She is seven before she realizes that Poorjosephine is not her real name. Her real name is Josephine the Dog-faced Girl. She learns it from children who don't know any better. She learns it from the Circus posters. The posters have letters making words and a picture of her. In the picture she is wearing a pink dress and smiling. She is happy because she was given the dress as a birthday present and had never been to a party before. She is happy because her mother not only combed out her hair, she put ribbons in it.
The letters spell, 'Josephine the Dog-faced Girl.' Josephine believes that these are the words she belongs to. That they mean the same thing as her face. No amount of Love can undo this belief.
Josephine wants to fly on the trapeze. She wants to wear a white costume with sequins running up the sleeves. She wants to be hairless and experiments on her body trying to make it happen. At night she prays for guidance, and implements the cures she dreams. She learns that hair does not grow where scars live, and that burns leave shiny patches of smooth skin. She learns that as long as she keeps the hair on her face and hands, as long as she wears dresses with long sleeves and high collars, she is allowed to do what she wishes to her body in the places where it doesn't show.
Josephine likes to wear masks. Her favorite is the Greyhound mask. Its nose is long and sleek and grey. She gave it painted bottle caps for eyes. It is her favorite because Greyhounds are tall and slim and elegant. Their fur is so short and smooth, it is more like a color than hair. She knows they are fast runners and somehow believes that this renders them suitable for the trapeze. In her mind, speed and flight are inseperable. And if she must have the face of a dog, it should be of one that could fly on the trapeze.
She wants to be, 'Josephine the Flying Dog-faced Girl.' In a white costume with sequined sleeves and the Greyhound mask. That way, she can do what she wants and still be what they say she is. And everyone will be happy.
Josephine goes to the park in her Greyhound mask to practice trapeze on the swings. She wears gloves. She stands in the swing and watches Emma. They say Emma is 'High Yellow.' Josephine thinks 'High Yellow' must mean the same thing as Beautiful. Because Emma is the most Beautiful person Josephine has ever seen. Emma wears spangles in her hair, and has eyes like a doe.
Behind Josephine, a dog barks. She turns automatically to see what kind of dog it is. She is hoping it is a Greyhound, because today she is a Greyhound too. The snout of her mask catches on the chain and Josephine falls into the dirt below the swing. Her mask has been knocked off and Josephine checks it for damage. When she looks up, Emma is standing in front of her. Emma reaches out her hand and pulls Josephine up. Josephine wants to thank Emma, so she tells her that she's beautiful.
"You're High Yellow," she says.
Emma lets go of Josephine and walks away with perfect posture through the park. On her wrist, Josephine can still feel Emma's hand. A red van drives by with music pouring out of the window. Josephine does not know who sings the song. And she does not know all the words. But she thinks of it as Emma's song all the same, and sings it best she can.
Over and softly again.
This boy, nobody knows. He jimmies the lock on The Funhouse after closing and works his way through, methodically, with a hammer. Breaking his reflection again and again. Josephine likes mirrors. Broken pieces most of all, so she is grateful to this boy nobody knows. She listens to the sound of the hammer making new mirrors. She tilts back the Greyhound mask and presses her lips to the plywood wall.
She hears the others coming, pulls down her mask, and ducks inside. This boy nobody knows, he is kneeling in front of the last of The Funhouse mirrors still standing. He is saying,
" None of them looked like me."
"They're coming," says Josephine.
He is much bigger than she, a teenage boy, but Josephine pulls him to his feet just the same.
"They're coming," she says again.
This boy nobody knows, wears a shirt too small for him. His wrists are long and pale and thin. His eyes are blinkless, like a sea creature washed up onto the beach. Trying to breathe outside the water. Because the ocean won't be back for it in time.
Josephine tugs on his wrist,
"Please. They're coming. Please."
And then he is running out the back, pulling Josephine behind him. She is glad to be wearing the Greyhound mask. He crosses the road on his long boy legs, scoops Josephine up and leaps the ditch. The Boy Nobody Knows falls to his knees, but he keeps Josephine from hitting the ground. He holds her against him, the Greyhound mask notched up under his chin. It seems to Josephine that their breathing is the only sound in the whole of the night. He whispers,
"It was January. There was a cold snap then a warm spell. I was outside smoking and I found a ladybug on the porch. I wanted to move it somewhere green. When I touched it, it fell over and into my hand. It left a yellow smear on my fingers. It lay without moving on its back, black legs crushed in. I set it down next to me on the table. I sat smoking next to its little death. And then it moved. Walked with caution to a hiding place under the ashtray. It wasn't dead at all. It was just defending itself. I didn't mistake it for a miracle."
A splash of light hits the road and then there are voices. Josephine says,
And he does.
