Anders M. Svenning ~ Occipital Circus


Phil Gorman looked through the microscope, observing Brownian motion.  The atoms ricocheted off each other.  There was complete disorder.  Every time Gorman observed the phenomena, he was brought back to his sound belief that chaos reigned supreme.  He believed chaos theory was the closest form of creationism there was.  He didn’t believe in God, only in the figurative notions that schools of thought, such as charity, were considered Holy, and that science was considered blasphemous.  For that, he was resentful.  Here they were, trying to find the connection, the source, that bridged God and the human, and scientists all over the world were called heathens.  For that, he was spiteful; and as he looked deeper into the microscope, he mused that he had found just about all that was left—miasmic constellations of atoms, ions, and molecules, bounding and rebounding off one another, in what was complete and utter disarray, and he marveled at its conception.

The working day was nearing a close, men and women in white lab coats scurrying here and there, collecting notebooks full of notes, petri dishes of virus, vials of dye.  Tonight, he was visiting the circus, that tent out on Forty-ninth street, which bordered the train tracks and had the omnipresent scent of kettle corn and cotton candy.  He was going alone, sure; he had not anybody waiting for him at his apartment—he lived alone and he hadn’t had a girlfriend in some years—but that didn’t deter him from the enthralling notion: the zanies, the jesters, the big cats.  He was a chemist by day, but at night, when the sun went down, he became a connoisseur of strangeness, movies like Georges Méliès’ 1902 film, A Trip to the Moon, and his ever-growing collection of Dali reprints, like The Persistence of Memory and Swans Reflecting Elephants and The Great Masturbator.  Often, he would close his eyes and think what it would be like to create something enigmatic.  The alcohol would hit him and he would drift, wanton, through the scape of delight.

He was terse and uncomfortable.  Everybody knew it.  Nobody invited him out to gatherings.  He didn’t mind.  It was the sole notion that sociability was an illusion, that people put on a certain façade when around camaraderie and, home, lent themselves to entirely new philosophies.  Gorman knew he did it—he acted resolute at work—but when he got home, he scared himself, it was so nonpareil.

Changing, once home, into a green button down shirt and khakis, he hurried himself into readiness.  The circus started at eight o’clock—it was seven-thirty—and presently, he was off, on the road, toward Forty-ninth and the circus.

This was going to be the third time this week he drove all the way out to Forty-ninth, all for the same reason.  The aerialist.  One in particular.  A girl, of about his age, with blonde hair in a bun, a spandex jumpsuit.  Phil Gorman thought he was in love.  He had gone to the Monday show and noticed this girl, whom he had never before seen—they must have picked her up recently—and, again, to the Wednesday show.  The Friday show was said to be something different.  The circus brought in big cats for the finale during the Friday night showing.  Gorman liked seeing the big cats roar, lash out their claws, while they were being whipped (or just feigning being whipped).  He liked seeing the big cats jump through hula-hoops.  Chewing on his ritual kettle corn, he marveled at, much like marveling at the Brownian motion phenomena, these jungle cats, who had been captured and brought into captivity.  Perhaps it was cruel.  Perhaps it was slavery.  But, Phil Gorman liked it, cruel as it may have been.  He pulled into the gravel parking lot and pulled into a spot furthest back from the circus tent.  His windows were rolled down and he heard the gravel crunching beneath the tires.  He always like that sound.  It made the hairs on his neck stand up much like Pablo Picasso’s Accordionist made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up the first time he had seen it.

Gas, liquid, solid—the states of matter—the evening, cool and gaseous, Gorman felt a part of his mental being slip into diaspora.  He was no longer Phil Gorman, chemist and eccentric.  Now, he was a part of the circus—for, without the audience there would be no circus—an integral cog in the machine that chewed up and spit out heady, perturbed circus goers.  Gravitating into the concessions tent, he noticed more people than usual.  It was the Friday showing, after all; and he acquired a paper bag of kettle corn and made his way into the main tent, which breathed hot air and smelled of hay and mist.

Walking into the circus, a shrill cry heard, Gorman noticed a jester giving out coupons to children, for free admissions in their next visit.  The bleachers, which surrounded center ring, shuttered as Gorman mounted and across them walked to the upper-most level.  The first time he had come to the circus had been with his mother, in 1972.  It wasn’t the same circus.  (The circus to which they had gone was located further westward and was rather dismal.)  She was long gone, had died of pneumonia back in the 90s and, really, Gorman missed her very little.  She had been good to him, but how good can a mother be, when the boy is just starting to experiment with psychotropics and reading books like Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Fredrick Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ?

