The Girl with Two Faces : Part One
“Four months ago my daughter ran away. She’ll be turning fifteen soon—Please, come home.”
“A desperate mother’s cry. If anyone has any information on the whereabouts of Evelyn Pier, please call our tip-line. Next up, does smoking cause cancer?”
The radio hissed and squealed until I reached up and turned it off.
“The only thing gonna cause cancer round here is that radio.” Luka drawled. “Shouldn’t you kids be practicing?”
A groan rose from all of us “kids”.
“You practice or you do homework.”
Little Marie was the first to jump to her feet. “Practice.”
Everyone else muttered similar responses.
Luka chuckled, “Off with you then.”
Luka the Strongman was the nicest performer in the circus, he took care of us. He was our mother and father, storyteller and teacher, monster slayer and disciplinarian. We all loved Luka, except when we’d done something wrong.
He wasn’t as big as some strongmen, but he was tall. Looking at him you might not know he could lift what he did. He almost always smiled, a twinkle in those blue eyes, and his straw stack hair was always messy. Luka made me feel safe, and when had a Ringmaster like Everhart, that was a good thing.
Reluctantly, I unfolded my legs and got up to follow the others into the Big Top. I was on the high wire tonight, juggling rings. I didn’t walk without a net, but I had to prep for the higher fall—just in case.
“Eva, a word,” Luka said softly before I could exit the trailer. I paused and turned around.
The others shot me looks of pity and scurried off.
“Yes?” I put on my most innocent face.
“I know you haven’t been here as long as the others—”
This sounds like the start of a lecture.
“But the other kids have really taken to you. I want you to set a good example.”
“I hope that means you will stop making faces behind Everhart’s back.”
“Didn’t think I noticed.”
“Well–no.” I shook my head. “I won’t do it anymore.”
“Good. Get to practice.”
I nodded and hurried out before he could decide I needed to scrub dishes for a month.
The others had already started into their own routines. Marie threw fake pies, Jacques and Jack juggled batons that would be on fire during their performance. The last of the five of us, Mick, was working on the low swings. He was almost big enough to start catching his own mother–the star of the trapeze.
I eyed the high-wire with reluctance, slipped off my sneakers, and climbed the ladder.
I finished my act flawlessly, diving into the net at the end for the shock and awe effect and taking my bow ringside. I’m not an applause addict, but the acclaim was sweet. There were those of us who could not help but crave it. That sort usually ended up dead.
I just wanted to make them smile. More than that, I really enjoyed performing. If it wasn’t fun, what was the point? I didn’t want to have regrets.
Everhart called in the last round of clowns before the knife act and I slipped away to the curtained off section of tent the girls shared as a dressing room.
We’d strung up Christmas lights all about the singular mirror on its make-up cluttered table. From the mirror a face not my own stared back at me. My other face. My mask. I undid the ribbons holding it in place and slipped it off. Back into its velvet lined box it went.
The delicate enamel mask belonged to Luka’s grandmother and I was judiciously careful of it during performance. My own face was a sharp contrast to the white perfection and red lips of the mask. Heavy make-up covered my skin, running from perspiration. It only just hid the scar carved cruel into my cheek.
Curls of strawberry blonde locks generally hid the unsightly mark, but no one was rude enough to comment, not here.
I suppose when you’d seen some of the things these folk had, a bit of scar tissue was nothing. We weren’t much of a freak show, but there were the Siamese twins Eliza and Beth, and an extremely pale fellow who handled snakes.
But a scar carved with obvious intent did draw some eyebrows. No accident would cause such a perfectly formed shape. It brought new meaning to putting your heart on your sleeve, though mine was on my face.
Still, no one had asked about it. I was in a place where I could have secrets, privacy, I loved that. I wiped off the caked on make-up and stripped out of the striped top and battered bright orange tutu that made up my costume, a dunk into the water bucket by the door rid my hair of some of the gunk I’d smeared it in and I snagged my sweats and a t-shirt, slipped them on with my sneakers and headed back to the kids trailer for something to eat that hadn’t come from the circus kitchen. In general I found it unwise to subsist on popcorn and spun sugar.
