by Addy Evenson
Lindy spent her life collecting dust.
She married a man who told her what to do. When they had guests over, Lindy's husband spoke her opinions as well as his own. Lindy forgot that she could talk.
After her husband died, she stayed indoors.
When her sister Shelly came by to drop off Maura with only one good pair of shoes, Lindy did not wonder.
• • •
Maura went to the Carousel when she wanted to get away from Lindy's house.
It was a few blocks away in an overgrown field. The Carousel used to be white but was now gray and brown and chipped.
She sat on it and stared and shut her eyes.
When she opened them, she was not alone. A clown looked at her. He held a mop and a scrub brush. Maybe she was dreaming.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
The clown didn't answer her.
Maura noticed that he had a friend, a shorter, rounder clown.
He turned to the friend and said, "Say, uh, Bob, I don't see the point of greasing these joints every goddamned day. There's no one listening to them."
"Why, uh, Bill, we're listening to them, aren't we?"
"Shoot, Bob, no one cares about our ears."
"At least we don't."
They bent, scrubbing.
Maura stared at them.
The first clown, Bill, put down his brush and turned to her.
"We're the soul menders," he said.
"What does that mean?" Maura asked.
"We save the souls that don't deserve to die, and we torture the souls that do."
"Why can I see you?"
"Maybe your soul is lost."
"Ridiculous. My soul is here, in the palm of my hand." Maura showed it to him.
She went home on Lindy's rusting bicycle. She parked it, let out the cat, and sat in front of her mirror.
She knew now that she must find her soul. Because when she had turned up her hand, it had been empty. Empty.
• • •
Lindy's mouth opened.
"There you go. Good, isn't it?"
Lindy's mouth closed.
"I knew you would love it," Maura said. She got up and adjusted the cushions on the couch.
"Hey, I wonder what's on T.V. today," Maura said. She flipped the switch. A gray fuzz.
She sat in front of it.
"Isn't this a good show?" Maura said.
And then responded to herself, "This is a good show."
"I love this actor. What's his name?" Maura asked.
"His name is Gray Fuzz," Maura replied.
"My, I love that part where he moves in a current towards the top of the screen," Maura said.
"My, I wish she'd have paid the cable bill," Maura agreed.
She lifted her eyebrows towards Lindy.
"Aunt Lindy, I think I met the devil today. He looked like a clown. Can you believe that?"
Maura went to the sink and scraped out the chowder pot.
• • •
Color exploded out of the Carousel that night.
People slumped over the horses and held the golden posts.
Bill and Bob looked at each other and then spun it around, laughing.
They decided that was enough fun for one night and stalked off into the brown, overgrown field.
• • •
In the morning, Maura looked for the newspaper and it wasn't there.
The newspaper was not there because the paper boy had died that morning.
The way it happened was that he was never usually on time, and the one morning he was on time, someone pulled out of their driveway who did not expect him to be there and ran him over.
Today was Lindy's eighty-third birthday. Maura looked for a cake recipe.
She called Shelly, and Shelly didn't answer the phone.
• • •
Gold burst out from under Jamie, and he felt his head reel as he rolled forward into the hard mane of a ruby-eyed horse.
There were people around him, screaming.
A woman next to him with eyeliner-streaked eyes stared at him.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"You're at after," she said.
"How did I get here?"
"It doesn't matter. You did."
"What are those shadows?" he asked, gesturing at Bill and Bob.
"Those are our masters. We haven't gone anywhere yet, so we keep going. On and on."
"Any way I can get out of here?" he asked.
"Try screaming," she suggested, and then demonstrated with a vivid shriek.
Jamie did not feel like screaming. He felt like getting off.
He took his feet out of the stirrups and set them on the ground.
The Carousel screeched to a halt.
Bill and Bob were alarmed, as they had not encountered technical difficulties in over fifty years.
To Jamie, still in the throes of death, Bill and Bob were not clowns. They appeared to be faceless specters.
"Hey you," Jamie said, "I think I've ended up in the wrong place."
"If you ended up here at all, it's because you belonged here," Bob said.
"Come on, guys, be reasonable. I don't want to be here. I didn't do anything wrong. I'm a good guy, really, I am. There has to be something I can do. Something I can give you in exchange."
"If you make a deal with us, we'll let you out. There's someone we want. You're a delivery boy, aren't you?"
"Paper boy. But I'll listen."
• • •
Maura felt a draft from upstairs.
"I know I left the window closed," she said.
"That's right, you did," she answered herself.
