midnight appointments

Drutherstone’s Circus is lousy with midnight appointments. Lever boys fetch to and fro to visit the newest dancing girls and also the one’s who’ve been around forever. Mingey and Rustia tend to roll off into the countryside to do god only knows what ritual or prank on the local townsfolk — though there haven’t been any complaints in years so perhaps they’ve taken their games and awful fits of laughter deep into the woods. Goren Hargus has a regular tete-a-tete with the pudding bowl in the mess hall. But, of course, he has covered his tracks quite expertly in the ledger so that absolutely nobody’s noticed. Ungulen — though wise to the nocturnal traffic of the circus — usually sleeps through the night.

Violet laughed, sparkling. She refilled her glass and then Ungulen’s with a thick glugg of sour cherry juice. It was breakfast in the mess.

“Yes!” she insisted, “she had them all in tutus!”

“All four?” Ungulen sought to confirm.

“All four. And she made them each do a pas de deux, a solo, and a soliloquy. Each boy had his choice, of course. None of them shared her bed that night. All us girls laughed and laughed.” Violet was still laughing about it and nearly choked on sour cherry juice. Ungulen said nothing and watched her smiling eyes.

It had become their ritual, a gossipy morning breakfast between friends. Ungulen always looked forward to it. He was really taken by her work with the elephants. Not just what showed up on stage but her whole practice at it. It also didn’t hurt that her appearance seemed to rival the melancholy morning itself. She always dressed in smart, grey shift dresses.

Dr. Lorelei entered the mess hall, already weary over the available comestibles. Ungulen, though enjoying Violet’s story, couldn’t help but focus his attention on the doctor. As the man strode into the mess, lever boys and some of the lower-tier performers all appeared to acknowledge him. A few even approached Lorelei and seemed to have short, businesslike conversations with him. Lorelei ended each interaction abruptly but with a transactional nod.

Ossip, one of the older lever boys, partook of one of these exchanges with the doctor and then, straightaways, the boy then made his way over to Ungulen and Violet’s breakfast setting.

“Morning Miss Violet,” Ossip’s address overtook her funny anecdote with breathless hurry. “Ungulen, I might’s need to ask a favor, if you please?”

Ungulen shrugged. Yes?

“I’ve been settin’ up work on the electricals in the big top but I was wondering if I couldn’t take just a day for an errand of me own? Personal like?”

Ungulen frowned. The big top had been running on gas and oil lamps for too long and the electrical set up had been taking too long as well. Delays were constantly in motion.

“Just one day even, sir. Maybe’s like to clear me head? I’ve been just over and over those diagrams sir but they’re rather hard to squidge me brain around.”

Ungulen nodded. He realized then that he probably hadn’t been helping Ossip the way he could have been. Ungulen, while no genius, had a decent handle on most things mechanical. The electrifying of the big top, while a serious priority, had just kept falling further and further down his list as the numerous problems of the circus had reared their smiling heads.

Ossip was a smart boy, Ungulen knew that. He had some notion that Ossip might make a decent replacement for him as the groundskeeper some day. The boy knew the circus like the back of his hand and despite his struggle to electrify the big top, he was actually a decent little handy with most all of the circus equipment.

“Alright, one day,” agreed Ungulen. Ossip’s face lit up and he hopped away.

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