circus Afternoon, in brief… by Stephen Brockbank

At lunch time he was feeding his children with taramousalata and houmous with pitta bread from the local supermarket. He felt like drinking wine but didn’t. It was hot. The sun shone as if it was from outer space, another place, white, the blue of the sky as dark as the tropics. Nigel came and after coffee and drinks they drove south into London in the big Audi. The five kids compressed on the rear bench seat, without seat belts. Highbury fields, a baking hot net of systems, noisy with children. He played on the slide, wanted to climb the seventeen point climbing frame of red ropes, black nodes and grey connectors. But couldn’t. He wondered what moleculer shaped configuration it represented, thinking that it might be a deliberate architectonic joke. Nigel didn’t know, saying his physics and chemistry was too long ago to remember such idiot schemas. He told Nigel that he thought it had to be either oxygen or carbon monoxide. Nigel laughed. Later finding out that oxygen had an atomic weight of sixteen but chlorine, that most inimical of substances had an atomic number of seventeen. Considering that it was a sicker schzoid joke than he imagined. Earlier his boy child had cried because another child in red bike shorts like Yama the Hindu god of death was horrid to him. Nigel comforted the boy, probably excessively he thought, but in his own way he did the same. Spending the next quarter of an hour, and longer, securing his comfort and safety. He mused on his boys’ fear of the city he loved and wondered again if sending his child to a provincial school had been such a good idea. Though he knew it was the cost of school time happiness. It was a bitch, he thought sipping orange or pineapple juice, the revolting drink being the parents’ booby prize. After leaning and luxuriating at the feeling of red rope digging into his back, and ensuring that his child got a go on the vertical see-saw, he thought for a while his boy wasn’t capable of getting a ride on by himself. But he then saw his boy asking the preceding child to get off and let him have a go. Bouncing ecstatically up and down smashing with plimsoled feet against the three round wooden support timbers. His daughter Suki was doing cartwheels across the playground, then balancing on the bar on one foot trying a flying crane kick, she overbalanced, fell off the bar and lay on the floor laughing. Truly her mothers daughter he thought.

Some time afterward they left the fields for an ice. Wandering back to the Audi and the slow slide north, to another place. They arrived after some indecisive meandering at Waterlow park. Built on the hill above Highgate cemetery and to one side of the Victorian Wittingham Hospital. He felt like walking down the hill from the cafe to see Marx’s tomb looming through the park railings at the bottom of an overgrown avenue of shrubs and trees, though he knew Marx wasn’t really there. The kids, no longer being forced to socialise with their peers become noisier, and ran down the hill. Happier than before, he thought. Nigel’s eldest girl , Polly, asked who Marx was. He tried to give her what he thought was an eleven year old explanation but knew he’d failed from her blank eyes. In the process wondering at how much the kids had to learn and feeling for them. They walked on along the bottom of the park, parallel with the cemetery. And suddenly there was structure. Magic flooding the system. Wire, ropes and black poles. Cables hanging and stressed and taut. White ropes hanging down. Women in leotards, sitting on swings. Riggers with Australian accents talking to choreographer, designers called Johnaathon, who was building up a performance with a nomadic hotchpotch of circus style performers, Anglic, Australian, Dutch and maybe an African. Floating on wires, swinging on trapezes, sitting on the tops of black support poles and laying across lightweight stress bars. Swaying in semi-erotic poses with partners in evocative displays of strength that he could barely watch without gasps. Suki was standing looking at them practice, with the calculated expression that his wife, her mother would have had. Wishing she could try it.

He thought of wine as they illegally smoked cigarettes on the ground and listened to them speaking of how they could improve the performance. The designer concentrating on the performance system being built. A woman in a blue leotard raised into the air by a support, safety net slid like a fish or a butterfly down the net into an upright pose, walking along the net, hand over hand up thick ropes. A man sliding down white rope. The woman pulled the man muscularly, sexually, erotically across her body. He twisted laying across her , balancing on her rigid feet. Whilst another dismantling trapezes. Spinning bodies in neck and feet rope slings. Muscular women in halter tops with browned bodies and cotton covers sitting on Ariel benches like fairies from Emma Bull’s War Between the Oaks. Riggers like Phookas. As one of the riggers shinning up a vertical support pole reconstructing the binding ropes for the fairies, he laughed, a Phooka indeed. Nomadic shapechangers – Magic, he thought a little overcome for the first time in ages. He followed Suki and they walked and circled around the performance system entranced by the magic, delirious. She asked “Could mummy do that? Yes he told her, she could. Talking with his son, whilst the magicians played before him, working. In between times, electron shifts, he walked and watched Johnaathon. And could see the designs drawn out in the work taking shape before his eyes. The kids became restless so they began to leave ( I want a drink dad…) An hour had passed it had felt like five minutes. Twelve to one – not a bad temporal ratio he thought. Magic. At the cafe at the top of the park, drinks and more ices for all. He said to Nigel that it had felt magical walking round the park and coming across the rehearsal. Nigel had smiled agreeing. He drove the audi fast up the motorway back home, traffic melting out of the way like heavy water. Later, after failing to get the Chablis he wanted to drink, he sat down in the kitchen/dining room at the table and read some reports on the cases he was working on, waiting for her to return from the analytical session. He could hear his children talking about the youtube program they were watching, Potlatch words. Release. It was chaos that mighty agent, which is not confined to cathedrals. In truth it fills the air, seas, the universe and everyday, affecting us all. The long slow decline in his relationship with Nigel began here, within the year he would not even acknowledge his existence.



Stephen is a philosopher and used to be an engineer and lives on a remote island in the middle of England.