Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti
Prime Books, 2011
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Come inside and take a seat; the show is about to begin...
Outside any city still standing, the Mechanical Circus Tresaulti sets up its tents. Crowds pack the benches to gawk at the brass-and-copper troupe and their impossible feats: Ayar the Strong Man, the acrobatic Grimaldi Brothers, fearless Elena and her aerialists who perform on living trapezes. War is everywhere, but while the Circus is performing, the world is magic.
That magic is no accident: Boss builds her circus from the bones out, molding a mechanical company that will survive the unforgiving landscape.
But even a careful ringmaster can make mistakes.
Two of Tresaulti’s performers are trapped in a secret standoff that threatens to tear the Circus apart, just as the war lands on their doorstep. Now they must fight a war on two fronts: one from the outside, and a more dangerous one from within...
The tent is draped with strings of bare bulbs, with bits of mirror tied here and there to make it sparkle. (It doesn’t look shabby until you’ve already paid.)
You pay your admission to a man who looks like he could knock out a steer, but it is a slight young man who hands you your ticket: printed on thick, clean paper, one corner embossed in gold ink with a griffin whose mechanical wings shine in the shivering mirrorlight.
TRESAULTI, it says, and underneath, CIRCUS MECHANIQUE, which is even more showy than the posters. Their bulbs are bare; who do they think they are?
“Go inside, take a seat, the show is about to begin!” the young man shouts to the crowd as he hands out the tickets, his hinged brass legs creaking. Above the noise the food vendor is shouting: “Come and have a drink! Beer in glasses! Beer in glasses!”
Inside some invisible ring the circus people have drawn in the muddy hill, there are the dancing girls and the barkers and jugglers. The musical man is playing within the tent—a cranking, tinkling mess of noise from this far away. The dancing girls shimmying outside the tent doors have metal hands or feet that glitter in the lights, and calling above it all is the young man with the brass legs who had come through the city a day ago and put up the Tresaulti posters.
Inside, the tent is round and bright, dozens of bulbs hanging from the rigging. Some of them have paper lanterns over them, so the light is a little pink or a little yellow.
The trapezes are hanging already from the topmost supports, stiff brackets of brass and iron, waiting for girls to inhabit them. The poster says “Lighter than Air.” The mood in the tent is, We’ll see. Not that you’re hoping for someone to fall—that would be morbid—but if you say something is lighter than air, well, the bets are on.
(These trapezes are imposters; they are for practice, they are for the beginning of the act. For the finale, the real trapezes walk out. Big George and Big Tom are lifted into place by Ayar the strong man, and they lock their seven-foot metal arms around the poles and hold themselves flat as tables. The girls scamper up and down their arms, hook their feet over Big George’s feet, and dangle upside-down with their arms spread out like wings. When Big George swings back and forth, the girls let go, flying, and catch Big Tom’s legs on the other side.
But you do not know that this first trapeze is a false front. You have not yet been surprised.)
The tent comes alive as those who bought tickets file in; some of them have stopped at the food wagon, so the beer-smell cooks slowly under the bulbs. People talk among themselves, but carefully; the government is new (the government is always new), and you never know who’s working for whom.
A drum roll announces the beginning of the show, and the tent flaps open up for the entrance of an enormous woman in a black-sequined coat. Her curly dark hair springs out over her shoulders, and she wears red lipstick that seems unnaturally bright when she stands under the pink paper lanterns.
She raises her arms, and the crowd noisily hushes itself.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she calls.
Her voice fills the air. It feels as if the tent grows to accommodate the words, the circle of benches pushing out and out, the tinny Panadrome swelling to an orchestra, the light softening and curling around the shadows, until all at once you are perched in a tiny wooden seat above a vast and a glorious stage.
The woman’s arms are still thrown wide, and you realize she has not paused, that her voice alone has changed the air, and when she goes on, “Welcome to the Circus Tresaulti!” you applaud like your life depends on it, without knowing why.
Copyright © 2011 by Genevieve Valentine
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