A Bunch of Clowns.
There are Ghost Ships off every coast and in the middle of the sea. Whole crews vanishing with no trace – though always a dinner someone was about to eat, an elaborately laid table. (Do they really lay the table like that every day or only when they’re going to disappear? Look, everything was so normal. Dinner as usual. And then –)
When Circus people vanish, they leave the stage set. Ghost Big Tops are fully rigged with hoops and tight-ropes and lights. These people were all ready for the show but they couldn’t stay; this time the urge to run away with it was too strong and wouldn’t wait. The costume rail is crowded. It’s hard to tell what’s missing. There are starry leotards and stripy suits, shape-shifting hats and silly trousers. These people will be hard to spot because they have a costume for every event, including the need to be without one. They have jeans, dresses, robes, headscarves, flip-flops and bicycle helmets. They have t-shirts with faded logos and cartoons, the sort of t-shirt you can find anywhere on the planet. But if you look carefully, long enough for the look to become a stare, you can spot them. They can’t help it: they’ll dye every hair on their head murky brown or sleek black but within hours there’ll be a tuft of purple growing through. They’ll scrub at the glitter until their skin is rough but there’s always a scattering left in the dip between neck and shoulder or around the tiny hole in nose or lip. (There’s a glint in their tummy buttons, too, where other people have fluff).
The runaways may have left behind their ghostly tent but they have definitely run away with and not from the Circus. Nellie the elephant is on record as having done the latter but even she was in two minds about it – leading the big parade can’t have been easy to give up, hence the trundling. Circus people cannot trundle for long. They carry the Circus inside them, ready to explode in a starburst of sequins, coloured silks and twirling batons. They come together again in centripetal motion, jumping on each other’s backs and shoulders and hands and feet and spinning each other in spirals. And, by the time they land softly on their paws, there will be a big top rigged and lit, with crowded costume rails and wheels of fire and glow-in-the-dark juggling balls.