The Man With Two Faces

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A circus freak loses face, both literally and figuratively.

Submitted: February 03, 2013

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Submitted: February 03, 2013

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The Man with Two Faces

“Chang, have you seen my face? I can't find it.”

Sam rummaged madly around the top of his cot, magazines and newspaper clippings flying and spinning out from beneath his shaky fingers and scattering on the floor, mingling with the dirt and sawdust. He moved to the dresser, making sure to avoid the mirror hanging above it. Desperately he began pulling out the drawers and systematically destroying the neat layers of clothes. The single lantern on top wobbled about, sending shadows dancing around the small wooden interior of the boxcar.

“Dammit! Chang?” he yelled, beginning to sweat.

From across the cramped room came muffled grunts. A Chinese man, nearly two feet taller than Sam, rolled over in his cot, purple and red patterned robes twisting about him as he turned.

“Have you seen my face anywhere? It's not where I usually keep it,” said Sam.

“Are you drunk already?” asked the giant.

“You idiot. You know what I mean. My mask. I can't find my damn mask,” growled Sam as he slumped dejectedly on his cot.

For the past six years he had been in the circus, Sam had never once lost his mask. It was an integral part of his side show bit and who he was. In 1948, he had been pursuing a career in theater when a gasoline explosion ripped apart the lower half of his face with festering burns and wounds, all the way down to the bone. The doctors had to remove much of his lips, cheeks, chin, and part of his nose, leaving him with a devilish teeth-gnashing grimace that scared the hell out of everyone who saw him. Twenty four years old and estranged from normal society, he found companionship, and money, in the freak sideshow exhibition of a traveling circus. A prosthetics master had fashioned Sam a very lifelike mask of his former face, and his routine consisted of him wearing the mask and telling his sad story, and then ripping the mask off in a dramatic flourish at the end, eliciting shrieks and cries from the terrified crowd.

Chang ran his large hand back and forth across the rough cotton sheets of his bed in thought. He slowly began to speak.

“Haven't seen it, sorry.”

“Well it was here earlier this afternoon. You been here all evening?”

“Sleeping. Don't feel like drinking tonight.”

“Well that may be all I'm doing tonight if I can't find my mask,” muttered Sam, swinging his feet to the floor as he sat up.

“Hell, we're on the tracks Sam. No one wears their mask here. We'll get you a new mask before Monday's show.”

Sam was silent for a moment. He fidgeted with the buttons on his shirt and looked at the floor.

“I – I need it for tonight. I'm going out.” said Sam.

“Going out?” replied Chang, his eyebrows rising, “Why would you leave camp? That's asking for trouble.”

“I was asked by Johnny the pinhead and Don Juan the skeleton man to get some more booze.”

“Sam, you know they ain't got the bread for that until next paycheck. What's the scoop?”

“You've caught the lingo real well Chang. Eight years in this outfit has done wonders. Sometimes it's hard to tell you're a -”

“You're dodging the question.”

“Fine,” said Sam, throwing his hands in the air. “I've got a date.”

The giant's laughter shook the floorboards. He stood up from his cot, his head almost grazing the ceiling of the boxcar, and stretched.

“Don't be ashamed, we all need to go on a date once and a while. Relieves stress, wastes hard earned cash.”

“Well it's not what you think. I mean, it is, but – she isn't.”

“Yeah, ok. Well what's she like huh? Is she stacked? Is she expensive?”

“Stow it Chang,” said Sam quickly, rubbing his shoulder and standing up. He began to inspect his surroundings. Chang stared at him for a moment, watching the man nervously pick up the fallen papers. Outside a dog barked and the noise of loud revelry came muffled through the planks.

“Can we just focus on finding my mask, please? If it's not in here, someone has to know where it is,” said Sam, sliding the wooden door open and stepping down out of the railway car and into the growing dusk.

“Forget about the mask,” said Chang, walking out after him.

