minute 44

Clear the Ring

It had been several months since the accident but the atmosphere among us, the circus people, was still tense. In front of the audience we were cheery and funny. We did everything you would expect when visiting a circus. We played our parts perfectly, no one would have ever guessed that tragedy had struck our circus. But of course, everyone knew...

It had been broadcasted wildly in the news. For weeks our circus and the accident dominated the headlines: “Worst circus accident since 45 years”, “Casualty dies in hospital”, “Clear the ring...of safety?” and so on and on.

Every day for three weeks reporters came with their shining cameras, pointing them at the circus, at the accident location, recreating and analyzing the accident. They disrupted our grieving process, our lives, tore our small circus family apart while looking for the culprit. They did interviews and asked questions that no one of us wanted to answer...but we had to.

“It's good publicity”, our ringmaster and boss told us, “show your sad, little faces often into the camera, talk about what an awful loss it is and that you, in fact, will continue performing...in honor of her...and the tickets will be sold in no time”. The last part was shockingly true. Whether out of pity, new evoked interest in circus, or – and this is probably most accurate, although most disturbing – out of pure sensationalism, the following performances were always sold out.

But we didn't want to perform anymore. My entire circus family wanted to stop. Actually, we had been talking about leaving the circus for quite some time. We, meaning Laura and me. The circus had been our lives for the last 16 years, it was where we had fallen in love. We decided to quit, mainly for two reasons. First, we wanted to get married and start a family. Second, because of the boss.

He was a cruel man, always pushing us to work harder and to take greater risks. Laura and I came up with a tricky act that would take place higher than we had ever performed before. We were used to the height, we were aerialists. But the acts were more challenging than ever before. The boss, however, was still not satisfied. “Too common, too predictable, too boring”, he commented. Boring, the death sentence for every circus. And so he got rid of the safety net. “The suspense will be unbelievable” he said.

Laura was furious. “He can't just risk our lives like that”, she shouted, “We could get killed!” She had no idea how right she was going to be. Laura wanted me to speak up to the boss, and the others agreed. So I went to him and I felt ready to tell him that his plan was too dangerous and that Laura and I were going to leave the circus. But I couldn't say any of it...I was tongue-tied.

It's ironic how I can let someone down when all I do is climb up. I knew they were disappointed in me and I didn't blame them. I was their leader. I failed them. Now, months later, while climbing up the ladder, I still see the pictures of the accident in my head.

For nine nights, everything went fine. Although Laura was angry with me at first, she quickly recovered and agreed to perform without a safety net. “You are my partner after all, you wouldn't let me fall, would you?”, she joked before every performance. But then the tenth night came and everything changed. During our second act, Laura jumped off her swing in my direction, and I was supposed to catch her by the hands. And I did...but then something – or someone - shook my swing, made me loose focus and made my grip loose. And she fell...and fell. And after a few terribly long seconds finally hit ground.

Silence. Screaming silence in the circus tent followed until my scream brought life back into the people. I made my way down to her as quickly as possible. She was still breathing when I reached her, eyes locked with mine. Her body, however, was crushed, her limbs spread inhumanly. But she was alive, somehow. I took her in my arms. With great effort she managed to whisper: “...leave...circus...for me...”.

Those were her last words. She died on the way to the hospital. My world collapsed. It seemed obvious that I would leave the circus now for good, for Laura, to respect her last wish.

But here is the thing. There were two things Laura loved more than anything: me and the circus. She couldn't love me anymore now, she was gone and so was her love for me. But her love for the circus had changed everything about it. Made it a better and brighter place, changed the people, made them grow together, changed me. Her love for the circus would always be noticeable.
So how could I ever possibly leave the only place where I still can feel her influence, her presence, her love, her life. I can't. Like the boss said, in honor of her, I had to stay. And so here I go again. Climbing up the ladder, hoping that I won't let anyone (fall) down and then I hear him say again: “Clear the ring!”

Susan Wolters