The Haunted Circus

by Stanley Jenkins

Let's face it. He was jealous. Tommy was jealous--with all the hatred of a child just old enough and deep enough to sense all that he wasn't. And me? At seven? I needed him to know I was still here. He was my audience.

My friend, we were down by the lake--by where the creek running behind the houses met that huge drainage pipe around which we were forbidden to play. Water met water and went out to the lake--impossibly deep. They sent some kind of scientific equipment down there once and detected the movements of creatures unspeakably large. Held a trout derby every year. But there were beasties at the bottom of that lake that lived and died and never ever surfaced. Whole lives lived out beneath the surface. And the currents were strange.

So we'd been fighting. I don't even remember what about. But the fighting stopped when we came to the drainage pipe. A whole flock of sea gulls--white--or not really white--gray--guarded the entrance--and, my friend, I remember in particular just how beautiful they were. Strange vision of whiteness--or rather the whiteness that only exists by association--the purity that is only hinted at in the not-quite white but gray of some of God's good creatures--and yet, is all the more present by way of approximation.

Tommy could tell that something was up with me--my twin--he knew I was seeing something he wasn't. Scare the birds. Tommy waving arms--leaping at them with great movie-man roars and karate kicks from re-runs of Kato on "The Green Hornet". And I'm pissed. Shatter the vision--bring white to gray--always always white to mere gray. And me? What am I thinking? What deep doors are opening like storm cellars in tornado prone regions?

Look at Tommy. He's waving his butt and slapping it with great slaps--all the derision and mockery a seven-year-old can muster. "You're a butt!" He's yelling at me? At birds? "You're a big poopy butt!" And laughing his laugh like when we've gotten all wound up, overtired, and its bedtime and Mama telling us we're being pills and saying how she doesn't like it when we use that voice. And me? You know it's just about all I can stand. It is an affront. And Tommy. Tommy, he's playing the clown. And perverse imitation. See the image in the mirror. And it is not him--oh no my friend--it is not him I am hating. That cruel taunt--that defilement of everything we keep safe and maybe only really take out to look at when lights are out and so wonderfully warm and safe and ready to slip off to sleep--and Tommy's there in the next bed--all is right in the world. The sullying. The soiling. The dragging through the mud--whip the horse, Mister Nietzsche's carriage driver on the street--Mister peasant man in Raskilnikov's dream--beat the beauty--mock my savior Lord--spavined stallions--all my brave heroes shot in the back--Dirty Little Coward Shot Mr. Howard--flail--flail--fists--fight strike out--And They Laid Jesse James in His Grave--give Tommy a knuckle sandwich if you don't stop--but I never hit him never hit him push fall Tommy fall ashes ashes we all Tommy fall--bam--bang--splash--pocketful of posies set adrift on such unstill pools--and he is still so still only for a moment and then caught in terrible swift current through down in the pipe and gone forever crows come take my Tommy away on wings of black fire and chariots of cawing.

They never recovered the body.

I would not talk. Would not say a word. Would not speak a serious word of import after the empty coffin funeral for seven plus seven years.

And Mama and Daddy.

And Mama and Daddy.


So you see, my friend, how remarkable it was that I came to seminary. Came to speaking. Came to preaching. I was a prodigy. Lazarus returned from the grave. Of course, I came by way of the theater. You met some members of my troupe, I believe. You did not like them. Many of them lived in the city where we studied Holy Scripture and became intoxicated on the mad mad poetry of Isaiah. I spoke first in the theater. Spoke my resurrection speech on stage. I was not good. I was earnest. First step. But the troupe--so stoked up on Artaud and Theater of Cruelty ideas--and maybe something about Guerrilla Theater from the sixties--though I really can't recall at the moment--actors. Performers. We lived like bulging veins--so fucking loud. And me with my costumes. My routines. My wit. All made sense with my actors. My loud suburban children. All a greater irony--push through to purity in the scream--but trapped. Like lightening strike and then remain. Stop. A frozen howl. A blow never delivered. A beating never given. A body never found.

Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord. Yes that was the reason. Psalm 130. A need to cry. Repent of a crime never committed. My original sin. Jonah in the belly of the whale--never once having run from what never caused flight.


Hey you. What are you hanging around here for? Want to get yourself killed.

Give me my cigarettes, would you? What? Fuck regulations. I couldn't give two shits if this were the President of the United States own hospital room. Got a light? Got a problem with smoking in bed? I already smell scorched. Buddy.

Yeah. That's good. Blue smoke. Why do you suppose the smoke is blue? Got a smoking gun here, son. Smoking gun.

I done it.

Feel like Robert Ford. Know who Robert Ford was?

Yeah. Well you're just a dumb shit. Anyway.

Everything means something. Blue smoke. Blue for a reason.

Sweet Mother of God. Sweet Mother of God.

Give me my tape recorder. I'm storing up treasure in Silence.


