“All around him the mean and vulgar flourish, while the righteous man suffers. And now it seems to him as though it could never be different upon earth.”
— MARTIN BUBER, GOOD AND EVIL
“Are you alright, Mr. Eddie? You look like you are having the gross feelings in your stom-atch.”
Abakoum smiled and nudged Eddie. “You positive, my main man? You have been looking like the fish with the gills that make the greens around them.”
Eddie looked up from his spot on the steps in front of the trailer. His arms hung at his sides, and the winds blew through his hair, ruffling it as it did the tent flaps surrounding them. “I’m fine, Abakoum.”
“Okay, my main man. If you are, like, feeling the downs, you come party Abakoum, baby! Number one good-time, alright?”
“Alright, Abakoum. Thanks.”
Abakoum patted Eddie on the shoulder. “Okay, Mr. Eddie. Remember what Anthony Robbins say—‘It is in your moments of decision that your destinies are raped.’”
Eddie winced. His friend was bright, but often said things that embarrassed Eddie. “I think it’s shaped, Abakoum.”
“I don’t know. I think it makes more sense to say—It is in your moments of decision that your destinies are shaped.”
“No, no, no. This make no sense, Mr. Eddie. In my country, if you want on something, you must to take it! You have to dominatrix people to getting what you want. Like the rapings. It no makes sense to say shape. How you can shape somebody? People are not like the Jell-O. But raping? You can make the raping on anybody. Make much more sense.”
Eddie shook his head, hoping to be done with the conversation. “You really shouldn’t—shouldn't... you know, make rapings on anyone.”
“Yes. Okay. This is truth. You are good boy, Mr. Eddie.”
Eddie Marivicos waved off the fire-eater. Abakoum was new to the Carnival, but old to the trade and to the earth. Eddie continued staring at the sign outside of the main circus tent.
The Marivicos Summerlong Carnivalé Festival! FOURTY-SEVEN YEARS RUNNING!
For most of his life—in fact, his entire life, with two years’ exception—Eddie had worked for his family.
“This ain’t a circus, numbnuts,” Papa had told him during his first run. “Remember that. This is a seasonal Carnival. We open in the summer. We don’t leave town in between. There’s a difference.” Why they never thought of going somewhere else was not a question Eddie bothered to ask.
The Carnival was different from state fairs and roaming circuses in other ways. It maintained older attractions that time had rendered unfashionable. The unruly gangs of politically correct snowflakes had forbidden freak show features and exploited creatures.
There was the Hall of Oddities, with its wet-jaws filled with two-headed monkeys and stillborn fetuses. Then there was the freak show tent, where one could see a strongman lift a barbell with his nut-sack, or watch the emcee lie on a bed of nails, hoping that one went through his back. There was also the circus tent, which Papa Marivicos insisted was not a circus tent.
Everything within the campgrounds belonged to the Carnival— it must be distinguished from the filth and frivolity of a circus. Confectionary stalls set up in cloth-covered booths lined the midway—which had been eroded by the millions of trodden steps that mashed green sproutlings and patches of grass into a brown, dead walkway. There was a low-roofed Dutch-style wooden structure that contained something like a saloon, along with some roulette tables and a few blackjack and poker stations. A local machinist had offered Papa Marivicos a cut on some levered slot machines with the cherries and other symbols printed on rolling white cylinders.
There were two main tents. The one for the kids had magic shows, songs, trick ponies, and circus—there’s that word again—dogs jumping through hoops and demonstrating that perfected ratio of adorable-to-agile.
The adults’ tent was rowdier. Kayjigville had no Blue Laws, and that was where Eddie would be performing. The marks drank homemade booze, the properties of which had been steadily refined over the years so that it was very rare that anyone suffered alcohol—or any other kind of—poisoning from imbibement.
Papa Marivicos wore a threadbare patchwork of an ensemble that contained high-fashioned pieces (obviously stolen), and a plain frock. He was done up in makeup to hide his wrinkled and scarified skin, and on top of it all, he was so adorned with junk jewelry that he looked like a Tinkertoy chandelier. His hat was an ostentatiously tall dirtied stovetop hat, the color of brown velvet. A luminescent braided cloth wrapped around its body where a ribbon would go.
Eddie sat by himself behind one of the tarps that served as a barrier between the family and the fun-goers. He had left home for two years. During those two years, something had aroused itself in his mind— something irrepressible and ominous, foreign and powerful. The shadowy pall of that new part of his still- maturing psyche had been the cause of many an ailment, some of which had been manageable.
Eddie didn’t consider himself terribly bright, and for better or worse, he was tethered to Papa Marivicos as a mule was tethered to yoke and plow. Maybe it was his own deference to Papa that partially caused his ailment. But none of that mattered, and frankly, Eddie didn’t think of any of that so much as his mind skirted these ideas without articulation. No, when he was behind the barrier, Eddie simply tried to annihilate all thought so he could manage his pre-performance nausea.