It was starting to rain outside and it cast the lot we’d set up on in a dreary grey light. I sighed and took off at a quick clip to get into the dry safety of the trailer. I’d be glad when we pulled up stakes, the trek to winter lodgings was coming soon, and I was going with Luka to the main house. Apparently Everhart had bought the place with us kids in mind. Not the Everhart I knew–the one I was afraid of.
The guy just gave me the creeps.
I splashed through the shallow forming puddles and jerked open the trailer door to tumble inside. It was currently empty, though the TV was on and crackling. I switched about the stations, but after nothing but static, switched it off. My bunk was relatively clean, and with no duties ahead of me for the evening, I settled into it and dug out a chocolate bar I’d stuffed under the covers.
Dinner of champions that.
I munched down the chocolate, tossed the wrapper in the waste bin and curled up to fall asleep before anyone could disturb me.
* * *
“Eva–” Someone poked my side. “Eva, breakfast.” It sounded like Marie. I opened my eyes and rolled over, it was Marie.
“Good morning, Marie.” I yawned and slithered out from under the covers. “Please tell me Luka didn’t do the cooking.”
“Why? Is there something wrong with my cooking?” Luka towered over me.
“Uh–your eggs are too dry.” I muttered. “That’s all.”
“I see. This from the girl who couldn’t be bothered to help the other acrobats tear down the line?”
“We moved last night?” I took a quick look out the trailer’s side window, sure enough, we’d moved in the night. It was another empty lot, but it had grey gravel instead of brown dirt. “No one told me.”
Luka grinned. “Oh, calm down. You needed the rest.” He puttered back to the fold out table which held covered dishes that steamed interesting flavors causing my stomach to question about breakfast. “Oh, and breakfast was purchased from the diner down the street this time. We need to go grocery shopping it seems. And do laundry.”
He passed out plates and pried lids off dishes, revealing eggs, bacon, pancakes and sausage. “So who’s going with me?”
I raised my hand immediately along with everyone else. Laundry might be boring, but a grocery trip meant there were opportunities for candy. He wouldn’t take us all, but he’d take a couple.
He looked around the room as he dished out food, two pancakes, a slice of bacon, a piece of sausage and a scoop of eggs went onto each plate before he let us go for syrup. “I think–Eva and Mick will go with. I need strong arms.”
Jack and Jacques took the opportunity to show off their muscles, wiry though they were, and pout. Luka laughed. “You’ll go next time.”
With either me or Mick to keep an eye on them...The twins couldn’t be trusted and Marie was a bit small to be lugging about laundry on her own. We hurried to finish breakfast, leaving the dishes on the counter to be washed.
Mick grabbed two bags of laundry and Luka scooped up the rest and we trooped out of the trailer and tossed the items into the waiting station wagon.
I checked my reflection in the side window, makeup and hair—check. I adjusted one strand to let it fall more in front of my face and got in the car.
“Vain thing, aren’t you?” Mick laughed.
I rolled my eyes, “Shut it.”
Luka didn’t say a word, he was more than used to us arguing and he knew I was sensitive about the scar on my face.
“You look beautiful Eva,” he said. “Now, both of you get in the car.”
I took the front seat just to spite Mick; he stuck his tongue out at me. I—being a ladylike young woman, did not respond—until Luka wasn’t looking.
Mick grinned when I pulled a face at him. I rolled my eyes and kept my attention on the dashboard for the rest of the drive. The town wasn’t big, but it wasn’t so small we wouldn’t get any business either. They had a grocer and a laundry.
“Remember, best behavior. Springfield was nearly a disaster; let’s make sure Waverly still wants us around next year.”
“Yes, Luka.” Came the dutiful response.
We parked outside the laundry and were lucky that all four washers were free. Costumes went in one, work clothes divided to two and everyday clothes into the last. Delicates were hand washed in the sink at the trailer. When the loads were done they’d go into the laundry bags to be dried on the line back at camp.
We’d shop for groceries too, but laundry came first. If your costume was filthy you still had to go on, and you’d look terrible. And besides, Everhart would yell at you then Luka at least. Which you really didn’t want. Luka yelling usually ended with a whipping, and he had a firm hand.
