It was raining on the Midway. It wasn't a refreshing rain, just slow and warm, hanging in the air and melting on the face like warm milk. In the early morning hours, the carnival was silent - these were the moments he enjoyed, before the bustle of the crowds and the searing sound of the calliope began. This was his time, his home, in a nameless town, somewhere.
"Nice morning." The voice was behind him, and he smiled before even turning around.
"Madame." He said it as she had taught him, in his best French accent, with emphasis on the "dame", and she nodded her approval. She was the fat lady. Nobody knew her real name, but they addressed her this way, and she received it royally, every time.
Together they continued down the grand concourse, and as she spoke she gestured grandly, moving his eyes beyond the lonely tin caroussel first to the salt marsh that lay beyond the small field, and then even farther to the endless ocean that lay beyond.
"Don't we just have it all." Her words were always the same, as she walked in a long housecoat printed with oriental fans, her hair held tight in pincurls that she would take out later, just before the show. On another day, in another place, she might point out a shadowed city silhouette, or a tall tree'd forest, but it was always somewhere else, away from the circus caravan, and with arms that lacked shape beneath her grand, silk robe, she embraced a world that always seemed to be just outside his reach, making it his own.
"It is time for me to go." He said it as a statement, not a question, and her face clouded for just a moment. She recalled the small woman who had been his mother, and remembered the promise that she had made to her. It was on a morning like this one, when the boys were small. This one is special," she had said. She had spoken as she sewed - lightly and precisely - surrounded by silk and feathers and a special bolt of fabric, printed in a fine oriental print, that she saved with a secret smile. When his brother had left, bound for life in a big city, somewhere, this one had become lost.
And so she agreed. It was time for him to go.
They walked in silence, and reached a small donut stand where a smiling man rolled dough deftly between his hands, dropping the small balls into oil that sizzled deeply. Once drawn to the surface, the donuts were golden, and were rolled in a fine sugar before being placed in a small wax paper sack. Madame took out a small purse and took two dollars from a small roll of bills, as she did every morning. Nodding to the boy with a small smile, she walked to a small picnic table that creaked beneath her weight.
"Oh my God," there was a voice from somewhere, and there was laughter as they pointed. "Look at her big assss..." Madame smiled and kept her gaze on the boy as she popped one donut into her mouth, delicately, with a small finger raised - elegant, neat and solitary. She tossed one to a dog - a stray one - that stood yellowed and curious in the early morning sun, and she smiled to see his delight. She turned back to the boy with a look that told him it would be ok.
"I think your mother would be proud." The laughter continued, so her voice became lower, more intense, and she leaned forward. "It's time for you to go".
The caravan was leaving on an early morning in a deep fog that seemed to swallow it whole. There were imprints on the grass where the rides had been, but otherwise there was not trace of the carnival which had been there the night before. And on the banks of an endless ocean that lay beyond a salt marsh just next to a lonely field, a young boy stood, clutching a roll of small bills, chin raised and ready to start a life anew.