A Novelty Act: Hammersmith (twenty-four)
“I can’t tell you why, but for some reason a fried egg will always get a laugh. And so I had one cemented to the first plate, with two strips of bacon…rubber, of course…the plate was a round of enameled iron, like your kitchen sink. The coffee pot and cup were painted on the inside…audience couldn’t tell.”
Professor le Fontainebleau chuckled.
“Couldn’t care, more like. Now, there is one of our secrets I don’t mind spilling for you…it bears interestingly on, shall we say, other affairs. Once I’d got settled on my chair, and taken up my knife and fork, Ced would place himself on the left, Cyril on the right. Ced doing his acrobatics…hand-stand, somersault…sort of thing. Light roman candles and manage tossing them across, could Ced, with his toes, mid-flip. I remain dashed. Cyril, on the other hand, equally a talent…which I don’t count myself, particularly…
“Cyril, yes, everything he pulled from his coat was a gag in its own right. Rubber chicken, pair of baby shoes, watermelon…sometimes a cocoanut. Tomahawk. Tried a lady’s corset once, caught too much wind. But take up each candle in its turn, and get those spinning, too. There was a hidden air hose I used to take a breath. The juggling, you see, got people’s eyes off the tank. But also, and it’s a thing worth noting, you won’t credit it—but all this business, timed out, took about three minutes. Now. You’ll appreciate, with so much to gawp at and cackle over, the audience came to feel I’d been in the water a very long time. My brothers bowed and stepped off…I put away my breakfast—different plate I’d hold up, empty—then took up a hand mirror and straight razor. Miming, you know.”
He mimed now, collecting the eyes of his coach-mates, shifting his chin sideways, bulging one eye and squinting the other, dabbing an invisible hankie at a spot on his cheek.
“I will tell you, the most difficult part of the act was at the end, when I came out. I’d learned to take a great breath through my nose without showing it…but soaking wet as I was, oftentimes I’d get a little tickle of water in my throat. Near thing. With an underwater act, aplomb means all. A bit like fire-eating, that way…and fortunately, not otherwise.”
Vic, in a tired way, raised a smile. The professor was one of those whose confessional impulse opened floodgates. They were on the open road, making for Hammersmith. The countryside being hilly, and the road winding, the pace of Mrs. Mossbunker’s personal coach was steady, more than speedy.
Aimee was trying not to nap. What the professor—“Charley. Used to be Chillingsworth, fair posh, all us with the cees, righto…but Ced and Cyril are still at it, somewheres…I had to take on a new persona” (pronouncing this word with a great fondness for its tony implications)—
A Novelty Act
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster