Circle of sawdust...

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Circus people are somehow different to the norm, trapeze
artists in particular...flyers and catchers cannot afford
to make mistakes.

Submitted: December 15, 2011

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Submitted: December 15, 2011

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We buried Mama today.There was no funeral ceremony,  Zola Zlotinsky was Russian Orthodox and far from the land of her birth.  Farcical as it may seem, we three stood in the teeming rain dressed in full regalia, just as Mama would have wished. Her cheap cardboard coffin had already been lowered into the red clay earth. Now all we had to do was say goodbye..  Somewhat irreverently Popo the Clown produced a handful of imitation pink rose petals and sprinkled them into the hole.  I watched them flutter sadly down, the great wide smile on his lips a mockery, but the tears in his eyes glistened.  Merlino the Magician, ever true to his trade grabbed at the air with his white-gloved hand and produced, as if from no-where, a splendid bunch of red paper poppies. They fell with a hollow thump on top of the Mama`s box.  Respectfully the two men lowered their eyes and mumbled a sad farewell in a language foreign to me.  Soaked to the skin, the skimpy tulle ballet skirt I wore lay flat against my thighs. My wet hair hung in strands about my face. I tried hard to forget the ghastly memory of Mama`s last moments.  Her look of terror as the hands she sought in mid air weren`t there. As always, time was of the essence. A split second would have helped.  Mama plunged sixty feet and ended like a crumpled doll thrown onto the ring of sawdust.Taking a last look into the pit I watched unmoved as the stain from the saturated poppy flowers blotched like blood onto her cardboard cask

Born beneath the big top, my Rumanian mother and Russian father were not the best of parents.  Fed and watered like the rest of the animals in the ring, they tolerated my existence only because they would be able to exploit the product they had created, and hopefully long before I reached maturity. Snippets of information, gathered from friends since the age of five confirmed that my

mother, Zola Zlotinsky, a trapeze artist and flyer, fell pregnant on her fourteenth birthday.  She named me Carla.My father Igor threw weighted knives at scantily dressed women and trained performing bears.  He perpetually stank of cheap vodka, beat up Mama, and was detested by most of the unfortunates who worked beside him beneath the canopy of canvas that supported their impoverished lifestyle.

My life began with an unmitigated fear of my father and in consequence of this I was never able to cry. Even today, when eventualities have changed my life considerably, I cannot shed a tear.  I recollect as a child being bodily held by this monster of a man and thrust inches from his face. “Shush you weasel, shush,” he would say.  His dark penetrating eyes and terrifying black moustache petrified me into silence.  I would wet my napkin and try to swallow my tears.

In the first years of my life I learned to savor the aromatic stench of fetid hay, elephant dung and treacle toffee as naturally as I breathed in air. The sound of whirring  steam generators, roaring lions, braying donkeys and honkey- tonk organ music hushed me to sleep like a Brahms lullaby.  I grew strong and lithe.  From the age of four I exercised daily with Mama as my coach. Her invaluable tuition during my growing years made certain that I would follow in her footsteps and be her protégé.  Mama was beautiful.  Caught in the brilliance of the spotlight she sparkled like the facets on a hundred carat diamond.

We never bonded as mother and daughter. In her constant endeavor to charm and delight a fast declining audience as she climbed aloft and was swung by the legs on a trapeze, she seldom cared for me as a her child.  The rift between us widened, and by the age of six I no longer saw Igor and Zola as my parents.  They were performers, just as the clowns and magicians, lion tamers and hypnotists.  A group of individuals unable to cope with the mundane life a normal individual enjoys. All were trained in their specific field and their purpose was to entertain. Circus people are as different as chalk and cheese yet, like pieces in a giant jigsaw puzzle, as soon as the overture music struck up its tune, magically it all came together, right through until the grand finale.

There was always drama. Perhaps it was the nature of the beast, for circus life,

from the uncertainty of the high wire to the jaws of a hungry lion, was as unpredictable as the weather.  One day, an hour before the show commenced, Igor announced that Sylvana, his partner who faced his flying knives, had fallen ill and was unable to perform.  I was lying on a couch in the caravan watching Mama getting ready when Papa announced,  “Carla, here iss your beeg day come at last, you shall be my little Sylvana, come change into tights, you must be ready in half an hour.”

