Jacob, Grady, and the fry cook sit in the grease joint; Grady and Jacob are eating burgers while the main circus shows are performed under the tents and the big top. Jacob knows the circus show routine by heart: at that moment, the performers in the Grand Spectacle would be exiting, and Lottie the aerialist would be starting her performance in the center ring. In the noise and bustle, Jacob cannot hear Grady talking to him and has to lean in to hear Grady say that it seems that Jacob now has a lot to lose. Then the men hear applause from the big top, and the band changes tune. Jacob knows this is the cue for the elephant act, and he thinks of Marlena either already sitting on Rosie the elephant or preparing to mount. Jacob wants to go see her act, but Grady tells him to eat while he can. Suddenly much noise comes from the area of the menagerie, the tent in which the animals are kept, and the band plays off key. Confused, Jacob asks Grady what it all means. Grady tells him this is the “Disaster March,” the tune the band is instructed to play if and when a catastrophe occurs: the animals have been let loose.
The tents become utter chaos as workmen and performers flee the scene. Grady screams to Jacob to run, but he cannot leave Marlena behind and instead runs toward the madness of the menagerie. When he gets there, he sees that the concession stand has been flattened, and animals of all types are loose on top. Chimps swing from ropes to stay away from the dangerous cats, a zebra barely misses the swipe of a hungry lion, and a yak gallops through with a hyena clinging to its back. A lithe, black panther slips through the tunnel between the tents; moments later, the people who are there to watch the show scream and run from the big top. Jacob wonders how hard it can really be to find a girl and an elephant.
Jacob finally finds Marlena—she is standing on the other side of the tent. A man is standing in front of her, flapping his arms and swinging his cane. His hat is on the ground next to him. “She” picks up an iron stake, and “she” looks at the back of the man’s head. Jacob knows what is coming next, but he cannot stop her. “She” splits the man’s head open, and he falls into the straw. Jacob cannot move.
This image has haunted Jacob for all his days. He does not talk much to anyone about his time spent in the circus. He has promised to keep a secret. For seventy years, he has never told...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
Jacob Jankowski is now ninety or ninety-three—he cannot really remember. He forgets things sometimes. Jacob is a resident at a senior citizens’ housing facility, and he is one of few men in residence; most of the residents are old ladies. But they are much younger than Jacob is, and they are in better physical condition; in his old age, Jacob is finding it more and more difficult to get around. He uses a walker for support because his feet drag beneath him as he shuffles about. But this does not bother the ladies, who chase after Jacob and ask him if he will be going to see the circus that has just arrived in town. Jacob cannot believe the circus is so near, and his heart thumps to hear of it.
The nurses help the residents to the dinner table, and Jacob sarcastically asks what is on the menu for the evening. He hates the bland taste and soft texture of the food at the center, and he longs for food into which he can sink his teeth. Everyone at the table is chattering about the circus. The nurses have placed a newcomer, Joseph McGuinty, across the table from Jacob. He does not know what he is supposed to talk to McGuinty about—Jacob was a veterinarian and McGuinty was a lawyer. So Jacob decides to ignore McGuinty while the ladies continue to talk about their childhood memories of the circus. Then McGuinty pipes in and says that he used to work for the circus by carrying water for the elephants. This statement sends Jacob into a fury, and he screams at McGuinty and calls him a liar. McGuinty takes offense, but Jacob cannot be controlled. He says, “Do you have any idea how much an elephant drinks?” Rosemary, one of the nurses, quickly wheels Jacob out of the room against his protests; she takes him back to his bedroom.
Rosemary promises to come to check on him later, and she actually keeps her word. She brings Jacob a bowl of real fruit, and Jacob savors every bite. While he eats, Jacob looks at his own frail hand, and he thinks “age is a terrible thief.” He is lonely and misses his wife, who died from cancer. After his wife died, Jacob felt like he was split down the middle. Even still, he is happy that he is the survivor—he does not think his wife could have handled being left alone for the rest of her days. Jacob is tormented by the ghosts of his past.
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Jacob flashes back to his life at twenty-three years of age. He is in a lecture hall at Cornell University and is sitting next to Catherine Hale. He has serious romantic feelings for Catherine, but she will not let him advance with her. Jacob laments the fact that he will graduate from veterinary school and join his father’s practice in Norwich still a virgin. Suddenly Dean Wilkins arrives in the lecture hall and has a private conversation with Professor McGovern. The dean then pulls Jacob out of the classroom and tells him that his parents have been involved in an automobile accident. Jacob wants the dean to give him the truth, and the dean tells him that both his parents died on impact.
Jacob returns home to identify the bodies. He is shocked by the wounds and bruises on his parents’ skin. He vomits in the room, and the chaplain asks him if there is anyone he can call. All Jacob’s family lives in Poland; in his grief, Jacob cannot think of any family friends to contact. Jacob goes back to his parents’ house and sees that his father has put up a new sign outside the veterinary practice: “E. Jankowski and Son—Doctors of Veterinary Medicine.” He looks around at all his parents’ belongings and considers the sudden nature of their death. Soon after, the ladies from the church auxiliary come to the house to care for Jacob. He is offered a room with a neighbor.
Two days after Jacob’s parents’ funeral, he is called to see a lawyer about his parents’ estate. Having seen the new sign, Jacob knows that his father was preparing to have him join his business. However, the lawyer informs Jacob that his father had not been taking monetary payment for his services. Times are hard economically, so Dr. Jankowski had been accepting barter payments. As a result, the bank now owns all their property and belongings. Jacob realizes that his parents had to take out a mortgage on their home to pay for his schooling. He does not know what to do.
Jacob returns to Cornell to attempt to sit his final exam. His friends pull together to help him study, but he cannot concentrate. He blanks during his exam and turns in an unfinished paper. Jacob flees the examination room and the college campus. He runs toward the railroad tracks and then follows them out of town. He runs so far and for so long that his feet blister.
Soon he hears a train whistle blow in the distance. He does not know where the train is...
(The entire section is 544 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Jacob wakes as the train comes to a stop. Camel tells Jacob they must get moving before someone sees Jacob and that he will ask Crazy Joe, who is in charge of the horses, if there is work to be done. Meanwhile, the workmen begin to nail posts around the area to lay the lot. Camel gets in touch with Crazy Joe, and Joe agrees to let Jacob help shovel manure from the railcar. As they work, tents are put up quickly. Soon, a blue and orange flag is hoisted over the cookhouse to indicate lunch. Jacob is amazed at the large spread of food—he has not eaten in two days. After filling his plate, Jacob wants to sit at one of the nicely decorated tables; however, Camel tells him that those tables are not for his kind. They go to a set of plain tables and eat with the other workmen—the tables out front are reserved for the performers, whom Camel calls kinkers.
