“Watch me smile.”
Grinpayne untied the knot of the bandage that covered his disfigured face and revealed it to the paying crowd. The blood glistened on his cheeks, while his teeth seemed to be piercing through the skin. The audience gasped and in the next moment, they erupted with laughter at the sight of the boy forced to smile for his entire existence by a wound inflicted by a cruel man. All but one laughed. She stood with her mouth slightly agape.
He disappeared off the stage and behind the curtain. The crowd started to disperse, a small murmur running through them as they walked off to the next freak show they could gawp at. She walked against the crowd, going towards the stage off an impulse. There was no real plan when she got there and she wasn’t even sure what she was expecting and yet her feet were leading her that way, pushing through the crowd until she was finally at the small cart.
Her hand shook slightly and she stayed still, only her eyes blinking for a moment. Her hand seemed to suddenly work of its own accord, knocking softly on the door and awaited an answer.
“What do you want?” a voice barked.
“S-s-sorry, would it be possible to-uh, to talk to the Grinning Man?” she stumbled out.
“Grinpayne, you got a fan,” he snickered.
After a few moments of movement in the cart, the door finally opened and he stood before her, his bandage covering his affliction once more. Never before had she felt words escape her mind so quickly, and she could feel her hands starting to shake. Her gaze shifted to the floor so he couldn’t see her swallowing hard and scowling at herself.
“I-uh, I found your tale very-uh…” she paused, the word seemed to escape her for the moment and she chewed on her lip as she tried to get it back, “intriguing,” it wasn’t the right word but it would do for now.
“Oh,” he was taken aback for a moment, “No one has ever spoken to me after a show.”
“It was such a moving story, I mean… it’s not a story, it’s your life, it’s real,” she rambled, stopping suddenly and looking away. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you, maybe-“
“You’re not bothering me at all,” he interrupted.
“Really?” she looked back up at him, smiling softly.
As she looked up at him, he could see how pale her complexion was, but it didn’t seem to be from shock, but simply her skin, noting the mottled nature of it. Parts of her exposed skin showed red rashes, tiny cuts and scrapes. While her clothing seemed to be expensive, but the dirt and tears made him feel that maybe they were stolen or simply taken after they’d been discarded. The thing that drew him in the most was her bright eyes, they seemed to glisten as they looked at him in an interesting hazel and green hue.
“No, not at all, not many people remember the story after seeing…” he trailed off, losing the best way to describe his disfigurement.
“Not many people care for other people, they just want to see the misery to make themselves feel better,” she became quiet.
“But it is the way I pay for food, so I can’t condemn them,” he said sullenly.
“And that’s fine, but you’re more than what other people think of you.” She pulled her sleeves further down her arms, covering the red patches. “Even my opinion isn’t of much importance, but I… I just wanted to… I wanted to speak to you, I-uh… I just,” she lost her words again, the nerves setting in as she took a step backwards, deciding that maybe she should leave.
The bells of the church chimed, reminding the people around the hours were getting later. As Grinpayne looked back to the girl after looking to the sound of the bells, she was already turning to leave. He didn’t want her to go just yet, he wanted to know why she was so drawn to him. It was as if they had a reason to be together in this world and he couldn’t help the curiosity gnawing at his insides. Usually, he wouldn’t be so forceful, but he reacted off of impulse instead of thinking about it. He stepped down off the cart and grabbed her wrist before she could get too far away from him.
“Don’t leave,” his voice almost trembled as he held onto her.
“I have to,” she looked away, her voice filled with sadness.
“Will you come back?”
“I promise,” she placed her hand on top of his, squeezing it softly.
And with that, she disappeared into the night, leaving Grinpayne all alone once more. He watched as she got smaller and smaller, feeling his stomach sinking lower and lower, a wave of worry coming over him. What if she didn’t come back and he never got to see her again? It was almost as if she had filled a hole within him and now she had left, he realised how empty he truly was. He was never treated with kindness, apart from Ursus, Dea, and Mojo who were his family and so it was expected of them. Strangers never wanted to engage with him, apart from to laugh at his hideous face. Yet he didn’t even know her name.
