This Circus the World
Amber Sparks

It was the empty Jim Beam bottle on its side in the sullen yellow shower, the fluorescent sign flickering on the roof, the bedsprings of the room next door in choruses of creaking. It was the stained beige carpet and way he shouted when he came through the door. It was the way she lay for hours, facedown on that carpet, trussed and always with the camera at her back. It was the way the room was sometimes green, was sometimes gray, was sometimes a cheap room-to-let and sometimes a cheap roadside motel and sometimes a cheap county jail cell—but always cheap, always faded and frayed as the wallpaper that sometimes lined these walls. It was the way the men in suits filed in, talking on their handsets or their earpieces and taking notes and casting eyes back and forth, fishing for visions in the close and clammy air.

It was the way she sometimes perched at the vanity, watched him enter as a tall swift triptych through the mirrors, or as a prisoner, battered. It was the way she combed her hair, the way she put on lipstick, the way she dragged mascara through her lashes while she listened to the clock tick on and on. It was the way he said he liked her better without makeup. It was the way he held her throat, the way she didn’t scream, the way he called her Alice though that was not her name, had never been her name. It was the way they both signed the ledger, also not their real names, checking in and out each day, heading home separately, he in his car, she in worn tennis shoes, walking three miles to the bus to her apartment where she washed her face, her arms, her legs, her feet and toes, her stomach.

It was the way she sometimes left him in the bathtub for hours, inches of water wrinkling his thin white skin, casting him in old man’s costume. The way his arms and legs grew thatched and scarred as train tracks, the way she always found fresh flesh to cut. The way the men in suits would take pictures, bending down, frowning at the carpet like crime scene photographers. The way her clothes were always crumpled on that carpet. The way she sometimes wore layers of clothes, the way sometimes there were never enough clothes, the way sometimes there was never enough fabric in the world to cover her over and swallow her under.

The way they avoided eye contact but every now and then their gazes would join, would lock, would jolt them apart, the third rail of desire. The way they would sometimes forget to scratch or scream or scrape or otherwise draw blood and would instead hold each other, skin and breath and damaged heart until they fell asleep in that vibrating bed, stilled now without the meal of quarters. The way they would sometimes turn off the recording devices and stash the cat o’nine tails and the cattle prod and hide the handcuffs in the drawer next to the King James Bible. The way they would sometimes dress one another, he in a tux and she in a gown, the way they would bow to one another, the way they would sip champagne and smile politely over their prime rib. The way he would mention moonlight on the Seine. The way she would shiver.

The way they would finally say I love you and I love you too and the way alarms would shriek and the way the men in suits would invade an army of red ties and bulletproof vests. The way the room would shrink and blacken the way the room would dim the way the blood would pool and churn in the bath the way their names their real names would finally echo soft but true in tune like nothing else in this cruel circus called the world when they finally shut off the lights.

Amber Sparks’s short stories have appeared in New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Gargoyle, Barrelhouse and The Collagist and elsewhere. Her chapbook, “A Long Dark Sleep: Stories for the Next World” was included in the chapbook collection Shut Up/Look Pretty from Tiny Hardcore Press, and her first full-length story collection, May We Shed These Human Bodies, will be published in September by Curbside Splendor. You can find her at or follow her on Twitter @ambernoelle.