I wouldn’t exactly call it running away. The circus came and I was in the village; the circus left and I wasn’t in the village. Who could resist the sawdust and the tightrope and the endless strings of glinting lights? Who could resist the strongman’s waxed moustache and the acrobats’ elastic limbs? Who could resist elephants? I didn’t even bother with a suitcase.
I got all I expected: shimmer, sparkle, sleight of hand – and yes, elephants. But I got a lot of shit too, and not just the sort the elephants dropped. Circus life isn’t as glamorous as you’d think from storybooks and playbills, but there are good reasons to choose this life. No, that’s not right: there is only one reason. We’ve all done wrong.
Maybe you can’t escape from that, but constant movement makes it feel like you can. The circus gains and loses someone in each new town: one person joins, needing to escape; another person leaves, tired of running. It might be enough for some to whitewash their sins, to hide them away like nothing ever happened.
But not me. You’ll never be shiny-new again, so why pretend? I want my sins glittered, tightrope-balanced, wrapped in gum-pink maribou. I want them lit up bright enough to dazzle heaven. No one up there could miss me, somersaulting and shimmy-shaking on the back of my elephant. Like I say, you can’t go back to how you used to be. Might as well shrug on that sinner’s mantle and rock it for all you’re worth.
I’ve been gone for a while now, but I do remember home. The circus is . . . well, a circus; and it’s hard to see clear with glitter catching in every blink. But, home: the pewter sky, the seals singing, the gorse smelling of coconut. There’s magic everywhere if you look for it.
I didn’t look, so I didn’t teach my girl to look. After a while it seemed that there was no magic left in the world – and what’s the point of living in a world without magic? That’s how the stink seeps in: when you forget to chase it out. It takes daily work, noticing magic. The mind likes to slip into mediocrity, and from there it’s not far to misery. That’s where my girl went. She chose her way out, and I wasn’t watching, so it was too late for me to pull her back out.
But that was a long time ago. Lifetimes ago. Now I have a new life, and it’s glitz and fanfare and elephants. You have to be very careful on those broad dusty backs. You have to look. You have to see. Slip for just a moment, and the last thing you’ll know is the underside of an elephant’s foot.
Listen: When I said that we’ve all done wrong, that sparked something in you, didn’t it? A match-flare, a kicking up of dust. You know it’s true, because you’ve done wrong too. I’m here to tell you that there is a way out. No, that’s not right: there are two ways. One was my girl’s. The other is mine.
Whoever you’ve hurt, whoever you’ve lost, whatever hateful or hated things you’ve done, it’s not too late. So you make sure to watch carefully: light candles along your mantel, imagine tusks and trunks in your garden, raise up on your tiptoes to see the shimmer of lights on the horizon.
Look out for us. Try to see the magic.
Or the circus will come and you’ll be there; then the circus will leave and you’ll be gone.