Cooper Dale Harris
[ letter delivered via mounted post to Ms. Lilith Irene Scheck from one Cabbott Reiley Scheck ]
[ Dated 19 March 1916 ]
[ ori: Orogrande, New Mexico — dest: Alpine, Texas ]
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I werent sure if I oughtve addressed you as Lilith or Lilly or Missus Scheck. Or Miss Scheck. I know its been long but I suspect you are still my Mamma. First off, I do hope things is keepin in Alpine. I find myself settin and thinkin on that place when I have one minute or two to just set and think. Life has gotten hard busy since I took to the roads in September. I know I never had much to say on my own departure before it were occurin and I figure that werent done in a kindly nature to you but Mamma I could not be nailed to that town no longer. Not with Pappa and Jeffy bein buried under that dirt or Mirandas home still settin on it, neither. I expect you to accept that as its all the justifyin I feel to do, now or ever.
I write so that you could know Im makin good out here. Three days after I hit the trail I picked up with the Frater ut Luna Traveling Wondershow. They was just north of Kermit when I run into em. Said they was fresh off the San Angelo – Midland track and was headin still west. Hows that fit in your gourd? Your grownest boy flittin off with them carnies and trackin cross the country. We’re pitched in a town called Orogrande now in the state of New Mexico. Its a fine settlement not two hour from the Big River. We got held up here longer than we usually is for a spot on account of some Pancho Villa ( gotta say that ifn them two Ls was a Y ) raidin a town Columbus just barely a hunderd-fifty mile from where we’re at currently. Mister DuPont and his wife Aidenn Louise run this outfit and they advised us all keep clear of that havoc due west. In contrary to what you likely think Mamma, DuPont says the Mexicans been on this land for longer than they all knowed and that we white people was the ones twistin it all up for em with our angry trades and trigger men. Said we all best just go around. So if you catched word of what Pancho Villa done, you ought to now know that I werent a part of it.
Mister DuPont and Missus DuPont is easy the most learned peoples Ive made words with. Them two has been around the world, and I believe em when they say so because of the stories they got locked up in their heads and all them damn books they got in their trailer car. So many of em scribed in languages I aint never knew existed. Their Wondershow is not like any that ever come near Alpine when you was raisin me and Jeffy. Bein here with all these folks makes me not feel like such a freak, Mamma. Nobody here names me Cabby Clutch or gimp. I’m just a roustabout or a roustie. Rousties do work settin up and tearin down the tents, grab joints and the pig-iron. The DuPonts found me this work soon as I set and spoke with em in Kermit, and the work they find me to do aint slowed by my clutched arm. DuPont says us rousties got the most important jobs on the lot. Since September, I saved up nearly a fin by collectin tips and workin my hours good. I feel that youd enjoy DuPont and Missus Aidenn.
Mamma you gotta understand. This is a true freak show. The people they got gaffin here would sure throw your heart up into your throat just at sight. True to the Lord though, they all is possessed by great kindliness in dealin with me. Ive become quick friends with most all of em. And Im talkin about the show freaks. Some of the other rousties can be short with me when they think my work is too easy. But the freaks has all been real peach. Its from them I occasionally get tossed a nickel when we blow through a red one, a profitable town. Funny enough the freaks dont object to their title. Although DuPont says he prefers to think of em as “Wonders.” The DuPonts seem to genuinely understand how to run somethin as stormy as a circus, not to mention it bein one that picks up and moves about across this harsh pan. Them two know that every person out here doin somethin is a part of a greater thing. A big kickin, breathin, money-makin thing as DuPont says. He and Miss Aidenn keep us all real happy and are always ready with a soft word. Happy people who get cared for just is willin to do their work I guess. Things get tight if the DuPonts get dinged for some towners complaint or the shows wont make enough in a given spot to get the nut, but finances always seem to line up alright down the way. Volstead Acts got these rubes out here yearnin for somethin to shake em up since the drinks cut. Cant even get em all in some nights, so many of em be comin out to see what we got to show.