The men have little time to eat. The workers are struggling to put up the sideshow banners when a flock of people arrive, ready for the circus to begin. Another workman named Wade asks Jacob if he wants to see the menagerie—the tent in which all the animals are kept. The two walk over and peer inside. There is a large concession stand in the middle; all around are brightly painted and gilded animal cages containing lions, tigers, panthers, bears, and monkeys. While looking at the animals, Jacob suddenly sees a beautiful woman who reminds him of Catherine. She is standing in front of a row of horses, and she is wearing a pink sequined costume.
Jacob’s thoughts are interrupted by an announcement stating that the big show will start in twenty-five minutes. Before the show, the circus workers try to persuade the customers to visit the sideshows such as the fat lady and the human ostrich. Then a men’s-only sideshow is announced, and many men in the crowd leave their wives behind and pay a quarter to see the show. The women are taken to a more decent sideshow. One of the customers is unhappy with the sideshow and yells into the crowd that he wasted his money. He is quickly thrown out of the circus by two of the workers.
Cecil calls for Jacob and puts him in charge of the “cooch tent”—Jacob is to smack the sides of the tent to keep away men who are trying to peep at the show for free. Inside, the performer, Barbara, does an erotic dance while stripping away her clothing. The men watching are fully aroused, and Jacob cannot help but look. When the show...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
For the next forty-five minutes, Jacob guards Barbara’s door as she privately entertains men. When she is done, she comes outside and waves Jacob away, telling him that she is not giving any “freebies” tonight. Jacob returns to the cooch tent to help stack the chairs. Jacob looks over at the big top, but he does not want to risk getting snatched up for another job while trying to see the show.
He sits on the ground, and Camel comes up to him. They share a bottle of jake, and Camel says that he is getting too old to work for the circus. He has already moved down the ranks and is now just a ticket seller, but even this is too difficult now for Camel. The performers begin to change out of their costumes, and Jacob thinks they look glamorous even in plain clothes. Camel asks Jacob’s age and whether he is a college boy; he says that he has a son the same age. The music in the big top dies, and people begin to exit the tent. The workers are so fast they begin to dismantle the big top even before everyone has left. Camel then tells Jacob that life in a traveling circus is no kind of life for someone like Jacob, and he tells Jacob to go back home. But Jacob feels like he has no life back home.
As the people filter out of the circus exclaiming about the wonders they have seen, the ringmaster, Uncle Al—Alan Bunkel—parades through the crowd. Camel warns Jacob to never talk about Ringling Brothers in front of Uncle Al. Camel runs up to Uncle Al to try to put in a word for Jacob, but Uncle Al is swept up in the crowd. Later, Camel makes an agreement with Earl, who will now look after Jacob.
Earl sets Jacob up in a railcar, sharing a bunk with another man. Some of the men pray in Polish, and the train begins to move. Later in the evening, Earl comes to get Jacob and takes him to see Uncle Al, who by this point has had enough to drink to loosen him up but not enough to make him mean. Earl feigns roughness and drags Jacob into Uncle Al’s office. He tells Uncle Al that Jacob jumped the train and asks what he wants to do with him. Jacob admits he has never worked on a circus, then he lies and says that the Ringling Brothers circus is terrible. When asked what he likes about the Benzini Brothers show, Jacob says he likes the girl in the pink sequins. Uncle Al quips to the man sitting next to him, August, who is in charge of the menagerie. Jacob then says he will do anything for the circus but that he would like to...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
The story returns to the present, and Jacob reckons that he has fallen asleep. He wipes his tears and tries to pull himself together because the nurse in pink is back to see him. Jacob cannot get a handle on what day it is or what the nurse’s name is. She greets him and tells him he should be happy because he has lived to see another day and because he is going to the circus tomorrow. The nurse then begins her daily routine of checking Jacob. She sticks a thermometer in his ear, and Jacob feels like a piece of meat. He is resentful of this treatment. He tells her he does not want breakfast. As she continues her routine, Jacob catches sight of her nametag—Rosemary. Jacob is proud he can keep up the appearance of lucidity. Rosemary says that Jacob is “as strong as a horse” and claims that if he keeps up his health, he will live another ten years. Jacob is not thrilled at the prospect.
Rosemary parks Jacob in the hallway, and he asks to face the window so he can see what is going on in the park. Jacob thinks briefly about what it had been like working in the circus during bad weather, but he acknowledges that times have changed and that the equipment now is just not the same. Soon after lunch, Jacob sees the first resident being wheeled up the street by relatives toward the circus. Ten minutes later, many others follow. He then sees McGuinty going with his family, and Jacob thinks McGuinty is likely telling phony elephant stories. Jacob can see a line of white Percherons behind the big top, and he wonders what kind of acts will be used in the show. He thinks about Marlena’s act—there is nothing like it.
At five o’clock, a nurse comes to get Jacob for dinner. She tries to take him to his usual spot, but Jacob throws a tantrum and insists on sitting at a table by himself. He tries to block out the conversation of the other residents, but he cannot manage to do it. He is angry that McGuinty is at the main table surrounded by all the ladies. Finally, Jacob has had enough and calls for the nurse. He wants real food and tells the nurse he refuses to eat the nursery-style food on his plate. She tries to convince him that the meals are prepared for the benefit of the residents, but Jacob will not be cooled. He insults the nurse and knocks his plate to the floor.
His doctor, Dr. Rashid, is called, and she comes in to question Jacob. He overhears her tell the nurse that Jacob is suffering from severe...
(The entire section is 518 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Jacob again flashes back to his time in the circus, and he is on the circus train. The train finally comes to a stop, and Kinko rises. He is barely four feet tall. He pets his dog, Queenie, and asks her if she wants to go outside. Jacob tries to talk to Kinko, but Kinko ignores him and goes outside. When Jacob emerges from the train, he sees that many of the tents have already been erected and a crowd of spectators is already gathering to watch. Other circus workers come out of the train cars, and Jacob notices that the more elite members have better cars near the back of the train—Uncle Al’s train car is just in front of the caboose. Jacob and Kinko have the car nearest the engine. August emerges from the train and calls to Jacob. August introduces Jacob to Marlena, and Jacob is embarrassed by the filth that has accumulated on his person. Marlena thinks Jacob looks familiar, but she quickly abandons the thought and focuses on the horses. She wants Jacob to look over Silver Star, and she manages to coax the horse out of the train car. After checking the horse’s symptoms, Jacob announces that the horse is foundering and orders that the horse receive different feed and rest off its feet.
