by Graham B.
Meet a mime at the park, and meet with destiny.
"Look at that joker," said Billy Huston. "Can you believe we still have those guys around?"
His buddy, Matt "Crash" Dobson pushed his greasy hair out of his eyes and turned around.
"What, you mean that mime?" said Crash. "They're everywhere."
"Does anybody like them?" said Billy. "Anybody at all? Why do they do it?"
"Something about art," said Crash, turning back to the card game.
The sky was the color of cement, making the park look faded and boring. A few dog walkers passed through, their charges sniffing the shrubbery for suitable latrines. An elderly man, wearing coke-bottle glasses and a coat much too warm for even this gray, chilly day, sat on a nearby bench pulling torn bread from a bag for the gaggle of pigeons at his feet.
And just about halfway between the two young men and the bird enthusiast was the mime.
Billy thought the guy looked like a typical mime, with the painted face and the black-and-white getup.
Why did they do it? thought Billy. To annoy people. That's it, it's some kind of trolling.
"All right, so here's how you run a Monte table," said Billy, and Crash focused once more on the cards. "You always want the Lady, right?" He held up the queen of hearts.
Crash nodded eagerly. Billy set the queen of hearts face down between the other two on the picnic table, then the cards became a blur as he rapidly tossed them back and forth.
"Keep your eye on the Lady," said Billy, who finished with a flourish and held out his hands above three waiting cards. "Make your play!"
Crash chose - and got the king of clubs.
"I was so sure," he groused. "How do you keep doing it?"
"Be glad we're not playing for money," said Billy. He picked another card and showed Crash the Lady. "I would clean you out, which is the point, my man! Watch and learn."
Crash's eyes widened in excitement.
"How did you do that?"
"It's a trick," said Billy, his eyes pinching almost shut as his freckled face stretching into a wide grin. "I'm gonna teach you, kinda apprentice style."
Billy's eyes wandered over to the mime, who was doing some routine with the cracks in the sidewalk, pretending they were the edge of a cliff.
"All right," he said, turning back to game. "So, pay attention, Crash. Here's how it's done..."
Billy aligned the cards again, and saw black-and-white in his peripheral vision to the right. He turned, and was face-to-face with the mime. The mime's eyes widened in cartoonish shock. He put his gloved hands up, as if on a pane of glass between himself and Billy. The mime's forehead wrinkled and his white makeup base cracked below his beret.
"All right!" said Billy. "Get outta here! Can't you see we're busy?"
Billy stood up, and the mime reacted as if Billy had kicked him in the chest, flying backwards. He grabbed the nearby light post and spun around it twice, then pranced away and sat next to the old bird-feeder, who took no notice of him.
Billy felt something stir in his gut.
No, can't lose it this time, he thought. I'm already on probation for punching that ticket seller. Gotta keep it together.
"Okay, back to work," he said. "When I'm done with you, we're gonna by cleaning out those marks. Now watch..."
Billy made the cards fly, a little slower this time.
"Okay, I slowed it down. Think you got it?"
"I got it!" said Crash triumphantly. He chose - and got the king of clubs again. Crash's face fell.
"I don't get it."
"You're watching the wrong hand," said Billy patiently. He picked up the cards and shuffled all three in his right hand. "Look, let me show you something..."
Billy saw movement again, and looked. The mime was back. He was imitating Billy's shuffling motions. His painted face even imitated Billy's irritated look.
"Get the fuck outta here!" said Billy, standing up again. Now Billy could feel the rage bubbling up again. The monster, red like the Lady, but not so pleasant. He felt heat blossom on his cheeks. Billy stepped forward and got right into the mime's face.
"Stop that shit!"
The mime's face, inches away from Billy's did an almost perfect parody of Billy's glare. He lifted his hands in the air and pantomimed a monster flailing its arms.
The red monster took hold of Billy from deep in the gut.
"Hey, Billy," said Crash. "Hey calm down, bro..."
Billy wasn't listening. He grabbed the mime by the suspenders. The mime's look of surprise was no act, and his arms flailed for real as Billy threw him backwards. The mime spun halfway before his head struck the lamp post and he went down in a black-and-white heap on the sidewalk.
Pigeons flew into the air, and Billy looked over and saw the birdman standing, watching him with the bread bag dangling from knobby fingers. Further down the walkway, a man in a blue track suit with a white French poodle on a leash had stopped and was watching at a respectful distance. Billy looked at the mime again. His eyes were closed, but the blood oozing from his temple was not black, but bright red.
"C'mon, let's get out of here!" said Crash. "You're going back in the can if they pinch you again!"
He grabbed Billy by the sleeve of his jacket and pulled him away. When the two men left, the mime was still lying on the pavement, and more people were running over. Billy and Crash fled the park. It wasn't until later that Billy realized that he had left the cards on the picnic table.
