The Day The Circus Came To Town…
It was on a bright, starry night that the travelling circus rolled into town. I’d just walked out of the store with a loaf of bread in one hand and the hand of my five year old son in the other. We watched as these alien, huge wheeled, red and green vehicles passed by us on the most mundane of streets, lights blinking around every window, horns tooting a warm “good evening” to the town.
“Dad, Dad!” Sam pulled at my hand.
But I was miles away. In the past. In a memory…
It was almost twenty years ago when I last saw the circus. I was with my own father and I too tugged and said “Dad, Dad!”
I was mesmerized by the artwork on the side of these vehicles. Artist impressions of the main attractions. Pictures of animals that I’d only heard about in school or in stories, athletic acrobats flying through the air, muscular strong men and gleefully grinning clowns. I never fully understood peoples fears of clowns, although I might feel different if I’d watched Stephen King’s ‘IT’ as a child. I always saw clowns as fun. Friendly. And safe. Unlike that Pennywise.
I was grinning from ear to ear, mind racing with thoughts and ideas. I looked up at my Dad and saw a clenched jaw. He always was a serious, opinionated man. I’m not sure I ever saw him smile. There was that time my neighbour fell off his roof a couple of Christmas’ before. I think that was a smile.
I asked anyway. I asked if we could go. I said please. A lot.
He looked down at me and said “Son. The answer is no and I’ll tell you why. Circus folk can’t be trusted. They kidnap kids your age and force them to do crazy things. Things like sticking your head in a lion’s mouth or shooting you out of a cannon. Would you like that?”
Well, no. Not really, especially not the lion part so I shook my head. He wasn’t finished though.
“They have women with beards and men in funny clothes and… Clowns. They have bloody clowns. Clowns with their stupid red noses that go ‘honk’ and their buckets of water. Only it’s not water is it? It’s tinsel. Always tinsel. Son. The answer is no.”
With that we went home and true to his word he never took me to the circus.
But I went anyway.
I wasn’t as young as Sam. I was coming up to my twelfth birthday but a school friend of mine, James Campbell, got to that milestone before me and for his birthday he wanted his party at the circus. The ‘at the circus’ part I left out when I asked my parents if I could go to Jimmy’s party.
The first thing I remember is the ground. A mix of sawdust and mud. The next thing was a smell. Cinnamon. Roasted nuts. We then walked into the red and white striped big top and that’s when my strongest memory kicks in.
It was so vibrant, so bright. I’d never seen anything like it. The ring master in his bright red jacket and black top hat with a finger constantly twirling his moustache. The blue and white blur of the death-defying acrobats as they glide through the air. The multi coloured clowns in their orange wigs, green shirts and yellow trousers each carrying a bucket of water, sorry, bucket of tinsel. My Dad was right about that one thing. They used tinsel.
It was a night to remember.
To this day my father still doesn’t know that I went to the circus and still has a thing against clowns.
Sam and I watch the vehicles reach the end of the road and with another toot of its horn turns left towards its destination. I smile. I then, finally, feel the tug on my hand. I look down and see an excited five year old staring up at me.
“Dad, Dad!” he says hopping on the spot. “Can we go? Please? Please can we go?” He wrings his hands together into some kind of strange begging pose and smiles a toothy grin minus one or two baby teeth.
I grin back. “Course we can.”
Sam cheers and I can’t help but smile. I lift him up onto my shoulders and we head home.
“Let’s go tell Granddad.”