The Paris Juggler
The juggler was sweating as he attempted to entertain a crowd that had gathered around him in a Paris park. Attempted. He wasn’t doing a good job. Between the sweat and the weary look in his eyes, he obviously wasn’t well. Pricilla watched him, along with the others, a lump of sympathy in her throat. Being a former modern dancer, she was fascinated by anything as physical as juggling. The pins flung up into the air and the coordination needed to catch each pin as it rotated then toppled downward. Three pins. Four pins! What an eye, what a sense of timing a person needed to keep the props from plopping to the ground. Yesterday, the juggler was throwing and catching just fine. Today, he kept dropping pins, losing track of them. The pins, looking like miniature bowling object, were getting dusty.
The juggler stood in one of the narrow park lanes, in front of a tree stump. A woman in the crowd, a local, told Pricilla that the tree had become diseased, requiring it to be chopped down by “the City” a week ago. Pricilla smelled her faint, pleasant perfume. She noticed the tree (Pricilla wasn’t sure what kind of tree it was) was already sprouting newish branches, trying to make a comeback. Others in the crowd leaned in to hear what the lady was saying to Pricilla. Soon, people in the crowd were striking up conversations, telling one another their names and where they were from. Pricilla had just one more day in Paris before heading home to Toronto, she told the crowd. The teenager standing next to her said she lived in Seattle but was born in Alaska.
“I’m a real Alaskan Native,” she said while whipping her scarf around her neck. But soon the throng were exchanging looks and expressions and words expressing concern for the juggler.
“He looks like he has pneumonia,” the local woman said, a smile showing her pride in her proficient English.
“There’s an outbreak of the flu. Maybe he has that,” Pricilla said.
The juggler stared at Pricilla. His dark eyes. His dark, angry eyes is all Pricilla could think. Some men glared at her like that when they were attracted to her, as if romantic feelings engender rage. But then the thought occurred to Pricilla that illness, also, can generate rage.
He tossed a pin into the air. It made a swoosh sound that resembled the noise Pricilla heard in her inner ear when she rapidly scratched her scalp. Before he could catch it, the pin crashed to the ground; the juggler spat out syllables in French Pricilla supposed were curse words. Sweat continued to gleam on his forehead. Now, his nose was dripping.
“You’ve had enough of this for today. Go home,” Pricilla said to him. She didn’t want to be laughed at by saying this in her stammering. halting French. Also, she assumed he knew English because he was young and hadn’t seemed fazed by the English conversations going on around him.
“An ice cream shop is just around the corner,” the Alaskan Native woman said. “Maybe he could go there and sit--rest a while.”
Surprising the crowd, he let out a growl. Pricilla assumed it was a grown of frustration. He gathered his four pins. Pitched them all into the air. Started to juggle them expertly. The sweat disappeared from his face. The dribble from his nose instantly dried up. He smiled as he continued and continued to master the pins’ rotations. He had concocted his own invisible medicine--for himself and the crowd.
Austin Alexis is the author of Privacy Issues (Broadside Lotus Press, Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award) and two chapbooks from Poets Wear Prada. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Barrow Street, Paterson Literary Review and other journals. He has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Vermont Studio Center.
"The Paris Juggler" was inspired by my trip to Paris several years ago as well as by the Covid Pandemic. I wanted to write about the crisis without directly referring to it.