Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Firegirl and the Circus

     When the rain finally stopped, the town awoke. From my window, I watched as the street traffic slowed and the sidewalk traffic sped up. Window shopping had become popular again, and run-down street vendors attempted to sell their rubbery hot dogs to light-footed pedestrians.
     I preferred the rain, but couldn't complain about the nice weather. As my father used to tell me, "a day at sea is made better by sunny skies and still water." I hadn't thought about my father in a long time, or my childhood of ship-hopping. I turned away from the window, going into the kitchen to look for some lunch. It was Thursday, and I had closed the aquarium for the day, since outdoor activities would be in high demand this week, and besides, rumor had it there was a circus in town. I peeled open the refrigerator, its seldom-used seal sticky with youth. The racks were mostly empty aside from a paper-wrapped salmon steak and some sea salt in a ceramic dish, covered in cellophane. I sighed, glancing over at the wall where my overbearing landlady, Helen, had pasted a food pyramid.
     "You need to eat all of the food groups!" she had insisted, pointing a thin, wrinkled finger up at me from her four-foot-eleven-inch height. "Protein alone won't cut it!"
     I didn't bother telling her that I had grown up eating hardly anything but fish. An occasional dinner roll, if we were harbored for the night, or dried fruit. Now she was asking me to take regular trips to the grocery store, a place I had never been fond of. It's unnatural, a form of gluttony that only self-proclaimed "civilized people" find acceptable. Scowling, I glanced again at the picture of the food pyramid, and my shoulders dropped. I sighed, thinking aloud, "Helen, this one's for you. I'm going to buy a salad."
     On my way back from the grocery store, I carried a bag of lettuce in my right hand. I had looked around at the other salad toppings, but didn't find anything I thought I'd want. I stepped in the puddles on the way home, water logging my sneakers again.
     I turned the corner to enter the apartment building, and nearly ran into a portly man with a smiling mustache. His tall purple hat almost stretched above my eye level.
     "Tickets!" he insisted. "The circus is in town for one night only. Don't want to miss it, Grey!"
     "What did you just call me?" I asked, my heart skipping a beat at the familiar name.
     "Grey. Have you seen your eyes lately?"
     "Oh, right. My eyes." I shook my head, trying to escape the overwhelming sense of deja vu. I had not been mistaken for my father in years, not since I had left his world behind.
     The man shoved two circus tickets into my hand, despite my weak protests, and was gone before I could hand them back.
     I trudged up the stairs with a bag full of salad and two tickets to the circus.
    At six thirty, I sat at the table with the tickets in my hand. I didn't need two; I didn't have anyone I wanted to take. But I decided to at least walk by to see what it was all about. I crossed the park under the cloak of dusk, toward the spotlights of the big-top. A sign stood outside one of the smaller tents, reading "House of Mirrors" in careful, spidery lettering. No one was going in or out. I pushed open the flap of the tent, greeted immediately by thirty reflections of myself. Tall and lean, with dark skin and hair, and grey eyes.
    I heard someone laugh around the corner, and when I looked, a guy about my age was contorting his face in the mirror, amused by his reflection.
    "You gonna drink the rest of that water?" I asked, gesturing towards the bottle he was holding.
    "I was planning to." he said. "Why'd you ask?"
    "Oh, I just like water," I said. It was true.
    "Hey," the boy said suddenly, "you wanna see if those twins are actually magical? The boy and the girl?"
     "Sure," I said, leaning forward. "I'm Beckham. You are?"
     An adventure. I was most certainly up for it. We walked around the big top tent, our shoes squelching in the mud. As we rounded the back, Nathaniel noticed a young girl standing stock-still in the grass, her back faced toward us. Nathaniel cleared his throat, to bring our presence to her attention, but if she heard him she did not react. I walked in a wide circle around her, noting her ember-colored hair that was so vivid it seemed to glow. I had to suppress a gasp when I saw her face. Scarlet lines covered her cheeks, cross-crossing and swirling in extravagant patterns, metallic and dark against her deathly pale skin. Her eyes were yellow and red, almost inhumanly large and wide. Her fingertips were glowing, hot and steaming against her white nightgown. She stared straight ahead, her eyes wide and unblinking. My heart dropped in my chest. It wasn't the girl's unusual appearance that shocked me. It was the fact that I'd seen her before, on a hidden island discovered by Greyson Wingarsheek. My father.