At eight years of age, I had no intention of ending my life through a demented knife throwing Russian circus performer.  I made a bolt for it but only got as far as the door.Igor held me fast, “You will do this for me little one, because I am your Papa. If you are scared, you close your little eyes.”

By this time I was shaking, “Yes Papa.”

My confidence grew as I sat at Mama`s lighted mirror while she plastered my face with make-up.  Practically naked, I pranced into the ring holding Papa`s.  hand. Gyrating and curtsying to my audience as I had been taught,  I walked confidently to the brightly painted target and stood with my arms outstretched while Igor flexed his muscles. .  His remarkable showmanship was perhaps my downfall.  The awful suspense as he fondled his knives and took aim at my frail body was too much for an eight year old.  The warm trickle of urine down my thighs was strangely comforting as the first knife flew and thudded into the board an inch from my side.  Each knife found its mark and I walked from the episode unscathed.  The thrill as the audience roared their approval will live with me forever.  I never had the chance of doing it again.

A month after my debut in the circus ring, Igor, Mama and I sat round the dinner table in the stifling heat of the Lowveld.  The air was electric and thunder rolled in the distance. The elephants became uneasy and began trumpet and stamp their feet in their paddock adjacent to ours.  Igor feared for his bears. Another flash of lightning prompted him to get up from the table, “I go see Tavor and Meeruk, they not like storm.”  Igor`s bears came before life itself.  Even Mama took second place.  He was gone a long time, an hour maybe two when someone came hammering on the door of our caravan.

“Zola Zlotinsky, come quickly there`s been an accident.”  Mama ran through the rain to the bear cage, but she was too late.

Igor,  my father, had been savaged by Meeruk, a big Canadian grizzly. His attempts at pacifying the animal during the storm had ended in tragedy. There was little left of his face and upper torso.  Papa was no more.

Living with Mama was never easy.  When I was sixteen I came to realize that she had become jealous of my physical appearance. I had grown to maturity for the trapeze act, and able to perform without a safety net at heights exceeding sixty feet.  I was also considered beautiful. Dark, petite and supple of limb, I was outperforming Mama at every show..  The crowds were calling me for an encore night after night.

Worse was still to come, Mama became the Ringmasters mistress.

Orlando De Vittorio an Italian Count controlled each member of the circus with  a rod of iron.  They did as he bade only because he had managed to contrive either a monetary or a blackmailing hold over each and every one. Only my father Igor had nerve enough to stand against the Ringmaster.  Now he was gone, Orlando moved in and took his place together with Mama and me.  It was more than a frightful arrangement.  Tho` frowned upon, I moved in with Popo the Clown, a quiet, highly respected gentleman of sixty and a circus performer all his life.

June month was reserved for resting up performers and repairing equipment. Mama, Juanita and I rehearsed new acts, and designed new costumes for the coming summer season.. Orlando had also hired a new act.  He had been toying with the idea for some time and now he had chosen to add a male to our trio. Edwuardo was a twenty-four year old South American.  An acrobat of considerable talent he was hired on the spotStanding five feet eight inches, and enormously strong Edwuardo was world class in his sphere.. His appointment came as a surprise. Mama, Juanita and I were practicing single somersaults with half twists on a lowered trapeze above a safety net .  A simple maneuver yet basically important to our act.  Wrist locked to Mama who hung upside down above me I realized that my momentum wouldn`t carry me to the return trapeze. Instead of using my head, I panicked and dropped like a stone into the safety net. I had no idea that Edwuardo was inspecting the rigging way above my head..  He must have seen me flounder and without hesitation fell into the net and landed a split second after me.

I bounced but Edwuardo managed to nullify his fall and expertly caught me in mid air.  The moment I`d been waiting for happened. . I found the man that had haunted my dreams since I was sixteen.