I got to tell you about my friends, Mamma. The Wonders. We surely got a few traditional acts with us such as a bearded gal – her names Camille – and a bull-sized grappler called Wilson who does the At-Show and various bits of liftin things, as well as plenty of clowns and dancers. We got pickled punks and human pincushions. Our Wondershows got a pair of them psychics, too. Theyre twins, a brother and sister, Mikhail and Svetlana, and they flip them tarot cards and read palms and can know into your life just by holdin onto somethin belongin to you. Ive seen them clasp their hands together and then Svetlanas eyes slide round in her head and she starts talkin as somebody else. Different voices sometimes. Mikhail talks to whoever she is and asks questions but I once watched as some hysterical woman in the audience started shoutin that the voice comin out of Svetlanas mouth was her dead husbands. I dont know about it. I do know that Svetlana makes these little pastries called Rugalah or somethin and they are sweet as all get out. Theres also a Pinhead named Maurcel. Hes simple but his hugs aint. For a fella with a tiny head hes got some sorta strength.
We got this blade glommer named Heinrich who can fit nearly three foot of steel sword down his throat. Hes a tall, ugly old boy but he just likes to have a good time and see them gapin mouths as he swallows that metal. Miss Beatrice is a real fire-plug of a woman depsite that she aint got arms or legs. Basket Baby Bea Bea, but when you catch her on a bad day she could flop over to you and gnaw your ears off with her sharp words. Beatrice reads books like theyre gonna get banned by the government too so she got a skill with speakin and thinkin. She can roll up a cigarette and light it on her own as well. How the hell do you figure that? I sure couldnt till I saw it. Thats how a load of things gotta be in this life, you know? You just gotta see em or feel em or you wouldnt never think twice about em. Thats what Arhondos been sayin to me, just in a roundabout manner I think. Arhondo is an illusionist and a mystic of sorts. Call them Geeks in the carnival. Hes occupied mostly with bizarre occult rituals and preparation for his acts but he seems to think kindly of me. I seen him bite the head off one of Lakshins snakes during one of his ceremonies though. That set me into angst for a near week but DuPont explained to me that the magics can be both violent and beautiful. Don’t have to be neither at any one time but Arhondos fit to try em all says DuPont.
Lakshin and Vidula are snake-handlers. Theyre real close with the great amount of snakes that they keep in their trailer but they oughta be. Some of ems poisonous. Lakshin is part reptile anyhow. His whole skins covered in golden-brown scales and his neck is shaped funny, all bowed out and flattened. Hes Lakshin the Cobra and his wife Vidula does shows with him where they slink around with monster snakes and play flutes and such. Vidula can dance real fine with them snakes. It makes fellas melt into the dirt. Also, she and Lakshin speak a real interestin tongue. They dress in shiny, silken fibers and Vidula got a tiny red gem on her forehead. They are curious as quartz and they both smile plenty. Ilyena is just as perplexin as them two though. Shes a mermaid. Her legs is mushed together and covered in regular skin and her feet is the same way so they make to look just like a flipper. More like a dolphins flipper than a fish tail I reckon. Shes the Siren and her act draws rubes like no other. She sometimes does the bally to Lakshin and Vidulas show or sometimes her and Beatrice share a stage and kick around in a tank together. Ilyenas genuine too. Thats not no rubber sleeve about her legs. She breathes like regular and dont need to be in the water all the time to be alright but she do eat live fish on occasion. As part of her show or just on account of she gets hungry I guess. She also sings in a way I never heard before. Her voice is like some pearly sailboat cuttin through choppy waters. Shes hooked on the laudanum but its hard to fault her for the one thing.
