What the circus taught m.., p.1
What the Circus Taught Me, p.1
What the Circus Taught Me
I sat in silence in the back of the horse cart.
I was apart of a travelling group of circus freaks. In the Land of Dru, people with physical defects often belonged nowhere, and had nowhere to go. Our circus was for any freaks willing to join. Including freaks with missing limbs, freaks who were considered eccentric and irrational, and even blind freaks like myself. I spent many a day sitting in the back of a moving horse-drawn cart. My wife, Mirj, attended to most of my needs. She gave me food and water and a place to stay.
“We’re arriving at the Burning Hall later in the day. Are you ready to dance?” My wife asked.
I said nothing. Truth be told, I was still incredibly angry at her and I could barely convince myself not to hate her.
She sighed. “How long are you going to be angry…?”
Mirj was known for being cruel and having a flat affect. I wish I had known that about her when I first met her. I felt the cart dip and heard it creak as she climbed into the cart next to me and the horse slowed to a halt. I felt her touch my arm and I flinched a little. I never could see her face, much less anyone else’s, but I heard she was actually a very ugly woman. At the moment, I liked to believe that was true. “Just leave me alone.”
There was silence, and I imagined that she bristled and made a face. “Might I remind you who saved you from the side of the road? Nobody else would’ve hired you. A blind Elf is worthless; even for doing menial jobs."
I said nothing. I couldn't believe how cruel she was being, but that was just the way she was when she was under verbal attack.
Mirj was a human, and lived a rich human’s life. She could see the future with perfect clarity and made a fortune off not only the ridiculous amounts she charged for her accurate fortune-telling, but also off of her vision’s special ability to foresee where she would meet future freaks to add to her circus. I always thought it was surprising that people would pay extra to see curiosities do the same things in a circus that normal, healthy individuals could do better.
“Are you ready or not? If not, I can dance with someone else.” She threatened flatly.
I was silent again. And then I asked, “like who?”
“Peter.” She replied.
I didn’t want her dancing with someone else, however much I may dislike her at the moment. “I’ll dance.” I sighed with a huff.
Her voice sounded smug as she said, “good.”
I felt her stand up. She grabbed one of my hands and helped me to my feet. She helped me out of the wobbling cart. On solid ground, I reached out blindly for her arm. She obliged, linking my arm in hers.
“Do you think you’ve practiced enough? Should we practice more?” Mirj asked me.
“I’ve practiced enough. You can come get me when it’s time.” I replied.
“You know, you don’t have to be such a grump. We have to get along if you want to stay married.” Mirj said flatly.
“What if I don’t want to?” I retorted.
There was silence as she grabbed my shoulders and motioned for me to sit. My bare feet told me it was grass I was sitting on.
Mirj replied harshly, “we can if you want, but I don’t know what you’d do without me.”
I heard her footsteps fade away. I crossed my arms defensively. After a moment, I realized she was correct. I would be dead by now if it weren’t for her. And, there was a time when I really did love her. I thought about it intently. We were just at odds at the moment. As I sat alone, I brooded over how things were when we’d first met…
I had been starving. I’d lost my previous job of five years--an easy job I could do as a blind man; washing dishes.
The boss couldn’t keep the restaurant open anymore and had to close down. Everyone who worked there lost a job. I tried, but I just couldn’t seem to find work in the small town on the outskirts of Umohaw.
Eventually, I couldn't afford to feed or house myself.
It was raining heavily, and I decided to just start walking. Eventually I got so tired and hungry that I fell down by the side of the road.
A woman’s voice asked me, “Are you okay?”
I shook my head. “Food, water, anything…”
“I have both. Come with me.” She grabbed my hand and helped me up.
She laughed a little and said, “Look at you! You’re a mess… There’s hair covering your eyes.”
She smoothed my hair back and got a good look at my eyes. “I see. You’re blind… We have a place for you among us if you want it.”
“What kind of place? With who?” I replied as she let me lean on her shoulder.
“Among the circus freaks as a travelling troupe.” She replied.
“Freaks…?” I said defensively.
Rain drops came down all the harder, and I heard and felt the woman shield my head with the cloak she was wearing. “It’s not meant to be demeaning. It’s meant to be cute.”
I shivered, feeling absolutely sick. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Mirj. What’s yours?”
“Sumner.” I replied.
“I’ll look after you from now on. You don’t have a thing to worry about.” She promised cheerily enough.
Mirj was the one who had taught me how to dance. I memorized the steps with her, and it didn’t really matter that I was blind when it just took memorization. It did require complete trust in her, however, which I was quickly losing. I was also light on my feet and incredibly flexible, which didn’t hurt either.
I stood up and walked around a little, hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone. As it turned out, I did.
“Oh, sorry Sumner. I uh… Ironically didn’t see you there.” By the voice it was the young woman named Rosa. She was very kind, and happened to be an Elf like I was. Mirj told me she was missing an arm, but she was very talented at tightrope balancing, which was pretty impressive.
“It’s alright,” I grinned sheepishly. “What time is it?”
