Illusions. When it comes right down it, that's all magic really is. A little bit of colored smoke, fancy lights, some glitter and some mirrors, and people believe that you've near raised the dead. If the person can't see the card slipped into your sleeve, or the invisible, nylon cord, they don't believe it exists. Relationships are like that as well . . . .
It's funny how appearances always contradict reality. How Cody - who looked like a good husband and dutiful son - was little more than a wife-beating salaud. (jerk) How, because the people of Caldecott didn't see Sabine's bruises or cuts, they didn't believe that he was abusive. If they had known, would they have cared? Or did they know and ignored it? Said it was his right to punish her for imaginary crimes?
I'm almost sure I know what the vielles salopes (old shrews) , that call themselves the quilting circle, say about Sabine and me back in Caldecott. They place the blame firmly on her shoulders, I think. They'd comment that she was cheap - showed too much leg, looked at me suggestively or smiled a little too much for a married woman. Me? I'm forgiven because I'm a man and weak. Just like the community overlooked what my father did to my mother. Just like they would have absolved Cody. . . .
C'est vrai. (It's true) I'll be the first to admit that I had a screwed-up childhood. My father - foutu biberon (damned drunkard) that he was - spent what little money he made on drinking his sorrows away. Maman . . . was a devout Catholic and took most of St Paul's admonitions literally. Wouldn't say a word against my father even when he broke three ribs. Kept repeating to herself how it was all her fault for not being a better wife, and asking le Bon Dieu to correct her faults. That night I ran away from home and spent the rest of pre-puberty picking pockets under the guidance of a thief called Fagan . . . . I read a few years later that maman had died - the newspapers said that some unknown assailant had broken into our house and beaten her to death, but I knew the truth - father had finally gone too far and murdered her.
Do I regret leaving maman to face my father? Oui. I didn't have a choice though - how can an eight-year-old boy stop a 200-pound man? Also, didn't help that I knew what he did to Parnell - my younger and sicklier brother - if he got his hands on him. Pauvre ti-gars (poor, little boy) had to make excuses for the cuts and bruises that were always on his back. I was too fast for my father - slipped out the door and down the street when I heard my father come home. From my hiding place, I used to hear Parni screaming and my mother crying and praying . . . .
I guess it wasn't surprising when I had a chance to save someone, I did. It wouldn't have mattered to me if she was a dumpy housewife, or a contender for Miss Mississippi. I didn't take her with me, because I loved her or lusted after her. It wasn't le coup de foudre by any means. (Love at first sight.) That came much later . . . . As for Sabine? I don't think she cared either way about me as well at the time. I was a way for her to escape from her husband, a way to break free from 'the prison that was Caldecott', as she told me.
Oui, I'm aware that she says that Cody never raised a hand in anger against her. I also know that she's lying to protect him, just like maman did. Can you blame her? The bunch of vielles salopes drilled into her that anything bad in their marriage was her fault, and that anything good happened in spite of her. . . .
Bien, then how do I know that she was abused? There's an old cliche that tells us that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I remember how she looked the day after the circus. As usual, I was teaching some of the town kids a few simple card-tricks.(You know, the pick-a-card-any-card variety favored by birthday magicians? Felt sorry for their parents who would have to sit through endless repetitions of them, but the ti-magiciens always enjoyed learning them and I didn't mind tutoring them.) I heard one of the coterie of old cats mutter disapprovingly to a friend, and followed their eyes to Sabine. She was walking down the street, her chin held high, her back and shoulders rigid. If she could have hissed, she probably would have. I'd seen the same look on maman's face the day after my father's drinking sprees, trying to appear strong and daring people to comment.
Worried about Sabine, I'd told the ti-magiciens that I'd probably shown them enough magic for one day - that I didn't think I could take the competition if they learnt much more - and had to go. So, after fending off requests to teach them how to saw their little sisters in half or turn their math teachers into frogs, I followed her. Found her standing outside the general store, choosing fruit. Perhaps it was a good thing I never became a fully-fledged member of the Guild that Fagan belonged to - preferring to study as Mojo's apprentice in his Academy of Wonders - because Sabine heard me coming from five miles away.
Dieu, the femme was a born show-woman from the beginning. Didn't drop her mask of pride and self-sufficency for one second, but smiled and greeted me. Asked about my health. Commented on what a beautiful day it was. Hoped that I was enjoying Caldecott. All the pleasantries that people use to avoid saying anything that really matters. Une performance carabine, bien sur, in all ways except one. (A perfect or excellent performance, certainly.) Her eyes kept going to the middle-aged, stern-faced woman standing behind the counter in the store, almost as if she was asking for her approval . . . .
