The Final Show, by Belinda Campbell
As of very recently the boys from the school village think Samuel Whitley is a genius. Every day there is a brief hour that the village boys share. It is the immediate hour measured between their end of day school bell and the screech from their mothers signalling bath time. This hour is incredible for the boys in the village. The pure joy of it used to be because of the freedom of knowing they can get as dirty as they possibly can without any promise of punishment from their mothers. It is now however, primarily, because of Samuel Whitley. The mothers do not understand why this has suddenly occurred, none more so than Samuel Whitley’s own mother.
‘Your boy’s become very popular with my son.’ says a mother of one of the village boys to Mrs Whitley. There is an enquiring tone in this mother’s voice. She does not like Samuel Whitley, and Mrs Whitley does not blame her. They both look at their boys as they drop them at the school gate, eyeing them with suspicion. Samuel Whitley is not an attractive child, nor is he academically clever; he does not do well at sports and does not get on well with adults. For all of these reasons, many of the mothers in the village do not like their boys hanging around Samuel Whitley, and it is for this reason also that Samuel Whitley does not have any human friends. Mrs Whitley, who is not keen on her son herself, does not blame the mothers for their ill-thoughts.
Yet still, when the end of the day bell rings and the sun still lolls in the sky, the mothers all allow their sons an hour to play before they claim them for bathing, feeding, working and praying.
‘What’s it going to be today Sam?’ a younger boy cries out.
Around twelve young boys huddle together behind the empty post office that burned down before any of them were born; it therefore holds a certain brilliant mystery for them. The charcoaled backdrop of the tarnished bricks complement today’s show perfectly, Samuel Whitley thinks to himself.
Two weeks earlier, when Samuel Whitely was late home after attempting to free a small feral cat from the stream that runs by his house, he had returned to find his best friend dead on the front door step. He had scraped the small hairy carcass off the step and brought it inside to his mother, who he found bent over a hot pot of something. Her rolling pin had poked threateningly out of her apron pocket that day.
‘Perfect bit of meat for tonight’s dinner, well done Sam.’ His mother ripped the small lifeless body from his grasp, ignoring the sodden cheeks of her son.
That same night Samuel Whitley went hungry, as his mother, father and sister all ate his best friend with a side of potatoes and cabbage. As the rest of his family slept soundly on their bloated stomachs, Samuel Whitley quietly searched through the kitchen bin until he found the empty skin of what had served the dual life of once a faithful companion and since a hearty meal. The white fur around its mouth was slightly bloodstained, but its head was surprisingly intact. His mother was becoming almost professional with her skinning technique. He lifted the deflated figure out of the bin and tiptoed back up to bed.
Now Samuel Whitley stands in front of twelve little boys, all hungrily awaiting. There is a brown sack that hangs from a bent nail in the burnt wall. Samuel Whitley takes it down with an almost religious handling. The smell is only just bearable and Samuel Whitley knows that this will be the last show he puts on for the village boys. Knowing that he will return to his life of loneliness and teasing shortly, he gives all of their wanting faces a final glance. He relishes for a moment the warm feeling of being looked upon.
‘C’mon Sam, our hour’s almost up.’
He has had a change of heart today. Perhaps it is the strong smell that escapes from the now loosened sack that has made his hand hesitate, hovering in the dark, before finally clasping the handmade wooden cross at the bottom. As he raises it from the sack, the woollen yarn tied at each end loosens itself before being pulled tight as the weight that they carry is also lifted from the sack. At the sight of the homemade puppet the boys erupt in appreciation and approval. Their expanding eyes give the illusion that their faces are shrinking.
‘Do the jig.’ one yells.
Samuel Whitley knows he will not give the village boys what they want today. He silently vows to his strung up companion that he will go out with dignity. His stage tonight is an upturned wooden crate, but it is the dignified blackened backdrop that makes this venue worthy of a final performance. Samuel Whitley begins to jerk the front of the cross, revealing the performer’s face to his audience. His eyelids are parched and shrivelled open with an orange coating that the boys think make him look like the Devil. His body is empty and sagging, but given new vigour with the help of the coarse yarn crudely tied around his hands, feet and ears, giving him a gift he never had in his natural life; the power of dance. The limbs start off awkwardly at first as they warm themselves up for their grand finale. The angles of them are unnatural yet hold a certain captivating beauty with the smooth and purposeful movements that Samuel Whitley gifts to them. The orange eyes remain locked upon the young boys as the performer twists, turns and tumbles on the wooden stage. It is the performance of a lifetime.
And then it is done. Samuel Whitley pants as his lungs reject the stinging air. Several beads of sweat drip from his brow and for a moment he cannot look at the village boys who have adopted a silence that none of them are familiar with. Continuing to avoid their stares, Samuel Whitley packs up this now retired performer back into the sack. Hoisting the sack onto his shivering shoulders he turns his back onto the village boys and begins the short walk home along the stream that runs by his house. After all, he does not want to be late for mother again.