Violet sat on one of the warped wooden benches inside the empty big top. It was a warm, humid afternoon. Grounds muck had begun collecting in little pools at all the circus corners and crannies. There was a haze of dust hanging in the air, refracting all the slanted sunlight as it streamed in from the open flaps.
Violet hunched over her rucksack, digging around for an item she could not find. In frustration, she balled up her fists and began slamming them down feebly on the wooden bench. In response, the bench wobbled according to its distorted geometry.
“Ouch,” Violet drew back her hand. It smarted with a tiny splinter. She was upset because she couldn’t find the little golden figurine she was so sure she had packed away in the rucksack. It was meant for Augromme. She had started bringing him little gifts in addition to jams and foodstuff. She felt sure that a better bond was forming. For a time, his training had been going extraordinarily well. Until it wasn’t anymore. He has ceased to pay attention and was increasingly ornery. She had been sure the little golden figurine would recapture his attention but now it was missing.
Violet rested her chin in her hands and closed her eyes. I’m exhausted she thought to herself. Once she thought it, she realized how true it was. All her limbs ached and the all the chambers of her heart felt squeezed with urgent hopes. The added pressure of Ungulen’s warning about the doctor was also growing as a storm cloud in her mind. She exhaled. It was so quiet in the big top. So still. She decided to light a cigarette.
The tiny cigarette was neatly rolled. She felt the world melt away as the tip of the paper caught with embers burning a resilient blend of orange and yellow.
“Lonely, Miss?” The question startled Violet. She turned and saw it was Binter, the youngest of the Keurmite brothers, the triplets with the removable heads. He had his own head tucked under into his elbow. He smiled at her and put his head back on. His jaunty trousers plumed pleasantly at the thigh. She always thought how charming and silly it was that all three of them went around shirtless in suspenders.
She laughed, “Hi, Binter. No I’m just thinking. Were you looking to use the rehearsal space?”
“Naye,” said Binter sidling up to her. “But I was looking to bum one of those cute little ciggies of yours.”
Violet rolled her eyes at him and handed him one of the other cigarettes from the inside of her jacket.
“So,” Binter’s face was alive with winking, dimpled suggestion. “How’re the oliphants?”
“They’re just grand,” said Violet, not making eye contact.
“I thought your last show was pretty good. All sea shanty like. It was different.”
“Well thank you, Binter. Nobody else seemed to think so.”
Binter saw that she was moody. He set down the cigarette and stood up abruptly. He put a hand in his pocket. With the index finger of his opposite hand he poked Violet directly in the center of her forehead.
“Seems awful congested up here. I think we need to do some weeding.”
Binter took his other hand out of his pocket. With a sleight and a trick, Binter began pulling a great sheaf of pink ribbon, seemingly directly out of Violet’s forehead.
“Well would you look at that,” he said.
“Wait, hang on. There’s even more over here.”
Binter cupped Violet on the ear, making her shrug away from him with a ticklish smile. Binter, however, was persistent and began to stream yellow, blue and green silk from out of her ear.
“Would you just look at that, Miss! No wonder you’re gloomy.”
Violet batted him away. “Shut up,” she giggled.
Binter sat back down next to her. He picked up his cigarette from the bench and stuck it back in his mouth. “Our mother was a painter, you know.”
“Yes. In addition to having four children, we three ugly mugs and a sister. My mother was pretty alright with it too. The painting I mean. Landscapes mostly, you know. Haystacks, cliffs, horses with a white spot on the forehead. All that sweet country living.”
Violet ashed carefully and looked at Binter.
“All I’m saying is,” Binter continued, “paint’s probably an easier medium to work in compared with the willful nature of an oliphant. Kind of a hard palette you’ve chosen.”
“Well some people are born with elephants and others have elephants thrust upon them.”
Binter burst out laughing at this. It was very loud but also very pleasant. They both ashed out their cigarettes and took little drags.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Binter said. “Have you seen Ungulen around lately? I feel like nobody’s seen him in quite a while.”
For the briefest moment, Violet went stiff. It passed through her mind that Binter Keurmite could very easily be taking money from Lorelei. He wouldn’t even need to be loyal to the chaotic doctor in order to be passing information along. Unwitting-like.
Binter, for his part, detected a change in carriage in his female companion. He, however, assumed a different reason for it.
“Not to pry into your business,” Binter said hastily.
“No no,” Violet quieted him. “It’s just…I haven’t seen him either and it’s making me a little on edge. With Drutherstone gone away you know? Who does that leave us with? Goren Hargus at the helm?”
“Heaven forbid,” laughed Binter.
Violet shrugged ironically. “Well, I should get going.”
“So soon? Me and some of the gang snagged a great barrel of ale from in town. You could come have a drink with us?”
“Maybe next time, Binter.” Violet showed herself out.
Binter sat a few moments longer, puffing on the cigarette. Absently, he took his head off and began passing it back and forth in his hands.