Normally, Papa Marivicos would run roughshod over the boy, but when Eddie was in this preparatory state, he could rest assured that he’d be unmolested. The older man was quite cruel to Eddie in those moments where he wasn’t fixated on gross ticket sales and the add-on garnishing of alcohol profits. Papa had all measures of vitriolic wizardry at his disposal. He was the type of wrathful, angry misanthrope who took insult and cruelty to extremes with his dry, cutting barbs. To Papa, insulting someone was a high art.
But not when the goose was brooding over the golden eggs he would lay for the gander. Right then, in that moment, Eddie was left to his own devices.
Deep in his shell, Eddie felt a fire ignite, moving to and from his bowels, and his nausea kicked in. Lost in his universe, the boy bent over, head tucked down to his knees, and prayed. In his mind, he could feel himself uttering some pleading words, though his corporeal voice box let out something else—sounds that didn’t belong to him:
A voice commands thee
In your forgetting moments
Yet the vessel remembers
After the voice leaves
Eddie didn’t know where this was coming from. Was it poetry? Prophecy? Was it the weeping and gnashing of a holy terror, crazed and toothless? Who or what was he channeling? He pressed down harder, grabbing the soles of his feet, pulling his chest hard against his knees until his diaphragm contracted and his tendons tingled with pain. He resisted the pressure of an animalistic moan. But it emerged all the same.
His pre-performance fits were not optional. The voice spoke again, and he could do nothing to suppress it. He felt separate from it—and it from him. He could hear the sound of the words silently echoing in his mind, competing against the bodily gobbledygook that came from his lips:
A voice commands thee
In your forgetting moments
Yet the vessel remembers
After the voice leaves
Do you know my name?
I am spoken memory
I am infinite sadness
The atom within
The thought that this might be poetry, that it might make sense to someone at the Carnival, terrified the boy, whose body started convulsing. Eddie tried to push more—now he was screaming, his face mashed between his knees and muffled by the meat of his legs and the cloth of his slacks—but the voice had fully taken hold, and so it continued uninterrupted:
The sin: forgetting
You: the mule for the theater
Borne with chains of illusion
Guilt upon your head
These eyes of light split
We are in our becoming
You: the penitent changeling
Us: invisibly voiced
He hated being a bible, hated the prophetic diction he was hearing outside of himself. Like a madman, he broke out of his cell at last. He hung limp and rubbery, his long arms draped along his sides, his face turned sideways, drooling. His body vibrated and bounced, his lungs constricting and inflating. There was some light in Eddie’s eyes: a sourceless bounty of second sight. The other-voice, in full control, finished its recitation before allowing Eddie control of his body again:
Remember this work
A shadowed immemory
While speaking your reveries
Transmitted and true
The coil is wrapping
an ephemeral bonding
And that unspoken longing
It cripples and bows
Eddie sprang up with an unnatural kinetic power. Suddenly, he was his own again. He vomited on the dirt floor and breathed himself back into the 47th year of The Marivicos Summerlong Carnivalé Festival.
Papa Marivicos knew the drill. He had been watching, waiting for the magic moment. The old codger signaled to one of his troupe of achondropods to come clean up Eddie’s sick. He signaled to another of the short-limbed dwarves to bring the boy a bottle of bourbon.
Papa took the bottle from the fawn-like dwarf and held it up, label out, to Eddie. “Drink up, boy. There it is, boy... yes, yes, yes... drink it all up.”
Eddie took the bottle from Papa’s brittle hand and uncorked it, taking boundless swigs, huge gulps of the spiked elixir.
“Feel better?” Papa cooed.
The boy simply nodded; even in these rare kindly moments, Eddie was too frightened to speak. The desiccated meat-sack of a carny man ran his fingers through the sweat-soaked strands of Eddie’s hair.
“You’ll do fine tonight, boy. Real good. Real fine. You give ‘em a good show, right? You will? Yes, yes. I know you will. I’ll go out and count you in, bring you in right. You’re the star of the show, yeah? Remember that.”
As Eddie nodded, Papa briskly stepped past the curtain enclosure and through the dirt path to the bread-and-circus crowd seated in the round.
Papa took his place before the crowd, announcing not only his presence, but indicating the show was about to begin. “But, oh, the sound so loud! The voices that come, truly spoken to a mind broken—an intellect in disrepair. Yes, ladies and ghouls, fornicators and fools, we are at that eleventh hour. I, the Herald, tell of a voice given to an unearthly power! Presenting to you—every single ticket-bearing spectator,” Papa paused and pointed a shaky finger in the vague direction of the audience. “And those of you who’ve snuck in for free, who will be dealt with later—presenting to you the boy who was born with...” Papa trailed off, scanned the listless crowd, then continued, “second sight!”
Cheers rang out as Papa spread his arms wide while he soaked in the excitement of the spectators. The spotlight fled the stage for a moment then multiplied from one light into several that swept over the crowd before converging and settling upon the showman once more.
