Infinite Pathways 3rd place finalist for Short Fiction up to 500 words:
by Erika Willaert
For a moment, a stillness hung in the air, heavy yet hollow. Rose watched the balloon drift higher and farther than her eyes could reach. When it disappeared among the clouds, she turned away, her neck aching from the strain of her gaze.
There were no witnesses, only leftover streamers and empty wrappers strewn about the trampled grass. She picked her way toward the last remaining tent, its wide mouth billowing in the sudden gust of wind. Ducking inside, Rose tried not to look in the corner once occupied by a certain silk screen. The Great Mancini never graced the stage for more than three nights in one town, yet she missed him fiercely, despite his brief appearance.
Standing in the entrance, her slight silhouette glowing in the dying light of dusk, she heard a familiar rumble grow louder. Rose hurried to secure her belongings in time to add her small suitcase to the load; if she missed it, she would be forced to carry it to their next destination. After the accident, there was little chance her one good arm could manage the weight or the distance.
Hurriedly, she did a final check of her horse’s stall, then went in search of her daughter. Wicker never strayed far from the tent even though she knew Rose would always find her. Rose spied the telltale bits of popcorn trailing across the lawn; Wicker’s fondness for the traditional circus treat was surpassed only by her devotion to her mother, the bareback rider.
Rose quickened her step. Night would be upon them soon and neither of them could withstand the cold for more than a few minutes once the sun dropped out of sight. Already, the evening’s chill seeped deep into her bones as she pulled the useless shawl more tightly about her rounded shoulders.
“Stop slouching,” her mother’s scornful voice criticized, “No man is going to look twice your way if you’re a hunchback.” Rose shook her head, the loose curls of her tresses dancing down her back, keeping the ghosts at bay for the night.
Wicker peered around the corner of the main tent at the sound of Rose’s approach, blinking and breathing in shallow takes, the asthma squeezing her lungs as she scurried to Rose’s side.
“He’s gone, isn’t he?” she sighed. “Are you ever going to tell Daddy who I am?”
* * *
Erika Willaert, dancer by training and a teacher by trade, revived her passion for writing after a fifteen-year hiatus. She is usually either out in the forest with her two dogs or attending a live performance or movie where she is often the loudest audience member, much to the dismay of her children, Lukas and Saskia. The short story Titania, her first attempt at science-fiction, was published in WORDPLAY 2013.
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