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The Final Act


With a snake looped around her neck, the acrobat leaped from the high platform into a cloud of incense swirling in the aerial hoop from which she would swing in the circular flight pattern of a bird in a cave painting discovered just before the war. The incense rose from a table at the edge of the ring, behind which the ringmaster summoned clowns and jugglers at regular intervals so that he could feed the lion in its cage. A priest in the crowd tracked the aerialist’s movements through the dark, as if to monitor the changes roiling his own soul, which he likened to a wheel of flames spinning under the big tent. The circus would leave town in the morning, never to return, and the priest was not alone in his contemplation of last things. The snake began to constrict the performer, who grew confused, her rotations slowing, and now she could no longer remember where she was in her routine. The priest mumbled a prayer for the ringmaster, who shook the censer like a whip. The lion roared once then lay back down. The crowd yearned to fly away.