He remembered, while sitting on the bleachers waiting for the show to commence, listening to folk music and his mother telling him to, “Turn that music down before things get ugly!”  He could still hear Dylan’s voice.  “The only thing I knew how to do/Was to keep on keepin’ on/Like a bird that flew—”

People had filtered in beside and beneath him.  And then, the tympani rolled, and cymbals crashed, and horns blared.  “Ladies and Gentlemen!  It is my pleasure, as Sir Wilfred Crew, to lead you on this exceptional journey through the fantastic, the supreme, the mysterious, the awe-inspiring, the jaw dropping spectacle that is Occipital Circus!  Come with me, and you’ll find the impossible, the improbable, the mysterious!  Come with me, and you’ll see the extravagant, the hilarious, the barbaric!”  The lights turned off, and with another tympani roll and cymbal crash and horns, the spotlights turned on to five or six zanies, riding unicycles, juggling bowling pins.  The horns kept on playing this up-beat, piercing, synchronized music, which kept up with the zanies.  Phil Gorman watched intensely.  He was anxious to see the aerialists, that one in particular.  The zanies all crashed into one another and made a dog pile.  Ropes dropped from the overhead platform.  Women twisted down and, deftly, climbed up, twisting and swinging back and forth.  It was all so captivating.  Children were watching, parents were watching, couples who came to the circus for a little good fun and hilarity were watching.  And so was Phil Gorman, who took not one second for granted.  He loved the zanies’ make up, the rope-climbing women’s legs—the zanies had gotten back on their unicycles and were cycling around center ring, jugging—and he loved the horns and the tympani that blared and rolled.  How did they do it, these stunts that left him incredulous?  There must be destiny if they can perform stunts that seemingly break the laws of physics.  Somebody must be pulling the strings, a puppet master, leading all men and women, performers and audience alike, to this place on this Friday night, as if their were marionettes.  Gorman had given up.  He had forgotten about his kettle corn and was starting, transfixed, at the aerialists when they came out.  They swung back and forth, exchanging hands, trusting each other with their very life.  (There was no net should they fall.)  And Phil Gorman saw her, standing on the platform and deftly swinging out to release her own bar and then catch another aerialist’s hands, before jumping back onto the other platform, which was across the way.  It was for certain.  Phil Gorman was in love.  He forgot to breathe.  He forgot to blink.  And he was sure, from way up there, she, with her blue eyes, looked his way.  Yes, Phil Gorman was in love.

The big cats came out, looking tired and estranged, hopeless.  They took to acting for the crowd, jumping through hoops, with the notion in their minds that treats followed their performance, the big cats, which (he was sure) were trained to act wild, but really weren’t.  The big cat nearest him looked like something out of a painting, as if it belonged with that plethora of highly-detailed graffiti closer-by his workplace, which was in the city.  A big cat roared and it was like a punch in the ribs, the roar so deep it rattled bones.

Coming to fruition was a knowledge, a sureness in Phil Gorman that could not have been kept at bay.  It was chaotic and pedantic.  All theories, all thoughts, all notions, all songs, paintings, and movies Phil Gorman had ever seen collected and were transparent and singular.  Painted skin, centric versus peripheral knowledge, the jugglers, harlequin jesters in their chequered suits and bells, the dangling ropes from a central beam, which went straight over center ring, the red and blue and yellow and purple spandex outfits that people like his favorite aerialist wore, every other night at eight o’clock P.M., to entertain wayward folks like himself—an atom, a ion, a molecule—these people, bouncing, recoiling off each other in what was pure and utter calamity, the freezing over of Hell, the contrabass thoughts, the proverbial tympani rolling and rolling and rolling, the epitome of organized delirium.  Phil Gorman, the man, the chemist, saw with his eyes a semantic cleft in reality, in life, which stopped rational thought and which ceased the mind’s chatter—gray matter, synaptic phrases by which the brain with itself communicated, in its paradoxical, hypocritical way, the malleus bone hammering away at temporal precision, a note, a meaning skewed, all elements in a microscope magnified to an uncanny organism, a frightening organism, a dancing organism, an organism in its own right, sovereign and elastic and supple, like the minds of people, like the minds of atoms, who lived and lived until there was absolution.


Anders M. Svenning studies creative writing at the University of South Florida.  His work has appeared in Guide to Kulcher Creative Magazine, Futures Trading, Feminine Collective, and many more.  He has forthcoming a horror collection, entitled Nonpareil (Tule Fog Press).

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