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Winter for Elephants

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Once upon a time there was a circus.


Once upon a time, he thinks, there was a circus.

Once upon a time

He thinks



Saw a circus, in a picture. In a book. A big, colorful tent dwarfing the people trying to fit inside. A man in a top hat standing in the center of a ring, arm outstretched toward


a booming voice carrying over the excited whispers of the crowd. “Elephants! I saw ‘em outside!” “You think they’ll have a clown?” “Ain’t you ever been to a circus before? Th’ fuck wouldn’t they have clowns?” “Look at the pretty lady, mama!” “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I


salty, in a bag. The paper crinkles beneath his fingers and he pops another into his mouth, shell and all and someone, he thinks, laughs because “didn’t anyone ever teach you how to eat ‘em right? ‘N I thought I was a disaster—“ and a hand reaches out flicks

an ear 


because the person on the other end of that ear was sick last week, he knows. Was sick last week and for so much longer than that, judging by the rattle in his chest when he breathes. The color in his cheeks that’s so fundamentally different from the color in his cheeks when he’s standing in an alley, fists raised because “I can do this all day” because


Hey you wanna share, maybe?” he’s not asking, not really but nobody really asks



there were peanuts. For the elephants that 


There were peanuts, that he dropped to rub the skinny shoulders that shook when ????????


the top hat rolls, comes to a stop against a water barrel. He wonders if it’s for the elephants, like the peanuts were for the elephants. Like the bales of hay were for the elephants and he wants 

Jesus,       , why didn’t you just say—“ 

Y’know what,     ? Sh-shut up. F’r a goddamn second.” He rubs circles just like his ma does when he’s getting sick. Something bubbles in his chest, small and pale yellow and he tries hard to identify

Once upon a time there was a circus. It appeared in the field just outside the city, first the workers, then the flyers peppering every surface. Every empty wall. Colorful and bright, just like

he wants to see them, he thinks. He slips the knife back into his boot, leaves the ringmaster and wanders in the direction of the holding area. A soft gurgling sound that’s drowned out by the roar of the crowd, the stamping of feet as the trapeze artist flings herself through the air in a flash of sequins and

Let’s hear it for                “ because that feeling is bubbling again, that pale yellow and he’s not sure why because it’s so different now. Those small shoulders, those skinny fingers, those fists raised in defiance because he won’t win but he can sure as fuck try and what is there to do when the breath stutters in his chest and he feels like he’s suffocating on the color that’s rising steadily up from his stomach to rest under his chin. A scream tied up like a neat little bow.

He hears the soft pft before he feels the sting of the tranquilizer dart.

Once upon a time he saw

Once upon a time he wanted



слоны” because there’s something clawing desperately at his larynx, shoving aside the fog that settles deep in his lungs, in his brain. Tugging harshly at his vocal folds, forcing them apart with a burst and he chokes on it. “где слоны?”

                       used to be so much smaller and maybe he’s a little resentful, maybe he’s mourning but he can’t be sure because every time he looks at him he feels

What the fuck, what the—“

Maybe he’s sobbing with the effort of it, maybe the moisture is something else, it might be raining, just like the rattling in his lungs might not be his. Might belong to someone else, someone smaller, someone standing in front of a poster, 4F he thinks. 4F 4F you’re gonna get yourself arrested one of these days, St

he used to be smaller, he thinks but now he’s

and he wants

Elephants” it’s ripped from his throat and he feels like he’s dangling from strings. A familiar feeling, being a marionette. The man standing in front of him watches him, his eyes bright white in the darkness. The lion roars. The crowd cheers. His chest heaves. The yellow skitters, desperate in his lungs.


He’d feed them peanuts from a crinkling bag clutched in his fist. One, two, three. 

He wants


A hand on his shoulder, the bite of the wind. Snow sticking to his eyelashes, resting in his hair. The rush before his feet find something solid again. “Now why would I do that?” now why


Once upon a time there was a circus. Was because the tophat rolled somewhere by the water barrel. Was because the blood bubbled uselessly through his lips, a final attempt at sustaining life. The lungs are trying. The lungs are failing.

I had him on the ropes

The man is still watching him. He sways. Wonders if a circus can keep going if the ringmaster’s dead.

Once upon a time there was

Once upon a time there



A scream, like a bow under his chin. Flailing limbs as he falls and he falls and