The Circus

by The Cowl Editor on September 19, 2019


Photo courtesy of

by Sarah Kirchner ’21

The smell of popcorn filled the tent. The entire tent smelt of sweets and peanuts. All sorts of smells spread through the high top, and I stood at the entrance taking it all in. Everything seemed so small underneath the tent, as the walls went up for what seemed like forever.

My mother never let me go to the circus. She said it was for low-lifes who had nothing better to do. It was fake entertainment, she always told me. But I never believed that. It always had a pull on me. Every Friday when the curtains were drawn I wished I was walking through them, but I never could. Until tonight.

“Come on quickly, before the show starts!” Lila tugged at my hand, and I was suddenly thrown through the crowd. I was so engulfed in the magic of it all that I had completely forgotten about Lila. She was the only reason I was able to be here tonight, but the whimsies of it all had me mesmerized.

“Jack. Focus.” Lila called back to me and continued to pull at me. As she pulled, my body bumped into everyone and everything around me. I could see why Lila needed me to pay a little more attention. One man gave me an especially dirty look, and I sucked in my breath. I couldn’t have too many people see my face, or else my parents were bound to find out. But in my small town there was never anything to do, and with the circus here all summer I had to go at least one night. It was worth my parents’ wrath. But still, I was hoping to avoid that.

Lila led the way up the bleachers and down a middle row. She sat down dead center and stared at the open tent.

“Amazing, right?”

“Amazing,” I agreed. I wasn’t even able to describe the joy I felt. The sandy arena in front of me with the crowd filling in around made me gasp. There were so many people, so many different people, all gathering in this one place. I could hear the chatter of people, the talk of everyone’s favorite acts and the costumes they were expecting to see. It was all giving me the jitters.

“I can’t wait to see the acrobats,” Lila squealed next to me. “They’re my favorite. What are you excited to see?” She smiled at me, enthusiasm radiating off of her. I was so happy she agreed to sneak me out tonight.

I had to tell my parents that I wasn’t feeling well and went to bed early. Lila waited outside my window with the tickets and I shimmied down the tree to meet her. My mom was bound to check on me at some point in the night, but it was worth the risk to be here tonight. The circus ended just after eleven, so if Lila and I ran back right at the end I could be back without anyone noticing. But to be completely honest, it wasn’t my biggest concern to get back. I needed to witness the magic that I heard went on in this tent. I needed to see it all for myself.

“So? Which one?” Lila nudged me.

I looked at her and gave a small smile. 

“All of it.” The animals. The performers. The costumes.

“It is pretty amazing. I remember when my parents took me here for the first time. We sat front row and my mom bought me cotton candy.”

“I wish my parents took me,” I said, but I didn’t know if I meant that. Neither of them would have had fun, and they would have complained the whole time about every detail of the event. They were too pretentious for this.

“They would ruin the experience. They’re anti-fun, let’s be real,” she joked.

“That’s for sure,” I laughed with her. Lila squeezed my hand while the rows filled in around us. “I’m gonna grab popcorn.” I tried my best to tell her, but the tent was filled with noises and our voices couldn’t really be distinguished.

I think Lila heard me. She only nodded so I quickly scooted down the row towards the aisle. It was nearly nine, and I knew the show was starting soon. I was not certain, but there was something about the feeling in the air. The voices and the cheers and the dancing lights released the feeling of greatness about to happen, and I was ready to finally see it all.

As I ran back to the front of the tent to buy a snack, I lost my footing and hit into someone’s shoulder. I mumbled a curse to myself and turned back to apologize.

“Sorry about –“ I stopped myself mid-sentence. “Nate?” I stared at my brother, shocked to see him. We weren’t allowed at the circus, and my brother seemed to have always understood that rule. He was older than me, so I didn’t think the desire would have been as strong for him to go.

Nate didn’t say anything. He gave me a nod, which said it all. He understood. He wouldn’t tell Mom or Dad. I nodded back. I wouldn’t tell them either.

“Enjoy,” he finally said after we stared for long enough. He gave a crooked smile and turned back, to be swallowed by the crowd. I turned away too, back on my mission for popcorn. I smiled to myself, though. Nate understood. We both felt the magic, and we had to come for ourselves. And suddenly, I was relieved.