Only after she joined Circus Alekan did Marion learn to ride. One spring morning, the trainer offered her lessons; at a loose end, she said yes, thinking nothing of it other than the chance to indulge the fascination horses had held for her since girlhood; the chance too to see life from saddleback height. Besides that, she could not have simply articulated the hold they had on her. Perhaps she loved them because they seemed at once unfettered and gently docile; free and excitable and dangerous yet all-embracing in their comfort and sugary amiability. Once she had finished the course of lessons, the trainer revealed his thinking – that she had it in her to perform her acrobatics from the platform of the horse’s back. She laughed him off but eventually he persuaded her, buttering her into an affirmative through saying he had never seen as natural a first-time rider. That, added to her gifts as an acrobat, not to mention her petite beauty…
Flying through the air on a trapeze had not been her ambition till late in her childhood. She had been something of a dreamer, scorning colouring books and pens – these could not match the colours generated by letters and phrases as she spoke them out loud or in her mind. Out of fairy tales she span lengthier yarns featuring herself as their core character. Her ever-extending vocabulary paraded across endless skies and each item in it competed for the most vibrant colours, or at violet hour the most delicate, the palest. Because of her size, because she often seemed lost on a planet far from others, she fell subject to being labelled an oddity. She didn’t care, for happiness came from perceiving ‘fingertips’ as silver, ‘horse’ as butterscotch and ‘leaf’ as an amber, autumnal hue; ‘star’ burned sapphire and ‘field’ revealed itself as an undulating sea of flax. Soon she thought she might like to be a poet, only she fretted that the poems could never be as colourful to others as to their author.
Routinely the young Marion hid herself beneath the curtain-like tresses of a Salix Chrysocoma, there to dream and bring colours into being. Besides nature only the circus could match the richness of the colours she perceived in her head. It had begun the year they first pitched their tent nearby her home. The red and the blue of the big top, the ginger spraying from the sides of the auguste’s face, the silver sequinned costume of the Russian funambulist sparkling in the spotlight as he danced the length of the tightrope eliciting intakes of breath. From then on she had only one undeclared object in mind. Circus skill training not being an option, she settled for gymnastics and spent all her unscheduled hours tumbling.
It started then, the living of a double life, the life all live to a greater or lesser extent – a double one, that of the interior and the exterior. But hers by any measure had been an extreme case of the dominance of the interior. If she looked back along the path her life had taken, she could see she had been happiest at those moments of conjunction – lighthouse flashes of love for another human being, the expressive movement of her handsprung body through the air, the age-old gliding of a bird of prey above a hillside hanger. But rarely did she share anything of that interior life. Her synaesthesia seemed itself a perfect conjunction of art and science, of magical colour and a predictable exactitude, yet instinctively she felt no-one could understand its meaning, except perhaps another poetic synaesthete, and she never met one of those. She moved through her life either in languorous, ethereal motion or as a blur of elusive colour. The others largely avoided her.
In the circus ring Marion and her horse Quicksilver spiralled the air into a life-affirming breeze. The music and gasps and applause from the audience came as from afar, much like the rhythms of her heart – she heard them as a series of pulses on top of the galloping horse’s hooves, such familiar sounds that by them she could set her tempo as she performed near-miraculous feats.
She had been the horse trainer’s since the day he first picked her up all covered in bruises from the floor of the ring. But though she loved the man he didn’t complete her and she felt obliged to look beyond him. For a time she admired the taut muscles of the strong man, but he never made her heart sing. The auguste brought forth music and made her laugh, but theirs could only ever be a brief encounter. Then there had been the impalement artist; in the end she had cut him more deeply than he had her. The day the lion tamer joined the circus, the horse trainer finally had his hegemony seriously challenged. She had never felt such a thrust through her heart as in the moment Isaac first set his eyes on her. Mute, she stood transfixed, oblivious to all else. He carried his difference about him; instinctively she could see that he too had once been scorned and labelled a freak but had risen above it. Livid red streaks scarred one side of his face; the result of flashing talons on the one and only occasion he had been careless. Never before had she been attracted so magnetically. And so the living of a different kind of double life began, one lived in both the interior and the exterior, conjoining them at last. She tamed the lion tamer, and in so doing set him free, and vice versa. Both in its command and spectrum of colours, Isaac’s strong, deep, accented voice thrilled her. In an outlying caravan in the depths of the night, he became her horse and she his lion and together they merged the grace of acrobatic flight and the anticipation of formal strictures.
You could never be certain about the future, but time gave Marion to understand that Isaac loved her more than his lions. He too had an interior like hers, and since he did, regardless of separation or loss, she could no longer envisage dying of a broken heart. ‘Broken heart’ – she heard that phrase as the intermingled colours of a bruise. ‘Heart’ by itself – a different matter. One night in the caravan she told Isaac its colour as she perceived it and never loved her lion tamer more than for his immediate reply – ‘may your heart stay vermillion forever’.