Moist air blanketed him against the damp earth, the light that shone on him reflected shades of red and dull yellow. He crawled on his belly underneath a heavy tarp the grass came up easily and stuck to his skin, and the dirt under him churned into mud as he trudged over. His freckled face was flushed when he finally reached the end of the end of a trunk that had been shaved down into a smooth pole. He pulled himself to his feet, struggling under the weight, with each step the canvas raised around him. For a moment he was standing beneath the tent, it raised high into the sky and then the sides unfurled and fell all around causing him to vanish from view.
I walked under the front flaps which were drawn open as people began to carry in smaller trunks, cut in half, and made into benches. He didn’t see me, as I walked around him, he stood in the center as the others worked around him, he wasn’t the smallest, but he was the youngest in the troop. The center of the big top is where many saw him, not at first, he had grown over the years, and his act was one that baffled and shocked audiences, who would return only to understand, and be disappointed when he didn’t show. He worked in the dirt, literally in this case, but was what many considered an animal whisperer, and to others a ghost whisperer.
His favorite show to come out during was the second evening, right as the sun was beginning to set, when the lights worked the best. With the flaps closed, and all lights focused on the center, the outside world vanishes and you’ve entered into the mind of the performers. Since the animal activist movements, taming lions and tigers, having elephants balance balls, and having any wild animal was frowned upon. It didn’t matter how big their cages were, a cage is a cage. They kept the horses, and mules, to help pull the caravan along, since it was more mobile than restricted to the rails. On the days we were traveling between towns they kept away from the modern highways of the world and remained in the forests and wilderness of the country.
Bringing the big top down was just as much work, if not more. People have been lost, smothered, and crushed beneath the center pole and tent, making this an undesirable job. He wanted to prove himself, five years ago they didn’t trust him enough, and didn’t want to be liable for any injuries he might has sustained. However after three years of cleaning up after the crowds, the animals and the family, and a year spent as the magicians apprentice, he had built up enough strength. The last two years they depended on him, this has become his life.
“Any day now!” I stood in the crowd as they waited with ropes in their hands for him to pop up in the center, rarely did he get exhausted, and only twice did he ever prank them. He pushed up in the center and they all got to work. Overtime he developed the strength to life the center pole, with the help of the ropes of course. “All together!” a man’s voice boomed, the ring leader’s brother, Bronson, James Bronson. He was the strong man in the troop, lead by example was his motto. “Hold it steady!” I enjoyed watching the big top rise, but not as much as I enjoyed the village setup. It was a long series of interconnected tents, and the setup was something they placed bets on to see who would finish the center poles first.
“Davy!” he stepped out the back tent flap and had one finger digging mud out of his ear, “Phew!” the old man waved his hand in front of face, “When’s the last time you showered boy?”
“It’s only nine in the morning,” He slicked his red hair back, “it dusts right off when it dries, it’s like a free mud bath.”
The old man shook his head, “Loretta was looking for you.”
“Now? I have a race to win?” All he had to do was raise a brow for him to dash to the canopy where the kitchen was set up. Before he took a step under the canopy he began to wipe the mud off him and shook his brown suspenders to help, and dragged his bare foot through the grass.
“You call that cleaning up?” He was our very own bearded lady, the maternal figure in this group.
“You said when you call I come.”
He raised a spoon at him, “Don’t get smart with me boy. I may look like a mother, but I have the strength of a father.” He returned to stirring the soup, “I called you over to ask if you had decided what you wanted to do for your birthday?”
He shrugged, “You know that’s still over a month away right?” He continued stirring as he nodded, “Besides I have other things on my mind.”
“Those other things better be your chores.” They both looked up to see Mr. Bronson standing there, “Do you still need the boy Loretta?” He was impatient, he wasn’t one for conversation.
“Don’t you have more shirts to rip?” he appeared to be holding his breath, “Go on Davy, those tents aren’t going to raise themselves.”
“Yes sir!” she pointed the spoon at him and he took off. Davy didn’t bother warning his opponent he was starting, but everyone suddenly erupted into shouting when he dove under the first tent and quick to raise the center pole, before diving back down to continue through. At the end he emerged last, “How?” he’d exclaim, unaware that he had received help so no one would lose a bet, except sometimes I’d knock a pole loose to even the scale. Their old ways were what kept them close even when they pitted against each other, and on opening night, which was stressful in and of itself.
I didn’t follow him into the makeshift stables, the aroma of manure was already wafting out and settling on my tongue. It’s something no one gets used to, not even after nearly six years. “I already fed the horses,” the old man returned, “I was hoping you’d use the extra time to take a bath.”
“Ha, ha. You didn’t have to do that Gerry.”
