This story is by Cecile Swift Lippitt and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A Day in the Life……of a Monster
Sawdust fills my nostrils and makes me sneeze. I don’t mind. It’s a smell I’ve grown to love, especially with that unique blend of animal manure, hay fields, and cooking fires.
The excitement in the air is palpable as the roustabouts rush to erect the last of the bleachers and recheck the ropes for the trapeze act. Performers and animals begin to return from the morning parade, everyone talking over one another about the reception they received in town. Someone calls out that the flyer depicting my act was met with an enthusiastic response. It appears that my reputation has preceded us.
I smile and nod, “thank you.”
Today it feels as if so much of my life is falling into place. My childhood dream has come true. Here I am living in the greatest country in the world, touring with the greatest circus in the world. Sometimes I can barely believe my good fortune. And now, Ella and last night!
It certainly hasn’t always been this way. Looking back, I don’t remember much about my parents or about my life in Poland. I was only four years old when my parents decided I was too hideous to live with them and they sold me to a stranger, a promoter by the name of Sedlmayer. As it turns out, Herr Sedlmayer was a very kind man. He decided to delay my start in the performance industry and sent me to school in Germany where other children like me received instruction, children destined for circus life. I was a conscientious student who excelled in my studies, especially in learning new languages. Ten years later, I find myself in America, the land of opportunity, touring with the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
And now, from atop a tower of hay bales, I reflect on last night’s surprising developments and realize it will be impossible to keep this goofy smile off my face during today’s performance.
Last night, after a long discussion, Ella confided that she has fallen in love with me! I never thought it would happen, that anyone could love me. I was so surprised by her admission I said nothing. How I wish I had the presence of mind to tell her that I love her too.
Ella and I met on the first day I arrived at the circus. Ella is a few years older than me and has been with the circus a bit longer. We both know what it’s like to have people stare at us, laugh at us or worse yet, fear us. This shared experience drew us close from the start. We talked freely of our lives before the circus. Fascinated by my command of five languages, she keeps asking me to say things in all five of them. “Stephan, how do you say acrobat in French, how do you say it in German” and on and on… but I never tire of it. She also enjoys hearing me talk about the history of the circus, how it started in Greek and Roman times. “See Ella,” I say, “you and I have chosen a very noble profession, a profession that we should never be ashamed of.”
And I love hearing about her life on the farm in Tennessee. Her deformity made it hard for her to help with the manual labor, so she would go with her mother and sister to sell chickens and eggs in town. The only problem with going to town were the children who laughed and mimicked her way of walking. Thank goodness her sister Sallie could be counted on to shoo the troublemakers away. Over time, I’d say we’ve shared all of our hopes and dreams, as well as many of our worst fears and nightmares.
Ella’s stage name is “Camel Girl,” due to a condition she has had since birth which causes her knees to bend backwards. Since it is more comfortable for her to walk on all fours, she quickly inherited her stage nickname when she joined the circus. Unlike me, Ella was not forced out of her home, but chose to join for the adventure and the money. She still writes to her mother and sends money home, and often talks about returning to Tennessee.
My affliction, or as I have come to see it, my ticket to fame and fortune, is a condition called hypertrichosis which causes my entire body to be covered with hair. My parents couldn’t stand to look at me. I never remember being kissed or comforted by them. It was Herr Sedlmayer who gave me my stage name “Lionel the Lion-Faced Boy.” Upon completion of my schooling, my benefactor knew it was time for me to find employment and, after touring Europe for several years, he arranged for my passage to America. My real name is Stephan. Ella calls me Stephan.
I hop off the hay bales. Ella! I should go find her.
I wonder, will she want to marry me when we get older? And maybe we will have a family. I’ve always wanted to be a father, and I’m sure Ella would be a wonderful mother. She is always befriending the younger children and making them laugh with her funny stories of life on a farm. Maybe we could even develop a family act like the Nelson Family from England. I’ve told Ella all about them. What a grand adventure we’ll have traveling the country, and maybe the world.
The sounds of elephants being led to their station brings me out of my reverie, and I realize that soon I’ll need to get ready for the afternoon performance. But I crave a little more time to mull over this new development from last night. The cookhouse should be quiet, maybe I’ll go there and grab a quick cup of coffee. I can hardly believe it. Someone in the world loves me. Ella loves me!
As I head to the cookhouse, a shout from Lou the Clown, who I notice is already in his stage makeup, reminds me that I’d better head back to my dressing room instead. I’ll need to decide on which of my many suits to wear for the afternoon performance and get this mane of mine to look a little neater.
Wait a minute! I remember. Not only did Ella tell me she loves me, she also said that she’s been thinking of going back to school to finish her education. If she follows that path, she’ll leave the circus!
Now that I think about it, she had a sad look on her face when she told me she loved me…. I’ve got to find her and talk to her right away, there’s no time to lose! Ella!
“Ella. Wait Ella!”