Suddenly, Uncle Al gives orders that everything is to be packed up—the train is leaving for Joliet. All are confused because the train has just arrived. There is a rumor that Uncle Al, the vulture that he is, has heard about the collapse of the Fox Brothers Circus and hopes to take on one of its former employees—the famous Charles Mansfield-Livingston, who has a parasitic twin attached to his chest. Uncle Al loves people whom he considers freaks. All are angry at his hasty decision to abandon the site.
The workers pack many provisions onto the train, and Jacob seeks to refresh himself. August sees Jacob cleaning himself with water from the horses, so he offers Jacob water in the bathhouse. He also sends him a fresh shirt. When Jacob returns to his bunk, he sees a pile of Kinko’s books and ruffles through them. Kinko catches him in the act, and soon he also realizes that Jacob has used his water in the bathhouse. Jacob claims that August told him to do it, but Kinko remains angry.
When the train next stops, all dismount to care for the animals. Jacob reminds August that Silver Star should not be removed from the car. August then asks Jacob to help him feed the cats. He orders Jacob to open the cage door and toss in...
(The entire section is 560 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
August and Marlena have requested Jacob to go to car number 48; because the cars are not numbered in order, it takes Jacob some time to find the right one. Once there, Jacob realizes that the room is glorious with many amenities. Marlena gets Jacob a beer, and he asks how there happens to be so much alcohol on the train with Prohibition and all. She says that the train goes to Canada at the beginning of the season to load up, and the stash is hidden with the camels when passing through Customs. Marlena apologizes for what August did to Jacob’s arm, and August comes out and shows Jacob that he has arranged for him to have a tuxedo for the evening. The three get changed, and dinner is served. There are many delicacies that Jacob does not think he will finish. Afterward, August tells Jacob about how he wooed Marlena and convinced her to marry him. Then August puts on music, and he and Marlena dance while Jacob watches from an armchair in a drunken stupor. August then stares hard at Marlena, and Jacob becomes concerned. August grabs Marlena by the chin, kisses her, and then collapses on the bed. Jacob questions Marlena about August’s behavior. Marlena says that August can be very charming and then suddenly act quite the opposite, just like he was during the incident with Rex the lion. She points out that Jacob is Polish and August is Jewish and that often Poles do not like Jews, but Jacob assures her this is not the way he thinks. Marlena says that the best thing to do is forget it ever happened. Jacob falls asleep in the chair.
The next morning, Jacob leaves car number 48 still in the tuxedo, and many of the performers and workers stare questioningly at him. He gets back to the ring stock car. Upon entering, he sees Kinko masturbating on his bed. Kinko is furious and hurls objects at Jacob to get him to leave. Jacob goes to help Otis feed the animals, but all the meat on board for the animals has rotted, and the workmen must sluice the cars to get rid of the smell. Jacob then checks on Silver Star; Marlena is already on her knees next to the horse. Jacob confirms that the horse will not survive, and Marlena asks that Jacob help him go quickly. Jacob goes to August to get a rifle to put the horse down, and August reminds Jacob that Uncle Al will “redlight” him (kick him off the train) if he cannot make the horse well. Jacob says there is nothing he can do but end its suffering. Jacob shoots the horse, and the workers drag the body...
(The entire section is 545 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
At the nursing home, Rosemary the nurse wakes Jacob. She says he has been dreaming and muttering something about stars and cats. As she takes off the Velcro wrist restraints, she asks if he tried to run off the previous day. Jacob admits that his plate slid off the table, and Rosemary laughs saying that Jacob is a “live one.” Rosemary opens the blinds, and Jacob gets upset that he is never asked what he wants in his own room. Rosemary drops the blinds and marches out of the room. Then she opens the door just a little and asks if she may come in the room. Jacob is not sure whether she is playing a game with him, but he tells her to come inside. She asks if she can open the blinds to let in the sunshine, and Jacob tells her to do it and to stop the nonsense. But Rosemary says that it is not nonsense and that Jacob has opened her eyes to the wants and needs of the residents. Jacob is still not sure if she is being serious or making fun of him. Rosemary asks if Jacob would like to take breakfast in his bedroom or in the dining room. Jacob says that he will take breakfast in his bedroom. She then asks when Jacob wants to take his shower, and Jacob is not sure that he even wants a shower. But Rosemary reminds him that his family will visit today and take him to the circus. Jacob does not want help taking a shower, but he knows that it is standard practice at the nursing home. He is embarrassed by having to take off his clothes in front of a nurse; he is even more embarrassed by the possibility of having an erection during the shower. So Jacob is coarse with Rosemary as she helps him into the shower, but Rosemary takes it in stride and tells him that she will be just outside. Jacob enjoys the feel of the water on his old body.
Jacob sometimes thinks about the feel of a woman’s body, and then he misses his wife. He knows that if she were still alive, they would be able to take care of each other. Since she is gone, Jacob’s children have assumed all responsibility for him, and when he fell and broke his hip, they were set on putting him in a nursing home. They control all his money, and Jacob is helpless in the matter. Jacob initially felt betrayed by the fact that none of his children offered for him to come to live with them, but now he realizes they have a host of problems of their own. He knows about some of them, but the children do not talk much around him in an effort to protect him from their troubles. But they still come to...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Back on the circus train, Jacob wakes when the train reaches Joliet. Kinko and Queenie jump out of the car, and Jacob soon follows. The scene is quiet; it is unusual that the tents are not being put up and nothing is happening. Instead, the men are staring at the tents of another circus. Uncle Al goes up to two men wearing suits who have just arrived in their roadster. August appears and tells Jacob that they are going into town to have breakfast because there likely will not be any food on site until the next day. August, Jacob, and Marlena go to a diner, but Marlena only orders coffee. She is still angry that August used Silver Star as feed. She storms out.
When Jacob and August return to the site, a few Benzini Brothers tents have been erected: the menagerie, the stable, and the cookhouse. The former employees of the Fox Brothers circus are lined up, hoping to be taken on by Uncle Al. But many emerge looking hopeless and defeated. Jacob looks around for the “famous freak,” but he is nowhere to be seen. After Uncle Al makes his decisions, the workers take down the all the Fox Brothers tents except their stable and menagerie. Uncle Al then orders that the Fox Brothers horses be claimed because the officials have not yet itemized the Fox Brothers inventory.
