"This morning, I had parents. This morning, they ate breakfast."

My parents are dead. Gone. Forever.

All I could think of this morning, sitting next to Catherine Hale, was that I am still a virgin. The oldest one on the face of the earth. Then, demise entered the room in the form of Dean Wilkins.

They died in an automobile accident. They died. Instantly. I had to make the identification. Their bodies were surrounded with death!! He was covering them!! I vomited until I had nothing left. Then I ran home.

The ladies from the church came over to give their condolences. They were dressed in veiled hats and smelled like jasmine, lavender and rose. They were like chickens, hovering over their food.
"Death is a formal affair. They pat and they fuss, and above all, they cluck."

My Parents


My parents have been taking payments in the form of beans and eggs! My father didn't want to see the animals of our veterinary clinic suffer so he took payments in the form of food and other necessary goods. The Depression has caused a great deal of stress on everyone, but I never realized how directly it affected my life. I don't understand why they had a mortgage on our house though. Unless...

To pay for my Ivy League tuition to Cornell!!
I need to vomit!

Benzini Bros Most Spectacular Show on Earth

I couldn't do it!! I ran!!

I was supposed to take my final exam, but I couldn't do. The squirrel outside the window was too fat; the girl next to me coughed too loud; the wind pushed the leaves too quickly.

I jumped aboard a fast traveling train. I thought I was safe, but a huge, filthy man, (whose name I later discovered is Blackie) held me out of the side of the freight car. Thankfully, an old man named Camel saved me from a crushed body.

Camel handed me off to Joe who put me to work with Charlie shoveling out horse crap.

We went for breakfast where I was called a First of May. There was a curtain separating the "Kinkers" from the workers.

After breakfast, I went to work with Camel's friend, Cecil. He showed me the menagerie:

"Brilliantly painted red and gold animal dens line two of the four walls, their sides propped open to reveal lions, tigers, panthers, jaguars, bears, chimps, and spider monkeys... I searched in vain for an elephant when my eyes came to an abrupt stop on a woman... she reaches up and smoothes the horse's forelock against his face."

When the circus began, chaos broke loose. Men complained violently because they were tricked into seeing something so amazing, so shocking, something not suitable for women.

I stood outside Barbara the stripper's tent while she entertained men. I wanted to watch the show in the big top, but I was too afraid. I did catch a glimpse of the woman from the menagerie. She does an act with the Liberty horses. Camel tried to talk to Uncle Al so that I could have an official job, but Uncle Al wouldn't give him the time of day. Performers don't appreciate the work workers do for them.

Water For Elephants

Earl brought me to meet Uncle Al. He didn't want me at first. I told him I wanted to work with the animals. He asked if I wanted to carry water for the elephants. When he and August, the husband of the girl in the menagerie, discovered I was a semi-veterinarian, they decided to keep me... at least for awhile.

I am bunking with a dwarf clown, Kinko, and his dog, Queenie. They live in the train car with Marlena's horses. Kinko doesn't seem to want me around:

"A menagerie man? Forget it. I'm a performer. There's no way I'm bunking with a working man."


"There's a clear hierarchy: the closer to the back [of the train], the more impressive the quarters. Uncle Al climbs from a car right in front of the caboose. I can't help but notice that Kinko and I are the human occupants closest to the engine."
Marlena's most beloved horse, Silver Star, is injured. A bone is sticking out of her hoof causing her immense pain; I may not be able to fix her. I have to try though because if I don't succeed, I'm getting tossed off the moving train, red-lighted.

We are en route to Joliet to get a man who has a twin growing out of him. That's how Uncle Al works... getting things from other circuses that have collapsed.

Car 48

Car 48. The dwelling of August and Marlena Rosenbluth.

Early today, we stopped to feed the animals before our arrival at Joliet. The meat was old and rotten; the water was filled with animal hair and crap. When I told August that we could not feed this stuff to the animals, he brought me over to Rex, the lion. Rex lunged at me and grabbed onto me arm. I was afraid I was going to die!! But the lion has no teeth.

August felt bad about what he did to me, so he invited me to his car for cocktails and a late dinner. I was given a nice suit to wear while I was there.

After dinner, drinks and dancing, August passed out. Marlena confessed to me that August has his moments, but he is actually a kind soul. She says it is best that everyone pretends August's "little moments" do not occur. "The whole thing's illusion."

Silver Star

Silver Star is dead.

We had to shoot her. Per Marlena's request, she didn't feel any pain.

She was fed to the animals.

