by Abi Hennig

Even his door is garish. Slick-gloss chartreuse so glittery intense it spits in your eye in the sunlight: less sartorial than attention-seeking. I ask myself for the sixtieth time: why am I here?

I turn over the invitation in my hand. From the moment it fluttered onto my doormat, noise has consumed me. I’m haunted by the hurdy-gurdy, the sheer shrill call of the calliope; at night the penny whistle chirrups through my dreams. My costume may be buried, but sounds can seep through soil.

I turn away. Turn back, subdue the sickness that swills in my stomach and sigh. I lift my hand and drop it, lift and drop six times before the rat-a-tat-tat of my knuckles on glass shocks me and I shudder into silence.

The door opens. My hand hangs stupidly in the air as he peek-a-boos his painted face in and out of view. The stink of grease-paint thickens the air. He leers, sweeping his arm low as he bows and steps aside, gesturing with ruffled cuff into the streamer-strewn circus beyond. He raises a pan-caked eyebrow and I pass by, follow his eyes to the closet door. Skittish in this disarray, I tap my hip, a nervous tic. He notices, picks up the rhythm and we stand for a minute, tip-tapping in time before I slide backwards, hands shoved deep in pockets. This is not what I came here for. Again, he leans his head, winks toward the cupboard. My eyes roll, he mirrors them, tongue lolling for effect. I sigh. He mime-cries. I move to leave. He block-parry-falls. His bloated body lands on my foot. Trapped, I swallow sawdust.

A switch clicks.


Then, his head lamp glares, a paltry follow-spot which slides along the floor towards, of course, the closet door; my foot falls free as a gloved hand grasps the handle, twists and pulls and my teeth tap out a tremor because beneath the scent of must and mothballs, I catch a hint of grease, of shimmer and of tacky plastic tat and despite myself, my pulse quickens, breath catches in my throat as I rasp, “Chuckles.”

His smile unfurls like twisted silk: endless, mesmeric. Half-sunk, I stumble to a chair crammed into the corner, catch myself in a sliver of mirror nailed to the wall and watch, aghast, as the transformation begins. Too late, I remember the rule: no names. Too late, I remember the agony of extrication. Too late, I remember that the soul of this man is his clothes. My arms slip into satin. Somewhere, in the distance, a band begins to play.

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