27.3.06

cirque

Along the road up to the Institution I saw cat-like creatures of a species unknown to me. They were dun-coloured, leggy and lithe, with large eyes and small padded feet, and they moved swiftly in prides across the bare grounds. Flights of birds that looked like their more colourful avian equivalent were caged in another enclosure, where the animal-keeper apologized for the poverty of her zoo and the paucity of visitors. I said I much preferred it to the Metropolitan, where crowds invade the sacred precinct reserved for those moments when animal and human gaze mutely at each other across the abyss of a lost communality. Here, however, I allowed, most people who pass are in too much of a hurry to reach the hallowed halls of the Institution. When I mentioned the cats, her eyes softened so that for a moment they took on that feline darkness in which there is no depth but depth.

My friend and I leaned companionably on the railings for a while, looking at the birds with their green heraldic crests, black wings and orange bibs. Our upper arms pressed warmly against each other and when we walked on, we held hands. This surprised me because she had previously refused to let me kiss her and later said that we could only ever be good friends. Her hands are rough and warm, larger than you might expect in someone so graceful and small. As we came up to her hotel, I let her go, intending to walk on by myself; but somehow I was still there when she, having showered and changed, came out again. Near the hotel entrance was a collapsed wall exposing a niche, and my friend climbed up there and posed among the broken masonry and fallen timbers, looking exactly like someone modelling for a reminiscence of the Blitz. It was then I recalled that item two on the wish list she’d shown me earlier mentioned her desire to earn her living solely by acting—something her current commitments would never allow her to do.

As we wandered through the crowds along the Strip, we talked about the way so many traditional occupations have been lost or are gone, how so many of us these days spend our time making entertainments for others to enjoy, how the construction and enjoyment of amusements of all sorts has become the raison d’├¬tre of our society the way war or discovery was of earlier ones. So that, when we heard a blare of horns on the road ahead and saw a line of vehicles approaching, advertising themselves as the Dusty Highway Crew or something similar, with black-clad acrobats frozen in hieratic poses on the backs of flat-bed trucks and denizens with the parched and weary faces of road-warriors staring disinterestedly from driver side windows, we felt their apparition only confirmed what we were saying. And who could repress a surge of excitement as the whole long convoy swept through the Strip and round the bend towards the Fairground that materialized, just then, behind the dingy clubs and the gambling dens?

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