Centime was a special young girl; pretty and bendy in equal measure with a mind faster than a greasy rat on a slanted slab of marble succumbing to gravity she was the one person everyone wanted to know. News of her exploits travelled far and wide, which was rather impressive as she lived in a tiny Finnish village where the only means of communication was to wave sticks at moose until one of them understood your inference and posted it on social media websites. She ate nothing but lingonberries, juustoleipa, salmiakki, tea taivas and lettuce. Quite how she survived on such a meagre diet is anybody’s guess yet it all added to the mystery and the fascination surrounding this French named little darling.
Monday to Friday, after her morning ablutions Centime took herself into the woods whilst her parents took themselves to work. At the tender age of 15 she wasn’t yet ready to work, but in a few days after her village maturity ceremony on her 16th birthday, she would get to choose the life she wanted. She knew already. In the woods she leaped and climbed up all the trees, bounding from branch and bough, the crisp Scandinavian wind riffling her shoulder length dark hair behind her like a small cape attached to a coconut, breezing across the woodland skyline with the grace of a Tolkein elf with the speed and surefootedness one would not believe from such a dainty, delicate young lady. Twisting, turning through the air she flew with nothing but the sunlight above and snow below to bear witness to her athletic ability. There were birds too on occasion when they ventured out from their nests. All of them singing to welcome the new day suddenly stunned into silence by the nature, grace and gentle spirit elegantly parting the air before them. Once she was passed they sang a different song, a song spread far and wide throughout the animal kingdom, the song about the human girl who was at one with herself, her person and her surroundings.
She knew what she wanted. She knew what she would request from the village elders at the maturity ceremony. There was a circus passing through the village this week, and she with her natural elasticity would give anything to travel with them, performing silks. She focussed her mind whilst she was perched precariously on the edge of the slender arm of an unusually large birch and performed a gymnastic routine that would have undoubtedly won her the gold medal in any Olympic games ever, but all that mattered to her was that it would be good enough to impress the owners of the circus so that she would be allowed to travel with them.
Centime had no need to worry. One of the troupe, Dr. John Domuch, had heard all about her from the woodland critters and their choral renditions of Centime’s post-morning ablution routines and was convinced enough to speak to his bosses and assure them that she was what they had been looking for.
Without further ado, fanfares or much of a goodbye to anybody but her parents she packed her clothes and her books and her precious personality into her packs and bags made from hemp and rope and cardboard and made away with the Tournois Family World Famous Travelling Circus. Her new adventure had begun.
The troupe was a kind and friendly bunch primarily skilled in acrobatics and gymnastics. Over the next few days during stops upon their journey to Helsinki she met the main movers and shakers: Livre the owner and patriarch, Libra his Italian wife and his equal in every way (if not more than skilled at him in pretty much everything, especially amateur dramatics), Dr. John Domuch who conversed with animals and was an excellent physician, Tommy and Tammy The Trapeze Twins, Golgomoth the bearded lady, Excelsior the dwarf, Decanter the Enchanter (who was a really, truly terrible mentalist yet was actually a brilliant illusionist and escape artist), and Bruce Utsler the clown who possessed some musical talent. These made up the Council, by which all major decisions were made via a democratic process. It was unanimously decided after a single round of voting that Centime would train with Tommy and Tammy and learn silks.
She spent her days travelling with the circus from then on, tied up in silks safely suspended from the ceiling, bending and swinging and falling and hanging in equal measure to the gasps and the thrills and the excitement of the troupe. She loved it, all of it; the applause, the ovation, the adulation, and the sense inside herself that what she was doing was all she really wanted to do. She had never been happier or more comfortable and more attached to a sense of self as she was at this moment.
She trained harder and harder every day for weeks and months, spinning, swinging, climbing, rolling; her movements so fluid she resembled water tumbling inside a bottle, smooth and unbroken, clear, pure, unbridled. She recognised all the faces she looked out upon: Livre, Libra, Domuch, Golgomoth, Excelsior, Decanter, Tommy & Tammy, Bruce Ustler and…there, there behind the rest, looking on with wonder, awe, sadness and longing was a face she had never seen before; wild and rough dark hair, electrically ice blue eyes with all the warmth of a fireside embrace, stubbly strong masculine jawline that masked the insecurity and sensitivity of his soul. He took her breath away and for that split second she lost her rhythm, her urgency and missed her loop.
Plummeting, spinning wildly down as her feet lost traction and fraction in the fabric she rolled in a vertical descent to the screams and consternation of the gathered spectators. She flicked her foot to catch a hold somehow, somewhere but succeeded only in upending herself head over heels down watching the faces come and go, all a blur except for one, her mystery man, occupying her thoughts even still until the last when she came down onto the hard ground and her knees took all the force of impact. Her knees, the hinges by which her legs worked, smashed hard into the cruel, unforgiving floor.
