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Balancing Act

The circus is perched at the top of a cliff. The tent, worn in places, stripes of color now faded to near-grey, looks like it might topple into the sea at any second. In faded gold lettering, a sign proclaims “The Superwoman Circus."

In spite of the circus’s precarious position, there is a man talking in a suit out the front. There is always a man in a suit talking. “Roll up, roll up. Nothing but our finest acrobats here.” He leads the way into the cavernous expanse of the tent. It smells like straw, and animals, or possibly people who haven’t seen a shower for some time.

The Ringmaster continues his spiel. “We’ve got a treat for you in our first performance tonight.”

He strides into the centre of the arena, black boots gleaming. “See here we have the mother.” A harassed-looking woman makes her way towards a ladder at the side of the arena, pausing only to wipe what looks like spit-up off the shoulder of her sparkling costume. It’s sagging in some places and too tight in others, but the woman doesn’t seem to notice.

“Now watch her as she makes her way up…That’s a high one.”

The woman completes her climb and steps out gingerly on to the tightrope.

“One foot in front of the other, that’s the way.” His voice has a well‑meaning but patronizing air.

The woman pauses, suspended between the air and ground.

“Now she will be handed a ball to juggle.”

A small ball is tossed to the woman. She begins to throw the brightly-colored ball into the air, catching it carefully. “That one’s night feeds and sleep deprivation. Okay, that’s going well.”

The woman holds her head up, like she’s proud, she’s got this.

“So, ladies and gentlemen, what’ll it be next? I know. Another ball, if you please. That’s the laundry, piles of stained onesies, oh and the dirty dishes stacked in the sink. Now another ball. It’s looking alright so far though the laundry seems a little precarious.”

The woman looks less confident than she did at the start but continues on her journey across the tightrope.

“Now, this ball is the mental load—she’ll need to be looking at daycares soon and don’t forget to pick up the medicine for the baby because he’s teething, but while she does that she may as well buy the extra snacks because there’s family coming over who haven’t seen the baby for ages and then she’d better book the baby in for his check-up too.”

The woman falters and the crowd gasps. Finally, she manages to right herself without losing any of the balls.

The Ringmaster begins his patter again. “A close one there. But now, another ball, because the toddler’s having a tantrum in the middle of aisle six. Then another ball for being a supportive friend. Ooh she’s looking a bit wobbly now. And, what’s this? Another ball for a job? That’s going to be tricky to fit in, but she’s squeezed it in somehow. And ladies and gentlemen, she’s asking for yet another ball because apparently she wants time to work on her creative practice. Well that’s asking a lot. Just look at all those balls she’s juggling. Any bets on how long she’ll last? You at the back there?”

A young guy who has three days’ worth of facial hair shouts out, “I’m feeling generous—she can have two minutes!” And he waggles his eyebrows at his mates who laugh along with him.

The Ringmaster continues. “But wait, there’s another ball being added. This one appears to be a birthday party for her youngest. Oh, and there’s some more balls that come along with that. There are certainly a lot of them. Let’s see if I can read out a couple to you. Ah, so there’s buying the gifts, drawing up a list of who to invite. Sending invitations. Cleaning the house—don’t want people to judge you for being messy.”

The juggling balls seem to lose their rhythm. Just for a millisecond, the woman’s eyes lose their focus and the whole set-up begins to topple in slow motion—the colored balls and the woman herself.

The Ringmaster lets out a sigh. “Ah and she’s dropped the balls and fallen off the tightrope. Burnout apparently. She’ll be back soon. Nothing that a nice bath won’t cure. But that’s a real shame for our performance. Still, what did she expect—to have it all?”

The audience lets out a roar of laughter.

“But look, can I get another volunteer from the audience to take her place?” the smiling Ringmaster asks. “After all, there are always volunteers.”

Connect with Jessica on social media:

Instagram: @ReadingJessSN

Twitter: @ReadingJessica

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