A MEMORY LIKE WATER
A story about the tv show, Cupid
Part Three of Five
by Steve 0yervidez
The carnival was in town, and it had seen better days. Spread across a field of asphalt were the various trappings of a second rate production. Ragged tents of multiple faded colors competed for space with the well-worn, garish shapes and lights of rusted aging rides. All clustered together beneath a slate gray Chicago sky which had just opened up and drenched the forlorn sight. The asphalt seemed to glow deep black from the recent rain, and the puddles of water shimmered with diluted liquids. The aisles and rides were mostly deserted. Few patrons had decided to partake with the threat of more rain hanging above. Alone in that expanse, walking slowly, were two people. Trevor and Claire stepped unhurried down the central midway, talking to each other.
"So, tell me again why we're here Trevor?" She looked at the hot dog Trevor had bought her, unsure she wanted to touch it.
Trevor looked over at her. He saw the lack of enthusiasm in her eyes, eyes that looked as if they hadn't seen anything fun in front of them for far too long. "I just felt you needed a break, Claire. Your bitchiness level has been off the chart's lately..." He trailed off as he saw her shoulders tense.
"My what level?"
"Your... bad chi ness. Your bad chi. Yeah. That's... that's what I said."
"Oh." She nodded with him, knowing full well it wasn't. "That's what I thought you said."
Trevor continued. "Look, since lately you've been in such a-" she fixed him with a glare that could have melted ice. He chose his words carefully, "-intense mood, I figured I could use a break. Wait... I mean you could use a break."
"And I heard the carnival was in town so I thought what a better place for-"
"Another half-baked ill conceived scheme of yours to find my true love?"
"Not at all. Why would I do that?" he asked innocently.
"Oh, I don't know. Why do you breathe? Why do you walk? Why you do anything is a continuing puzzle to me..."
Trevor continued. "I mean, just because Alex failed, then Frank, then the doctor I tried to set you up with..." Moaning, his voice sounded less enthusiastic with each name, none too subtly implying that she was too picky and it was her fault his efforts failed.
Claire picked up the implication. "First of all," She waved her hot dog at him, "you had nothing to do with me and Frank being together. And without your misguided meddling to screw things up, I'm surprised it managed to fail all on its own. Second, with the track record of those you have tripped my way, why should I even listen to anything you say? So you can dial me up another selection from the hunk-of-the-month club and doom it to failure too? Another pointless exercise?"
"Well, it's definitely exercise. But if it turns out to be pointless, then he's doing it wrong. Hmm. Stud-of-the-month. Yeah, I've heard of that club. Probably not quite your style. Since I hear their more into bi-monthly deliveries, if you catch my meaning."
"Trevor, a blind wet butterfly could catch you're meaning."
"Blind wet butterflies. Didn't they tour with Pearl Jam?"
Her mood didn't lighten. "All I know is that whatever you have planned is not going to work."
Trevor wasn't phased by her lack of enthusiasm. It was blood in the water to him. "That works for me since I have nothing planned."
"Besides," she looked up at the sky as she heard distant thunder. "Who comes to a carnival on a wet dreary day like today?"
"I don't know, people who's idea of fun isn't weather specific? Besides, I thought you liked the rain, Claire."
"I do, we're just not very close."
"To water's detriment everywhere," Trevor said with a flourish.
"Look, Claire. Just try to have a good time!" Trevor laughed as if it were simple, trying to make his point. "Eat some cotton candy, throw up in a tilt-a-whirl, tilt up and throw a whirl, if your lucky it'll hit a mime! It's called fun!"
"Only if the parameters of fun-"
Trevor shook his head to clear it, muttering to himself in disbelief. "Parameters of fun.."
"-are defined by another pointless waste of time and money that makes you ill, and has absolutely no redeeming value what so ever. Is that really what your prescribing for me, Trevor?"
"Well when you put it that way, you make it sound... perfect." She could see he wasn't joking. Claire sighed.
"Trevor, the kind of worries I have aren't going to go away just by," she whirled her arms before her, "spinning very fast. My case load is at an all time high, I'm single, alone, bored beyond tears..."
"Hey!" Trevor took offense. He spread his arms out as if too say, Hello, I'm standing right here.
"Sorry. I mean romantically alone."
Trevor started the motion again but stopped himself, waving it off as pointless.
"Professionally, my case load is at an all-time high..."
Trevor gave her a grin. "That return business must have you glowing with pride."
Claire ignored him. "I've made no progress on my latest book, so my editor's been breathing down my neck..."
He raised an eyebrow. "So that's how you get published. I hope he bought you dinner first."
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "And I have this one psychotic patient who insists on dragging me to a carnival with the questionable belief that fried sweets and motion-induced blood depravation are the cure for all my ills, ironic as that seems."