There were screams, there were cries, there was a gnashing of teeth and a rending of garments. Centime was lying on her back, legs splayed as the Council gathered round proclaiming rudimentary and generic offers of assistance and advice until Dr. Domuch lifted her in his arms and carried her to the medical tent. Centime hadn’t really understood, hadn’t grasped the potentially severity. She just wondered where the dark haired boy had come from, and to where it was she needed to follow him.
Dr. John Domuch examined her in the quiet of his sanctuary, away from the gawping, gawking, squawkings of the worried Council members, free from noisy distractions and layman bias, free to exact his own diagnosis. He was silent all the while, his glasses slipping over his nose, him pressing them back up over his hairline into his bushy white swept back mane belying his years, breathing rhythmically, soothing, hypnotic. Centime drifted, eyes closing, the exertions of her days actions mingling with the approaching shock of the fall. Her muscles relaxed, the good doctor administering mild pain relief via a syringe into the pallid, clammy, skin of her left forearm. As her eyes closed and despite her best efforts to fight the medication, a new entity entered the room with a sweep of tarpaulin and a flash, quickly, suddenly, a flourish meeting her gaze, their eyes locked, the icy blue the last thing she saw before she swam wearily into a calm ocean of sleep and serenity.
And here in this fugue state she dreamt soundly. She dreamt she was dancing in clothes of styles she could comprehend, clothes so fine fabric so soft against her skin it caused prickles to form. She danced in an empty ballroom, architecture designed by the goods, decorated by grace of the delicate eyes and hands of angels. She danced with gaiety and freedom like a swallow on a fresh updraft heading south for warmer climes she climbed the ecstasy ladder as she turned and twirled and frolicked and pirouetted and all the while she was being watched. The watcher watched and was happy, he was delighted, and she only wanted to dance for him, for he was the reason she was born to dance. She loved him yet she knew him not but those eyes, those frighteningly poignant eyes that read like poetry, like the finest prose that ever was laid down onto parchment, like all the letters in the alphabet formed all the words in all the world and she could read them all, for they were written for her and her alone, for in those moments she looked into his eyes a new language was created, new letters, new words, new syllables and it was something they shared together, and only they, for the understanding was meant for them and them alone. She danced and danced and danced and smiled and smiled and smiled. He watched and smiled and smiled and watched and she couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop for this made him happy and it made her happy to know this. She swept towards him in a motion, silently, delicately and he embraced her, and in his arms she fell completely and she felt him give something of himself to her. He sunk to his knees and looked up at her, and in those eyes she saw the world as it should be, as he wanted it to be for her. And right there, lost in this ballroom built for just the two of them, together and alone like nothing and no one else would ever matter, she kissed him.
And she awoke.
She was back in the doctor’s tent. She was lying on a medical cot. She had no idea how long she had been asleep for. She could move her hands and her arms as she reached to sweep a few stray strands of hair from her face. She reached to scratch her thigh. Suppressing a yawn she noticed her mouth was dry. On the table by her bed was a cup of water. She moved her arms by her side ready to push herself up to rest her back against the wall behind her. As she performed the action she was hit by a tremendous screaming in her knees. The scream was one she uttered alone from her throat, but a scream nevertheless albeit one merely to vocalise what the nerves in her leg hinges were telling her.
Dr. John Domuch and Libra rushed in almost tangling each other up in the clinical drooping of the flaccid tarpaulin as haste driven by concern overwhelmed their motor functions. They asked and implored as to her well being and the doctor bade her be still. They let her take the cup by her bed from which she drank greedily to parch the burning thirst raging across her arid tongue. As Libra wept, Dr. Domuch used all his years training in bedside manner to regale her with what information he had gleaned from his examination. The fall had impacted the cartilage in her patella, compressing the tendons and ligaments in a way that they were never designed. He could not, he said with tears choking his voice, ever see a time when she could walk unaided, let alone perform beneath the big top. He continued thusly to say that in all his years as a medical professional he had never witnessed a healing process to be so accelerated. It was as though something was willing her injuries be gone, or that life itself knew that a mistake had been made and was trying to rectify the injustice as a writer would use correction fluid, or a pencil artist would an eraser. This was preposterous he further stated, yet he could find no other explanation. Centime wondered at this, and wondered at her dream. She had to ask, had to know.
“Who was the dark haired boy who was watching me rehearse?” she asked. “The boy who came into the tent just before I fell asleep?”
