Guinevere’s is a little dive bar on its own patch of land. A glorified shack held together by rotting wood and the laziness of gravity, set out about fifty yards from Highway Five, it looks as though there is absolutely no way to reach it. Smack dab in the halfway point between the widest swathe of uninterrupted road, there are no points of entry to Guinevere’s to the untrained eye, and no parking lot. There’s a red neon sign with a chattering buzz, the kind that turns mosquitoes into ashy cumulous clouds and attracts flying rodents, and is written in a feminine cursive. If you can find a way to get to Guinevere’s, you should be aware that it isn’t your average bar. In the black hole swirly knots of the cherry wood floors are fingers peeping upwards and outwards, grasping at laces and setting hot foot upon hot foot. The jukebox plays old answering machine messages for a nickel. And the specialty cocktails involve ingredients like stegosaurus tears and the thurl of a raven’s croft. Still, the circus folk frequent it.
At the bar, the geek, slouched over a splash of Amaretto in a crushed velvet suit, gets stinking drunk until he gets the hiccups and expels bubbles containing the kittens and pocket watches he ingested that evening. The magician practices setting fire to his fingertips and blowing them out like a birthday cake. To their left, a collection of clowns circled a table, cracking themselves up with jokes clowns aren’t necessarily known for.
In the corner shadows the strong man yawns. His mouth, usually a concentrated asterisk in the center of his head now forms a perfect, cavernous circle. Everything about him is excessive, greater than. All except his mouth and eyes, which appear as the little holes in the bowling ball that is his skull. He has no nose. He smells awful. And he is in love. He pines, pines pinier than a Christmas tree for a woman that would not, could not return his affections.
He is in love with the tightrope walker, his exact antithesis. Where he was excessive, she was diminutive. She was the breeze to his belch, the swan to his Studebaker. She was so delicate and slender no one would sneeze near her for fear the force would sweep her across county lines. Her feet made the vaguest suggestion of prints when she glided through a room; it was as if she learned walking from the astronauts.
The strong man recognizes their differences, curses them. He has tried to appear precious and unassuming in his overwhelming frame. He wore a beard of daffodils, he learned to play the harp and ride a unicycle, he slouched under a ten gallon hat, and he carried an egg filled with helium laid by a balloon animal peahen to show that he could handle the slightest thing. Nothing works. The strong man cannot hide his overbearance, he invades uncontrollably and unhappily. He cannot make the tightrope walker love him, for she cannot love anyone. It should be consolation, but sometimes the truth is far from liberating. Sometimes the truth constricts air passages and avalanches on top of you on constant, repeated replay.
It was two nights ago, the spotlight ensnared the tightrope walker, seeming to magnify her as she pirouetted across the micro-thin line separating her from space, which separated her from the ground. Her toes a blur, her face closed, collected. A leap. A slip. A gasp? Something strung the line, causing a low E to tremor throughout the tent and she was aloft, airborne.
The strong man’s sense of shock at the sudden fall, like teeth were trying to break out from his skin, gave way to jaw-gaped awe and utter perplexity. The tightrope walker, suspended, spinning, actually fluttering. The face unchanged, the descent drawling, agonizing, breathtaking.
When she finally and gently brushed the circus floor, the audience, unsure how to react, left. A physician was called to inspect her for any broken bones. He subjected her to an X-ray, and the X-ray revealed her secret. She had no bones. She had no muscles. She had no internal organs. Her innards consisted of seven hummingbirds flitting about her chest. Was this cheating in the eyes of the circus folk? No. But she was not a person. She was a doll, a pillow. She was incapable of feeling, and incapable of returning the strong man’s affections.
Still, in the puddle of shadows, the strong man still pined for her.
Thurl of a raven’s croft is an incredibly rare ingredient, available only in places whose laws allow ravens to hold title to land.