Once upon a time, there was a story written as a response to a Challenge - it is here - and then there was a 2nd part written which is here and now a third part, right here, which you can read without clicking any links.
Vittorio stood at the entrance to the Big Top, unnoticed, lost in the shadows as the lights inside focused on his family, as they flew.
Roberto had been catching for a month, now. Everything had gone perfectly. This night they had worked without the net for the first time since Vittorio had passed catching to his grandson. He knew everything would be alright, but he had to watch ... had to see for himself ... he had to make the knot in his stomach go away. After all, THIS night there was no net. He watched as his granddaughter completed her triple and he knew the rest would be easy. He let out a long breath, then turned and walked away from the tent.
"What", she asked, as he entered their trailer. "What is wrong, my husband?" He reached out and cradled her face in his hard calloused fingers with a tenderness that belied their strength. "There is nothing wrong, my love. Tonight they're working without the net and and ... oh, I guess I worry too much. Roberto is strong and the rest of them have been better since ..." He let the words trail off.
She knew what he meant.
Maria had watched her husband closely for the last month. She had watched him slowly edge away from things , and she was worried. It used to be that he would check EVERYTHING when they set up in a new town. The stakes in the ground, the stays, the turnbuckles, the rigging. Everything - down to the last nut and bolt. Checked and re-checked. But now he checked little. He left it to Roberto. Never, in all their years of marriage, had she seen him like this. He would stare out the window as they rode their bus. He would stand and watch as the riggers did their work. Before, he would enjoy showing them that he, Vittorio, was strong, stronger than them, could lift more and pound stakes deeper and quicker, and laugh with them and drink wine with them but now it seemed like he was just done.
Everyone saw the change in Vittorio. Some said he was just getting old. Some said he'd been changed by "The Accident', as everyone had come to call it. Some said he was just sad. No one knew what to do.
Then came the night when Vittorio heard an anguished "ooooohhhh" from the audience and some women screamed. He rushed to the Big Top only to find Roberto lying in a heap on the floor of the tent, the big rope in a long thread circling his body. He held his breath, but then Roberto moved, waved his arm as if to say, "I'm okay" and the audience cheered. Roustabouts ran into the center ring with a stretcher and rolled Roberto on it, and carried him toward Vittorio. "Papa", he called. "I'm alright. I fell just a little. The rope gave way. I've hurt my leg." And, as he was carried past Vittorio, he said, "Catch them, Papa. You must catch them."
Vittorio was shaken. He had tears in his eyes. He wasn't sure he could. He hadn't been up on the bar for months. But then, the spotlight found him, fell on him, and he slowly turned to face it. He looked up into the tops and found his family, up on the stand, beckoning him to come up. His granddaughter, his brother's son and his wife. All looking to him.
Vittorio unbuttoned his shirt and let it fall to the ground where he stood. Barechested, he slowly walked to the center of the ring and picked up the resin bag to dry his hands. He beckoned to the roustabout to bring him the backup rope.
He tugged on the rope, and knew it was fast. He sat on the floor, his legs straight out in front of him, raised his arm to hail the audience, and then slowly, hand over hand, maintaining his sitting position, climbed the rope to his bar, 40 feet above.
He swung to and fro. Back and forth. The night was a blur of flying bodies and catches and throws and feeling like he was at the top of the world.
In the entrance to the Big Top, Roberto stood next to his grandmother, as they watched Vittorio and the family fly. "He is as good as he has ever been, Grandma. I think we may have to change the act, a bit."
"You'll need some new rigging", she said.
"Yes, I know. But ... if we're going to have two catchers ... that's all there is to it."
"Yes, Roberto. That IS all there is to it, except ... I think we may need another flyer."
"For a while, Roberto. Until we find another he can train. For a while. For him ...."