Libra laughed; a cruel laugh mocking in inflection and dismissive in tone. The same woman who just moments ago looked as if her whole world was torn asunder was now frothing with seething resentment. The change was both uncanny and a little worrying.
“Franc? Pay him no mind my dear. He is a simple boy of little worth.” and tossed her hair back, never letting go of Centime’s left hand, a hand she had until now not noticed was being held captive.
“My stepson, good for nothing. No skill with his body. Spends his whole time reading and thinking and getting in the way, making my whole life a nightmare. You leave him be. He is not well.”
From the way she talked with bitterness dripping through her glottal stops like the strongest acid through a wooden floor it was clear she did not mean a debilitating physical illness, but more that he did not and would never meet with her approval. She caught the eye of Dr. Domuch and he seemed by contrast much more sympathetic towards whatever ailed this boy as if he actually knew and understood much more and bore the countenance of a man burdened by a secret.
“And now my precious little girl, I must be going. The others must know that soon you will be well.” She flourished as she stood, curtsied almost as she reached standing position and waltzed out of the tent with little to no fanfare, which was in direct contrast to the way she would have expected such an exit. Alas no standing ovation was forthcoming.
Centime felt the throbbing in her knees easing as she sipped more of her water from the cup that the doctor had kindly refilled. He looked at her with gentle grey eyes, like a wizard in a fantasy novel he smiled and stroked her hair.
“I will take you to see him if you like.”
Her heart jumped and the action spilled her water onto her gown. She may meet him! She didn’t even know him, but how she wanted to see him, to speak to him, to look upon him. To make happy whatever made him sad.
“I would like that very much. I would like to ask him something.”
She wanted to know if the dream could be real, even though that felt like pure fantasy at this point, what with the stiffness in her legs taking all precedence.
“It may answer one or two questions, but it will present just as many new ones.” He warned, but a warning so softly uttered it was as if she knew she would find all she needed to.
“I am ready. And quickly doctor, before she returns.”
“At once, young Centime. At once.”
He lifted her into a wheelchair and pushed her through the flaps. It was evening now and cold and wet. He pushed her across the makeshift courtyard where the troupe had camped and surrounded an area with their tents and caravans. From behind her Centime could hear the progress of a party that had long since started and was not yet about to abate. Something had clearly got the people all excited, as she had not heard revelry of the like except after her first demonstration. Maybe the miracle healing was stronger than the doctor had revealed to her. She already felt as though she could get up and try to walk in several minutes. The doctor was pushing the chair a little faster now, away from the raucous laughter and closer to a scant little caravan much further away from rest and lost to shadow, only the light of the moon edging out from a conspicuously placed cloud breaking its subtlety and betraying its need for solitude. If this caravan and whatever lay within wanted to be hidden the universe was telling them that right now was not the time. Now was the time to be seen.
Centime knew that he was in there. She wanted to see him, she wanted to hold him. She had an overwhelming need to ease his troubles and as they arrived at the intricately carved wooden door popular with the travelling population she instinctively leapt out of the chair and grasped the handle. Her knees felt strong, but as soon as they bore her weight and settled, there came a crash and a cry from inside. Centime gasped and cried out while the doctor behind her sighed a little, sighed sadly and said
“We need to take this chair inside. It has happened.”
Centime didn’t wait any longer to find out so pulled open the door and climbed the small steps before entering. The room was dark, lit entirely by what seemed like lanterns of all different colours, all dim, glowing. Benches were set out around the walls and on the top of each one were beakers filled with liquids. They were labelled in a script that would be legible only to the one who had written it. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the lanterns and her ears followed the sounds of groaning coming from her right when she saw him, Franc, her dark haired blue eyed mystery boy of her dreams spread out face down on the floor a cut on his head.
“Excuse me young lady,” Doctor Domuch said with the urgent air of a diver finding a hole in his oxygen tank. “He has hit his head, this was not to happen. He was supposed to be resting.”
The doctor lifted Franc and placed him on his bed.
“His wound is deep. This is very bad, very bad indeed. I must go and get my things. Stay here with him and don’t let him stand. He will never walk again.” Without further explanation he turned and left.
Centime turned to the object of her affection and reached for his hand. As soon as her skin touched his she felt a shock, electric, her blood ran hot, her skin stood on end as if she was being blown by a cold wind. Franc must have felt it too for her turned to her.
“Centime?” his voice was choked and hoarse. The cut on his head oozed more blood. His hand felt clammy. “I just want you to know who I am.”
“Shush Franc, shush.” She stroked his thick, black, wild hair. She twined her fingers for purchase. “Don’t speak Franc, the doctor will be back soon. You will be ok.”
