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Missing Rowley

He was one of the missing children, one of the many thousands who disappeared every year. But Rowley (if that was his real name) wasn’t like those children. Nobody was looking for him.

He’d disappeared that Wednesday afternoon, one of those wet and blustery days so common in January. The sun had been gone for so long that people simply forgot about it, simply forgot it was something to miss.

The same is true of Rowley, a boy who was shorter than average, surlier than average. If people didn’t overlook him unintentionally, they overlooked him on purpose. He wasn’t a pleasant child to deal with, and there was little hope he’d grow out of it.

He’d been a latchkey kid, a forgotten child. He could go missing for days and nobody noticed or cared. His parents (if that’s what they were) neither spoke to him or about him. He might as well have been a piece of furniture handed down from an eccentric aunt. He wasn’t wanted, and he knew it.

But then the circus came to town. It wasn’t like he ran away, so much as he was recognized. The high wire performers noticed him at the corner café, quietly pocketing leftovers from the tables about to be cleared away. It wasn’t like he was stealing, not exactly. The food had been paid for, just not eaten. It was headed for the garbage. He figured he was doing everybody a service, mostly himself.

The aerialists followed him out, not so close as to spook him, but not so far as to lose him. He knew they were behind him, how could he not? That sense was well honed in him. It kept him safe all these many years. If necessary he could make himself invisible without even leaving the area. It wasn’t running away. He knew that didn’t work – that just called more attention. It was more like he imagined himself invisible, made himself see-through to anybody who was looking. He’d had plenty of practice at the sad excuse of a home he had.

But turning invisible didn’t work this time, because the circus performers knew how to do that trick too. It was the opposite of performing. The bright light they shone from themselves when they were in the ring could be switched off just as easily. It was second nature to them. It was a skill that bonded them all into a strange sort of family, a wandering caravan of vagabonds and misfits, who somehow discovered how to jigsaw themselves together into this unexpected troupe.

The lack of a fixed address wasn’t a problem for them. They were traveling entertainers after all. It was expected, necessary even. Everybody in the circus was legitimately homeless. They’d discovered the one way it was socially acceptable. Perhaps it worked because they sang for their supper. They performed and sold tickets instead of begging. When they held a hand out, there was a top hat at the end of it. Somehow that made it OK. The public doesn’t like to think it has been deceived, but it does like to be entertained. And so they gratefully gave money to them, rather than grumbling about charity.

The two called out to Rowley, gently enough, to let him know they meant him no harm. They knew what was going through his mind. They knew because the same thing had happened to them all those years ago. This is how many of them came to the circus.

Many if not all had gone missing on purpose, because they were never noticed it home. Joining up with the other invisibles made sense. Together, they created a new sort of family, where all the rules went out of the window. Maybe it was because there were no windows in the circus. Trailers and tents were the order of the day, and even if they did have windows they were covered up with curtains or aluminum foil. This was one group that understood the value of privacy.

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