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Eric Bosse

The Dog-Faced Boy

The young poet Bertaigne was the ugliest child in the town of Philadelphia. Besides his bulging eyes and malformed proboscis, at the age of thirteen, the boy's beard grew in so thick that the hairs left notches in his father's precious straight razor.

One gray afternoon, Bertaigne's father caught the boy dragging the long, shiny blade through his whiskers. In the corner of the greasy mirror, Bertaigne glimpsed a fist flying toward his head. He ducked too late. The blow struck his ear with a thud and propelled him sideways into the fetid bathing barrel. As Bertaigne raised his arm to defend himself, the straight razor flew from his hand. It arced through the air, flipped once, and clattered into the piss bucket.

"Godammit, Bert!" His father's breath reeked of cheap whiskey and the local butcher's version of sausage -- undercooked scraps of pork, garlic and sage. "How many times must I tell you?"

"But, Papa, I need a shave!"

"Then get a job! Buy your own razor, you stinking kid!"

"No, Papa, I do not stink." Bertaigne pointed a trembling finger at his father's chest. "You stink!"

His father's eyes widened around their yellow irises. His chest swelled to the size of the liberty bell. "You shut up and get out of my house!"

"I will!" Bertaigne grappled himself upright in the barrel. "I'll go far from here to find my fortune and someday I'll return and dump a sack full of expensive razors in your bed and use them to slice you to bits!"

But before Bertaigne could leave, his father reached into the mahogany-colored piss water, grabbed his razor, inspected its edge, and roared, "You've nicked my blade, you filthy dog! Out! Out! Out of my house! And don't come back!"

He hurled the boy from the bathtub, booted him in the rump, and shoved him out of the house, onto the porch, into the filthy street.

Bertaigne crawled to the gutter and dusted himself off with his hands, which were still moist with water and shaving soap. He glanced back at the ramshackle cottage. The front door slammed and blew a cloud of dust into the air.

Then a radiant angel descended from the clouds and swooped over to the spot where Bertaigne cowered in the dirt. The angel had pale emerald skin and gray hair that hung in long curls about his shoulders. His magnificently white wings blocked out the sun. When he spoke, his slightly feminine voice echoed in every language, though it was as soft as a breeze blowing through reeds. The angel uttered a single word: "Here."

And he extended his hand. Between two of his fingers (with slightly chipped, silver-painted nails), he held a small paper card with "FREAK SHOW" printed in bold capital letters.

Bertaigne took the card. The angel ascended straight into the sky, growing smaller until he was merely a glittering speck against the clouds. When that speck vanished, Bertaigne looked again at the card.

It was in this moment, as the boy slumped in the gutter with muddy hands and gazed up into an empty sky, that Bertaigne suddenly knew -- as clearly as he knew, say, his own name or the sequence of lines in a Villanelle -- how he would earn his living. Sadly, he knew, it would have nothing to do with poetry.

Years later, soon after a traveling freak show left the village, Bertaigne's father was found sliced and diced in a pool of blood with a pile of gleaming straight razors, atop his bed. The constable's only clue was a tattered piece of paper pinned to the wall. That yellowed page held nineteen hand-printed lines in six stanzas with the first and third lines of the opening tercet recurring alternately at the ends of other tercets, and both repeated at the close of the concluding quatrain. While the constable considered the poem to be mostly mediocre, he thought it revealed flashes of brilliance.

Eric Bosse is a filmmaker and fiction writer disguised as an educational behavior consultant.

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