"But I can hear a breeze," Maura said.
"Maybe you should check on it," Maura replied.
"Well, after cake."
She took two of the cooling pink cupcakes off the counter. She lit the candles.
"Aunt Lindy, happy birthday."
Maura smiled and flipped an elastic hat strap over Lindy's face.
• • •
The streetlights downtown shone in Jamie's face.
He scaled walls, swam through the air, and somersaulted in the clouds.
He let out a scream of exhilaration, "waaaaaaaaahhhhaaeeeoww!", and landed on a windowsill.
He opened the window and tumbled into the room.
It was warm. There was a wood floor and a quilted bed in the corner.
He drifted to it. The air was golden around it. He smelled something sweet in the oven downstairs.
And then the noise happened.
It was a great pounding that came all the way up the stairs, closer to him.
He covered his ears, screamed, and locked the door.
Maura turned the knob. The door was locked.
• • •
In the kitchen, there was a row of sharpened steak knives.
Maura ran downstairs to get one and then took her bedroom key off the key ring.
When she went upstairs, she turned the lock and opened the door.
"Come out of where you're hiding," she said. "I'll tear the eyes out of your head."
Maura was terrified of burglars.
There was no sound. Not a whisper. The curtains flailed slightly in the wind. She hadn't opened that window. The closet was empty. The space under the bed was empty.
Maura thought long and hard and speculated that either she was going crazy, or someone had broken into the house.
"There's no one there."
"There must have been."
"I can't call the police if no one is even in here."
"I have to call my mother."
"That's right. As if that will work."
• • •
This time, Shelly picked up on the other end.
"Maury Pie! Are you having fun?"
"I'm a little freaked out, Mom. I know you wanted me to watch out for Aunt Lindy, but I don't want to stay here anymore."
"What's the matter?"
"Someone broke into the house. I'm really scared."
"Well can't you — no, honey, dill pickles — can't you tell your aunt?"
"I can't tell her. She doesn't even move."
"Apathy is a common coping mechanism that stems from bereavement."
"Well honey — dammit, I said no onions — I'm here on the other side of the country, and I don't know what you expect me to do about it. You made the decision to stay at your aunt's for the summer. Now make the best of it. You're a big girl now."
"I do make the best of it, but I..."
"What's the problem, then?"
"I'm scared," Maura said.
"Don't be. I'm paying for my order, but I'll call you back. I love you baby."
Maura curled to sleep on her quilt. She let the cold air dry her face.
Jamie stood still in the corner of the room. Maura was in white, and warmth radiated off of her like sunlight.
He knelt by her bedside and buried his face in the sheets.
• • •
"Weyull, you know that these bastards never do their jobs right," Bob said.
He was growing very restless next to the ceased Carousel. Everything was going wrong.
People were actually starting to figure out that there were worse ways than screaming to vex and annoy the clowns. One man had the nerve to relieve himself on his horse and carriage. And a woman had been singing There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea for nearly two hours.
"I know," Bill said. "They always end up wimping out on the deal."
"You know, there's the other way," Bob replied.
"Finding someone new, before the kid gets back."
"I don't want that to happen," Bob said.
"I know. I always like the look on their faces when we say 'Tricked ya!' like that. Like when the girl gets here."
"Well, she'll get here, alrighty," Bob said. He rubbed his hands together.
"She'll be one of us," Bill said.
"She already is one of us. She just doesn't know it."
"Let's just hope no one takes 'is spot for him," Bill said. He gestured at Jamie's empty saddle. "I'm tired of handing out tricks, sometimes."
"Bill, what can you do. We're clowns."
• • •
The morning dusted Maura's face.
Jamie got up and looked in the mirror, and, of course, he couldn't see himself.
"Time to get up," Maura said.
"I already am up," Jamie said.
"No you aren't, don't be stupid."
She stretched and pulled herself out of bed.
"Now you are," she said.
Jamie shrugged and tapped the mirror.
"I'm here to find you your soul," he said, finally. "There's these guys who can give it to you. It's great there. It's a carnival…"
"Ah. That nightmare got to my head," Maura said.
"There were two clowns. Nasty creatures. Told me about this limbo place…but, it doesn't matter. I have to give Aunt Lindy her breakfast."
"Excuse me, but who do you think you are talking to," Jamie asked.
"Myself. Like usual."
• • •
Maura's mother, Shelly, woke up cold in the night and remembered her childhood. She remembered it so much that it ached in her sides.
And when she fell asleep she remembered how her own mother had died.
