Travis had a vague notion of the popular prejudice against mimes, but he rarely encountered it professionally. He never really encountered any other mimes, for that matter, so he presumed that other mimes, if they existed, really were the pathetic and laughable attempted artists that the media portrayed. Travis believed – quite correctly, in fact – that he was the greatest mime who had ever lived, and that he and he alone could pull the craft of mimicry out of the gutters. His performances were the culmination of hundreds of hours of exhausting exercise, twice that of rehearsal, and ten times again of contemplation upon new routines; half his year was spent in preparation, the other half was spent performing. His demonstrations commanded the attention of his audience; the reason he rarely saw any other mimes was that they knew his territory and knew to stay away. It wasn’t that Travis was territorial (he was partial to the ten-block square, which enclosed a large park and was home to a wide range of spectators, but he would have welcomed company, if only to act as a tutor), but no one who had seen Travis’ show would tolerate another mime.
The most fantastic thing about his performances, and he was the first to admit it (if you could catch him speaking), was their flexibility. He was ever sensitive to his surroundings, the mood of the people in the crowd and his own mood. The shadow of a bird could cause him to leap into the air; once, the sound of a child’s balloon popping resulted in a graceful and gravity-defying climax, a forty-five minute ordeal that culminated on one leg at the ledge of the Greendale Reformed Church’s belfry. And the thing was, he was right! It was incredible! He knew, and he taught all those who watched him, that a mime must adapt to his surroundings. It seemed he was the only one who had mastered the feng shui aspect of miming, blending in perfectly with the aura of a locale, or providing a slight (and sometimes not so slight) contrast if necessary. His very presence made the park bench, the corner stoop, the fire hydrant beautiful – he played off of them without resorting to touch. He stuffed miniature packets of makeup and cold cream up his sleeve so he could alter his face appropriately as well. He saw his act as a public service, being to the town what a gardener was to a hedge sculpture – he made this raw canvas of concrete and wood art through a method of improvised addition and subtraction.
For all his public recognition, Travis led an extraordinarily solitary life. Out of costume, he drew no attention, just another slender and sullen face in the crowd. He had few friends, and those he did have lived far away, distant memories of a life before miming. He still corresponded with several of them, though they were the reason he left that small town for this slightly larger one. They couldn’t take him seriously as a mime, and having known him as a mime they couldn’t take him seriously as a man, so he left in disgust. The letters he received depended on the writer. His mother and sister, with whom he had always maintained contact, wrote dull, sometimes desperate letters relaying the same old goings-on back home and more often than not urging him to give up “show business” and return. His mother especially would not refer to his career by name, simply calling it “that foolishness.” They did not appreciate his mastery of the art, but he longed for them to see him as his little corner of the world did. Every once in awhile the newspaper would do a public interest piece on him; he dutifully (and perhaps a little spitefully) sent these clippings home, usually to no reply.
The other letters he received were from old school friends with whom he had taken up correspondence one by one. From the perspective of his former classmates, these letters were spontaneous and nostalgic in motivation, and were well-received since he had been a popular student. In actuality, the letters were not spontaneous at all, to the contrary he had developed a methodical habit to them. He had begun writing his old friends several years ago, and since then a pattern had emerged. The first letter he’d write would contain messages of goodwill, fond remembrances (both meant quite sincerely), and would end by simply briefly mentioning his success as a mime. The friend would always respond in kind, and would invariably ask for more details concerning his career. Following this fatal error, Travis would flood his friends’ houses with thirty-page letters on the art, self-administered reviews of each of his performances, and photographs of himself in action. Usually the person would be thrilled at first (if somewhat intimidated), for it was clear that Travis had found his calling, but this excitement always turned to boredom – though his letters never seemed to get shorter, because there was always something to say about miming, but the letters of his friends always did, before ending entirely. As one friend’s interest faded, Travis would select a new target for his bombardment.
One Friday afternoon, an unusual letter arrived in Travis’ mailbox; for one thing, it was unexpected. He had not written the author first – his name was Harry Flynn, and he was the younger brother of his old chum Dave. Harry had heard about Travis’ career from his brother (who had been writing less of late). Harry was enthralled with miming. The last time Travis had seen the kid he was a scrawny pimpled 12-year old in a Metallica t-shirt. Now Harry was seventeen, with big ideas and a plan. He wanted to run away and move in as Travis’ apprentice if he would be accepted. Harry had included a photo of his mimeface design. It was good – it was very good. It was simple and traditional, but with just the right amount of subtle detail that bespoke a true dedication. This was just the thing Travis had been waiting for. He sat down at his bare table, set out his paper and began to write.
Harry’s reply came a week later. Travis was busy reinventing the invisible dog routine when his phone rang.
“Do you know who this is?”
“I have a pretty good idea…” In fact he was certain who it was. This was the first unexpected phone call he’d received in five years (not counting the electric, phone, or gas company). It had to be his new protégé.
“I thought so…” His voice sounded meek and unsure in his head. Had it really been so long since he’d spoken to a friendly confederate?
“Yeah, well, I’m down at the Greyhound station. I sold my stereo for the ticket. Can you come pick me up?”
“Um. I don’t have a car. Do you know where Greene Place is?”
“Oh. Um. I’ll come get you then. I have to walk though. Um. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
“Okay. I’ll be waiting by the ticket counter.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll, um, I’ll come get you. Um. Bye.”
As he hung up the phone he heard Harry say “Goodb-.”
Travis took a deep breath. He looked around his tiny apartment. Hopefully Harry had brought a sleeping bag, because all he had for furniture was a small table, two wooden chairs and his own mattress stashed in the corner of the room. He stepped into the bathroom and looked in the mirror, something he didn’t usually do unless he was putting on his makeup. His face unmasked seemed naked to him – it was all he could do to get his groceries without a thick layer of white and black; even then he was liable to run home if he caught a glimpse of himself in a store window. He looked into his own eyes. They looked tired and worried, hairline creases arcing parabolas from the corners to frame semicircles of gently shaded purple. He watched the mirror, he watched himself. He thought of high school, he thought of back home. He thought of his sister, he thought of his mother. He thought of Dave, of Mark, of Emily, of Erin. He thought of his new dog routine. He thought of Harry. He smiled, and then he laughed weakly (he was out of practice), and then he walked out the door onto the street.
End Part One of the Mime Saga. Coming soon - Harry. Well, not coming too soon. In the meantime I'm working on a story called "The Ancient Mariner," a ghost story on a ship based on the Rime. Actually, it's pretty long so I've been thinking about putting it up here in installments sort of like this one. Don't hold your breath over the second Mime story because the Ancient Mariner is A) far more time consuming for me, B) far more interesting for me to write (though this one is pretty fun too, and I have a pretty good idea what's gonna happen in "Harry") and C) "Ancient Mariner" is super badass and, in my opinion, way more awesome than this one