“Once, and only in a single moment, in every Carnival night, we come to this circle to dream—rather, not to dream but bear witness to a reality reshaped, broken. To invoke those visions seldom spoken, to hear those uncanny wails that call from beyond the veil. Tonight, I present to you: the one, the only, the wizardly and weird channel of secrets and prophecy and the unknowable: Melmoth the Magnificent!”
An eerie minor-key organ dirge played out over the stale Carnival air as the spotlights dimmed. Layers of slow arpeggios and somber chords stilled the audience. Eddie walked out from the blackness of the tent and toward the center of a dusty circle as the follow-spot operator simultaneously shone a conical beam of bright white light down onto Eddie (or “Melmoth”). The boy slowly stood up straight while holding the edge of his palm to his forehead as a visor to block the bright spotlight. Even more slowly, he surveyed the room. The noises were deafening. They were noises that only he—Eddie—could hear. For the thoughts of just about everybody in the tent flooded his mind. It was unbearable. He wanted to clutch his stomach, keel over, vomit, run, scream. But he knew he couldn’t do any of that.
From previous experience, Eddie assumed that the riotous interference in his head would, God willing, pulsate at a lower frequency once his mind reordered and attenuated the sound of the others’ thoughts. Everyone was waiting in greedy anticipation. They’d heard that this year’s main act was something of a stunner. But Eddie just stood there, silent, waiting. The stillness of the air and the discomfort of the crowd was palpable as the gravid silence elongated, ceaselessly mocking the ticketholders. A low rumbling began to emanate from the audience—something in the way of discontent—until a man yelled out, “Do something!”
Papa Marivicos smiled, his arms folded. He kicked one of his dwarf-seconds and pointed toward Eddie.
“You seen this part yet?” Marivicos asked his tiny assistant.
“Yes,” the dwarf smiled, “it’s very good. But how come you let him go on like this?”
Papa smiled a cruel smile and answered, “I didn’t. I told him to go out there and ask questions. But he said he can’t do it that way. After a few nights, I saw that this works just as well.”
The two of them watched Eddie stir, and they kept quiet, waiting for the young man to start.
“What do you want me to do?” Eddie asked the man. The man who’d asked him to do something.
“Tell us something we don’t know.”
The crowd responded with a murmur of assent.
Eddie looked down, trying to pluck something from the chorus of voices in his head.
“Tell us where Jimmy Hoffa is buried!”
“I can’t. I can only tell you things that you people know yourselves.”
“Fine!” A shabby and stumbly drunk in the front row stood up and yelled, “Tell me what I’m thinking of right now.”
Without a beat, Eddie responded, “You’re thinking of two things. One, you’re thinking that you’d like to rape the bartender at Finnegan’s Wake, but you think you’re too old, and you’ll be too drunk by the end of the night, and you think she’d leave you hurt real bad if you tried. You’re also thinking of the number eight hundred sixty-seven. Now you’re thinking that you only wanted me to find the number eight hundred sixty- seven.”
Eddie spoke calmly, his gaze never wavered, nor did his voice. The drunkard instantly jerked, and he gripped his dirty fisherman’s hat tight in his hand.
“W-well, y-y... how... how dare you! I ain’t never thought nothing like that in my life. And I weren’t thinkin’ of eight hundred sixty-seven, neither.”
“I could tell them what else you’re thinking, if you’re calling me a liar,” Eddie responded.
Someone else from the crowd shouted, “Well, how do we know you’re not the one who’s lying?”
Eddie smiled. “Good question. Okay, how many kids are in the audience tonight? It’s okay. I know you’re not supposed to be in here this late, but now it’s part of the act, so how many?”
A couple of tiny hands went up in the air, followed by a few women and men pushing them down out of shame or worry or both.
“I need a favor from the kids. Every kid with their hand raised, please keep it in the air.”
Eddie walked up the aisle that cut through the staggered bleacher seating.
“I’m going to go to every kid with their hand raised. I’m going to say how old you are. If I’m right about your age, put down your hand. If I’m wrong, keep your hand raised.”
Eddie went down the aisle and started. “Ten.”
A boy’s hand dropped.
Another boy’s hand dropped. “Twelve.”
A girl’s hand dropped. “Thirteen.”
Another hand. “Fifteen.”
Yet another. “Six.”
Eddie smiled and looked at the little tyke who’d dropped his hand. He turned to the boy’s father and said, “Couldn’t find a babysitter?”
The crowd laughed at that, and even more at the father’s reply. “Can’t even find his mother!”
Then Eddie went through another dozen or so, rattling off numbers. All the hands went down. Finally, Eddie turned back toward the old drunk, looking him straight in the eye.
“Eight hundred sixty-seven?”
The drunk heckler simply nodded, looking cowed. Eddie put his hand on the old man’s shoulder and whispered.
“It’s alright. I saw the rest in there. I know you wouldn’t do it, Ern. You’re okay.”
The old drunk smiled.
Papa Marivicos rubbed his hands together. He could restrain himself no longer. He slapped his dwarf on the back and chortled.
“How about that? How about that?”