Also, comment! I love getting the feedback on this story. I hope you love Maisy and Cairo as much as I do!
The girl ran faster than she’d ever run before. She could feel the tall, dry grass whipping the tender skin on her pudgy legs, but she didn’t care. The sensation of the wind in her hair and the rush of blood in her ears was too intoxicating.
“Maisy,” Mommy called from the back door, “where are you sweetie? I’ve got lunch.”
She didn’t turn back, she wanted to escape and this was her only chance.
She couldn’t stand being caged any longer, she couldn’t stand being confined to play in the living room, child gates up preventing her from moving more than ten feet in any direction.
She was four now, she needed space.
Mommy had let her take ten minutes in the back yard as long as she’d promised she wouldn’t go farther than the garden gate.
“Maisy,” mommy called again, her voice had that hysterical tinge to it that Maisy hated. “Baby, where are you?”
She stopped running and turned back to the house. She was well into the wheat field, where Daddy would be doing the fall harvest. She could hear the harsh thump of the heavy machines in the distance.
Daddy was miles away though, and Maisy was farther from the house than she’d ever been on her own.
The thrill, it was too much.
She was tired, her legs wanted to move, but her body was starting to give up. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and even then she’d only nibbled on a piece of homemade bread with thick rhubarb preserves.
Her body needed more fuel, just like Daddy’s tractors.
She heard Mommy screaming her name now, and she knew she’d be in deep doodoo when she was found.
She ran a little farther and found a nice clump of wheat, lay down and closed her eyes, ignoring the continued pleas of Mommy to come home.
“Maisy,” Daddy’s voice was very loud and came from very near. Maisy had just been having the most wonderful dream. In it she was playing with a whole box full of Barbies, all pink and luscious and totally hers. No big sis to steal them from her.
She rubbed her eyes and stretched her legs. She felt better; less tired and thought she might try to run again.
She got up and gave a little kick, her legs were great and her body felt revitalized.
She started to run away from Daddy’s voice, knowing the trouble she’d be in if he caught her now.
She had no plan, but knew she didn’t want to give up this thrill quite yet.
She hit the edge of the wheat field and stood on gravel. She was momentarily confused. She spotted their house on the other side of the low, long barn where they kept their few dairy cows. She was in their driveway. The roundabout they used for loading machinery and grain.
She decided she’d spend some time in the barn before going back, she loved the smell of the cattle and they way they looked at her with their big, kind eyes.
She pushed herself faster, concentrating on the sliding door at the end, not paying attention to anything on either side of her.
It happened with a thud. Later the man in the truck swore he’d never seen her, and she’d certainly never seen him coming.
She pitched forward, landed on her belly and got a face full of dirt.
She looked up and saw his long, white face in a grimace of horror. She would have laughed at him if she’d been able to move.
She tried to push herself up, but couldn’t make her arms work.
She tried to kick, to get her body off the ground, but her legs weren’t moving.
Maisy started to scream, not for any reason other than simple frustration that her bid for freedom was over.
The man in the truck, it turned out, was kindly Mr. Jacobs’ son, Ryan. He had come to help look for her out in the wheat.
Her Mommy and Daddy came racing over, her Daddy looked more scared than Ryan, and Mommy was screaming louder than Maisy herself.
“Sorry Mommy,” Maisy said, “I just wanted to run.”
“This is why we can’t let you out. Oh my god, I should have never let you out,” Mommy started to sob and covered her with a sweater. Maisy didn’t feel cold though, she tried to push it off but things just didn’t work properly.
“Call the ambulance,” Daddy bellowed and the small group that had assembled all broke apart as they ran to get help.
Daddy knelt on the dirty next to Maisy and stroked her hair. “You’re not like other kids, baby girl,” he said, “you’re going to be okay, but you have to be more careful.”
“I just wanted to play outside,” Maisy said and wondered where all the blood had come from, Daddy’s arm was covered in it. Mommy’s sweater was covered in it.
She knew blood scared people, but it didn’t bother her, it never had.
She managed to edge herself up Daddy’s legs and he held her there until they heard the sirens in the distance.
“What are we going to do with her?” Mommy asked. “She’ll never be normal.”
“Why are you so mad at me?” Maisy asked, “I said I was sorry.”
“I’m not mad, baby,” Mommy replied and smiled at her, but her eyes still leaked tears, “I’m scared.”
Maisy struggled to sit up and noticed her arms and legs were all at strange angles. She tried to concentrate on moving her big toe, but nothing happened, her little sparkly running shoe didn’t shift. She did catch sight a big thing jutting from her leg. It was long, jagged, and the prettiest shade of light pink.
“What’s that Mommy?” she asked and tried to point. She noticed them jutting from her lower arm and other leg too.
“Those are your bones, baby,” Mommy said and started to cry again, “we’ve told you, you’re not like other kids. You don’t feel pain.”
Maisy didn’t understand what Mommy meant by pain. She’d never understood what Mommy and Daddy had meant, and she had the multiple scars to prove it.
From burns on the stove to gouged shins walking into the stairs, none of it ever bothered her and she didn’t understand why everybody around her got so weird about it.
As long as her body worked, she was fine. As long as it healed and her legs moved and her arms swung, and she could do what she liked, pain meant nothing to her.
This was the first time it registered though. Pain meant sometimes your body didn’t work right, and that angered Maisy. She wanted to run and play and jump, she wanted to feel vital and whole.
For the first time in her life, she was afraid. She started to cry and Daddy held her tighter, whispered to her that everything would be all right.
And for the first time in her life, she didn’t quite believe him.
“Did you get that report printed and collated? We need seven copies,” Ann said in a very stern voice, letting Maisy know that this was Very Important.
It wasn’t, Maisy knew it wasn’t, Ann knew it wasn’t, but Ann suffered from the inability to put things into perspective.
And in the grand scheme of things, in the life of the Richmond Paper Company, Ann’s shitty little project simply meant fuck all. It was a time waster, a fuck the dog kinda thing.
But Maisy liked getting paid, and she liked the relative comfort of being a general office assistant, so she said, “Oh yes Ann, seven copies, exactly like you asked. I know how much this presentation means to you. They’re on your desk.”
Ann paused as if evaluating whether or not Maisy was mocking her, decided she wasn’t, flashed a little smile and said, “Thank you Maisy, I don’t know what we’d do without you around here. The last girl was terrible.”
“You’re very welcome Ann,” Maisy replied and turned back to her computer.
She had nothing to do, she was fucking her own dog in her corner desk with the bank of shelves containing boxes of envelopes and paper lining the wall.
She logged onto Facebook and played Farmville for half an hour while chatting with her oldest friend, Rebecca about whether or not a mole on Becs inner thigh could be cancerous.
When Becs sent her a pic of said mole, Maisy decided it was time to log off and pretend to get some actual work done.
She remembered the disgusting state of the break room fridge and thought perhaps scraping moldy spinach dip off the shelf in there was better than looking at her best friend’s expanse of pale skin with dotted freckles near her bush of red pubic hair.
Maisy shook her head and wished for a bottle of brain bleach, anything to exorcise that particular demon.
She walked through the hall, past the cubicles of the sales reps, past the front desk reception with the beautiful but bitchy Asian girls running interference with visitors to their shitty little company.
She got on her knees and scrubbed for a good twenty minutes, filled the garbage can with rotten food, and generally impressed herself with the elbow grease she’d put into it.
Her parents would have been proud, her showing off the work ethic of good, honest farm folk and all.
She tossed the rag and did the washing up, being extra careful with the knives. She hated getting cut, especially in hot water, she never noticed and the blood rushed so quickly to the surface when her capillaries were expanded in the heat.
