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His knees buckled, and he dropped to sit on the top step, suddenly unable to stand any longer. Electrico was glad Josh wasn’t present to see the weakness which had stolen over him. Electrico heard the love in his voice, but he also heard the exasperation, and knew he should answer immediately.
But in that moment, he didn’t have the strength to walk down to receive it.
Count how often those inviting tent flaps unfolded at the beginnings of his shows, multiply that by the thousands filing in tugging eager children who were then instructed to squat in the front rows, add the host of times he surrendered to the embrace of the electric chair and felt its power pass through him, letting his skin tingle and his hair stand on end, boost it all by the number of slashes he made with his sword while reaching forward to knight the closest kids with shouts of “Live forever! …and a sensation had begun to expand within him which insisted–the words he’d uttered were no con game. No one could go through those motions for so many performances, mouth those same two words that many times, without beginning to believe. There were tears in Ray’s eyes as they parted, which Mr. “The officer said he’d drive us home,” said Josh, gesturing at the police car which had been left idling on the outskirts of the park. Electrico, even as he felt a pounding in his chest. He remembered that claustrophobic feeling, all those doors with no handles. Once they arrived, Josh waved at the couch in the living room. He shouted his grandson’s name, so upset he didn’t have to search for it even for a split second. Electrico suspected that could have been because his voice was no longer loud enough to carry downstairs. “You were looking for this,” he said, his voice as frozen in time as was his face.
Those who’d toured with him, the only ones to whom he could have talked about this and have them understand, had already taken their leave. ) The Skeleton Man, though, hadn’t been that lucky. Not much reminiscing got done, except in their own heads. But those were all gone, all of it, every scrap of memorabilia, each battered souvenir, lost to rundown apartments he’d abandoned with rent unpaid, and evictions which had left his possessions dissolving in the rain, and small-town pawnshops he’d see the once but never again. To that above all those physical manifestations of his memories had been sacrificed, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, as his path narrowed to whatever this life of his had turned out to be. He could almost see them–the faces in the front row filled with amazement, kid after kid shocked to see what coursed through him as he sat in that chair showered with sparks, faces which would soon themselves be literarily shocked as he tapped their brows and shouted in the tent then what he whispered in the small borrowed bedroom now– “Live forever! All these years later, he raised the sword high above his head, and there he was, in front of thousands of people blurred together by memory, forgettable faces with no names to go with them. Electrico saw it then, the face of the kid who’d come back, the face of the kid who’d brought him a magic trick, the face of a kid he’d welcomed into the tent and introduced to his friends, the face of a kid which was also in a former life the face of a friend, a friend who’d died in his arms in the Ardennes Forest in 1918, during the Great War. They were always asking to take off, believing that hitting the road with a carnival was the solution to whatever their problems happened to be. Oh, he’d been tired, and he’d desperately wanted to nod off, but a life spent on the road had taught him that was never to be done.
He’d left his grandson’s home for a walk in the sun–Josh had insisted he go out, said it wasn’t good for him to sit alone in that spare room all day. Electrico had headed to the park, starting his rambling there as he always did, because he knew its openness would bring back his carnival days, and thoughts of that moment the caravan would arrive at a new location, and study an open field before beginning to set up.
If he could position himself properly, and keep the benches and path lights and playground equipment at his back, he could almost pretend it was still the past. But eventually, his joints had told him he’d better get moving again, so he grabbed a hot dog that hadn’t tasted as good as one he might have gotten on the midway, then headed on to look in store windows filled with things he no longer wanted nor needed, if he ever did, then studied the posters outside a theater advertising movies he would never bother seeing, his afternoon reminding him too much of things he would never do. ” asked Josh, as he slid onto wooden slats still covered with dew. Electrico, unwilling to reveal the truth, especially not with a cop there to bear witness.
