Rose knew that raising a child alone would be tough and that there wasn’t going to be much beyond her small surprise, but the second she found out she was pregnant there was no doubt in her mind that this kid would be worth it. She loved the little leech in her tummy from the second she felt it there. And the day that Dani was born was probably the happiest of her life. Being able to finally wrap her arms around the cute squishy mess was the most gratifying thing she’d done in nine long months and nothing could compare to holding her very new, very pink, and very happy baby girl. Taking her home, healthy and blissfully unaware a few days later marked the start of a long and close relationship between mother and daughter. A bond that nothing short of a nuclear bomb could break.
Rose didn’t start dating until Dani was five or so and could actually grasp the concept of Mommy’s new “friend”. It wasn’t very often that she’d show Dani a new man and only when he could have turned out to be the one. Usually these guys would turn out to be a two year plus relationship during which they’d move in with “him” and something very extreme would happen to make the relationship end. (i.e. cheating, he’s a lazy douche, she didn’t want to settle when she wasn’t in love). And all the while Rose was always open with Dani. There weren’t secrets between this dynamic duo. They were each other’s most sought after confidante and nothing changed, even as Dani got older. It would kill Dani each time to hear her mother apologize for bringing a man in who was just going to leave. And Dani would assure her that it wasn’t her fault- and it never was- and that she was better than so-and-so deserved.
Rose did manage, after a good deal of broken hearts, to find a great guy. It was sometime while Dani was in middle school and it really looked like he was the one. They were so lovey dovey that it was almost nauseating to see. There was a chorus of vomit noises whenever Mark would come over, all done in good fun. And he’d tease back which was what Dani liked about him. It was only about a half a year until Mark moved in and another half or so until he proposed. It was weird to Dani to think of something as permanent as marriage for her mom when she was so used to just the two of them. And she fought it with all that her teenage angst would allow, but in the end Mark and Rose were absolutely in love. As Dani got older she saw that love and appreciated Mark for giving it. Anyone who could love her mom was a smart person, after all. And it surprised her that even past their love, Rose found time for just mom and daughter to be together. Small things like mani-pedis, or going out for coffee some days were ways that Rose kept up with her kid.
Dani, always being way too loud for a classroom setting, got into theatre almost immediately after she got into high school. It was really her forte. She got cast in the main productions and was always doing something for her theatre. Her friends were all pretty into theatre too and she found a home away from home there. She learned all the finer details of performing and she would really attribute her strong back bone to the three years of theatre she took. All of the critiquing and catty drama that ran rampant in the department can really thicken one’s skin. But despite how tough she’d learned to be, how easily she could hold back or produce tears, when she got that call, her world came crashing down.
“Only seventeen. I’m only seventeen. I can’t do this. I can’t do this… Why… I can’t…” This endlessly played, like a track caught on repeat. Dani’s mom was dead. She was out, riding her bike, and was hit by some ass hole who was too busy arguing about the Super Bowl to see her. The driver got pinned with manslaughter, but Dani… Dani had to live every single day of her life with nothing to look forward to. No smiles to wake her, no warm hugs, no fun sandwiches cut into triangles that she was clearly too old for, but didn’t care enough to complain about. Rose was announced dead at the scene and Dani was on her emergency contact list. She was the first one the emergency worker called.
The funeral was a decent size. People from work who sincerely loved Rose came and so did all of the family, distant and immediate. Mark had asked Dani if she wanted to stay with him or go live with her grandparents, but she didn’t belong to either of them. She had no one anymore. And being seventeen already she could make a life on her own without being a burden to anyone. She only stayed another two weeks with him until she got a job and moved out. She got a shitty apartment in a horrible part of town. It was easy for her to slip into some bad habits there, no one to care, to judge. Her boss didn’t seem to mind that her eyes were almost always red and that she reeked of weed and vodka. Being that he was a family friend he understood, and he would often stick her in the back to do inventory, keep her away from customer’s who might complain.