Mick and I played jacks while the machines ran and Luka read the paper. After beating Mick for the third time, I put the jacks away and settled in to nap.
“Eva,” Mick said.
“Have you ever thought about trying the swings?”
I opened my eyes and glanced over at him, “Honestly, no. I like the high wire.”
“You’ve got the strength to fly,” Mick replied. “I could catch for you.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“That’s your way of saying no, isn’t it?”
I smiled, “Sorry, I just prefer the high wire.”
“To each their own then.”
I shrugged, and concentrated on napping.
With the laundry done at last, we wrung what water we could from it and piled it back into the bags to take back to dry, on the way, swinging by the grocer. Mick and I played our best behavior; there was candy on the line you know. I spotted my favorites right off the bat, Clark Bar, Cup-o-Gold, and Sky Bars. The last was the best really, four flavors for the price of one bar, and you could share it.
Luka picked up a basket and the door and headed for the vegetables. Mick and I exchanged a look, but neither of us commented. We both knew that staying in shape would keep us safe, and a healthy diet kept us in shape. As much as I liked chocolate, I knew that staying in shape was important if I wanted to keep walking the wire, and I really wanted to keep going.
We wrapped up our shopping with treats in our pockets it had taken ounces of cleverness to obtain, and our best behavior. We were loading groceries into the station wagon when a group of teenagers with slick backed hair and leather jackets sauntered up with nasty smiles.
“You’re from the circus, aren’t you?” the leader, whose jacket hand a red X on the sleeve, remarked.
“Yes,” Mick said defensively.
“Why don’t you perform for us then?”
“Why don’t you wash your hair?” I asked sweetly.
Lucca sent a look my way and I shrugged.
“You aren’t very polite.”
“And you smell like bathed in pomade and aftershave.”
“You circus folk are all the same, rude thieving scum who can’t get real work.”
“And what are you? Seems to me I could say the same.”
“Eva, enough, get in the car. Mick, you too.” Luka stared down the boys, “And you all should be heading home.”
By Luka’s tone, mild as it seemed, I knew he was really mad. I should’ve kept quiet.
“We want an apology.”
“They started it—”
The boys snickered, and I flushed with embarrassment, my throat going dry and hot, “Sorry.” I spat out.
The boys grinned and went on their way.
“You hand I have words when we get back,” Luka said.
All together we climbed in and Luka drove us all back. There was first the hanging of laundry and then the putting away of groceries before I ended up alone with Luka in his personal trailer.
He towered over me, slightly hunched, while I stared intently at me shoes.
“You could have made things much, much worse. What if that had started a fight? At least one of those boys had a knife. Someone could have gotten hurt.”
“I know—I’m sorry Luka. But I couldn’t just—”
“Words only do harm if you let them. Things we say and can, however, affect our livelihood. If we can’t perform, we can’t eat, can’t survive. Understand?”
“You will not go into town. You will mend costumes on top of your other chores. No sweets. No radio. When we reach Piedmont, I will consider returning privileges if you have behaved. Understand?”
“I don’t want to have any more trouble from you.”
“Go do your chores.”
“Yes sir,” I nodded quickly and hurried out of the trailer, fully appreciating that he had chosen not to take me over his knee.
Chores—setting up the props, folding laundry, and looking after the little ones—would keep me busy until I had to get ready for the first show tonight. We always did a teaser, half-price, show our first night. The boys already had the tens and lines up and all I had to do was help put out the jugglers set and some of the barrels for Luka’s act.
One of the jugglers—Jake—had been teaching me and I’d since added it to my line routine. But I had something even more daring in mind. I’d have to practice it on a low line and approval from Everhart before using it in an act.
I wasn’t the only high-wire artist we had, and the others could do things I couldn’t. Bessie George, for instance, rode a unicycle, but I wasn’t much on a unicycle. Bessie, however, could not juggle. She’d tried once, and her attempt made me feel safer in my position as resident high-wire/juggler.
It wasn’t like I could go home.
