I never went to school. My mother hid me away. She’d refuse to let me play in the street with the other children. Some days I’d refuse to speak.

The black nights were my escape. We lived close to the river, and I’d sneak to the water’s edge, shivering as velvet mud wormed between my toes and sucked at my heels.

After my mother died, I made sure the whitecoats didn’t catch me. It was better to be a circus freak. The Feltz Brothers signed me up as Flipper Boy; set me next to Snake Tongue and the Bearded Lady. They were my new family. Each afternoon and evening the punters came to gawk at the sideshows. Brave men stood close with their beery breath. “Devil’s spawn,” they’d hiss, and cross themselves.

I was glad to join the Tumbling Billies, clowning in the ring. My limbs learned to flow round my feet. I can still hear the crowd’s roar.

My old bones release me into the dreaming dark, and I push through musty midnight curtains. Half-lit phantom faces loom from front-row seats. I launch myself onto my palms, cartwheeling first one way, then the other. The smell of old sawdust fills my head, the echoing voices of the Billies sing out around me, and my body whirls.

Dust rises. I am spun into light and air. You can see clear through me.


 

Ali McGrane lives in the UK and is an emerging writer of short fiction and poetry. She has studied literature and creative writing with the Open University and works in a university library. Her work has appeared in Fictive Dream and is forthcoming in Ink Sweat and Tears.