Sunday Morning under the Big Tent
As Sunday grows into mid-morning, the Sheriff and the Judge had gathered inside all the denizens of the Mad Carnival, as well as all the townfolk of Luddington who had helped to search through the night.
Tommy and Billy sit on seats in the far back row, with a view of all the adults and the carnies down in the ring. The Patchwork Girl sits beside Tommy, never speaking, but occasionally making a slight hissing sound of sucking saliva. Tommy does not mind how clear liquid tends to ooze from her joints, the parts of her not covered by scraps of leather and gauze or fabric.
The Sheriff holds up his hands for the room to be quiet. “Now listen here. Nobody leaves town until we find out who killed Betsy Wilson.”
A murmur breaks out among the carnies, and Sebastien steps forward and says, “Sheriff, we have a compromise to be in Nebraska by Wednesday.”
“Nobody, leaves, town, goddammit,” says the Sheriff forcefully.
Bull, on the other side of the group yet still a head above them, says, “We need to start breaking down to get ready to move.” Then he pauses. “I really don’t see how the show can be stopped.”
“There are marshals on the way from Des Moines,” says the Sheriff. “I’m going to need to know where each one of you was last night. All night. Right up to where the Wilsons noticed their daughter missing.”
Hanz says, “Most of us carnies were in here. The freaks never leave their show. The Fat Man never leaves the carousel. We all have jobs here, Sheriff.”
“I don’t know,” says the Judge’s wife. “You sure tend to look sideways at all the ladies.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” says The Laughing Juggler.
“Just an observation,” she replies.
“Could have been Ox,” says Anise.
“What?” says Shorty.
“Ox is new here,” Anise continues. “We don’t know him all that well. The only one who ever understands him is you.”
“He says you sound crazy,” Shorty says.
“See what I mean?” she replies.
“Now he wants to know where YOU were last night,” says Shorty.
“And how do you always have the words for him,” she asks. “Where were YOU, Shorty? YOU could have killed someone your height!”
Ox steps forward.
“Stop this!” shouts Sebastien. “This is MADNESS, and it is NOT the madness of our carnival, but the madness that kills.”
“That’s exactly what we’re trying to find out,” says the judge.
“This is ridiculous!” says Mr Wilson. “My daughter’s dead. Who killed her?! Which one of you sons of bitches KILLED MY DAUGHTER!”
There is a hush.
At the front flap of the tent, stands Mrs Wilson, the Pastor beside her, pointing at Mr Wilson. She starts forward, one step, then another. “You killed our daughter!”
Mr Wilson sobs, “Mary … what in God’s name are you talking about?”
“Don’t use God’s name. Not here. Not in front of me. Not anymore. I heard you. I HEARD you. Night after night. In the middle of the night. You thought I was asleep. You walked out of our room and you walked toward HER ROOM!”
Mr Wilson, quietly, “Mary, no … I didn’t kill her. I didn’t kill Betsy. I love her.”
And there is something in the way that Mr Wilson says the last three words that Tommy will remember years later when recalling the events of these few days. Something in the way that the words were said. A way that he knew he would never in his life hear again.
The Pastor puts a hand on Mrs Wilson’s arm, as though to stop her, or to hold her upright. He says to her in a steady tone. “Mary Wilson … I think you have something you need to tell the Sheriff.”
Mary Wilson looks toward the Sheriff with wild reddened eyes and cheeks streaked with tears. Her mouth for a moment hangs open as though in a perpetual silent scream. She looks as though she is trying to speak while she is downing in the depths of the ocean.
Finally, her voice breaks and she says, “I – held – her – down. She was – so … afraid. I kept saying ‘hush Betsy, hush baby girl, the water will make you clean. The water will make you clean’ and then, and then … she wasn’t afraid - any - more.”
Mary Wilson looks from one face to another, from the people she knows to the strangers, as though searching for some response in their blank stares. “I had to … don’t you see? I had to!”
And her eyes, searching
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