And they laughed. Seemed like they couldn't get enough of laughing. But it was hard bringing the laughter to the hospital and I was feeling a little put upon if you want to know the truth. I know, my friend, you never really minded visitation. I've always hated that part. I enjoy the distance of the pulpit. Nobody ever sits in the first pew. And you've seen our pulpit, right? It's one of those old fashioned, tall--almost spiral-staircased--jobs. Stand up and look over the congregation like one of those wooden figures on a whaling ship jutting out over the sea. It's comfortable. I belong there. But the hospital. It all gets to be a little much, sometimes.

I went anyway, of course. We almost always do, don't we? Eventually. But this time there was no putting it off. She was having a heart attack even as we speak.

When I got there her daughter was in the waiting room. No blood in her face. No expression at all. Eyes like already looking at something that hasn't happened yet.

"She's in 245. They didn't have time to move her to Cardiac Care. She's not doing well. Doctor's with her now."

She returned to whatever she'd been doing like Odysseus' shades, the draught of blood waning--the cup emptied, and no more to say.

And then, the curious isolation of the elevator. Reading the occupancy limit and inspection reports. Short ride. Sharp ding. Out the door and into the hall and around the corner and into the.

It was an explosion of activity. No that's not right. It was like an explosion if you could freeze it. It was really very still. And yet, even before I entered the room I could feel the impact. She was surrounded by doctors and nurses and there were machines and tubes and as if in a ballet--the most achingly beautiful choreography--the doctors and nurses parted for me--and I took my place at her side. Her eyes. That's where the explosion was, my friend. Her eyes were whole births of new stars and the death-agony of sea-monsters at the bottom of the ocean. Her mouth was covered with a breathing mask attached to an orange-yellow rubber bag--which, in turn, was attached to an oxygen machine--and there was a nurse slowly squeezing the contents of the inflating bag into her inflating lungs--and then again. She could not breathe on her own. And the eyes were black holes drawing all into warping and reshaping all into her heavy gravity--and I came as bid and locked onto her eyes like bound to wild horses Brahma Bull riding--and took her hand--and--no, she took mine--and she was hanging on--clutching--skin of her teeth--hanging on--Throw Out the Lifeline Throw Out the Lifeline--I am witness to a fierce and noble savagery--I am standing like last fast rope from the boat to the anchor and the sea so hungry tonight--snatch away all sailors home--and I know she needs me in order to be alive at this very moment. I am her Pastor. And it has nothing to do with me at all whatsoever. She is hanging on she is hanging on and yet now--I am hanging on I am hanging on--Don't go down--don't go down that maelstrom--into great white night--I am hooked and being reeled in--my leviathan snagged on the cross-hook--out of the depths I come up to thee--my fish. My fish. My Tommy--oh my twin--you now dredged up from the murky murky Davy Jones locker--I am so sorry. I never meant for you to--and now there is a subtle change like weather about to break and she will live or she will die now and her eyes are loosening their grip and then they are not her eyes at all--or maybe they are her eyes--it's the mouth that must not be hers--because now there is no oxygen mask at all but just lips mouthing words--and I alone can hear them--brother-lips mouthing words:

"The city has fallen."

And she is still and she will live. And her heart is strong. And the doctors and nurses applaud--they applaud. They applaud.


And my friend, I returned to the church--astounded, enchanted--transfigured. I had seen Laughter. The dwelling place of Laughter. And stone statues were extruded into fluid motion--and the ripping and retching of dry and brittle stone--blood from a stone.

When I arrived they were waiting for me and they had already lit the candles on the Communion Table. I ascended the pulpit--and my friend, I wept--and in weeping I was falling--and in falling I was vomiting--deep deep out of the depths I cry to Thee O LORD--and in vomiting I was burning--the great black wings of my clerical robe now become, in the flames from the Communion Table candles, wings of black fire and my retching, chariots of cawing. Out of my heaving--like drawing up nets from the depths--came a single perfect, unscathed, beautiful fish.

And as I watched the crows greedily gobble it up I was put in mind of another meal on another seashore at another break of day, when fishermen were greeted with a breakfast of grilled fish and bread and there was a charcoal fire. And the patron of all poor clowns said, "Come and have breakfast".


So there you have it, my friend--my "adventures". It's about as good as I can get it. You know they still can't figure out how I got these burns. They found me out there in the field next to a dead tree. No sign of fire anywhere. And, of course, the church is fine. There was no fire. And yet, these burns on my body are real. Third-degree burns. You figure it out. I'm telling you, our circus is haunted.

In the meantime, while I'm recovering, I've been amusing myself with this tape recorder--recording this letter for you--(my hands are still too tender to hold a pen)--and tormenting the orderlies. They all think I'm crazy. Yeah. Crazy like a clown.


P.S. I miss you. And please. Don't judge me too harshly. God loves a fool. And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

So watch it.

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