And all the circus ponies had to go home
In the ticket booth a woman chews gum. She’s thin, but in a way I don’t begrudge, which isn’t like me. I ask, ‘Where have the performers come from?’ because I know he will ask me this later. I know because I know him. She chews at me. She shrugs and I decide I’ll say Russia, because he has a thing about Russia.
The acrobat’s hair was yellow, long, and bluntly cut to match the ponies’ tails. They would perform for her, only. She would dismount from the tightrope like a yoyo, landing at the centre of the ponies’ circle. From above their formation might have been an asterisk.
Her actual plummeting was unscripted, so at odds with the music I felt nauseous. Once we got to grips with the idea we were prepared for horror. We were ready for her limbs, all akimbo, her neck at an impossible angle. I saw a woman cover a child’s eyes with something like foresight. She was supposed to plummet. She was supposed to drop like a stone like a penny like a raindrop like a well-worn simile on a disillusioned readership. We waited for the ripples in the yellow sand; our eyes fixed on the ground.
We waited for her body to appear in the crosshairs on the surface of our eyes. We couldn’t help our subsequent disappointment. I saw the woman uncover the child’s eyes with something like embarrassment. We averted our collective gaze upwards and found her. We’d been duped. She hung like a bird feeder from the safety net; her hair was knotted round her throat and round the mesh. Her limbs swayed like hollow tubes on a wind chime.
The crowd hourglass’d through the tent entrance. The motion made me think of an arrow on a woman’s midriff in an ad for probiotic yoghurt. The people murmured with one voice. Refunds would be processed as soon as possible.
She wore her loneliness like a leotard, tight at the upper thighs and under arms. She fed the ponies what she fed herself, which isn’t to say the ponies ate well; she just ate as poorly. Her harness was fraying silk: no give, no strength, but she liked how the ties felt gripped in her fist. (I would later buy those ties at auction. I would loop them like bunting along the fireplace.) She liked how the lighting above her dressing mirror was harsh, the colour the texture of talcum powder; how it lit up the cracks in her make up and the cracks in her skin under her make up. She liked how she could sit in a halogen square and see a monster, dressed in her leotard; she liked how much effort it took to think ‘that’s me’.
A small task seems insurmountable if the initial expectation was no task at all. The men summoned to cut her down, who might otherwise have been doing nothing, seemed the most put out.
‘What happened to the circus ponies?’ he says when I tell him. ‘I never thought to ask.’ I say. I call the booking office. The line is busy. I picture the gum stretched between the thin woman’s upper and lower molars and over the holes in the phone’s handset like afterbirth. ‘The line is busy’, I say. ‘Keep trying’, he says, and I wonder if this is a joke or a test from some part of him I don’t know yet. The line stays busy. We eye one another fake happily, glassily, like plastic labradors in supermarkets with slots in their heads collecting money for the blind. I so often wish I could be loved without having to love in return.
The line stays busy. The tone stretches to the kitchen and back. ‘Hello, excuse me, I was wondering what happened to the ponies?’ A pause and I hang up the phone. I want to find a line down his skull like the San Andreas Fault. I want to pry it open with my thumbs like a pistachio. ‘Well?’ he says, and I think I could tell him the circus ponies had to go home, back to Russia. He has a thing about Russia. ‘They were made into glue’, I say, because I’m tired of the way love makes me generous.
He kept his heart in a pigeon egg so he COULDN’T BE KILLED
In the Hotel Pigeon they have been heavy handed with the theme. Furnishings are black and grey and white and sometimes something innocuous will have a beak: a lampshade or an armoire. It seems unnecessary. I don’t consider pigeons a pestilence but nor do I consider ‘sneezing’ a theme, or ‘shoehorns’. We are trying to demonstrate the beauty of inauspicious things, the concierge tells me. When I ask if some things are even worth appreciating the foyer turns somber. A bellboy takes audible phlegmy offence and says the only sour eggs permitted here are those of pigeons. I say, I think the expression is ‘sour grapes’, and he says, clearly you’re the expert.
Hotels are the homes of halfway things. At the Hotel Pigeon check-in desk I am handed two sheets of paper; on one is written the Wi-Fi password: uppercase P everything else lowercase. The other encourages me to consider the afterlife. If there is an afterlife, it will be like a hotel; residents will own nothing. If the body is the empty shell of a hermit crab then a hotel is the shell that houses that shell and the afterlife, well. If there is an afterlife, its value will lie in our expected brevity of stay. If there is an afterlife, then we needn’t bother mourning. It is nothing but petulance.
In the morning I step out of the shower. My bathroom mirror has fogged with the words, I love you, written in the Cy Twombly scrawl of a feather. I ignore it. I feel the hot water turn cold on my skin as I miss another opportunity to appreciate what I have.
There were things I was just too LAZY TO TELL YOU
Everything is on fire. Everyone is on fire.
‘Ahhh’, the people say, ‘Ahhh. Ahhh. Ahhh.’
The fire started amongst the smallest mammals:
the gerbils, hamsters, dwarf mice. The ones
the people kept as ornaments. It was thought not to be
pass on-able, but still their tiny, eyelashed bodies
were sought out and destroyed, their tiny screams
as thick as soot. Then the fire mutated, as everything
does, eventually. It settled on bare skin and ripped
through the neonatal units and the geriatric units.
Men with scorching sores sat on street corners, shaking
tins. ‘They’ll only spend it on drink’, I heard
someone say, but there was no cure for the fire,
so what would we have them do? I find you, pale-
skinned in a glade, far from the streets and the riots
and the fires. We hold one another. We watch
a helicopter limp through the sky, its hose swinging
like a sperm whale’s dick, its pilot engulfed. We lie
still, blissful in our immunity. You feel warm, but then,
you always did. It is then I see birthday candle flames
leaking from your sock. You try, desperately, to blow
them out. ‘I thought I was special’, you whisper,
and you cry a tear the size of a fingernail. It evaporates
on reaching your cheek, ‘I thought I was something
different.’ Overhead a flock of geese, crimson and hot
and moulting, rip the sky in two. Your arms lie
at your sides, the hem of your trousers
smoking. I roll up my sleeves and show you the soft
knob of my wrist bone, the way the scalloped
oranges and reds surround it like a moat. I say, ‘I thought
I was special too’ and you hold me once more.
Our skin crackles with the sound of a hundred breaking