I was old enough to be skeptical and hopeful at the same time. Unicorns weren't real, but surely they couldn't advertise that they had one and then not have one. Right?
The big day came and off we went to the civic auditorium. We parked miles away (it seemed) and walked for ages to get there. (In reality, it was probably a few blocks. Tell that to seven-year-old me.)
I actually remember nothing of the circus itself. Clowns, lion tamers, acrobats, I got nothin'. But the unicorn. Oh, I remember that with perfect clarity.
They put a pedestal in the middle of the arena. They shone a spotlight down on it. The center of the pedestal opened and a woman came up on a lift of some kind, along with...
A tiny, shaggy creature that stood about waist high on her, with a twisted horn in the rough center of its forehead and a stubby tail. It looked absolutely nothing like the unicorns of my fantasies. It pressed close to her legs as if terrified by the lights and the crowd.
In retrospect, it probably was. I would be, too, if I was a deformed little one horned goat.
The thing that I remember the most about that circus was the bitter taste of disappointment in the back of my throat. I sat there, stunned, knowing full well I'd been cheated. I couldn't appreciate anything else that happened.
My mother thought I was too tired and I didn't have the vocabulary at the time to tell her that wasn't what it was. It was that the circus broke some of my childhood that day.
I never did get it back. And I never went to the circus again.