Afterwards she checked her hands carefully cuts, she’d felt a slight tug with her hands deep in the water, but saw nothing.
She paused to mention Ann’s meeting to Grace, one of the lithe Chinese beauties at the front desk, and was distracted by the cheques payroll had sent up.
She’d completely forgotten it was pay day. It was nice to finally be far enough caught up that she wasn’t living paycheque to paycheque. She even had a couple hundred in the bank at the moment.
“I’ll take these back,” she said to Grace and waved the cheques around. Both girls were staring at her with a mixture of horror and disgust on their smooth, perfect faces. Maisy didn’t know what was up, so she started to back away.
“Are you okay?” Grace asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“What’s going on back here?” Ann said as she poked her head around the corner. “Did we get paid yet?”
“We did,” Maisy said, not taking her eyes off the horrified girls. She didn’t know what had spooked them, but she wanted to get back to her office so she could give herself a once over, find out what was wrong.
“Holy fuck Maisy,” Ann spat and snatched the envelopes from her hand, “what the hell did you do to yourself?”
Maisy held her hands out and noticed blood dripping from her left arm. She must have cut herself after all, but hadn’t noticed in the break room.
“It’s just a little cut,” she said, holding the arm up.
“That’s not little,” Ann said and backed towards Grace and the other girl, “call 911 Grace.”
Maisy turned her arm around, to see the inner flesh, and realized she’d really done a number on herself.
The knife had gone in deep, but not on her hand. There was about a six inch slice along her arm, the skin was peeled back, exposing sinew and muscle, and blood was pouring from it. She must have hit some blood vessels.
“Shit,” she said, “can somebody get me a paper towel? Or a napkin? I’ve got to stop the bleeding.”
She was feeling slightly dizzy, not from pain of course, maybe from loss of blood. It didn’t seem like that much though, until she noticed it pooling on the floor.
Grace and Ann exchanged a look that betrayed their collective fear. Maisy knew they’d find a reason to fire her from this position before long, these kinds of things don’t easily leave a person’s memory.
“A pad? Do you have a menstrual pad?” she asked, “I can use that to stop the bleeding.”
Grace clued in and reached for her purse, rummaged around and handed Maisy an Always overnighter with wings. Maisy hadn’t figured the tiny girl for a real bleeder, but that god she was.
She unwrapped it, peeled the paper off the back and held it to her arm.
She sat down and waited for the ambulance.
She didn’t look at anyone, she knew all too well what their faces would say.
You don’t belong here, freak.
Maisy opened her door and the neighbor’s cat raced into her apartment through her legs. She nudged Miss Mew out of the way and managed to edge her out the door.
Cats loved her, they always had, since her days on the farm with her family. She’d always had the barn cats follow her, and everywhere she traveled or lived, cats sought her out.
She’d never had a cat of her own though, the thought of caring for another creature made her highly uncomfortable. She felt like she could barely keep her own shit together, let alone a needy animal.
She checked her texts; nobody had sent anything from work. Yet.
She was home two hours early and didn’t know what to do with herself. She checked her bank account and calculated how long she could live between now and her new job once the current one let her go.
She flopped on the couch and lifted her feet to the coffee table. She stared at her crooked toes, broken multiple times each. She followed the crooked scars on her feet up her shins, mottled and puckered with injuries and old assaults on her person.
Her arms, her abdomen, every bit of her was covered with healed injuries. Her face was remarkably unblemished, but her lips were thick with the gnarled scars of bite marks when she was a child.
She would lay in bed at night and bit her lips and tongue until she bled and choked on the blood.
She never felt a thing.
She sighed and rubbed the bandage on her arm. Fifteen stitches this time, she was starting to look like a Chucky doll. It didn’t hurt, but it pinched, had a little pressure under the wrapping that irritated her.
She looked at her phone again, Jacob would be waking up soon so she decided to head over to his place and surprise him. They’d been seeing each other for almost a year now, and she had the feeling he wanted to make it more serious, take it up a notch.
He’d been hinting at her moving into his place, but she hadn’t committed to anything yet. Losing a job shouldn’t be the biggest motivator for cohabitating with your boyfriend, but it was tempting considering she could only live about six weeks before her savings ran dry.
She caught the bus to the Skytrain and got off at Broadway Station. She only lived in Richmond because the rents were so much cheaper than Vancouver, but she could get used to the idea of living over there. Becs lived a few blocks away, and Jacob’s place was one street off the Drive, Vancouver’s hippest place to live.
Or so she’d been told. She never did feel that comfortable among people who strived for being perceived as abnormal. Why would you want to be a freak when you weren’t one? She’d spent her entire life trying to fit in, she didn’t get it when people tried to stand out.
It was raining by the time she walked to his modest apartment building, an old three story walk up freshly painted a bright mint green. She hated that colour, but loved his place, so yeah, she could see herself getting used to it.
She knew he’d still be stretched out in bed, rolling around the sheets half awake. He worked nights at the Vancouver Shipyards driving a forklift, his weekends were spent as the lead singer in a local punk band, The Dock Monkeys.
He wasn’t bad, he treated her well and was hot, his muscular body covered in artistic tattoos and piercings, almost as many as her own.
The sex was okay, she had been told her lack of pain receptors wouldn’t effect her pleasure sensors, but she’d never really been that into sex.
She faked it well though, got into the intimacy of the act rather than the out of control orgasmic sensation that she’d heard about. She loved the touching and the kissing and the absolute luscious feeling falling into another person’s eyes, their world, their body.
She hadn’t ever had an orgasm though, not that she was aware of. Becs had told her if she had to ask, she’d never had one. So, case closed, her inability to feel pain meant she was as equally unable to feel pleasure.
It sucked, but it wasn’t anything she could change.
She used her key and slipped in quietly, taking her clothes off as she moved through his dark apartment to the bedroom. He had light blocking shades on all his windows given his night work. She’d have to give up her little herb garden once she moved in. That was the extent of her green thumb or capabilities caring for another living thing.
Thank god they didn’t think she’d ever have children after a terrible accident as a teen. She’d be a terrible mother.
She heard a small groan from his bedroom as she got close, she delighted at the thought of catching him jerking off. She could slide under the covers and finish the job for him.
She opened the door, cursed the creak it made and stepped in.
The room was dark, but a single candle was lit on the bedside.
He was lifting up, his naked body covered in a layer of sweat, his face contorted in a mask of ecstasy.
His was fucking somebody, and that somebody was really enjoying herself.
Maisy froze, she was naked and horrified, humiliated and enraged all at the same time.
She said, “Fuck,” and the movement on the bed stopped in mid thrust.
Jacob looked at her, not comprehending what was going on for a moment, then said, “Shit, Maze, what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at work.”
His accusatory tone set her off. How fucking dare he act like she was the one in the wrong, like she wasn’t supposed to be here, like it was her fault he’d been caught.
“What the fuck is going on here?” Maisy shrieked. “What are you doing?”
She still didn’t see who he was with, it didn’t matter at this point, all that mattered was her boyfriend fucking some stupid bitch in the bed he’d declared his love for her.
She rushed to the bed and started hitting him, landing punches and slaps wherever she could. He grabbed the sheet and pulled it around himself while the girl scrambled to get under the comforter.
“Whoa,” he said and held his hand up, “you need to get yourself together Maze. We need to talk, but you must have seen this coming.”
“You just asked me to move in with you! How could I have seen this coming?”
“You know I need more from you. In bed. We’ve talked about it. You practically gave me the go ahead to do this.”
“You don’t get to say that. You don’t get to tell me this is my fault,” she yelled and started to sob.