Trucks carrying food and provisions soon arrive, and the cookhouse crew gets to work preparing the meal. The workmen feed the animals in the menagerie, and the animals happily snort, grunt, and pace in anticipation of eating. Jacob feeds the orangutan; she puts out her hand to thank Jacob. When Jacob is done, he asks August if the animals in the Fox Brothers tents have been fed and watered. August says that they will be fed and watered...eventually. Jacob argues that it is quite hot outside, and he thinks the animals are suffering. August says Uncle Al needs to get the best price for the animals and that they are not to be cared for yet. When the blue and orange flag goes up over the cookhouse, everyone, including the new employees, goes to eat. A hungry man from outside the perimeter of the circus calls to Marlena and asks her for food. August tells her to ignore the man, but she cannot, and she gives the man a sandwich. Jacob feels like he cannot eat his dinner and walks past the stable tent. Kinko’s dog Queenie has “the trots,” and Jacob prescribes honey to fix the problem.
Jacob still feels restless about the animals, so he goes to the...
(The entire section is 559 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
August rushes off to argue with Uncle Al about the elephant. Rosie grabs hay from Jacob’s fingers, and Marlena laughs. Rosie smiles. When Jacob turns back, he suddenly ends up waltzing with Marlena. She pulls away, and Jacob wants to kiss her—he does not know what to do. August returns and is angry that Uncle Al has paid so much money for the elephant and her trailer car. He also reveals that Uncle Al has taken on more performers without any room to accommodate them in the performers’ cars on the train.
Jacob returns to the ring stock car and sees that everyone is drinking the night away. Inside, Kinko has a party going, and he is full of drunken hospitality. He offers Jacob a drink and introduces him to the others as a friend. Jacob tries to settle into the straw previously occupied by the horse Silver Star, and Kinko’s dog Queenie scuttles further under the straw to hide from the festivities. Before long, Jacob is feeling intoxicated.
He remembers little of what happened that night. He does remember that at one point his eyes open to the sight of Barbara’s cleavage. She is there with another woman, Nell, and the two claim that Jacob is just so cute. They figure out that Jacob is still a virgin and decide to seduce him. Barbara takes Jacob’s hand and guides it over her body; she then engages in sexual acts with him. But Jacob cannot handle the excitement, and he vomits all over Nell. The next thing he knows, Kinko is releasing him from a trunk in Clown Alley. To pay Jacob back for catching him masturbating, Kinko has dressed Jacob like a clown and has shaved his pubic area. Jacob is embarrassed, and Kinko reminds him to buy flowers for Barbara since she is a friend.
Later, August tries to use the bull hook to move Rosie from the menagerie. August tells Jacob to try, but he cannot bring himself to poke and prod the animal. Rosie returns his kindness with gentle swooshes of her trunk. August returns and tells Jacob to find Marlena and make sure she does not go behind the menagerie, where he has ordered Pete to slaughter horses to feed to the big cats. When he finds Marlena, she is upset at the way August treats Rosie. August manages to prod Rosie across the grounds, and when she sees her trailer car, she runs to it for comfort.
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
The circus is on its way to Chicago; during the ride, Kinko teaches Queenie to walk on her hind legs. Jacob wakes from a fitful night of dreams, and then he remembers all that happened the previous day. Kinko sits up on his cot and asks Jacob what his story is. Jacob says that he comes from nowhere. He sulks as he recalls his drunken behavior, but Kinko tells him that he should not be embarrassed by anything. Kinko offers Jacob a book to read, which Jacob appreciates; Kinko then says he can call him Walter like all his friends do.
As the train approaches Chicago, Jacob is bothered by the harsh smells of the city. After the tents are set up, Jacob seeks the comfort of the animals in the menagerie. Jacob knows that he is the only person standing between the safety of the animals and the business practices of Uncle Al and August. Jacob hugs Bobo, one of the chimps. Otis comes to get Jacob to look at one of the giraffes, who appears to have a cold. Jacob swabs her nostrils and swaddles her throat in flannel. Jacob then says he must leave, and he goes to the Catholic church in town. Once there, he cannot bring himself to face confession. On his way out, he sees Marlena in one of the pews.
When Jacob returns to the circus grounds, Rosie is in the menagerie. August is there, and he apologizes to Jacob for his harsh behavior. August wants to take Marlena and Jacob out to a club to make amends, so the three get dressed and take a taxi into the city. Inside, August orders drinks, which Jacob accepts even though he is still feeling ill from the previous evening. Marlena wants to dance, first with August and then with Jacob. On the dance floor, Jacob is entranced by Marlena, and he gets dirty looks from August. Suddenly, the police barge into the club to do a raid, and people run in all directions. Jacob and Marlena manage to get out together but August is nowhere to be seen. The two run through the streets and stop under a fire escape. Jacob kisses Marlena, and she softens before jerking away. Jacob apologizes, but she stares at him with her hand pressed to her mouth. She runs off down the alley. Jacob makes his way back to the circus grounds, passing a hobo village on the way. Back in the ring stock car, Jacob lies awake until morning, regretting his foolish behavior.
Walter wakes him in the afternoon, and the two go to eat. Jacob wants to eat at Walter’s table instead of with August and Marlena, who are clearly...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Jacob flees to the menagerie to care for the animals. Clive shows up among the men working in the menagerie and tells everyone to stay clear of August, who is in a terrible mood because Uncle Al wants August to put Rosie the elephant in the show’s parade. Otis claims that the elephant will refuse to walk in the parade given her stubborn behavior up to this point. Later, August and Uncle Al show up. Jacob watches from a distance and sees them attempt to line Rosie up in the parade. Afterward, Rosie is put into the hippopotamus wagon and taken into town. The parade returns with a large crowd. In the menagerie, Rosie draws the attention of many spectators. She uses her trunk to entertain the crowd, and Jacob realizes that Rosie is not at all stupid. Uncle Al pulls August aside and tells him that now he wants Rosie in a full act under the big top.
Marlena is called to mount the elephant, and all the performers get ready to make their appearances. August yells into Rosie’s ear, and the elephant runs through the back end of the big top; Marlena lays flat to avoid being clipped by the poles holding up the tent. Once inside, Marlena stands on Rosie’s head and entertains the crowd, and August catches up to them and manages to prod Rosie into circling the ring. At the end of the performance, Rosie runs out of the ring, and Marlena grabs the tent pole to avoid being knocked to the ground. Left swinging, she dismounts, tucking her body in the air, and lands to applause and a shower of coins. But she is hurt and limps from the big top. Jacob rushes to her, and she collapses into him. August and Jacob take Marlena to Barbara’s tent so she can lie down. Marlena’s feet are hurt, and Jacob rushes to get ice from the cookhouse.
