Alice caught circus fever from a book read to her when she was five. It raged for her until well after her chums had moved on to other amusements, and dominated the fantasies she nourished behind her closed bedroom door. Much as she wished to she never went to the circus. It never came to town, so she spent countless hours dreaming of a life under the big top. In her circus world she was not part of administration favoring instead the glamorous heights of a trapeze and high wire performer. She designed and wore wonderful pink tights with rose red spangles in her imagination and soared over hushed, awed audiences bathed only in a lavender spot light. She suffered injuries of course, every performer does, and during one such period, conjured her dog as an elephant that sat up and counted and wore a doll’s pastel tutu. In her circus she was always a svelte, graceful headliner.
She eventually set aside the fantasies and abandoned the box with all the props and memories at the back of the hall closet. The circus lived on, however, but at night and in dreams that insisted on repeated viewings and that weren’t much fun. The beginning was always exciting and irresistible. Alice was entering the circus grounds with a crush of people all on their way to the three-ring spectacle under a brightly striped big top. The way to the big tent was lined with the gaudy sideshows that came with the circus. Barkers screamed for attention. The snake charmer leered, freaks with absurd bodies posed and sickened, midgets strutted, fat ladies overflowed stools. There was much to see on the way to the big top. In each dream, however, Alice was prevented from going inside to see the show she so desperately wanted to see. Some nights when she reached the sign that said Entrance the opening had disappeared. Or the ticket she had so carefully placed in a coat pocket was gone when she reached for it, and, while Alice stood wretched and starting to cry, the rest of the mob pushed past her into the magic of the tent without a glance. Some dreams ended with the stairs, which was the worst. Alice was forced to climb a wide, steep, slippery blue stairway that reached almost out of sight. It never had a banister. Far above she could just make out an alabaster orb resting on a slender pedestal. She needed the orb to see the circus so she climbed. She climbed and climbed until only blue sky and thin air surrounded the stairs. She panted but there were only 4 stairs left and the orb would be hers. Suddenly a short clown in a white tuxedo with sequined lapels stepped forward and looked down at Alice with darkly decorated eyes. His initial amusement quickly turned into a horrid sneer and with a theatrical flourish he brought forth his right arm. Between the thumb and index finger he daintily held a large, exquisitely sharp silver pin. He looked from Alice to the orb, no not an orb Alice realized in that moment but a cheap white balloon. He looked at Alice one more time before he stabbed the balloon and Alice’s hopes of the circus into oblivion.