The girl on the bed rolled to the edge and tried to escape unnoticed. Jacob stepped off the bed and came to Maisy’s side. He tried to touch her but she slapped him away. “Come on babe, don’t be like this,” he said, “I love you.”
“Obviously not enough,” Maisy said and felt fat, hot tears sliding down her cheeks. She hated crying, hated hurting like this. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
If she couldn’t feel pain, why did it hurt so much?
“The girl on the bed stood up and crept towards the dresser. Maisy noticed a flash of red hair and it all clicked together.
Becs was creeping from her boyfriend’s bed. Her best friend and her boyfriend, fucking while they thought she was at work.
She had just left Jacob’s arms last night, had just played Farmville with Becs this morning and tried to assure her she didn’t have cancer.
“Oh my god,” is all Maisy could manage to choke out. She crumpled to the floor and huddled in a naked ball of misery.
“You should go,” Jacob said and Maisy looked up at him. He was talking to Becs, but the look they exchanged indicated this wasn’t the first time. There was too much intimacy, too much heat.
“This isn’t the first time, is it?” Maisy asked. The two of them turned to look at her, looked at each other, and stuttered their collective denial.
Maisy knew better.
“How long has it been going on?” she asked and forced herself to the bed. She wanted to grab something to put around herself, but the thought of Becs and Jacob sharing the sheets, their sweat and cum coating them, it made her sick. She sat on the edge of the mattress, her legs crossed at the ankles and her arms across the front of her.
“It’s not been long,” Becs said, looking sideways at Jacob. He shot her a look to stop talking, but she kept going. “We never meant for it to happen. Remember that night after your birthday party? When you passed out? It just…happened. We were on his couch doing shots one minute, and the next…you know.”
“That was five fucking months ago!” Maisy screeched, “You’ve been fucking him for five months? And you fucked him under my nose? When I was sleeping in the room next door? How many times?”
He shrugged and shifted from one foot to the other. He scratched his chin and appeared as though he’d prefer to be getting torn apart by wild wolves rather than get between the two women. An idea seemed to occur to him and he smiled slyly and said, “So I guess no chance of a threesome?”
Both Maisy and Becs shot him a look of pure disgust. He shrugged again, smiled his ridiculously gorgeous little smile and looked at Maisy. “Babe, I gotta be honest here. I love you, with all my heart. I want a future with you…but…you’re kind of a dead fish in the sack. I need a little more spice to keep me going.”
Maisy choked back a sob, she knew she wasn’t exactly a firecracker in the sack, but she had honestly thought she’d hidden her lack of excitement when it came to her sexuality. “I can’t help it,” she wailed and sniffled, hating herself for her display of weakness. Why couldn’t she be a kick ass bitch who cracked their heads together and stomped them as they fell. Why did she not get up, get dressed, and storm out of here.
She couldn’t though, Jacob had been her one normal relationship. He’d been the boyfriend she could show off at work and tell the front desk girls about when they were discussing their men.
“I know babe,” he said and walked to her, tried to put his hand on her shoulder. When she pulled away, he jerked it back and continued, “I know it’s your…condition…disease…whatever. That’s why I still love you and I’m willing to overlook it if you’re willing to overlook certain things for me. Then we can both be happy.”
Becs had slipped into her pants and was wiggling into an oversized tee. It was Maisy’s, her favourite Crystal Method concert shirt; she’d wondered where it had gone.
“My man and my shirt, what a fucking classy cunt,” she spat and watched Becs’ face for any sign of a fight. There was none, her friend was clearly upset and wanted to get the hell out of there.
Maisy thought fuck it, they deserve each other. She stood and felt blood flow to the cut on her arm, the white bandages were soaked through and bloody flowers bloomed on the stark surface. She stared at it for a moment, as though the arm belonged to another. It still didn’t hurt. I would never hurt.
“And you,” she said and looked back at Jacob, “blaming my condition for you being a fucking douchebag? Pathetic!”
“Maze, babe, come on. You said so yourself, you don’t really feel it when we fuck, but I need to know that I can make a woman come. I need to know I can make somebody feel something.”
“Maybe you’re just not that good at fucking,” Maisy said and straightened her back, glared at him and dared him to reply.
“Yeah, no, that’s not it,” Becs whispered with a smug, secret grin.
“Really? You seriously want to do this?” Maisy said and took a step towards Becs. Becs blanched and put up her hands.
“I’m sorry, you know what? I’m just gonna get outta here and let you two figure your shit out. I’m sorry Maze, I really am,” Becs said and backed towards the open door.
“You’re sorry? I’m fucking sorry I ever met you. Ten years of friendship down the tubes, for what? A sad little cock attached to a sadder little man. See ya around, and keep the fucking shirt.”
Becs turned and left, but Maisy didn’t feel any better about anything with her gone. She heard Becs at the front door, slipping into her shoes. Why hadn’t she noticed the extra pair of shoes when she’d come in? How had that slipped past her? She could have saved herself a world of hurt if she’d only paid attention.
“By the way Becs,” Maisy called to her former friend just as she opened the front door, “It does look like melanoma, herpes even. Terminal herpes perhaps. I’d get that looked at.”
Becs didn’t reply, and exited without looking back.
Jacob had moved to stand next to Maisy, and Maisy was positively vibrating with anger by then.
“Babe, it meant nothing. Becs is an idiot, a slut, a stupid little jealous bitch who threw herself at me.”
“I’m not your babe, and she may be a stupid bitch but you’re a fucking bastard. And that makes it worse, if it meant nothing, why would you risk our relationship?”
“It’s not like that,” he pleaded with her, but she was done. “She came onto me. She’s not a good friend, babe.”
“Well, you’re a shitty boyfriend. Fuck the both of you.”
Maisy went back to her pile of clothes in the living room and pulled them on. The bandages on her arm were soaked now, but she didn’t give a fuck. She wanted to gather everything she’d left at Jacob’s and take it home, then deal with blood and heartache and pain and poverty.
She grabbed a box he kept his old records in and dumped them in an unceremonious heap on the floor near the couch.
“Hey,” he protested and ran to pick them up. “These are valuable.”
“You don’t know how to take care of valuable things, asshole,” she said and started tossing her stuff in the box.
She hadn’t realized how much she had over here until she tried to fit it all in a single cardboard box.
She hadn’t realized how much of her life was entwined with his until she tried to extricate herself from him.
It felt like a physical ripping as she pulled away emotionally. She shut herself down, one wall after another, until her heart was a numb as her stupid skin.
He followed her around the place, begging and pleading and asking her for a second chance until her silence blocked him and he sat on the couch, his face in his hands. He looked broken, and sincere, and like he was hurting as much as she, but it only made her angrier to think that he’d play victim when he was the perpetrator.
She filled the box and knew there was more, but couldn’t deal with it right now. She shoved her boots on her feet without lacing them up and went to leave.
Not before she said, “You know what Jacob? All my life all I ever wanted was to fit in. Not feeling pain, having this condition, it’s always made me feel like an outsider. You made me feel normal, you made me feel loved and safe. But now I realize that was just an illusion. So thank you for making me grow up and thank you for forcing me to realize I can’t trust anyone.”
She opened the front door and he came rushing to her side, told her all the things she wanted to hear, tried to pull her back into his arms and she almost gave in.
Until she thought of him on top of Becs, that look of ecstasy on his face, thrusting and grunting.
Until she thought of him blaming her and her faulty DNA for his cheating.
She pushed him away, turned on her heel and slammed the door as she left.
Downstairs she set the box down on the front steps and shivered. She’d left her jacket in the apartment, fucking figured. It took a lot for her to feel cold, so the misty rain must be almost icy.
