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Pamela Riley

The Street Mime

Emilia crossed the hall and opened the door to her apartment.                     Considerably successful evening despite the rain. Yes, it was full. She took a pen from the mass of fashion magazines and marked the completion of that day on her calendar with a cross.
    It was one of those weekend evenings she had set aside for the people she had convinced herself were her friends. Vanessa had walked with her along the city canal as they had watched the annual festivities that always consisted of an assortment of light displays, carnival stands, fun-fair rides, arcades, and street performances. The streetlights had appeared to undulate in a sky that trickled with rain. However, Vanessa had been looking at the pavement the majority of the time, and the only thing that had captured Emilia’s fragile interest had been a mime artist. It had got down on all fours whenever a dog had passed it, eliciting a bark from the creature; pretended to use a rope pulley, drive a car, climb a wall, and so forth, when nobody had been passing by it; but when Emilia had done, so, it had returned her stare, a glint in its black eyes, its red and white striped jumper and dark trousers moulded to a body that was difficult to categorise as male or female. The face was painted and provided no further clue as to gender. The sweeping eyelashes and firm jaw had caused Emilia to seek out a second opinion.
    ‘Vanessa, would you say that mime was a man or woman?’
 Vanessa plunged a plastic fork into a cone of chips.
    ‘Didn’t notice.’
    ‘I think it’s a man.’
    ‘I don’t care for mimes, or clowns.’ Vanessa tasted the chips. ‘I also don’t care for paying three quid for cold slabs of grease!’ and with that threw the packet onto the pavement.
    Later that night in the taxi, Vanessa had said, ‘Well, we should try that again sometime. You free next weekend?’
    ‘I’ll have to just check my schedule,’ said Emilia, as she had pulled out her diary. ‘Oh, no, sorry, darling, I have to prepare a presentation that weekend, promised my boss at the magazine-’
    ‘Yeah, OK, you’re very important. Night.’
    Back home, Emilia, once the day had been marked as terminated, decided to brush her teeth then sleep. She moved so as to avoid touching her white walls. In the bathroom, she could not concentrate. She leaned her head over the sink, feeling a clamp bite into her stomach. She looked at her reflection, at the hair that always made a fool of her no matter how much she tried to keep it under control. Maybe things were not as secure as they seemed; maybe she’d been making this all up. She reached for the medicine cabinet, but at the last moment pulled herself away. She would sleep.
    As she pulled her black sweater over her head the light bulb of her bedroom remained like a star in midnight. She lay in bed and expected the maidservants of dreams to bring her oblivion and comfort, to wrap her up and carry her away, but sleep did not come. A rustling distracted her at the window. No, nobody could reach her; she was seven stories off the ground. Sleep.
    But the sounds continued, so she had to get out of bed and pull the curtains apart. Through the glass, frosted from the inside, she saw the face of the street mime as it put both hands against both cheeks in an expression of mock surprise, fall backwards and vanish from sight. Simultaneously, Emilia fell back onto her wooden floor, then moved her hands to cover her face. She worked very hard.
    She must have remained there for quite some time until she got into a crouching position and looked at the window again. If the mime were still out there, she would call the police, simple.
    She looked out again and saw nothing, just the mist of her recently deceased gasp of breath. She went back to bed and decided to forget.

The next morning, Emilia awoke with thoughts of the errands she had to run that Sunday. She closed her dressing gown around her and made her way to the kitchen. In the middle of the kitchen, just by the table and chairs, sat the mime. Or, at least, its knees were bent, but there was no chair, it hovered over emptiness as it scanned its eyes over what could have been an imaginary or invisible newspaper. On sensing her presence, it looked up, gave her a nod and a smile, and returned to its reading.             Emilia shuffled her slippers, cleared her throat. It looked up again.
    ‘Are you here to stay?’ she asked. As she enunciated each word, the mime mouthed them back to her, raising an eyebrow. Its look made her feel as though she was no longer welcome in her own home, and yet that there was nowhere she could belong to more.
    The mime then got up out of its seat of empty air, and began to mime shuffling food into its mouth. It went over to the kitchen sink and started to pretend to do the washing up and clean the surfaces. However, its hands never once touched any of the plates or cutlery left over from the day before, never turned on the tap so that water could come out, never touched any surface. Only its feet touched the ground, and made no sound. It then performed the answering of an imaginary telephone, whilst it nodded its head, raised its arm to look at its wrist, moved a hand onto its hip, then moved its other hand forward as if replacing the phone.
Emilia floated from the kitchen into the bathroom, showered, got dressed, then left. She would eat out.

As the working week began, Emilia had less time to consider the mime that remained in her home. In fact, she grew so accustomed to its housekeeping, that she did not notice the accumulated mass of dishes by the sink, the various chores that needed to be done, because the mime always appeared to complete these tasks, even though it never did anything, its mark left nowhere. Everyday, it would move the imaginary vacuum cleaner across the living room floor then would sit and study thin papers of air.
    One day, Emilia brought Vanessa back to her apartment.
    ‘So you see, Vanessa, it’s harmless, but I thought I should have you look at it, you know, for a second opinion on hiring out that exorcist.’
Vanessa stepped along the corridor. She looked at the walls.
    ‘Haven’t done as much spring cleaning recently? This isn’t how I remember this place. Then again, I haven’t seen you for over a month. OK, where is it? But you better be serious.’ Emilia saw the mime pass by through the open door of the kitchen.
    ‘Check in the dining room and kitchen, I just saw it.’
    ‘OK…’
Vanessa came back. She had not seen the mime, but she had seen something bad.
    ‘Emilia, as a friend, I know we haven’t always agreed, but I’m just thinking…err…erm, this work of yours. Maybe you are - or were - doing too much. I think certain…pressures have led you to become - how can I put this delicately? - Completely insane.’ She turned her head away and made for the door.
    Emilia called after her. ‘You’re not going to help me?’
    Vanessa swerved on her heel.
    ‘You’re twenty-eight years old, you should be able to take care of yourself, and instead you confront me with this fucking mess.’ And she was gone.

One day, Emilia came back to find the mime not doing its duties. The cockroaches scurried across the tiles.
    ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ demanded Emilia.
    The mime bared its teeth at her, which appeared like white chunks of plastic in its mouth. It stormed towards her, then receded, and got down on the floor and curled into a ball. It then began to crawl about, a smile on its face. As it began to rise to its feet the smile faded into a straight line. Then the line slanted down so much that the mime had to pull down the sides of its mouth with its hands to do justice to her likeness. It then held out its hand, threw a nothing into the air, caught it on its tongue and downed it. Then frown was replaced with smile, a smile that challenged the boundaries of its face. It tottered around the room before it appeared to get tired. It then lost the smile and dismissed its surroundings with a flail of its arm. It turned in circles, pretended to answer the phone, pretended to write and organise. It spun around and enacted the tearing out of its hair. It stomped without a sound, gave her one last look in the eye, then collapsed on the floor, its arms crossed over its chest.
    She did not know what to do with the body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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