Written for this week’s Tipsy Lit Prompted: What’s Within the Circus Tent?
He was standing with his back to her, arguing with the woman in the glittery dress. Their raised voices frightened Ellie. The words they used stabbed and crushed, shutting down her ability to understand. It had taken all of her courage to get this far. Now, despite the daydreams and eager anticipation, she wanted nothing more than to escape.
The woman noticed her and he turned around to see what had caused the distraction. Swiftly he walked over, the woman throwing one last fierce interjection at his back before marching out of the tent, glowering at Ellie as she passed. Ellie realised that she was shaking and was suddenly afraid that she was going to be sick. Last time she had been sick Davy had pushed her face into the mess and then hit her hard, again and again.
‘Where’s your mam?’ he demanded. Ellie looked up into his familiar, bright blue eyes. He had looked elegant yet strong before, smiling as he acknowledged the applause of the crowd. Now he smelt sour and looked angry, make up smeared across his weathered face. Ellie had never seen a man wear make up before. Under the bright lights of the show she had not noticed it.
‘What does she want?’ he asked, his voice a little gentler. Ellie swallowed and tried to pass on the message that had been drilled into her. All that came out was a squeak before she burst into tears. Mortified she tried to turn back the way she had come. She wanted to run away but where could she go?
Grabbing at her arm he pulled her into the ring and sat her down on one of the colourful blocks that separated the audience and the magical show. ‘Where is she? Tell her I have no money to give. I knew this place would be trouble but the takings are good. Barry won’t even consider missing this stop on the circuit.’
Ellie tried to calm down, the words made no sense but gave her time to fight back the tears and try again. ‘Mummy told me to tell you that it’s your turn now’, she managed to say. ‘I’m on my own because she’s gone away with Davy. They’re having a baby. Davy don’t want me. Mummy said to tell you she’s gone away.’
The man stared at her, his look terrifying. ‘I’ve nowhere else to go’, she cried pitifully before bursting into tears again, hugging herself as she rocked back and forth on the cold wooden block.
She had been told so many stories about the circus. She had been taken her to the shows and looked out for this man. ‘That’s your daddy’ they had said.
Each time he came to town they would meet briefly. He had lied, telling her she was pretty; given her sweets and ruffled her hair. Last time he had asked if she wanted to run away with him, to learn how to dance and twirl, live a life of adventure travelling from place to place. It sounded so much better than the cramped flat where Mummy and Davy got drunk and forgot to make dinner.
They had left that morning to catch a bus to far away. Ellie had been given the money to go to the circus after school, carefully zipped into her dirty skirt pocket. Mummy had kissed her and cried when she said goodbye. Mummy never kissed her.
The man was on his phone. Ellie sat still, cold and alone, needing the toilet but afraid to ask. When the police arrived she wondered what she had done wrong. She had tried so hard to do exactly as instructed today, but Davy had always told her she was a pest and would come to a bad end.