Sam paced in the grass outside the train, anxiously rubbing the contorted mass of skin and sinew beneath his eyes. Boxcars ran down along the railroad tracks like wagons parading the plains. Some housed animals, some the members of the troupe, others only had a base and carried piles of poles chained tight; the entire circus packed and contained in wooden boxes that traveled an endless line of metal rungs. The whole procession was parked about a mile outside of the nearest city, a large field spreading out to the right and left where they had been performing for the past two days. It was the last night they were to be in the area, and most of the crew and circus members were enjoying themselves in the field beside the tracks. That one night of reprieve between the end of one show and the beginning of the next was something they all looked forward to.

Suddenly Sam and Chang heard grunts and the sound of a struggle coming from the car in front of theirs.

“Rajeed?” said Chang, pulling open the door and poking his head in. “Oh shit!”

Sam walked in after Chang and gasped in horror. There was an older African man, completely missing both arms and both legs, lying in the dirt on the floor with a white cloth shoved in his mouth. A dirty-faced teenage boy in grungy overalls was sitting on his back, effectively pinning him to the ground, while another equally grody looking boy was going through a chest at the foot of the cot. Both boys looked up in surprise as Sam and Chang came in. With a start Sam realized that the boy squatting on the limbless man was wearing his mask.

“What do you think you're doing?” cried Sam.

The boys quickly stood and backpedaled to the rear of the room, pressing themselves against the wall, terrified in the tight space of the car.

“We was, uh, we was, uhh –” stuttered the younger one.

“That's my mask,” said Sam, pointing at the shaking figure. “Give it to me. Now!”

The older boy punched the younger on the shoulder, who in turn took off the mask and flung it in Sam's direction. It spun and landed face down at Sam's feet.

Chang kneeled next to Rajeed and carefully removed the cloth from his mouth. A string of curse words and spittle flew from the man's lips. Chang gently picked him up and placed him on his cot, where he wriggled in anger.

“You can't touch us. We're from the city,” spat the older boy.

“Like hell! Riffraff like you disappear all the time,” said Sam, baring his crooked protruding teeth and taking a step towards the boys.

“Stay away from us you demon freak!” screamed the younger boy.

Chang placed a hand on Sam's shoulder and glared at the cowering boys. “You kids get the hell out of here and don't you dare step foot here again,” he said menacingly.

The boys sidled along, hugging the wall to avoid Chang's long reach, and then dashed out of the boxcar whooping and hollering.

“Are you ok Rajeed,” asked Sam, sitting on the cot next to him.

“No harm done,” said Rajeed in disgust, shrugging his stub shoulders.

“These damn yoots. We get the same uncouth reception from them in other cities, but this is the first time they've come into the train,” growled Chang.

“Don't let it rattle your cage,” said Sam to Rajeed. “You want to go outside? It's likely the gang is already passing the bottle.”

“I don't drink,” replied Rajeed, nodding his head towards his cigar box on the end of the cot.

“Yeah I've heard that one before,” said Sam, picking up the cigar box and a box of matches and placing them in front of Rajeed. “You're still new to the circus. Give it a month or two, you'll see.”

Rajeed bent his head down and picked up the cigar with his lips, shifting it to the side of his mouth. Then he spun the box of matches around and used his lower jaw to slid open the box. Puckering his lips he picked up picked up a single match, and then used his lower jaw to slid the box close again. Finally he turned the match till the head was facing forwards, flicked it on the side of the matchbox to light it, and then placed the burning match on top of the box and leaned his head down to light the the cigar. Sam and Chang had seen the trick time and time again and it still amazed them.

“You fellas have been doing this side show bit for awhile. Would you say it's worth it?” said the man, pursing his lips and blowing thick smoke rings that drifted lazily up and pooled at the ceiling.

“Are you kidding me? It's great. We're always on the move, in a new city, a new state, from week to week,” said Chang.

“Your home, your friends, your life are all in these railway cars,” said Sam, picking his mask up off the floor and dusting away the straw. “Except here. Here is as close to stationary as it gets. We come often cause it always draws the biggest crowds.”

