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Martine April 12, 2009

Posted by Girlbird in writing.
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[just something I wrote one day. Maybe the start of something bigger?]

What hurts is not the way her body is starting to ache more and more with each performance these days, nor that the money circus tickets sell for is becoming increasingly less than it was years ago, that now it is a stretch to put a meager meal on the tiny table in her trailer to feed herself and her son. It is not the way her skin is starting to fold and crease in the corners and in the places no one – or hardly anyone, that is – sees. Nor is it the way her stomach is slowly growing rounder, softer beneath the corset bindings of her leotards.

All these inconvenient changes induce a dull pang in her stomach when Martine thinks of them – mostly she doesn’t. But what aches, what truly aches, is when the lights go out under the big top, when the applause fades away and she is no longer Madamoiselle Martine, the sparkling, daring trick rider who amazes and frightens audiences into gasps and applause, who holds their hearts still with her showy beauty, only Martine Reynold the single mother who sleeps alone, rejecting the occasional, cheeky offers of fellow acrobats Jean Marceau and Pierre, and fighting back the more serious, almost menacing advances of the ringmaster Vasser.

What aches is the sense of being trapped, the feeling that her life is half over and she will fade into lonely nothingness. Only a few more years are left to perform in this cheap, struggling traveling circus – never to know fame, or glory, or anything better, really, than this life of drifting, half-empty existence.

What aches most is her resignation to her situation. There is little she could do to fight the truths, and even less of any conviction to do so, when there was a time when she would have jumped to struggle and push against the bars of her prison until she broke out.

All this travels through Martine’s mind as she extinguishes the lanterns that hang from various hooks in her trailer and looks at the sleeping child – Léon will always be a child, a silent, strange, volatile child, for his brain will never develop as a normal boy’s – who lies curled on the cot in the corner. Here, though, asleep with his slow-moving eyes shut tightly, he could almost pass for healthy, for any other child. Martine smoothes the pale brown hair from his forehead and presses her mouth in a kiss there on the smooth dusky skin. Asleep is the only time these days that she can truly touch her boy, for rarely during the day will he tolerate her affection without screaming or shrugging off her hands. Sometime in the last year or so, he has become even more difficult, regressing further behind the ramparts into his own, untouchable world. But asleep, he is her little boy. Asleep, he is her angel.

Peeling off her glittered, sequined leotard, Martine shrugs into the soft sanctuary of a man’s shirt – a man whose name she can no longer remember, but whose hands she remembers as being surprisingly coaxing and gentle, a man who stayed only a hair’s breadth of time, but who somehow managed to leave his mark in a few forgotten articles of clothing. She blows out the last light and climbs into her own narrow little bed, where the nighttime sounds of the circus at rest will surely lull her as they always do into a few fleeting hours of sleep.