The naked bulbs around the mirror flickered. Power was never quite reliable. It came and went as it pleased. Grease paint, on the other hand, was far too loyal. A thin residue of last night’s show was still lingering as today’s face was painted on. Thick white, thick red, maybe a little blue or green. Plus a nose you couldn’t breath through. The light flickered again. Maybe someone’s walking on the cord.
The mirror’s gotten cloudy over the years. Unwashable blooms like cataracts had developed beneath the glass. At least it’s only around the edges. Charlie opened up the jars of paint, releasing their familiar smell. Then stopped.
Who on earth is that, that man inside mirror? He’s old. The slightest folds around his mouth had entrenched, cutting deep into the flesh. His cheeks, withered. His teeth, yellow. The lower rims of his eyes were slack and pink. Charlie looked the mirror in the eye. I’ve become a stranger.
Ten, twenty, thirty years had caught up in an instant. The young man in borrowed trousers was nowhere to be seen. The young man with cardboard suitcase and the wildest dreams – that! That man is me. But where did he go? This man is old and tired.
Charlie stretched his skin taut across the bone, but that wasn’t any better. His youth had disappeared inside this tougher skin, made tough by time a lifetime on the rails. Perhaps only a fool is a fool for this long. Silliness and slapsticks belong surely to the young. The younger. The better limbered and more relevant. Not this aging stranger.
Charlie scooped a glob of grease paint from the jar. No use thinking of it now, this old man had a job to do. Ridiculous old man. Has and been with nothing left to…Charlie met his eye again, his face half painted white and red. And cracked a smile.
Ah yes, there I am.
Fully painted, the stranger became again the laughing youth. Charlie donned his topless top hat and pinned a cotton flower to his breast. The lights flickered and he was out the door, giggling as he went.
Outside, a familiar thunder rolled beneath striped canvas: Laaaadieeees aaand Gentlemen…