Josephine makes herself small and still inside her Greyhound mask. The others are trying to follow the sound of The Boy Nobody Knows into the woods. She is passed by entirely and makes her way back to The Funhouse. She collects as many shards of glass as she can into the folds of her skirt, moving along the line of broken mirrors, harvesting the best pieces. Singing Emma's song to herself.
She squats in front of the last mirror, the one left unbroken by the hammer. She can still feel the heartbeat of The Boy Nobody Knows against her back. Josephine stares at her reflection and sees 'Josephine The Singing Greyhound Girl.' So she keeps singing.
Josephine wakes. Her heart scissoring inside her chest. The Dreamkeeper's tail slips through her fingers, like a pull chain from a lightbulb. Her last tug ends in a snap of light that over-exposes the dream. The color pours from her. Sleep deserts her. Morning bleaches her dream. Outside, they are fixing the Tilt-a-Whirl. The metal bleats like a sheep under the tools of repair.
They say if you cut the head off a chicken, its body will get up and run from the axe. Josephine wonders if she is still living. Wonders if she died in the night. She asks God to take the pain away.
Josephine empties the bag of mirror into her bed. In her broken reflection she sees a lonely child. It is then she understands the pain to be human loneliness, and decides to become the animal they say she is.
A scorpion inside a ring of fire will sting itself to Death. In the dream Josephine lost upon waking, she is walking a dirt road through a white-washed town. In front of the only store, boys have lit a ring of fire and inside it, a mother has placed an infant that does not cry. Because it does not cry, no one moves to save it. Not even Josephine, who watches the pink bundle inside the ring of fire, to learn how a person might sting itself to Death.
Josephine is plagued by the certainty that her blood learned something vital in her sleep. But her mind did not have the teeth to hold onto it. All day, her blood remembers what her mind cannot receive. The conflict feels old inside her. Like Free Will and Instinct at cross purposes. You must surmount one to get to the other. But which one? This is a human question. So Josephine shakes her head, to clear it from her mind.
She carries a piece of the broken mirror with her to remind her of her face. She whispers into the ear of her reflection,
" Do you love her? You see, she is an animal. Do you love her?"
Despite her efforts, the reflection in the mirror remains that of a lonely child. Josephine decides she must leave. She must leave if she never wants to see her face again. For Josephine, the leaving is easy.
Except for the piece of broken mirror and the Greyhound mask, she only brings practical things. She is 'Josephine the Dog-faced Refugee,' standing beneath the trapeze. She says goodbye to everything.
Morning is coming on. The last of the moon pushes into the tent. Staggers in, falls down in a corner to sleep. Josephine watches the morning light burning through the seams of the tent. She watches like she expects to be blind in a moment and this is the last thing she has chosen to see.
Josephine walks into the woods. She walks for a long time. She runs little movies in her head to keep from getting tired. In one, The Boy Nobody Knows is walking the streets of her heart, like he owns them. This is Josephine's favorite for a long time, because she is walking with someone who understands she does not feel like talking.
Later, she makes up a movie in which her mirror is magic. In the movie she finds a Witch's cottage. The Witch likes to eat children. Until. Josephine comes to the cottage with her magic mirror, and shows the Witch her own reflection. In the magic mirror, the Witch can only see the good that's still inside her. The Witch remembers she is good, and falls crying, to her knees.
In this movie, Josephine is a Hero. She sets free all the children, the Witch kept in cages. She is a Hero. And all the children want to be her friend.
In this movie, the Witch is grateful to have been reminded that she is good. Out of gratitude, she grants Josephine a single wish.
This is the movie that becomes her new favorite.
It is a story she tells herself over and again. She tells it so often, it feels like a memory. Josephine starts to think that maybe she was turned into a Greyhound. But. The transformation has to be Believed in order to be seen. Josephine tries harder to Believe.
She turns around three times before nesting down. She learns to run fast on all fours. Sometimes she carries a stick in her teeth. Josephine learns to kill like an animal, but still cooks like a person. One day, the reflection in the broken mirror is of a dog, and Josephine, she does not cook her food anymore.
That night she dreams of The Boy Nobody Knows. He has fallen down with Josephine inside a ring of fire. She holds onto him with her arms and with her legs. She climbs up the front of him, the way a monkey scales a tree. The Boy Nobody Knows is turning in a circle. He is apologizing for the ring of fire. He is saying,
"But I promised you Love."
Josephine wakes in the night, certain someone has been breathing in her ear.
Beside her, squats The Boy Nobody Knows. Beside him, the smell of blood. Josephine rolls over onto her back at his feet and shows him her belly. The Boy Nobody Knows reaches into his jacket pocket. He pulls out a candy bar, unwraps one end, and gestures with it to Josephine. He whispers,
Josephine rolls back over, and sits up on her haunches. The Boy Nobody Knows leans towards her with the candy bar.