Meanwhile, Rosie has escaped the tents and is in a neighbor’s yard, eating cabbage. Jacob and a group of workers are sent to get her, and a worker named Greg finally lures her with a bucket of gin and ginger ale. With Rosie back in the menagerie, Jacob returns to Barbara’s tent, but Marlena has already been moved to her car to wait for the doctor. Outside, Jacob meets August, who claims that he is going to teach Rosie a lesson. Jacob is upset and goes back to his car. Walter says August will likely take out his rage on the elephant. Jacob hates August. Walter goes out and returns to relay the news that Marlena is suffering from bruised heels and will be out of the show for a couple weeks. Walter knows...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
In the nursing home, Jacob is awakened by the sound of a tray of food being dropped by a skinny nurse. He does not like her because she routinely tries to keep him from walking on his own. He is parked in his wheelchair in the hallway outside his room, and he attempts to get up using his walker. The nurse rushes over to him. She offers to wheel him over to the window; Jacob allows her to help. The nurse looks stunned by Jacob’s compliance and comments that she is surprised because he is normally adamant about walking on his own. He says that he wants to look out the window. The nurse reminds him that normally it is just an empty lot and that it is only special lately because the circus is in town. Jacob says he should be able to go the window at any time to just look at the lot, and the nurse, to Jacob’s surprise, does not argue with him. She walks away. Jacob yells that he wants his walker, but she tells him that she will return for him when he is ready to leave. Jacob begins to have a fit, and Rosemary appears. Rosemary tells the other nurse to honor Jacob’s request, and the nurse appears outraged. Jacob does not even say thank you to Rosemary; instead, he turns to look out the window at the circus tents.
Jacob recalls that in his day, the tents were plain white, not striped like they are now. But some things never change, like the sale of cotton candy, popcorn, and balloons. Also, performers and workers are still on opposite ends of the spectrum. Rosemary returns and asks Jacob if he is ready for lunch; Jacob has not realized that he has passed the morning away looking out the window.
Rosemary attempts to take Jacob to his usual table, but he insists on sitting alone because he does not want to be near McGuinty. Jacob still claims that McGuinty is a liar. Rosemary reminds Jacob that to some elderly people, the truth is no longer apparent. Jacob is not used to the nurses treating him like a normal person. Rosemary asks him to do her the favor of sitting at his usual table. Jacob submits, and he hopes that Rosemary appreciates his good behavior. After lunch, Rosemary asks him if having company was better than sitting alone, and Jacob grudgingly agrees.
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
It has been nearly a week since Marlena’s accident, and she has not come out of her train car. August also no longer comes to meals, so Jacob eats alone. August does, however, continue his work duties, and he drags Rosie around on display with the bull hook snagged into the back of her front leg. Rosie entertains the crowds that visit the menagerie, but there are no plans for her to perform another act in the big top.
One evening, Earl comes to the ring stock car seeking Jacob’s assistance for Camel. The old man’s hands and feet have gone limp and floppy, and Earl says that Camel needs a doctor. Jacob reminds Earl that a veterinarian is not the same as a doctor, but Earl says that Uncle Al will not get a doctor for Camel because he is just a working man. Walter claims that Camel likely has “jake leg,” a type of paralysis caused by drinking a bad batch of jake, a ginger extract.
The next morning, the men line up to get their pay, and many are turned away empty-handed: Uncle Al is out of money from the purchase of Rosie. Being neither a working man nor a performer, Jacob wonders how he will be considered; when it is his turn in line, Jacob is not paid. No one complains openly for fear of being redlighted. At dinner, Jacob learns that several men were thrown from the train the previous night, and he rushes to see if Camel is still in his car. The other men have done a good job keeping Camel safe from Blackie, the train’s bouncer.
Without cash, Jacob decides to use his father’s pocket watch as barter to hire a doctor for Camel. He goes to August and Marlena’s car, and the doctor who is caring for her feet agrees to go with Jacob to see Camel. Although he appears quite disgusted at having to enter the working men’s car, the doctor does in fact diagnose Camel with Jamaica ginger paralysis and says there is no cure. Because Camel helped him when he first showed up on the train, Jacob decides to ask Walter if Camel can hide in their car. Walter wants to make a long-term plan, and they decide to try to contact Camel’s son to come for him. So they hide Camel behind some trunks in their room.
Marlena knocks on the door, and Jacob goes out to see her. She wants to talk about what happened in Chicago and admits that she keeps thinking about their kiss. Then she abruptly asks Jacob to leave, and although he does not want to go, he leaves.
(The entire section is 455 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Camel now hides behind the trunks on blankets set up by Walter and Jacob. Two days later, Camel’s paralysis worsens and his tremors have gotten so bad he can barely speak. Out of sympathy, Walter brings him a bottle of whiskey to ease his misery. A week passes, yet Marlena remains in her train car. Jacob is worried about her and feels compelled to peek in her window, but his good judgment compels him to do otherwise. As the train moves on to various cities, Walter manages to get Camel to tell him the name of his son and his last known address. At the next stop, Walter gets in touch with Camel’s son, who agrees to claim his father when they reach Providence.
Unexpectedly, the Lovely Lucinda, the circus’s fat lady, drops dead. Uncle Al organizes a farewell spectacle that is supposedly in honor of her death. Lucinda’s body is put into the hippopotamus car and is paraded around town by a team of black horses. Soon a large crowd of people follow the procession. Once back on the circus grounds, Uncle Al claims that Lucinda would want the show to continue. Jacob is in the menagerie during the show when Marlena comes into the tent. She rounds up the team of horses, and they follow her into the big top. Jacob has not yet seen Marlena’s act—he is usually busy attending the animals—but tonight, he cannot resist. The horses obey Marlena’s every command, and she in her pink sequined outfit is marvelous and graceful. During the act, Marlena calls for the lead horse, Midnight, and she commands him onto his hind legs for the length of the ring. He then bows on one knee, while the other horses pirouette. The crowd goes wild as they exit the ring. Jacob realizes that he is bursting with love for Marlena. That night in the ring stock car, Jacob goes in to see the horses, and he considers that they are extensions of Marlena. He now sees the horses in a new light.
The next morning, August and Marlena are at the breakfast table for the first time since her accident. Conversation between Jacob, August, and Marlena is stilted. When Jacob says that he enjoyed finally seeing Marlena’s show, August reminds Jacob that he once said he loved Marlena’s show. Jacob causes a scene, yelling that he lied and claiming that he has only seen the Ringling Brothers show, which was great. August breaks into laughter and says that he has misjudged Jacob.
Because Lucinda is now dead, Uncle Al embarks on a desperate search to find...
