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Homecoming

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Lately the memories seemed to come to him with neither warning nor context. He could be admiring the sunset as he set his solitary dinner and think of the golden gleam of the singer’s bangles. A sudden breeze might pull at his clothes and he couldn’t help but wish it was another surprise transition from world to world, the accompanying rush of wind in his ears was so similar. He would wonder when his thoughts had started to become so disorganized but always shrugged it off within a moment or two. A side-effect of his age, he supposed.

And anyway, muddled details just made for a more interesting story. It was never the same twice but somehow always true. Who was to say the pair on the unicycle didn’t end up getting married, for instance? His daughter had asked him that when she was six and he thought it seemed plausible enough. And petty disagreements between children were nothing compared to what the brothers on the wheel had battled out. Saying so quieted his grandsons' squabbling, at any rate. Children were always his favorite audience: their questions were honest, innocent, and never laced with carefully concealed skepticism as was the case with many of his older listeners. Those ones were probably just humoring him at this point, and he’d consider stopping his story entirely if it weren’t for the occasional spark of wonder he sometimes caught in their eyes. To see magic ignited in eyes so used to the gray, concrete rules of the world… well, it was enough to encourage him to keep telling.

His wife had been an exceptional audience too, and he rather liked to think that was why she married him. He’d changed a few details here and there for her benefit, highlighting the charming and somewhat sultry dance between the unicycle pair, but he omitted the trapeze bit entirely. To be frank he’d never quite understood what had been going on between that woman and the Trickster, even after years of reflection. All he’d gathered apart from his amazement at her talent was an underlying desire for attention, though he could never imagine why. The Trickster had been watching, hadn’t he? Somehow he felt that wasn’t enough for her, and for whatever reason he thought it wasn’t enough for the Trickster either. There had been something foreign in the air, unnamed and exhilarating. The thought still confused him, and his wife had been very content with the edited version anyway.

His memory of his adventure never faltered with the years. Street names started to come slower to him long ago, and he couldn’t quite remember all the vegetables his son had helped him plant in the garden that year, but those kinds of details seemed far less important and slipped away so easily. Whenever he was in his favorite spot (the hill behind his cottage where the dandelions blew in the wind and he could hear the wind chime hanging from his porch), it was as though he was there all over again. He could close his eyes and listen to the wind in the trees, and as he dozed off the chime would start to sound more like jester’s bells and he would long for his old spiral-stripe kite. It was an increasingly frequent tradition, especially during the early summer months like these, even though laying in the grass for too long had begun to pain his back ages ago. In the moment it was almost like being there again. Almost.

“It’s just the same as you left it, you know.”

The Innocent opened his eyes but didn’t turn them from the cloud-brushed sky. He couldn’t remember the last time his subconsciousness had dug up the Trickster’s actual voice; it was completely familiar, as though they’d spoken only yesterday, and he was afraid to move and break the lucid dream.

“Really?” He let out a sigh, half longing and half satisfied. “Even though I’ve aged?”

“Nothing ages there,” the Trickster said simply, and finally the Innocent winced as he turned to push himself up onto one elbow and look at his old friend. His throat tightening to see the Trickster sitting there beside him, staring off down the hill as calm as could be. This dream was different, it was new, every other one had been regurgitated memories of things he’d seen so many years ago, and the Innocent inwardly begged the real world around him to remain silent, afraid of being woken by the slightest sound. The Trickster’s suit stood out bold against the grass and thistle, the blues nearly blending in with the vivid sky behind him, and the Innocent sighed to see that he was right, he was just the same, and he felt simultaneously relieved and bitter. He sat up the rest of the way, his eyes following the Trickster’s gaze down the slope and out to the horizon where the treetops brushed the sky, and there the two companions sat in silence for a minute or an hour – the Innocent couldn’t tell, and who really cared to measure the time spent in so perfect a dream?

The Trickster stood without warning and turned to the Innocent, the familiar playful smirk curling his lips. “Looks like it’s time for us to get going,” he said, and before the Innocent could even register his surprise the Trickster had taken him by the arm and pulled him up. At the Trickster’s touch he found it was all real, he hadn’t been dreaming, and yet he rose to his feet with greater ease than he had in years, no pain in his back or anywhere else. When the Trickster nodded back out to the horizon, the Innocent turned to see not the familiar reaches of the meadow behind his house, but the bataclan standing crimson and proud in the near distance. Two of the clowns appeared to be arguing on top, only to stop mid-fight to gaze in awe at the trapeze swinger: she flew past them without so much as a glance while acrobats busied themselves with practice on the ground. They were interrupted and scattered by the frantic appearance of the king from behind the bataclan, chased by the stray dog who had given the Innocent his kite. The singer stood on the stairs beside the chair balancer, looking vaguely annoyed at their antics, but he laid a hand on her shoulder and redirected her attention to the juggler’s tricks, and she smiled in approval.

The Innocent turned back to the Trickster, speechless and overwhelmed, but his friend didn’t appear to expect anything more. Sweeping into a long bow, he straightened up again and beckoned to the Innocent’s kingdom.

“Welcome home.”