THE MAN FROM THE CIRCUS Ben Spivey
Spare, was the first word that flooded my mind like nondescript light, followed by the word indifferent, subtext, fertility, and a flush of others that I couldn't hold onto.
The home, the new place I called home, wasn't much different than I remembered as a child. But things that are remembered as a child are stretched, exaggerated, and full of hope.
I parked the truck in the part, gravel part dirt, driveway of my dead father's two story, hand built home. It couldn't have been built any other way, slanting, otherworldly to the city. Specific, and unique. Old, and slender. Rust from age.
A singletree bent, stood, and draped near the home's brick-rust-chimney: a cherry tree beginning to blossom white and pink. A sparrow sat in the tree; I could hear it calling above me, still calling, and still saying the same things, perched crux, a vexing hiss. I heard it flapping its wings like vacuums. Screeching.
The lay of land was a painting. Lush gray with spots of green foliage, as if lines of those technicolor television colours beamed into one place, gathered, being fine tuned into that perfect, specific shade.
I picked up the last of the packed boxes from the bed of my truck, knees straining, back tight.
Walking over the unfamiliar, uneven gravel; my legs shook a bit.
Almost to the door, framed and peeling, I tripped over the curb of the cement porch leading to the back door. Knees bent.
The box I carried toppled.
A Bradbury book landed short of the door. At the same time the book fell it began too rain hard and sideways.
I grabbed the Bradbury book, and put it under my shirt in attempt to keep it dry. The rain slashed the sky, cutting it in sliver, and white.
The gray blanket made a roar. Thunder. Lightning.
It was darker than what I was used to in the city. The sparrow called and choked. I couldn't see it. The clouds over-head blocked out the sun.
Turning the doorknob, something in me tugged, the knob wouldn't budge, move, shift. I jiggled it, pushed with all my force. It then opened with a slow creak. An amount of dust blew in circles and symbols, dancing from the floors and the ceiling.
Inside the home the rain splattered the windows, loud thuds and clicks.
Next to the fireplace, pinewood sat stacked in a triangle. I started a fire. 'The home is like a heart', Claire used to say, and I heated the home.
I explored the rooms.
The rooms were many: the colour of cool dampness. Moist without being wet. The walls were decompressing and expanding, breathing, sloshing with dead weight. There were plenty of pictures on the walls, some in frames, some not. Empty discolored places where hanging things once were. I found many holes in the home. Some of them bigger and deeper than others; some of them hidden better than others. Some of them I could crawl through, and those would open into areas with more holes. Some opened to other rooms, and those rooms again with more holes, infinite.
I do not know how much time I spent inside those holes that first day, or two days, and time outside of time, I was removed, days became concepts. But I didn't feel hungry, or thirsty.
The hole in the bookshelf opened into an ocean. The hole underneath the desk near the bedroom, when I slid into it opened into the boxcar of a moving train; hearing the tracks and the lines moving with steam changing the colour of the sky.
Eventually there was a knock at the front door. I looked at myself in a mirror, as if I was looking from the mirror at myself looking at myself. I touched my skin, pale. How many days had passed? I had at least three if not more days worth of stubble, weeks.
I opened the door in some sort of stagger.
A man stood silent; wearing a tall black hat. He blinked many times, and leaned his head into mine. Close enough I smelt his breath, and his bushy brows wiggled my nose. I took a step back. The light outside hurt inside my head. I asked him in, and shut the door behind him.
He had a mustache twisted toward a small nose.
Fiddling with his hands, rubbing them together.
The man pulled a chain watch from his pants pocket. Looking at the time, he paused deep, starring into the watch; he then drew symbols in the air, and I recognized some of them, others I didn't. Some of the symbols made me cringe, others a crooked smile. I made some of the symbols back with my own hand gestures.
Our greetings exchanged, I asked: "Can I help you?"
"There's a circus, over the hill," he said, "you should come." He looked from the watch, very excited.
"I didn't see any circus when I drove by," I said.
"It's there. I promise. Please, you should stop in, stop by."
"Maybe," I said.
"I'm sure you'll love it."
"Thanks for letting me know, but I'm very busy right now," I said.
"Sorry to be a bother."
He then left and I didn't feel any different. Although he did bow before he left, which was nice.
I wanted to be hanging from another cross. I wanted to be sucked. I wanted to find something, anything that was as meaningful as she was.
I climbed the roof, and stood for a long while in the light, it was warm on my face. My clothes were grime. I pulled my shirt over my head, various particles of mud, dirt, and water broke around me like all dancing fireflies against the light.
My socks were damp, the rest of my clothes were heavy on my skin, I took them all off.
