Friday, December 28, 2007

Circus Stories

I've been in Europe for the last few weeks so I haven't been able to post anything, which totally defeats my goal of posting something new everyday. Alas, I was in Europe. That's pretty much the best excuse I can think of.

A quick first part in a series of shorts called...

Circus Stories
by Andrea Warner

He left home when he was 14. It was a romantic day, in the sense that the moon was plump and low, the colour of fake butter on popcorn, oozing autumn as it rested heavily on the thinning oak branches. Fall renewed his sense of hope; there was something concrete about the death, the regeneration, all the Buddhist ideals he’d grasped onto in the last year to help him cope with what he felt was a grave, travesty-filled existence.

His name is Ernie, a final and cruel gift from his parents in his opinion. He knows nothing of them but their wretched taste in first names. He doesn’t even know his real surname. Ernie’s obsession with the romantic is understandable, excusable even, given his origins. At least this is what he says when he tries to woo the girls in his class. Imagine, he says: young girl and young boy meet, have whirlwind and forbidden affair (she born on the wrong side of the tracks, with a lazy eye; he on a wholly different wrong side, raised in a commune by vaguely disreputable cult members), they meet, find solace, shielded from society’s wagging finger in the tent of Young Invincible Love that everyone hides in our weakest hearts, have spongy and spasmatic unprotected sex and leave their tiny offspring on the door step of a convent under a clear and starless August night sky. It was a classic and seemingly impossible story, but one Ernie enjoyed spinning like a yoyo to dazzle the young ladies.

Ernie is self-aware to the point he may be convinced he has a whole second self watching from about ten feet behind at all times. He knows things, understands the way the world works, has lived inside his head since birth, but is completely detached from any social obligation. He has never had a pet or a best friend. It is remote and The City has lived, glorified, decimated, then glorified again in his youthful, slinky-like mind. [You might ask how he has survived, how this is possible. Think only of all the impossible things that have ever happened to you. Now, do you understand?] Impossible things happen every day. Ernie has embarked on this mission, to bring this information to everyone he meets, to prepare the world for passive acceptance, to eliminate the word “surprise” from the vernacular of the English speakers first, the Japanese next.

The decision to leave the convent on this night was spontaneous yet carefully orchestrated. He is in love. Love provokes, ignites, savages the soul in unbelievable ways. It is different for each person. He never thought it possible until he came across a small, weathered book, with a benign and non-descript brown leather cover, published twenty years previously, that had somehow slipped past the watchful eye of the convent keeper who screened donations for suitable materials. (Anything disreputable, too new age-y, atheist or pornographic was quickly sold to the local junkshop on the outskirts of The City.)

Ernie found the book in the convent library one day. There was nothing special about it, really, nothing that should have drawn his then-12-year-old eye, but its austere, un-flashy packaging persuaded him closer. He tucked his index finger in the hook of its spine and tugged it from between the thick volumes of Agatha Christie mysteries and encyclopedias. He opened it and gasped at the crudely etched picture on the tenth page. What was that? He glanced over his shoulder, careful that God was watching, but reconciling quickly that God had also allowed this gift to fall into his lap. Ernie buried the book under his wool sweater and tried not to look like he was running to the small lavatory on the 2nd floor. Usually only the oldest nuns used this washroom. The smell of Bengay and mildew filled his nostrils. It was the best place to get 15 minutes of privacy. On that day he hoped for 20.

Those 20 minutes changed his life. Every day for the last two years, Ernie had happily volunteered to clean that particular bathroom. Every day, for one hour, the room was closed and the nuns marveled at what dedication Ernie’s showing! But, it had gone on long enough. This book had opened his mind in ways no intoxicant ever could. His whole being was dedicated to the teachings in those thin pages. It improved his focus in school; he looked to the other kids in his class with an expert’s incisive judgment; he watched the nuns in wonder and amazement, imagining them doing the things the book had shown him.

Ernie was changed. The world began to make sense to him. It was easy to figure people out once you inspected their psyche for a few minutes, once you listened to what they were trying, ineffectively, to say. He felt God, and though he enjoyed his Buddhist teachings he knew there was still a God, had allowed him this insight, had given him this knowledge for a reason. He observed and kept careful track, putting pieced of peoples’ behaviours together in a massive jigsaw puzzle of emotion.

He was going to find the woman in the book, the woman in the pictures who had offered so much of herself for his education. She had obviously written the text. She was a goddess of information, had unlocked things inside him foreign to his 12-year-old self. At 14 now, he felt prepared to embark on his journey. He would find her, tell her how much she meant to him, explain how he loved her. She inspired him to be wise, manly, and he wanted to devote his life to her teachings.

Ernie lights a cigarette, waves at the large convent where he has lived in relative obscurity his whole 14 years, and sets off towards The City, a vaguely mythical and forbidden denizen of drug dealers, pimps, Hare Krishnas and performance artists with pierced body parts. He is, he feels, ready for anything.

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