(The entire section is 633 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Jacob has been talking out loud without realizing it, and he mistakenly calls Rosemary the nurse “Rosie.” Rosemary reminds him of her proper name, and Jacob is embarrassed because he had not been aware that he was speaking to her. Rosemary says he has been talking to her since they left the lunchroom, but Jacob feels like he has been in the past. He asks if he said anything inappropriate, and Rosemary says he has not. Rosemary tells Jacob he should tell the other residents about the time he spent in the circus, but Jacob still does not want to talk about the circus. Rosemary realizes that Jacob is embarrassed, so she says she is honored to know him and that he is a good man. Jacob is flattered. He then tells Rosemary that he knows this is the beginning of the end for him and that he has been hoping to at least keep his brains throughout his aging. Rosemary says that Jacob is “as sharp as a tack,” yet she asks him if he would like her to speak to Dr. Rashid about his mental state. Jacob nods.
He decides to rest for a while. Jacob admits to himself that he has already noticed himself slipping. The previous week, when his family came to visit, he did not know who they were. He tried to fake it, but he ended up saying something that gave him away. When he looked at the face of “this Isabelle,” he saw a resemblance to his wife and realized that the woman was someone in his family. The others exchanged glances and left, saying that Grandpa needs his rest. Jacob says he knows his children—five in total—but he cannot keep track of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There are so many people in his family that he cannot remember all their names. He also thinks it does not help that they take turns coming to visit each week. Once he figures out who they are, they may not come back for months, and this confuses him. But now he cannot even remember what he said to Isabelle to make her upset. Lying in his bed, Jacob closes his eyes and tries to scan his mind, but he just sees a haze, and he says it is like a universe that just gets thinner and thinner.
(The entire section is 394 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
August is away, likely abusing Rosie. Meanwhile, Jacob and Marlena sit in her dressing tent while she tells him everything about her past. Marlena met August when she was seventeen years old; her parents had been routinely inviting bachelors to the house to woo their daughter. When a middle-aged banker began making repeat visits, Marlena realized that her parents had chosen this man to be her husband. In town, Marlena saw the Benzini Brothers posters, and she began to think that a life in the circus would be a romantic, although terrifying, escape. Two days later, her family went the circus, and Marlena met August while she was standing in front of the horses in the menagerie. August was “charming and relentless,” so Marlena agreed to marry him. Marlena starts to cry. Jacob tells her that he wants to see her again. Marlena reminds him that she is married, and Jacob kisses her on the forehead and leaves.
On his way from the tent, Jacob hears stories about how August has made Rosie pay for drinking the lemonade. He hit her with the bull hook over and over again until Earl dragged him out of the menagerie. Rosie was found lying on her side and shaking. When Jacob gets back to the ring stock car, he, Walter, and Camel all agree about their hatred for August. Walter leaves the car and returns with two bottles of whiskey; a friend owed him a favor, and Walter thinks that all three men can use a little forgetting. Walter gives one of the bottles to Jacob, and Jacob decides to use it to do some making up to Rosie even though Camel thinks Jacob is using it to get the attentions of a woman. Walter then passes the other bottle to Jacob and tells him to say sorry to Rosie on his behalf.
When Jacob gets to the menagerie, he sees Greg putting ointment on the elephant. While they chat, Jacob realizes that Rosie understands Greg, who is speaking Polish to her. Jacob then speaks to Rosie in Polish, and she understands each of his commands. With this new knowledge, Jacob begins training August in Polish, and they work on Rosie’s act. August’s mood becomes delightful, but Jacob still remembers what he is capable of doing.
In Meadville, August decides that Rosie should make her debut. Uncle Al is thrilled that now the circus will be saved from financial ruin. August is also happy, and he buys both Marlena and Jacob gifts: a diamond choker and a gold pocket watch, respectively. Marlena has a present for Rosie—a pink...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Marlena descends from Rosie’s head, and August says the pair was absolutely brilliant in the ring. He reminds Marlena that she must also perform with the horses. As he walks away, Marlena puts her hand on Jacob’s elbow before asking him for a favor—but she has not noticed that August has seen her gesture. She asks Jacob to bring Rosie to her dressing tent because she has a surprise for them all. On his way to the tent, Jacob meets up with Grady and Bill, and the men chat about Walter’s brusque character and the stream of money now coming into the circus.
When Jacob gets to Marlena’s tent, he sees a pile of watermelons—Rosie’s favorite food—in the corner. He gives one to Rosie to calm her desire to get at the pile. Marlena appears wearing a fancy dress and the diamond choker, and there are silver-domed platters on a serving table in the tent. She takes out a bottle of champagne and tells Jacob to open it the second August arrives. But the two are laughing when August arrives, and Jacob is late to pop the cork. August is angry, and he insinuates that Jacob and Marlena have been having affair. Marlena tells him he is wrong, but August does not believe her. He is enraged. August grabs the silver-tipped cane, and Rosie is so afraid that she urinates where she is standing. He swipes the cane across the serving table, and all the platters crash to the ground. He picks up Rosie’s headpiece and tears it, claiming that Marlena has lied to him about spending her free time working on the sewing. Marlena tries to approach August, but he shoves her, knocking her down. Jacob immediately tackles August, and the two pound on each other in turn. Grady and Bill hear the racket, and they pull Jacob off August. Earl rushes into the tent, and after two soft thuds, the crashing in the tent stops.
Jacob goes back to his car, and Walter nurses his wounds. Walter then takes out a knife and keeps it at his side as the train departs. Later there are footsteps on the roof, and Walter moves to the door. It is Marlena, and Walter screams that he could have killed her. Her left eye is swollen and discolored. Jacob and Marlena move into the car with the horses, and Marlena confesses that she is leaving August. She plans to ask Uncle Al for a bunk in the girls’ sleeper car. Marlena falls asleep with her head resting on Jacob’s shoulder, and he feels very aware of how close she is to him.
(The entire section is 450 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Rosemary leans over Jacob and wakes him from his sleep. She tells him that it is time to get ready, and Jacob is thrilled not only because he remembers where he is and who Rosemary is but because today is the day of the circus. Jacob tells Rosemary that he wants his good shirt and his bow tie, and she thinks his sense of style is quite funny. Rosemary helps Jacob get changed. When he looks down at his body, Jacob sees how skinny he has become. Once Jacob is dressed, Rosemary takes a good look at him and declares that the bow tie was just the right decision. She asks Jacob if he would like to look at himself in the mirror, but Jacob does not like looking at himself, so he refuses. Rosemary tells him that he looks quite handsome. She asks Jacob if he would like to wait for his family in his bedroom or in the lobby—it is two o’clock and the show begins at three. Jacob wants to wait in the lobby so he can leave as soon as his family arrives, so Rosemary wheels him in among a host of other elderly people who are waiting for their family members.
He is sitting next to Ipphy Bailey, and suddenly she turns to him and begins to cry, “Oh, Morty, you came back!” Ipphy thinks that Jacob is her dead husband, and Jacob wants no part of the drama, so he calls for a nurse. Ipphy grabs Jacob’s arm before a nurse can wheel him away. With a safe distance between him and Ipphy, Jacob wonders why there is not a separate wing for people like Ipphy.