He nodded, “Well now you owe me a favor.” He beamed as Davy let out an exaggerated sigh, “It’s your turn to make rounds during the show.”
“I can’t I have my own job,” Gerry leaned against one of the horses and chewed on the tooth pick in his mouth.
“Do you still have that spook hanging around?”
“She doesn’t like being called that,” he was growing defensive, I placed a hand on his shoulder, “And she much less doesn’t like to steal,” Gerry gave him suspicious glare so Davy added quickly, “From strangers.”
“Well,” he started to grumble, “If we don’t come up with something soon,” his voice trailed off and he waved his hand as if to dismiss him, “You better scuttle along, plenty of other tasks to do,” Davy started to nod, “like take a bath.”
“I have my own tent now. You don’t need to keep complaining.”
Gerry waved the air in front of his face, “I sleep as far from you as possible, and I can still smell you, look!” he pointed to his head, “Your own hair is curling in disgust!”
“No that’s just the mud.” He started to walk off, but not before Gerry could finish.
“I’d even take you into town and pay for a haircut!”
Davy didn’t get far from the stables before someone called for him, “Dave over here!” he helped haul the trash cans across the camp and place them for the coming crowds. After that he began to go around and clear the area of any trash only to be called again.
“David!” No one could make up their minds of what to call him, only Loretta knew how to pronounce his name, but he preferred David, and didn’t mind the other nicknames they’d given him. He didn’t have one job and was pulled in every direction, never fully completing tasks, until he found a free minute to go back and finish whatever he could before a new one would come around. Even after the performance he went around and picked up before retiring to his tent for the night. He’d lay awake in his hammock, staring up at the stars, as I’d gently rock the side until he drifted off to sleep.
I was easily distracted, something had to shine in my eyes and I’d be transfixed until something else caught my attention or until David called for me. I was invisible to everyone but him, and I was the only one who had been there before he was a runaway. I was there when snuck food from their kitchen and hid in Loretta’s airstream trailer to sleep during the show. He’d followed them for almost a month, careful not to get caught or seen, I’d stay up and keep watch so he could rest. Until one day I fell under my curse and was distracted and didn’t get there in time to warn him when Loretta returned to his trailer early to get a few things. She referred to him as a lost pup, and after discovering he was an orphan she agreed to keep him.
Until he was able to earn his keep and after proving to be a good medium they gave him his own tent. They had some other side acts to bring in extra profit, and his was the second favorite. He put on a good show, he’d ask the questions and I’d ring the chimes when someone appeared, they never saw me and many tried to debunk it, but finding no electrical source it verified his made up powers. I was the one who could see the ghosts and communicate with them, but David was the only one I communicated with and he’d relay the information to them, while I helped lighten their pockets. Something Gerry was good at during the show. I had been distracted yet again by wandering under the big top and holding the light that shone through in my hands. I was brought back by the clang of a triangle and meandered back out to the canopy where everyone was gathering in a line.
“Dave,” he turned around and a box was held out to him, he groaned and accepted it and stepped out of his place in line. Instead of going around he decided to go through the tents, whistling while he walked, and neither of us heard the car pull up. It wasn’t until I saw what was in the box did I ring the chimes to alert him of the husky man standing behind the table.
“Can I help you sir with something?” he motioned to his fortune table, “Read your palms perhaps?” David stepped out where he could be seen clearer and I noticed he was in line with the exit.
“Sorry, I may be in the wrong tent, wasn’t looking to get scammed,” the man flashed a badge and I watched the color drain from David’s face, “Don’t be nervous, we’re just looking for a Day, Date?” He fumbled with his words, “Hang on,” he bent down to pick up a briefcase off the floor, “I’m Detective Lyle, and this morning I received a phone call- hey!” he barely set the case on the table when David dashed out of the tent. I tripped the officer by sliding the rug out from under his feet and watched as he suddenly flew forward and onto the ground. It wasn’t until I stepped out of the tent did I see the second officer, on top of David, restraining his arms behind his back and struggling to handcuff him.
“What’s going on!?” Loretta’s voice carried a long way even while he was still far off, his long legs helped him stride over quickly.
“He ran from me when I was just asking some questions.” The officer looked up at the detective who gave him a hand motion to keep David on the ground, while he squirmed and looked up at Loretta with wild eyes. She glanced over and noticed the tent flap was ajar.
“You weren’t by chance in there when you were asking were you?”
The detective was taken aback, “I was, I waiting at the table?”
“You know you have to ask for permission before entering someone’s home?” He prodded.
“I wasn’t aware that freaks lived in tents.” Lyle spat.
“Freaks?” Loretta scoffed, “So you’re prejudice and unlawful?”
