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August 24, 2008

'Bonjour, Odile'

October 13, 2009|Catherine Hein
(William, 6th grade, Fisler…)

ODILE awakened this morning with a new plan.

For weeks now she had been dog tired, and not just because she was a dog. Odile was an animal performer for Circus Jeanne, a troupe traveling the countryside of Europe, and she worked her tail off!

Settled in Provence for three months, the show had become quite popular. Odile had hoop-leapt, barrel-rolled and pachyderm-ridden until she had nothing more to give. The worst thing was that she was the tiniest member of the company. Her curly poodle coat, inherited from her French mother, glistened in the spotlight. Her ruffled purple collar accented her skillful moves, but she still got lost in the spectacle of the trapeze and high-wire acts.

No matter that she could triple somersault backward and forward, stopping on a franc, the only real cheers she got were for riding in between the humps of the Mongolian camel. And who wants to be applauded for the novelty of being small? The other animals received applause just for stepping into the ring. She could outperform any of them, but no one ever saw her do it. It wasn't right, and she decided to do something. Did Odile want to escape? She was tempted.

She talked it over with Monsieur Saut, a clumsy young kangaroo who was resting after an incident with a tent pole. He was a softspoken fellow, and she could hardly hear him over the bragging of the Arabian horse and bickering of the chimpanzee brothers. Saut suggested they run away together, but she declined.

Where would they go?

--

LATER that night she came up with a sure-fire, "no-risk" escape plan. Tonight when Heinrich pulled out his shiny whip and said, "Hit it," she would play dead and stay still as a statue. He would mistake her for ill and send her to the infirmary. If she were lucky, it would mean a week of lounging on a comfy cot watching out the window as the train crossed the border on its way to Boulogne. If she couldn't be the rightful star, the least she deserved was a little leisure time.

It was 6:45, 15 minutes before the final performance. As the calliope warmed up with "Rose Petal Ballet," electricity filled the air. Odile took her place under the tiger platform. She watched as the tent filled up with regulars and first-timers. They were about to begin when a murmur went through the crowd. A group of young children entered the arena, refugees from an orphanage nearby.

--

BECAUSE of the war, they had lost their homes and families back in Romania and had many troubles. The audience in the first few rows was asked to move back because the children were tiny and needed to sit up front.

A couple of old men threw tomatoes and guffawed before they understood the delay. Then the children filed in very quietly, and silently took their seats. The music died down and all of the performers waited patiently.

When everyone was seated, the calliope started up again with the show-starting "Dance of the Hours." Heinrich clicked the whip once, twice. He tapped on the drum with his stick. "Odile! Up! Up!" She didn't move a muscle. He bent down and nudged her gently. "Odile, what the devil is wrong? Jump! Jump!" Yet she did not. She turned her neck slightly and found herself staring right into the children's eyes.

"What is wrong with her?" they whispered to each other. A little girl crawled from her seat to come and see for herself. "Lisette!" someone scolded. "Sit down." That did it. Odile could not let them down. She sprung into action, rearing back into a great leap through the ring of fire followed by a high jump over the horse. The children squealed with delight. Then the "Ponchielli Dance" cued the parade of animals. Odile took her place on the back of the elephant.

Above hooting and rhythmic applause, she could hear the children's high-pitched calls. Back in her second-act spot next to the magician's cabinet, she surprised herself again -- this time by leaping into the little group. "Odile! Odile!" yelled Heinrich. She was more shocked than he was. She landed in the lap of a boy who had been staring straight ahead, never even smiling. He was startled and reached down to pet her. "Bonjour, chiot," he said softly. The children cheered again. "Vasily spoke! Listen. Did you hear? Vasily talked to the dog!"

--

ODILE was so happy she wanted to stay on his lap forever. But she knew her job and jumped back into the ring. "Odile! What is the matter with you today?" said Heinrich. "Nothing," she thought. "I feel very good. I am not even tired anymore." Then Odile overheard Vasily's chaperones. "He has not spoken since his father died. It is all because of the dog."

They looked at her and clapped their hands. Finally, she had the right audience! Odile had thought she needed a vacation, but she was cured by the applause meant just for her. She went to find Monsieur Saut and tell him to stick around. Wonderful things could still happen at Circus Jeanne.

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