Shelly was very well stocked.
In the morning, she walked into the bathroom and opened the cabinet and shut the bathroom door with no intention of opening it again.
• • •
"Aunt Lindy, I've made you toast."
Lindy chewed and swallowed a crust.
"I assumed you wanted blackberry jam."
Maura dropped the knife on the ground.
"I am so glad you fired your caretaker in order for me to be able to stay here this summer. In fact, I think I will stab you with this butter knife. Would you like that, Aunt Lindy?"
A piece of crust fell out of Lindy's mouth.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Maura cried. "I didn't mean it."
She picked up the crust and put it back in Lindy's mouth.
The floors creaked.
Jamie tried to get Maura's attention.
He opened the doors, tossed the shutters, and clattered pots and pans.
He had one day to fulfill his agreement, or else he had to return to the carousel.
Maura sat on the sofa, put on the television, and held her knees.
She was wide-eyed.
Jamie sat on the floor in front of her, put his chin in his hands, and stared.
• • •
"Do you know what I've always wondered?"
They had sprawled out in the grass now, and they watched the sun rise orange and pink over the horizon.
"I've always wondered what love is," Bob said.
"It's the same thing as death."
"And how's that?"
"I guess it feels like waking up too soon."
"Do you think the kid'll bring her?"
"Not now that I think about it."
"We get to keep him in the collection."
"Unless someone else who belongs here goes first."
"Not many people belong here."
"Nope. Not many. Which gives us a better chance. The girl will be very valuable indeed. Very."
"Not many people without souls left on this earth."
"She'd do a good job as one of us."
"Yes, yes she would."
• • •
Maura went outside to look for the newspaper.
"Still no paper," she said.
"Of course there's no paper today," Jamie laughed.
He sprawled on the kitchen floor and balanced an orange on his feet.
Maura walked in, straight past the orange, and sat down. She leaned her head in her hands for a long time.
"I want more light in this house," she said. "It's stuffy in here."
She pulled the drapes up all around.
"Thank you," Jamie said. "That's better."
"To be without love is to be without a heart," Maura said.
"You can't just be without love," Jamie said.
"You can. I don't believe there's ever been such a thing as love."
"Well, you love your aunt, don't you? I guess not, never mind."
"I loved my father when I had one. Then I didn't have one anymore. I think I love my mother, but I hate her too."
"Well then, what you're saying is, there's never been such a thing as a heart. And imagine that. You can't even pump blood without one."
"If it's not made of love, then what is a soul made of?" she asked.
"I have no idea, honestly."
"Well how can I find one?"
The clowns had told Jamie this would happen.
A person without a soul is very easily led astray, they said. A person without a soul can just be led into oblivion like a fish on a baited hook.
He would tell her to follow him to the Carousel. He would tell her that there she would find her soul. And he would fall into the grass and rubbish, alive. A paperboy, but alive.
"I don't know," Jamie said.
He dropped the orange, and Maura picked it up.
• • •
Shelly opened her eyes and reeled forward. She held on to the gilded post and cried out.
"Bob, I think we have a new passenger."
"But true, nonetheless. Look. I can spin it around."
"You're right. Let's spin it faster, just for fun."
"What about the boy?"
"What about him? He's dead, and he'll stay that way."
"Unless the girl can see him, and that will bring him back. Because she has control, more than she realizes."
"She would have been so useful to us."
"She could see us, and she didn't even try to."
"Mau…Maura," Shelly said.
Bill and Bob looked at her, and then at each other. They grinned.
• • •
Maura decided to call Shelly to tell her that she loved her. When she called, Shelly didn't pick up.
Maura looked at Lindy.
Lindy sat still.
"I'm taking you for a walk," Maura said.
She wheeled Lindy out into the yard. The wind blew.
Towards the center of the yard, the wind beat harder.
Lindy dissolved. Dust spiraled into the breeze like dandelion seeds. The air turned gray as it peeled the layers off of Lindy.
Maura went inside with an empty chair.
• • •
A boy stood in her living room.
Jamie screamed too.
They looked at each other.
"Hi," Jamie said.
"Hi. What are you doing?"
"I don't know, exactly. I think I was dead," Jamie said. "That must sound crazy to you, but I have no idea how I made it in here. There were these guys, and then I was flying, and I was supposed to bring you to this merry-go-round, and then I woke up here in your living room, and...I know it sounds crazy, but I thought I was dead."
Maura shook her head.
"I feel like I woke up too early," she said.
Copyright © 2013 by Addy Evenson