"Hmm. Whoever you're not so subtly referring to, he sounds like a sweet guy. Yeah. You really should thank him before he does something truly horrible like-" Trevor shivered, "-making you smile." He paused, waiting for it. She didn't.
"Trevor, I do appreciate the effort, but I just don't think its going to work." She sounded resigned to it.
"That's what they said about Viagra, Claire. Then things started looking up. That pill was a stroke of genius on my part, by the way."
She looked over. "Don't tell me you're going to take credit for-" She paused, knowing better. "Of course you are. Silly me. Why would I think you wouldn't."
"Maybe I'm just trying to get a rise out of you, Claire. You know that I've always taken a great interest in whatever runs your flag up the-"
"I'm afraid I'm all innuendoed out today, Trevor. Thanks, but no thanks." She finally got the nerve to take a cautious bite out of her hot dog. Trevor smiled, resisting the impulse for another innuendo.
"Then take this seriously, Claire!" Trevor tried to make her see how much she needed this. "Don't you realize that you need a industrial dose of fun in your life? That's what life's for! You're either french-kissing life or waiting for death to make a house call. While sitting beside your dozen cats and wondering why no one comes over anymore. There is no in between!" He motioned to a shabby tent they were passing. "Take this lady. A psychic slash hypnotist. Hmm. I hope that doesn't refer to some sort of cage match."
Claire seemed less than enthusiastic as she glanced over. Much less.
Trevor looked at her."Oh, come on! Let's go inside and let her rip, throw your inhibitions to the rain soaked wind."
"I think I should throw this hot dog to the rain soaked wind." Claire made a face as she took another bite of its stale bun.
He tried to sound encouraging. "Why not see what she has to say? You need something trivial and ridiculous in your life, so why not her."
"No, I think you've got those covered, Trevor."
"Claire, if you don't feel foolish doing it then it's probably not worth doing. Everybody knows that."
"Oh, of course!" she said sarcastically. "I remember that speech from school. Churchill right? From his I've run out of interesting things to say phase."
"Well, it's either the travelling oracle here or the rollercoaster, which you might also enjoy but for different reasons. If recent history is any indication, and sadly in your case it is, all too nostalgic ones. I hear the first drop sends a tingle right up between your-"
Claire shoved her hot dog in his mouth before he could finish. "I'm sorry, Trevor. I couldn't hear you. Your mouth was full." She wiped her fingers together, brushing them off.
Trevor mumbled as he chewed. "Needs more mustard."
Claire looked over at the tattered tent with an intrigued expression as she considered it. "A psychic, huh?"
Trevor nodded as he finished his impromptu meal. "Slash hypnotist. From what I've heard she's the real deal."
Her face was thoughtful. "And you've never been here before?"
"No." Trevor leaned forward slightly as the tail end of the hot dog he had shoved in his mouth crumbled off and fell to the floor.
Claire smiled for the first time. "Well, that does raise some... possibilities. If she really is a psychic, and being a deity you must be right, then when you walk in she'll either recognize you as the god of love-"
Trevor looked at her suspiciously, still chewing. "I suppose..."
"-or she'll be able to tell me who you actually are. The average, ordinary, mortal you, I mean."
"Well, anything's possible..."
"On the other hand, if she's a fraud, she'll concoct some wild story so off the mark that your godly wisdom will be forced to cringe in that toy attic you call a brain." Her smile grew as she thought about it.
"Maybe..." Trevor was reluctant. He didn't like where this was going.
"Hmm, so many interesting ways of watching you squirm." Claire gave him a satisfied look.
"Sounds good to me Trevor," she said. "Let's do it."
"On second thought, maybe the rollercoaster would be-" He started to walk away before she grabbed his arm.
"Oh come on, Trevor. Afraid of looking foolish?" Another rumble of thunder rolled overhead. "If you don't feel foolish doing it then it's probably not worth doing." She smiled, knowing she had him cornered.
"Ok, fine." Trevor wiped his mouth with his hand, having just finished the hot dog. He took his time as he stood there licking his fingers. Claire waited impatiently.
Suddenly the hiss of approaching rain flowed towards them and they found themselves in the middle of a deluge of water, soaking deep into their clothes.
Claire looked at him, her hair wet against her forehead. "Didn't you say something about a rain-soaked wind?"
Trevor didn't seem to mind the rain. He looked at her. "You know, that was a good hot dog. Which food stand did we get that from anyway?" He took a step as if to go searching for it.
"Trevor!" Claire latched onto him again, directing him towards the tent flaps. She was surprised he had even been able to keep the hot dog down. Trevor stopped struggling and let himself be pushed. Raising his voice over the noise of the rain, he spoke into her ear.
"Me, almighty! I really wish you had worn white today."
"Just go, Trevor!"
They disappeared into the tent as the rain poured down stronger than ever. Thunder rumbled in the sky.