With a heavy sigh, he turned back to the cart, walking up the small steps before closing the door behind him. Ursus was currently sat in his chair, simply engaged with his book which usually meant not to disturb him. Dea was already lying down and slowly drifting in and out of consciousness. There was no real explanation for the sudden loneliness burning inside of him, except the fact that he didn’t know if he would see her ever again. He sat on his bed, looking out of the small window, up to the stars, a smile dancing on his eyes and his cheeks pulling up as he thought about how she would be looking at the same stars as him.
She hurried along the road, pulling her ragged coat around her tighter, snaking through the crowds of people to get to her destination quicker. If she was even a minute late in her timing, it was going to end in disaster. She walked up past the bakery, over the small bridge, left at the public house, and then finally through the over grown garden of the asylum. There was a small iron gate that creaked unless you opened it carefully, like she had learnt to do very quickly. As quietly as she could, she walked through the back door, hurried through the corridor, and then slipped back into her room.
In a sudden moment of release, she collapsed onto her bed in a heap. Everything seemed to buzz in her head and she couldn’t quite calm it all down. The rush of getting back just before the handing out of medicines was making her heart pound, but that wasn’t the only thing causing her flutter. While the audience laughed at Grinpayne’s wound, she couldn’t help but feel her heart go out to him. Then to experience his kindness as she tried to speak to him filled her heart with such warmth, something she hadn’t felt in what felt like years. A smile slowly turned the edges of her lips up as her eyes gazed up at the stars through the small barred window of her room.
Even though she was trapped in this building, despite the few days when she had the nerve to sneak out, she could look at the stars and imagine herself in the outside world. Outside, no one looked at her like she was crazy; in fact one of her biggest desires was to simply melt into a crowd and for no one to really pay attention to her. She wanted nothing more than to just feel like everyone else in the world. But instead, people paid money to see her on her worst days, when she was huddled in a corner, weeping and rocking back and forth. It was bad enough to have this judgement from her family, the people who put her in this place, but to have it from strangers who were unaware that she was put in here for not conforming, made her sadder than she wanted to admit.
“Stevenson,” a cold voice called through the door.
That was the signal for her to sit up and move away from the door so the nurse could enter. She cautiously sat up and look to the door as it clicked open, the nurse appearing from behind it with a large needle in hand. An involuntary shudder ran through her body as she looked at the medicine that was supposed to help her. it didn’t really do anything for her wellbeing, the only effect that the drug had on her was the sudden and overwhelming feeling of tiredness and she could fall asleep, only to be awoken a few hours later by screaming of other patients. She didn’t belong here.
The nurse approached with authority, as if she knew that the patient didn’t have the ability to over come her. While there was something that compelled her to rebel against the treatment she was getting in this hospital, her means of rebellion were never going to be violent or even remotely physical. The nurse leant over and plunged the needle into her sore skin, pressing the plunger and administering the drug into her bloodstream. There was no more interaction as the nurse pulled the needle and left, closing the door behind her. As it was now time for the patients to sleep, there was a click as the door was locked.
She slowly laid back down on the hard bed and her gaze shifted back to the stars outside of the window. There was something utterly freeing about looking up at the sky, even during the day when she could watch the clouds lazily float by. In the darkness, her hands reached out and carefully grasped the only possession she had been allowed; a copy of “from the earth to the moon” by Jules Verne. She clutched it to her chest; she didn’t need to read it to feel its comfort, nor to remember the inscription inside the cover: darling sister Hazel, you are made of stars, I love you.
Thoughts of her brother danced through her head as her eyes finally gave in and slipped closed. They had always been very close when they were children and spending almost two years away from him this much was breaking her. And it had broken him too, he was now at the point where he could barely bring himself to visit her, watching her sanity slip away with every visit, becoming a shell of her. Some days, looking forward to seeing him was the only thing that kept her living in this hell. Her eyes fluttered open for a brief moment, the bright stars in the sky making her feel comforted, like she wasn’t alone. In a strange way, she wasn’t, she now had Grinpayne.