28 September 2012

Brown & Young's American Circus

Time to return to my true love today: creative writing. Not that I don't love posting tips and pointers but sometimes it's nice to just have a little fun. I'd like to share a piece I recently wrote for a contest that required the subject to be an unlikely hero. Since I started taking flying trapeze classes three years ago, the circus arts have become a huge inspiration to me. I'd love to know what you think of this story, particularly the protagonist. If she were the main character in a novel, would you read it?


Brown & Young's American Circus

The apples of Jim Young’s cheeks nearly touched the edge of his gold top hat, he was grinning so hard. He raised his voice above the throng of people accosting the ticket booth outside the tent and announced to the motley gang of performers, “I told you we’d be ok!”

One of the clowns lit a cigarette, singed a few stray hairs on the front of his wig and swore under his breath.

“That’s great.” Morris Brown stood in his sequined leopard print unitard, two heads taller than Jim. “Isn’t that great everyone? We’re sold out tonight. First time in months.” He threw an arm around Jim’s shoulders while a tall contortionist in a flamingo costume unfolded a small black and white flyer. The sound man, Mitchell, snatched it from her hands and sat on it, his glare silencing the question that hung from her painted magenta lips.

“Show some enthusiasm, guys.” Jim laughed and pulled at the salt and pepper hair on his chin, a nervous habit he’d picked up in the years since Rose had passed. “Let’s hear it for Brown and Young’s American Circus!” He mimicked his nightly announcement.

“Dad.” A petite girl stood up from the grass. “It’s show time. We, uh, I mean everyone has to get ready.” She moved toward the opening of the small mess tent, running her hand along the canvas and tapping the tip of her thin, metal cane on the ground as she walked.

“What was that Lulu? Oh, right. We’ll save the celebrating for afterwards.” Jim adjusted the belt under his bulging belly, winked at the group, and sang, “I told you sooo...” He turned and whistled his way to the big top.

An hour later, the striped tent was filled to capacity yet sat hushed in the deepening twilight. A firefly streaked past the ticket booth where a poster with curled edges was taped to the window. Vibrant strokes of paint depicted a young trapeze flyer with violet eyes soaring through the air. “Lulu & The Flying Leopards,” it said, with a thin layer of white paint slapped over the black letters that spelled “Lulu”.

Each body that had filled the tent, their arms laden with popcorn and dripping ice cream, now balanced on the edge of the benches with their mouths gaping. Even the children didn’t know quite what to make of the blind girl that had just wandered into the ring during the flying trapeze act.

“Lulu? What are you doing?” Her father’s bewildered voice could be heard over the speakers. Lulu dropped her cane in the sawdust. She tore away her grey smock, revealing a sparkling leopard print costume underneath, and started climbing the narrow ladder toward the trapeze board. “Stop!” Jim Young’s eyes bulged from his fleshy face.

Morris Brown sat thirty feet above the ring on the catch trapeze and nodded down at Mitchell who muted Jim’s microphone, but it didn’t matter. It clunked on the ground as Jim ran to the base of the quivering ladder. The crowd began to buzz. “Thought she retired…this can’t be…there’s no net!” People whispered, some clutching the flyers Morris handed out when he sneaked into town two days before.

Lulu gripped the rungs with clammy palms and paused halfway to the top, feeling the bottom of the ladder tremble under her father’s weight. He wheezed, swatting at the rungs. “Stop.” He yelped before his foot slipped and he fell to the ground. His gold hat rolled into a pile of dung left by Daisy the elephant. He gathered himself up, his left suspender snapping away from his pants. “Please come down.”

She turned her head toward the multitude of faces, the spotlight illuminating the translucent film that overtook her eyes less than a year ago. When she smiled and waved, crashing applause drowned her father’s frantic protests.

“Lulu, talk to me.” He yelled. But what was there to talk about? Morris was right when he addressed the performers last week while Jim was firing the accountant. They would all be without work or homes by next month. There was nothing left to do but give the mob what they wanted.

Discordant noise organized itself into a chant that vibrated the tent “Lulu! Lulu!” She resumed her climb until Olga and Rachel received her at the top and guided her right hand to the trapeze bar. Morris began to swing, building his momentum thirty feet away.

“I’ll leave! I’ll take Lulu and then you’ll have nothing!” Jim scrambled to the other end of the rig and yelled up at Morris. The chanting grew faster until Lulu’s name was indistinguishable. She squared her shoulders and set her chin as Mitchell cued the drum roll. Jim stood motionless, his hands bound in fists. His daughter looked as radiant as her mother once had, her costume sparkling and winking with each movement.

Lulu bent her knees and when Morris shouted “hup” she launched herself from the board. All fear disappeared when she felt the breeze rush past her ears and a strange, faint smell tease her nose. The scent was so familiar she nearly lost herself searching for the memory. She forced her focus back to the present moment when instinct told her that her timing had been compromised by her momentary daydream. She rushed to bring her legs forward against the pull of the momentum and prepared for the big release, praying that she was able to salvage the millisecond that was wasted. Just like old times, Lulu shot herself upward, letting go of the bar and curling her knees to her chest.

The smell hit her again, filling her with its sweetness and tickling the spot on her cheek that her mother used to kiss goodnight. She burst from her tucked position and stretched out her arms as a silhouette materialized against the glowing backdrop of the spotlight. A serene smile playing on her lips, she surrendered to the freefall and waited for hands to guide her home.


  1. I loved this. You have a very readable and interesting writing style. I love the little descriptive details you include, like a poster with curled edges. Nice job. I hope you win. :)

  2. Thanks Patty!! I didn't win, but I got some great feedback and constructive criticism. Still editing it now and tightening the POV :) There are more contests coming up, if you want to start putting some of your work out there.