First Page: The Sideshow – Drama
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He was born with an unusual number of limbs, but otherwise he was perfectly normal. They couldn’t think of something to say the day he birthed. When he had fully emerged, they tightly swaddled him as soon as possible. Then, instead of “congratulations!” or, “it’s a boy!” his mother only heard “I’m so sorry,” and, “would you like him disposed of?” This was before she’d even gotten a good look at him, and- still out of breath, covered in sweat and blood and tears and now terrified by what she was hearing- the woman who birthed Spider screamed, “Give him to me!” A nurse handed the bundle over, and she peered at her infant’s face. It was a beautiful face.
“He’s perfect,” she said, but holding him now she could tell the swaddled form was lumpier than it ought to have been. He was unfolded, like a present, and she screamed so loudly that she woke up a coma patient three floors down. That’s a joke he used to add to the story.
It was only then- after she’d seen him and screamed like that- that he began to cry. He could have been perfectly happy forever if nobody had ever screamed at him. That’s what he used to say, and I suppose he really believed it.
I was seventeen years old when I first saw him. He had a trick where he would tuck his extra arms into a baggy shirt, and one extra leg into each loose pant leg with extra-large shoes to fit both pairs of feet so he could walk around like normal and no one would suspect anything was different if they didn’t pay too much attention. But when I first saw him, he was wearing his show clothes- a custom made, tight-fitting suit that unapologetically revealed his anomalous form.
I’d been wandering around the crowded front entrance of the circus for the past half hour, trying to meet up with a friend of mine while taking in all the smells and sounds and colors around me. A man on a brightly painted platform shouted out advertisement for a burlesque show inside a small scarlet tent, children counted pennies out to a clown selling cotton candy from a rolling booth, and a huge banner boasted of an elephant inside the big top that could do a hand-stand. The row of banners strung in a row across the side of the sideshow tent boasted of oddities beyond the farthest reach of human imagination.
That’s when I heard it- the whistling. It was apart from the other noise- which is why it caught my interest. It wasn’t an advertisement, it wasn’t part of a show, it was just a simple tune from the lips of someone disillusioned by the fanfare. Amidst the other noises, the tune stood out to me because it was my favorite song.
I slipped behind the show tents and away from the crowds, following the melody. Weaving in and out among the travel wagons and empty holding cages for the show animals, my skirt brushing against my knees, I came nearer to the sound until I walked straight out into the clearing right in front of him.
The whistling stopped. He stood up abruptly from the crate he’d been reclining on and steadied himself with four barefoot feet in the grass. Two arms quickly moved to hide themselves behind his back, and the other two arms hung stiffly at his sides.
I said nothing and neither did he. I knew that it would be impolite to stare at his limbs, so I looked at his eyes instead. Piercing and gray-blue under dark brows, I was surprised by the way those eyes made me feel.
“I heard you whistling,” I finally said, by way of explanation- perhaps apology. He didn’t respond, only broke my gaze by looking down at his feet. “All of Me. Louis Armstrong, right?” The slightest hint of a smile showed on his face. “What’s your name?”
“The Human Spider,” he murmured, adjusting his cap over a mess of coal-colored hair.
“I didn’t mean what they call you,” I said. “What’s your actual name?”
“James Phillip Solderman,” he spoke haltingly, like the name was unfamiliar to his tongue. After a long pause he very quietly asked, “What’s yours?”
“Ruby,” I said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
He looked back up into my eyes, squinting, and I felt the hair on my arms and neck rising up. I couldn’t tell if I was repulsed by him or if I wanted to be closer to him.