I hate you.
How can that be, you ask, you’ve never even met me. Oh, but I have. I’ve seen your face, your eyes staring at me, judging me, mocking me, pitying me. I’ve seen you nudge your friend and tell him a joke out of the corner of your mouth, your eyes never leaving me. I’ve seen you whisper to your lover, making her blush. I see you every night when you hand over a dime, come into the tent and stare. I see it all and all you see is “Gus-Gus, the Dog-Faced Boy”. I snarl and lunge, strain against my chains, concentrating on the pretty young women who bury their heads into the shoulders of their beaus. I tear pieces of raw meat, being careful to drop the pieces onto fresh newsprint on the floor for later. I let loose a howl, practiced and honed so as not to strain my voice as I did when I was younger. But I’m still watching you. I count the number of visitors to make sure I get the right cut at the end of the night. I know which of you is with a mistress, which are living beyond their means, taking from the til, cheating their customers, drinking too much.
At the end of the night, I let myself be led by two roustabouts and placed in a cage next to the lion to maintain the illusion. While I wait, I stare at Maximus through the bars. She stares back. The original Maximus died two years before, now Mabel wears a mane taken from her dead mate. I pull out a piece of meat wrapped in newspaper from my pocket and fling it into her cage. She doesn’t move from her spot. She doesn’t like to eat in front of me. She’s a proper lady.
The crowd dissolves as all crowds must. I figure a nip from my flask would go unnoticed. My lips touch the pewter, the sweet burn of the liquor warms my belly from the inside where I am no different from anyone else.
That’s when I hear the scream.