Honest Facepaint

by Paul-Newell Reaves

“To be is to be perceived”– Samuel Beckett

Carew emptied the drawers of his favorite possessions, tossing them haphazardly in his duffle, then slammed out the door. He ran the ten blocks out of town, slowing only once the houses petered out and the road turned to dirt. The vast savannah stretched before him, offering everything he had dreamed.

As the sun sunk lower in the sky, he saw the smoke trail whisping toward him. Sprinting the last three quarters of a mile to the tracks, he lay in the long grass till it was passing, then hopped up to swing himself onboard.

She saw him, out the window of her car, back side of the circus train, then sat down at her make-up table to fix her hair.

When Carew opened her door and saw the car occupied, he tried to close it before she noticed. “Come in,” she murmured, not even turning her head. She slid the last bobby pin in place, and began to unpack her make-up. “What are you running from?”

“I hoped no one would see me.”

“I won’t turn you in. I meant, why are you running away?”

“I’m not running a–”

“Yes, yes you are. Tell me, why?”

Carew’s mouth grew tight. “I– I don’t know,” he stuttered. “It’s, just… that town, those people…”

She told him, not smiling, not looking at him once, “I don’t like small towns, either.” Her hands began to smear a dark cream onto her face, turning it an olive brown.

“You’re making yourself darker?” He asked.

“Yes. For my act. I’m Auset, an Egyptian Princess who can see the future.”

“But you’re not Egyptian.”

“I’m not Egyptian, I am not named Auset, and I cannot see the future.”

“I see,” he said with a smile. “It’s a scam.” She stood up very suddenly, and turned to face him.

“I’ve never scammed a person in my life, I just tell them what they want to hear. I happen to be honest.”

“Uh-huh,” he was still grinning. “So honest you paint your face to work in the freak show.” Her eyes tightened and she turned back to her make-up mirror.

“At least I know who I am.” That shut him up and quit his grinning. “I’m an excellent fortune teller. People tell you so much without even knowing. You for instance. You’ve never had to provide for yourself, but you’re running away. A day and a half from now you’ll be at the end of the line, without a cent and very hungry.”

“I can take care of myself,” he mumbled, unconvincingly.

It was her turn to smile. “Why did you runaway?”

“They just… they want so much from me.” She walked over to him and gathered him in her arms, and he lay his head against her shoulder. “What if I can’t do it? What if it’s too much for me? What if I’m not what they think I am?”

“Aww, baby. All you are is what people think you are.”

They talked so till the train reached the next station. She gave him a dollar, and he caught a bus back home.

more Complex Fairy Tales


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