Tristan flexed his new fingers. They looked just like the old ones. Of course, he couldn’t feel them anymore, but it was just like moving his real hand, before the accident. The tendons along his arm were connected to the new electrical wiring and solid steel hydraulics. Fake skin was fused with graphs of his own, and fingerprints and the creases of his palm had been delicately carved. There wasn’t even a scar at the wrist. It was flawless.
Tristan could hardly afford to pay the scientist, but agreed to send him forty percent of his pay for as long as he worked in the circus. After the accident, Tristan’s world shattered, believing he would never again be able to perform. Afraid that he would lose his life’s passion, he wrapped up his bloody wrist and ran from the circus into the Paris slums. There he drank wherever the drink was cheapest, until he was too drunk to feel the rats scurrying over his feet. After only two days, the scientist found him. He was looking for test subjects for his new robotic developments and needed someone with everything to gain, and nothing to lose. Tristan was perfect.
And now, on the opening night, Tristan stood behind the curtain listening to the crowd cheer and applaud the clowns. Tes the contortionist began doing his warm-up stretches, gradually twisting his body into more and more tortured shapes. But Tristan’s eyes were focused on Priscilla, the lion tamer.
When she wasn’t performing, Priscilla spent most of her life in the lions’ cage. Unlike regular lion tamers, Pris did not use whips and punishment as a form of control; she simply had a natural affinity with the beasts. Many of the circus performs would say that she was more animal than human. She barely spoke to anyone, and only ever ate with the lions, tearing into the cow hides with her teeth. Her hair was a mass of blonde tangles and her eyes were a hypnotising gold. Those who weren’t afraid of her, instantly fell in love with her.
Tristan was not afraid of Pris. And his lack of fear cost him his hand. The lions watched as, through the bars, their mistress would talk to Tristan for hours. They watched as Priscilla and Tristan’s hands would brush and their fingers entwine. And they watched the stolen kisses. They watched and waited. Until one day Tristan reached through the bars, and the lions pounced. The alpha male’s jaws snapped down on Tristan’s hand and tore it clean off at the wrist.
There was still time before Tristan’s performance. He approached the cage, stopping a safe distance from the bars. Tristan didn’t look, but could feel the lions’ stares burning into him. The growl of the alpha male resonated so deeply Tristan felt it vibrate his breastbone. Priscilla stayed settled between the lions. She lowered her eyes.
As Tristan entered the ring, the crowd’s cheers didn’t make him tingle with excitement. Climbing each rung of the ladder felt monotonous. And as he flew through the air on the trapeze, not even the rush of air and dizzying heights could take Tristan’s mind off Priscilla’s lowered eyes, or the fact that he wasn’t hanging from his own two hands, but metal hydraulics fused at his wrist.
Tristan somersaulted through the air like a wingless bird. A jolt of fear shot through him as he felt something in his wrist tear as he grabbed the trapeze. The crowd gasped and cheered, oblivious. There was nothing Tristan could do; he was swinging forty foot above the ground, but if anyone found out about his hand, he would never be allowed to perform again. All he could do was hope that the wrist held out for the act, and he could get the scientist to repair it later…
To counter the weakness of his hand, Tristan held most of his weight on his good hand. Unknown to him, this altered the angle of the swinging trapeze ever so slightly. Tristan hoped that after his next somersault, when his partner Bernard caught him, the strain on his fake hand would be minimal; he would be caught by the wrist, which would not pull on the wires.
Tristan flew through the air, but he was not properly aligned with Bernard. Their hands slipped, and Bernard caught Tristan roughly by his fake hand.
Tristan felt it rip.
There was nothing he could do but reach out with his bloody stump, flexing the fingers that weren’t there, as he fell. The screams of the crowd were distant. The last thing Tristan saw were the sparking metal wires trailing from his severed hand, held hopelessly by his partner on the trapeze above him.
Everything went black. Tristan couldn’t feel anything. Apart from the burning, electric pain in his bloody wrist. Until, that too, faded to nothing.
Animation by Atika Bennamane 2007– Text by Sophie Playle