As The Exposer passed the cookhouse a low moan beat against her eardrums. They were force-feeding Betsy-the-Four-Hundred-Pound-Baby again. She always put up such a fuss. It might seem odd; why employ a Four-Hundred-Pound-Baby who didn’t like to eat? Big Al, the show’s ringmaster, (or showman as he liked to be called), insisted her shame made Betsy the best in the business. Other shows just went for fat and jolly, but not Big Al. He was a visionary in his own way.
The makeup tent was empty. She slid her hand into the cold lard. Her teeth ached from the chill. The battered can once held the freshly roasted beans of a Rippeli Bros Coffee sampler; most of the name had dissolved away under a greenish tinged layer of rust. The only letters still legible were p-e-l-i. Seemed like the tin had been with the show forever. Somebody started calling the pork fat inside Peli, and the name stuck.
The heat from her fingers melted the fat. The Exposer lifted out a handful, trying not to inhale the rancid scent. The gold-flecked pancake covering her skin came off with the help of a fresh rag. Pork fat removed body makeup swiftly, but left behind a greasy veneer in its wake. She’d have a proper scrubbing before bed, anyway. At least it wasn’t suet, far more disturbing on the flesh. On those days, even after a proper cleansing, the stench of slaughtered lamb still oozed out of her pores. The Exposer dug a long strand of electric blue hair out of the can and shuddered. She could always tell who had been in the dressing room last by the marks they left in the lard.
As troupers in a show with performances seven days a week, twice on Saturdays, they constantly took makeup on and off. Big Al didn’t see why he should burn away his profits buying barrels of cold cream, when with one thin dime he could have a runner pick up a pound of lard at the local butcher shop. Wise in the ways of management, he knew best. The show hadn’t reached meteoric heights by having a dummy at the helm. No sir.
The showman fancied himself the spiritual leader of oddities. He had special gifts. Ways to see into people, and find their significant essence. He found it locked inside his performers when they didn’t even know it was there. Folks were just plain lumps of coal ‘til he got his hands on them, and turned them into gemstones. That’s what he did for her, and every last person at the show. She had to be grateful for that, didn’t she? If Big Al felt it necessary to cut corners for certain things, it wasn’t her place to judge.
The Exposer plunged the rag into a basin of water, wiping away all traces of the glittering mask reserved for her stage act. Someone had pinned a postcard to the shawl she wore around the lot: Come to my office after the closing, we have business to discuss. –BA.
She gazed at her face in the mirror; it was not an innocent one. Show folks, they’re clannish, this crew more so than others. She had done things on behalf of the show. Sometimes people make choices in the name of family.
The Exposer pocketed the postcard. They sold hundreds of them at the concession stand. This one featured Big Al beckoning passersby to experience the wonders inside. But the first time she had seen one of these cards was long before her days as a headliner.