Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Bottom of the Top

Fifty years have passed, but my mind’s eye has archived such
scenes as these on ageless film.

* * *
For a time long ago, I was part of the Great American Show, with its shimmer of beaded costumes and array of crimson smiles. My memory still replays a kaleidoscope of those summer days of pomp and glitter—a curious time when shrieks of joy from small children could be followed by tears of dismay when it came time for the final bow.

I am not prepared for what sits before me in this weedy brown pasture—these hulks of silence that once shouted out such grandeur. It is the circus bone yard—a parking lot for the last parade of the last season. It is a place where truths are exposed, as if the darkest mysteries have suddenly been flooded by sunlight. In this field, all the splash and splendor of a grand thing have been unclothed to reveal common undergarments of grey. I taste the cruelty of a sadness I never sought—much like one’s discovery that the secret of magic lies in deceit, or that bright paint is often used to mask rot.

The memory of wet hay mingled with cotton candy can still kindle my senses and liven my heartbeat. That memory is blasphemed as I stroll among the carcasses of these once-proud wagons. I sense disbelief—even anger at how this place could own the last day of the Circus Summer. The words on these handsome billboards are chalky and faded, but still they manage to murmur what they once shouted. They were the playbill headlines—“Liveliest Show under the Big Top!” -- “See Jumbo! Largest Pachyderm in Captivity!” Now the place I stand on is stripped of life, save as a flourishing kingdom for wasps and serpents. Inside me swells a protest that such things did not fulfill their promise of infinity. As a child, I believed that circuses would always come—nothing could possibly empty the seats or dispel the glee of people who would wait for months for the show to choose their town. I look around me for those impatient throngs. I see none. There is not so much as an old watchman here to protest this bit of rotting canvas I take.

I close my eyes and listen. That sound! Is it the distant shrill of bleacher butchers barking their wares of cones and popcorn? No, sadly, ‘tis but the tireless Oklahoma wind, twisting through these caverns of steel. When these things were last put away, did someone know their fate? Did someone foretell of this decaying place where once such shiny caravans assembled? Yea, what came of the startling animal sounds—so strange and exotic, yet once such comfort in the sameness of lonely nights in unfamiliar towns?

What is parked here was once much more than these rotted tires and decayed trappings. It once wore a kingly mantle or bowed with a proud curtsy as it moved across the country. It was the delight of all generations who ever witnessed its majesty. Small children cupped their eyes and strained to see to the canvas rooftop, where the daring took flight on narrow trapeze bars. Tiny mouths hung open as a fearless man held court before a pride of snarling cats—each intent on removing his mastery at the first mistake.

Like those vanished sights and sounds, my spangled friends are also gone away, each at home in Showmen’s Rest. There’s a special granite marker there—the ringmaster’s final wave—it reads “Dun Rovin’.” I nod my approval, and leave in silence. A single tear falls, leaving its starburst relief on my dusty boot. I stare at it. Even the boot mark awakens a memory—it has formed the shape of the high wire umbrella.

This field will finally consume what has been placed here, and so too the memories of those once wide-eyed children barely one generation past. Their offspring now sit in robotic trances, servants to their electronic games. Meanwhile, the circus will not be coming to town.

* * *

Editor’s note: The author once trouped with a touring circus in the days when all such shows were under canvas.

© Copyright 2006 by the author, Lad Moore. All rights reserved. Lad’s two collections of short stories, Tailwind, and
Odie Dodie, are available in literary quality paperback through major booksellers, and at Amazon.Com on the Internet.