Rachel Kendall
Penny Whistle

Been the glamorous girl. Been the envy of the little girls with stars in their eyes. Been the bird gliding through the air, feathers on my rump and in my cap, born to catch that swing in the crook of a bent knee, an outstretched hand, a muscley thigh. I've had my glory days. The trapeze girl in all her glitter. Relishing the ooohs and aaaahs, lifting the audience to my dizzy heights, giving them all the near-misses of a good story, the near-deaths, the hero's incredible save. Been the blond angel, winking at my partner as we pass in the rafters, in our own world, smiling smiling smiling. They queued up to be with me. The knife-thrower, the lion tamer, the sword-swallower, the fire-eater. I had them all. They left me empty, even with their toys and their unique gifts.

They couldn't throw me out. They couldn't leave behind the girl who had been born in the circus. Oh they tried. They upped and left. Packed up the animals, the ornate swords, the tight and slack ropes, the big big top, and took off. Leaving me drunk somewhere, oblivious. But the fear of being alone gave me the motivation to find them. Hungover and sore but I could never be alone. Loneliness is something I am used to. But I need to be surrounded by the noise and the scent of animal sweat, the promise of danger, the booming voices. So I found them. It wasn't difficult. It took me two weeks. Robbie and I hitched lifts. Not many cars will pick up a girl and her dog. There would have been even less if they'd seen what I am like from the neck down. It's my insides filtering out I would tell them. Part of me was waiting for my beautiful abductor. Part of me wanted the rape and murder tale. A somewhat fit ending to my life.

They didn't want a crippled girl. A has-been beautiful girl. Withered I am, now. I'm crooked and bright pink. My scars turn to red hot when I'm angry. They glow like I'm still aflame. But they had to honour my mother, Daria, who birthed me and then died. A brilliant rider she was, apparently. I've only seen the photos. Standing tall on a wide-backed black horse as it galloped in circles. Balancing on one foot, toes clenched, leg-muscles pinched. I was born to them. I was her gift. They couldn't just throw me away, even after the fire rendered me ugly and useless.

I drink to ease the pain. Burnt skin never ceases to crack and weep. I crack and weep with it. I sleep on my left side. I wear loose clothes. Rub cold creams into the creases. Sometimes I rub butter in. It doesn't do any good in the long run but it's a temporary relief. Especially when Robbie licks it off. The soft rhythmic rub of his warm tongue is very soothing and sometimes I think he knows it helps. He enjoys the taste but, more than this, I feel he understands my sighs. Once or twice, or three times, when I have been almost to the point of passing out drunk, I have rubbed the butter between my legs and cried when his tongue made me sway my hips despite myself.

The clowns make me laugh. Whenever I can I watch them rehearse. I don't like to be there during their actual performances because I can't stand the crowds, the people who once loved me. The very same who would now cover their childrens eyes if they ever saw my naked body. The clowns, all four of them, have been my family for so long. Arnie, Bluey and Marvin have been with the circus at least as long as I have. Their avuncular nose-pinching and raspberry-blowing had me crying with laughter as a child. And now as a twenty-year old woman they have often come round to my trailor in the dead of night, having heard me weeping, and entertained me with their band of miniature instruments. A tiny toy plastic piano, a broken banjo and penny whistle. Sometimes I sing with them. My voice isn't good. But neither is it that bad and singing lets out a whole lot of steam. It was Arnie who named me Penny after seeing my new act for the first time.

Yes, I am not redundant. I have my uses. Fuck my mother's honour. They didn't really give a shit about that. When they realised I had talent at a young age as a trapeze artist, Frank was hell-bent on keeping me there. Once I was disfigured, he couldn't wait to be rid of me. It took some quick-thinking on my part to land myself a new job. Something perfect and, as it turned out, very profitable. Once I'd caught up with them after they left me behind, I went to Frank with a plan. He never tried to abandon me again.

Adult entertainment. Live flesh. Leave the animals for the children. What I suggested, in a different tent, was women. Naked women. Stripping women. Dancing women. But not your regular hour-glass glossy-magazine ladies. Here would be something different for an audience with a more refined taste. Here we should have the painted ladies, the twins, the obese, the bearded, the dwarves… the crippled. It was an immediate success.