Jan 25
Sydney's picture

Warming Up

Clip-clop, clip-clop, roar! Scritch-scratch, boom, boom, boom, bang! Doot-doodoo-doo! The animals trotted around the ring, practicing for the evening’s performance. The ringmaster paced up and down the aisles, his tall black hat tipped significantly forward, nearly covering his eyes. His lips moved slightly, as if reciting some ancient verse that no longer passes through the lips of young people. The ringmaster's breath rose from his downturned face like little puffs from a steam engine that is just getting going or the vapor from an exhaust pipe of an old truck that is struggling to start on a cold morning. Short, irregular puffs, probably due to the motion of his lips.

The female trapeze artists shivered from their lack of clothing. They huddled together in their tiny dressing room, putting on makeup and dousing each other's heads with fragrant hairspray. Chill, wintry, wind whipped the tent around and let in bursts of frigid air through the rips in the old painted canvas. Would an audience come out on such a cold night to watch a traveling circus? 

Flap, flap, whooo! The band warmed up their instruments and blew on their cold fingers. “It will soon warm up when the audience filters in,” the conductor said, breaking the shivering silence. She avoided the blatant fact that each time the tent would open to let a person in, a blast of cold air would come in with them. Everyone knew this, but no one said anything. 

The hot stage lights cast a yellow glow on the ring as the lighting technicians positioned them at just the right angle. The ringmaster continued his slow walk through the aisles. When he saw a stray program or an empty popcorn bag, he picked it up, and when he passed by a trash can, nonchalantly dropped his finding into it. He pulled out his pocket watch and glanced at it for a moment. His dark eyes opened a little wider than before and he lifted his head and pushed back his hat a bit. He straightened his collar and cleared his throat “A quarter-hour till showtime,” he announced. A mad rush of scurrying feet and hurried voices could be heard coming from the dressing rooms. The ringmaster found a secluded and unusually drafty corner of the tent. He reached into one of his coat pockets and pulled out a small mirror. Reaching in again, he pulled out a bottle of liquid eyeliner. He shook it and frowned. He held the bottle close to his chest and pulled himself inward, holding the tiny bottle in the midst of all his warmth. He looked down, and his hat fell over his eyes again. After a few minutes, he extracted the bottle from the depths of his jacket and unscrewed the top. A faint smile spread over his face, and holding the mirror in one hand and the eyeliner in the other, he outlined each dark eye in black, now liquid, eyeliner. He closed one eye to check that he had done his work correctly and then nodded. He screwed the top back on the bottle and put it, along with the mirror, back in his pocket. He pulled out his pocket watch again. His face expressionless this time. Holding his hat, he tipped his head back as if looking to the top of the tent. Then he walked towards the ring. The lights dimmed, and the intro music began. The ringmaster stepped behind a curtain just before the first audience members made their entrance. He took a breath and stood - still, silent, waiting.