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  • Nelly’s postcard still sat on the mantelpiece, below the mirror. Simple words on the front of a faintly sandalwood scented card:

    Mandalay. Wish you were here.

    Six years gone and she was, by all accounts, having a riot of a time. That fabled trunk, packed but 92 moons ago, would by now be thick with stickers – testament to a hundred exotic destinations from Alexandria to Auckland. And what for him? The daily commute to quite another type of circus beckoned. Banalities traded beneath strip lighting.

    The previous evening Waldo had watched a guilty duvet cover tumble around a launderette dryer machine, a jingling cylinder of twenty pence coins in his left hand, marking time. An idle right hand had made work for his eyes, drawing them diabolically to a screen-printed circus poster on the pinewood panel wall. Something in it called to him. Not the headline or the debonair grin of the circus ringmaster – a man who never seems to age - nor the illustration of the unconvincingly roaring lion or even the beguiling torso of the sequined high wire girl. The rabble of loon panted clowns and their Russian roulette buckets of confetti weren’t the thing. A simple line of 12pt type at the very footer of the poster called out:

    “Hired hands wanted to erect the circus tent. Are you fit, strong and able to help out put up the big top on 14th of February?”

    A valentines day hired erection hand. It wouldn’t be big money, and that was a day he should be at work. But he could chuck the proverbial sickie, couldn’t he? Nelly, he felt, would be proud. While bullshit shimmered incandescently under neon strip lighting and brand onions ripened in the gobshite marketing manure, he’d be pulling on the thick ropes with a hundred other hired hands. Good honest work. Tattooed arms and ‘rollies’ clenched between grim set teeth, he’d be part of the alchemy behind the greasepaint and roar. Why not? Bring it on. Mandalay here I come.

    Waldo began to sing, as he pulled on his jacket:

    “Nelly the elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus.
    Off she went in the silvery light on the road to Mandalay and was never seen again”.

    At the back of the launderette a doorway opened an inch or two, and a watery eye watched Waldo swing the laundry pack over his shoulder, for instead of turning left toward home turned right and up the hill to the park to meet the Carney calling. Beneath the peeping eye a single teardrop hung, artfully drawn in black eye liner against a white greasepaint cheekbone.

    A smile flickered seismically across the clown’s lips.
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