It was six months later when her friends tried to coax her into doing something fun. Dani had spent her 18th birthday by herself, too drunk to leave the house. She was still in a bad place and was almost too far gone to sit up straight these days. Her friends, unsure of how to handle her, used every trick in the book to convince her to get out. It was bad enough they missed out on her 18th, but missing out on her life was just sad. She agreed, but mostly because she was too weak willed to go against the grain. They went to San Francisco for a huge circus that had been set up and was the talk of the town. Apparently this circus was supposed to be beyond anything that she could fathom and it would “definitely take your mind off things,” as her group of friends put it. And in truth it was fantastic. The lights weren’t just lights, they were twinkling stars locked up in bulbs, and the attractions weren’t just attractions, they were strangely real and tangible. It went beyond women with beards; it was Electric women and glass tears, stunts and illusions far beyond a simple juggling act. How can you fake that? Dani grinned for the first time in a while. It was weak but it happened. Even so, she was stopping at every beer vendor on the grounds and used her fake ID more times than some people might use legitimate IDs.
She had to be dragged out of the tents by her friends, who started to regret initiating Mission Cheer-up. When Dani was passed out completely the girls put her in the car, doors locked, and went back. They figured she’d stay out for a while allowing them some fun time of their own. They were only gone for a half an hour before Dani got up, her bladder aching for release. She fumbled with the lock for a good five minutes before stumbling out of the car and just going in the grassy lot that passed for a parking space next to the car. Once she’d firmly established she was a classy drunk, she began to leave the circus, leave the happiness and lights. They weren’t anything compared to her mom and it was too sad to compare them.
She walked and walked and walked. She got to the Golden gate and smelled the ocean. She remembered the first time her mom had taken her to the ocean. They swam all day and they both got so red that they practically blended together when set up right. The beach towels were blue, because that was Dani’s favorite color and Rose knew that if they weren’t blue they wouldn’t get used. Dani looked at the ocean and felt warm water on her face. Dani tried to blame it on seaspray but knew it was impossible for it to reach so far up. She didn’t bother to brush the tears aside. She looked down into the dark, black reaches of the ocean and added a few more drops to the impressive depths. She looked hard and long into the black water, wondering what sort of world lay below it, what types of creatures hid there. She started to stare into the constellations, reflected from the sky, which shivered and moved with the waves. Her stare grew lazier and lazier and she was almost asleep again when she saw something. It was moving below the waters, stark in contrast to the ocean’s timelessly dark allure. It was quickly approaching the surface, seeming to making easy strides side to side while getting there. Dani froze, too scared to move, too struck to breathe, to heartbroken to comprehend what she was seeing. Her mother, clear as day swam below her, smiling as warmly as ever. Dani forced her hand to move, making a strange, fumbling gesture meant to be a wave. It was like trying to play with a broken toy. Her mom laughed, the sound ringing as if it hadn’t passed more than a few inches let alone a couple hundred feet. Rose waved back and quickly dived retreated into the ocean, blowing a kiss on her way down.
Dani cried out after her, frantically searching the bridge for something, nothing, anything. She tore at her jacket and kicked off her shoes, crashing to the hard concrete as she did so. She was still so drunk it was hard to function without using a ballet bar to steady her. Her socks were clawed off her feet with some difficulty as well. Dani stood and searched the deep for anything… It remained dark and endless as always. Fighting against all logic and reason, Dani climbed the edge, hardly taking a breath before slipping off the rail and falling toward the waves. She heard some cries as she fell, but wasn’t sure if they were her own. She looked below her, anticipating her mother’s return. The weightlessness was somehow so freeing that for a moment she forgot about the last six months, about her past, about everything. She felt as if now, being with her mom again, she was free from all that kept her bound to the world. And right before she hit the water, she stretched out her hand to take Rose’s, so that it could finally be home again.
When Dani woke up she couldn’t feel anything. Her face, her fingers, her toes, were all numb. A finely decorated room began to unfold around her as her eyes fled from one end of the room to another. She became aware of her own body laying limply on what seemed to be a finely made chaise. She could feel her clothes weight, and hear dripping close by. Loose, matted bits of her hair clung to her face. Remembering only bits and pieces of her night, Dani tried to distinguish between dream and reality. It was hard when she couldn’t even move by her own will. A constant drip kept interrupting the silence of the room and was in perfect time with a wall clock chiming somewhere beyond her field of vision. Dani rolled her eyes as far as she could, trying to follow the dripping noise. An odd stand right beside the chaise’s arm, as if it were a simple lamp. Following the metal upward one could see the sac of clear liquid and the small dripping device that led into a bruised and contorted arm. Dani would have screamed when she saw her own limb bent in twenty different ways, but she couldn’t control her mouth. A soft breath was all she could manage and she felt her eyes well with tears.