Time goes on and people leave with their families. It is nearly three o’clock, and Jacob realizes that if his family does not show up soon, he will miss the Spec. Rosemary notices that Jacob is the only person left in the lobby, so she asks him if he knows who is coming to see him today. Jacob admits that he never knows who is coming, and Rosemary leaves to call Jacob’s family. Jacob is angry that his family is late. When Rosemary returns, she says that his family lost track of whose turn it was to visit. Jacob’s son Simon should have come, but he inadvertently made other plans. Jacob cries like a child.
Rosemary gets Jacob some tissue, and he tells her that he does not know what he would do without her. Rosemary then reveals that she is leaving the next day for Richmond to take care of her mother-in-law. Jacob is stunned—he did not even know she is married. Jacob thinks that Rosemary’s family is lucky—none of his children were able to take him into their home. Jacob...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
When Jacob wakes up, Marlena is not there. She has gone to see Uncle Al; Earl escorted her. At Car 48, August must leave while Marlena packs her things. August looks as terrible as Jacob does—both men have beaten each other badly. But August will not quietly let Marlena leave the car. He begs and pleads with her to stay, promising that he will never behave violently again. He is on his knees, and he takes a ring out of his pocket and tries to slip it on Marlena’s finger. She simply walks past his show. August reminds Marlena of her vows, but she continues to march across the grass. Marlena gives Jacob her suitcase, and they go into town to find her a room at a hotel. The hotel clerk takes one look at their bruises and does not want to rent the room to them, claiming that the hotel does not rent to unmarried couples. A customer recognizes Marlena from the circus, and the clerk changes his mind, but the two go to a hotel three doors down and receive a room without a problem. Jacob leaves Marlena there and returns to the circus grounds, where he goes directly to the menagerie.
Uncle Al sends for Jacob so he can persuade Jacob to convince Marlena to make amends with August. Uncle Al says he cannot afford to lose either August or Marlena from the circus. He then asks Jacob if the rumors of the affair are true, and Jacob firmly says they are not. Uncle Al agrees to work on August if Jacob will work on Marlena. Uncle Al tries to convince Jacob that August is ill and suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, but Jacob cannot get around the fact that August hit Marlena. Jacob threatens to leave the circus, but Uncle Al reminds him of Walter and reveals that he knows that the two have been hiding Camel in the ring stock car. Uncle Al says that sometimes one has to make a sacrifice for the greater good, and Jacob knows he is being blackmailed.
Jacob leaves the car and goes to see Rosie. As Jacob is filing Rosie’s toenails, August approaches him and tries to apologize for his behavior. He wants to know where Marlena has gone, but Jacob remains silent. August goes from hotel to hotel in search of his wife. Jacob fears what August might do if he finds Marlena, so he follows him into town. Jacob goes to Marlena’s hotel, and after much sidestepping from the clerk who is trying to protect Marlena, he is allowed up to her room. August has been there, but the clerk turned him away. Marlena tells Jacob that she learned about August’s...
(The entire section is 494 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
Marlena wakes suddenly and looks at Jacob’s watch; it is noon, and she hurries to get dressed to go back to the circus grounds. Jacob stops her and confesses that he loves her and wants to be with her. She admits that she loves Jacob, but she reminds him that she is still married to August. Jacob tells her they can fix that problem, but Marlena knows this would mean leaving the circus. They agree to make plans to leave in Providence when Jacob is relieved of the burden of caring for Camel. Jacob tells Marlena that Uncle Al wants him to persuade Marlena to go back to August and that he has threatened to redlight Walter and Camel, but Marlena does not believe Uncle Al would redlight anyone. Jacob tells Marlena about men in the past who have been redlighted, and Marlena is upset that she has been so stupid as to believe in Uncle Al.
Jacob and Marlena return separately to the circus. When Jacob goes back to his car, he tells Walter about his meeting with Uncle Al and his plans to leave the circus. Walter is afraid that without Jacob, his future in the circus is doomed. Jacob tells Walter to come with him, but Walter knows that the prospects for a dwarf are limited. Later in the afternoon, Uncle Al calls for Jacob to see if he has been able to persuade Marlena to go back to August. Jacob tells Uncle Al that the best thing would be for August to keep his distance so Marlena feels safe again, and Uncle Al agrees to intervene.
That night at the show, Marlena and August use makeup to hide their bruises. Rosie does not perform, and the townspeople who have seen posters of her all over town are disappointed. For several shows, Rosie simply entertains people in the menagerie, and the circus receives many complaints. Meanwhile, Uncle Al tries to keep his end of the deal, but August will not stay away from Marlena. In secret, Jacob and Marlena manage to make love twice, and at night Jacob longs to be with her again. In Hartford, Uncle Al is forced to refund the money for tickets because the circus-goers complain so adamantly. When the next payday comes, even the performers are not paid. Walter is angry, and Jacob resolves to get them all out of this mess.
At mealtime, Marlena reveals to Jacob that she thinks she is pregnant. Before he can take in the news, Uncle Al calls for him. Uncle Al claims that since it has been three weeks with no improvement, Jacob has not upheld his end of the deal. Uncle Al says that it is time to...
(The entire section is 516 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
Jacob slowly regains consciousness. He feels a cold compress being put on his forehead and hears someone telling him not to move. Jacob does not remember what happened to him, and suddenly he thinks of Marlena and tries to sit up. Walter replaces the compress on Jacob’s head and tells him to rest and keep quiet. Jacob wants to go find Marlena, but Walter tells him there is nothing he can do for her now. Walter admits that if Camel were not there and if Jacob did not have a concussion, he would have never gotten back on the train and would have left the circus for good. The men agree that for the next three days, they will cope as best they can. Jacob tells Walter that Marlena is pregnant, and Walter tells him that is all the more reason why they have to be careful. Walter says Marlena can take care of herself and that Jacob needs to understand their dire situation.
When Camel and Walter fall asleep, Jacob takes Walter’s knife and climbs out of the ring stock car. He creeps across the top of the train until he gets to the performers’ car. He carefully climbs down from the roof, enters the car, and follows the corridor to August’s room. Jacob opens the door and enters, afraid that he will wake August if he shuts the door. He creeps toward the bedroom while holding the knife, imagining how he will attack August. On the bed, August looks peaceful in his sleep, yet Jacob raises the knife above August’s throat. Jacob’s hand shakes, and he ends up just leaving the knife on August’s pillow as a warning.