I thought about the girl from the school.
Maybe, in someway I was looking for her.
I was looking for anything.
I was looking to live. I was looking to die. I was looking to wake or sleep, the difference between the two was minimal.
My chest was puffed from a cut, some of the holes were tougher than others, I touched another wound on my stomach; It hurt with reassurance. It looked like paper falling off a stack of papers, it hurt with decaying, it was the dying. I was deteriorating. Returning to nothing, returning to madness, aging.
From the bathroom I could hear the walls moving, fluxing, vibrating. I could hear the floors breathing. The bathroom had an off white tile floor, dirt peach paint walls, ceramic. I'd done some figuring, and some measuring; I figured, and I calculated, that the bathroom was directly at the center of the house.
A hole was adjacent just outside of the bathroom. It was deep, and I could just barely slide my body down into it; I leaned my head past flakes of floor into the Earth, just my head. Although I was willingly dropping my own weight I felt as if I was being pulled inside, shifting my body.
The window from the kitchen was open, it let enter a silk breeze that encased me in a chill.
I moved from peering into the hole's depth, its continual deepness, darkness; felt like a hidden silence.
Behind a tile, in the bathroom, I found a scrap of paper, and a chipped finger ring. I'd felt an elevation in the tile, under my foot. The paper read smother, the ring was rust. The bathroom was small, and had a shower that doubled as a bathtub. The tub sat on little feet, very old fashioned; curved. I turned the right, and left knobs; water pumped out of the showerhead muddy before it ran clean and clear. The small room steamed a static fog. A fog that could be felt better than it could be seen. Hot, and damp. I stepped into center of the house, becoming clean for the first time in at least a week or more.
I made sure to wash my penis to perfection.
I stood in the shower as if a statue, head down, blond hair covering my forehead. Lightning cracked and flashed outside. There was a small window at the top of the shower, eye level; I watched the weather through it like a voyeur. When the lightning hit, for a second I thought, then hoped, that its electricity might or would- please I begged- surge through the water into the shower.
Rain poured harder; so hard that I couldn't see but a few feet out of the window.
Time passed. It was at least a day later. I sat looking at myself on the floor; a picture from the old apartment, in it I was unmoving next to an unmoving woman; on the floor, I was ten years younger; on the floor, I was next to my wife, next to a half opened box, the picture not in a frame.
The rain stopped days later. I got dressed.
I opened more windows to let in some air, a fresh gush of wind curved my body.
Many nights passed. The mannequin started to show up, it was subtle at first, creeping.
Peaking its head in a window, or peaking up from one of the holes, or breathing on my neck while I slept, or ate, or jerked off; lightly touching the hairs on the backs of my arms, only to disappear when I turned around. I tried with no success to find where the mannequin was hidden, where it stayed. Did it sleep? I searched. In which terrible hole was it to be found, perhaps the one under the bed? I looked. Everyday for a month, for two months, I looked for it. I looked everywhere.
I'd heard a sparrow's shrill once or twice.
The glimpses of the mannequin that I caught- glimpses, never more- flew circles in my mind. I started to piece its features together, drawing pictures of it, obsessing over it, blur.
Like the child from the hallway of my old apartment that drew the circles, I too marked my home with riddles.
Only then the mannequin would change its appearance, only slight change, aging.
I considered the possibility that more than one mannequin was afoot. After continuous hours, no, weeks of contemplation, I decided that was not the case, that it was not possible for there to be more than one. I am only one man therefore I can only have one shadow.
I set traps to catch it. I had no luck. I barely left the house, except through the holes, which sometimes took me places. Sometimes I watched Claire sleep, or blowout candles on her birthday. I watched the girl from the school age. All through the holes of Earth. All through my home.
Over time I lost weight. I hardly ate. I saw light. I flew, and I swam.
My facial hair grew into a beard, and birds made nests in it.
I did not see the mannequin again for weeks, and weeks.
I sat down for days after that.
Eventually I decided to investigate the land outside of my home. For the first time I noticed that a plethora of flora existed; a density of trees in sporadic, stratified, and dense pillars; some ominous, some inviting; mostly at an angle to the back of the house that had no windows facing it, I'd not sat on that side of the roof either.
I looked at the forest from the roof; I'd sit and stare without blinking. I'd marvel at the shapes of the trees, the design, the decoration.
A sparrow pranced, nudging near to me, turning its neck and face. I fed it some rye bread from the cupboard.
Watching the trees swaying in the breeze I noticed my father's signature etched into some of the trunks. My father must have taken great care of those forests.
