The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff Read Online (FREE)
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They will be looking for me by now.
I pause on the granite steps of the museum, reaching for the railing to steady myself. Pain, sharper than ever, creaks through my left hip, not perfectly healed from last year’s break. Across the Avenue Winston Churchill, behind the glass dome of the Grand Palais, the March sky is rosy at dusk.
I peer around the edge of the arched entranceway of the Petit Palais. From the massive stone columns hangs a red banner two stories high: Deux Cents ans de Magie du Cirque—Two Hundred Years of Circus Magic. It is festooned with elephants, a tiger and a clown, their colors so much brighter in my memories.
I should have told someone I was going. They would have only tried to stop me, though. My escape, months in the planning since I’d read about the upcoming exhibit in the Times, had been well orchestrated: I had bribed an aide at the nursing home to take the photo I needed to mail to the passport office, paid for the plane ticket in cash. I’d almost been caught when the taxicab I’d called pulled up in front of the home in the predawn darkness and honked loudly. But the guard at the desk remained asleep.
Summoning my strength now, I begin to climb again, taking each painful step one by one. Inside the lobby, the opening gala is already in full swing, clusters of men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns mingling beneath the elaborately painted dome ceiling. Conversations in French bubble around me like a long-forgotten perfume I am desperate to inhale. Familiar words trickle back, first in a stream then a river, though I’ve scarcely heard them in half a century.
I do not stop at the reception desk to check in; they are not expecting me. Instead, dodging the butlered hors d’oeuvres and champagne, I make my way along the mosaic floors, past walls of murals to the circus exhibit, its entrance marked by a smaller version of the banner outside. There are photos blown up and hung from the ceiling by wire too fine to see, images of a sword swallower and dancing horses and still more clowns. From the labels below each picture, the names come back to me like a song: Lorch, D’Augny, Neuhoff—great European circus dynasties felled by war and time. At the last of these names, my eyes begin to burn.
Beyond the photos hangs a tall, worn placard of a woman suspended from silk ropes by her arms, one leg extended behind her in a midair arabesque. Her youthful face and body are barely recognizable to me. In my mind, the song of the carousel begins to play tinny and faint like a music box. I feel the searing heat of the lights, so hot it could almost peel off my skin. A flying trapeze hangs above the exhibit, fixed as if in midflight. Even now, my almost ninety-year-old legs ache with yearning to climb up there.