#1 : If I Were In The Circus, I Would Be …

I know the feeling. Image: Wikipedia.




I’d be utterly miserable if I were in the circus. I’d mope, I’d whine, I’d rail against the injustice of it all — because there are few circuses I would join willingly — and I’d end up taking it out on the other surely miserable creatures in my strange new circus family. This wouldn’t be helpful for me or fair to them, so then I’d feel guilty and feel more miserable but at that point, with all of us having to perform four shows a day, it might not matter.

Nevertheless, everyone would hear about it. That includes the new-in-town, understandably wary poodle trainer; the entire clown corps; the husband and wife acrobat team who works overtime every week knowing full well they absolutely should not do that given their line of work; the bendy girl; the other bendy girl who you pay extra to see (after dark, adults only); and Hugo, the old, old, old, old, old man who does all the costumes, including the tiny hats for the monkeys and my previously worn petticoat and velvet vest.

I’d fling myself into the shabby trailer Hugo uses for his workshop. “Hugo!” I’d cry. “It’s happening!”

Hugo has those wire spectacles with the thick, convex magnifying lenses that make his eyes so big he looks like a cartoon. He doesn’t look up from his sequins because it takes him a long time to move any part of his body. Besides, he’s heard this before.

“What’s the trouble, dear?”

I lie down on the floor for maximum effect. “Hugo, I’m not meant for this life. This classic vaudevillian, 1930s, Follies Bergère-style traveling circus life, I’m just not meant for it.”

“Sounds like you need a biscuit,” Hugo says.

I perk up but don’t show it and then moan again. “No, even a biscuit won’t help … I’m dying.”

“All right,” Hugo says, pulling out a spool of pink thread from a drawer. “I don’t think I have any left, anyway.”

Wait, what?! Hugo’s refreshments are legendary. No one knows where he gets the shiny blue tins of shortbread cookies, but he always seems to have them on hand when you really need one. And the tea he gives you on bad days is made with the same rationed teabags and powdered milk we all get from the circus commissary, but Hugo makes it taste creamier and gets his water hotter, somehow. No one can figure it out.

“Well, maybe it would help to have a bite of a biscuit. If you still have some.” I cough a couple times. “And … I think the sawdust is sticking in my throat. Do you have any, um, tea or anything?

Hugo smiles and gets up. He makes his creaky way over to the hot plate to boil water in a kettle as old as he is. “Yes, you ought to have tea right away. We can’t have you suffocating on sawdust; you go on at 6:30. And I think I do have a few biscuits left somewhere.”

I try to peek at which shelf he reaches into for the cookies but he looks back at me faster than I thought he was physically able to, so I squeeze my eyes shut and roll around like I’ve got a stomach ache even though I don’t. I hear the tin open and the rustle of crinkled cookie papers.

Hugo is bent over pretty far already so it’s easy for him to hand me a biscuit. “Sit up, darling. You don’t want to choke.”

“This circus is going to kill me,” I say, half the cookie in my mouth already. “Maybe today’s the day.”

The tea kettle boils and I get my mug of tea. It’s hot and creamy and tastes like my former life. Hugo, who dresses like Geppetto and smokes exactly two cigarillos every day, sits in his chair and I sit cross-legged on the trailer floor. I’ll have to have the Bearded Lady beat the dust from my skirts before my act. By the way, I’m with the lions on Thursdays and Fridays; Sunday through Tuesday I sell candy and peanuts and tell jokes, and on Wednesdays — my favorite day — I get to ride Trinket. (Trinket is our elephant.)

“Have you ever seen a performance of Cirque du Soliel?” Hugo asks me.

I shake my head. “No, actually. Are they any good?”

“No,” Hugo says. “They’re not real circus people, anyway. Oh, they’ll do some tricks. A few of them are double-jointed like Ricky. But their hearts just aren’t in it. There’s too much money in the thing, no doubt about it. You get too much money in a touring group like that, people don’t need each other. They go off after work and spend their money doing all kinds of who knows what. Here, it’s different. We don’t have much, but we get by. We help each other. And we have a good show.”

Puffs of smoke curl up into the costumes Hugo stores on hangers above his head. My vest and skirts came from that old stock. The cigarillo smell will never come out. I look over at Hugo, who has always been so kind to me. I hear Trinket bellow from across the grounds; it’s bath time.

This isn’t that bad, I think to myself. If I were in the circus, I guess I’d want it to be like this.

32 Responses

  1. Jim, of Marjim
    | Reply

    Wonderful! Having read of life aboard
    Circus Trains – this rings true.
    Nicely done!

  2. Laurie
    | Reply

    Mary, so glad to hear from you once again, you were missed!

  3. MaryAnn Chick Whiteside
    | Reply

    And what prompt triggered that? Oh never mind. So happy to have you back, perkng up my nights of sawdust filled throats.

