Thursday, June 10, 2021

Burning Bright by Susmita Ramani

No one can make a move here without me knowing about it. I see everything and everyone through the metal bars of my baggage wagon window. They say my confinement is so that I won’t become violent...and they’re wise.


The big top is faded from the relentless Midwestern sun, but you can tell it started out cheerfully striped primary colors. The crew pitched it this morning, hammering long iron stakes into the earth to anchor it, in a cornfield that’s exactly like countless others we’ve been in before. I heard someone say we’re near the center of the country.


Every day, I see the ringmaster’s teenaged son, Samuel, sweeping the refuse – peanut shells, popcorn cups, cotton candy cones, and wrappers. One of his legs is half-wood, so he walks with a limp. He keeps to himself, but sometimes I see him scribbling in a notebook he keeps in his back pocket. I know his secret: he’s in love with Cami, the Camel Girl in the sideshow, whose knees can bend forward, allowing her to drop down onto her hands and walk on all fours; when she’s not in a show, she can pass for normal. Whenever she walks by, he looks at her most expressively.


But Cami doesn’t care a bit about Samuel. She’s in love with the Siamese twins, Bo and Joe. I can tell by how she looks at them, even when they’re walking away. Happily for Cami, they seem besotted with her, too. I’ve seen them all together, Bo and Joe peppering Cami with questions and compliments, while she feigns shyness.


I like watching the packs of small kids, shouting and cavorting like freewheeling birds...I enjoy their happy noise. Crowds of customers gather at the concession stand, then awkwardly make their way to the big top. From their seats in the audience, from behind laps piled high with popcorn, hot dogs, candy, and soda, they watch the acrobats contort themselves with rubber band carelessness and catlike grace into otherworldly positions.


Given the chance, which of them would I kill? Any and all.


I see my trainer, Bartholomew, a tall man with a whip, which is thankfully just for show. I let him lead me through my repetitive drills for crowds of people. I’m in the center ring, jumping through a series of hoops. Clowns are in the two side rings, as usual half-drunk and tripping through some sort of fool’s play, making the audience roar with laughter.


After my act is over, Bartholomew puts me back into my wagon, throws me my usual pitifully small cut of meat, shuts the door…


And forgets to lock it.


It takes me two seconds to be out, the sun gleaming warmly on my orange-gold fur, dazzling my eyes. Now for the work I was put in this world to do: murder and devour. First Bartholomew, then Cami, then Bo and Joe…I go for their hearts.


Lastly, I see Samuel, who cowers. Leaving him alone, I vanish into the night.


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