He shifted uneasily and put a hand up, “Look man-lady,”
“Watch it.” He pointed.
“We are only here on official business, we’re looking for a kid, about his age actually, I couldn’t even ask him about the name before he darted.” Lyle now pointed at the other officer, “When I fell and Paulson here saw the kid take off, he didn’t know if I had been hurt of not, maybe things got out of hand.”
“Yeah maybe.” Loretta crossed his arms as Paulson grunted, struggling to keep David pinned. “Stop squirming baby, the adults are figuring it out.” He spoke to David while keeping his eyes trained on Lyle.
Lyle shifted his weight to his other leg agitated, “Look we’re not here to disturb anyone. I have orders to find this kid, and give him this envelope, that’s it.”
“Maybe I’ll help you find him, if you let my boy go.” They looked at him before David.
“This is your son?”
“It’s not my fault he’s ginger. I didn’t make him that way.” He sassed.
Lyle took a deep breath, “Alright, I’m going to go back inside to get my case, if that’s alright with you,” Loretta nodded his head slowly, “And Paulson there is going to let your boy go.” Paulson looked up at him unsure, and after removing the cuffs he pushed him to the ground so he could get to his feet faster. Loretta offered a hand out and I could see that he wanted to refuse it but didn’t dust himself off when he stood and instead rubbed his wrists. “I think the kids name was Daisy or something, and the only picture we have of him is over five years old. He ran away from his foster family and they think he might have joined the circus.”
“So why didn’t they go after him?” Loretta accepted the folder he was holding out to her with a shaking hand.
I noticed a shift in Lyle, he was growing wary, and had taken a step closer to his car, “The scars, his disability, it’s a lot to take care of, especially when it’s not your kid.”
Loretta shook his head, “You don’t have any kids do you detective?”
“No ma’am. Sir?” Now Lyle was shaking his head, “We have to get back to the station, there’s been an increase of theft in the area, so you folks stay safe tonight.”
“We look after our own kind.” Loretta looked up at Mr. Bronson as they got back in their car and couldn’t wait for their engine to roar to life before stalling in the dirt as they reversed and swerved to get back down the road. “Either finish eating or prepare for the show! Lights on sixty!” He bellowed. I turned to see the entire troop had gathered around, now I knew what had been eating the officer. “You ok?” he nodded and Mr. Bronson looked at David, “You need a bath son,” he walked off.
Loretta now carried the yellow folder into the tent and out of David’s reach as she opened it. “If your hair lightened this much in five years, you’ll be whiter than Gerry.”
He laughed, “How do you even know that’s me?” She just looked at him.
“So we’re the leprechaun rumors true?”
“My names David, just David.”
“That’s not what it says on paper,” She took a seat at the table, the picture of him was older than six years, because the boy smiling in the picture, had his hair groomed, and I had never seen it like that. “You’re supposed to tell your mother everything, why are you clamming up now?”
“I don’t like to talk about my past, you know that.” All he had to do was a raise a brow for David to sigh and slump down in the chair, “My parents wanted to keep their roots alive, I’m not even sure that they were my real parents, but whoever named me, chose the Irish way of David.” Loretta looked like he was trying to pronounce the name on the paper, “Day hee, D-A-I-T-H-I.” he recited. Loretta was itching with questions and I could tell he knew that asking would only make him clam up more.
“So let me get this straight, you were placed in a foster family, they had other kids, it was difficult so you ran away?” David nodded while crossing his arms, “Well,” he reached across the table to dust some of the dirt off David’s chin, “you have a family here.” Loretta took a deep breath, “Do something with your life, don’t make this your whole life.”
“Why not? You did?”
“I’m already one foot in the grave.” He remarked, “The circus isn’t a place for young men, its where the old come to die.”
His expression furrowed, “I thought you said this is where dreams come to die?”
“Exactly my point, I don’t want to see that happen to you.” David got up and embraced him in a hug.
“I’m happy here.” That was the truth, David was happy here, happier than I’d ever seen him in all the time I knew him.
Loretta sighed, “You going out and pursuing your dreams is what would make me happy.” He kissed his cheek, “Alright go on! You’ve already missed lunch,” he coughed after running his hand through David’s hair sending the dust into the air, “Afterward you need to take a bath.” David shook his head sending dirt everywhere, “Careful! You have a show later!” He shook the dirt off the folder, “Go on, get ready, we can talk about this more, later.” He wrapped his arm around his shoulder and they walked out of the tent together. When he ran you couldn’t see his hobble, and with Loretta by his side you couldn’t see it at all. I decided not to follow and now all I could see was the little boy I found in the woods six years ago.