Menagerie of Oddities from Thempted by Fae Anthology
“Ivy, look at that!” Fleur stopped abruptly in front of a large striped tent near the fairground fence.
“What is that?” I took another bite of the candy apple on the stick. The red sugary coat cracked under my teeth, filling my mouth with sweetness mixed with the fresh crisp taste of the apple underneath.
“A sideshow?” She tugged at my t-shirt, pulling me through the crowds that filled the grounds of CNE, Canadian National Exhibition, that takes place near the Toronto waterfront at end of summer.
“I believe that is a real life freakshow, right there.” Fleur gestured at the painted sign in front of the tent. It read Madam Tan’s Menagerie of Oddities.
The tent, the sign, the strings of lights over the entrance, and the painted ticket booth next to it all had a vintage air of mystery—a little odd but rather enticing.
I shook my head. “Menagerie is like a collection of something, isn’t it? It’s French, you should know.” Fleur was from Paris. We’d met through a language exchange program in grade school. Both of us had college degrees now, but we’d remained friends. “Animals, I think. Like a zoo?”
She stared at the sign. “With oddities.”
“What does it mean? Deformed animals? That doesn’t sound appealing, either,” I muttered, finishing my candy apple and tossing the stick into a garbage bin.
“It doesn’t say ‘deformities.’ Oddities can be a number of things. Maybe it’s a collection of rare animals?”
I took a step closer, eyeing the whole setup which appeared to have come straight out of some old movie.
“It sure looks intriguing…”
“Oh, come on. Let’s just go and see, shall we?” Fleur tugged my arm.
“It’s twenty dollars each, just to get in.” I hesitated, glancing at the small sign next to the ticket booth window, then peeked around the booth. A group of people had gathered next to the entrance flap of the tent, waiting to enter. “And there’s a line.”
“Which means it must be good.” Fleur marched toward the ticket booth and got in line. “I didn’t travel all the way from France to miss the freakshow in Toronto.”
“All right. You did take me to the cabaret when I wanted to see one.” I followed her. “Let’s just hope this one ends better,” I muttered under my breath, but Fleur still heard me.
“Ivy.” Her shoulders dropped. “You can’t still be upset about him. It’s been ages.”
It had been a year and two months since our visit to a cabaret on my last trip to Paris. My heart tightened painfully at the memory, and I schooled my expression into something hopefully cool and neutral.
“Of course not.” I waved her off. “I’ve long forgotten about Zeph.”
That was not entirely true. I forbade myself to think about him, but men like Zeph were not easily forgotten. His image stayed in my mind long after he was gone out of my life. His mesmerising voice sounded in my ears every single night before I fell asleep. Then, he came to haunt me in my dreams…
Since my job as a graphic designer allowed me to work anywhere, I’d considered moving in with Fleur when her roommate’s lease ended last year. The main purpose of visiting her had been to assess Paris as a new city to live in.
I’d heard Zeph sing on the stage in a small but tasteful cabaret show on Boulevard de Clichy. He noticed me, asked me to dance. We talked. I liked him enough to let him take me home.
I still felt a tug of longing for whatever magic he did to my body that first night and every night after during that week. The way Zeph made love was incredible, like nothing I had ever experienced before or since. I’d wondered if there could be something real between us. Zeph definitely meant so much more than just a vacation fling to me. He made me believe I was more to him, too.
The day after I’d told him about my plans to move to Paris, he didn’t show up for our date.
I sat in the café all afternoon, nursing a cup of tepid cappuccino, but he never came. He didn’t call either, and didn’t reply to any of my texts or phone calls, ending it just like that.
Obviously, he wasn’t ready for anything more serious than a vacation fling. There was nothing left for me but to get over him. And it might be taking me some time, but I would eventually get his intense blue eyes and that magical voice out of my head.
With a deep inhale, I forced the memories to retreat.
“Fine. Let’s go see the freakshow.” I produced some cash from the pocket of my shorts.
“It’s a menagerie,” Fleur corrected me coquettishly, deliberately pronouncing the last word with an exaggerated Parisian accent.
“So it says.” I smiled at her antics.
“My treat.” Fleur elbowed me out of the way when our turn came to buy the tickets. “Two, please.” She shoved the money through the small window to the somber, dark-haired girl behind the Plexiglass.
Huddling into a wide black scarf wrapped around her neck despite the summer heat, the girl accepted the money, avoiding eye contact.
She handed Fleur our tickets, finally glancing up at us with dark, haunted eyes. Lifting her face out of the scarf, she gave us a practiced smile that never made it to her eyes. “Enjoy the exhibit.”
“Come.” Fleur grabbed my elbow, dragging me to the entrance. “Let’s see what wonders that tent holds.”