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Electrico had seen him, when he visited to reminisce about the old days, the man could barely speak above a whisper. Electrico wished he could show the kid who he really was, and why, wished he could explain it all in the way he’d never been able to do for his son, whose empathy had been crushed by having to live through it. And if only he still owned the costume he’d once worn, red silk with yellow piping zigzagging down the sleeves to make it look as if lightning was about to come out of his fingertips. He held it out before him as he used to do at each show–more an extension of his arm than a piece of metal–and closed his eyes. Ray hadn’t been the first to come back–kids were always ditching their parents and returning to say the things they wouldn’t dare unless they were alone with him–but he was the first to come back who didn’t also ask to join him. Electrico went up to his room–slowly, as all stairs were taken slowly these days–where he fell asleep immediately, a thing which he hadn’t allowed himself in the park. ” “It seemed as if you needed me,” said Ray, pausing in his prancing to look up. I doubted you’d have been able to on your own.” Ray flipped the sword in his hand so that its hilt was now pointed up toward the top of the stairs. He knelt, laying the sword down sideways across the bottom step, the blade so long it stuck out through the bannister. All he could think was — how is it that Josh missed seeing Ray? Electrico could think of anything to say, Josh noticed the sword on the bottom step, and his expression darkened.

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Don’t try to find this again.” “Josh,” he said, as his grandson vanished, seeming no more or less real than the boy who had vanished on his arrival. Electrico would have shouted if he could, but he had no more energy with which to shout. Electrico said nothing as Josh walked up the stairs and squeezed past to his own bedroom. He’d head toward the park, he decided, where he’d spent most of the previous night. As he stood in indecision, fearful of choosing the wrong way, even more fearful of choosing no way at all, his breath turned to mist in the cool night air, and as that cloud pulsed, appearing and disappearing with each exhalation, through it, off on the nearest corner, under a streetlight, he could see Ray, waving the sword over his head, doing mock battle with a moth which hovered above him. He could make out his outline in the distance, always on the verge of disappearing, and as Mr. They moved through the night this way, twisting and turning along the maze of the subdivisions, the kid continually pausing off in the distance just long enough to be sure he was seen, but no longer, and then taking off again as soon as Mr. For a moment, as he looked around, he thought he’d lost the kid, but there he was, sitting not on a bench, sitting not on the grass, but off in the empty playground, plopped on a mound of sand in front of the rut beneath the swings, a mound kicked high by the feet of a thousand children. Electrico, having to catch his breath to get even that single short sentence out. Maybe you can be trusted with it when I’m here to supervise, but when you’re alone? Electrico found himself trembling, whether from fear or anger he couldn’t tell. And after we got back from the park, after you fell asleep, I started realizing … That was almost the best part, those moments of before when anything could happen. Electrico settled down slowly, his legs protesting as they bent, he remembered the two of them having been side by side like that before, so many decades ago, when he had been so much younger, and the kid had been… They sat in silence for awhile, looking off into the distance. But once he’d spent enough time wasting time, enough to keep Josh happy at least, and was ready to turn back…he no longer recalled how to get home. He stood on a street corner trying to remember, but not trying too hard, because the failure that was more often starting to accompany such trying would be too painful. Electrico had never seen before, at times rocking from one foot to the other, at times seeming about to step over the sword and join him at the top of the stairs. What if you’d fallen off the ladder and broken your neck? I didn’t climb any ladder.” “Oh, grandpa, have you forgotten that already?

But maybe it was neither, and only the trembling that came with the years. you could get hurt, without even meaning to.” As Josh spoke, he was hesitant in a way Mr. This is for your own good.” “What’s this about a ladder, Josh?

Electrico had once believed he was going to live forever. The Fat Lady had been the first to go, back when they were both still on the road. Those wheezy lungs had kept them both too focused on the future, short though it was, to enjoy wandering through the past. Electrico was never quite sure exactly what had happened to him. When he showed up for the memorial service, the relatives wouldn’t even look him in the eye. OK, so the hand which had once held the sword shook, and during the night, he often had to get up half a dozen times to piss, and when he woke in the morning, sometimes–not always, but sometimes–he wasn’t sure where he was. But there was one face which stood out from all the rest. Or was that last but a lie he’d told, the kind of thing you cough up to a rube to keep them happy and empty their pockets? Splitting from an abusive household could be a good thing, sure, Mr. He kept waiting for the kid to ask him, too, ask for help in running away, the way he himself had once asked for help from another who’d earlier carried his name. He hadn’t even been able to bring himself to nap while there, only listen to the crickets and look at the stars, both those present that night and those which existed only in memory.

And as he sat on one corner of a spare bed at his grandson’s house–a bed which his pained lower back signaled was somehow far harder than the string of cots which to his far younger self had seemed so soft–he looked down at the sword in his trembling hands, and still, all these many years later, thought…why he have fooled himself into thinking that? Besides, it wouldn’t be fair for the charge to merely pass through him, and have none of it remain. Her heart gave out in her sleep, the sad price demanded by her trade. And those tattoos, they didn’t seem quite so pretty when viewed in the open coffin on which The Illustrated Man had insisted. Electrico remembered how once they’d been marvelous. The jugglers, the ticket takers, the drivers, all gone, gone, gone. maybe the electricity had done something after all. But all that was better than the alternative, right? It was sweet of his grandson to step up like this, even if the kid didn’t understand the carny life his grandpa used to lead. It had been so long since their last encounter one Labor Day weekend that he couldn’t be sure, couldn’t remember whether he’d been sincere, or was only planting the seeds for a long con which never had the chance to play out. But he remembered the day when the carnival stopped by Lake Michigan, near Waukegan, Illinois, and the kid to whom Mr. He remembered that kid, and wondered whether he was the one who’d prove his words more than just words. Electrico had done the same himself when he was a kid, but having done so, he’d learned the hard way–why bring the carny life into it? First when Ray pulled out that beginners magic trick he’d bought at the Five and Dime and begged him to explain how it worked, and then when he was brought into the tent and introduced to the others, where Mr. Electrico realized the thought had never even occurred to Ray at all. So sleep came quick now, as did dreams of his old life, and an afternoon by Lake Michigan, and a boy named Ray. ” he said, leaping up one step, then back down again, repeating the move several times with glee. Electrico remembered what it was like to leap, but not when he’d last been able to do it.

He hoped it was the former, because the latter…well, that was happening more often now. I can do those things on a park bench as easily as anywhere else.” Josh leaned in more closely to his grandfather, so only the two of them could hear what he was to say next.

Closing his eyes and concentrating hard, he remembered.

He’d left his grandson’s home for a walk in the sun–Josh had insisted he go out, said it wasn’t good for him to sit alone in that spare room all day. Electrico had headed to the park, starting his rambling there as he always did, because he knew its openness would bring back his carnival days, and thoughts of that moment the caravan would arrive at a new location, and study an open field before beginning to set up.