The Night Circus

Page 29


Marco reflects on the process, as he has never been asked to explain the origin of his ideas before.
“I thought it might be interesting to have a conservatory, but of course it necessitated a lack of color,” he says. “I pondered a great many options before settling on fabricating everything from ice. I am pleased that you think it like a dream, as that is where the core of the idea came from.”
“It’s the reason I made the Wishing Tree,” Celia says. “I thought a tree covered in fire would make for a proper complement to ones made from ice.”
Marco replays in his mind his first encounter with the Wishing Tree. A mixture of annoyance and amazement and wistfulness that seems different in retrospect. He was uncertain he would even be able to light his own candle, his own wish, wondering if it was somehow against the rules.
“Do all of those wishes come true?” he asks.
“I’m not sure,” Celia says. “I’ve not been able to follow up with every person who has wished on it. Have you?”
“Did your wish come true?”
“I am not entirely certain yet.”
“You shall have to let me know,” Celia says. “I hope it does. I suppose in a way, I made the Wishing Tree for you.”
“You didn’t know who I was then,” Marco says, turning to look at her. Her attention remains focused on the chandelier, but that alluring, secret-keeping smile has returned.
“I didn’t know your identity, but I had an impression of who my opponent was, being surrounded by things you made. I had thought you might like it.”
“I do like it,” Marco says.
The silence that falls between them is a comfortable one. He longs to reach over and touch her, but he resists, fearful of destroying the delicate camaraderie they are building. He steals glances instead, watching the way the light falls over her skin. Several times he catches her regarding him in a similar manner, and the moments when she holds his eyes with hers are sublime.
“How are you managing to keep everyone from aging?” Celia asks after a while.
“Very carefully,” Marco answers. “And they are aging, albeit extremely slowly. How are you moving the circus?”
“On a train.”
“A train?” Marco asks, incredulous. “The entire circus moved by a single train?”
“It’s a large train,” Celia says. “And it’s magic,” she adds, making Marco laugh.
“I confess, Miss Bowen, you are not what I had expected.”
“I assure you that feeling is mutual.”
Marco stands, stepping back up to the ledge by the door.
Celia reaches out her hand to him and he takes it to help her up. It is the first time he has touched her bare skin.
The reaction in the air is immediate. A sudden charge ripples through the room, crisp and bright. The chandelier begins to shake.
The feeling rushing over Marco’s skin is intense and intimate, beginning where his palm meets hers but spreading beyond that, farther and deeper.
Celia pulls her hand away after she catches her balance, stepping back and leaning against the wall. The feeling begins to subside as soon as she lets him go.
“I’m sorry,” she says quietly, clearly out of breath. “You caught me by surprise.”
“My apologies,” Marco says, his heartbeat pounding so loudly in his ears that he can barely hear her. “Though I cannot say I’m entirely sure what happened.”
“I tend to be particularly sensitive to energy,” Celia says. “People who do the sort of things you and I do carry a very palpable type of energy, and I … I am not accustomed to yours just yet.”
“I only hope that was as pleasurable a sensation for you as it was for me.”
Celia does not reply, and to keep himself from reaching for her hand again, he opens the door instead, leading her back up the twisting stairway.
THEY WALK THROUGH the moonlit ballroom, their steps echoing together.
“How is Chandresh?” Celia asks, attempting to find a subject to fill the silence, anything to distract herself from her still-shaking hands, and remembering the fallen glass at dinner.
“He wavers,” Marco says with a sigh. “Ever since the circus opened, he has been increasingly unfocused. I … I do what I can to keep him steady, though I fear it has an adverse effect on his memory. I had not intended to, but after what happened with the late Miss Burgess I thought it the wisest course of action.”
“She was in the peculiar position of being involved in all this but not within the circus itself,” Celia says. “I am sure it is not the easiest perspective to manage. At least you can observe Chandresh.”
“Indeed,” Marco says. “I do wish there was a way to protect those outside the circus the way the bonfire protects those within it.”
“The bonfire?” Celia asks.
“It serves several purposes. Primarily, it is my connection to the circus, but it also functions as a safeguard of a sort. I neglected the fact that it does not cover those outside the fence.”
“I neglected even considering safeguards,” Celia says. “I do not think I understood at first how many other people would become involved in our challenge.” She stops walking, standing in the middle of the ballroom.
Marco stops as well but says nothing, waiting for her to speak.
“It was not your fault,” she says quietly. “What happened to Tara. The circumstances may have played out the same way regardless of anything you or I did. You cannot take away anyone’s own free will, that was one of my very first lessons.”
Marco nods, and then he takes a step closer to her. He reaches out to take her hand, slowly brushing his fingers against hers.
The feeling is as strong as it had been when he touched her before, but something is different. The air changes, but the chandeliers hanging above them remain steady and still.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“You mentioned something about energy,” Marco says. “I’m focusing yours with mine, so you won’t break the chandeliers.”
“If I broke anything, I could probably fix it,” Celia says, but she does not let go.
Without the concern for the effect she might be having on the surroundings, she is able to relax into the sensation instead of resisting it. It is exquisite. It is the way she has felt in so many of his tents, the thrill of being surrounded by something wondrous and fantastical, only magnified and focused directly on her. The feel of his skin against hers reverberates across her entire body, though his fingers remain entwined in hers. She looks up at him, caught in the haunting greenish-grey of his eyes again, and she does not turn away.
They stand gazing at each other in silence for moments that seem to stretch for hours.
The clock in the hall chimes and Celia jumps, startled. As soon as she releases Marco’s hand she wants to take it again, but the whole evening has been too overwhelming already.
“You hide it so well,” she says. “I can feel the same energy radiating like heat in each of your tents, but in person it’s completely concealed.”
“Misdirection is one of my strengths,” Marco says.
