Liz Wong

In a dream, Jesse Sykes enters the tent of a traveling gypsy to have her fortune told. There is a small round table with a crystal ball. The gypsy has her back turned and is arranging greenish rocks on a shelf. Outside, under a crescent moon, a dog barks, someone plays a mandolin, and a freight train hushes immensely by in the distance. Jesse sits and looks into the crystal ball.

What she sees is foggy at first, then becomes clear. She sees herself in the crystal ball. She sees herself get up from the table and leave the tent.

A sideshow unfurls. A costumed couple juggles fire. There's a girl with a monkey on a rope taking coins. A stilt walker almost falls into a strolling accordionist. There's a man with a handlebar mustache in a long red coat selling elixirs and potions. He's spouting off about their magical, one-of-a-kind, cure-all qualities. The potion is called "Dr. Wellwell's Alabama Shadowdragon." On the bottle is a picture of a dragonfly.

He hands a bottle to Jesse and she gulps the minty drink. He says, "Don't be afraid. Drink it dooooown, drink it down. Get healed! This potion will help you find things, important things—Like, Love, Lust, and the Open Halls of the Soul. It's all yours, right here."

Jesse's mouth and head become hot and she steps back. A muscle-ripped strongman some feet away breaks his chains. He looks at her and laughs. He has dragonfly eyes—compound, big velvet maroon sheen pads. In slow motion he says, "How's the elixir?" Sweat drips off his elbow. "Lethal punch that knocks you out! Someone out there is breaking down the barricade, like me."

She steps back and walks on, further into the fair. A jug band is playing. They're called the Sweet Hereafter, tattered and tarnished with tea lights and rumbling with melodies. Anne Marie Ruljancich on kazoo, Bill Herzog blows heavy into a jug marked XXX, Eric Eagle bangs pots and pans, and Phil Wandscher plays a saw with a bow. Eric Bachmann with his crooked fingers doles out cotton candy, and Jenny Jiménez, under a Night Canopy, is contorted on a soapbox in an uncanny pose. She blows Jesse a big kiss, which lands on her cheek with a wet smack.

Jesse keeps walking, dodging a bearded lady who's chasing a goat-boy with stumpy horns on his head. A giant dances with children on his shoulders and a man swallows a sword.

Jesse's had enough sideshow and noise and craves to be alone. A dragonfly hovers over her shoulder, then darts off outside the grounds. Jesse follows. Empty streets are before her now, and the moon is out clear above the den of a sleeping city. The only thing she hears, hears her back, as she steps her songbird feet down dormant streets. Glass buildings on either side are a gallery of parallel mirrors. The dragonfly waits and leads her.

She comes to a music box in the middle of the street and kneels to crank its arm. A tune trudges out, a tiny pinpricked symphony: "The Air Is Thin"—her song, she thinks, singing, "Something is happening here again, a child that follows you in." The buildings sway with the music and the city leans away. The buildings are too tall to move like that and she feels woozy. The dragonfly lands on her shoulder and she realizes she's not alone. The strongman with the insect eyes has followed her.

He sits and seems cold. She puts her jacket around his shoulders and plays the music box for him. His big pads of eyes search her. Up close, she can see his compound eyes are hundreds of smaller eyes with a hundred different ways of seeing, all reflecting back at her. The reflections show a shaman, a country singer, a rock and roll star. They show a woman who's guarded and a woman who's completely open hearted. Her head spins. The music box's song gently ends, the muscleman stands, and the dragonfly hovers, buzzing, right in front of her face.

Jesse blinks her eyes.

She's back in the gypsy's tent. She shakes her gaze from the crystal ball as the gypsy sits down. Jesse opens her hand and the gypsy begins to study her palm. The gypsy gives a quick shiver and cowers back. Confused, Jesse asks, "What's the matter?"

The gypsy hesitates, then replies in a whisper, "You are going to live for a very, very, very long time." To that, Jesse stands, thanks her, gives her a piece of gold as payment, and leaves the tent. She's unrattled by the gypsy's decree and goes about the rest of her night, giving it little thought. Jesse has always known she will live forever.recommended

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