As always, much admiration and many thanks to Tess for willingly tempting our Muses with such lovelies.
The plush carpet in the hallway absorbs the sounds of your footfalls, adding credence to the surreal impression that you aren't actually here. In truth, you wish you weren't. This building has always intimidated you, with its stylishly suited attorneys and judges speaking in hushed tones, their law clerks scurrying along behind as they rush about in corridors of polished wood and shiny brass. The carefully controlled climate is just this side of chill and goosebumps rise on your arms under the sleeves of the jacket you only ever wear to weddings and funerals, even as the sweat starts to gather under your collar. No matter how well you dress, no matter if you've just had your hair done or your nails polished or if you've just finished reading the latest bestseller, you always feel like a lesser version of yourself when you're in this place. Less attractive, less smart, less relevant. Less.
You're early, a trait you've always prided yourself on. Conference Room 4B is ahead and you look around, hoping to find a bench upon which you can sit and wait. There is none, but you're not really disappointed; it's unlikely you would have sat still for long, anyway, as you're too nervous, too tense. Instead, you pace the hallway, studying the artwork that graces the walls. Most of the frames contain uninspiring landscapes or portraits of long-dead partners. Until you reach the end of the corridor, that is, for there by the stairwell is a simple framed poster. "Cycles Sirius." Despite the gravity of the situation and the day, the poster makes you smile.
It reminds you of the posters that used to hang on the side of the boarded-up warehouse which sat just across the railroad tracks separating your childhood neighborhood from the seedier side of town. The posters were faded from years of weather and the edges were ripped and curling, but they provided infinite fodder for your overactive imagination.
Many an evening was spent sitting cross-legged on the dry, patchy grass staring at the posters. The circus ones were your favorites, with lions and elephants and pretty girls with feathers in their hair riding horses barebacked. The circus hadn't come to your town for years, not since The Trouble which your parents refused to discuss in front of you, but which Jimmy Rooney said involved his cousin Trudy and one of the circus hands and a baby. You didn't care about that, anyway; you were too busy imagining yourself in a sequined leotard and a feather boa performing stunts high up on the back of an elephant. You wanted to travel and see the world -- Barcelona and Tunis and Istanbul -- just like the circus posters advertised: "Straight from the Halls of Royalty!" You knew that, given the chance, someday you would be as famous as Miss Esmerelda the Gypsy Fortuneteller, or Mervin and Irvin the Lion Taming Twins. You would be friends to dukes and maharajahs, and be gifted with jewels and furs. People would shout your name as the circus paraded through the streets of far-off lands, then stand in line for tickets to eat roasted peanuts out of red-and-white-striped paper bags while they ooohed and aaahed at your performance.
Several times you threatened to leave, to run away and join the circus and wouldn't everyone be sorry then? But your parents ignored you, just as thoroughly as they ignored each other, and your little brother cried because you refused to take him with you. Jimmy Rooney only laughed at you, knowing you'd never really do it because you were too chicken.
Your hand reaches out, tentatively, to touch the poster, but stops mid-air. Running away wasn't really an option then, and isn't really an option now, despite its appeal. You have very few options, now. Oh, to be so young and naive and innocent, to think that joining the traveling show would solve all your problems and make you the happiest and most loved person in the world. Your smile fades slowly as you sigh and drop your hand. If only it were that easy.
You feel his presence and smell his cheap after shave before his voice tickles your ear. "There you are. You ready?"
Your solitude broken, you turn to your attorney and nod silently. You're as ready as you can be, all things considered. He smiles at you, and you marvel that his tie is straight, for once, and it looks like he's wearing a new shirt. He must realize the import of the day. Over his shoulder, you see more attorneys in expensive pinstripe suits, a whole team assembled and paid for just to make your life a living hell. They shield their client with expertise, so well that you can barely see the very top of his head. But you don't really want to see him. You've seen enough of him to last a lifetime.
The door to Conference Room 4B opens and a secretary with pinched lips and a pencil-thin skirt glides out. She turns your way and you wonder if she was born with that look of haughty disdain or if it was something she learned in the steno pool. "Mr. Rooney, Mrs. Eastman."
Jimmy cups your elbow. You give the poster one more furtive, fleeting look before dropping your eyes to the plush carpet and allowing him to guide you reluctantly through the door to your metaphorical doom.
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