“It’s about an hour until night falls—one hour until show time. We’ve arrived at the Burning Hall. Mirj says the gold earned tonight is gonna be the most we’ve ever earned ‘cause this town is such a hot-spot for the arts and circus freaks like us.”
We were in a town called Yulis near Castle Umohaw in which culture and art was rampantly expressed and appreciated. Or so I was told.
Rosa was silent for so long that I thought she may have left, but she suddenly said, “Wanna take a walk with me? Weather’s nice…”
I shrugged. “Okay.”
I linked my arm in hers and let her lead me around. She said to me, “they say that before you became blind that you were a mighty warrior. Is that true?”
I frowned at the memory. “I Let my pride get the best of me...”
As we walked I heard the din of a gathering crowd clustering about the Burning Hall. We seemed to be just far away from the crowd not to be in the middle of it, which I was thankful for. Rosa said, “from fighting monsters to dancing, huh?”
“Is there a reason why you’re bothering me with these questions?” I asked snippily.
“Well, with all the tales told about you from the bards, I kind of had a crush on you…” She said shyly.
I stopped in my tracks. “You know that I’m married, right? You know that Mirj could fire us both just for you saying that, right?”
“You’re her husband. She wouldn’t fire you.” Rosa was incredulous. “She could fire me, but I don’t really care. I’ve been getting up the guts to talk to you for weeks now.” Rosa explained. “Oh, here she comes!”
She unlinked her arm and stood to my side harmlessly. Mirj’s voice called, “we need everyone now!”
I felt my wife take my hand gruffly and drag me toward what I assumed was a side entrance to the Burning Hall. Inside, in a secluded room, she said to me, “I hope you remember your steps. If you mess up my reputation could take a hit.”
“Aren’t you greedy enough? Don’t you have enough gold?” I retorted.
She grabbed my shoulders angrily. Mirj was not normally this on edge and cruel—I was purposely pushing her buttons. Normally, she was amiable enough, but had rather flat emotions, “if you hadn’t been so greedy, you wouldn’t be married to me in the first place.”
“You’re right. I shouldn’t have made such a poor decision.”
Mirj had iron skin when it came to insults. Her mind was on the task at hand—which was helping me get out of my clothes and into my circus uniform.
Mirj was a hard woman to love, and she always had been. I wasn’t any better. My marriage to her was based partly on affection, and partly on convenience. Someone had to look after and take care of me; she had the money and resources to do so. I would be lying if I said I didn’t like her at all, however. There was a time when I liked her quite a bit.
I awoke in a soft bed after she’d rescued me from the roadside rain storm. I felt really sick like I was burning up. I coughed weakly and called out, “is anyone there?”
“Just Mirj, your friend from before.” She replied from a different room. I heard her feet tap into the room and then felt her place a breakfast table in front of me. “Some eggs for you. And some juice."
I reached out clumsily and nearly knocked over the orange juice. Mirj caught it before it tipped all the way over. She grabbed my wrist and helped me put my hand on a fork.
“Thank you…” I said gratefully.
Mirj sat on the side of the bed and asked, “So, would you like to?”
“Like what?” I asked around a mouth full of eggs.
“Like to join our group of circus freaks? I would pay for our food and lodging, and all you would have to do is perform.” She said plainly.
I thought about it. I had nowhere else to go, but… “I don’t have any special talents.”
“I can teach you,” she suggested.
“Why would you do that?” I asked. “Why would you do any of this?”
“I have a soft spot for people like you. You see, I’m kind of a freak, too. I’ve got a third eye on the back of my head.” She explained softly.
I made a face. “I’m not stupid.”
“It’s true. I’ll show you.” She took my hand and put it on the front of her face, and then instructed me to put my free hand on the back of her head. I withdrew my hands in shock. There were definitely three eyelids, and one was on the back of her head.
I didn’t know what to say for a moment, but then I managed to ask, “how?”
“I’m cursed. I used to be a very beautiful woman. But, I pilfered gold off of men wherever I could. My third eye which can see the future was useful for telling me which men had the most money. I was going out with a guy, and I was going to steal his gold, but he caught me. He then revealed his true form before me; a creature with pale white skin wearing a black cloak. With one sweep of his arm across my face, he made me hideous. He turned all my gold into sand, and from then on, I had to earn my gold honorably.” She said honestly.
I was a little incredulous. “Can you see my future?”
She was silent, and then she said, “No. Not all of it.”
I danced with Mirj for the opening of our circus show, letting my body do the work. I generally never messed up our dance moves. We’d practiced like no tomorrow until we got it perfect. It was strange to think the fact that I was blind was one of the only things that made our dances particularly amazing. Sure, I was flexible and light on my feet and it wasn't as if anyone could do our dances, but the dance itself wasn't that spectacular.
The dance typically lasted five minutes, and the cheers and applause lasted three when it was done.
Mirj gently led me off stage when we finished and said, "You did great."
I imagined she was smiling, but I had no kind words for her.
"I don't understand why you have to act this way. We should just move on." Mirj stated with a sigh.
I clenched my jaw. "How could you be so cold and uncaring? Did you really feel nothing at all?"
"You know I did. There's no use crying over it now. You're arrogant. You always have been. You think you would have made a better choice." Mirj said coldly.
