In the grey dawn light and faint smirr of rain they were all as one, indistinguishable. The strongman melded with the roustabouts and the acrobats, the latter now ground-bound and strangely like rain-slaked moths without their spangles and gilding.
And the ground was soft under his feet, his shoes still bearing the last clinging remnants of sawdust from the ring last night, hazy memories of a brief moment under the klieg lights in some already forgotten town on the far side of nowhere.
Take the slack, someone shouted, and he felt the cold texture of the rope in his hand begin to bite as they all hauled and pulled, the canvas of the old tent rising like a phoenix from the damp ground, turning the barren field into a palace of dreams for one night only.
Cheer up, it’ll never happen, someone said, patting him on the back as they secured the swaying cables with heavy pegs.
Most morose bastard I ever met, another voice snorted, and all the faceless shapes joined in the laughter like a devil’s chorus.
Not that he cared, of course, slinking into the shade of the underside of a wagon to rest until dusk and the discordant melody of the hurdy-gurdy men and the barkers’ raucous cries. Fires being lit and onions frying, the cooch dancers stretching from their beds and drowning the scent of their stale sweat with cheap cologne.
Another show, someone said, clapping him on the shoulder as he sat by the mirror, but he never answered.
Miserable sod, they said, walking away.
Oblivious, he rose, stretched, and pulled aside the striped canvas flap, drinking in the aroma and the sight of the crowd bustling through the turnstiles.
And then that delicious moment of rebirth. A little boy saw him and pointed, his drab care-worn face lighting up like a Christmas tree.
Coco, he cried, beaming. It’s Coco the Clown!