A chair scraping over a wooden floor sounded somewhere behind her and several steady footsteps cued the arrival of a very precarious looking man. His form and face her blurred behind tears that couldn’t be swept away. The voice was decisive and low, but had an almost calming effect as it murmured without a clear meaning. The shadowy man stood tall, not condescending to lower himself to her level and aimlessly tapped the IV. Then, digging around in his pocket, he pulled out something too small to see through blurry tears. He took Dani’s hand gently, small quick breaths leaving her lips, nerves getting the best of her even if she couldn’t feel anything. A laugh rumbled in her ear as she watched him touch her fingertip with something. A little rosy dot blossomed on the tip of her finger, blood flowing in a staggered pattern out from the pinprick.
“Do you want to live?” Dani knew she couldn’t answer, but her thoughts screamed out YES. “I can save you, but you have to sign this.” He held her finger to the page, the excess blood rolling to the end of the sheet, pooling there, then intermittently leaping towards the floor. She couldn’t move no matter how she tried, her body was bound.
“Ah… Sorry about that.” The figure stood and adjusted the IV; he stopped the drip completely and returned to lift her arm, gingerly touching it to the sheet. Dani twitched her pointer, feeling a sudden rush of pain swelling through her whole frame. She would have cried out, but she had to concentrate on the sheet. The state she was in now, her death was inevitable, and all she had to do was sign. She flicked her broken, swollen, bruised digit with great effort. Her breath became shorter and tighter as she continued. She got to the N and couldn’t make it any further. Her body ached and burned and cried out for her to stop. Her name was one letter too long, her heart was one beat too weak, and her head was one thought too drained to finish. As her eyes fluttered and shut, the man’s cool hand quickly maneuvered her’s and let it fall at her side, all attempts are gentleness abandoned. She yelped, but couldn’t manage a full scream like the pain deserved. She saw her red name written in a foreign hand, but completed nonetheless, pass by her. Dani was formed, however formlessly, on the paper.
“Go back to sleep…” The figure crudely tapped the drip device and within seconds Dani felt her body become heavy, bound, numb, and dreamy again. She welcomed it and drifted off.
Dani woke up in what felt like the late afternoon. The sun was pinkish red through the small window she woke up facing. She felt tears in her eyes but couldn’t understand why. She wiped them away and blamed a bad dream for it all. She only remembered snippets of what happened, which wasn’t uncommon for her recent lifestyle choices, and neither was waking up in strange places, so finding herself on a small mattress with crappy furniture wasn’t by any means astonishing or frightening. She pushed herself up and rubbed her eyes, stretched and yawned. She recalled a small bit of her dream, the grotesque bruising and broke limbs. She wondered how twisted she must be to really think some of that stuff up. She scanned her arm, regardless, before hopping out of the bed, ready to make her leave from whoever’s crappy trailer home this was. As she was on her way out she saw a few other beds lined up… She was reminded of Snow White and giggled a little to herself. Laughing… It caught her off guard, but it felt so nice after having been absent from her heart for such a long time.
She walked out, not bothering with any goodbye’s- though she didn’t expect anyone to miss her too much- and was slammed with an array of starry lights and huge throngs of people. Stripped tents were set up not far away and the reality of her fantasy came to life. Her dreams became shockingly real and she had to lean against the trailer for support. She searched the crowed for something, nothing, anything.
Grabbing the closest person she could, her voice shaking as she asked, “Where am I?!”
The man grabbed her arms and firmly removed her, looking at her as if she were insane. “Je ne vous compreneds pas. Ne me touchez pas!” He gave her a disgusted last look and then ran off to join the rest of his group.
Dani trembled, and then fled back into the trailer. She stayed there for the rest of the night… It was the first of many that she would spend in The Circus… In Hell.