Shelled

“Describe two visits to the circus from the point of view of someone who’s bipolar. On one visit, he’s manic, and on the other, he’s in a pit of despair.”

I

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Shells beneath her feet, crunching to the melody inside of her head, the smell of urine and popcorn reminded her of a home long forgotten. What was she doing there, why had she chosen to go on that day, of all the days in her mundane life, why that day? Regardless the reasons, she trudged on beyond a grassy patch and onto some dirt with old food and trash mixed in. When she made it to the ticket counter, she reached into her pocket for exact change, which couldn’t be more fitting in her mind and she chuckled at the metaphor jingling in her grasp. The infantile dude who handled the transaction was completely oblivious to the tears in her eyes, and it was another dagger to her spirit that he didn’t so much as look up at her. She passed him, head hung low and mouth quivering. There it was, the big top, there she was, making tit jokes in her head to keep from collapsing to the filth under her feet. Filth, she knew herself well enough to know that word encompassed her looks, mind body and soul in that exact moment.

As she took her seat, she couldn’t help but notice that throngs of children ran amuck and she thought to herself, “When I was a child I would have been slapped in the mouth for behaving in such a manner. Boy times have changed.” There was that metaphor, no longer jingling in her palm, it made it’s way to her childhood. And then the lights dimmed and voices calmed, a spotlight sporadically waved over the crowd and a deep male voice beckoned for circus goers to take a seat and enjoy the show. Out would walk a small pompous looking feller who was apparently the ringleader, if she had to guess by his attire. Then he insisted on speaking, and his tiny voice matched his stature as well as his joke of a handlebar mustache. He babbled on and on about the animals in the show and the performers and what not. She couldn’t help but to burst into tears. She was a fraud, an evil excuse of a woman. The sinking feeling surrounding all the rumors about the hell that circus animals endure was too much for her to take. How could she, the biggest animal activist she’d ever known, allow herself to be caught dead at an event that is known to murder and abuse animals. Drop dead, she wanted nothing more. If there was a God they would take her then and there and spare those animals. Why didn’t she ever get a response for her prayers?

It wasn’t until a stranger sitting beside her leaned in and asked “are you ok miss?” that she realized she was in hysterics. “Do you wanna fuck me?” She responded through tears. “Uh…I mean, whats the matter?” The gentleman was completely caught off guard and didn’t quite know how to respond to her. The fact that he didn’t immediately say “no,” or “can we grab a bite to eat first” or anything that validated her as a woman and would have sufficed, made her stomach turn. In reality, she knew that this unsuspecting patron of the circus had no iota of a clue relating to her past or the abuse and hell she too had endured, like the tiger that was being whipped about the ring. So how could she have expected him to respond to her liking or dig any deeper than he already was. It was quite considerate of him to even ask her if she was ok, he took the time to do that and while she appreciated it, she now felt even more guilty for passing judgement on the nice man who reached out to her. She did not respond further to him, nor did he engage anymore. She fought an internal battle, she wanted someone to talk to, someone to connect with, someone to have sex with, but she was afraid of men. Orgasming was the only thing she thought about staring blankly into the circus ring. Only in that climatic moment did the world not matter, only then did she escape from her own mind. She debated on whether or not to make it her mission to go home with the nice guy in the audience. She hated him though, why was he at the circus, and why was he there by himself?

The show must go on. And it did indeed. There was a lion, chimpanzees, and the circus staple, elephants. Her anxiety level reached a peak when the elephants made their appearance, as though she was anticipating a stampede as seen on one of those ridiculous when animals attack shows. This did not happen however, but she still was not at ease, the guilt washed over her once more and she cried during the acrobats, the clowns, the tight rope walkers, and the contortionist. Why was that bitch so flexible and here she was unable to flex towards stability in the slightest. She caught a glance of the gentleman whom she propositioned for sex earlier, he didn’t notice. Of course not why would he notice her now after making a fool of herself. Perhaps he gazed over when she wasn’t looking, had she missed another opportunity? She had a habit of doing that, and often pondered that age old question, if I had a quarter….