Most Beautiful

"She's the most outrageous and beautiful thing I've ever seen."

The orangutan wanted my orange; she wanted my hand. I could understand her.

"I stare in amazement. She was thanking me."

The animals are suffering. I can see it in their eyes. The heat is too intense here in Joliet, and they are hungry. The orangutan apologizes.

The Deal

The deal is complete.
We did not get the man with the infant sticking out of his chest. Ringling Brothers got there first. Just another thing they have that August wants.

We got a bull, a huge one!! "She peers out at us with eerily human eyes." The elephant is not very bright though.

We also got some more performers, which August does not approve of. He says we have no room for them. And "...You can't mix working men with performers."


"I'll never bring myself to look any one in the eyes again"

I don't know what happened. Last thing I remember, I was drinking with Barbara and her friend, Nell, laying beside me. And I threw up. Next thing I know, I woke up in the alley, painted like a clown! WHAT HAPPENED?!?

I spoke with Kinko about the incident. He apologized. He says I can call him Walter.


"It's impossible to describe how tenderly I suddenly feel toward them- the hyenas, camels, and all. I cannot leave these animals. I am their sheppard, their protector. And it's more than a duty."

August abuses Rosie, the bull. She does not respond to him so he beats her. She shoots me looks that tell me everything she feels.
Bobo, the monkey, has also developed a strong bond to me. He looks forward to my hugs, and I look forward to his hugs.

The Kiss

August treated me to a night at Frankie's, a speakeasy. Marlena and he got drunk; I feigned drinking. Marlena and I began to dance when there was a raid. Chaos erupted as I grabbed Marlena's hand, pulling her outside with the rest of the crowd. August was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, Marlena broke out with laughter, exclaiming how crazy life is. I grabbed her shoulders and kissed her. She pulled away and ran. I want her so badly. I know it's wrong, but she is what I need.

Walter knows. He could tell just by looking at me. It doesn't help that August stared me down at the lunch table.

Rosie's First Appearance

Uncle Al wanted Rosie in the show. She still doesn't do anything we ask her to, but Uncle Al insists. Marlena rode in on top of her with August beside, poking the bull hook at her. The crowd loves Rosie. For no apparent reason, Rosie took off running!! Marlena had to jump to escape death. But the quick landing caused her great pain in her feet. She has trouble walking.

Rosie ran off. I was sent to find her. She was in some woman's garden eating a purple cabbage. We got her back to the menagerie with the help of alcohol.

August is furious. He storms out of Marlena's tent with his bull hook in hand. He's going to hurt her!!!

"I hate him. I hate him for being so brutal. I hate that I'm beholden to him. I hate that I'm in love with his wife and something damned close to that with the elephant. And most of all, I hate that I've let them both down."

Jake Leg

Bruised heels. Marlena has been out for six days.

Feet seem to be a common problem lately. Camel's feet are floppy and he's feeling worse and worse everyday. Walter says he has Jake Leg, bad alcohol that paralyzes you. There is no cure.

I didn't get paid on pay day so I had no money to afford a doctor. Instead, I gave my father's watch as payment to the doctor who was attending to Marlena. He only confirmed our suspicion. Walter and I are hiding Camel in our train car. We are afraid he will get red-lighted when people find out that he cannot work. We plan to contact his son and get Walter off the train. Walter objects, but we don't listen.

The Lovely Lucinda

The Lovely Lucinda is dead. The giant woman just died.

Uncle Al arranges a funeral procession for her. All the performers march through town, each trying to cry harder than the last. "Uncle Al promises three dollars and a bottle of Canadian whiskey to the man that puts on the best show."

The show tonight was to honor Lucinda. Marlena was back. She was spectacular. "The horses are an extension of Marlena."


We left town early. Uncle Al insulted a fat lady.

Queenie was missing. Walter was in a panic trying to find her. He wouldn't get on the train. I had to grab him and toss him into the car as it was moving. He was crying uncontrollably.

Queenie is all that Walter has. His mom sold him to the circus when he was only 14.

He cried the entire night.

Early this morning, Marlena came to our car with Queenie. She had spotted the dog when the train started moving. She knew Queenie belonged to Walter so she had August pick her up. She knows what it feels like to lose a loved one.

Marlena's Past

Rosie stole lemonade. August is off teaching her a lesson again. Marlena tried to stop him, but it was no use. I held her as she sobbed.

