Card Challenge: Day 59
Card Day 59: A man and a woman falling through an orange background.
As it always had, the moon had risen bright and full on the horizon. Now it hung low in the sky, heavy and tinged orange. Nevertheless, it appeared just as content as the two silhouettes resting on the top of the train car. Ilene passed the glass bottle across the roof of the car, leaving it to the safety of Lewis’ waiting hand. They sat in silence, staring up at the expanse of stars rolled out before them. It was a mid-summer night in the middle of the South, so the air still held onto its cloying warmth and humidity. Still, it was better than trying to coax a breeze through the tiny cabin windows. The only sounds were the distant chirping of crickets and the occasional gulp from the bottle or clink of glass against the metal roof.
Lewis was the first to break the silence. “Know which town we’re in tonight?” He passed the bottle back to her, and she took a hearty swig.
“Nah, one of those one-stop deals, I think.” She left the bottle in between them. Giving way to the comfortable silence yet again. Eventually, a thought sprung to mind, and she spoke again. “Do you know when we have to raise the big top?”
Lewis sputtered around his drink, the liquid obviously trickling down the wrong pipe. He shook his head empathically as he tried to clear his airways. “Not for sure,” he coughed, “but you know boss usually says before noon.”
“Should we plan on practicing tomorrow?”
He shrugged his shoulders, relaxing back against the roof on his elbows, an occasional cough breaking through. “We can, but I’ve been tossing you around so long, I’m not sure it will help. Plus we had the show yesterday, and we don’t want to wear ourselves out.” He gave her a wink. “But if you’re worried I’ll drop you—“
She waved away the end of his sentence, chuckling good naturedly. “Drop me and I might finally draw a reasonable check from someone.”
Neither of them laughed at the joke; the truth of the matter stung a bit too much. Ilene drank another swig, sighing. The comfortable silence between them took on a mournful quality, the moon watching over with its solemn gaze.
“Hey, Leney?” asked Lewis, rolling to his side to look at her. She kept her face pointed up at the stars as if she were trying to catalogue each one.
“When you were a kid, is that that you wanted to do?”
She released a grim bark of a laugh. “What, make poverty wages while being dragged from Podunk to Podunk by a fly-by-night circus? Yeah, what kid doesn’t dream of that?” The bitter edge to her voice cut through the companionable atmosphere, and Lewis rolled back to look at the stars. He laced his fingers across his stomach, just listening to the sound of crickets. The acridity slowly faded from the air between them, replaced by the companionship that only comes from years lived in a hopeless state.
“I wanted to be a vet,” whispered Lewis, just loud enough to carry to her ears. He knew it was not the conversation she wanted to have, but it was one he needed. He needed her to help set him free.
Ilene shook her head as she took another drink. “Not me. Couldn’t stand the idea of blood and sick animals.”
He rolled his eyes over to study her for a moment. “Then what did you want to be?”
“A florist,” she chuckled, shrugging her shoulders with an air of defeat. “I guess I never dreamed too big.”
Lewis knit his brows together in concern, turning to face her full on. Sensing the intensity of his stare, Ilene even turned to look at him, the jaded smile fading on her lips. “Leney, I think you would make a fine florist. You’d do great.”
He watched her wilt, uncomfortable under his eyes and with his praise. She studied the bottle in her hand, feeling how light it was. Determined to end the moment, she tossed it back, draining the last few drops and repositioning her eyes at the empty sky. “Yeah, but I’d have to get my GED. And I was the kid with the bright idea to run off and join the circus.” She replaced her shell of sarcasm, fixing Lewis with a grin that kept him at bay, always on the outside. He wished he could crack that enigma, but she always seemed to sense whenever he was closing in.
“Well, we both made some foolhardy decisions.”
“It could have been worse,” conceded Ilene, lying down beside him on the roof. He felt her hair, long and untamed, brush against his shoulder, the scent of her shampoo drifting closer.
“True. I mean, I could have never met you.” He grinned widely, and she rolled her eyes at him.
“You really don’t give up, do you?”
“You’re the only woman I’ve found that would stick by me all these years.”
“Lew, I’m contractually obligated to hang around these train cars. Don’t go getting any wild ideas.”
“Yeah, but you’re not contractually obligated to drink on the roof with me.”
“No, but everyone has to maintain their sanity somehow. Speaking of, you’re going to have to start providing more incentives,” she shook the empty bottle, “if you expect to keep luring me up here.”
He gave her the most winning smile he possessed. “As soon as I get that raise they promised me, I will. And it’s got to be coming any day now, because—“
“They’ve been promising me for six years,” finished Ilene with a laugh. “You may also need to get some new material.”
The evening stretched between them, quietly joining their solemn counsel. It was a familiar friend, one that always joined in their ritual without fail. Given the noise and hubbub of the job, both needed the escape. Everyone needed their escape, Lewis thought, mind flipping through the many other characters. Some found it in the pages of dirty magazines, others at the end of a needle. Some discovered revitalization in a new town every night, the endless adventure of the experience. Others found it in fitness, in solitude, in study, and perhaps most popularly in the back corner of small town bars. Lewis, he found it in friendly silence and an occasional drink to unwind. He watched Ilene from the corner of his eyes. She seemed to find it in brooding thoughts enjoyed mutely with his company. The beer probably helped, too.
“Have you ever thought about quitting?”
For a few moments, he thought Ilene would not answer, but would ignore him and hope he got the message. But, finally she spoke, her voice quiet. “Every day. Don’t you?”
“Most days,” he said with a sigh. “More and more now that my body ain’t as young as it used to be.” As if to prove his point, he rolled his neck, listening to a chorus of pops. Suddenly, he propped himself up on his elbow, a glimmer of wild hope in his eyes. “What if we did, Leney? You and I just set off, started our own thing?”
She laughed at his response, and he could hear the desperation in it. No, such thoughts had no place in this world, no matter how much she might hope. “And do what, Lew? You bandage up all the strays while I make them daisy chain collars?”
His eagerness faded, replaced by the omnipresent weariness of their lives. “I guess you’re right. It is a kind of crazy idea.”
She seemed to soften at his disappointment, realizing her remarks had cut deeper than she intended. She rested her hand on his, squeezing it softly. “We are both getting too old for this. Maybe we should start planning to retire. You and me. Find some small town where the circus doesn’t run through and put down some roots.”
“Want to leave tonight?” he asked with a wistful smile.
She shrugged. “Not tonight, but maybe in the next town over.”
Lewis smiled, closing his eyes as he completed the ritual. “Yeah, next town over should be just fine.”
As it always did, the moon set slowly, abandoning the silhouettes to their contemplation.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.