The gaggle of people leaving was too much for her to handle, and she stayed in her seat breathing heavily. The vomit feeling crept up as she witnessed animal feces and trash being pushed by brooms. Knowing she could do nothing for the animals she insisted on looking around for their cages anyways. Were the conditions really as bad as she had heard through the proverbial grapevine? She resisted. As she began to stand, she crossed her arms, and there he was, her knight in common armor. The heat from her cheeks was enough to pop more popcorn. “Ma’am are you okay?” He was still sweet which made the situation worse in all reality. “I’m fine, or I’ll be fine, whatever.” She proceeded to try and push by him with little resistance. “Do you need a ride or something?” Boy was he persistent. “Listen dude, I don’t know why I said what I did, but it’s not going to happen just so you know.” She walked past him and began making her way down the steps and back toward the grassy knoll that surrounded the circus grounds. “What’s your name?” He shouted as he walked toward her in a paced fashion. She turned in disgust and shouted, “Let me guess, you’re referring to your dick and not your car, right asshole?” She turned back and began walking faster. She heard nothing more from the figure in the distance. It was then that she collapsed onto the moist grass. The blades danced on her face, sweeping the tear drops back and forth. She couldn’t feel them, for in their presence, was the existence of life.

II

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Peanut shells and circus melodies played with rapid disregard, had her skipping along toward a giant red and white tent. Humming nonsensical notes she paid no attention to the garbage and waste that was trampled with her ever step. Quickly to the ticket counter, she played with the money that was in her pocket. When the ticket taker resounded her total, she pulled a mixed wad of bills and coins out and set it on the counter, fidgeting through the currency. “How are you doing today?” She asked the man behind the counter. “I’m doing alright miss.” He smiled as he sorted through her payment. “Do you get to watch the show when you’re done taking tickets? How tragic if you don’t!” She put the remainder of her money in her pocket and shook it around once more in her pocket. The gentleman laughed and said, “sometimes I take a peek or two.” “Well in that case, I hope to see you inside!” She skipped away anxious to see what seat she would find. Maybe she would sit up high so she could see everything, perhaps down in the front so she could feel like she was a part of the show. And there it was, the entrance to the big top, she squealed like a child on christmas morning. She felt like a child once more, watching cotton candy bounce through the crowd in unison with balloons of all colors. She was, in her mind, one of those balloons, colorful and free flowing. Let the show begin, she was ready.

She took a seat somewhere in the middle, the middle, where she could be surrounded by and see all the action. Children ran about without regard, oh to be a child again, carefree to run around not knowing that one day that would end. Her heart skipped a beat as the lights went down and the spotlight chased the audience to their seats. A voice bellowed out to the crowd, one last push to their seats. There he was, the ringleader, adorable as one could imagine. He was adorned in purple velvet, and a precocious top hat that he was born to wear. He had apparently taken much time in grooming his mustache, shaped to handlebar perfection. The ringleader announced all the acts that would be appearing that evening. The excitement grew as he talked about acrobats, tightrope walker, clowns and animals that would be on display. She cheered louder and louder even after the crowd simmered. Once she regrouped and stopped shouting, she thought about the animals, the tigers, the lions, the monkeys, or was it chimpanzees, maybe it was orangutangs, no that wasn’t right, it’s pronounced orangutan right? Elephants, her favorite animal, would they stampede? Were they really abused? No, no, those were vicious rumors. What if they weren’t? What if right then and there, behind the tent there was a helpless elephant being whipped into performance condition? She wouldn’t stand for any sort of mistreatment of animals, she could totally take on the ringleader and any other person that got in her way. She was determined to stand up for the animals. Her nostrils caught the smell of a hotdog, that was it, that was the answer. Food was a perfect way to approach an animal right? Do elephants really like peanuts? Did they sell bananas to give the primates? That hotdog could easily bribe a tiger. And the cotton candy, well that was for her.