As always, the time before the show hurried past in a bustle of activity. The sun went down and every performer hurried in to make last minute preparations. I changed into my freshly laundered striped leotard and tutu before sitting down at the tiny section of make-up counter that was mine. Heavy, cakey, foundation covered up my scars and wax went into my hair to trap it into neat little curls tight against my scalp. I took the mask from its box, a touch of electricity jumping through my fingers as my heart beat hastened and I secured the mask.
At least becoming more than plain Eva—she was gone. I slipped on my red shoes and stood, gaze narrowed by the mask. I could hear the audience cheering the strong man, which meant it was my turn.
I crept out in the shadows and climbed the ladder while Luka set down the barrels he’d been juggling and bowed.
When the spotlight moved to me, I was in place, five bright balls tucked into a purple sash across my chest. I could feel my heart beat faster and a smile that mirrored the mask’s stretched across my face. In these first moments, stepping onto the rope, I had always felt nervous—but not tonight.
I walked with confidence and a quarter in; I started to pull out the balls—one at a time. The crowd ooed and aahed and I made it to the other side with a single slip. I felt—I wanted more. More applause. I wanted to be more daring.
Rather than my usual dive into the net, I cart wheeled onto the line and somersaulted in. I knew perfectly well I risked injury, but just then I didn’t care. Something was pushing me forward. I knew my angle was wrong, and I had to twist just before to take the landing properly on my back. All the breath knocked out of me and the ropes dug in more than they usually seemed to. But the thunderous applause washed all thoughts of injury from me.
I climbed out of the net to take my box before Bessie’s act and wished it was me up next again. I had other things to do though. Dinner for the little ones had to be seen to, it was my turn and Luka had handed me two weeks of helping in the costume trailer.
I hurried back to strip down and pack away my costume. I paused on my reflection; the mask seemed so full of life tonight. I hesitated to remove it, pushing it up to reveal a diagonal sliver of my face. I could see the edges of my scar beneath the make-up. I wished I could make it disappear all of the time. I wished my cheek could be as perfect as the one on the mask.
Luka, or Bessie, would lecture me on safety tomorrow. But right now, my whole body still rang with the applause. I couldn’t imagine a better feeling in the world. Regret filled me when I put away the mask, and I dressed quickly to shove the feeling away, hurrying out to make dinner.
That night, dreams of more daring stunts and even louder applause followed me. Applause that made my body tremble from fingertips to toes. I had to do something no one expected. Something more impressive than juggling with a bunch of balls.
After breakfast, it was Everhart that tracked me down. As I always did when he was around, I ducked my head and let my curls camouflage my face. I suppose he thought I was afraid of him but that wasn’t even close to the truth. Everhart was tall, whip thin and always in possession of a battered top hat—currently jammed on his head and covering his own red curls.
He trapped me in the dark of the empty big-top, his slender form towering over mine.
“It was stupid, what you did. Unpracticed tricks get people killed.”
“I have spoken to Luka about you and I want you to understand this perfectly. If you endanger anyone in this circus, you’re out. Am I clear?”
After he stalked away, I knew one day he would kick me to the curb. Before then, I had to have an act worthy of Rouvelle. I was going to stay in the spotlight. I wanted people to look past the scar on my face and see what I could do. Deep down, I knew there was just one person I wanted to see me, but he couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. Luka and the kids are the nearest thing I have to family now. I would have to accept that some things aren’t meant to be.
That night I did my act with no flourishes, and was off to help sell trinkets to the crowd with some of the other kids. After that people would filter out and the adults show would begin, which meant it was time for me to change and go to the costume trailer.
The late show after our regular one ran one night out of the five we would stay and featured nearly nude contortionists and some of the more frightening acts. A fire eater, snake charmer and the Human Hammer. We got others sometimes too, but it wasn’t for the faint of heart, or the eyes of children. Everhart didn’t seem to like running the late show, but the circus didn’t run any big names so—we needed the money.
Another reason to get more daring. If a single act got rave reviews, the word would spread and the circus would make more money. Which would draw attention to me. Put the spotlight, on me.
And who would look for me there? I’d be safe in the limelight. No one would hurt me again.
On our final day in that town, I had shown Bessie I could do the cartwheel and somersault perfectly if I was on the high-wire or the low-wire and she gave Everhart the go ahead for me to add it in. The night’s applause was overwhelming, but it still wasn’t enough. Any good tightrope artist could those things; I had to prove I was exceptional.
