Short Story: Mira’s Ring
The buzz of the audience surges through the red and yellow big top. A fresh crop of circus-goers, excited about the show, gape in awe as they take in the sights and sounds. The pungent scents of freshly turned dirt, manure, and hay mingle—not unpleasantly—with that of buttery popcorn and the sweet cloy of caramel apples and cotton candy.
Garrett the Clown whips up balloon animals, handing them out to lucky children as they pass by. Clara walks the perimeter of the bleachers offering colorful programs featuring performers and animals while men dressed in red T-shirts with knife-creased black pants troll the aisles, peddling light-up toys, ice-cold drinks, and bags of peanuts.
The circus is a special experience for children, an infusion of color and sound and smell, but adults both young and old also tend to be affected by the glitz, the hype . . . the dream.
Mira Alexandrescu peeks at the assembling crowd from behind a tent flap. Her perception of the circus is different from theirs. Mira is the daughter of the Ringmaster and grew up in the circus. She feels most alive when moving across the tightrope toward Raul or when Raul’s hands set her body aflame on those too-rare nights. Like the dangerous, exciting dance across the tightrope, his fingers play across her dips and curves, igniting a fire that burns almost as hot inside her as the feeling of belonging to the family of the Alexandria Brothers Circus.
A couple of teenage girls saunter by just outside Mira’s hiding spot.
“Oh my God . . . this looks like so much fun!”
“Totally. Imagine how much fun they have on the road, going from place to place, meeting handsome strangers . . . Maybe someday that could be us! I wonder when tryouts are.”
Fools. Mira snorts. Circus life is hard work. The shows are packed in, two or three a day, and they break down at one venue and have the big top prepped and ready for the next within hours. There’s rarely a moment to acknowledge the town they’re in; apart from the slight differences in the clientele, each stop could be Anywhere, USA.
Although not all are related by blood, they are a family—and have the same issues any large family suffers. There’s drama and disagreements; occasionally they part ways with someone who isn’t pulling their weight. Childbearing is encouraged only to replenish the stable of performers, and there’s little patience or attention given to a baby or toddler until they can begin training to earn their keep.
Mira loves circus life. Granted, she doesn’t know anything else, but the envy with which others look at them—town after town, year after year—leads her to believe civilian life is lackluster and mundane. She’s developed an almost snobbish air, looking down her nose at those who aren’t a part of her elite circle. And therein lies Mira’s current problem—an outsider joined their ranks recently. Not only that, but the pale, flaxen-haired beauty captured Raul’s attention. Unacceptable.
Butterflies ram against the cage of Mira’s ribs as the houselights dim, and spotlights focus on the center ring.
The show is about to begin, and there’s no turning back now.
Toma Alexandrescu’s regal, imposing figure commands the arena, and his voice blares over the speakers with great fanfare. “Ladies and gentleman! Kids of all ages! Welcome to the Alexandria Brothers Circus!”
Mira turns away from the outer shell of the show and moves to the portable dressing table to focus on the internal—a final check of her makeup, straightening her costume.
Strong arms slip around her from behind, and a large hand comes to rest over her slamming heart. She watches in the mirror as Raul rests his head on her shoulder, his dark eyes filled with concern. “Your heart is pounding, querida. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m fine.” Mira wants to shrug Raul off, rebuff him for becoming enamored with another, but love binds her to him too tightly. A flash of anger burns through her at the perceived weakness.
Raul kisses the side of her neck. “Get your head in the game. This is how accidents happen—when you’re distracted.”
Mira bristles, turning in his arms and pushing hard against his chest. “I’ve got this! You think I’m a liability?”
Raul stares into her eyes for a long moment, looking for something. He finds it and shakes his head. “You’re okay. You wanna talk about it?”
Mira hears the music of the act before theirs. A mixture of steadying calm and light adrenaline rushes through her, and she puts on her best show-smile. “About what?” She winks at Raul and leans up to kiss his soft lips.
“You.” Raul shakes a finger at her. “I’m going to get you later.”
“Promises, promises.” Mira does a pirouette, then runs into the ring on light feet with Raul behind her.
Mira and Raul perform their tightrope act flawlessly, as they always do. When she’s high above the crowd, Mira usually transports herself to a different reality. The big top, the people, the restless animals below—everything disappears except their special music, her, and Raul.
Toward the end of their act, she almost loses her concentration. Thoughts of Ruby—the outsider—sizzle in Mira’s gut.
Raul catches her eye, sensing something is off. He steadies her with his eyes, and Mira pushes the sight of him kissing Ruby on a blanket in the woods and his later proclamation that it was “just a grope that didn’t go anywhere” from her mind. The slight hiccup in the act isn’t noticeable to the audience, and the two grasp hands with their arms sweeping out as they take their bows.
When they reach the dressing room, Raul’s warm hands caress Mira’s bare shoulders sending tingles zipping under her sweat-damp skin. “What happened up there?” His voice is soft, concerned. There’s no accusation in it, though a mistake on her part could have sent him tumbling to his death tonight.
“Let’s get out of here, Raul. We have a few hours.” She holds her hand out.
Raul fits his fingers between hers, his touch so gentle, and they race off to the pond Mira spied as the crew was setting up a few days ago. They sit quietly for a while, soaking up nature. Crickets and bullfrogs serenade them; water splashes as fish surface; a shooting star streaks across the night sky.
Mira snuggles into Raul, but part of her is wrenched back to the big top when Ruby’s intro music starts. She feels no guilt. Ruby intruded on Mira’s family, then tried to take her man.
Mira pulls away from Raul and walks along the edge of the pond. He’s right behind her, worried. “Tell me what’s wrong. You know I love only you. I could never . . . It was a moment of weakness. We didn’t—”
“I know.” Mira’s palm curves over her abdomen. The gesture exudes sadness and protectiveness.
“Mira . . . are you—?” Raul rushes to her side and turns her to face him.
A single tear, the only one she allows herself, rolls slowly down her face. “Not anymore.”
“Baby, why?” Raul crushes her to his chest, and Mira allows herself to absorb his strength as they rock back and forth in silence and grieve together.
Mira knows when it all goes wrong for Ruby. The distant roar of the crowd morphs into horrified screams.
No evidence will be found in the investigation. No suspicion will be thrown Mira’s way. It’ll be considered a tragic accident, and she’s pretty sure Ruby won’t be performing in any more circuses.
Mira caresses her empty womb again and reflects on the need for sacrifice.
I’m really excited about my participation in a creative project where authors collaborate with musicians by using their songs as inspiration for short stories.
Thirteen Songs + Thirteen Stories = One Wonderful Collaboration!
I received an invitation from fellow inkslinger, Ruth Long, to pen a tale based on one of the tracks from a new album. Ruth put out the idea for the project to a friend, musician Big Earl Matthews, who was about to release a CD collaboration by a handful of local bands in California.
We’ve produced an ebook companion to the CD composed of stories inspired by the songs. The stories were written by thirteen awesome authors crazy-excited to donate their words to the project:
The cover art for the book was created by Micah Van Zandt—artist, musician, performer—who used author photos to design a cover that mimicked the one on the CD. Check out his work on these links:
The ebook is available:
My part of this exciting project is based on the song Ring Master by House of Orange. It’s a fascinating song I found to be catchy and addictive. At first, I felt very much out of my element. Then I remembered that I’ve written stories off many different types of prompts and allowed the song to permeate my brain until my main character, Mira, showed up and started speaking to me. I wasn’t all that surprised when Mira took me along on a trip I didn’t quite expect. For me, that’s one of the great joys of writing.
Take a tour of the other websites to read some truly amazing stories!