Feels Like Rain

A crowd of country folk assemble under a musty revival tent. They have come to see a show.

The tent stands in the middle of a field near a remote dust-bowl town.

The people sit in uncomfortable wooden chairs. Those who can’t find a seat stand at the rear, shuffling their feet, raising clouds of dust.

It is a very hot afternoon.

The audience murmurs impatiently.
Women fan themselves.
Children fidget.
Men drink beer and glare at the stage, willing the show to get under way.

A man steps onto the stage
He is thin.
His face haggard and sunken.
Dark smudges under his eyes.
His hair matted and dirty.
Barefoot.
He wears simple pants, a rope belt, a loose shirt spotted with dark stains. The tips of his fingers barely poke from long sleeves.

The man is ill. He has come to show the crowd his sickness.

Speakers mounted on poles throughout the tent rattle to life with an announcer’s voice.“Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the Sickness Circus!”

The man on the stage speaks quietly to the audience, his voice barely audible. “Do not be alarmed,” he mumbles. “I am not contagious.”

He unbuttons his shirt, shrugs it off.

The man is emaciated, the ladder of his ribs sharply defined.
His skin paper-white, tinged blue with bruises.
His flesh looks cold.
Like wet clay.
Like the flesh of a drowning victim.

The man’s torso is covered with puncture wounds — as though he has been stabbed repeatedly with a sharp pencil. The wounds do not bleed. They are clotted with thick dark blood.

A black worm wriggles from one of the wounds, slithers across the man’s chest, and burrows back into his body through a different wound.

More worms squirm from the punctures, crawl over the man’s body, and reenter.

Still more worms emerge and reenter. In and out, in and out, in and out. Faster and faster. The man’s chest teems with glistening black worms. His flesh ripples with their frantic burrowing.

Audience members gasp, horrified. Women cover their faces and look away. Men forget their drinks, let them slip from their fingers and splash to the floor. Children hug their parents and cry. Some audience members vomit. Others run for the exit.

The man holds his arms wide for balance. “Don’t worry,” he says. “They won’t jump off.”

Past their initial shock, realizing they are not in danger, the audience grows curious. They look to the stage. This is what they bought tickets for. They came to be entertained by the illness and misery of others. They came to see those who’s lives are so miserable that that they will be glad for their own lives — no matter what their station.

They came to look upon those who can be called lesser.

This kind of entertainment is called The Greatest Show on Earth.

Someone in the audience shouts a question: “Does it hurt?”

The man whispers, “No. There is no pain. It feels like rain. Like raindrops hitting me in the chest.”

(Illustration by John Bergin)

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