Before the eyes of the crowd, and those who streamed online, Alexia Tarabotti sat in the middle of the top row, halfway between her husband and the villain of the tale, and waited for her turn to be bitten. She stared out at the circus, watching the clowns perform and then the acrobats, who performed more acrobatics, and then the lion tamer, who flipped a lion through the air and into a box while the lion glared back at the lion tamer.
Though Alexia couldn’t understand what Alexia understood, she knew the lion tamer, who appeared every night with his monstrous lion and performed terrifying feats that the crowd claimed were real.
The crowd cheered when the lion rose up from its blanket, leaped across the ring, and leapt upon Alexia. The lion paused a moment, in his own mount, to see the crowd, then stepped forward to clamp its jaws on Alexia’s hair. Alexia waited, unmoving, but the lion never looked up from its prey. It kept its jaws closed around her hair for a moment and then opened them, letting Alexia fall to the arena floor.
The lion tamer, jumping out from behind the lion, pushed the lion from the ring. The lion tamer’s audience roared, and Alexia saw the crowd start to gather into a circle around the lion tamer. Alexia also noticed the lion tear her dress into ribbons as it dragged her across the stage.
Her husband rushed to her side. “My wife,” he shouted, grabbing Alexia by the hair. “What have they done to you? They’ve made you watch this. This is not the circus. Please, my dear, I’ll pay you. I’ll pay you to go home.”
But Alexia didn’t see Alexia Tarabotti, the woman who watched from the top rows of the Circus, watching a man in his full circus garb throw her into the ring and allow a lion to tear her dress.
Because Alexia had seen everything that Asia had shown her.
Alexia stared up at the high windows of the top floor, where she and her husband had lived during her time at the Circus. The curtains that hid the circus animals were drawn and the glass was thick, giving the building a magnificence that surpassed even the illusion of speed in the circus. Alexia remembered the house, its walls covered in circus posters, and the names of Alexia’s favorite performers, and how she and her husband had watched them on TV and in the ring as their shows ended. Now, she stared out at the circus, watching as the lions lay on the floor and snarled into the faces of the lion tamer.
Asia’s whispers reached Alexia’s ears. “Look now, Alexia, look at Asia. She is here, here in the circus. She is there, and she is in Asia’s mouth. She is in Asia’s hand.”
Alexia looked, and the lions leapt up to roar and pounce upon Asia, and Alexia heard her screams.
She turned back to the circus, her eyes growing wet with tears.
Asia looked at the woman, Alexia Tarabotti, and grinned.
She said, “Ah, Alexia. This is why I told you that they didn’t dare leave Asia alive. You see, the circus people, they are weak. They are scared of Asia. They are afraid of Asia and what Asia will do to them. And you see, Alexia? It is too late to change that. There is no saving Asia. She is dead, and I am here.”
Asia’s voice trailed off and Alexia, too, looked away from Asia, from the woman who said, “You can’t save them. They are dead, and you will die, too.”
Alexia turned away, as though Asia would be on the top of the roof or hiding behind the curtains. But Alexia noticed that the lion had turned its head, looking out over the crowd of spectators.