The Talk

Fiction
Rick Nordgren


Mime 5687
Photo Credit: Stephen McGrath

Nancy and the mime sat on opposing ends of a card table, a flame on a candle stump casting light and shadow across their faces. Nancy broke her gaze from the spaghetti in the bottom of the cardboard package before her. Using a plastic fork, the mime twirled his noodles. Nancy frowned—at dinner the previous two nights, she hadn’t spoken much and he hadn’t mimed much. She thought of some non-threatening conversation, like asking about the street corner that day. Then she thought of the pile of bills on the counter, some still in their envelopes.

“Clowns get paid more,” Nancy said. It just came out.

The mime continued twirling the noodles, his gaze focused on the action of the fork. He cleared his throat and propped his head against a closed fist, an elbow on the table. The card table swayed. Nancy felt her cheeks flush. She was getting the silent treatment—from a mime. Maybe she could push a little further.

“Why don’t you ask Bozo if he needs a helper?” she said.

At this, the mime looked up and threw his fork down on the table, the plastic utensil bouncing without a sound. He leaned back in his card-table chair; the rubber caps on the chair’s back feet squeaked against the linoleum. The mime frowned and cocked his head, his arms folded.

“Oh c’mon… c’mon, don’t give me that. I’m trying to help,” Nancy said. “I’m trying to help… us.” She was the one who opened the bills, who made sure they were paid, who tracked the balance in their bank accounts. Right now, the money in their accounts combined wouldn’t be enough for an engagement ring; that is, if the mime was thinking about surprising her any time soon.

The mime scowled, the white makeup accentuating his forehead lines. He adjusted his beret, sat forward, slid his chair back, and, with gloved hands, created a doorframe in the air between him and the table. A gloved hand rocked an imaginary door back and forth—testing it—before slamming it shut. Nancy recoiled.

“I can’t believe you just did that.” Her cheeks flushed again and she scowled. “Can’t I ever give you advice without you getting all huffy?” Nancy said.

From behind the door, the mime began winding an imaginary rope.

“Maybe you should join a traveling circus. Then I won’t be around to nag. Then maybe this family would get two regular paychecks instead of one,” Nancy said. She folded her arms and leaned back in her chair. She wanted to say something to make him acknowledge her, to throw him off, to hurt him. Buried frustrations began surfacing in her mind.

“Maybe then, on the road, you can hook up with that… that… with her,” Nancy said.

The mime seemed to pause in his rope winding. He knew whom Nancy meant. Binkie the clown. At performer conferences and circus conventions, Binkie draped herself over any willing, face-paint wearing male. With her slutty clown costume and pom-poms in strategic places, Binkie drew the stares of he-clowns and drew the hatred of she-clowns. And Nancy.

Nancy noticed when the mime checked out Binkie, which he had done on multiple occasions. He and Nancy had fought over this. However, Nancy had also noticed Binkie’s look of disappointment when the mime would not give her more of the attention she craved. Thus, Nancy didn’t feel too threatened by Binkie, but the issue was still raw between them.

The mime began eating imaginary corn from an imaginary cob, his head moving like a typewriter.

“I’ve seen the way you look at her. You don’t think I notice that she’s always wearing that getup with the fake pom-poms when she knows you’ll be around? The way she cakes on that face paint.”

Without looking up, the mime threw down the cob and spit imaginary corn kernels across the linoleum.

“I know Bozo is a jerk,” Nancy said. “But you have to start somewhere honey. You’re so much better than all of the other mimes. And your street corner? I mean, c’mon, you put on a great show for the bums, but they aren’t the ones with the money. You could at least go farther down the street with the white collar crowd.”

He had seemed so ambitious when they first met, setting up at the street corners near the big office buildings, street corners he now seemed to avoid. She thought of when she first saw him, a mime at the corner of Third Street and Main; she had watched as he, with gloved hands, gently stroked an imaginary bird and lightly patted the head of a pretend child. She watched him smile at each passerby, most times receiving a frown in return. She watched as bills, deposited by the dressed-up businessmen and women, crept toward the top of his jar.

A week later, she had stood at the same corner, ten minutes late for work, holding her morning coffee, watching the mime open and close an imaginary door, her co-workers, six floors above, no doubt becoming aware of her absence. The mime’s eyes, each embedded in a black diamond, lingered on her. Five minutes later, she called in sick and sat on a nearby sidewalk planter, her back to the street with its blur of cars and buses and bicycles. An hour later, Nancy’s coffee was cold and dumped into the planter, and the mime, though surrounded by a crowd, tossed a fake ball to her, produced an invisible rose for her, and tap danced for her. That night, when Nancy and the mime were alone, she told him of her dreams, her fears, her thoughts. The mime listened.

Now, two years later, in their one-room rental, she didn’t think the mime was listening. He was, in fact, throwing an invisible ball up and down, up and down. Nancy sighed. She turned out exactly like her mother, shacked up with a mime who wouldn’t marry her.

“I should have chosen the acrobat—he really liked me, he would’ve married me,” Nancy said.

The mime caught the nonexistent ball and paused, staring at the ceiling. He began to blink, the black diamonds smearing at the corners of his eyes. Nancy sighed again. She wished she hadn’t brought up the acrobat.

“Baby, baby, look at me. Look at me,” Nancy said.

The mime tossed the ball aside, leaned forward, and cracked the door. He peered through the opening with one eye.

“It’s just… a girl at the office got engaged last night and she had the ring and her nails were done and everyone saw.”

Gradually, the mime pulled his eye back from the opening and began to inch the door closed.

“No, no, I love you and I want to be with you. That’s all. And I know you want to make it right and do it in style, and that takes money. I get it. I get it,” Nancy said. “I just get impatient sometimes, that’s all.”

Now they both sat. The kitchen faucet dripped. The refrigerator kicked on, shuddering before settling into a hum.

The mime moved first, placing a gloved hand on the imaginary door handle and turning it. The door didn’t budge. The mime placed another hand on the invisible doorframe, and gave several jerks; the door popped open. The mime locked eyes with Nancy. He reached into the pocket of his black pants and pulled out a wad of bills, folded with a rubber band.

“What is this?” Nancy said.

The mime tightened an imaginary tie.

“You changed street corners to the business district.”

The mime nodded and tossed the wad onto the table.

Nancy picked up the wad and felt the weight. Ah, the white-collar crowd.

Nancy’s eyes shifted from the bills to the mime. She smiled. He did care.

With the door open, the mime unwound several feet of imaginary rope forming an imaginary lasso.

“Oh no, you don’t,” Nancy said. But she smiled as she spoke.

The mime tied the lasso and swung it over his head like a rodeo cowboy. After lassoing Nancy, he began to pull the rope, hand-over-hand, walking closer to his girlfriend with every tug. The imaginary rope pulled Nancy from her chair and she stood, the mime drawing her close.

Nancy looked at the mine, her mime, and said, “I’m glad we talked.”

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Rick Nordgren is a practicing patent attorney in Salt Lake City. Having recently rediscovered his love of creative writing, he works on his stories after the kids are in bed or before they wake up. Email: me[at]ricknordgren.com