“Mommy, what do those words say?”
Allison held her daughter’s hand as they walked past the storefront displays inside the mall. There were banners and signs everywhere, covered with logos and photographs of products, splashes of colors and sprinkles of numbers, and occasionally a word or two.
Lily was five years old now, and only recently discovered the joy of reading. She understood that books contained stories which were made of words which were made of letters. She was forming the connections between letters and sounds, but still wanted someone to tell her how to say the words she saw in unfamiliar forms.
“That one says ‘Sale Today’,” said Allison.
“It looks like ‘toe day’,” Lily insisted, pronouncing the first syllable with a long ‘Oh’ sound. “Maybe it’s spelled wrong.”
“No, that’s the way ‘today’ is spelled, trust me.” Allison pointed at a sign in the next window. “Can you find the word ‘sale’ on that one?”
They continued exploring the sights for the length of the entire mall. Sometimes Lily would pull her mother forward to the next store if Allison paused too long to gaze at the pretty dresses in the windows. Sometimes Allison would guide Lily away from stores with provocative images or inappropriate words on the signs.
They reached an art store, and they both came to a halt in front of a large poster hanging in the window.
“Mommy, what’s that big word?”
Lily protested, saying something about the word starting with C instead of S, but Allison was no longer paying attention to her daughter. Her eyes were fixed on the faded image of the poster. It was a montage of classic circus sights: a clown juggling balls, an elephant with one foot on a pedestal, a lion roaring at a tamer, a woman standing on the back of a trotting horse.
A tug on her hand brought Allison back to the mall.
“Mommy, I see my name there! See? It says ‘Lily’ next to the horse lady. Right? That’s my name!”
Allison blinked away the memory of her former life, her former stage name, her former lover.
“That’s right, Lily. That’s what your name looks like.”
Lily clasped her mother’s hands with both of her own. “Can we go to the circus? When is it?”
“Oh, this circus isn’t here anymore. This is an old poster. The store just keeps it for the artwork.”
“Is there another circus? Can we find another circus and go there? I want to see a circus! I want to see the animals and the clown and the lady with my name.”
“Not every circus lady will have your name, Lily.”
“That’s okay. Will they still have a clown?”
“Every circus has a clown,” Allison said, looking at the poster with a sad smile, “but there will never be another one like him.”