the oldest showman

by Dan

Paul had been dreading this day ever since his sister had had her bright idea and bought their 93 year old wheelchair bound father, The Reverend JG Grayling, a ticket to the circus.

Recently he had talked a lot about how much he’d loved tigers and female acrobats in tights when he was a boy and how when Chipperfield’s parked up on the local Heath he’d been desperate to run away and join it.

Then Paul’s sister had had to pull out for some mysterious reason and it had been left to Paul to take the old man on his own. The trouble was that the circus in question was “Cirque Mechant!” A French collective, dressed in leathers and mohicans which had bald men in gimp costumes instead of animals.

The blurb for their show “L’Octogone Vert” advertised it as an immersive spectacular exposing “the hypocrisy of religion and frailties of Western Values on a dying planet.”

“Subversive and Revolutionary” said the Guardian

“Don’t take your Grandad” said the Telegraph.

Paul’s heart sank further when he read that it would be a promenade performance and he would have to push the old man’s wheelchair round in the mud to see anything.

On the night it seemed that wherever he stood was the precise place where the spotlight fell for the next piece of action. The show started when the ringmaster, a terrifying man who looked like Keith Flint from the Prodigy, leapt from the shadows less than a yard from them and burned a bible right in front of him.

“Oh dear” said the Reverend. Paul wheeled him away into a nearby patch of mudded sawdust.

As soon as he did, two female acrobats swung above him on some ropes which exposed the limitations of patriarchal capitalism. A third jumped in front of them wearing a length of fireman’s hose pipe fixed over her nose and writhed upon the floor. In her mind it was obvious that she was a dying elephant. She expired accompanied by a Balkan brass band in what the Guardian had said was the “Moving centrepiece of the show”. Following this there were two minutes silence to mark the species already lost.

This tender moment was punctuated by The Reverend Grayling who shouted “More like a tattooed navvy than a female acrobat!”

The spotlight settled on Paul’s father and the ringmaster approached. Paul, in a moment of panic, deserted his post and fled. Outside he smoked his first cigarette over twenty years given to him by a sympathetic dwarf.

When he returned to the tent he was surprised by the sight that greeted him.

His father’s wheelchair had been raised onto a riser and the old man was smiling beatifically and waving a windscreen wiper that doubled as a sceptre while the Ringmaster chanted “Empty Hands, Full hearts!” to rapturous applause. The grin did not leave Dad’s face all night.

The Rev. Grayling never quite returned to the physical world after this and spent the rest of his life smiling blankly but happily from his armchair. While this brought it’s own problems and Paul had no real idea where the old man’s mind was drifting, it reassured him to believe that a little boy had finally run away to join the circus.