When Jacob gets back to the ring stock car, the door is open and Walter and Camel are not there. He finds Queenie alone shivering behind a row of trunks. Jacob immediately knows that Walter and Camel have been thrown from the train. He wants to believe that they survived and decides to go back to look for them in the morning when the train stops. Then Jacob realizes that the train went over a trestle, and he thinks that surely no one would throw an old man and a dwarf over a trestle. In the morning, Jacob goes to see Earl and blames him for what has happened to Walter and Camel, but Earl is shocked to hear the news—he was not involved. Earl says that performers never get redlighted, so he suspects the bouncers were really after Jacob.
At mealtime, Jacob and Marlena talk about the events of the night, and both understand they are in grave danger. Marlena wants to return to her room to get money, but Jacob...
(The entire section is 724 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
After the stampede, the circus workers catch and retrieve all the animals they can, but the bear and most of the cats are missing. A local restaurant calls to say that Leo, one of the lions, is under the kitchen sink with the dishwasher. Uncle Al is also missing, and the circus lot is full of police officers investigating the scene. Word has it that Uncle Al is keeping out of sight to avoid being fined. On the second day following the stampede, many more animals are returned to the menagerie. The local sheriff arrives, claiming that the circus is breaking vagrancy laws. He orders that they move and wants to know who is in charge, but Uncle Al is still missing. The next day, the Nesci Brothers circus train arrives, and the manager meets with the sheriff and railroad officials. Then the Nesci Brothers workmen begin moving Benzini Brothers animals and equipment into their tents and onto their train. Uncle Al still cannot be found. Everyone realizes that all the staff members are now out of work. Jacob tries to think of what he is going to do. He goes into town and calls Dean Wilkins at Cornell University. The dean sounds relieved to hear from Jacob. After Jacob tells him the long story about what he has been doing for the past few months, the dean tells him that he may return to sit his final exams.
When Jacob returns to the circus lot, he sees Rosie standing next to the Nesci Brothers manager, the sheriff, and a railroad official. Jacob runs up to them, but the men do not want to talk to him because he is not in charge of the show. The men want to trade Rosie, but Jacob claims that she belongs to him. Greg is nearby and comes over to support Jacob. They tell the men that the elephant’s name is Gertrude and that she is stupid. When the men try to give her a command, Rosie simply looks at them and swings her trunk. The men leave Rosie to Jacob, and Jacob wonders what he is going to do with an elephant.
When Jacob gets to Marlena’s car, she bolts from the door and runs to the general manager of Nesci Brothers, who is leading away her horses. After hearing much of Marlena’s bickering, the men decide to leave the horses in the menagerie, and Marlena returns to the car. Jacob realizes that now he is unemployed but must care for a pregnant girlfriend, a bereaved dog, an elephant, and eleven horses. Jacob is afraid to tell Marlena what he has done, but when they talk, both admit that they just could not bear to have the animals...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Jacob sits in the lobby of his retirement home. He cannot believe his son Simon forgot it was his day to come visit, particularly because it is the day for the circus, and Simon spent the first seven years of his life on the Ringling Brothers circus. But Jacob recognizes that Simon himself is around seventy years old and must be prone to forgetting. Jacob thinks about the fact that he can remember so many things, like the day of Simon’s birth and how he almost fainted with joy when Marlena showed him Simon’s red hair, so much like his own.
The clock reads past three, and Jacob knows that the Spec is surely over. Suddenly he feels trapped in the lobby. Jacob does not think that he should continue to live this way, so he resolves to free himself. He looks around and sees that no else is in the room. He reaches for his walker and considers the distance he will have to travel to make it outside. He gets to the door and then to the sidewalk, where he is blinded by the sun. Jacob has been away from the real world for so long that everyday occurrences like dogs barking and horns honking make him feel moved.
Jacob maneuvers his walker in the direction of the circus and shuffles down the sidewalk. Thirty minutes later, he is nearly at the circus tents. He continues walking and does not stop for the ticket vendor, a teenage boy who tries to stop Jacob to make him pay. Jacob tells the kid he does not have any money, and the kid says Jacob cannot enter the circus without paying for a ticket. The manager of the circus approaches and escorts Jacob into the tent, offering him a wheelchair to make things easier. Jacob tells the manager that in his days the managers always put old men in the ticket booth, and the manager asks Jacob if he used to be on a show. When the manager hears that Jacob was on the Benzini Brothers circus, he asks if he was there for the stampede. The manager is excited to hear that Jacob was in the midst of the stampede, and he introduces himself—Charlie O’Brien the third. Charlie asks Jacob to join him in his trailer after the show for a drink. Jacob is delighted that Charlie thinks his company will be “an honor and a privilege,” so he agrees.
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
After the show, Jacob accompanies Charlie to his trailer and sips an impressive single malt scotch. He tells Charlie everything about his time with the Benzini Brothers circus, including the details of how Rosie killed August. Jacob feels such relief—for years, he never told anyone the secret about what Rosie did. Charlie nods sympathetically. Jacob never knew if Marlena was aware of what Rosie had done, but he never told her, fearing that the knowledge might make her change the way she felt about Rosie.
Then Jacob tells Charlie about the years he and Marlena spent with the Ringling Brothers circus. They left after the birth of their third child. Marlena had had enough of being on the road, and Rosie was getting too old to perform. Jacob took a job as the veterinarian at the Brookfield Zoo; he was hired both for his experience with exotic animals and for bringing along Rosie. Jacob and Marlena bought a rural property within commuting distance of the zoo, and there they raised the retired horses, all their children, and Bobo the chimp. Jacob remembers all the crazy days when his children were small and Bobo was naughty, but he says it all went by so fast. His children grew up and went to college, Marlena died, and now Jacob is all alone. Charlie listens intently.
Someone knocks on the door, and Jacob knows that whoever it is has come for him. When Charlie answers the door, the police officer tells him that an elderly man went missing from the nursing home nearby and that he was told that the man likely came to the circus. Charlie pretends he has not seen the old man and tells the officer that the circus will be leaving town soon. The officer peeks inside and asks Charlie who Jacob is; Charlie claims that Jacob is his father. The officer enters to investigate. Charlie shoots Jacob a look and tells the officer that Jacob cannot talk because he suffered a major stroke a few years ago. Playing along, Jacob drops his jaw and lets it quaver while he reaches for his drink with a trembling hand. Charlie rushes to help him with his drink while the officer watches. Finally convinced, the officer leaves and Charlie promises to call the station if he sees the missing old man.
Charlie gets the impression that Jacob wants to stay with him and the circus. Jacob reckons that, since he is alone and does not need any special care, he would prefer to be on the show. He will send his family postcards and thinks no one will miss...
(The entire section is 481 words.)