They always burnt the grass after the circus left town. Cauterising the ground. Erasing any evidence of them. Like a guilty, dirty little secret. I remember. It was in the spare lot on the estate and my sister and I would go there. Later. After the heat was gone. Looking for coins. Or jewelry. Or any treasure that had fallen carelessly to the grassy floor of the big top. And remained. Through the matinees and evening performances, under the feet of the towns children and beyond the reach of the monkeys.
I found a sooty crucifix once. I kept it in my ballerina jewelry box. Feeling a small tingle when I touched it. It’s an old memory. So ancient that it is a relic of a primal and pagan past. A time when wild animals were tamed for our pleasure. Living and working in a relentless cycle of performing and travelling. Not like now. No animals are harmed in the making of the circus. In Australia. Anymore.
No, not anymore. We can watch the circus from the elevated position of our high moral ground. Safe in the knowledge that all is well. For the animals. That are no longer caged. We can go to the zoo for that. Or the supermarket. Or MacDonalds. Well not caged exactly, vacuum packed really.
I eat chicken Parmigiana. I love it so much, I order it at any opportunity. But something is troubling me. I think it’s my cat. Who isn’t mine. Aside from her carnivorous tendency to predate on frogs, which is an exceptional and unnecessary burden placed daily on my ‘do no harm’ Zen. It’s about her feelings. She has many.
A man who wrote his thesis on the rights of elephants in Sri Lanka once said ‘I started out writing about the rights of people, studying the loss of humanity during conflict and I gave up, I gave up on people. Now I choose to think about the dignity of animals instead’. Looking at my cat I’m wondering if I’m there. If I’m giving up on people too. I think I’m on a continuum between human rights activist and crazy cat lady, inching closer to crazy daily. Much closer.
So I’m back at the circus. Heading for the big top. The fairy floss. The bench seats. I hurry everyone along. My pagan past is snapping at my heels. I can feel the sooty crucifix and smell the unmistakable scent of caged animals. I nearly trip on my own desire. To feel the seduction of the exotic other. The lure of the time before knowing. Before the burden of awareness.
As the lights dim and the music starts I glance at the faces of my companions. My family. Up and down the generations. In that dusky light I see them. Rapt. Expectant. Shivering with anticipation. And I smile.
Here we all are. Tamed for their pleasure.