She looked at the box of clothes, hair products, make up and a couple knick knacks. The stupid pink fuzzy bear Jacob had won for her at the PNE last year. The concert tickets from their first date, they’d gone to see Bryan Adams at the River Rock Casino. So fucking cheesy.
She picked it up, walked up the street to a dumpster and tossed the entire thing in. She realized she wanted to cut off every bit of him, excise the ache in her heart and let it wall back over.
Each step away from Jacob was like a brick in the wall as she thought about him fucking Becs, kissing her and telling her he loved her.
It fucking hurt.
She wasn’t supposed to hurt.
The sun hit her face like a steel toed boot to the teeth. Maisy yawned, rolled over, checked her clock and saw that she was late for work.
But she didn’t have a job. Shit. So she was late for job hunting, not being an early bird meant she rarely got the worm. She immediately decided to try harder to find work. Starting right now…well, as soon as she woke up completely.
She rolled off the futon and stood up, stretched and sniffed her arm pits. Today smelled like a good day for a shower.
It had been a week since she’d caught Jacob and Becs. She checked her phone and saw the inevitable texts from the two lying fuckers who broke her heart.
She hadn’t realized how much she depended on Becs until she betrayed her. And she hadn’t realized how much of a distraction Jacob was until he was gone.
She had a quick shower, shaved her legs and pits, and scrubbed her itchy head until it almost stung.
The cut on her arm was healing nicely. She picked half heartedly at a scab, tossed in the garbage and regretted not eating it.
She wondered if you could survive on eating your own scabs if you were stuck without food. Why didn’t starving people start picking at themselves and harvest their dried blood to survive?
Or maybe at some point the body convinced the mind to give up on itself. Give in, let the inevitable happen.
Is that what she was doing? Giving up? She certainly hadn’t been looking that hard for work, and had just paid her rent yesterday. She had a small amount left in her savings. That gave her a solid month to survive here before she had to be moved out or employed.
Was her body simply convincing her mind to give up?
She should have, by all means, given up years ago. The day she was born really.
She’d come into the world with congenital analgesia, the inability to feel pain.
As a baby she’d chewed through her own tongue a few times, bitten her lips almost completely off, and fallen down to break things more than once or twice.
She’d also been hit by a truck, when she’d run away. She had been about four and hadn’t realized how dangerous the world could be for a girl like her.
Her parents had been killed in a car accident when Maisy was thirteen, and she’d been raised by her older sister who had been nineteen at the time. She hadn’t spared one chance to let Maisy know how much of a burden she was, or how terrible it was that she was even alive.
In some weird way, her sister had blamed Maisy for her parent’s death even though logically she’d had nothing to do with it.
Maisy had left home at seventeen, never finished high school and never went to college in spite of her love of reading and ability to retain information.
She’d moved from Moose Jaw to Vancouver and had ended up in Richmond a few years back.
She was now in her twenty fifth year and was completely, utterly, devastatingly directionless.
She had nobody, even Becs who had followed her from Saskatchewan was lost to her now.
Jacob, he wasn’t a huge loss in the grand scheme of things, but Becs’ betrayal had cut her deep.
Still, she had let her guard down with Jacob, believed that he loved her and cared for her.
Believed that he bought her act, thought of her as normal.
His angry words rang in her ears every day since the break up, that he needed a woman who enjoyed sex.
How could she enjoy something that she couldn’t really feel?
Her doctors had always insisted that the pain and pleasure connection shouldn’t alter her sexual gratification, but what the fuck did they know? They weren’t connected to her pussy, and Miss Kitty seemed as dull as the rest of her skin.
Imagine trying to live your life with a layer of foam covering your body. Like a walking sensory depravation chamber.
It fucking got to a person.
Which is why she did stupid shit sometimes, to feel. To feel anything.
Which is why she was covered in tattoos, brands and ritualistic scars. Not her face, thankfully, never her face, but from her neck down she was a piece of art. Or a piece of work. Depends on how you saw it.
Piercings too, shit, she got talked into piercing her clit a couple months ago. She had hoped it would help me feel something when Jacob was pounding away on top of her, but it hadn’t changed a thing.
She’d have to take it out and fucking flush it, to forget the asshole.
Her nipples were done too, but years ago, still in high school. Those were purely aesthetic, she loved the way they looked and she loved the hint of barbells poking through her business attire.
Business. God she needed a job.
She settled down on the laptop and cruised the job seeker websites. She’d apply for anything, but the economy was down and it was an employer’s market. She was competing for secretarial positions against people with MBAs and degrees from universities back East.
Scrolling past scam after scam and every job she’d applied for already, a brightly coloured graphic at the bottom of the page caught her eye.
She clicked on it and was taken to an external website, some kind of circus. She was about to close it when the words, “Help Wanted” flashed across the header.
She clicked, why the fuck not.
Cirque des Curiosités was apparently a freak show. A good old fashioned house of horrors kind of place. Maisy had heard of it somewhere, a vague recollection of a newscast or a flyer. It was something like Cirque du Soleil but with society’s outcasts instead of athletic beautiful people performing impossible feats of skill.
She wanted to close the page and pretend she’d never seen the employment ad, but something compelled her to stay. She read the details of their request, they were looking for everything from concession workers to security…to performers.
As much as she wanted to earn more money for performing, there was no way in hell she’d ever get out in front of a crowd and dance around or whatever the fuck they did.
Besides, her freak was a little more hidden than the rest. To the naked eye, she appeared normal, which is why she usually could camouflage herself long enough to work in a respectable job.
It was the economy, not her condition that prevented her from being hired this time. Not to mention her general malaise, overall lack of enthusiasm when filling out applications. Somehow it seemed to translate over the internet and scare potential employers away from her.
She half considered begging for her old job at the paper company back, but just couldn’t stomach the disgusted looks on everyone’s faces when they looked at her and saw dripping blood.
Fuck it, she decided to submit the world’s sketchiest application, just to fulfill her recent commitment to applying to every job she came across. She didn’t even know if she’d spelled her own name correctly. She might have just applied as Maisy Yark instead of York, but hey, it was an application.
After sending off a couple more, one for a Wal Mart greeter out in Coquitlam, and one for a golf ball collector at a driving range down the road from her, she flipped the laptop shut and looked around her tiny bachelor apartment.
She started to calculate the shit she could sell in order to make the rent. Sadly she didn’t have much, nothing more than a couple hundred bucks if folks were being generous.
Even her laptop was an old, clunky thing that still ran on a ten year old operating system. Her phone was nice, she’d splurged on the last iPhone when it had come out, but she needed a phone number for employers to contact her.
She fished around her change jar and came up with a couple toonies and decided to go crazy on herself and maybe buy a small coffee and a medium cone at McDonalds.
Right? Crazy, out of control, somebody break out the shopping police.
She walked the fifteen blocks, had her treat and wandered around the shopping mall watching people richer than her spend money she would never have.
She was chilling out in front of a fountain that displayed repeating coloured patterns of water when her phone buzzed.
It was a text from a number she didn’t recognize.
“Can you come in tomorrow at nine? We’re setting up next to BC Place.”
She was thrilled to finally get a bite on a resume, but could not place the number for the life of her. She wrote back, “Sorry?”
“Is this Maisy Yark? This is Eloise from the Cirque. You just submitted an application.”
Oh, she thought, shit, she had spelled her own name wrong. But they must be desperate. That could work in her favour. She wondered how long they were in Vancouver, she could use them for a couple pay cheques to bridge herself between now and the next real job.
“Sure thing, I’ll be there at nine.”
