Lew and Pru at the Circus

(#3 in a series)

"Let me tell you about the original position," said Lew enthusiastically. Pru looked alarmed. "I hope that this will not be one of your --" she began, but he shook his head and went on. They were sitting in the front row at the big tent, chatting before the next act came up. "I went to a lecture and met this man, Rulls, Rolls, or something. He had the most odd idea," Lew said. "Has he written a book?" asked Pru. She added acerbically "It might be a change for me. For the last year all I've read is your peculiar books, one coming in after another." "No, he hasn't, just articles so far," shrugged Lew, "but here's his idea: that representatives of citizens might be placed behind a sort of veil of ignorance, so they don't know who in society they represent. Then they create the basis for a just society, do you see? He thinks they would choose the greatest benefits to the least advantaged." "It sounds admirable," said Pru. "I don't know," Lew said a bit vaguely, distracted by the performers warming up the crowd. "Gosh. It seems like he thinks the people behind the veil of ignorance might be a bit risk averse, doesn't he? But I think they might want to risk getting something bad if they got the chance to get something really great, like being strong like that strongman over there. Or graceful like that trapeze lady. Or --" and he nudged Pru roguishly with his elbow: "-- look what that showgirl's got, Pru!" "Disgraceful," she sniffed. The woman was wearing a costume that displayed far too much of her natural endowments, in Pru's opinion.

They were bringing out the lion cage. He glanced down at the book Pru had brought along to read during her cab ride to meet him. She'd made a cover for it out of brown paper so that no one could see what she was reading. "Still reading Jurgen?" he asked. "It's supposed to be a really saucy book, Pru. I've heard --" "I hold with the findings of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice," she said sternly, "long since overruled through they are -- it is 'offensive, lewd, lascivious, and indecent.'" "Golly," he said happily. "It is sometimes well written, a remnant of a prior high style that could not be duplicated now," she admitted, "but it conceals its bawdry in ways that are almost worse than open corruption. There are scenes in which certain actions are implied to take place while the text only displays three dashes." "Wow," laughed Lew. "And there are the worst double entendres--" Pru continued.

A sudden burst of yells drew their attention. The lion tamer had staggered and almost fallen at the start of his act, and the lion, startled, knocked him down and then roared at the crowd. "He's drunk!" the showgirl yelled hysterically, "I told him he couldn't perform!" The hoop rolled across the ground and bumped into Pru's knee. Without thinking, she grasped it and got up. The lion looked like it was about to savage the crowd. Surely all this needed was confidence. She held the hoop out and said "Cha!" strongly as she'd heard the lion tamer do. The beast hesitated. So did Pru -- now that she had time to think, what did she do next? She saw Lew run around the edge of the circle and stand by the cage. They exchanged glances. They'd been through so many of these incidents by now that they hardly had to talk to each other to know what to do.

Pru managed to line up her hoop with the cage, and said "Cha!" again. In one fluid leap, the lion jumped through it, and then walked into its cage as it had been trained to do. It saw Lew and almost got him, but he managed to drop the cage door closed just in time.

She looked at him again, exhilarated, her warm smile meeting his answering one. "Why, Pru," he said, gazing at her admiringly, "You were so brave! You are -- well -- dashing!" Pru blushed and, suddenly not sure what to do with her hands, put down the hoop. Oh dear, her hair was all in disarray -- she'd thrown off her overcoat -- she was sure that she wasn't standing demurely, and her skirt had ridden up -- it had been rather disconcerting, yet enjoyable, when that powerful tawny creature had leaped through her hoop. "Nonsense," she answered him, "I just--"

But she was interrupted by the showgirl, who, having seen the other circus performers pick up the only-stunned lion tamer, was now approaching Lew. "Oh, surely you were just as brave!" the woman said, her eyes wide as she looked at him. "I've never seen something so brave. And, well, you're quite a handsome man too, if I might be so bold." She smiled at him eagerly. "I'm so grateful. They would have shut us down. Um, can I give you a reward? Privately, in my tent?" Pru was shocked into silence. The woman's costume had gotten torn open in the panic, and from the way she was leaning forwards and making no attempt to cover herself, Pru had absolutely no doubt about what kind of reward she was offering him.

Lew smiled back and looked the showgirl slowly up and down, an expression of frank appreciation on his face. Pru closed her eyes in mortification. She knew what he'd get up to. To her alarm, she found that she had instantly pictured in her mind's eye exactly what he'd get up to with the showgirl -- how could she imagine Lew so nude and, so, well, completely? -- with continuing variations. Hurriedly she opened her eyes again. She heard him tell the showgirl, "Gosh, thanks! I'm sure that would be lots of fun, and I'd love to, normally -- but I'm here with Pru. Thanks for the offer, though!" He walked over and got Pru's coat and book and then over to Pru and, dazed, Pru wrapped her arm around his waist so that he could assist her. They began to walk away. Pru couldn't help stealing a glance back over her shoulder to see if the showgirl was watching her walk off with him. Ha! She was!

"I -- didn't think you'd come back for me," Pru said. "Oh, come on, Pru," he said, laughing, "after all our adventures, you think I'd just leave you there?" Pru shook her head. They were out of the tent now, and all of a sudden she found herself very conscious of the sleek flow of his muscles around his hip as he walked. "I -- think I need to lie down," she said. "Gosh!" he said, "it must be delayed shock, or something. Here's a bench." He helped her over to it and bunched up her coat as a pillow. She lay down and wiped moisture off her brow. She'd been calm and collected with the lion. Why was she so sweaty now?

He looked down at her with concern. "You don't seem to be getting worse, anyways," he said. "I'm all right," she managed. He looked down at the book still in his hand. "Maybe I should just take this one back," he said. "It wouldn't corrupt me too much, probably. And maybe you need a rest..." She looked up at him. "Give it to me. Please," she said weakly. He hesitated and then handed the book over, and the touch of the rough brown paper to her hand sent her into an unaccountable burst of shivering. It must be delayed shock, like he'd said.

He was looking nervous now, of all things. She'd never seen him look nervous. Not even that time when they'd been chased by a giant robot and it had been about to step on him and she'd only been able to overload its circuits by showing it a particularly disturbing page from Justine. "Pru," he said, "Gee. Um, maybe it's time to pull back the veil of ignorance, you know? To, um, see how advantaged we are, and how it would turn out if--" She suddenly felt panicky for some reason. "Lew," she said, managing to sit up. "You know that I haven't studied this Ralls or Rolls person. If I had, perhaps I'd be able to understand your question. But I'm not ready to understand it just now." He nodded, then smiled at her again. "Well, you're starting to look better," he said. "I'm fine," she said, standing up irritably. "I don't know what it was." "I'll escort you back," he said, and she took his arm. "I heard more stuff at that lecture," he said cheerfully. "Have you heard of this Pear-to, Perry-to guy?"

She held his arm and they walked back to where she could catch a cab, listening to him burble happily. It was a good thing that they had this arrangement. It was, as ever, the optimal one for them.

2009 Rich Puchalsky

(#3 in a series) E-mail: rpuchalsky1@gmail.com

Last modified: January 1, 2015