"Oh, Billy," cried Crash. "What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?"
"Nothing! We're going home. That faggoty clown will be fine. He'll just have a lump on his head to remind him who he fucked with."
"It's okay, Crash!" said Billy. "Go home! I'll call you tomorrow. This'll blow over. Next week, we'll be in the park raking in Benjamins."
He walked away, leaving Crash looking slumped and forlorn on the sidewalk.
Billy was walking rapidly down the street, quickly cutting through alleys to throw off any pursuers. Foot traffic was light, but not nonexistent, but no one gave him a second look. He was just another unemployed schlub, walking around the city during working hours.
Billy paused to pull out a cigarette. He took a drag, and smoke settled his jumping nerves. He couldn't go to jail. Not now. And he wouldn't. The mime would put an ice pack on his head tonight, and be a lot more careful about who he pissed off, and that would be that.
As he let the smoke out, Billy caught a flash black-and-white. Startled, he almost dropped the cigarette before he saw it was just a woman, wearing one of the nouveau fashion outfits, complete with beret. She returned his stare with contempt and kept walking. Billy crushed his cigarette under his foot and continued to his apartment.
As he arrived at his run-down building, the three-o'clock bus heaved itself up to the corner. Billy caught a brief glimpse of a white-painted face through the bus's dirty windows. His heart jumped into his throat. Billy ran to the corner and watched the passengers disembark. He ran down the bus, looking inside and seeing only ordinary commuters, shift workers on their way home. No mime.
Am I going crazy? How could this guy be following me? It's nerves, that's all.
Billy shook his head and hurried to his apartment building. He dug out his keys, opened the outer door, and began the long climb to the eighth floor where his pad was located. Despite his nerves, Billy had enough mind to be irritated at the elevator being out of service for six months. The red monster stirred just a bit at that. But all the way up, something beneath the monster gave him a twinge.
He's in your pad, it said. He's waiting for you.
Billy shoved it back down and got to his floor. He hesitated before inserting his key into the lock and opening the battered, puke-green door to his place.
No black-and-white garbed performance artists greeted him. Just his usual tenants: empty pizza boxes, beer bottles, and his hash pipe. A pile of dirty laundry sat on his couch, waiting for him to take it to his mother's house, a bi-weekly ritual, and something his mother tolerated only because it made him visit her at home.
Billy went to the bathroom and took a long piss, which drained some of the tension from his body.
He was going to be okay. Nobody followed him. Nobody was going to rat him out. In the city, everybody minded their own beeswax. Everybody stayed out of each other's shit. He had nothing to worry about.
Billy went back to living room, shoved the laundry bag to the floor and sat. He turned on the TV, but got only a blank screen. He hadn't paid the cable bill in two months. Instead he glanced out the glass door to the patio. Despite the decrepit condition of these apartments, they had patios with full glass doors. Billy had a big view of the next building over. It was only seven stories tall, which put its roof just about level with his floor.
Stomach rumbling, Billy picked up his phone and ordered a pizza. As he waited, he pulled out a cigarette. From the corner of his eyes, he saw movement, and looked out though the patio.
He was standing on the next building's roof.
The cigarette fell from Billy's nerveless lips.
The mime was still wearing his black-and-white outfit. His beret was now cocked at a creepily jaunty angle, and blood dripped from his temple, drawing a line down his white-painted face. Only this time, it wasn't red, but rather a deep black, like the sharp pinpricks of makeup around his eyes. The mime waved to him.
Something stirred again in Billy's gut, and it wasn't the red monster.
You fucked up, Billy, it said. He's come for you.
Something compelled Billy to stand and walk to the door. The mime stared at him, and made a pantomime of a window, and Billy's hands rose of their own accord, and pressed against the door.
No, this can't be happening, he thought.
Oh, it's happening. In this game of Monte, YOU are the mark.
The mime pantomimed opening a door, and Billy's hands grasped the door handle and slid the balcony door open.
"Help!" Billy tried to cry out, but no sound came from his lips. He could no more speak than a mime could. The thing in his guts was spinning his thoughts down into incoherent terror. Despite just having used the toilet, his crotch was suddenly soaked with urine.
The mime grinned at him, his white face stretching grotesquely wider in a terrifying parody of mirth. He stepped forward waving his arms as if barely maintaining his balance, and Billy, no longer in control, stepped to the balcony's rail, imitating the mime's every move.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Billy was thinking, but whatever was in the room with him, whatever was compelling him wasn't listening. Billy could only turn his eyes, and look down - eight floors. He looked back up and met the mime's eyes one last time.
Still grinning, the mime hopped forward, and Billy vaulted over the balcony rail to meet him.