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Receiver

by Jayne Leitch

Show: Carnivale

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: I wouldn't even presume.

Spoilers: Through 'The Day That Was The Day'.

Notes: For Slodwick's A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words Challenge.

Summary: "Sittin' all alone I can see a thousand miles away I can see the man that made me what I am today..." --Edna Hicks

RECEIVER by Jayne Leitch

When Libby, respectable in her good-girl dress, went to the hospital the next day, she sat down beside Sofie's cot, breathed in the smell of burnt flesh and medical salve, and nearly got sick. A radio around the corner was playing Bing Crosby; Libby closed her eyes, bit her fingers and listened hard to the music until she could swallow it down and keep breathing.

No matter how long she sat, she couldn't make herself hold Sofie's hand. She told herself it was because Sofie might not want to touch her--might have only ever touched her before because of Mama and Jonesy and what she knew--but through her shame Libby knew it was the blistered red fingertips poking from the ends of the bandages that kept her hands in her lap.

She knew what those fingers had felt like. She didn't want to remember them any different.

"I wish we'd gone to Hollywood," she said after a while, because the longer she said nothing the more the smell coated the back of her throat. "We shoulda done it, just the two of us. We would've been just fine. And you--" Libby took a deep breath, and coughed. Her fingers twisted at her skirt. "We would've been just fine," she repeated.

After that, she listened to the staticky tune from the radio and pretended it was like the times she and Sofie had sat around listening to the victrola. "There's different kinds of love, you know. It ain't all the same; it ain't ever the same. I could've--" She broke off. Lifting one hand out of her lap, she let it drift closer to Sofie's arm; when it got close enough she uncurled her fingers, just until they brushed the bandage, but her fingertips caught on its rough fibres and she pulled away again. "I could've told you that," she whispered.

*

The chair was plain wood, just like all the furniture in the hospital. As Samson climbed onto it, a splinter sliced into the heel of his thumb.

Ignoring the mindless whimpers from the other patients and the chatter of Helen Trent on a radio somewhere, he looked at Sofie. She looked like Apollonia now, he thought, except he couldn't see her eyes. He hoped they were closed under the dressings.

It was wrong, her being here. Samson was usually against going outside carnival circles for anything, including doctoring, not least because if it couldn't be handled by somebody in the company it probably couldn't be handled. And when Jonesy'd come out of the trailer, fallen on the ground, rolled with Sofie in the mud and still not been able to put out the flames until the rest of them snapped to and pumped more water--Samson'd been sure it was too late for doctoring of any kind.

But when they'd checked, Sofie was still breathing, still blinking, still crying out in blistered little mews for her mama. And Samson didn't know how that was possible, and that was why he'd had her taken into town. It was wrong that Sofie was alive, suffering like she was, and putting her here didn't make it better, but it didn't make it worse, either. And for now, breaking even felt good enough for Samson.

"Your mama's dead," he said finally, and waited for a reaction. When he didn't get one, he sighed. "As soon as Jonesy pulled you out, the inside of the truck collapsed--your stuff, your shelves. There was nothin' we could do." He paused again, and wondered why he was always having conversations with people who never talked back. "After the fire burned out, we got out what was left and did a proper funeral. She's out by those trees now, the ones over the hill. It's a nice spot. Ruthie picked it..."

Samson trailed off, then swore at himself for rambling. "Christ, Sofie, I'm just gonna say what I came to say. Management's got some goddamned flea up his ass, and--well, he says we gotta move. Today." He wearily rubbed his hands over his face. He'd been overseeing the pack-up all day, and what with everybody feeling tetchy from the fire...now he was sitting down, it was all hitting him. "He almost didn't want to wait for the funeral. Something musta happened, but...shit, all I know is what he's telling me, and that ain't much. But you know how it is when the Man gives an order--he says we're movin' on..." Slumping against the too-straight back of his chair, Samson shook his head. "You gotta know, I sure as hell don't like leaving you here. But for what it's worth, Jonesy's set himself up in a hole down the street; he's gonna stay with you, and maybe when you're--"

Samson caught himself and, instead of finishing his sentence, gave a humourless chuckle. Reaching up, he tugged his hat straight, then pushed himself off the chair and stood for a minute, just looking at her. "It ain't right," he said finally, "but sometimes that's the kind of thing we have to do."

*

Sofie barely knew she had visitors. Too wrapped up in the agony of breathing, of medicine and bandages--of being alive--it was impossible for her to pay attention to anything else.

It took days before she could bear to hear anything again. And then, by turns fuzzy and brutally clear, it was the radio that cut through the swaddle of pain and morphine around her mind, cut through and dug in and pulled at her attention.

It was a voice, deep and rich and promising like the best sideshow barker. Sofie couldn't help listening, just like when she was little and didn't know any better than the rubes and got caught up in Stumpy's voice or Horace's as she wandered through the carnival. Just like when she was little, Sofie listened, and got caught up, and believed.

Sofie listened to the radio, and didn't hear her mother's screams.

End.


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Jayne Leitch

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