Marlena met August at age seventeen, the age at which she was first being introduced to possible husbands. She had been in the menagerie with the animals when August first spotted her. "August was a force. Charming, gregarious, and handsome as the devil... he radiated both authority and irresistible charisma." He proposed to her, leaving the fate of the Benzini Brothers' circus in Marlena's hands.

She never finished her story. She dissolved into tears and asked me to leave.

Polish Commands

I brought whiskey to my favorite female; I let her down and I need to redeem myself. Rosie is bruised all over from August's whippings.

"Her amber eyes seek mine. She blinks those outrageously lone lashes and sighs, a great exhalation that rattles all through her trunk."


August has become quite the charmer with Rosie. He doesn't whip her anymore, now that he is able to make her perform. Rosie seems to have forgotten what he did to her.

August invited me to dinner on this evening before Rosie's premiere. He praised Marlena, Rosie and me for the work that we've done. He gave Marlena a diamond choker and me a gold pocket watch to replace my father's. Marlena made Rosie a headdress that matches her outfit.

Rosie was a hit!! She mimicked everything Marlena did, even standing on top of a ball!! The crowd adored her and threw lots of money!!! This is the perfect night!!


What an awful night!!!

Marlena asked me to bring Rosie to her tent. She planned on throwing August a surprise party because of the success of the show. Set for three, the table was filled with delicious food. There were even piles of watermelons for Rosie. August entered. Fuming.

He demanded to know what was going on. He accused Marlena and me of having an affair. He knocked over the table with his bull cane, spilling and breaking everything on the table. He ripped Rosie's headpiece while we insisted that the party was for him. He called Marlena a whore and began dragging her around by the necklace that he gave her. I couldn't let him hurt her. I lunged at August and we began throwing punches. Grady and Bill hauled me off. I could hear screaming and blasts and thumps and thuds and then....silence.

The Snake

Marlena left August.

He begged her to stay, but she walked away. She is staying at a hotel in town until she can find a safe place on the train.

Uncle Al called me in to see him. He said Marlena and August have to get back together for the good of the show. He's one of those, "The show must go on!" people. I tried to trick him into believing that if Marlena is given space away from August, she'll want him back. But I know the truth. Uncle Al suggested that I convince Marlena of her need for August while he tries to get August to give her space. I refused and began to walk away. I stopped dead in my tracks when he asked about Camel. He knows. I should have guessed he knew. Although I want to protect Marlena, I must protect Camel too. But, she is strong; Marlena can manage on her own for awhile.


August went to Marlena's hotel. Thankfully, Marlena told the clerk to deny that she was there.

August apologized to me today. Marlena says it will be easier if I accept it; but I can't.

August is a paranoid schizophrenic. The first time Marlena witnessed one of his mood swings, she called home. "Her father made her mother tell her that in his eyes she had died the day she eloped." She wanted me to stay with her. We slept together. She said I had made her realize that she could not deal with August and all that he does to her. She loved me form the first moment she saw me. We will escape from this world of destruction as soon as we meet Camel's son.

I love her.


I had a dream. A dream so real that I'm still in a cold sweat.

The train is in a forest and I hear crying and yelping from outside. I jump from the car to discover Queenie being attacked by a badger. I try to save her, but I slip in the mud and fall. Queenie breaks free as I pull myself up. Unbelievably, she has no injuries. We run for the car, but a giant alligator is blocking the way. We run towards another, but the alligator turns, grinning at us as he blocks the way. The badger is behind us and continues to multiply as a dozen alligators stand before us.

I can't help thinking of Marlena. I couldn't save her; she saved herself. She is fine.
And August. The badger that won't let go of the poor, sweet dog.
And Uncle Al. The smirking alligator blocking us from our escape.

Black Times

My head is pounding. My mind is reeling.

I couldn't convince Uncle Al to let Marlena be. He got her back his way.

August marched off with Marlena screaming over his shoulder. I tried to stop him, but Blackie bashed me over the head. I must have blacked out because the next thing I knew, Walter was sitting over me tending to me wounds. He said we must lay low until we get Camel off the train.

I have to save her. I know what August is capable of.


Revenge : the most lethal weapon in the world.

I grabbed Walter's knife and climbed out the top of the car. I headed towards the back of the moving train, all the time imagining what my sweet revenge would feel like.

When I arrived at car 48, stateroom 3, I slowly turned the knob and crept in silently. I raised the knife over the man I hate the most when suddenly, I stopped. I placed the knife down where Marlena used to lie and walked away.

But revenge still slayed a man. In fact, two.

