side show

Photo by mhtoori .com on

He’d been traveling miles on miles of six-lane traffic, barreling down freeway straightaways, through turnpike twists and turns – the usual stuff he was used to navigating. He was mind-weary and soul-embattled.

On a whim he took an unmarked turnoff he’d always ignored because it was out of his way, never considering that perhaps it was the out-of-the-way stuff that held the most beauty and wonder. His life replete with ignored things. His own humanity, for one. Also, that thing that talked in the back of his preferred thoughts like some backstage voice that wasn’t written into the script but insisted on having a say, even if no one listened. This time he would listen.

He came to a street where the trees looked weary, shot through with ennui. No other vehicles nor movement. A tree isn’t a tree if no one’s there to see.

He parked and walked into some kind of market square, empty except for one or two souls unremarkable in the distance. There was an alcove or outdoor lobby cut into the side of this and he walked in. No one there. The shadowed stone echoed even with his small footstep. The sound of abandonment. But no graffiti or obvious rot. To his left, ensconced into the wall, some kind of kiosk. Approaching it he looked at the screen and the keypad below it. Screen was dark, keypad triggered nothing.

He walked back out and farther into a wide-open space of uncertain purpose. An old pond with a fountain that had gone dry, made of the same bland stone as the rest. Vast concrete yard more vacuum than anything else. Here and there weathered signs that read: Nurses needed Teachers needed Cooks needed Bus Drivers needed Daycare Workers needed Harvest Workers needed Mental Health Providers needed, Cops needed.

Photo by Fillipe Gomes on

There was motion and sound to his left and he turned to see a caravan of curious figures parading from a wide paved walkway that fed back into a stand of trees that seemed to be quite alive. Gradually these motleys filled the yard and set up an instantaneous carnival or some such. Hawkers pulling wagons of wares, someone juggling, a bearded conehead walking deftly on his hands, smiling upside down. Children roaming aimlessly, laughing at things as if on cue. Music from somewhere made on cheap string instruments and tin horns, thin music of medieval peasants maybe, meant to be forgotten tomorrow.

He turned again to see three women atop a platform hastily erected and wearing sheets wound haphazardly around their frames, looking for all the world like puppet theater fertility goddesses, and one of them – a big-figured gal – lost the top of her cover and a pendulous ash-colored breast flopped and jiggled as they danced an improvised jig.

He turned away, partly in disgust but mostly in surprise. Another moment of witnessing this entire spectacle and it occurred to him that the world had maybe shifted on its axis and he hadn’t seen it coming.

He was back in his car before he was aware of it. He turned a tight U and gunned the engine and as he drove away he took a deep breath and thought: well, you never know until you try.

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