“I really hope not” spoke a cruel voice from behind. Libra stood holding a beaker of a softly glowing blue liquid which was previously sitting on a wooden bench at the back of the caravan. “for if he ever walks again it shall mean that you cannot. This way you will always be for us. You owe us. Livre gave of his only son so that you may walk. For as long as you have been training, our beautiful little prodigy, we have been selling out tickets for the next ten years. Your skills will make us rich! Rich beyond anything we ever thought or hoped or dreamed was possible!” She threw back her head and laughed loud and mechanically maniacal. She thrust her finger towards them both, the beaker encased liquid all blue in hue lighting her as a witch in an ancient but frighteningly real fairytale.
“Day and night, night and day we have had Franc learn the arts of chemicals. He has transferred his ability to walk to you. He will no longer have the use of his knees so that you might. He had to fall in love you for it to work and lo! one look upon your beautiful face and he fell totally and utterly, the hopeless useless fool that he is! Pay him no mind my dear, once he dies you will never feel pain again!” She laughed again, long and loud. Centime was growing increasingly incensed at this slight and these threats against the boy she was growing her love for more and more with everything she was hearing.
To Centime it seemed that nothing Libra said made any sense. It was not just that she loved him unconditionally, it was that he was being described so negatively, yet what he achieved with all these potions and magicks in the room was nothing short of genius. He had transferred his own power, his own bodily functions directly so Centime could walk again at the expense of his own flexibility. This was not what she wanted, not what she would ever want. She wanted the two of them to dance together. This is why he just watched, she thought, because he knew that he would not be able to dance with me, because he was only ever supposed to be allowed to watch. She didn’t want silks anymore, or to be in the circus, she wanted Franc and she wanted to be his.
Slowly, painfully, Franc turned towards the source of the commotion but was too weak to interject. He just lay there and a noise gurgled from him, a noise no healthy human should make, then his shallow, deliberate breath exhaled a final time and came out in the way one would if one was made of bone and porcelain and fell down a flight of stairs. His icy blue eyes were turning glassy; Centime screamed, Libra laughed.
Without warning Libra hurled the beaker of softly glowing blue liquid towards Franc. Centime screamed: “NOOOOOOOO!” and launched her body in the way. The beaker struck her firmly in the head and shattered into a million pieces scattering themselves hither and thither across the tightly cramped caravan. The liquid touched Centime’s cheek and for a moment she was frozen, momentarily it was as if time and space ceased, and then her whole colour drained out from her short brown hair, out from her cheeks, her clothes, until she resembled an old black and white photographic rendering of her former self caught in a pose of absolute determination, horror and strength of will. Fine lines formed all over her body, running out from each point where the liquid and touched her and congealed like a gelatine food product into individual lumps.
Once all the lines had joined she resembled a map of the continent, each line a border separating one country from its neighbour. Then all froze once more, things ceased to mean anything for just a moment, until white light began emitting from these lines, these borders, and Centime fell to pieces, one hundred pieces to be exact. The light was so bright it blinded Libra who was cackling insanity to herself whilst half shrieking at the light burning her corneas. The light seemed to stir something in Franc, whose last moments alive were witnessing the spectacle unfold before his helpless form. He uttered several words with the last vestiges of energy he could muster, and the one hundred pieces of Centime were drawn to him, merging into Franc.
Libra stood transfixed, barely able to comprehend what was happening but firmly knowing that this was absolutely not her intention. Franc/Centime rose from the bed, and with one blue eye and one brown eye looked at her. In what little light was left in the room Libra saw that the person in front of her was neither Franc nor Centime, but at different angles in the light looked completely like one or completely like the other or completely neither but absolutely both at once. Franc/Centime took a step, then ran. Just ran. Past Libra, through the open door of the caravan and wildly across the field. Ferocious speed, insatiable pace, the person ran and ran and ran so very far away from the circus, from the horror that they were subjected to and gone.
Centime and Franc were as one body, one mind. They were running in one body but were in each other’s company somewhere different. In a ballroom elegantly decorated, built by the gods. They were together, they were dancing. The two separately believed in happiness as an abstract, as a state of where they were and what they were doing. Now together inseparable they knew each other, really knew each other. They were broken, unfulfilled. Shattered, unconvinced. The happiness they desired was the happiness they now had. Together as one they could truly accomplish so much more. She helped him realise that he was not broken, not pathetic, not useless, and he completed her in a way that no hangings could have done.
Together now in the ballroom they held each other. They danced, they watched. They held each other in their hearts and in their minds, and they kept running. No matter how far the body ran they were never, ever going to be apart. Held together by the embrace of their slow dance, they were safe and together and happy forever.
© Kris Blackburn 23/07/14