He reprimanded me on the spot!“Never, never just let go when you fly my little one. Your wings may get burned and you will fall,” he said, setting me down gently onto the net.

I blushedknowing that the blunder I`d made was inexcusable and meeting Edwuardo through a professional misdemeanor was more than embarrassing to me. We introduced ourselves.

“I am Eduardo, sent here to join you on the trapeze and high wire, I am so pleased to meet you.”

“I am Carla and my Mama and Juanita are there on the trapeze. I know it was wrong of me but...but when I saw you there, my mind....it went quite blank.”

He laughed and helped me climb off the net and onto the sawdust.

It caused quite a stir when I introduced him to Mama and Juanita and found it hard to believe that Mama and I were mother and daughter.  .

“No! No! This is impossible,” he exclaimed, “You two are surely sisters? You are both so young and beautiful.”  Holding both Mama`s hands he kissed her

on both cheeks.  Turning to Juanita, he spoke Spanish and the two exploded with mirth.“I want to help you Carla, can we three meet this afternoon when I will show you both how to complete a double flying roll with a half twist and still be able to return safely?”

Juanita`s eyes flashed.  She too was South American.  A highly strung, sensitive girl who needed to be wanted. “So....you  don`t need me, where do I go, feed the monkeys in the cage ha?”

Lifting her chin Eddie kissed her gently on the lips.  “No sweet girl, we do need you, you must come along too, it is important that you do.”  His charm, worked like oil on troubled waters, we were united again in moments. .

“Of course Edwuardo, shall we make it two o` clock?”

“Excellent dear Carla, and one more thing...please call me Eddie.”

Getting back to my caravan, I told Popo the Clown how Edwuardo had caught me in mid air after failing to complete the air borne maneuver.  Old and incredibly wise Popo cautioned me.  “Be very careful in your choice of suitors Carla, the path of true love is often very rocky, and you...you cannot afford to fall.”

I laughed off his advice. “Ha, you wise old owl, you are only jealous because I have found a young man.”

Eddie was high on a trapeze when I arrived and Mama at his side.  I thought it strange that she wasn`t wearing practice togs.  Mama wore a body stocking and precious little else.  I dismissed the dark thoughts that crowded my mind and climbed the access ladder to the small launching platform where they were standing. After briefing us on the intricacies of completing a double roll with half twist in mid air, Edwuardo did the unthinkable.  He had the safety net removed.

Mama, Juanita and I flew into a rage.  We had never worked without the net.

It was there for our protection, and our troop of seasoned performers had never had a fatality in more than ten years. Edwuardo argued that as long as it was there, we would never become professionally trained performers. “You don`t make mistakes when the net is not there,” he said. “It`s as simple as that!”

We three girls climbed down from aloft and walked off the ring. Inside an hour Orlando called for an emergency meeting, and it was agreed that we had safety nets for practice only.  In future, each live performance would be at our peril.

We had three days before the Circus was on the move again.  Laying on my bunk reading I could hear the crew taking down the big top.  There was a lot of shouting,  there always was when we moved.  The animals sense the move too. The four elephants we owned began trumpet and a lion had begun to roar when I heard someone tapping on my window. 

It was Edwuardo, “Hey Carla, lets go into town one last time before we leave.”

I should have refused because I had a thousand things to do. “Fine Eddie, give me ten minutes.”  I quickly made up my face and changed into my favorite colored skirt and blouse.  In less than ten minutes I was sitting beside him in his Range Rover and heading for town.

Pietermaritzburg in Natal was a fascinating place.  Victorian right down to the old Queens statue, I asked Eddie to take me into the Town Hall.  When I was six years old my Father Igor had shown me the most amazing clock that was housed there in the tower.

Completely mechanical, at every quarter of an hour tiny figurines marched out of a doorway, turned and bowed as the clock chimed.  Edwuardo and I stood at the bottom of the steps.  There was a minute to go before twelve `o clock.  He took my hand and together we raced up three flights of stone steps to the anti chamber where the clock was housed.  Just in time and completely out of breath we watched the parade of little people while the clock struck the magical hour.

