365 Days of Women Writers

Women writers only – no boys allowed

Day 50: Bread and Circuses by Genevieve Valentine

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Much like dragons, circuses make everything better, so I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t an actual circus in Bread and Circuses. However, there was quite enough here to like even without an actual circus.

Instead, there is only a refugee from a circus, Valeria who becomes a walled town’s new baker. The narrator, Tom, is the one who stokes the fire for her over, is her jailor, and belatedly her friend.

This town is a prison that locked itself in a cycle of fear – their greatest fear being that someone will steal their wheat and attempt to sell it to the neighboring town. Sadly, there is no theft, there is simply not enough to go around. (That’s how they lost their last baker, in a year of famine she was made the scapegoat. Tom and Valeria have been set up to fill this role again.) Their community is a fragile, suspicious thing.

This story reminds me of one of my favorites from SCI FICTION, The Water Master” -the shortage in the water master is water, not food, but both the water master and the baker take a similar spot in the society – the outsider who fills a role that’s essential to the community well being but at the same time is demonized for it.

The narrator here is a bit naïve and oblivious. He was the last to realize that he has been made her jailer. One day he watches her sift dirt into the dough and does not comment. Then:

The third day when I looked up at her, waiting, she shook her head silently, made little pockets in the bread so it looked bigger than it was. (I was too crushed by her silence, I didn’t think much of her doing it; I didn’t realize that her worries had begun in earnest.)

He wraps his hopes into the circus – the thing that he experienced only briefly and from the outside, it is a childlike and melancholy hope, but Valeria tries to protect him:

Her hands were shaking as she turned back to the dough, and I knew she wouldn’t speak another word about the circus—not even for her own sake, but for mine.

The story ends with escape and death, but also with defiance.

If I jumped, I would land outside the city walls. That would be enough; whether or not I lived, I would have been even once outside the gates.

(The aerialists had done the same—you held your breath and jumped as far out as you could, and hoped the wind would carry you.)

Written by Chance

November 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm

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