As I hurried out of my costume, I caught my reflection in the mirror. With the adrenaline from the performance still pumping through my veins, I swore I saw the mask’s smile widen.
I took it off and put it in its box with more haste than I usually did. Scrubbing my face clean of the garish make-up I’d worn to replace a sick clown.
In a loose, gingham dress and canvas shoes, I hurried out of the tent to miss the crowds that would block my way to the costume trailer, and there was a pile of tights to mend still.
There was a little rain starting to come down, but the sky threatened worse. I’m a graceful person by trade, so when I tripped, I was surprised until I saw someone had helped.
The greaser from town. He smiled nastily. “Eva, isn’t it?”
He brought friends. Two of them jerked me to my feet.
“What do you want?”
“That brat that was with you the other day, where is he?”
“Mick? How should I know? Why do you want to know?”
“He scratched up my ride,” with a swagger and menace he flicked open the knife he’d concealed in his right hand.
“I don’t know. He could be anywhere.”
X stepped closer, the knife glinting in the light from the string lights overhead. He pressed the edge to my neck. “Do better, or I’ll give you a scar you’ll never forget.”
“Take a closer look buster, someone beat you to it.” I turned my face so the light fell on my cheek. “You don’t scare me. And I don’t know where he is.”
He traced the heart on my cheek with a calloused finger. He was shaking, his nerve failing.
“I’m fourteen. You like terrifying abused little girls?”
“You want to know how I got it?” His eyes looked too bright in the light. “My mother…she held me against the floor. She took a kitchen knife and carved this into my face. I suppose you’re a real big man, picking on me.”
“Either let me go, or I scream and the whole circus comes running.”
He was just a coward with a knife. I’d seen real monsters. He didn’t scare me.
“Let’s go, we’ll find the brat on our own.”
His goons let go and they walked away. Mick would be safe, he had large brothers and hid dad had a shotgun. Despite my bravado, I felt my knees shake and buckle under me. The feel of his knife reminded me of that night. When my mother snapped, pressing me to the cold tile floor while she—and I screamed.
The rain started to fall harder, sticking my hair and dress to my skin. I felt a sting of pain at my neck and reached up, my hand coming away smeared in blood. The blade had been very sharp. It was just a knick, but and the blood…
The rain was cold, but my tears were hot against my cheeks. I drew my knees up to my chest, burying my face in the wet fabric.
Sometime later, warm hands lifted me into large arms. Luka.
“It’s okay Eva,” he whispered. “I’ve got you.”
He took me to his trailer, wrapping a blanket around me and putting a towel on my head.
“You want to talk about ir?”
I shook my head—but that was a lie. I did want to talk about it. “I…” I touched my face, fingers finding the difference between the scarred and unscarred flesh. “My mother did this.” I looked up, “She held me down and carved into my face. She said she loved me. The whole time, she just kept telling me that she loved me.
“I was afraid she would kill me.”
His arms wrapped around me, and I felt so small. I wished my father was the one holding me. But he, like my mother, cared little for me. I hadn’t known him, nothing beyond his name.
“I am so sorry, Eva. No one should have to go through that. You’re father..?”
“My parents didn’t get married. My mom’s family didn’t like him…or something. So when I ran away, I tracked him down. I wanted to tell him who I was but—” Could I tell Luka? What would he do? “Don’t tell him, promise.”
“I promise. But who am I not telling?”
“I tracked him down; to this circus…we look a lot alike. I didn’t expect that. I chose the high-wire because of him.”
“Everhart.” Luka’s voice concealed his surprise.
“He doesn’t know.”
“No. I don’t want him to know.”
Luka sighed, “If that’s what you want.” There was the weight of unspoken words hanging in the air. I laid my secrets, my pain bare in front of him. What was he supposed to say?
“Everybody has secrets Eva,” he whispered. “I do, and I know your father does. I’ll keep your silence…but he deserves to know.”
I closed my eyes. “If you think—if you think he needs to know. If I leave or…something happens. Do what you think is right.”
“I always do. Now, why don’t we get you in warm clothes? I don’t want you to catch something.”