“We, As One, Trailing Embers,” is the newest story in my collection of traveling circus stories.
As with all of the circus stories, they usually begin with the spark of a real world something; in this case, it was a fire that consumed Dreamland, an amusement park on Coney Island. (This is also tackled in Alice Hoffman’s new novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, and I’m eager to get my hands on that!)
As I explored Dreamland, I realized it was ideal for another reason: the park was often home to “freak shows,” where they would exhibit and display the more curious facets of humanity. Of course, Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade was no stranger to such things — Jackson keeps a circus train full of curiosities, doesn’t he? What if the two should intersect? Clearly they should.
One intersection is rarely enough when it comes to my writing brain though. If I could cause these two things to collide, what else? What kind of collision could I cause in my protagonist, Idalmis?
She cannot tell if we are male or female, cannot know the flesh that lurks beneath the strip of silk that wraps our waist. She cannot judge by the fall of straight ginger hair, or the four hazel eyes which evenly regard her in return. But she can believe that in the making of us someone made a terrible error. We should have come from the womb separate, yet did not. Our mother, merely flesh and bone they say, was cut open so that we might live. But we think we came from the heavens. We remember a space without space, a world without end. Amen.
Why not every kind of collision?
I wanted to write about one body containing two people. I wanted to explore what “self” means when you share a body with someone, when you have nowhere to go to be alone. Where do normal and freak intersect — surely it is only one’s point of view that changes one to the other?
What does solitude mean, and what does together mean, and what might happen when one person’s needs sucked the life from another but neither person could ever step away. There might arise be the longing for things one could never have, but should someone arrive who could grant these desires? What might a body do then?
This is one of the more challenging stories I have written, written quickly on the heels of “Wrought From Within Upon the Flesh.” I played with the idea of Beauty and the Beast; I played with the idea of addictions and revulsions; I played with the idea of monsters who seem entirely human; with reflections that are not reflections, and with wanting things we can never reasonably have.
But this story? You can have that: