The Funambulist: Ellen Davis

The Funambulist: Ellen Davis

There was so much excitement when the circus came to town. All the children begged their parents to bring them to see the spectacle. The next day those who were denied the treat clustered around the lucky few to hear all about the tumbling clowns and the trapeze artistes with their shiny sequinned turquoise leotards. We all wanted to join up. Wouldn’t it be a great life? Moving from town to town, jumping through hoops of fire or swinging through the air in our sparkling costumes. We spent the next few weeks trying to perfect our circus skills. We were sure that if we were good enough we would be able to go and work in the circus. Some of us were practicing juggling, some somersaults and tumbles, some tried dressing up as clowns.

Robert was the most adventurous, he reckoned with a bit of practice he could walk a tightrope. He untied his mother’s washing line and tied it between two trees. He had to climb quite high to get branches that would be strong enough, but he was determined to walk a tightrope. After some discussion about which knot to use, the line was in place. He had stretched it as tight as he could but it still looked a little slack. Undeterred Robert very cautiously stepped out on to the wire. The line dipped under his foot and swayed from side to side. Robert lurched sideways, a bit like those wobble dolls that never stand straight. Time stood still and it seemed that Robert was swaying backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. Then as if someone had flicked a switch everything moved in real time. Robert slipped off the wire with one leg on either side. Then, before he had time to scream in pain he toppled to one side and one leg hooked on the wire and he fell heavily to the ground. Everyone burst out laughing. Robert was writhing around on the ground with his hands between his legs. He was in agony. Trying to save face Robert stood and glared at us, ‘I don’t see what’s so funny!’ he shouted and shoved one of the little ones out of the way. The poor boy fell back on the ground and banged his head. Robert walked away without a backward glance.

Growing up I often remembered that day, the excitement among the children was tangible. I thought of Robert’s crazy notion. Could he really have donned the turquoise Lycra and skipped along a tightrope. I smiled to myself at our utter foolishness. I didn’t dare remind Robert of it though. It had not been a funny experience for him.

Robert and I started dating a few years later. He had become a good looking lad. He was always a pleasant and attentive boyfriend. I thought perhaps the incident with the washing line had somehow knocked the brashness out of him. When we got engaged he swirled me around the dance floor like a professional dancer. I was madly in love and we couldn’t wait to get married. We saved hard and bought a small house in the country. My life seemed chocolate box perfect. Everyone said how good we were together. We had a lavish wedding and a honeymoon in the sun.

On the flight home Robert and I had a few drinks and were both feeling a little tipsy. We were holding hands and whispering sweet nothings. Robert tried to order another couple of drinks. He pressed the call button. The air hostess said the bar was closed as we were coming in to land. Robert started to argue that we had lots of time to have another round but the hostess said there was nothing she could do. ‘What kinda service do you call that?’ he shouted ‘I am sorry sir but those are the rules.’ Then, Robert saw a man across the aisle sipping a whiskey. ‘How come he can have one and I can’t’ Robert stormed at the girl. ‘As I said the bar is no closed for landing. He must have ordered it just before we closed the bar’ she replied. I was shocked to see another side of Robert as he gesticulated and shouted at the poor girl. I said ‘Ah Robert, she has explained the position let her be’. ‘Keep out of it woman’ he bawled back at me. I was speechless. Surely this wasn’t the man I was in love with. I sat subdued for the rest of the flight.

By the time we had driven a few miles out of the city Robert had relaxed and we chatted amicably as usual. When got to the cottage he picked me up and carried me over the threshold. He brought in the cases and then carried me up to bed. As he kissed me, he apologised about the incident with the air hostess. I snuggled in closer and the incident was never mentioned again. After a few months of happy marriage, I became pregnant.

As the confinement drew closer, I felt more tired day by day. The baby was pressing against a nerve in my back and I found it difficult to get about. I was more irritable than usual and Robert would often comment ‘the sooner ‘that’ baby arrives the better’. I would answer ‘it is our baby not ‘that’ baby’. Robert would say ‘Ah! Whatever’. As it turned out our beautiful baby girl arrived within two days of the delivery date. We were over the moon. Over the next four years we had two more baby girls.

When I told Robert that I was pregnant for the fourth time he replied ‘See can you manage to get a boy this time? We do not need another girl!’ ‘Not much I can do about that,

love.’ ‘Well if you do have another bloody girl I’d have a mind to shove it back in!’ Robert had not been as attentive to me during the last two pregnancies, but this time he practically ignored me. He would say things like ‘Anyone would think you are the only one to have a few children.’ This change in attitude upset me but I kept my feelings to myself.

Then one day when I was about six months into the pregnancy I sat down in the afternoon for a rest. I had put the girls up for a nap and in no time I was asleep. I slept until I heard Robert’s key jangling in the lock. Oh my God, what time is it? I thought. Then, I heard the girls crying in their cots. I jumped up and ran into their room to get them. Robert was there ahead of me. The two little things were both red in the face, tears running down their cheeks. They held up their arms to be picked up and comforted. Robert turned to look at me with anger in his eyes. ‘Is this what goes on here when I’m at work? You lazy cow! How could you leave them crying like this?’ ‘I fell asleep. I didn’t hear them, I swear!’ ‘Well make sure you hear them the next time’ he shrieked and caught me with his fist just under my left eye. I fell to the floor. He picked up the girls and stepped over me as he left the room. I lay there dazed, staring at the door. I could hear him comforting the girls in the next room. He did not come back to see how I was.

It was some time before I could struggle on to my feet. I testily touched my face. It was swelling up and tender. I checked my face in the mirror. I was heading for a shiner. Over the next week or so the swelling turned from black to purple. One day I looked in the mirror I saw that my eye had taken on a yellowish tinge around the edges of the bruise. The rest of it was a kaleidoscope of blues and greens, and in places there was turquoise tinge. My eye was a match for the sequinned outfits that the circus funambulist had worn all those years ago. I cried that day for my lost youth and happiness. I knew that from now on I had my own funambulist act to perfect in this circus of a marriage.

About the author

Ellen Davis

Ellen was born in London, United Kingdom. She lived in Dublin, Ireland for most of her adult life and is currently living in Birr, County Offaly, Ireland. She has had poems published previously in Irish literary journals: Riverine; Cyphers; Tallaght Miscellany and others. She also had a poem broadcast on RTE (Ireland's national radio station) Poems Old and New programme and was the winner of the Ballyfermot Arts Week poetry competition. Recently she has found inspiration to write not only poems but short stories as well.

4 Responses to The Funambulist: Ellen Davis

  • Edward Power

    Tubrid Cross

  • Edward Power

    Thanks for this lovely, sad, absorbing story. A glimpse into the way life marks and changes us, and things.
    I hope, Ellen, that you continue to write short stories, hyphenating childhood and adult life, as this one does.
    Nice to see Riverine credited. Thanks. A ghost from my earliest publishing venture. Congrats on turquoise.

  • Sandra Mulcahy

    Love this story.  It tells such a lot in a short amount of words.  Looking forward to the next one.

  • Clive


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