“Come to the ticket tent, the red and blue striped one. Ask for Eduardo.”
“Will do, thanks.”
She slid the phone back in her bra and felt a small twinge of excitement. After all the resumes she’d sent out, she finally had a reply. She might just be able to afford to live after all.
She walked the short distance from the Skytrain station to the tents set up under the viaducts near BC Place Stadium. She’d always loved this area, it was a former industrial space getting crowded with overpriced high-rise apartments and specialty food markets. But it still had a feral feel to it, with impromptu skate parks and graffiti everywhere you looked.
Her knee high army boots clicked on the sidewalk and she had her hands shoved deep into her Edward Scissorhands hoodie. She didn’t really want this job, so she had said fuck it on her wardrobe choice. They’d hire her or they wouldn’t, it probably didn’t mean shit to them if she dressed a little outside the corporate box.
She had spent the morning going over student loan applications and trying to decide if university would be a good stand in for full time employment.
She was a little miserable at the moment, the rain matching her shitty mood. She had scanned the entire University of British Columbia course catalogue and found zilch that seemed interesting.
In short, she didn’t know what she was going to be when she grew up, and she was already grown up.
She sniffled and wiped her nose on the back of her arm, catching a look of disgust from a dog walker with a ten or so purse dogs yapping on leashes strung onto her arms.
She stopped at the crosswalk and waited for the light to change. She turned back and saw the dog walker scoop up a mound of shit in a little plastic bag and shove it into her pocket.
Maisy shot her an equally disgusted look, but the dog walker thrust out her chin and kept moving.
Great, she thought, dissed by a shit scooper. I must really look like I rolled out of bed on the wrong side this morning. Or the cardboard box, she might think I’m homeless given my current attire.
She walked to the ticket booth and was greeting by a huge man stuffed into a striped suit with a black top hat. His face was painted white and he had old school clown make up, very subtle but still a little more on the freaky side than the cheerful side.
Sad, murderous clown perhaps?
“Hey,” she said and he put down his paper to look at her. “I’m here to see Eduardo about a job.”
The clown looked her up and down, found her lacking and said, “All the showgirl positions have been filled, sorry.”
“I didn’t apply for a showgirl, I wanted concession or tickets.”
“Ah, ok, then you’re in luck…I think our ticket girl ran off with her loser boyfriend last night. Why don’t I take you to see the big boss?”
“Sounds good to me,” she replied and wondered what the probability was that she’d be taken behind a tent and slaughtered by murderous sad clown.
Probably fairly high, but she wasn’t in any state to argue. Besides, who would miss her? Becs would move in with Jacob and they’d never say her name aloud again.
Fuck them, she decided she was going with Captain Murdery.
He turned out to not be so much murdery as super friendly. His name was Carl, he and his life partner Dave worked for the Cirque (that’s what he called it, so score one for her already knowing an inside term). They’d been with the travelling company for over ten years. His partner worked security.
He bought her a tall mocha latte at the concession stand on the way to meet Eduardo.
Who knew? They had a concession coffee bar that rivaled Starbucks. This was nothing like the fly by night carnivals that used to grace her town’s rodeo grounds once a year back in the day.
This was a professional organization, and she was impressed by the cleanliness, the expensive equipment, and the obvious care that went into setting the Cirque up.
“So tell me all about yourself,” Carl said as they waited for Eduardo to show up, “I mean, obviously your life must be rocky if you want to sign up and run away with the circus.”
“It’s fairly shitty, but it’s not that bad,” she replied, not wanting to divulge too much to this man whom she’d just met. She didn’t want him letting them know about her plan to work for a week or two, then quit when the circus packed up to leave.
“Well, I’m sure you’ll settle in fine around here,” he said, “we need more normal folk, especially young women.”
“What do you mean normal?” she asked, a little alarmed as if he could see through her façade and glean how broken she really was.
“Normal, you know, not part of the Freakshow,” he replied, “it puts people off at the ticket booth. They know they’re coming to see something bizarre, but if the first thing they see is our dog faced boy or the Gimp, they won’t come in the front gate.”
“I guess, but it seems odd if they’re here to see the freaks, why won’t they interact with them?”
“It humanizes them, makes them too real. It’s easier to sit in the audience and watch them perform, it makes it feel a little less tragic I suppose.”
“I suppose,” she agreed and sipped her coffee.
“Holy fuck, I should have painted this smile a little more upturned at the edges. I’m sorry, I’m not usually such a moody prick, especially this early in the morning.”
She was about to let him know it was fine when a male voice boomed over her shoulder, “Bullshit, Carl. You’re always moody and you’re mostly a prick!”
“Ah, Maisy, I’d like you to meet Eduardo,” Carl said and motioned to the tall, elegant man behind her.
She smiled shyly and said, “Hey,” as he held out his hand. He was over six feet, probably in his fifties, but still extremely attractive. His black hair was silver at the temples, and he was wearing form fitting black slacks and a white t-shirt. His body was rocking for an old dude, she thought appreciatively.
“Maisy, pleased to make your acquaintance,” Eduardo said with the slightest hint of a Spanish accent. “Please excuse the less than formal attire, I have been attending our morning staff meeting. We don’t generally dress in costume for those occasions.”
Maisy glanced at Carl who was in full get up. He caught her look and said, “I was training somebody this morning, full face was required.”
“I didn’t mean–” she started to say but he cut her off.
“It’s okay, I know you were wondering why I was in full regalia while dear Eduardo here is running about the place half dressed. Let me just say that you don’t want to see me half dressed, darling. It’s not a pleasant sight. Eddy though, roooowr, am I right?”
Maisy blushed and glanced at Eduardo. He was watching her intently, his gaze unreadable.
She felt like a mouse in front of a hawk, like he was ready to pounce. It wasn’t necessarily a sexual sensation, but more that she was a lesser creature in the presence of one who was above and beyond her
“Never mind Carl,” Eduardo said and motioned for her to follow him, “let’s go to my office and we’ll discuss the position.”
Carl smiled, raised his eyebrows, mouthed the words, “Good luck”, turned and left. Maisy trailed behind Eduardo, following him to a mid sized travel trailer parked behind the staff concession.
“Wow, this is really nice,” she said, a little in awe at how fancy the place was. It was nicer than any house or apartment she’d ever lived in. They stepped up inside and sat at a kitchen table. All she saw were marble countertops, hardwood floors, several distinct rooms and a gigantic flatscreen TV mounted in the living room.
“Well, this is my home. I travel with the Cirque ten months of each year. The other two months we’re back in Quebec working on new routines for the following year. I like the comfort,” Eduardo replied.
“It’s nicer than anything I’ve ever had,” she laughed and ran her hand along the wooden table. It was teak, or something like it, she thought. Not that she knew fuck all about wood, but it wasn’t the same as her own shitty press board kitchen set back home.
He smiled back and said, “Ok, let’s go over the position, the pay and what we expect from you.” He pulled a thin file folder from a briefcase he had on the bench next to him. She saw, “Maisy Yark” written in scrawled red felt at the top.
“York,” she blurted and pointed at the file, “it’s actually York.”
“Oh,” he replied and looked at the folder, “I wonder why they put Yark?”
She knew why, she had spelled her own damn name wrong on the application, but was too embarrassed to say. “It’s a common mistake,” is all she could think of and hoped he’d drop it after he corrected the spelling on the folder.
He did, and they spent fifteen minutes going over the basics of being a ticket taker at the front of the show.
It seemed easy enough, paid better than her last job and came with perks, like free entry to the Cirque and a ten dollar daily voucher for the employee cafeteria. She was sold.