Benito is my closest friend at camp. Hes half coyote, a Coyote Boy, his entire body all thick with black and sand-colored fur. From his ears to his toes, Mamma. He looks like a mad man, like some kind of predator of the night, but he jokes more’n anyone out here and hes near my age. Him at nineteen, just two years my elder. Hes gotten to lookin out for me when the older rousties get shined up late at night and start to hollerin. See that Mamma? I got a friend who aint afraid to be my friend. Whats more is I think Ive got over the heart-rot Miranda left me with. As in to say that I met someone here in the show who, whether they love me back or not, affects me hard enough that I couldnt think on Miranda anymore if I tried.
Her name is Diana Vail. Just Diana, nothin so fancy as a good many of the names I come by out here with these strange folk. Its a plain name for a gal who aint plain in the slightest. Shes got skin so fair you can almost see through it and her hair is oil-black and long and wild. Her eyes is the best pieces on her as theyre a crisp yellow color and they just straight shock you when you look into em. Thats her gaff, Mamma, this girls electric. She can literally shock you. Her show name is Quiet Lady Lightning. I cant wrap my head around it but DuPont was tryin to explain to me that all our bodies is run on electricity, the kind we make inside us in our hearts and brains. Just that Dianas body makes more of it than she needs. I never thought once that I or anybody could have electricity in em but Diana can do things that make me reconsider some old notions. She can grab the tip of a busted light bulb and make it light. She can make all the hair on little gals heads stand up straight with a touch. Doesnt hurt em none. Most of em just set to gigglin and threshin about.
Everybody out here adores Diana. Even despite that she cant speak none. Shes got bad scars about her neck and DuPont told me in private how Diana had a accident when she was younger. Said that her pappa was a drinker and he couldnt accept Diana bein the way she was so he threw her out when she was barely ten year old. Out on the streets of Baton Rouge where she were from some drunks got to handlin her one night. They did serious, hard things to her. Tore her throat out when they was done so she wouldnt tell no one. She took up with the Wondershow short after that when the DuPonts grabbed her outta a broke down shelter in Crowley. Missus DuPont and Diana converse with each other usin hand movements. I been tryin to learn some so I could understand the things Diana means to tell me but that type communication is tricky with my arm. Diana dont mind that I got a arm like I do. She also dont mind that we cant talk much. I learned from her that people can do plenty of communicatin without sayin words. Were getting along just fine. I cant figure if she feels for me the way I do for her but I dont agitate myself by thinkin on it too much.
Mamma, the damndest thing happened one evenin when me and Diana was settin up past closin time watchin the stars and the moon. We was just out on the pan under the night blanket and Diana reached over and laid one hand on my clutched arm. She looked at me with them sunflower eyes. Right then, soon as she did it, the muscles in that thing loosened up. I cant see why but they sure as shit did. My arm just dropped to my lap for one second and she took her hand off and back up it went. Clutched again. It was like the current runnin outta her fingertips fixed me for that split second. I could feel it in my whole body. That was the night I figured Id love Diana for all the rest of my time. Dont need her to say she loves me back. Ifn she could. She cant of course.
I wonder what all you must be thinkin after readin this, Mamma. It must be sendin you into spins, knowin what all your last boy has done with himself in so few months on his own. I feel real pleased bein out her with the Wondershow and all the kindly persons who work it with me. Its like the place I were meant to be at all this time. Do you reckon I wouldve ever found it hadnt I run off? I cant say. I got a strong hope that you will keep on all right without me. I suppose I will stay a roustie for a while. Thats not to say that I wont never make it back to you though. I do love you still. I will always.
Mister DuPont says that this whole world we live in, all of it, its just one big circus. Everybody in it takes turns bein gaffers or rubes. Sometimes we pull people in with our magic and sometimes we just set and watch. I know that theres amazin things still left to be seen out here. And theres surely still magic left to be got. All that matters is where we pitch our canvas. Im keen on chasin down wonders the world over, Mamma. Dont suspect Ill catch em all though. I guess the point is just tryin.
With love like a sunset
Cabbott Reiley Scheck
March 19 1916
© Sagebrush Review Volume V Spring 2010