All of a sudden they were yelling, running, leaping. “Don’t tear it! Careful!
The paper fluttered like a snare drum in their hands.
“COMING, OCTOBER TWENTY-FOURTH!”
Their lips moved, shadowing the words set in rococo type.
“Cooger and Dark”s…”
“October twenty-fourth! That’s tomorrow!”
“It can’t be,” said Will. “All carnivals stop after Labour Day — “
“Who cares? A thousand and one wonders! See! MEPHISTOPHELES, THE LAVA DRINKER! MR ELECTRICO! THE MONSTER MONTGOLFIER?”
“Balloon,” said Will. “A Montgolfier is a balloon.”
MADEMOISELLE TAROT!” read Jim. “THE DANGLING MAN. THE DEMON GUILLOTINE! THE ILLUSTRATED MAN! Hey!”
“That’s just an old guy With tattoos.”
“No.” Jim breathed warm on the paper. “He’s illustrated. Special. See! Covered with monsters! A menagerie!” Jim’s eyes jumped. “SEE! THE SKELETON! Ain’t that fine, Will? Not Thin Man, no, but SKELETON! SEE! THE DUST WITCH! What’s a Dust Witch, Will?”
“No.” Jim squinted off, seeing things. “A Gypsy that was born in the Dust, raised in the Dust, and some day winds up back in the Dust. Here’s more: EGYPTIAN MIRROR MAZE! SEE YOURSELF TEN THOUSAND TIMES! SAINT ANTHONY”S TEMPLE 0F TEMPTATION!”
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL — “ read Will.
“ — wOMAN IN THE WORLD,” finished JIM.
They looked at each other.
“Can a carnival have the Most Beautiful Woman on Earth in its side-show, Will?”
“You ever seen carnival ladies, Jim?”
“Grizzly bears. But how come this handbill claims — “
“Oh, shut up!”
“You mad at me, Will?”
“No, it’s just — get it!
The wind had tom the paper from their hands.
The handbill blew over the trees and away in an idiot caper, gone.
“It s not true, anyway,” Will gasped. Carnivals don’t come this late in the year. Silly darn-sounding thing. Who”d go to it?
“Me.” Jim stood quiet in the dark.
Me, thought Will, seeing the guillotine flash, the Egyptian mirrors unfold accordions of light, and the sulphur-skinned devil-man sipping lava, like gunpowder tea.
“That music…” Jim murmured. “Calliope. Must be coming tonight!”
“Carnivals come at sunrise.”
”Yeah, but what about the licorice and cotton candy we smelled, close?”
And Will thought of the smells and the sounds flowing on the river of wind from beyond the darkening houses, Mr Tetley listening by his wooden Indian friend, Mr Crosetti with the single tear shining down his cheek, and the barber’s pole sliding its red tongue up and around forever out of nowhere and away to eternity.
Will’s teeth chattered.
“Let’s go home.”
“We are home!” cried Jim, surprised.
For, not knowing it, they had reached their separate houses and now moved up separate walks.
On his porch, Jim leaned over and called softly.
“Will. You’re not mad?”
“We won’t go by that street, that house, the Theatre, again for a month. A year! I swear.”
“Sure, Jim, sure.”
They stood with their hands on the doorknobs of their houses, and Will looked up at Jim’s room where the lightning-rod glittered against the cold stars.
The storm was coming. The storm wasn’t coming.
No matter which, he was glad Jim had that grand contraption up there.
Their separate doors slammed.
Will opened the door and shut it again. Quietly, this time.
“That’s better,” said his mother’s voice.
Framed through the hall door Will saw the only theatre he cared for now, the familiar stage where sat his father (home already! he and Jim must have run the long way round!) holding a book but reading the empty spaces. In a chair by the fire mother knitted and hummed like a tea-kettle.
He wanted to be near and not near them, he saw them close, he saw them far. Suddenly they were awfully small in too large a room in too big a town and much too huge a world. In this unlocked place they seemed at the mercy of anything that might break in from the night.
Including me, Will thought. Including me.
Suddenly he loved them more for their smallness than he ever had when they seemed tall.
His mothers fingers twitched, her mouth counted, the happiest woman he had ever seen. He remembered a greenhouse on a winter day, pushing aside thick jungle leaves to find a creamy pink hothouse rose poised alone in the wilderness. That was mother, smelling like fresh milk, happy, to herself, in this room.