When they shook on it, and she agreed to come in the next day for training, he looked her right in the eye with his intense, penetrating gaze and said, “Now promise me you’re not going to work for the two weeks we’re in town and bail on us when we leave.”
She felt her face go red hot and she stammered her answer, “Of course not. I plan on staying with the Cirque as long as you’ll have me.”
“Good girl,” he said and looked her up and down, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She felt like she’d accomplished something, getting his approval like that. Good girl, like she was a fucking dog, but she had to admit, she’d felt a little thrill when he’d said it with that sexy accent.
She couldn’t help thinking that he was a dangerous man though, one she might better off avoid once she was working.
But who was she kidding, she loved risk and walking on the wild side. She’d seek him out, as surely as her name was Maisy Yark.
She smiled to herself at her joke and hopped the Skytrain home, suddenly aware of the fact that she had something to look forward to for the first time in weeks. Months even.
She just wished she had Becs to share it with.
“Leave your purse in your locker and pick one of the red jackets that will fit you,” Joanna told Maisy and pointed to a closet of identical red suit jackets with long tails. Ringmaster style.
Joanna was babysitting Maisy, showing her the ropes until she could handle taking cash and selling tickets at the front.
Joanna was in her mid twenties, give or take a couple years, had thick blonde hair and brilliant blue eyes. She also happened to have a very curly, well groomed beard.
Maisy had tried to avoid looking at it when they’d first met, but Joanna had immediately addressed it, gotten it off the table.
“I have a beard, get over it,” Joanna had said, “look now, touch it, ask questions, but then let it go, okay?”
“Okay,” Maisy had said, touched it lightly and decided to stop thinking about it. This proved more difficult than one might assume, but she was doing a fairly good job at hiding it.
“Should I try one on now?” Maisy asked and stepped towards the closet.
“It doesn’t matter to me, there are always a bunch of jackets, there will always be something for you to wear.”
Maisy decided to forgo dressing up and followed Joanna to the staff concession.
“Your meal voucher is on file, just swipe the employee card Dave in security will give you. If you don’t use up your ten dollars each day, you can roll it over to the next day. If you don’t use it by the end of the month, you lose it. Understand?”
Maisy tried not to gawk at all the employees milling about, getting food, eating it, chit chatting like there was absolutely nothing wrong with them.
“I understand,” she said, and forced herself to make eye contact and smile at a young man with a gigantic forehead. He must have Macrocephaly, she thought. She’d met a girl with it back in the day when her entire life was a revolving door of children’s hospitals and charity fundraising drives.
“Look,” Joanna hissed, “you’ll eventually get used to us Freaks, but until then, just keep your eyes to yourself, okay? We are the bread and butter of the entire show, without us you wouldn’t have a job. So nothing but absolute respect, one hundred percent of the time.”
“I understand,” she repeated and looked over Joanna’s shoulder to find something…anything…to lock her gaze on.
She found the most incredible looking man she’d ever seen. He was tall, leanly muscled with a confident ease about his posture that made her immediately drawn to him. She loved asshole men, and he looked like the supreme, with the cocky tilt to his head, and his easy, arrogant smile as he flirted with the girl behind the counter. He turned to her, as if feeling the weight of her gaze, and smiled.
She was lost for a brief moment, her pussy flooded with heat and her cheeks red with fire. His eyes were dark and endless, his thick, black hair pulled back in a knot on the top of his head, and the arms poking from his white dress shirt were covered in intricate, colourful tattoos.
He had a black beard to rival Joanna’s. He also had a smirk on his face, as though he knew her secret thoughts and could feel the lustful heat radiating from her body. She glanced back to Joanna and winced at the other girl’s look of disgust.
“Seriously? I tell you not to look at the Freaks, and you pick the boss’s son?”
“Who is he?” Maisy asked, unable to contain her curiosity.
“Cairo,” Joanna said, “Eduardo’s only son. Cirque royalty.” Her tone suggested Maisy was an idiot, and outsider never to know the inner workings of life in the show. She was right, Maisy didn’t care who he was, or who his father was, or anything about him. She just knew he was the hottest man she’d ever seen, and he’d smiled at her.
“Cool,” Maisy said in an attempt to sound nonchalant. It obviously didn’t work.
“Seriously, stay away from him. He’s off limits, and honestly? Way out of your league.”
“Do you like him?” Maisy asked and looked Joanna in the eye. She didn’t know why she was being so combtative over this issue, but she wanted to know more about him.
“No,” Joanna spat, obviously lying to Maisy and perhaps herself. “He’s not the kind of guy any girl should want to hang out with. He’s a player and he’s dangerous. He only thinks about pleasing himself and doesn’t care who he hurts along the way.”
“Okay, point taken,” Maisy said, but of course the risk of a dangerous man only made her ears perk up. She did love taking risks after all, and what was one more scar on her heart if it meant the possibility of feeling something at all?
They continued on the tour and Maisy couldn’t help herself, she started to yawn. Joanna didn’t seem to like her, and Joanna was not a very energetic, interesting woman. Maisy wondered what her performance was like. Probbaly not great if she was being punished by looking after the newb.
They were headed over to the animal tents when a tall figure blocked their way. The sun was behind him, so it took Maisy a moment to realize it was Cairo, the man who made her weak at the knees.
“Who do we have here,” he asked Joanna with a charming smile. Now that she could see him up close, Maisy took note of his perfect, white teeth and full, kissable lips. Oh, what those lips would taste like.
“Hey,” Joanna said, and looked at Maisy, “this is Maisy, the new ticket girl. Your dad just hired her.”
“Pleased to meet you, Maisy,” Cairo said and held out his hand. “I’m Cairo, but you can call me Cai.”
She took it, shook it, and couldn’t help but note his calloused, strong fingers and warm, dry skin. It was a delicious hand shake.
“Hi,” Maisy said, “pleased to make your acquaintance.” She smiled and congratulated herself on remaining cool, calm and collected in the face of immediate, overwhelming horniness.
“So Joanna bore you silly yet?” he asked. Joanna shot him a glare.
“Not really, it’s all very interesting.”
“How about I take it from here, Joanna? Isn’t there something you need to be doing right now?” Cai said, not looking away from Maisy.
“Not really,” Joanna said and crossed her arms.
“It’s okay, I’ll show her the tigers and shit, then take her to security,” Cai insisted.
Joanna sighed and frowned, “Whatever. If your dad flips shit, it’s on you.” She stomped away.
“I hope I didn’t just get into trouble here,” Maisy said and watched Joanna’s retreating form.
“Not at all, she just loves rules and discipline. I can tell you aren’t that kind of girl, and thought I should be a gentleman and rescue you from boredom.”
“Why thank you, Sir,” Maisy smiled and hooked her hand on his arm when he offered it.
“Have you ever been to a Freakshow?” he asked on the way to the animal tent.
“Never at all,” Maisy said. “What do you do here?”
“I’m a fire eater,” he said and laughed when she glanced at him suspiciously.
“What about the beard?” she asked, “doesn’t it ever go up in flames?”
“Not unless I fuck up,” he said, “I eat fire, blow it out, it never comes near my face technically. Just my lips.”
She stared up…way up…at those lips, they were so luscious she had the sudden vision of herself hanging off the front of him like in one of those baby carriers, and sucking those delicious lips of his.
She shook her head and cleared the thought before replying, “Oh, but it still sounds very dangerous.”
“I can be,” he smiled at her and winked. She blushed and looked away, suddenly extremely interested in the tent they were approaching. “I shave it though,” he added and she turned back to him.
“The beard, when I’m performing I shave it off. It does pose a bit of a risk. I love taking risks, but not with my ugly mug,” he said and rubbed his chin with a smile.
