As she sat up in her bed, the room around her began to transform. The solid oak door grew translucent, and soft light of every imaginable color danced on the surface. The chirp of accordions and the whistle of a calliope beckoned to her from beyond the walls. A well of childlike glee overtook her and gave her a burst of energy. She no longer felt so exhausted.
Like a flash, she was out of bed and bounding to the door. Her age and inhibitions were no match for this new excitement. She threw the door wide, and the scene unfurled before her, a broad, dusty road stretching straight ahead and lined with novelty games and popcorn vendors. The night had just begun, and everything was cast with either a garish mix of hues or a dim yellow from a distant lamp. A cool breeze made the warm light all the more inviting. Looking down, she found the only missing piece. "Come on, momma! We're going to miss the show!"
With pent up eagerness, she took her daughter's outstretched hand and stepped into the night. Her daughter smiled and led her through the crowd. She was distracted by all of the wonderful sights and sounds, but her daughter was on an important mission and couldn't be bothered by those things right now. Directly in front of them, beyond the man on stilts and the woman breathing fire, a massive circus tent swallowed the end of the road. The glow from inside mocked the weakness of the other lights, and her daughter pulled toward it like a moth. The mother closed her eyes and let the cheery sound of music and the wafting smell of pastries wash over her. She squeezed tightly and let her daughter guide her to the tent.
She slowed as bright light seeped in through her eyelids. "Momma! Momma! Can we sit close?"
The mother opened her eyes and found her young one looking up at her with excitement and concern. "Of course we can." She knelt low beside her and motioned with her thumb. Without a thought, her daughter climbed up her back and took a seat on her shoulders. She stood and ferried her precious cargo between the towering rows of benches. A lion roared from the other side of the tent, and trapeze artists were stretching on high platforms. A piano provided background music while chatter flowed among the seated guests.
Picking her way to the front, guided by tall red pillars at the center of the arena and ever mindful of keeping her daughter aloft, she found an inviting gap on the first bench. She sat and bent to allow safe egress for the passenger who took her seat quite quickly. The pair sat in silence with anticipation. Finally, the piano finished its tune, and the ringmaster took his position behind the microphone.
"Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight, you will be amazed! Tonight, you will be astonished! In store for you all is a wonder to behold. A journey! Tonight, you will find yourself transported to a world of magic and beauty. A world of danger and excitement! But do not fear, for it is my sworn duty to guide you safely through this place of mystery. And with that, let us be off!"
At his final word, flames spewed noisily from the tops of the great red pillars. Her daughter bounced giddily. Spying this reaction, the mother let the theatrics blur into the background. This joy was the real wonder.
Eventually, after much commotion from the arena, her daughter's enthusiasm became less boisterous. She scooted closer and let the weariness pull her head against her mother's shoulder. The mother took her into her arm and pulled her tight. Nodding to sleep, only the ringmaster's booming voice could temporarily wake her, but by the end of the show, even that was not enough to cause a stir. The dramatic ending was missed but not in despair. It was missed in perfect happiness.
The mother, back in her bedroom with her daughter sleeping at her side, gently shut the photo album. Her daughter roused peacefully and looked up to her. She looked back with bleary eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's okay, momma. I was just dreaming about the circus."
The mother sighed with a raspy breath. "That's funny. So was I."
"When are you going to feel better? I want to go again," whispered her daughter.
"I would like that," said the mother. And she began to cry.