I crossed my arms defensively. "You're terrible."
"You're being childish. Do you want a divorce?" Mirj asked honestly. "It's fine if you do. You can still work here and I'll support you."
I thought about it. I was sad that I didn't seem to feel strongly whether we divorced or stayed together. I owed a lot to her, but I also had plenty of reason to hate her. I just blinked my blind eyes and shrugged. "I don't know... You don't care either way, do you?"
She was silent for a bit, and then she said, "just make up your mind. Is there somewhere you want to wait until the show is done?"
I shrugged. "I think I'd like to just wait outside."
Mirj led me outside in the chilly night air and told me, "don't wander too far..."
I nodded. "Okay."
She draped a blanket over my shoulders and said, "I'll be inside."
She left, then, and I wandered around a bit in the darkness. She was right about me being arrogant, at least. It was my own fault I ended up where I was.
I had my eyes back then. The dragon was lurking in the desert surrounding Umohaw. I was skilled with the sword, lance, and the bow. The bow was my choice of weapon—the dragon my next conquest.
It was an adolescent dragon; not too big, not too small. I thought one well aimed arrow would put it down and win me all the more honor. Out in the desert, I perched myself upon a sandy dune and aimed for the dragon's heart with my bow taut. It whizzed at the creature, but I was off by a bit.
The dragon noticed me immediately. It flew after me.
I loosed two more arrows with nervous fingers and missed both times. My confidence broke and I leapt away as it breathed its deadly flames at me.
It missed, but the smoke was so toxic that it blinded me permanently. I would have died, but as it turned out Umohaw had paid a group of wizards to take out the dragon, and they arrived just in time to rescue me.
I was never the same. I went from a confident, egotistical warrior admired throughout the Land of Dru, to a blind man only fit for washing dishes. I had been stupid to think I could take a dragon by myself. Especially since I was warned by all who cared about me that I wouldn't be able to kill the dragon.
"Sumner?" Rosa's voice brought me back to reality.
I had been daydreaming for quite awhile. I found a nice patch of grass to sit on in the cold air. "Something you need?"
Silence, and then, "your dance was really impressive today. I never understood how you could trust Mirj so completely. She's really nice to pay for all our living expenses, but she's also pretty cold and shady. You must really love her."
I shrugged. "Not really. But I do trust her."
"If you don't love her... Maybe you should try going out with me?" Rosa said hopefully.
I was unsure about what I wanted, but this girl certainly was being kind to me, and that was something I needed at the moment. But I would feel horribly guilty. I was still married after all.
"I'll think about it. I hope you get that just because I was lauded as a hero and slayed a bunch of monsters doesn't mean I'm your knight in shining armor. I lost my sense of humor long ago." I told her honestly.
"I know... I just... I really admired you. Back in my hometown everyone told stories about you. I wanted to be you because I felt so powerless once I lost my arm."
I felt sorry for her. "How did you...?"
"My sister had a sickness in her head. She sliced me right across the arm on one of her bad days. It festered and had to be amputated. They put her away." Rosa told me. She was sniffling.
I was quiet. Soothing was not my thing.
Suddenly, she threw her arms around me. I didn't hug her back.
"What are you doing?" Mirj's voice cut through the air.
Rosa hurriedly stopped hugging me and I assumed she turned around to face my wife. "I'm sorry—don’t blame him. I was just feeling sorry for myself and wanted some company. Nothing happened."
Silence, and then Mirj said to Rosa, "run along, then."
Then my wife addressed me; "you love this other girl?"
She didn't sound hurt or offended at all. I didn't expect her to. It was hard to tell whether she ever cared at all. "She loves me. Or thinks she does. She's certainly kind."
"Do you want to be with her instead?" Mirj asked.
I thought about how odd this conversation was, and how depressing we both were. "I don't know. It might make me happier. What about you?"
She touched my shoulder and sat next to me. "I'm sorry I wasn't a good enough wife. I never was any good at showing affection."
I smiled gently. "You could never even say 'I love you', but then, I never could either."
"I always thought that was odd about you. You told me you were quite the lady's man when you had your eyes. You must have told dozens of women 'I love you'." Mirj replied flatly.
I laughed a little. "I was a lot happier back then... You were the one good thing that happened to me when I lost my sight, but after what happened..."
"I get it..." She interrupted. By the brush of the air, I could tell she stood up. "You can go out with Rosa if you want." She kissed my cheek and then stood up.
My head was tilted down. "I'm sorry..."
"Don't be. I wish I could have been more loving. Just tell me when you want to get divorced." I heard her walk away.
I frowned and couldn't shake the feeling of malaise. We may have never been passionate, but we’d had fun together. I'd probably miss her company quite a bit. She understood me, and I understood her.
When I’d first met her, I had no idea the horrible decision she would come to face.
After knowing her for two weeks, I realized she was not lying about being able to see the future. She told me things that would happen to me later in the day with amazing detail. She told me she and her circus troupe were on a brief respite and would meet up again in another week. She was making her way back to the place they agreed upon to meet; some inn on the outskirts of Umohaw.
What the Circus Taught Me by Natasha Weber / Fantasy have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on37 votes