His teeth really were perfect. “Makes sense,” she replied and walked under his arm as he lifted the tent flap back for her. His scent was masculine, he smelled powerful. That didn’t even make sense to her, but he smelled like he would fuck her hard and drag her back to his cave.
And she liked it, really liked it.
Normally she didn’t go for meatheads, cavemen types, but with his body and those lips, she’d take this one any way she could get him.
And with him being a player, she could fool around safely, not worry about him getting too attached, not worry about herself getting too attached.
Besides, this was just a short gig until something better came up.
“Careful, I don’t know if the sweepers have been through yet,” he said and held his arm out to block her way as their eyes adjusted to the light.
“I think I can handle a little sawdust,” she replied and lifted her booted foot to showcase her best pair of Docs.
“They’re nice,” he said and smiled at her in the dim light. His teeth glowed, making him seem predatory. She saw the resemblance to his father just then. “I don’t think they’d survive a fresh, steaming pile of elephant shit though.”
“Oh,” she said and caught his meaning. She blushed and was grateful he couldn’t see her red cheeks at the moment.
“I want to introduce you to the trainer. He handles the lions, tiger and–”
“–bears, oh my?” she giggled behind him. He turned and raised a brow, she immediately felt ridiculous for making such a stupid joke.
“That’s pretty clever,” he said and continued into a large, open area. It was circular, brightly lit, and had a tall wall surrounding the training area. Several platforms, large, brightly colours balls and hoops were scattered here and there.
“Alexi?” Cai called, “is anyone home?”
“Right here,” a male voice replied and the trainer stepped into the light with a tiger on either side of him. Maisy had never been so close to a wild animal, not even on the farm back home. She gasped, stepped back and grabbed Cai’s arm out of instinct.
“Stay still and watch Alexi work his magic,” Cai said and placed his hand over hers. He turned slightly towards her so they were almost facing each other in the brightly lit training tent. She watched Alexi give the big cats commands, they obeyed with precision, and in all honesty she wasn’t that terrified at the moment. Still, she didn’t want to pull her hand away, didn’t want to admit that her heart was pounding at his touch, not the tigers, and didn’t want this intimacy to end.
She finally realized the little performance had come to an end and reluctantly took her hand back. She could feel the mark of his on her flesh, burning like a brand.
Get ahold of yourself, she thought, not understanding where this lack of control was coming from. She wasn’t prone to flight of fancy in the real world, had the Cirque drawn her into some alternate reality where she was normal and daydreamed about kissing the boss’s son?
“Now we test your mettle,” he said and shot her a sly smile. The walked to where Alexi had the two tigers, each on a round platform. He was standing in between the cats in what appeared to be riding breeches and a black shirt. He was shorter than Cai, but a little taller than Maisy. He had sparkling blue eyes, grey hair and a barrel chest. His face was lined with wrinkles that indicated he’d lived a life full of humour.
He smiled, bowed and shook Cai’s hand, then turned to Maisy. “Pleased to meet you,” he said, “I am Alexi. These are my animals.”
“They are gorgeous,” she replied, “and my name is Maisy.”
“What a whimsical name,” Alexi said, “charming.”
“Thank you,” she replied, “are all the animals yours?”
“Yes,” he said, “I bring them all with me. I trained in Moscow, came to Canada twenty years ago to be a plumber, but couldn’t get the circus out of my blood. Ten years ago Cairo’s father took a chance on me and I’ve never looked back.”
“That seems like a long time to be traveling around,” she said but saw a certain appeal. She herself hated commitments, as evidenced by Jacob being her longest relationship. And we all knew how that turned out.
“It is, but it’s the life you want, or the life you’re not used to. Either way, the first few months makes or breaks most folks.”
“That’s actually why I brought you here,” Cai said, “to see how you reacted around the tigers. Well, and to have a reason for you to grab onto me and gasp like a nineteen twenties film starlet.”
She hoped he didn’t notice her blush this time, and went even redder when she caught Alexi’s raised brow, watching her. “So did I pass?” she asked.
“Definitely. You’ll be good to work here. You wouldn’t believe how many people panic next to the big cats. You’ve done well.”
“So basically if I don’t piss myself or get my face eaten off, I’m hired?”
“Pretty much,” he said. He laughed and gave her a sidelong glance. “You’re funny, I like funny.”
She followed him as they left, Alexi giving her a wink and saying welcome aboard as they passed. She swore one of the cats saw a pork chop on two legs when she got too close, but of course couldn’t react at this point.
He thought she was funny. He thought she passed the test.
The cat could take her head in its mouth right now and all she’d do is crack jokes and hope he’d touch her skin as he saved her life.
She didn’t know how she’d become so obsessed with a man she’d just met, but part of her loved it, and the other part wanted her to run, to get away from the danger of a man who held her in such thrall.
She ignored the running part of course, and followed him like she was in the desert and he was leading her to water.
The day moved slowly as he took her from area to area, acquainting her with her coworkers and showing her the ropes.
They the storage sheds and circled around the big top, the performance tent, and went to the staff dressing rooms and practice area. It was another tent, but of course like all of them, the term tent was misleading. They were all more like portable theatres, the canvas was so thick it was almost solid, and the internal structure looked like it could withstand a fairly strong hurricane.
They were probably better construction than her apartment back in Richmond.
“Here’s where you’d get ready if you were a performer. We’re like a big family back here, we ask for advice on routines, share information, basically give each other as much support as possible. It’s a tough job, and sometimes it can get you down.”
“Especially when you’re one of the freaks like me,” a female voice said from behind Maisy. She turned and had to suppress her gasp of surprise.
She was face-to-face, well, face to waist with the largest woman she’d ever seen. She was acutely aware of Cairo watching her, judging her response, which only added to the awkward sensations flooding her brain at the moment.
She’d never encountered somebody so different from the norm, even during her trips to the Children’s Hospitals growing up. At the hospitals, most of the injuries or diseases had disfigured in ways that were expected, in this case nature had created something that set off alarms of, “Different! Different!” in her head.
But, as her mom always told her, “You can think it, just don’t say it.” She mentally checked her alarm at the door, held out her hand and said, “Hey, I’m Maisy. I just got hired.”
Cairo approved, she saw his small smile out of the corner of her eye.
“Hi Maisy, I’m Lara, the Giantess in case you didn’t notice,” Lara said, her voice was deep and melodic and kind. Maisy liked her immediately.
“Oh I’m sure she took note of your lovely largeness,” Cai said, his own deep, smooth, voice full of mirth, “but Maisy here is at expert level of non-reaction. Not bad for a Normal on her first day.”
She understood he meant that as a compliment, but for some reason it really rubbed her the wrong way. She wanted to yell at him that she was just as freaky as the weirdest freak they had performing. She had lived a life as an outsider, and she totally got the whole detached, aloof act, she had lived that fucking act every damn day of her life.
But of course she didn’t, the other thing she had perfected over the years was to force herself to think before she spoke. That wasn’t part of her condition, the unnecessary blurting of information, she believed she’d inherited that from her Dad. He’d been the king of awkward moments, and she smiled inwardly just thinking about him.
She knew the knee-jerk reaction to his assumption that she was normal came from her own deep seated issues surrounding the idea of what was normal. From the years she’d been teased at school and the years her sister had snarled at her that her being a freak is why their parents were dead.
She took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders, mentally shook off her anxiety, and said, “I’m seriously okay with it all. I mean I’m not going to pretend that you’re not like, what, ten feet tall? But it ain’t no big thing, as long as you’re a decent human being.”
“Well, it’s closer to eight feet, and I can be a raging bitch on crack at times, but overall I like to think I’m good people.”
