drunken man routine. Slapstick comedy. Three attempts to stand. A pie in the face. Art imitating life. Ha. Ha.”

“Two nights ago?” Eric asked. The toothbrush in his hand quivered.

“Oh. No. I mean…we were outside. After the show. Her. Me. Melville. The new dwarf with the blind cockatoo – I can’t remember his name now. Ah.” Harpo’s heart hammered loudly and he glanced towards the lions’ cages. Had they been roaring all the time? He could not recall. His eyes rolled towards the caravan door, two long metres away.

Eric was not so much cleaning the knife with the cloth as caressing it. Harpo tried to speak but his parched tongue quivered and cracked in his mouth. The chair snapped shut suddenly and seized the seat of his pants like jaws. Harpo wriggled, reclaiming the ruffles of his shirt from the chair.

“Go out back and see her,” Eric whispered.

Harpo swallowed mournfully and turned his back on the other man. Eric returned to cleaning the serrated and smooth knives. The cleaver was still bloody.

Breanne Mc Ivor is half of a brother-sister writing duo and the co-founder of PROW (People’s Republic of Writing), a populist creative workshop writing series. She was born and raised in Diego Martin, Trinidad. Before working as a teacher, she got a couple of degrees from the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh.

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