"Here. It's OK."
Josephine cocks her head to one side but does not move. The Boy Nobody Knows tries again. Holding the candy bar out with both hands. Josephine slinks back.
"It's OK. It's OK. Here."
She cocks her head the other way. He waggles the chocolate. Josephine flattens herself to the ground and edges forward to the hands of The Boy Nobody Knows. She keeps her eyes on his, and slowly closes her teeth around the end of the candy bar. She tugs on it once. He lets the candy go, but keeps his hands outstretched.
"It's OK. You can have it all."
Josephine tastes blood on the chocolate. The blood of The Boy Nobody Knows. She sets the candy bar down, gently. She butts her head against his left hand, sniffs to find the cut, and begins to lick. The Boy Nobody Knows strokes the back of Josephine's head with his right hand. He says,
" I hurt myself today."
It is Evening, again. Josephine, she is lying half in the lap of The Boy Nobody Knows, and half in the dirt. He is working a comb through her hair. He has been combing since before the sun sank, and now combs by the light of a fire.
Josephine is watching a log that is burning down into the shape of an aligator. The aligator has a single horn, like a unicorn. Josephine gives him a name so he can become real one day. Maybe, after she is sleeping, he will crawl out of the fire, and shake the ash from his back. Maybe he will want to stay with her. She will feed him rabbits and he will grow big. One day, be big enough for Josephine to ride on his back. And then, they will go out into the water together and play all day.
Josephine rolls into sleep.
The Boy Nobody Knows, continues to comb. On her belly and thighs he counts thirty-three scars. They are different shapes and sizes. Part picture, part letter, they are nearly words. Broken Hieroglyphics, she has written into herself. Words, that he understands come from one broken creature to another.
The Boy Nobody Knows, he covers his ears against the sound. But it cannot be unheard.
He covers Josephine with his jacket, and steps out of the shelter and into the night. He pushes his hair out of eyes. Cobwebs. His hair is full of cobwebs from trying to move upright through Josephine's shelter. Josephine has been moving about on her hands and knees for weeks. So. The spiders have taken over the higher reaches. And now, The Boy Nobody Knows, wears the horrible feel of their webs. Scratching the back of his neck and running a raking finger beneath his collar, he shivers at the feel of their imagined spider legs.
The song of a train, breaks the night. Thudding against the tracks. Coming down the line, with the limping heartbeat of one murdered creature, crawling forward to prevent the murder of another. Or failing that, to fulfill the wish not to die alone. Alone, it rolls down the tracks in the manner of Love, propelled by Death. The Boy Nobody Knows, he listens. Hard. He pulls apart the song of the train, mining it for words that will tell him what to do.
He steps to his right, accidently nudging over a small pile of dirt. He sees a flash of white where the soil has shifted, kneels down, and shoves the rest of the dirt aside.
Josephine has buried the last of her chocolate bar. To save it. The flash of white, was the inside of the wrapper. He pulls the dirt back over the candy. So it will be where she put it, when she comes digging for it in the morning.
Inside the rhythm of the train, The Boy Nobody Knows, now hears words. The same words scarred into Josephine. Words she used to mean, that cannot be unsaid.
Josephine spends the night feeding dream rabbits to an ash-toothed aligator. She wakes alone in the shelter. The Boy Nobody Knows is asleep against a tree. He has curled up and sunk into himself. He is dreaming of Baptism. Dreaming he is baptizing Josephine in the lake. Everytime he dunks her back into the water, more of her hair washes away. He dunks until her skin is hairless. Until she is pink and smooth. Until she does not breathe any longer, just floats in and out of his arms.
Josephine nudges up under his shoulder. The Boy Nobody Knows wakes. Rolls over. Yanks her to him and crushes her to his chest, smoothing the hair along her back. Josephine worries at his shoulder, breaking his embrace. She tugs at his sleeve with her teeth. The Boy Nobody Knows rises, and Josephine pulls him down to the water.
She charges into the lake on all fours. Races out and then doubles back towards The Boy Nobody Knows. She swats at his leg and he gives chase. He chases her into the water, and catches her by her left leg. Josephine tugs free, and splashes down face first. The Boy Nobody Knows, hooks an arm around her waist, and lifts her up.
Josephine leaves streamers of water behind as she rises. She knuckles the sunlight from her eyes. The sky is an unpronouncable blue. The Boy Nobody Knows, shifts Josephine in his arms. He sets her down feet first, so she is standing. He grips her shoulders, then her elbows, then her wrists.
The Boy Nobody Knows, swings Josephine off her feet in a circle. He spins faster and Josephine hauls in a breath. He can count her ribs as her chest expands. Then Josephine is laughing. Laughing and flying at the same time, heart beating itself in two.