“Then we’re cool,” Maisy said.
She could feel Cai’s acceptance and knew she’d passed yet another test. With all these hoops to jump through, she wondered if they had anyone make it past the first day.
They made small talk with Lana, and were on their way. He took her to a seating area where they could watch the performers work on their act. He wanted to talk, but Maisy was enthralled by the people on stage. This was access to something that would normally be beyond her budget, so she wanted to take in as much as possible.
“You enjoying the show, Ms. Normal?” Cai teased her when she didn’t reply to his previous question about her family.
“Yes, definitely,” she said and watched a family of tumblers working with a brightly coloured clown. She didn’t see anything right off the bat that was especially freakish about any of them. “So do you allow normal people too? But like that, performers?” she asked and indicated the family.
“We do and we don’t,” he replied. “They’re all normal in terms of physical oddities, but they do possess certain….talents….that are useful for other performances. A couple of them are sword swallowers, there’s a human rubber band too. See the older fellow? He can still twist himself up in poses you’d take an hour to get your head around.”
“So if you’re not unusual looking, you can earn your way in,” she said, not taking her eyes off the performers, not wanting to make eye contact with him. She knew it was crazy, but she thought she might like to stay with the Cirque maybe a little longer.
“That’s right,” he said and leaned towards her, “so do you have any special talents you want to share?”
She looked at him, saw the humorous glint in his eye and blushed. “I might have a thing or two up my sleeve,” she said but didn’t think she’d manage anything beyond taking money and handing out tickets. She just didn’t want him to stop talking, end their orientation session, and forget about her the moment she was gone from his sight.
“I believe that,” he said and winked. Her face burned again, if it had ever even gone back to normal after the last blush. Her body’s response to him was uncontrollable and completely illogical.
After a lifetime of blending into the background, here she was figuring out how she could stand out in a room full of professional freaks.
Those eyes though, those lips. She realized she was staring at him a little too long and looked away, suddenly focused on the stage.
“Let’s take you to the ticket area,” he finally said, “then we can wrap up your orientation and get your training started.”
“Sounds good,” she said and stood abruptly, caught her purse on the chair behind her and flipped it over with a loud crash. The performers stopped in mid tumble formation and froze, staring at her. “Shit, sorry. I’m so sorry,” she stuttered and tried to regain her composure.
They began to slow clap as she left, he heard a couple whistles and cheers and her face was on fire from her neck to the tips of her ears.
“Nice one, Ms. Normal,” Cairo chuckled, “we might have room for you in the Freakshow after all.”
“Ha ha,” she replied in a sarcastic tone, but was grateful for his attempt to make light of her disastrous exit.
They went to the front of the Cirque, the perimeter was protected by a tall metal gate and the only entrance was the through the ticket booths, where she’d come in.
“Is there a staff entrance?” she asked when they stepped up into a booth. She was aware of how small the area was, it hadn’t seemed so bad the day before with Carl, and Carl was huge in body. Cairo was huge in presence though, and every cell in her body was acutely aware that he was just inches away from her.
“No, we don’t need one. Everybody stays on site,” he replied, “I’ll show oyu your sleeping quarters after this. You’ll be bunking with a couple other girls, but you have your own room.”
“Oh cool,” she said and didn’t want to tell him she’d be going home every night. She wanted to ask him where he slept, so she could imagine him just a few feet from her if she decided to spend the night at some point.
This was just temporary, she told herself again. She had to remind herself that it was just for a couple weeks and she’d have a new job by then.
But why did it feel like she was starting something new, something meaningful, and something life changing?
They went over a few cash procedures, it wasn’t rocket science and she picked up on it immediately. He leaned over her to show here where they stocked the register tape and he stopped. He sucked in his breath and said, “Oh shit, that must hurt like a son of a bitch.”
He was looking down at her leg, she followed his gaze and saw a nasty gash open on the side of her knee. She must have gotten it tripping over herself when she left, on one of the chairs perhaps. It was gaping, bleeding and probably would hurt like a son of a bitch if she were normal.
“Oh my god, how did that happen?” she gasped in mock surprise, “Ouch!”
“This is a good time to show you First Aid,” he said and offered his arm in support when they crossed the Cirque grounds to a medical trailer. She pretended to limp slightly, just to lean on him a little more than needed. “I hope you don’t decide to sue us for faulty chairs or something. What a terrible thing to happen on your first day.”
“I’ll survived, and I swear, no lawsuit. It was my own fault, I’m such a klutz.”
“Here we are,” he said and surprised her by lifting her into his arms to carry her up the five steps to the First Aid trailer. She suppressed a giggle and did her best to look pained when he opened the door and set her on an examination bed.
“I’ll be fine, I promise,” she told him, “I get hurt all the time and I’m a quick healer.”
“I can see that,” he said and traced the network of scars along her shin, “you do these to yourself?”
She knew what he was thinking, that how could she possibly do all of this by being a simple klutz. People always suspected she’d been beaten or had a terrible childhood to carry such scars, but truth was her life had been great other than being a bit of a freak and felt nothing to stop her from walking into shit all the time. People never realized how much pain kept them in line, pain was what told you to stop, what gave your body warning to move back or avoid the source of injury.
Not feeling pain might seem like a big plus, but it wasn’t. She never learned self preservation. Physically at least, she was closed off emotionally to make up for the lack of feeling on her skin. She would protect herself where she could.
“I did every single one of them to myself,” she confessed, “I wish I could blame anyone else but myself. I grew up on a farm, and I’ve always been a tomboy. Always played sports. You’re probably just too used to pretty girly girls, right?”
“You’re not a tomboy now though,” he said and touched the edge of her skirt, “and you’re right, you’re not pretty.”
She couldn’t help it, her face fell and she looked at him with her brows raised, daring him to call her ugly.
What he said made her heart skip a beat though. He looked at her, smiled and told her, “You are beautiful. Beyond pretty by a country mile.”
She laughed and looked away, at anything, to avoid eye contact. “Well, this isn’t going to fix itself,” she said and touched her knee. It’s starting to hurt pretty bad too.”
“Oh shit, I’m so sorry,” he said and moved to grab a First Aid kit. He cleaned it up and bandaged it with expert precision.
“You almost seem like you know what you’re doing,” she said and watched his skilled hands finish the job. She was sure if she felt anything, she would feel relief at his ministrations simply because of his touch.
“I wanted to be a doctor,” he said and packed up the First Aid kit. He placed it back on the shelf and continued, “I even went to a couple years of med school in Toronto. But, obviously I’m here…so that didn’t work out.”
He helped her hop down off the bed and she looked up at him, “Did you quit?”
He said, “I did, but only because my mother died and the Cirque was going under without somebody managing the financials and bookings. In short, my family needed me and I was compelled to respond.”
“That’s very noble of you,” she replied and admired his dedication. After her parents had died, she never had that feeling. Her only family hated and resented her though, so it might be different when the family gives a shit about each other.
“Yeah, noble,” he said, “not really. It was all guilt. My father knows how to pull those strings is all, and I didn’t want my sisters to be left here on their own.”
“Your sisters work here too?” she asked, “How many siblings do you have?”
“Just two, Paris and Milan. And yes, we were all named after cities, and no, not the cities we were conceived in,” he quickly added.
“I never would have gone there,” she laughed.
“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who ask,” he replied. “So Paris is my next younger sister, she works in part of the sword swallowing act. Milan is the youngest and she’s an acrobat. She’ll sometimes work with the group you so gracefully interrupted today.”
“Interesting,” she said and held his arm again when they left the trailer. He offered to buy her a latte, and how could she possibly refuse?