And as he sat on one corner of a spare bed at his grandson’s house–a bed which his pained lower back signaled was somehow far harder than the string of cots which to his far younger self had seemed so soft–he looked down at the sword in his trembling hands, and still, all these many years later, thought…why he have fooled himself into thinking that? Besides, it wouldn’t be fair for the charge to merely pass through him, and have none of it remain. Her heart gave out in her sleep, the sad price demanded by her trade. And those tattoos, they didn’t seem quite so pretty when viewed in the open coffin on which The Illustrated Man had insisted. Electrico remembered how once they’d been marvelous. The jugglers, the ticket takers, the drivers, all gone, gone, gone. maybe the electricity had done something after all. But all that was better than the alternative, right? It was sweet of his grandson to step up like this, even if the kid didn’t understand the carny life his grandpa used to lead. It had been so long since their last encounter one Labor Day weekend that he couldn’t be sure, couldn’t remember whether he’d been sincere, or was only planting the seeds for a long con which never had the chance to play out. But he remembered the day when the carnival stopped by Lake Michigan, near Waukegan, Illinois, and the kid to whom Mr. He remembered that kid, and wondered whether he was the one who’d prove his words more than just words. Electrico had done the same himself when he was a kid, but having done so, he’d learned the hard way–why bring the carny life into it? First when Ray pulled out that beginners magic trick he’d bought at the Five and Dime and begged him to explain how it worked, and then when he was brought into the tent and introduced to the others, where Mr. Electrico realized the thought had never even occurred to Ray at all. So sleep came quick now, as did dreams of his old life, and an afternoon by Lake Michigan, and a boy named Ray. ” he said, leaping up one step, then back down again, repeating the move several times with glee. Electrico remembered what it was like to leap, but not when he’d last been able to do it.
“Later, Grandpa,” said Josh upon his return from the garage. He loved the park, the way his scanning of the unpopulated vista brought back memories of the beginnings of things–the tents still unrolled, the ferris wheel unconstructed, the rubes asleep in their homes, and he needed that feeling now more than ever. He could still remember where the park was, couldn’t he? The kid smiled, patting the sand beside him, and as Mr. “Why are you know, know what he hadn’t known before, but merely suspected. The past and the present rubbed up against each other in this place. Because if he squinted, and imagined, and remembered, he could see from one to the other. Sometimes, in this place, he could see much better with them closed.
Don’t try to find this again.” “Josh,” he said, as his grandson vanished, seeming no more or less real than the boy who had vanished on his arrival. Electrico would have shouted if he could, but he had no more energy with which to shout. Electrico said nothing as Josh walked up the stairs and squeezed past to his own bedroom. He’d head toward the park, he decided, where he’d spent most of the previous night. As he stood in indecision, fearful of choosing the wrong way, even more fearful of choosing no way at all, his breath turned to mist in the cool night air, and as that cloud pulsed, appearing and disappearing with each exhalation, through it, off on the nearest corner, under a streetlight, he could see Ray, waving the sword over his head, doing mock battle with a moth which hovered above him. He could make out his outline in the distance, always on the verge of disappearing, and as Mr. They moved through the night this way, twisting and turning along the maze of the subdivisions, the kid continually pausing off in the distance just long enough to be sure he was seen, but no longer, and then taking off again as soon as Mr. For a moment, as he looked around, he thought he’d lost the kid, but there he was, sitting not on a bench, sitting not on the grass, but off in the empty playground, plopped on a mound of sand in front of the rut beneath the swings, a mound kicked high by the feet of a thousand children. Electrico, having to catch his breath to get even that single short sentence out.
Electrico had seen him, when he visited to reminisce about the old days, the man could barely speak above a whisper. Electrico wished he could show the kid who he really was, and why, wished he could explain it all in the way he’d never been able to do for his son, whose empathy had been crushed by having to live through it. And if only he still owned the costume he’d once worn, red silk with yellow piping zigzagging down the sleeves to make it look as if lightning was about to come out of his fingertips. He held it out before him as he used to do at each show–more an extension of his arm than a piece of metal–and closed his eyes. Ray hadn’t been the first to come back–kids were always ditching their parents and returning to say the things they wouldn’t dare unless they were alone with him–but he was the first to come back who didn’t also ask to join him. Electrico went up to his room–slowly, as all stairs were taken slowly these days–where he fell asleep immediately, a thing which he hadn’t allowed himself in the park. ” “It seemed as if you needed me,” said Ray, pausing in his prancing to look up. I doubted you’d have been able to on your own.” Ray flipped the sword in his hand so that its hilt was now pointed up toward the top of the stairs. He knelt, laying the sword down sideways across the bottom step, the blade so long it stuck out through the bannister. All he could think was — how is it that Josh missed seeing Ray? Electrico could think of anything to say, Josh noticed the sword on the bottom step, and his expression darkened.
And the newspaper clippings, filled with awe and wonder. And so, of course, in that moment, from behind Ray came the sound of the front door being unlocked. Electrico recognized, and then looked briefly over one shoulder, unalarmed. No one should take it from you.” And then Ray backed out of sight, vanishing into the living room, just before Josh came into view from the front foyer. Electrico found himself without the breath to speak, so Josh was startled on seeing him there, at first not even noticing the sword. Josh had lately been accusing him of getting slow, and a snappy answer would help contradict that, but he had none.