Seemingly out of a nowhere, a man leaned over to her and said, “are you ok miss?” “What the fuck, who the hell are you?” She crossed her arms in disdain. “I took your advice,” he smiled, “and decided to watch the show tonight.” She wasn’t all that amused once realizing it was the ticket taker, and her body language and tone of voice became very guarded, “listen asshole, I’m not gonna fuck you.” She figured that would be the end of that, but he was a persistent little shit, “uh, I didn’t, I mean I uh, look lady, you can’t start shouting like a crazy animal activist in the middle of the circus. I was just asking if you were okay, but seriously, just stop screaming about saving the animal.” Had she been screaming? She must have been, her throat was dry and rough. She turned her shoulder up at the circus narc. Even if she was interested, his job was at the circus. What the hell kind of life is that? Granted she was in the mood for some one night loving, but would he suffice? She couldn’t sleep with someone who smelled like the circus, it would turn her stomach which was full of junk. He was cute in a boyish train wreck sort of way. But how dare he scold her, a grown ass woman being scolded at a circus is simply unacceptable. Wait, now she was doubting her decision to attend that night, people might think it odd that she was there alone. She fought herself in her own mind over several issues. Should she leave, or stay, or maybe just move seats, maybe somewhere up in the risers where she wouldn’t be so noticeable. Should she apologize to ticket boy or leave things well enough alone? She wanted to have some fun, seize the moment and swing from a chandelier in a night of frivolous antics. Sex was fulfilling, it made her feel important, and only in her climax did she feel innately powerful. Strings, she didn’t want strings attached, speaking of strings, where the hell were the tightrope walkers she was promised?

The show would go on as it often does. She became anxious waiting for her favorite act, the elephants. She paid little attention to said tightrope walkers, as she was busy juggling her twitter account as well as a frustrating game of flappy bird. Facebook took over during the clown routine, she loathed clowns and viewed them as pedophiles. Grown men dressing up for the pleasure of children, that was creepy to her and she didn’t so much as glance away from her timeline while they were performing. The lions did whatever it is that lions do, she grew increasingly bored. The tigers were beautiful, but hadn’t one attacked a famous trainer? He deserved it as far as she was concerned, I mean especially if the tiger was treated poorly. The chimpanzees came out, and her boredom had reverted to anxiousness. It was in fact chimpanzees, not orangutans. She was impressed by their intelligence, but forgot quickly about them as a giant beauty of an elephant stepped out, it’s ivory glistening in the spotlight. She caught herself shouting obscenities again, and quickly glanced over at the prospective lay she saw in the circus employee. He did not notice her, and why would he considering what a foul rude impression she had left. That was it, another opportunity missed. There must be someone else she could go home with, she scoped the audience. He has a wife, he was three kids, he has a baby, he has a girlfriend but she couldn’t possibly be as fun as she was, no there wasn’t a lot of fish in that sea of immature minded common circus folk. She was at her limit and ready to leave.

The immense heat and pushing that emanated from hundreds of people that were making their way back to their cars was aggravating and she sat back in her seat. Let them clear out, that was her plan, once they were all gone she could walk out without nuisance. She became infuriated with herself, she had forgotten to save any food to coax the animals into trusting her. Without it, she would be unable to save them that night. She planned on returning. She was going to save as many of those animals as possible, even if it meant following that circus across the country. She stood up to stretch her legs as the last of the crowd dissipated. With her gaze at the floor, it was a pair of red chucks she saw next. “Are you okay?” He asked her that same goddamned question. “I’m fine, dude.” She brushed another of his comments aside. She walked past him and made her way out of the depleted tent. He slowly followed, unsure of which direction he would be walking she zig zagged. Yup, it was obvious he was following her. “What’s your name?” He shouted from ten paces. She reached in her pocket, “shit,” she thought, her pepper spray wasn’t with her. He shouted again, this time picking up his pace, “wanna grab a bite to eat?” She ignored him for a moment, and then without thinking shouted back, “you’re the animal who needs saving!” She began to run, past the ticket counter, past the gravel and dirt, making her way onto a grassy area where she became so out of breath and frightened, she crumpled to the floor. She felt the blades of grass teasing her forehead, had it rained? The grass was wet, her clothes were following suit. She rubbed her face against the green fingers of the ground, letting them touch her lips, her cheeks, and her nose. She ran her own fingers across the terrain, she couldn’t get enough of the smell nor the sensation that the green bedding gave her, for in it’s simple state, she felt alive.

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