We were the only spectators.  As the last note struck and the tiny door from whence the figurines came snapped shut, Edwuardo took me in his arms and kissed me on the lips. “I love you my beautiful Carla, I love you beyond life itself,” he whispered.  Entranced, we stood there for more than an hour.  My heart felt like it would burst from loving him. 

Driving back to the site of the circus we planned how our life would be together.

Ha! We were both so sure we had found our life-long partner we even missed the turning into the yard.  We laughed and hugged, he reversed the Range Rover and drove straight to his caravan. Memories of that first afternoon are still vague.  I was completely intoxicated by this vibrant and extremely handsome Hispanic young gentleman. My head in the clouds and devoid  of  any thought for the consequences, we fell onto Eddie`s bed.

My lips bruised from kissing, I cautioned my lover, “Be gentle with me darling, I am still a virgin.”

I had little or no experience regarding the intricacies of making love.  Gazing into Eddie`s soft  brown eyes I allowed him to both physically and mentally devour me almost down to my very soul. So much in love was I that what should have been all too much too soon turned out to be far too little.  Slightly bruised and sore from sheer exertion, I found couldn`t get enough of my new lover.

That evening I moved from the comfort and security of Popo the Clown`s van  into Edwuardo`s.  I had never been so ecstatically happy in my short life. Popo was upset at my moving out.  He cautioned me again.

“You have fallen Carla, and there`s no-one to pick you up anymore, you are on your own.”

Two nights later we arrived at Escort for our first show of the season.  Juanita

made a bad slip during a rehearsal.  Landing awkwardly in the net she fractured her right ankle and was hospitalized.  Orlando was furious and threatened her with dismissal.  Were it not for Eddie, I think the poor girl might have been abandoned.  As always Edwuardo calmed the wrath of our Ringmaster, and Juanita was allowed to stay on, working in the ticket kiosk at each performance.

We three had to modify our act, leaving only one flyer, Mama. We rehearsed all

afternoon before the evening show without a hitch.

We three were known as  “The Flying Edwaurdo`s” and our act, without a safety net was perhaps the most daring in all of South Africa.  That first performance was perhaps the most exciting of my career.  What made it so was my lover`s arms around me each time we rested before another jump.  Eddie would kiss me on the lips before swinging on the trapeze and working it to its correct angle.  Then I would leap towards him, my hands ready for his grip-lock.  His absolute strength was my security.  The trust I had in my beloved was absolute.

After that first wonderful show, Mama, Eddie and I sat and drank coffee in the caravan discussing future acts.  I don`t think I have ever seen Mama looking so radiantly ravishing.  I was so proud to have her as my mother.At just thirty two years old, Mama had the figure and the agility of a fourteen year old.

Eddie walked Mama back to her van while I bathed and got into bed.  I must have fallen asleep and when I woke I found that Eddie hadn`t returned.

I made more coffee and sat and waited for him. “Hi Sweetheart,” he called as he eventually arrived, “Zola`s frig burner went out, so I fixed it for her.”

I was surprised. “What happened to Orlando, wasn`t he with Ma?”

“What do you think, he was counting the day`s takings, wasn`t he?”

I kissed him passionately, “My burner hasn`t gone out Sweetheart, come to bed.”

We made love until early morning.

That week flew by, and in four days we were striking camp and moving to Ladysmith.  Eddie and I were so in love, I couldn`t bear to be away from him.

There were times when he would be together with Mama.  High up on the start platform I watched them together.  Naturally there were moments when of necessity,  he had to hold her by the waist, or they would swing with their legs interlocked.  Despite the fact that I knew this intimacy was all part of their act, I broiled inside whenever this occurred.

Yet when Eddie lay close beside me in our tiny bunk bed and I had him to myself, my heart told me that he would never, never betray me for Mama.

Our act without a safety net was well publicized, and our breath taking performances were photographed and displayed in both National and the local

 press.  Orlando, our Ringmaster raised our salaries and offers from International

Circus`s came tumbling in.  We were at the very top of our profession.