“It won’t be as easy now that you have my attention.”
“I like having your attention,” he says. “Thank you for this. For staying.”
“I forgive you for stealing my shawl.”
She smiles as he laughs.
And then she vanishes. A simple trick of distracting his attention long enough to slip out through the hall, despite the lingering temptation to stay.
MARCO FINDS HER SHAWL left behind in the game room, still draped over his jacket.
Part III
I would dearly love to read the reactions, the observations of each and every person who walks through the gates of Le Cirque des Rêves, to know what they see and hear and feel. To see how their experience overlaps with my own and how it differs. I have been fortunate enough to receive letters with such information, to have rêveurs share with me writings from journals or thoughts scribbled on scraps of paper.
We add our own stories, each visitor, each visit, each night spent at the circus. I suppose there will never be a lack of things to say, of stories to be told and shared.
Standing on the platform in the midst of the crowd, high enough that they can be viewed clearly from all angles, are two figures, still as statues.
The woman wears a dress something akin to a bridal gown constructed for a ballerina, white and frothy and laced with black ribbons that flutter in the night air. Her legs are encased in striped stockings, her feet in tall black button-up boots. Her dark hair is piled in waves upon her head, adorned with sprays of white feathers.
Her companion is a handsome man, somewhat taller than she, in an impeccably tailored black pinstriped suit. His shirt is a crisp white, his tie black and pristinely knotted. A black bowler hat sits upon his head.
They stand entwined but not touching, their heads tilted toward each other. Lips frozen in the moment before (or after) the kiss.
Though you watch them for some time they do not move. No stirring of fingertips or eyelashes. No indication that they are even breathing.
“They cannot be real,” someone nearby remarks.
Many patrons only glance at them before moving on, but the longer you watch, the more you can detect the subtlest of motions. The change in the curve of a hand as it hovers near an arm. The shifting angle of a perfectly balanced leg. Each of them always gravitating toward the other.
Yet still they do not touch.
The grand anniversary celebration for Le Cirque des Rêves is not held after ten years, which might have been expected and traditional, but when the circus has been open and traveling for years amounting to thirteen. Some say it is held then because the tenth anniversary had come and gone, and no one thought to have a party for it until after the fact.
The reception is held at Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre’s town house on Friday, October 13, 1899. The guest list is exclusive; only members of the circus and some select and special guests are in attendance. It is not publicized, of course, and though some might speculate that the event has something to do with the circus, there is no way to be certain. Besides, no one truly suspects the infamously black-and-white circus would be associated with an event so full of color.
It is extremely colorful, with both the house and the partygoers adorned in a rainbow of shades. The lights in each room are specially treated, greens and blues in one, reds and oranges in another. The tables dotting the dining room are shrouded in vibrant patterned tablecloths. The centerpieces are elaborate floral arrangements with only the brightest of blooms. The members of the ensemble that plays odd but melodic and danceable tunes in the ballroom are bedecked in suits of red velvet. Even the champagne flutes are a deep cobalt-blue glass rather than clear, and the staff wears green rather than black. Chandresh himself wears a suit of vibrant purple with a gold paisley waistcoat, and throughout the evening, he smokes specially made cigars that spout matching violet smoke.
A spectrum of roses ranging in shades from natural to the unimaginable sits in the golden lap of the elephant-headed statue in the foyer, petals cascading down whenever anyone moves by.
Cocktails are poured at the bar in a variety of oddly shaped and colored glasses. There is ruby-red wine and cloudy-green absinthe. Tapestries of vibrant silks hang from walls and are draped over everything that will stay still. Candles glow in stained-glass sconces, casting dancing light over the party and its attendees.
Poppet and Widget are the youngest of the guests, being the same age as the circus. Their bright-red hair is out in full effect, and they wear coordinating outfits the warm blue of a twilight sky, edged in pinks and yellows. As a birthday gift, Chandresh gives them two fluffy orange kittens with blue eyes and striped ribbons around their necks. Poppet and Widget adore them, and promptly dub them Bootes and Pavo, though later they can never quite remember which of the identical kittens is which and refer to them collectively whenever possible.
The original conspirators are there, save for the late Tara Burgess. Lainie Burgess comes dressed in a flowing gown of canary yellow, accompanied by Mr. Ethan Barris in a suit of navy blue that is about as colorful as he can manage, though his tie is a slightly brighter shade, and he pins a yellow rose to his lapel.
Mr. A. H— arrives in his customary grey.
Mme. Padva attends, after some coercion by Chandresh, gloriously adorned in golden silks embroidered with red filigree, crimson feathers in her white hair. She spends most of the evening in one of the chairs by the fire, watching events unfold around her rather than participating in them directly.
Herr Friedrick Thiessen is there by special invitation, under the condition that he is not to write a single public word about the gathering nor mention it to anyone. He promises this gladly, and attends wearing mostly red with a touch of black, a reversal of his usual attire.
He spends the majority of the evening in the company of Celia Bowen, whose elaborate gown changes color, shifting through a rainbow of hues to complement whomever she is closest to.
There are no performers save the band, as it is difficult to hire entertainment to impress a gathering that is comprised predominantly of circus members. Most of the evening is spent in conversation and socializing.
At dinner, which begins promptly at midnight, each course is styled in black or white but bursts with color once pierced with forks or spoons, revealing layer upon layer of flavors. Some dishes are served on small mirrors rather than proper plates.
Poppet and Widget slip tastes of appropriate morsels to the marmalade kittens at their feet, while listening attentively to Mme. Padva’s tales of the ballet. Their mother admonishes that the content of said tales may not be entirely appropriate for a pair of just barely thirteen-year-olds, but Mme. Padva continues on unfazed, glossing over only the most sordid of details that Widget can read in the sparkle of her eyes even if she does not speak them aloud.