The Living Porcelain Doll
The chair wheels rattled along the path and a lion roared through the red and white fabric walls before me, followed by the familiar frustrated grunt of his young tamer, Oscar. I pulled aside the tent's flap in time to see him throw a whip to the ground and toss off his top hat. His shoulders relaxed when he saw me.
"What are you doing here, Grace?" he asked, but didn't hide his smile.
I held up a battered deck of cards. "I practice better here and I had time before I needed to do my makeup."
Oscar offered a quick nod. "Of course."
I maneuvered myself onto one of the stands, my skirt scandalously hitched around my legs to reveal the metal braces upon them, and straddled the bench. I'd quickly learned that modesty wasn't a high value at the circus. I couldn't help but notice Oscar's careful eye being sure I didn't lose my balance.
"You know, the sign for my act isn't true when it says I could break at any moment. I'm perfectly capable of moving." I spread the deck of cards across the bench surface.
"The Living Porcelain Doll" was the side act name. I originally auditioned to be the world's smallest magician. However, when I told the ringleader I was not only small, but also had fragile bones, he ignored my card tricks and concocted an entirely different plan. My arms and face were painted to look like a doll with the illusion of having cracks and gaps as though I had fallen off a shelf. I sat upon a stool in a long skirt which covered my braced legs as the audience members ogled. It was the only thing he could think of to showcase my "uniqueness."
The key, the ringleader told me, was to exaggerate the truth just enough so it was remarkable, while still being believable. I did have to be careful, but could at least move from the wheelchair to a bench on my own. Still, some of the other circus members treated me more like an actual porcelain doll than human.
Oscar cleared his throat and picked up his whip and hat. "Yes, but we don't need any injuries."
He returned to practicing and I spread the deck into a line face down. With a single nudge at the end they all flipped over to show the faces, diamonds, spades, hearts, and then clubs. Another nudge and they flipped back. One more nudge and they now were clubs, hearts, diamonds, and then spades.
The lion roared again while I shuffled, and the cards spilled across the bench and floor.
"Sorry," Oscar said and rushed over to help me pick them up. "He's having a bad day today."
I gave the lion a look and he lay down on the ground as though I had commanded him.
Oscar smiled and set the remaining cards on the bench. He took a seat and reclined against the taller bench behind it. "Sometimes I think you should be the lion tamer, and not me."
"You're both just tired."
I shuffled the cards again, spread them out on the bench between us, then focused on one. Slowly, it rose over the rest of the desk.
"You're getting better," Oscar said. "How did you do that?"
I shrugged. "I've always had a knack for it and I've been practicing a lot. It's a lot better in this tent though. I wish I could come in more often."
"With the exception of today, I tend to do better when I practice in here too." He looked between me and the lion, who was focused on the cards. "What else can you do with those?"
"There's one thing I've been trying out when I can sneak in here, but I haven't shown anyone yet." I wasn’t sure if I was ready. But, just maybe…
I hovered a palm over the deck, and the card which had slid over the others floated into the air. One by one, the others followed and created a flying circle. Oscar straightened himself as he watched with interest. The lion seemed to mimic his actions and watched as well. The cards circled around and floated higher in the air as they moved toward the center of the ring. The lion sat up straighter, its eyes intent on the cards.
Oscar's jaw dropped. "Amazing."
I felt my cheeks warm. With a twirl of my finger the cards spun around the lion and he circled, following them around the ring.
"Have you shown the ringmaster this?"
I sent the cards back to us and they collapsed onto the bench. I hadn't perfected getting them into a neat stack yet. Other than that, it worked. "We already have a magician, remember? But, I’ve been meaning to ask... I was wondering if you could help me with something."
Oscar's eyes sparkled as a mischievous smile crept across his face.
For once I was glad I couldn't walk, because my legs wouldn't stop shaking underneath my skirt. We had to improvise a costume at the last minute, but Oscar had found a red jacket and a top hat for me to wear over my usual white dress. If we didn't pull this off, we were going to be in so much trouble.
"You're going to be amazing," Oscar whispered as he pushed my chair toward the tent entrance.
"This was a bad idea," I said. "We've barely even practiced."
"You're going to be amazing," he repeated.
The ringleader announced Oscar's act while the crowd stomped and cheered. My fingers tingled around the deck of cards as we entered the ring, and the lion waited for us, positioned on a red stool in the center. It almost looked as though he were smiling.
I'd always dreamed of being in the spotlight, and here I was.
And I was going to be amazing.
Author Note: It may come as no surprise to anyone that I LOVED the movie, The Greatest Showman. So, when I was stuck on what to write about for this month's Flash Fiction, a friend suggested "something circusy?" To which I joked:
"You realize this may become Night Circus or Greatest Showman fan-fiction, right?"
I ended up not doing exact fan fiction. While there's some vibes going on for sure... it became an accidental "own voices" piece. When I think about The Greatest Showman, as much as I love it and as much as the movie talks about celebrating differences between people, the characters who represented marginalized groups didn't really have as great of roles as I had hoped. Which, that's another topic for another blog post.
But, it did help to inspire what I wanted to write if I were doing a piece about the circus. Thus, the own voices. I've never shared anything fictional in public about someone with the same condition as me before. (Read this blog post to find out more about my having Osteogenesis Imperfecta.) I tried to write one during NaNoWriMo a few years ago, but it was atrocious and will never see the light of day. I've also written about characters with other disabilities, but they weren't specifically what I had, and I only have shown them to a few other writer friends. The idea of sharing this is kind of terrifying to me. However, once the idea popped into my head I couldn't get it out. In fact, I love these characters, and my friends who reviewed this story before I published it also said they loved them, and I'm considering coming back to Grace and Oscar in a future story.
So... I hope you liked it too.
And if you haven't seen The Greatest Showman or read The Night Circus, what are you waiting for?
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