Charley de milo, p.3
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       Charley de Milo, p.3

           Daniel F. Galouye
 
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would,Charley. It's a great opportunity. And I offered it to you becauseyou--"

  "Gee, I know," Charley said, feeling more uncomfortable than ever. "Anddon't think I don't appreciate it. But look at it my way, professor." Hepaused. "Suppose I had two arms--just like everybody else, the way youtell me. What would happen to me?"

  "Happen?" Professor Lightning blinked. "Why, Charley ... why, you coulddo anything you liked. Anything. You'd have the same opportunities asanybody else. You could be ... well, my boy, you could be anything."

  "Could I?" Charley said. "Excuse me for talking about this, professor,but I've had a lot of time to think about it. And it's all sort of newto you. I mean, you weren't born the way I was, and so you just don'tunderstand it."

  Professor Lightning said: "But, my boy--"

  "No." Charley said. "Let me explain this. Because it's important." Hecleared his throat, sat down on the ground and fumbled for a cigarette.He found one in his shirt pocket, carried it to his lips with his rightfoot, and lit a match with his left. When he was smoking easily, he wenton.

  "Professor, do you know how old I am?" he said. "I'm forty-two yearsold. Maybe I don't look it, but that's how old I am. Now, I've spent allmy life learning to do one thing, and I do a pretty good job of it.Anyhow, good enough to get me a spot with Wrout's show, and probablywith anybody else I wanted to work for."

  "But your arms--?" the professor said.

  "That's what I mean," Charley said. "I don't have any arms. I never hadany. Maybe I miss 'em, a little--but everything I do is based on thefact that I don't have 'em. Now, professor, do you know what I am?"

  Professor Lightning frowned. "What you are?" he said.

  "I'm an Armless Wonder," Charley said. "That's a pretty good thing tobe. In a carny, they look up to an Armless Wonder--he's a freak, a bornfreak, and that's as high as you can go, in a carny. I get a goodsalary--I send enough to my mother and my sister, in Chicago, for themto live on. And I have what I need myself. I've got a job, professor,and standing, and respect." He paused. "Now, suppose I had arms. I'dhave to start from scratch, all over again. I'd have to start from thebottom up, just learning the basic elements of any job I signed on for.I'd be a forty-two-year-old man doing the work of an eighteen-year-old.And not making much money. And not having much standing, or respect."

  Charley took the cigarette out of his mouth with his right foot, held itfor a second and put it back.

  "I'd be normal," he said. "I'd be just like everybody else, professor.And what do I want anything like _that_ for?"

  * * * * *

  Professor Lightning tried everything, but it wasn't any good. "Fame," hesaid, and Charley pointed out, calmly and reasonably, that the kind offame he'd get from being an experimental subject was just like being afreak, all over again--except that it would wear off, and then, heasked, where would he be? Professor Lightning talked about Man's Duty toScience, and Charley countered with Science's Duty to Man. ProfessorLightning tried friendship, and argument, and even force--but nothingworked. Incredible as it seemed to the professor, Charley was content toremain a freak, an Armless Wonder. More, he seemed to be proud and happyabout it.

  It was too bad that the professor didn't think of the one argument thatmight have worked. In the long run, it wouldn't have made anydifference, perhaps--but it would have cleared matters up, right thereand then. Because the one workable argument had a good chance ofsucceeding.

  But, then, Professor Lightning really didn't understand carny. He neverthought of the one good argument, and after a while he gave up, and wentaway.

  Of course, that was several days later. Professor Lightning told Charleythat he was leaving for New York, and Charley said: "What? In the middleof the season?" Then he told Wrout, and Wrout screamed and ranted andswore that Professor Lightning would never work in carny again. "I'llhave you blacklisted!" he roared.

  And Professor Lightning shrugged and smiled and went away to pack. Hetook all his notebooks, and all the cages with little animals in them,and he didn't seem at all disturbed. "I'll find another subject," hetold Charley, when he left. "When they find out what I've got, in NewYork, they'll provide me with subjects by the hundred. I did want tohelp you ..."

