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Sandra Kolankiewicz

El Circo


Twice a year or so, one of a number of tiny traveling circuses comes to the island, crossing over usually on the 5:30 a.m. ferry, when there are few trucks or cars. Later that same morning, after the trailers with the people and animals have been dropped off in the vacant lot by the cemetery, while the circus women, children, and a few of the men are setting up the tents and the bleachers, the driver of one of the battered trucks slaps a board with conical-shaped speakers onto the top of the truck's cab and begins the rounds of the island.

Up front beside the driver rides the family patriarch, sometimes the father, sometimes the grandfather, shouting enthusiastically into the microphone, neighborhood to neighborhood, all day long in the heat and dust, taking a break only for lunch, hawking a show in which each family member plays a part, as ticket-taker, empanada pusher, young girl in a threadbare tightrope costume, dog trainer, wild animal tamer, mesmerizing man of illusions.

Some seasons the circus is a good one, and people even have the money to pay to see it; other seasons, the animals are sick, like the time a lion starved to death in its cage, for instance, right after the peso devalued and the circus had endured months and months of slow runs. Or that summer it was so hot that a hippopotamus died for lack of water and was buried on the beach. One year there was a trained poodle, though, that walked the tightrope and made everyone, even the most bitter, laugh as it did circles on the wire.

While everyone had admired the mutt who later that evening jumped through the burning hoop and caught its tail on fire, the little poodle is the one that people remember and talk about still, dancing on its hind legs, answering the trainer in a whine that sounded almost like words, chewing a stick of gum, jumping fearlessly from a platform thirty feet high into a tub of water.

No one cared that her fur was matted, skin scabby; she was a brava little dog, irrepressible, without fear and delighted at her owner, a little boy whom she would prance around between tricks with frisky steps of glee. Even the men found her tiny bark endearing, and they still marveled about it in the cantinas, saying, ‘Wasn't she an intelligent little bitch?!’

But that season, that year, a different small circus arrived on the island, a circo that people hadn’t seen before, and moved onto the vacant lot next to the cemetery, near where Rosendo’s body had been found months before with his teeth and finger nails pulled out, the bones in his arms and legs broken.

No one knew why Rosendo had been murdered; he worked for Aero Mexico over on the mainland. While people supposed his death had to do with something he wasn’t supposed to have seen at the airport, perhaps the drugs rumored to be arriving daily from the south, no one knew for sure.

The evening after the circus arrived, in spite of the islanders’ superstition and the fact that the police had not found Rosendo’s killer, the circus opened with its game booths, its rusting rides, taco stands, and games of chance. But few people went. The ground seemed cursed, the lobster season had been bad, and La Crisis had eaten into the pockets of everyone who wasn’t rich, which was most of the island.

Every night after the circus’s arrival, the locals stood around, thinking about playing, but not approaching booths. They considered eating the food but decided to be satisfied with crackers and instant coffee at home instead. The rides twirled against the starry night, enticing but not inviting enough except for a few tourists who were new to the island and didn’t know about Rosendo.

One afternoon there were circus children passing out fliers which looked as if they had been printed on a homemade device.

Noe’s 80-year-old father, Chepo, came home with one wadded up in his hand:



Lony, magician of international fame presents his son, Miguel Angel, the mentalist and spiritualist who will be buried alive for 120 hours—five days and their nights, in a grand act of mental and physical domination.


The buried Angel will be constantly available for public viewing!

Noe and the gringa had just come in from fishing, and they had stopped in to visit Chepo, and Jasmin, Noe’s youngest sister, who lived in the old man’s house with her three children. They all passed the flier around at lunch, over the beans, grilled fish, and beer. Jasmin said she was going to pay the two hundred pesos to see the boy buried that night. After that, she said, they will charge five hundred pesos to see his face through a little piece of glass six feet down. On the day they dig him up, she said, they will make you shell out one thousand pesos to watch.

The fans threw hot air over them. Sweat dripped from their noses. For weeks the beer in the refrigerator had not cooled. All the available ice was at the fish packing plant. At this time of year, growled Noe, they should not have to bathe three times a day to keep cool. This was the hottest heat wave in forty years, since, claimed Chepo, los hombres fueron al cielo-- since those men went into space.

"They probably bring him up at night," Noe had said. "And put him back in the morning."

"No importa, my son," Chepo said. "Once he’s buried, I don’t think he’ll last an hour."

That year, in the buried mentalist's circus, there were no animals, not even an enthusiastic mutt-- after all, the entire country was in economic crisis, and animals needed to be fed, paid for by tickets that couldn't be sold because no one had any money. It was better, indeed, that there were no animals because people really didn't like to see them sickly and thin and pathetic. A dying lion had no dignity and would keep people away, even a little boy whose imagination could turn a stick into a gun, a stone into a truck, or coquitos into men lining up for battle.

Those who paid to see the circus said that along with the rides it had a pretty girl who wore an evening gown and sang along to a tape of Lupita D'Allesio. There was a couple who tangoed while an old man played a guitar, and, of course, Lony the Magician of International Fame, who had his son buried alive for three days in a hole it took them eight hours to dig.

Although some people paid two hundred pesos to see Miguel Angel buried alive in his coffin, and many would pay the five hundred to look six feet down and see his face, everyone was buzzing that the unbeatable show would be when they dug him up, the one thousand peso spectacle, costing the equivalent of four dollars. Everyone agreed the heat was the worst since even the oldest local could remember, and for those three days that Lony’s son was underground, the town talked about him, what it would be like in the hole, whether or not he had any water, how he got his air, how much money Lony and the circus would make in the end.

In fact, the patriarch of the circus, the buried Miguel Angel’s father, needed the island to talk about the burial; Noe claimed the circus was out of money and didn't have enough pesos even to buy the gasoline for their trucks or pay the ferry price to leave. The day of the Buried Angel's disentombment, the circus members were up early, passing out fliers at the market, canvassing the sand streets, shouting beside the dock where the ferry came in. When they met for lunch in their tent, they were convinced they would have a big crowd when they dug up Miguel Angel; many people had said they would come.

Unfortunately, by evening everyone in the streets was whispering, "Abel and Emelio killed Rosendo! The widow Ortega overheard them talking, and she has stepped forward with the news!" People raced to the police station on the zocalo, stayed there for hours, dropping their peeled orange skins onto the sand, spitting out the cascaras of the roasted pumpkin seeds they bought from the old Mayan woman’s cart, gossiping and watching their children chase each other. No one went to the show.

Days later, after the killers had been marched through the town with their heads shaved and their hands tied behind their backs and the circus had left, people wondered what had happened to the Buried Angel. They supposed if he had died, they would have heard.

Some of the places where Sandra Kolankiewicz has published fiction are the North American Review, Cimarron Review, Confrontation, Frontiers, and the Louisville Review. Currently, she is the Director of Gender Studies at Marieta College in Ohio.

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