I challenged my friends to “send me a one word or first line prompt and I will write a story about it.” My boyfriend’s aunt, Rosanna, sent me “The circus is coming to town…” So here you go, Rosanna. I hope you like it.
Little Emily squealed in delight as her parents pulled into a parking space. She fiddled with her seat-belt as the van came to a stop but she just couldn't manage to break free.
"Hold on! Hold on!" her dad called as he got out of the driver's seat. He opened the side door of the mini van and took a good look at his four year old daughter. She insisted on dressing herself for the occasion. Below her blond pig tails was her favorite pink Hello Kitty shirt and matching purple tutu,rainbow leggings, and Wizard of Oz shoes. "Why did you agree to letting her dress herself today?" he asked his wife as she appeared from around the front of the van.
"It'll be easier to spot her in the crowd if she runs ahead of us," she explained. "Besides, look at that!" she said, pointing to their daughter. "That style, that panache, and elegance!"
He unbuckled Emily's seat belt. She quickly hopped out of the van and did a quick twirl and a curtsy. He applauded her grace.
"I have to look my best today!" the little girl replied to the query in her parents' eyes.
Her dad shut the door. "We're just going to the circus, Honey," he said to her. He grinned at his wife, who shrugged in response. "You don't have to get that dressed up for the circus."
"Of course I do!" Emily smiled. "This'll be the first time that I've seen Roxy since she ran away to join the circus," she explained. She grabbed her dad's hand and pulled him towards the ticket booth. He looked back at the wife, who stood by the van, her mouth agape.
"Why did you have to tell her that her dog ran away to the circus?" his wife whispered into her husband's ear when she finally caught up to them.
He shrugged. "That's just what you're supposed to say, isn't it?" he asked.
"You're supposed to tell the truth," she whispered. "What are we going to do?"
"I didn't want to hurt her." He turned towards his wife. She gave him a reassuring hug and kissed his cheek.
Emily and her parents waltzed through the gates and were amazed at the various acts that welcomed them to the big top. Emily gawked at the elephants and the beautiful women riding them. Her dad eyeballed the beautiful women as well. And his wife eyeballed him.
"What?" he smiled at her.
"Hello," came an alluring voice. "Welcome, and what's your name?" A striking redhead bend down toward Emily. She was dressed in a flamboyant outfit with gold sequins and marvelously bright colors.
"Emily!" their daughter replied.
"Are you here to see something special?" the woman asked.
"Yes! Yes, I am!"
The woman patted her on her head. "I'm sure that you'll find it here." She led the little family into the tent and sat them down in the front. They surveyed the tent, which seemed much more gigantic on the inside than it did from the outside.
"Do you remember Roxy?" Emily asked. Her parents looked at her. "I know that you had just married Daddy when she ran away." Her stepmother shook her head slightly. Emily's eyes got big with the memories that flooded into her mind. "Daddy got her before I was born. She was a..." her voice softened as she tried to think.
"An Irish Setter," her dad finished.
Emily smiled. "She used to sleep by my bed and keep me safe from all the monsters that hid in my closet," she explained. She played with the tulle of her tutu. "She used to like to play in the front yard and the street, chasing our neighbors cats and all the squirrels. And she liked hotdogs! If you weren't looking, she'd take it right off you plate!" The lights suddenly dimmed. The noise of the crowd hushed to a silence. Then, a spotlight in the center of the ring and out walked the ringmaster.
The ringmaster was exquisite: elegant and charismatic, playing to the crowd and their sensibilities. He presented a variety of acts: trapeze and aerial silk performers, contortionists, clowns. And crazier performers like Carl the Human Cannonball; Cassandra and Ilythia the fire-eaters; knife throwers; and Ivan the Strongman. After Ivan left the stage, Emily's dad looked over at his daughter. She had hardly touched her cotton candy and was staring, hopelessly, at the door of the tent where the performers entered and exited, praying for the next act.
"Here," a familiar voice said. They looked up to see the same redhead that welcomed them, holding a paper bag in front of Emily.
"What's this?" Emily asked, taking the bag from her.
"It's for the next act." She leaned down and winked at her. "The one you've been waiting for." The woman stood up and looked over at her parents. "I'm sure that you will enjoy it," she said to them.
"What's in the bag?" asked her stepmother.
"Peanuts?" Emily said, her nose in the bag. "Peanuts," she repeated, pulling one out.
Not missing a beat, a loud cry was heard from the outside of the tent. An elephant. Followed by a loud roar and screeching. They surveyed the tent, which was suddenly filled with colored smoke. Boom!
"Was that a trunk?" someone called out.
"I think I see a lion!" someone else cried out.
There was a loud thunder. When the smoke dissipated, an entire zoo appeared in the center of the ring, all the animals pranced around in circles: elephants, horses, birds, bears, tigers, and lions. All singing in unison. Gorgeous women led them around the stage with leashed and whips. Inside the circle of animals were smaller creatures. Dogs and cats running around, jumping, and doing tricks.
From the crowd came the cries of children.
"Roxy..." Emily whispered. Her father looked over at her. She was standing tall, peering into the center of the ring. "Roxy..." she repeated, her eyes scanned the scene.
"Do you see her?" her stepmother asked.
"No..." Her voice was faint.
They sauntered out of the circus tent amongst the crowd and solemnly made their way to the minivan. Emily was nearly in tears but for some reason the just wouldn't take shape to fall. She could hardly see the ground in front of her because the tears in her eyes blurred her vision. Suddenly Emily's dad scoffed. She looked up at him as he stomped his way over to the van. He looked like the vein in his forehead was about to burst.
"A parking ticket?" he shouted. He picked up a note left under the windshield wiper. As soon as he saw what was scribbled on it, his tone changed. His forehead relaxed and his eyes welled up with tears. He crouched down to look Emily in the eyes. She wiped away the tears and took the note from his hand.
"S-s-sorry I c-can't be her...here," Emily read. "I l-l-love and miss you. Love Roxy," she finished. Her stepmother's hand covered her mouth. She looked over at her husband but he was at a loss for words. He opened his mouth and no explanation came out. There were only tears. Emily fell into her father's arms. "I miss her too," she said, squeezing hard.
"I do too, Sweetie," he managed to say. He picked her up and squeezed her tight before opening the door to the minivan. She held onto the note tight and smiled as he buckled her into her car seat and shut the door. He let out a long sight and looked over at the circus tent. The redhead stepped out of the tent, looked over, and waved, like she was staring right at him through the crowded parking lot. He awkwardly waved back. As he turned toward the driver's door, a ball rolled across his feet and under the van.
"Sorry!" a man called from across the parking lot. He looked over and saw that the voice came from one of the trapeze artists. "Sorry," he repeated as he walked up to the van.
"It's okay," he replied. "Hey, um...who's that redhead over there?" he asked, pointing to the tent.
The trapeze artist looked over at the tent. "Oh her? That's just Roxanne. She's fairly new." The trapeze artist said something else but he wasn't listening anymore. He just watched her as she walked over to the concession stand for a hotdog.