A radio was playing on the floor beside a small circular table, filling the tent with music. Seated behind the table was a wrinkled old woman, dressed in several colors, none of them matching. A cigarette dangled from her mouth as she scanned the newspaper want ads, shaking her head in disgust at what she saw there. She tapped the cigarette's burnt tip into an ashtray, not really caring if each gray flake found its mark. Looking up, she moaned in annoyance as Claire and Trevor entered in a rush, scrambling to get out of the rain.
The woman almost panicked when she recognized the two of them, as if she wanted to be anywhere else but there. "Oh no no no! Not again!" Quickly she stood up and started gathering her things. Trevor and Claire didn't notice as they stood there trying to wipe some of the moisture off their wet clothes and hair. Claire looked up, pushing away a brunette tress caked wetly against her forehead.
"Hi," she began, "We're here to-" Stopping herself, she watched the old woman scurrying to pack her things. "Umm, it seems like your... leaving." She said simply, surprised. "I guess... we could come back later..." Even as Claire suggested it, she wondered if they should just turn around and leave.
The old woman stopped dead in her tracks when she heard Claire's words, like they were a pronouncement of doom. Her head drooped almost to her chest in resignation as she sighed. "I suppose you're right. What's the use. You'd only come back. Again and again." She sounded like she couldn't fight it any longer. Resigned to her fate, the old woman slowly folded the newspaper she held, dragging her feet as she returned to her chair. After seating herself, she bent down and turned off the radio. Taking one long drag off of her cigarette, she leaned back and completely ignored the two of them. They stood there uncertain of what to do.
Claire slowly waved her hands to get her attention. "Excuse me, but-" The old woman silently looked over at them for several seconds as she blew a stream of smoke into the air. The noise of rain pelting the tent was the only other sound. Uncomfortable, Claire continued.
"Well, the two of us have come to... I mean if you're not too busy, we need... Are you open?"
The old lady said nothing, watching them with deep gray eyes.
Claire pressed on reluctantly. "We need to make use of your talents. If you have any. Not that I'm questioning your abilities," her laugh was awkward. "I mean, I suppose I have an open mind, I guess. My name is-"
"I know who you are. Or who you think you are." The old lady dropped the cigarette to the floor and crushed it beneath her heel. Her tone of voice and body movements conveyed a deep disinterest. A tired contempt for what she was doing with her life. Without a word she pulled a crystal ball, cracked in several places, out of a velvet lined black box at her feet. Pushing the ashtray slightly to the center, she placed the ball on top of it, as it formed a base. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out a fresh cigarette and lit that one too, puffing on it as she looked at them still standing there.
"Well, sit down already," she said crossly. "I haven't got all day."
Trevor and Claire each took one of the cold metal chairs before the table and sat down. She caught Trevor's eyes with her own. His eyes went wide with annoyance before he looked away, commenting wordlessly on the psychic's mood.
"You two," she was muttering to herself. "No matter where I go I always find you two."
Claire seemed confused. "Actually, this is our first time seeing you..." she pointed out.
The old lady snorted. "I wish."
"Ohhhh-kay," Claire said slowly, not really understanding. "I was hoping you could help me out with," she glanced at Trevor, "a little problem of mine. My... friend here has always been very secretive about his past-"
"No, I haven't" Trevor said matter-of-factly under his breath.
"And, as much as I've enjoyed his unique... personality, there's always been some things he's never told me. If you could use your, well, let's call them skills, to help me uncover what those are, I'd be grateful." She smiled weakly, trying to get the psychic more involved.
Trevor leaned forward, eager for his turn. "Ditto for me, actually. My pet mind shrinker here has a few things that need to be brought to the surface too. Namely," Trevor started counting off on his fingers, "her feelings, a sense of fun, an ability to ignore her inhibitions, recognizing a good time, a greater and indecent amount of naked skin, more of a predilection to shake her groove thang..."
He looked over at her. "What? Shouldn't I get something out of this too? There's a thing or two I'd like to learn about you, Claire. Like... do you snuggle afterwards, can your neighbors hear when cross the finish line in the bedspring marathon, is tipping allowed afterwards. You know, that sort of thing. What's good for the goose-"
Claire swivelled her face towards him, biting her lower lip and pulling it free as her mouth hung open in warning.
Trevor finished quickly. "-is a very good gander." He leaned back before she could protest further. Claire turned back to the old lady.
"Anyway, do you think you can give me some insight into him? If there is such a thing."
The old lady watched the two of them for several seconds, as if none of what they had said came as any surprise to her. In fact when she spoke, it was as if they had said nothing at all.
"You two. Always you two. Just for once couldn't you leave me alone?" she asked wearily.