When I arrived back in my car, Walter and Camel were gone. Only Queenie was left, whimpering in the corner. They had been red-lighted in the worst way; they were thrown over the trestle with no chance of survival.

That trestle was meant for me.

Revenge: the most lethal weapon in the world.

The Disaster March

Marlena and I decided to escape today right after the show...the show that changed my life.

During the show, Grady came to tell me that he, Bill, and the boys were going to take down Uncle Al. I was going to ask how when, suddenly, the band stopped playing. They immediately started back up again, but, instead of joyous music, they began to play "Stars and Stripes Forever." The Disaster March.

Animals began to stampede throughout the tent, causing the spectators to run like mad men. I saw Bill next to the open cages with a smile on his face.

I rushed to find Marlena. I spotted her next to August and Rosie. "She hasn't seen me yet, but Rosie has. She stares at me long and hard, and something about her expression stops me cold. I see Rosie pull a stake from the ground. She holds it loosely, resting its end on the hard dirt. The chain is still attached to her foot. She looks at me with bemused eyes. Then her gaze shifts to the back of August's bare head. She lifts the stake as though it weighs nothing and splits his head in a single clean movement−ponk−like cracking a hardboiled egg. She continues to hold the stake until he topples forward, and then she slides it almost lazily back into the earth."

I pick up Marlena and carry her out of the tent, careful not to let her see the thing that was August.

The End...

Marlena and I are free.

Uncle Al was found strangled in the ropes of a tent. Whether he did this himself or someone else did is still unknown.

The Nesci Brothers circus came to salvage the remaining pieces of our show. They tried to take Rosie, but I told them that she belonged to me. "I love that bull. I couldn't let her go. So I pretended she belonged to me. And now I guess she does." Just like Marlena.

Marlena wouldn't let the Nesci Brothers take her horses either. And we stole Bobo. So now we are a couple with an elephant, ten horses and a monkey... and a baby on the way.

I called Dean Wilkins. He is going to let me take my final exam.

Ninety or Ninety-Three

I have not written in quite some time. Sixty-seven to seventy years, to be exact. I can't be more exact than that. I have forgotten how old I am.

I had been enjoying my life with Marlena. Our first child was born; we named him Simon. We left the Ringling Brothers Circus after our third child. We had two more children after that. With my many years of experience with animals, my Cornell degree, and Rosie, I became the veterinarian for the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.

Marlena died after 61 years of marriage. Cancer. "Age is a terrible thief."

I never told Marlena what Rosie did to August.

Those years went by too fast.

There is a circus tent outside the window of the nursing home. Joseph McGuinty, an ex-lawyer and new resident to the home, told me he used to work for the circus. He said he carried water for the elephants. THAT OLD COOT IS A LIAR!!!!

I watched the big top being set up as Rosemary, my nurse, informed me I'd be going to the circus tomorrow. "I look for an elephant with equal parts dread and disappointment."

The doctors have put me on a new pill for depression due to my out lash at McGuinty.

My children control me now. They have their own families and come to visit me. But they don't talk to me like I want them to. They don't tell me their problems. They just talk about the weather and the vacations they've been on. Nothing important. I don't even recognize them anymore. I know they are my people and I pretend to know them, but I don't. The only one I recognize is Isabelle. My granddaughter looks like Marlena.

...Or the Beginning

The circus was today. I looked in the mirror before I went downstairs to meet my people. "It's no good. Even when I look straight into the milky blue eyes, I can't find myself anymore. When did I stop being me?"

My family never came. I waited in the lobby with Rosemary, but they never came. Rosemary told me she is leaving. She's moving to Virginia to take care of her daughter. She won't be taking care of me anymore.

I left. I took my walker and walked right out of the nursing home. I went to the circus.

A young boy told me I could not get in without a ticket. I had no money but was determined to get in. A man, the manager of the circus, got me in. I told him I was with the Benzini Brothers during the stampede. He said, "Mr. Jankowski, I'm going to get you into the show now before there's nothing left to see, but it would be an honor and a privilege if you would join me for a drink in my trailer after the show. You're a living piece of history, and I'd surely love to hear about that collapse firsthand."

I told Charlie everything about the circus. He was actually interested in my story. The cops came looking for a 93 year-old man who had escaped from the nursing home. Ninety-three. Charlie told them that I was his father.

I'm going with the circus! "So what if I'm ninety-three? So what if I'm ancient and cranky and my body's a wreck? If they're willing to accept me and my guilty conscience, why the hell shouldn't I run away with the circus?"

This is my home. This is who I am and what I will always be.