He juggled chainsaws, she walked the tightrope.
She was impressed that he still had fingers after practicing in the dark. He watched longingly each time she gave up her weight above hushed air.
Like every Gus - or Carnie, as many like to say, Slim and Angel were both fugitives of time. They'd joined the troupe, each using their own unique deceptions, both owing their lives to them, both satisfied with the breaks that circus life had offered.
Slim and Angel honed their skills. They towed perfection in tight spirals by taunting singularities, courting attraction at a distance, seducing gravity and the chameleons of desire. They distilled fine shadows of themselves.
A real Gus finds the dark in the bright-hot spotlight. That's how you sparkle. Thats how you put what needs to be seen in front of the effort. That's what effortless is. The darkness hides the work, the real magic. As the shadows get tighter the magic gets better. This was never spoken; bad mojo to let your magic loose. Every Gus knows it.
Angel tentatively touched Slim's cheek with a slip of straw as they lay under the bigtop. "I love how you smile when you do the shave routine," she said shyly.
Slim grinned. "It lifts the mustache on the sides, better target," he offered. Angel snuggled into the secret.
He'd stood in the shadows while she practiced. She'd see him down there, watching. Then she'd pat a leg or touch a shoulder, show him the target spot so he knew where she was pushing her weight, making a tumble look like flying, or a drop like a pause in time.
The sharing was pride. That's what they'd each figured: Pride in each other. Pride in overcoming their pasts, finding love, cultivating peace, moving forward, cheating the darkness. Oh dear! Pride that they didn't have to worry about bad mojo.
Actually, it wasn't pride. No.
"I know what it means to be hurt," she said, drawing finger along a ragged scar along Slim's chin. "I know what it means to tumble and be laughed at."
Angel had buried her fear of crumbling into dust beneath a mastery of the very physics she couldn't implicitly understand. She couldn't trust herself to trust in her own weight, her own footsteps, one after the next, here to there, because it just didn't make sense. As a child, gripping uncertainty challenged Angel until she yielded, lost her physical being to clumsiness. A short young life with no safety nets, no harness, no bright lights. She tripped and fell and lost and lost and lost until there was little left to lose or worry about breaking. As the world around her shattered, so did she.
It wasn't pride. It was the art of keeping fear at bay that she shared. Shared with Slim. But it was brute force and death defying tenacity that kept her aloft and that was what she didn't dare share, not even with herself.
And Slim. A guy doesn't wake up one day and decide to juggle chainsaws. Thats easy. He needs some prodding. This too has nothing to do with pride.
The battle flares and flashes, roils and spins; chains and fire and all the wide eyed fear it takes to keep a Bigtop startled stuck with absolute silence behind the whir of the saws: That's what it might take a man who feels little to feel at all. Wield that and you might forget to ask just why it became difficult to feel nearly anything at all... except anger, fear, and loathing.
Bertram Halberd was a kid who felt the earth growing and slowing between spoonfuls of cold cereal on warm Kentucky mornings. He felt the universe expanding, accelerating, rushing to cease while his teacher groaned on about Iowa, and corn, and math, and these folks, and that stuff and other things he'd never remember behind the joy he felt in sorrow, or the sorrow he felt in joy (the combined sum of both never amounting to anything near a wash as you might imagine). And so a fine specimen of boy wasted away before the enormity of his senses. In no time he was barely there. Just as quickly they began calling him slim