Her hands are still as she overlooks the white sand below her. Many would shake at the thought of her performance, but she is used to it. The fire, the trapeze, the applauds… Nothing impresses her anymore. She grabs the bar with a familiar movement. She knows each part of her choreography like she knows herself. She is ready.
Training is often the hardest part of living in a circus. But for some, the audience is. That’s Alice’s case.
She sometimes thinks about what it would be like to live a normal life. And she becomes jealous. Jealous of normal things, that other teens are not even grateful for.
She dreams of school, the daily skirmishes between siblings, and baking cookies. She dreams of knowing the cashier in every store around, seeing the kids in the street grow up, and laughing with friends during classes. She dreams of polaroid pictures in a clear phone case, having her driver’s license, and knowing popular songs on the tip of her fingers.
The audience is always a reminder of what she lacks. And while she smiles or welcomes them, the sight of happy families is salt in her open wound.
She says she’s never lonely, but she likes to lie. It’s just easier to put on a smile and pretend she doesn’t care.
“Are you done ?” The voice wakes her from her reverie. A familiar face is smiling down below.
“Yeah, I was leaving,” she climbs down the metallic ladder and jumps to the ground lightly.
“Are you ready for tomorrow ?” The woman asks. Her dark hair is braided in her back and sways like a cat’s tail when she walks.
“I am, and you ?”
“Yeah,” She looks away and her face clenches. Her voice is low and quiet, “Emile told me to tell you something. I hate to say it, but maybe… Maybe you’ll have to leave the circus soon.”
Alice is astounded. Why would she leave ? The circus is what she loves, where she thrives, why she lives. It’s her home, her entire life, and her purpose. She was born to balance under the spotlight and swing on the trapeze.
“I love performing. I don’t want to stop,” she answers, astonished.
“You’re like your mother, she’d have said the same thing. But you’re only seventeen. And with the other adults, we were thinking,” she paused, “maybe you should settle somewhere and go back to school.”
Alice was speechless. She tried to form a sentence, but the words weren’t flowing in her throat like she’d have liked.
“It’s not fun for us to send you away, but you have a guardian. He wants you back. It’s his right. Being an orphan does not mean you can do as you please, even if that’s what you have done so far.”
Alice was almost crying.
“Go see Emile, he’ll tell you what to do better than me.”
Alice nodded slightly and stormed out.
Once outside, she shivered under the night sky, her costume (a gold leotard with tights and long elastic boots) was only a slight protection from the winter breeze. Her sweater had stayed next to the trapeze, but she didn’t want to go back to fetch it.
The frustrated teenager ran to Emile’s trailer and entered without knocking. The cast of the circus had become her family, and she had picked up the annoying habit of not knocking on doors.
The circus’s ringmaster was sitting at his desk, writing a letter. His desk was a cheap plastic table. Cheap like every thing in the circus.
“Irene told me to come see you,” the voice was strong, a bit obnoxious.
He raised his head, “Yes, I know. Did she tell you why ?”
He took his time to put the cap on his pen and stuff it in a drawer of his desk.
“I think so. I just don’t understand,” Alice said, her voice breaking.
“I got a letter from your uncle today,” said the man with silver hair, “he says he wants to see you. And I just don’t have the right to refuse. You are theoretically under his care.”
“But why now ? He has never cared about me. I don’t know him,” The girl was outraged.
“In a week, your mother will have been dead for ten years. There will be a small ceremony with all of your family. He wants you to be there.”
“So I just have to go for a few days ?”
“That’s the thing, Your family wants you to stay after that. You only have a primary education, and that’s not enough. You have to go back to school. It’s the law. He’s arranged it with the local high school, you’ll have to go to extra classes to catch up but you’re a smart girl, it should be fine.”
“No. It won’t be fine. I won’t be happy.”
“You have to obey. I’m sorry Alice, I wish I had a choice. We want you to stay too.”
Suddenly, Emile’s voice seemed to come from far away and every thing turned dark.
Alice’s eyes opened. The moon was shining through a window and caressing the walls of the cozy white room. She rose and went to her desk to open a small journal and write. Tomorrow, she would turn twenty-seven. Ten years ago, she had been sent away. Her life had been destroyed.
The young woman looked back at her blessed childhood like you look at a nice dream. It was a happy moment frozen in time.
In ten years, Alice had slowly started building back up. She had changed. The circus cast would not have recognized her. Her hair had grown to be very long, her extravagant circus attires had slowly changed to jeans and t-shirts.
Her family refused to use her stage name, and for the first time in years she was being called by her legal birth name.
She had made friends, and lived with her cousins who treated her like a sister.
But she was not happy.
She had grown. And so had the world.