  "Thanks," Charley said honestly.

  "... But that's the way things are, I suppose," Professor Lightningsaid. "Maybe some day you'll realize."

  Charley shook his head. "I'm afraid not, professor," he said, andProfessor Lightning shook Charley's foot, and left, and Charley wentback to work in the freak show, and for a while he didn't even thinkabout Professor Lightning. Then, of course, the news began to show up inthe Chicago _American_, which Charley got two or three days late becausehis mother sent it to him by mail.

  At first Charley didn't realize that Dr. Edmund Charles Schinsake wasProfessor Lightning, but then the _American_ ran his picture; that wasthe day Professor Lightning was awarded a medal by the AMA, and Charleyfelt pleased and happy for the old man. It looked as it he'd got what hewanted.

  Charley, of course, didn't think much about the professor's "limbregeneration"; he didn't need it, he thought, and he didn't want it, andthat was that.

  And then, one night, he was dropped from the bally, and he asked DaveLungs about it, and Dave said: "Well, we want the biggest draw we canget, out there before the show," and put Erma, the Fish Girl, out in hisplace. And Charley started to wonder about that, and after a few dayshad gone by he found himself talking about it, to Ed Baylis, over in thecooktent while they were having lunch.

  Baylis was a little man of sixty or so, with a wrinkled face like awalnut and a powerful set of lungs; he was Wrout's outside talker forthe girlie show. "Because I'm old," he said, grinning. "I don't havetrouble with the girls. And if I got to take one off the bally or out ofthe show there's no personal stuff that would make it tough, see what Imean?"

  "That's what I'm worried about," Charley said.

  "What?" Ed asked. He speared a group of string beans with his fork andconveyed them to his mouth. Charley, using his right foot, did the same.

  "The bally," Charley said. "The way things are, Dave took me off, andI'm worrying about it."

  "Maybe some kind of a change," Ed said.

  Charley shook his head. "He said ... he said he wanted the biggest drawout there. Now, you know I'm a big draw, Ed. I always have been."

  "Sure," Ed said. He chewed another mouthful and swallowed. "Still,people want a change now and then. Doesn't have to mean anything."

  "Maybe not," Charley said uncomfortably. But he wasn't convinced.

  * * * * *

  The season drew to a close, and Charley went off to the Florida Keys,where he spent a month living with some friends before holing up withhis mother and sister for the winter. He was offered a job in New York,at a year-round flea museum in Times Square, but after some thought hedecided against it. He'd never had to work winters, and he wasn't goingto start.

  After all, he was still doing well, wasn't he? He told himselfemphatically that he was. He was an Armless Wonder, a born freak, thetop of the carny ladder, with a good job wherever he cared to look forone.

  He had to tell himself that quite a few times before he began to believeit.

  Spring came, and then summer, and Charley kissed his mother and hissister good-by and joined Wrout's Carnival Shows in Summit, Idaho, threedays before their opening. He didn't notice much change from previousyears, but it took an effort not to notice some things.

  Not like the new man who'd taken Professor Lightning's place--a tallthin youngster who had an Electric Chair act. Or like the periodicquarrels between Ned and Ed; it seemed they'd met a girl over the winterseason, and disagreed about her. Ed thought she was perfectly wonderful;Ned couldn't see her for beans.

  No, things like that were a part of carny; you got used to them, as theshow rolled along year after year, and paid no more attention to themthan a housewife pays to rather uninteresting back-fence gossip.

  It was someth
ing else that had changed, something important.

  His contract, for instance. It was made out for the same pay as he'dbeen getting, but the option periods were shortened up; suddenly,Charley was living from season to season, with almost no assurance ofcontinuous, steady work. Old man Wrout had looked a little less thanhappy when he'd given Charley the contract; he'd almost seemed ashamed,and he hadn't really looked
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