I wonder if that was why it took so long for our relationship to mature beyond pleasantries. After that night in my caravan, we went through months of comment-ca-va-ing and couci-couca-ing, before we had a conversation that didn't involve the weather or our health. It was pride and shame on Sabine's part for being so 'forward' before. Me? I gave her her space. Never saw the point in forcing a friendship . . . .
The breakthrough came on a grey, fall morning when we were halfway between Reno and Las Vegas. We'd pitched camp in an open field, and were having breakfast, before cleaning our equipment, costumes and the animals' cages for the grand show. I remember seeing Sabine curled up in a blanket on the steps of the caravan she shared with Spiral, sipping coffee out of a thermos. I must have yawned once too often - never was matinal - (fond of early mornings) because Sabine'd grinned at me and said to 'count my lucky stars because if she was back in Caldecott, she'd be out in the fields already, helping her husband with the harvest.' It was the first time she'd spoken about Cody since leaving him. Guess it's enough to say that we ended up discussing everything from politics to pizza-toppings. . . .
Anyway, the Gamesmaster must have seen us talking, and thought we looked good together, because later that day he suggested that I needed an assistant. Sans doute the kind with feathers, sequins, a big smile and not much else. Suggested Sabine, who up until then had doubled as unofficial seamstress and ticketseller. Won't pretend the Gamesmaster picked her because of her stage-presence, her confidence or her easy grace, so much as how she'd look in the smallest of small costumes. To my surprise, she agreed.
I remember seeing her in costume for the first time at final dress-rehearsal, after weeks of practising every arm-gesture and facial expression with her and adapting some of my tricks to suit two people. (Won't say it was a chore, because Sabine was a quick study and often suggested improvements to my existing illusions that blew the peeps away.) Blushing, she'd crept into the Big Top - a linen, dressing-gown wrapped around her - and had muttered something about her being as good as naked before slipping into the dressing room. Saw why when it was time for us to do our act. Batiscan! The girl was dressed in a tight, midnight-blue leotard, spangled with gold sequins. She was barefoot and had a gold chain around one slim ankle. I remember her telling me with a teasing grin that . . . uh . . . I could look at her face as well. (Guess I deserved that.) I recall getting a shock when I saw that she'd dyed a white stripe, shining like silver in the blue light, into her brown hair. She told me later that she needed to look more exotic. Still think she would have looked pretty glamorous without it. Her green eyes were dusted gold with a tiny sequin in each corner; her lips painted a deep, shimmering rose. It'd sound shallow to say that I fell in love with her then, but I think I started to see her as something other than Sabine Cooke, the farm-wife who'd come to me, wanting to escape.
It happened the morning that the circus had planned to leave town. The animals were tired, as were the performers, and we'd decided to stay in Caldecott for a week. Don't think I'd spoken to Sabine since the day after our gala performance, although I'd seen her around town more than once. I guess I didn't want to get her into more trouble with her charogne (creep) of a husband. I remember it being early - before l'aube, (sunrise) because it was dark outside. I heard a knock on my caravan door, and had crawled out of bed. (I've always been a light sleeper - came from my days with Fagan.) I remember opening the door and seeing Sabine there. Dressed in a loose, yellow sundress, her eyes were red and swollen, and she was sniffling. Looked as defenseless as a kicked puppy, or Ti-Parni when my father got hold of him. It be all very well for the vielles salopes to say that I should have had the strength of character to turn her away, but they didn't see how small and fragile she looked that night. Any person with a shred of humanity would have done the same, no matter if it damned them. Over strong, sweet cafe noir and honey-glazed beignets, she told me what had happened. How Cody had gone to some rathole bar, and hadn't returned home. How he did that almost every night. How they fought over the smallest thing. How he - and the rest of Caldecott - made her feel worthless. Once she'd finished crying, she seemed to regain some composure, because she commented on how stupid she felt spilling her guts to a complete stranger and was sorry for 'any inconvenience or discomfort she'd caused me'. Her words, not mine. Stiff as a starched collar. Naturally, I told her that it wasn't any trouble. That I enjoyed midnight teaparties with mysterious women. Sabine'd grinned at that and shot back that she wasn't too mysterious any more after her confessions, but that it was nothing compared to what the vielles salopes would say about her if they caught her leaving my caravan in the early morning. She sobered then, hugging her coffee-mug with both hands, and told me that she wished she didn't have to return. That if she could, she'd leave Caldecott with the circus.
As things turned out, she did . . . . Dieu. Some people say that I committed adultery by suggesting that she come with us, but je ne regrets rien (I regret nothing) because I know that I would have committed murder by refusing. I guess I was always a sucker for hopeless causes, for wounded creatures. To be absolutely honest, I guess there are more selfish reasons for my lack of regret as well: somewhere along the line, we became lovers as well as colleagues. Best friends as well as partners. C'est bizarre (it's strange), but when I see her smile or feel her breath, lighter than butterfly wings on my chest, I know that that is my absolution. . . .