Owen Come Home

Sometimes in July, when the wind cries in the right direction, I hear a tremulous calliope sighing across the flats.

As a child I would sit out there for hours listening and daydreaming; giving form to my mother’s words.

It’s calling to them, Owen, calling to the ghosts of the past; telling them to come and entertain again.

I can hear it, mother, I really can.


The wind calls them, and they always come: those who performed and those who burned; the perfumed girls and short-sleeved boys who kissed and cheered on circular pews whilst lions were tamed and acrobats twirled.

They come to see the Insect Twins who harness wasps and make them swim; they come to laugh at Emmett’s clown, the Wall of Death and Rose-Lee Browne.

But a sideshow of souls needs an audience.

They stay this time, not like before; away, away they ran in rings, though trapped right under big top flames. Others found a different fire when they tried to bolt through the tiger chutes.

Never cancel a show, the roustabouts say, it’s bad for business and bad luck, anyway. I wish they’d summoned Madame Browne; she could have asked about the clown that normally fills the genny up, and if he had replaced the cap.

In her crystal ball would summer-dry straw burn on the shore?

What does dear mother think of all this now? I watch her at the kitchen window; rinsing teacups, mind elsewhere. She stares out at the sandy flats. Does she see me – or just the seagulls – floating?

I daydream what she’s said a hundred times to me before.

Can you hear it, Owen? Can you hear the calliope? It’s calling them to you.

Yes mother, I hear it, and evermore it calls me, too.

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