I decided to go in, without looking back, I went in. I was dying anyway; my heart would surely stop at any given moment. Might as well.
At first a collection of blooming pear trees; the atlas of tree types continued in a sort of wrap around, almost circular. Spiral. The trees in bloom stood in front of leafless, jagged, dying ones.
I searched around the pear trees for what was probably a few days. I was astonished by the complete lack of animals.
I found nothing that resembled a path, but the spiral was apparent; during those days I forged one, I cut notches into trees, marking my way with rye bread crumbs. I began to undo what my father had done, so I felt, so I told myself.
You're dying anyway.
One day I found a footprint that was not mine, it was several sizes too big.
Dozens of times I heard a sparrow speak, its voice echoing overhead, long and drawn.
The blooming trees had much fruit, large plump, ripe fruit. I picked and gathered the fruits for days. Compiling cherries, apples, a few roots and insects, a couple of nuts and cicadas. I had water from a well, plenty of blackberries. I found some grubs under the rotten logs. A snake too. I called some fruit persimmons.
I stock piled baskets of fruit and food. Stacking the baskets in the hole-ways of the home, covering them delicately so they, and I could entirely survive the eventual winter.
For a time I was unable to leave the house. All of the doors locked. Completely locked. I shook, I pulled, I kicked the doors, nothing budged. I couldn't break them, or the windows. Nothing. Roots and vines covered my home. No electric light, only candles, and by then I was out of candles. Burnt up. And the sun didn't shine through the windows like it should of. Without any candles I couldn't go far into the holes, I didn't want to get lost, die in that coldness. During the day the light was minimal, like a pinhole. I was finding notes. Notes that were answers to questions, or responses to phrases I left hidden for Claire, miles, and miles, and years ago. The notes mentioned moments of her life, cryptic. The handwriting was familiar, similar to my own; hers was always like that, an imitation.
I found a picture of myself, a recent picture, a picture, which had to have been taken within a few hours of my finding it. It was in the cupboard.
It took weeks for the doors to become unlocked; until then I sat in the bathtub, and wondered if the mannequin was a ghost, an apparition of some sort, or something from the supposed circus.
I sunk into the tub's water. Fleeting. Curving. Culled in the tiny ocean cased in porcelain. The home was silent. I could hear nothing rustling outside, nothing from the natural world. My body pruned. I sank under the water, under the ocean, into the forest, into sound humming in my ears; into the forest I'd never left.
A knock at the door and I rose above the water, above the blurry wave world. Wrapped myself in a towel and answered the door, it opened.
The man with the top hat stood leaning against himself, he removed his hat: a bald head, a white cake face, red lipstick and a beaming smile. He must play a clown at the circus, he was holding a balloon.
"Am I bothering you?" He asked.
"Not really. I'd been stuck in here for a while, but now I can get out, would you mind to come inside? The light is very bright."
"No thanks." And he stood there just smiling, and standing.
"I could make you a cup of tea. Can I offer you some tea?"
"No thanks," he extended the balloon toward me. "Can I offer you a balloon?"
"I don't need a balloon."
"You in fact don't need anything."
"What's your name anyway, why are you bothering me?" I asked holding my hand above my brow and squinting in the new light.
"My name," he said, curious. As if he'd never been asked that question before. "My name is," he continued, but stopped, and scratched his face, rubbing some of the makeup off, "is Guy."
"Guy," I said, "it's truly nice to meet you, but I really must be going."
"Likewise," he said.
He stood in the half light at the edge of the door.
"Have you seen the circus?" He asked.
"I haven't been able, but I might, if I get a chance," I said, beginning to close the door.
"You should," he said, tilting his head, "do you ever watch the birds?" He asked in a curious manner, with longing. His eyes were green and sad. Some of the saddest I'd ever seen. "Do you ever sit outside and really watch them? See where they fly off to. I like to watch the birds, it keeps me grounded, it keeps me dreaming."
"Sometimes," I said, reopening the door, but truthfully I didn't pay much attention to the flight patterns of birds. "Tell me, what type of circus is it exactly?"
He touched his face in the same way as before. "I don't understand the question," he said, like I should already know what type of circus it was. His eyes scanning the sky. "It's the type that things happen at," he said, still looking up, "things you're sure to like."
I nodded. "I see. A circus is a circus."
"Nothing is ever just what it is."
Guy pulled his attention from the sky and put his top hat back onto his head. "I must be going. A show starts shortly, and I really must get back," he said, flapping jagged lips, taking a step. "Where do the birds go?" He asked. He then sang, "Where do they go when we dream?"
I watched him walk as far as I could before closing the door.