“And buddy, crowds are the bread and butter. People come from miles around because they've heard of us, stand in line to see us, crowd the stage to be near us,” said Chang.

“You get paid just for looking weird,” echoed Sam, slowly turning the mask in his hands.

“When you get to sleep it's in a free room, if you get to eat it's free food.”

“What about the women?” asked Rajeed, grinning.

“You got the money? They got the honey. Just ask Sam, he's got a date tonight,” said Chang winking.

“The women, they're great, real great. They take care of you,” said Sam.

“Sure, for a price,” chuckled Chang.

Sam frowned and Chang's laughter sounded hollow in the confines of the boxcar. Sam stood in silent thought for a moment, and then turned to leave.

“Goodbye Rajeed,” he said, exiting the car.

“So long pal,” said Chang, nodding to Rajeed and stepping out after his friend.

Chang found Sam standing a few yards away from the convoy. It was completely dark by then, and a slight breeze had picked up, rustling the long grass on either side of the railroad track. The sound of music and laughter came from the other side of the track a few cars down. Don Juan was tuning his guitar as other members of the circus sat in the cool grass and passed bottles the color of mud. One fellow carefully blew on a small pile of sticks, coaxing the tiny ember to flame with his breath. Sam and Chang both stood still, staring up into the sky. The twinkling stars shone down as thin wafts of smoke expelled from their noses in the chilly night air.

“Hey I didn't mean nothing in there,” said Chang, shuffling his feet, “I'm sure your date is a real Dolly.”

“You know, sometimes I think she's the only one that gets me,” said Sam, his head back and his eyes closed.

Chang's eyes dropped to the ground. “Well. I guess you should split then.”

“Alright, I'm going. I'll be back in a bit,” said Sam over his shoulder as he walked towards the distant city.

“Have fun,” said Chang, watching the retreating figure until he was lost to the dark.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sam walked up the last flight of steps and paused before a trashcan in the corner of the hallway. He stood still for a moment, then with a sigh he pulled the mask off of his face and hide it behind the trashcan. He then made his way down the dimly lit hall to the last door on the left. Facing the closed door he tried to compose himself, tucking his wrinkled shirt into his pants while making sure not to ruin the flowers he had just bought. He raised his fist, knuckles hesitating on the wood for a moment, and then rapped loudly three times. He heard movement from within. A moment later the door opened to reveal a women with tangled strands of blond hair wearing stockings and a short black lacy dress.

“Oh there you are, I was – oh my god. Your face. What the hell is going on?” said the woman, her mouth open in repulsion.

“This,” said Sam, taking a deep breath and steeling himself, “This is what I really look like Barbara.”

“God I knew you were ugly underneath, but what the hell? Sam you swore you'd leave the mask on during our sessions. That was the deal,” said Barbara.

“But what does it matter? Things were good before,” said Sam, as he nervously glanced back towards the other end of the hall.

Barbara shifted her weight from one foot to the other, keeping her eyes on the floor. “Why aren't you wearing the mask?”

“Some kids stole it and tore it to pieces. Look, this is our last night here for a while. I've really been looking forward to this. Are you going to let me in or not?”

“Well I'd hate to just turn you out cold,” said Barbara, biting her nails as she thought it over. She ran her hand through tousled curls and sighed. “Alright, new deal. You can come in. I won't charge you extra or nuthin', but I'm going to keep my eyes closed for the entire hour, and I won't open them again until I hear the door shut.”

Sam was a little hurt, but he was also relieved. He wasn't wearing his mask and he still had a chance to be with Barbara. He thought about the other side show members, sitting around the fire, laughing and drinking. He thought about the thieves, ransacking Rajeed's trunk and wearing his mask. With a trembling heart he thought about the nearing dawn and the little time he had left. His mind started to go to that small dark corner between the trashcan and the wall, but abruptly he cut it off.

“Ok,” said Sam, making up his mind, “You can close your eyes now.”


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