Roll Up, Roll Up! by Nigel Jarrett

(published 27th May 2019)

I had Ricky to thank for finding myself sitting alone in the front row of Zippo’s Circus.

He’d walked out on his girlfriend and young ‘un, and Josie had driven off with our kids to visit her. I wanted the pair of them to stay with me, but for some motherly reason Josie insisted on taking them along. We could have made it a threesome, especially as the circus was one of those without animals. They boys could have learned some moral lesson. In any case, I’d availed myself of Zippo’s BTGTF offer – buy two adult tickets and two kids get in free. There we go.

It was a few years since I’d visited the big top. I recalled walking with my brother between the legs of a man on stilts and hearing, far off, the roar of lions and the elephant noise whose name I can never remember. I also seem to have remembered watching a juggler practise outside a caravan and a thin girl in moth-eaten tutu balance gingerly on a large pink ball. But the last two may have slipped from my store of the fanciful images we retain from childhood or elsewhere: the pictures of Picasso, for example.

A lone male in a child’s province nowadays looks suspicious. It was a sit-anywhere arrangement in the tent and there were barely forty of us. So I was more than obviously exposed. I wondered who Zippo was and imagined him as the long-dead founder of a travelling show indifferent to the issue of making tigers jump through flaming hoops. I feared being somehow short-changed.

First there was a tame trapeze act – just routine swinging and catching not all that high up – then a five-man balancing team at ground level. One of them had a hole in his tights.

Then a clown appeared at the entrance to the ring and ran into the centre. He looked my way and walked towards me in his ridiculous, slapping boots. He came up close and I could hear echoing laughter as he pointed a gun at my head, fired it and showered me with confetti.

Then he put his face next to mine. Very close.

I saw anguish behind the painted smile and felt – I am so sure of this – that he wished to confide in me. A real tear, or dewdrop of sweat, had lodged itself in one of the false ones dripping from the corner of his eye. The laughter of the crowd faded, like daytime being blotted up by dusk.

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Nigel Jarrett

Nigel Jarrett is a former newspaperman and a double prizewinner: the Rhys Davies Award for short fiction and, in 2016, the inaugural Templar Shorts award. His first story collection, Funderland, published by Parthian, was praised by the Guardian, the Independent, the Times and many others, and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. His debut poetry collection, Miners At The Quarry Pool, also from Parthian, was described by Agenda poetry magazine as ‘a virtuoso performance’. Jarrett’s first novel, Slowly Burning (GG Books) was published in 2016, as was his second story collection, Who Killed Emil Kreisler? (Cultured Llama Publishing). Templar is about to publish his three-story pamphlet, A Gloucester Trilogy. Based in Monmouthshire, Jarrett also writes for Jazz Journal, the Wales Arts Review, Arts Scene in Wales, Slightly Foxed, Acumen poetry magazine, and several others. His poetry, fiction, and essays appear widely. For many years he was a daily newspaper music critic, and now freelances in that capacity. When he can find time, he swims.