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I remember going to the circus one time in my life, when I was nine years old. Melinda insists I also went when I was four, but I don’t remember anything about that visit. But then I saw a poster in town the other day. The circus is coming back to Fresno. I asked Riley if he would take me, and his eyebrows shot up. “Why?”
“What do you mean, why?” I countered. “A circus is lions, and tigers, and acrobats, and bicyclists, and jugglers, and an animal menagerie and–”
“Hold on,” Riley interrupted me. “I know what a circus is, but why do you want to go? It’s only a couple of months before the baby will be born and I think the circus would be too much excitement for an expectant mother.” He looked uneasy.
I admit, his words stopped me in my tracks. Why would Riley be nervous about going to the circus? Then it hit me. “Have you ever been to the circus, Riley?” I asked.
He reddened and didn’t answer. Was that a yes or a no? I asked him again. Instead of answering, he asked me a question. “It appears you have been to a circus before. I reckon I missed that when I was living on the Circle C as a boy. Was it sometime after I left?”
I nodded. “I was nine, and it was the most exciting thing I ever did! I loved the bareback rider, Miss Minnie Mae, the best. She jumped her horses through a ring of fire!” I felt my heart begin to race. I would give almost anything to see something like that again.
“Justin liked the bicyclists best, and the little kids riding on their parents’ shoulders while they peddled faster and faster around the ring was pretty impressive, but still . . . the horses and Miss Minnie Mae were all I looked forward to the entire time.”
“What about your sister? Did she like the horse trick riding too?”
I laughed, making Riley grin. “Are you kidding? She was in love with the trapeze artists. After the big top show, Melinda danced around the house singing, “He floats through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young man on the flying trapeze.”
And suddenly, I was there once again, watching the trapeze artists, giggling when the older boy winked at Melinda and she blushed. When Melinda sang the entire ballad for me one day, I gawked at her. “Would you really run away with a young man on the flying trapeze? Just because he winked at you?”
“Of course not, silly,” Melinda told me frostily. “But it’s awfully romantic to imagine it, don’t you think?”
Not really. For one thing, the boy wore something called a “leotard.” Which to me looked like an especially tight set of long johns with a short, silly outfit barely covering it. Ewww! Even now, at nearly nineteen, I wrinkle my nose thinking about it. “Now you’ve done it,” I griped to Riley. “You got me thinking about that song and I can’t get it out of my head.”
Here is the song Andi can’t stop thinking about. It’s called “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.” It’s a fun ballad written in the 1870s about a young gentleman who takes his lady friend to the circus. She sees the man on the flying trapeze and falls head over heels in love. In turn, the trapeze artist “steals” away the gentleman’s lady friend and marries her. Together they perform trapeze acts. One day, the gentleman is horrified to learn that his lady friend has turned into a trapeze artist and is wearing those immodest tights. The song is sung perfectly by Burl Ives. Take a listen! The audio file is right here on Andi’s blog. No need to go on the Internet to hear it.
It took some doing, but I finally pulled out from Riley why he didn’t especially want to go to the circus. “Yes, I’ve been to the circus,” he finally admitted. It came through the town near Fort Laramie. “I did not enjoy it at all.” He cleared his throat and paused.
“Why not?” My eyebrows shot up. Who would not like the circus?
Riley looked sheepish. “Because of . . .” he took a deep breath, clearly not wanting to share. “. . . the clowns.”
I gasped. I had been terrified of clowns when I was small, so Melinda told me. I started to get over it the day I went to the circus. I was invited behind the scenes by a new friend, Henry, the concessions boy (and a runaway). When I saw that the strange-looking white clowns were ordinary men underneath all that makeup, I relaxed. Poor Riley! I dared not laugh or even smile at this hidden, fearful secret. I understood. “Me too,” I said softly.
Riley’s head snapped up. “What do you mean?” His eyebrows wrinkled in puzzlement. “You don’t like the clowns either?”
I shook my head. “Not really. I got used to them and learned not to shake and cry when I saw one coming my way, but I never really liked them. I’d rather watch the lion tamer get eaten by a ferocious lion or tiger than watch a clown juggling flaming torches. It’s like . . . you can’t really, well, trust them behind all that makeup.”
Riley was nodding eagerly by now. His expression cleared, as if he’d found someone who understood what must seem like a very childish fear. “Well, that’s swell, my princess. Since you and I are in agreement about what we don’t like about the circus, I’m more inclined to take you. We can watch everything and simply close our eyes when the clowns come by.”
“Oh, Riley!” I clapped my hands. “That’s a jim-dandy idea.” I felt like a little girl again. The circus would be fun. One last holiday before the baby comes!