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Gifts

I want to make you something. Something special and unique, like the tiny skulls and cheap silver-plate chalices that sit on top of the shelves that line my staircase. Gifts from the owls, balls of claws and bones and teeth. Just like you.

I want to make something of you. Something powerful and awe-inspiring, like the huge man I saw once at a carnival sideshow, enormously fat and strong for all that. He was wearing just his boots and a pair of shorts, overhung by his great stomach so you could hardly see them. I was surprised when I noticed that they were covered in red sequins. His shaved head met his neck in a fluid torrent of soft skin that seemed to flow down to his breasts, but you should see the muscle underneath when he moved his shoulders. He flexed, and made his whole body ripple as the audience laughed.

In a booming voice he called up two volunteers from the audience, pretty young laughing women, each holding a plastic cup half full of red wine. He invited them to sit on a bench and then he lifted and pressed them above his head. They squealed in delighted nervousness as he changed his grip to transition between the lifts. They each kissed him on the cheek after he put them down, and he smiled and mumbled shyly, his voice suddenly soft.

I sneaked behind the tents that night, to where generators hummed and cables trailed and the breeze sometimes wafted the damp, human scent of straw-bale urinals set up for the crew. The fat man was there, talking to a strongwoman I'd seen earlier, covered head to toe in tattoos. They passed a cigarette from hand to hand in the dim light that poured out of a trailer.

The fat man was wearing black cloth trousers, loose and billowing at the legs and encircling his stomach. The tanned olive skin of his smooth chest was bare, but a flowing black coat or robe hung from his shoulders. Although it was August, and a mild night, he kept rubbing at his arms as though he was cold. Here in the back lot, and dressed, he looked, though still immense, somehow more compact, like a great building engineered and streamlined to perfection. His movements were precise and delicate, while the loose black clothes gave him a mysterious air.

The tattooed strongwoman must have said something funny, because the air suddenly rang with the fat man's laughter. They finished their cigarette and the woman wandered off towards an open tent-flap across the lot, from where I could hear the sounds of ratchets and the thud of cases being moved around. When I returned my gaze to the fat man, I found him looking right at me.

He walked towards me, his coat billowing behind him like the sails of a great old warship, one of those galleons you see in historic displays at dockyards that lost all their construction contracts decades ago. He towered over me and, trying to act like I belonged there, I craned my head up to look at him and put on my most cheerful grin.

"Come to join us, lad?" His voice was oddly soft, a melodious tone that seemed at odds with his booming laugh. His accent was northern, but I'd have been hard-pressed to place it more precisely. I tittered nervously.

"I think my mum would have words for me if I did, sir." Spoken with the sudden exaggerated politeness of someone who's been caught where they shouldn't be and hopes that manners will somehow get them out of it.

"Well, if you change your mind..." I suddenly fancied that he was talking into my head rather than through my ears.

"That's very kind, but I really..."

"...you'll always be welcome. It's a place that makes something of a lad, is a fair like this one."

"...can't."

"I know, boy, I know. I were only joshing with you." He patted me on the shoulder with a huge hand before reaching into the pocket of his coat. "Give us your hand now."

I obediently extended my cupped right hand. His fingers, large and oddly cool, brushed against mine as he tipped a handful of sugar bones and candy mouse skulls, like they sold outside the ghost train, into my hand.

"There you go, and run home to your mam." He let out another uproarious laugh that set his belly shaking and made me jump a mile. I ran off back towards the lane, where candy floss and sugared nut sellers were still doing business out of the straggling couples and singles making their way out into the night.

On the way home I bit into one of sugar skulls, keen for the taste of cheap sweets, and felt bone splinter between my teeth.