Juanita joined us during our show at Harrismith.  Her ankle had healed sufficiently enough for her to climb aloft with us.  After a few rehearsals Eddie decided that we were ready to carry out the double roll with half twist in mid air routine, without the safety net.  It was an immediate success.  The thunderous roar of applause for more than fifteen minutes from the audience cued us for encore after encore.  With the closing of the show we four stood in the shattering brilliance of the spotlights for almost half an hour.

Orlando was ecstatic.  Opening a bottle of champagne we toasted our tremendous success until well after midnight.  Exhausted, I left the party and climbed into bed without bothering to take my make-up off, and promptly fell fast asleep.

Morning came and Eddie lay asleep at my side.  Leaning over to kiss him awake

made me want to vomit.  His bronzed and beautiful body was covered in tiny sparkling sequins.  They were blue...just like the ones Mama wore.

I physically attacked him and accused him of his infidelity. “How could you,” I screamed, “How could you sleep with my Mama?”  Eddie vowed that nothing happened. Seething with rage I stormed out the van.. 

Mama was still sleeping when I hammered on her door. Proof of my accusations was all too obvious as she stood at the doorway. “Carla, what are you doing here?”  she asked.

Sleepy eyed and hair tussled she had thrown her dressing gown over her shoulders leaving it open to her navel.  Picking two tiny blue sequins off

the soft flesh around her navel I held them up for her to see.”

“These...you harlot....these I found in my bed...Eddie was covered in them,

how could you Mama, how could you?”

Mama didn`t flinch. “You don`t know what you are talking about girl, go back to Edwuardo, he will tell you, the sequins fall everywhere, you will understand that when you are old enough.”

Enraged at her audacity I screamed, “They are stuck to him everywhere Mama, they can`t just fall on a person, they need body contact to stick.”

“You are stupid girl, you know nothing...nothing.”

Eddie arrived on the scene.  Had he not done so I believe that I would have attacked mother.  As it was, he was not able to calm the dreadful feeling of betrayal I felt for both of them.

With tears blinding my eyes I found myself back at Popo the Clown`s van. His consoling words helped me through the rest of the day, but I dreaded the coming night.  An hour before the show I still hadn`t dressed or made up my face. 

Orlando shook me awake. “You have a duty girl, get with it, you go on in half an hour, the public are waiting for you.”

“I can`t...I can`t,” I cried, tears streaming down my face.

“It`s Mama...she...she too loves Edwuardo, I can`t do this thing.”

It seemed the entire population of Harrismith had turned out to see our show. This was to be a `night of all nights’ for our daring act.  Casting aside the gnawing feeling of mistrust I felt for Mama and Eddie, I greeted them both with smile as we met mid stage in the circle of sawdust.  Bowing to the applauding audience we four climbed aloft in pairs to the left and right perches sixty feet above the awe inspired crowd.

Swinging by the legs from the left trapeze, I waited as Mama, grip-locked by the hands to Eduardo, gathered enough momentum for her to complete the double roll and half twist and fly towards me.  I remember feeling that my hands were un-usually clammy, and I think very briefly, and without anyone noticing, I wiped them on my body stocking.  I was hot, and the heat rising from the  packed audience so intense you could cut it with a knife.

I heard the loud roll of the drums from the orchestra. They were waiting, as I was, for Mama to fly. For the first time since we met, I saw that Eddie`s face was set grim and taught. My hands were ready to catch Mama`s wrists, locking her to me safely.  Just one more swing, I thought.

Then I began to scream, “No...no... Mama...no...no...Mama....”

Mama flew from Eddie`s hands far too early.

I saw the look of helplessness register on her lovely face.  She fell silently, the crowd gasped.  Just two seconds, and Mama was dead.

Distraught to almost insanity, Edwuardo was struck dumb.  He climbed into his Range Rover and no one has seen him since.

The Coroner’s office at Harrismith pronounced death by misadventure.

Standing quietly outside the Municipal office, the Medical Examiner drew me to one side.  “Miss.Zlotinski, I don`t know whether this is relevant, your mother was two months pregnant.”

END

 


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