Claire waved a hesitant hand to the exit behind them. Why did she suddenly feel like she was in the principal's office? "If you're closed for business we could leave..." She looked reluctantly up at the sound of the rain still thick on the tent's roof.
"What difference would that make?" The old lady waved her cigarette at them. "You'd just come back, eventually. Always you two."
"I don't understand," Claire said.
"No, of course you don't," the psychic said irritably. "That would only make my job easier and we can't have that."
Trevor had heard enough. "OK rag-muffin, look. I don't know what cold breeze blew up your... tent today, but we were just hoping you could help us. So unless that crystal ball is a stone you just finished passing, I don't think a little courtesy is too much to ask for." Trevor got up to leave.
"Sit. Sit." The old lady said, still crotchety as ever. She turned away from them as Trevor sat back down. Looking into the distance as if remembering, she exhaled, filling the air with hazy ribbons. Calmly she waved her hand through them, disturbing their shapes as it passed.
"Lives flow and dance, like smoke on the air. Like waves on the ocean of time. But then one quick calamitous breeze comes along," she blew out her breath sharply, dissipating the smoke before her, "and those lives are gone. But if your lucky, you retain some particle of what came before. Some seed that survives through to the next life, and you gain wisdom."
She grunted to herself quietly, as thunder rolled outside. "Help you? Like that ever made a difference before. Fine. We'll go through this again. And you'll forget it again the next time you come in here." The woman turned towards Claire, freezing her with a pointed finger.
"You. You want me to tell you what he is, who... he is. Why should I? In his own way he's already told you, and you don't believe him. You wouldn't believe him if he shot you in the ass. And it's always for the same reasons. You question everything, over-analyzing it until all the joy has been sucked right out of it."
Claire felt offended, but she couldn't find anything to say, sputtering in annoyance at the unexpected attack.
Trevor blinked. "Sucking the joy out of it. That was vaguely... arousing."
Instantly the woman swivelled her accusing finger towards Trevor.
"And you. Always surprised that you can't sweep women off their feet like you used to. That for once you might have to appeal to their hearts, their minds, their, oh heavens forbid, good-taste. That love isn't just marksmanship. Maybe just once you'd realize life isn't just some extended toga party. That being honest with your emotions is the best aphrodisiac ever created. Touching hearts instead of touching bodies. Instead of using your usual inane song and dance."
Trevor looked at her for several seconds. Then he started soft-shoeing as he sat there.
"Hopeless." The old woman shook her head. "Both of you. Hopeless. Repeating the same mistakes. You two have a memory like water, always adjusting to the new containers you're filling, saving nothing of what shaped you before. Lessons you have to re-learn all over again."
Finally Trevor spoke up, turning to Claire. "Ok, I was wrong. She's a fraud. She doesn't know a thing about us..." The old woman chuckled in response, knowing what he referred to.
"What," the old lady continued, "you don't believe you have past lives just because one of the other gods doesn't want you to remember them? Do you think this is the first time they've sent you down here to learn your lesson? Broken hearts and broken marriages have existed since the dawn of time in one form or another. There's nothing different about recent history, except now there are more lawyers. Besides, that's what love is. You can't have a heart unless it can break. But they keep sending you back, hoping you'll learn that. Right, like that's going to happen."
Claire broke in. "If you could slow down for a moment I might be able to explain something to you." She went into a slow voice she would use on a confused child, still annoyed by what the woman had said earlier. "We've never been here, OK? The two of us have never met you before."
"Here we go..." The old lady turned away to smoke her cigarette, nodding as Claire spoke but not really listening.
Claire was on a roll, unstoppable. "I don't understand why you're so upset we showed up since you were open. Or why you believe that because life has treated you badly its somehow our fault. Even though we've never met, of course. You've been abusive, belittling, and demeaning since we came in here. Forming snap conclusions. Passing all these vague judgements when you don't know a thing about us..."
Trevor leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Exactly. Tell her that's your job, Claire." He pulled back quickly as she shooed him away with her hand, like a bothersome fly.
"I mean," Claire continued angrily, "You act like you don't want to be here, but I don't see a gun to your head forcing you to stay. And all these generalized comments you pass off as insight-"
Claire stopped herself in shock when she saw the old lady's lips mimicking her exactly word for word, like she had it memorized. The woman looked up when she realized Claire wasn't talking.
"Oh, are you done yet? What good would specific information be anyway? If I told you that your Father's name was Bill and which groupie he's in bed with at this very exact moment, you would just assume someone fed me that information somehow, so I'd still be a fraud, right? But if I'm too generalized in my answers you think the same thing for not being more specific. Either way, I can't win, so why not go with the easy stuff. Cut through the crap."
Claire looked at her, still not believing a word she said. "If we were in here before, when was that?"
"Well, we didn't meet in this particular place, that was different. But if I had to place an interval on it, it would have to be... oh, ninety plus years."