  4. Glenda Barber Hoagland
    | Reply

    Oh my goodness. I love this. Hugo is divine. I need a Hugo.

  5. Elita@BusyNeedleQuilting
    | Reply

    Oh, how delightfully drôle! I serviced a sewing machine of the Cirque du Soleil, when they came to Geneva last year. Someone had been a bit too aggressive trying to push some thick seams through and had damaged the hook. Very bendy people for sure and fascinating behind the scenes. Their seamstresses weren’t nearly as old as Hugo and they had some very very young ones putting the sequins back on. Better eyes I’m sure. 😀

    • NotThatJen
      | Reply

      Oooooo, this behind the scenes, please tell more! This could be a phenomenal story.. Oh, to work at a sewing machine in such a creative, costume-rich environment, how monumentally exciting!!

  6. Celesta
    | Reply

    I’m so glad you’re back Mary, and I think you would make a terrific lion tamer, be magnificent riding Trinket, and make a haul selling peanuts! Of course your jokes would sell anything!

  7. Mary
    | Reply

    I have so missed your writing over the past while! I was very excited to see this in my inbox this morning. Welcome back!

  8. Judy
    | Reply

    What a great start! Now what would I want to be…..

  9. Barbara
    | Reply

    Mary, I was thinking about you yesterday, and wondering if you were okay.
    Life is a circus. It’s all about acclimating yourself in a good way.
    Miss your posts, Mary.
    Barbara x

  10. Mary
    | Reply

    Happy to be reading this. Please be PG and keep writing.

  11. Kris Mimier
    | Reply

    Thank you for this beautiful imagery! I can feel the dust in my clothes, smell Hugo’s cigarello smoke & feel the warmth of the tea cup! Best post ever Mary! Thank you for sharing.

  12. Teri
    | Reply

    You are such an amazing writer. I would have come up with about 2 sentences. I have a list of prompts for quilting. You have inspired me to get that list out and work on it.
    Glad the prompts are bringing you back to share with us. Hugs!!!

  13. Nancy Pederson
    | Reply

    Mary, it’s so good toget two i a fow from you!!!

  14. Amy Fannin
    | Reply

    I literally JUST thought of you this morning. “Where’s Mary Fons been? I need to find her.” I miss you, Paper Girl. <3

  15. Martha Calderwood
    | Reply

    Welcome home, even if it’s for just-a-short-visit.
    My favorite family photo is one of my brother and me on a hill in Iowa (yes, a hill in Iowa) watching the circus tent being erected just below us – elephants doing the hard work. That was about 1937. Whenever I got overburdened and wanted to run away and join a circus, it was that one I pictured.

  16. Mandy Laseter
    | Reply

    Loved this! The imagery is beautiful. Missed you.

  17. Jo
    | Reply

    Oh, my! You literally popped up in my mind yesterday! This piece took me straight to the crowded boxy trailer of the of Hugo, the maestro! Well done!!! Thank you.

  18. Diane
    | Reply

    Your writing is terrific…guess you know that already. My friends all went to QuiltCon..They said that your talk was the best…Old Grandma here could not go…however, I grinned from their input…You are loved. xo

  19. Lauren
    | Reply

    Brilliant snapshot into the crazy creative teaming mind of MF! Welcome back! Any incarnation is a welcome incarnation!

  20. Beverly
    | Reply

    So glad to read something from you. Hope your health is fine

  21. Nan Wilson
    | Reply

    So glad you’re back!

  22. Deborah Kurowski
    | Reply

    Sitting a a beach in the Caymans Islands…forgot my book, but so glad because this read was perfect Mary Fons!!

  23. Deborah Kurowski
    | Reply

    Sitting a a beach in the Cayman Islands…forgot my book, but so glad because this read was perfect Mary Fons!!

  24. Kathy
    | Reply

    At Quiltcon I overheard you tell someone that the blog would return after you presented your lectures (and they were both excellent, btw). And here you are! Such a joy to read something creative and alive with imagination. Welcome back!

  25. Barbara
    | Reply

    Wonderful to read, so talented, you need to write a book.

  26. Nancy
    | Reply

    You are the best writer in the whole history of writers. I’m in awe.

  27. Theresa
    | Reply

    Girl……you can write!

  28. Brenda King
    | Reply

    Mary, I too have thought about you, wondered if you were still writing, and if we’d hear from you again. You’ve made my day! I always enjoy your musings, and wonderful stories! I hope you are feeling well, settled, and happy. Please fill in the gaps. Best wishes as always! Brenda

  29. Mary Ann
    | Reply

    So happy you’re back! And I think I am going to enjoy these essays very much.

  30. Gabrielle
    | Reply

    I absolutely love Hugo!!! Everybody needs a Hugo. Glad you’re back with us!

  31. Leesa Fons
    | Reply

    My beautiful niece has found her voice!
    Your favorite aunt.

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