At the age of eleven, Tante Rosa read the following caption beneath a photo of Queen Victoria in cavalry garb, in the weekly family magazine You and Yours:
“The eighteen-year-old Queen Victoria inspects the Royal Cavalry Troops. Decked out in a fashionable military cap, spurred boots, and a uniform-like dress, Her Majesty once again conquered the hearts of the cavalry troops and citizenry alike.”
Shortly after committing to memory the phrase “conquered the hearts” together with the horses seen in the photo, Tante Rosa decided to become a horse acrobat. When Rosa went to inform her mother of her decision, her mother was reading the following passage of the latest serialized novel in the family magazine You and Yours:
“The months dragged on for years, and the days they seemed like weeks, and he, so as not to see his little sister’s swelling stomach grown large with her heart-wrenching sin, diverted his eyes, which burned bright with the desire to wage battle against savage beasts, and with the shame of shedding tears for an unworthy ingrate, and so as to foster hostile emotions and harden his—in truth very tender—heart toward the innocent babe about to be born, he . . . ”
With perfectly justified horror Rosa’s mother dropped the magazine and ran to Rosa’s father, guarantor of Rosa’s happiness for eighteen years. Her father was a strict man, but, helpless in the face of Rosa’s whining, he conceded and signed her up for the circus. He made sure to have a stern word with the circus director before handing her over. And on that very first day, they mounted Rosa on the most unruly horse in the circus. Though she fell off the horse time and time again on that day, poor little Rosa was so enchanted by the fancy pleated skirt and frilly outfit that by the time she got home she had forgotten all about the unbearable pain of her black and blue ass and stubbornly persisted in her dream of becoming a horse acrobat. She seemed to have finally given up on her circus dreams after her father gave her a couple of morale-boosting spanks. When Rosa’s daddy died without having fulfilled his eighteen-year guarantee, Rosa’s mommy immediately changed firms and took out a new policy to insure Rosa’s happiness. Her new daddy didn’t much mind Rosa’s wish to become a horse acrobat. And so Rosa went back to the circus. This time around Rosa was handed over without the slightest attempt at stern words, thus making it clear to the circus director that the skin of Rosa’s ass wasn’t worth the price of her school books. Rosa was perfectly welcome now. When it is undesirable that a girl should become a horse acrobat, that girl is immediately hoisted onto a horse; but a girl who is disposed of so that she might become a horse acrobat, is never ever allowed to mount a horse. Rosa would no longer be falling off of horses. Instead, she would bag the manure of the circus animals and sell it to villagers. Rosa wept so much. She wept so very, very much. First she hated the manure, then she hated the horses, and then she hated her tailbone, because the pain in her tailbone was all that was left to her of the horses. Though some psychologists might attribute the severe case of constipation that would afflict her in old age to this complex of hers, the incident which had the greatest impact upon Rosa’s life occurred in the early days of the most popular war at the time.
In the first year of the war, when the officers’ uniforms were at their shiniest, and the officers’ passions at their most irresistible, one night, as she did every night, Rosa was watching the horse acrobat do her tricks, through a hole in the tent. Through the frame of fingers seeking to stretch the hole wider, she watched, and not even the smell of manure on her fingers could rouse her from her fantasy that it was she herself performing the acrobatic tricks.
There I go, jumping into the air, and now I have landed. Now I’m back on the horse. Now I’m lifting my leg, and now there is raucous applause. Who’s that, the lieutenant there in the front, his eyes even shinier than the buttons on his jacket? He’s looking at me; he’s madly in love with me; he comes here every night, watches me, and then leaves; and now I’m going to do my finest number, just for him. Now if the horse would only keep its pace so that I could time my somersault just right. And she . . . jumps.
All of a sudden, she heard a crackling sound. The sound spread. Then everything grew bright. It got brighter, and brighter. And then came the screams. Heat. Crackle. Flame. Flames. Fervent flames engulfing the dream. Rosa saw the flames quickly spread throughout the tent. She saw the spectators making a run for it, the poles burning, the circus director cursing, the light bulbs at the top of the tent turning gray from the smoke, everyone dashing for the door, and she saw that the door was too narrow. But what she was looking at was the acrobat, herself doing her final number for her lover:
I had just lifted my leg when I heard first the crackle, followed by the screams. My head throbbing with pain, it took several seconds for me to realize that my horse had grown frightened and thrown me and that I’d bashed my head against the performance ring railing.
And now the horse is neighing like crazy and heading straight for me. But I’m not afraid. I know that the man with the shiniest of buttons and the shiniest of eyes will come to my rescue. And there he is: he leaps over the railing. With all his might, he grabs on to the horse’s reins. The horse, the same one that had just been rearing toward me, becomes meek as a lamb. He rushes to my side. He sweeps me up and jumps back into the saddle. He pushes the shiny spurs of his boots into the horse’s flanks and we gallop out of the tent. Leaving the screams, the smoke, and the fire behind us, at full gallop we ride the horse into the rising sun.
Rosa no longer needed to stretch the hole with her fingers, for the flames had burned a humongous hole in the tent. Rosa saw the horse grow frightened, throw the girl to the ground, and rear up in a state of frenzy. She could not see the girl lying on the ground, but she did see the lieutenant leap over the rail. In the chaos of smoke and screams, he was all that she saw. The lieutenant leaped over the rail. He grabbed onto the horse and mounted it, and then fled the fire at a gallop. Rosa saw that as the lieutenant drove the horse to the exit, he ran right over the acrobat girl.
Tante Rosa saw the photograph of Queen Victoria on a horse in You and Yours magazine and knew that she would never become a horse acrobat.
From Tante Rosa (Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1968). By arrangement with the publisher. Translation copyright 2008 by Amy Spangler. All rights reserved.