Victoria Manifold was selected as one of the two runners-up of the 2019 Berlin Writing Prize with her entry ‘Camel’, excerpted here in the run-up to the launch of the 2019 Berlin Writing Prize Anthology, The Circus, forthcoming from The Reader Berlin in partnership with KLAK Verlag in 2020.
by Victoria Manifold
We spent those days long hot and bright wading through the tall grass out the back of the house. Swimming through it as if it were an ocean and we were happily adrift. Or we edged around the verdant slime lining the pathetic trickle of the beck and followed the line of it right up to the new estate and back again. Or else we were just so bored and hot we’d lie listless on the settee dangling our arms and legs all over, kicking at the armchairs and not caring about the muck we were wiping from our dirty bare feet on to the faded brocade. The baby would piss on the floor and laugh his head off and we – Sharon and me – well, we would laugh too even though the carpet had started to stink so sharp and fetid and we didn’t know how to clean it without mammy and da to help us.
The whole house was stinking and tumbling down and the days were becoming longer and hotter. The back field and the beck, the settee and the carpet had all started to bore us and so it was with a bubbling in our guts like excitement that we went down to the green and watched them haul up the big marquee. Ropes and poles and a mass of tarpaulin striped red and white. Sharon said, “I’ll find some money and we can go.” But I knew we wouldn’t. Or else we would but we’d have to sneak in somehow and watch with our hearts in our mouths, not really enjoying it, only feeling that fear of getting caught bashing against our ribs. Booming booming louder and deeper into the caverns of our little bodies.
But it wasn’t as we had imagined, down there on the green right in the middle of summer, with the circus in town and the sun astounding us all. The clowns were without their makeup but wearing their oversized collars and voluminous satin trousers still, smoking their hand rolled cigarettes and chewing at their fingernails. The diminutive ringmaster was running elegant scams of the sort that would’ve swindled our da, had he been there, out of all of his money. Acrobats half-heartedly stretched their legs against fence posts, hoping the clowns might spare a pinch of tobacco for them. And in the slim strip of shade a weary menagerie of lumpen, exotic animals pulled against the ropes that were tied to stakes dug into the heat hardened grass.
The full story is featured in the 2019 Berlin Writing Prize Anthology, The Circus, forthcoming from The Reader Berling and KLAK Verlag in 2020.
Victoria Manifold is a writer from County Durham. Her short fiction has been published by The White Review, Hotel, the Lifted Brow, Synchronise Witches Press and Splice, among others. She was shortlisted for The White Review Short Story Prize in 2016 and 2018. With Hannah Jacobs she won the inaugural BBC Anim8 prize (2016) for their cartoon Mystery Soup.