'Here we are, trapped in the amber
of the moment.
There is no why."
I stood in the darkness and watched them moving together, arms and legs intermittently intertwined, grins, grimaces--frowns flashing, eyebrows twisting--silent but for the clashing of their bodies. Eyelids fluttered down over bulging eyes, only to slide open again, looking too wise, too smart.
The performance ended, the dusty footlights on the outdoor stage going dim. Everyone turned away, back to the sound and excitement of the midway, except for me. I wanted to meet the puppeteer, the man who so masterfully pulled those strings.
He was busy putting props away, his black suit coat draped over a chair, muscles playing across his shoulders under the white broadcloth of his shirt as he packed first one dummy and then another into their cases. He was a severe-looking man, abrupt in his movements, his hurried packing, his stiff-necked turning making me inexplicably uncomfortable. A cigarette dangled from his bottom lip. "You want something?" he asked, looking me up and down. He turned away, humming tunelessly, the music drawing me, pulling me.
I moved closer. "I'd like to learn more about the marionettes."
He smiled, looking back at me over the top of his shoulder, his eyes shining as he pivoted and came to sit along the edge of the stage. He took one last drag on his smoke, then tossed it away in the darkness. All the people were gone now. "Per—perhaps I should be going," I said, stepping back, feeling nervous. But he reached for my arm, his mouth a moue of disapproval.
"No, no, ma petite, come sit beside me and ask your questions. I will answer if I can."
So I—hesitantly at first, growing braver as the evening died—asked him about his job and the dolls he controlled so expertly, while he discovered the curls behind my ears, and how the silky auburn hair there wrapped his fingers like a baby's fist.
He confided how much he loved his dolls, how his craft, his talent, was ancient and had been passed down from father to son. He told enthusiastically of growing up in the
Pyrenees, honing his
skill at country shows alongside his grandfather. Between the stories, he
hummed that tuneless music, his face glowing as he talked about the next town,
the next show, his life on the road exactly what he wanted to do, how he wanted
to spend his time.
I scooted nearer, seeking his warmth, the treasury of his thoughts. His arms came around me in the hour before dawn, his lips, his strength, pressing me urgently onto the boards of the small stage, his puppets forgotten, watching us solemnly from their cardboard suitcases.
It never was an interest in marionettes that drew me to him, but rather all those lovely muscles beneath that white broadcloth shirt. They dwindled, though, when he took a desk job at Hanley's Insurance so we could stay right here at home. I haven't heard him hum in thirty years, but he makes a decent living. Me and the kids are fine.
Once in a while he'll go up into the attic and just sit up there on an old chair, the four suitcases at his feet, tears licking at their dusty tops as he looks out the dormer window facing north.