I went to the study and turned on the small desk lamp. Pouring over my father’s encyclopedias I found the description of ergot:
The drug is almost exclusively obtained from infected rye. The active principals of ergot are a number of alkaloids that have lysergic acid as a basic nucleus. Ergot has no external action. When it is given internally it is a powerful stimulant of the pregnant uterus…
I ran down to another part of the description:
Chronic poisoning begins with cessation of circulation, resulting in gangrene, or a nervous disorder characterized by amblyopia, deafness, delusions, and other psychoses. The patient’s waking hours are experienced as dreams.
In an old book my father kept in an oak box, I found a brief history of its purposeful use as a drug:
Used in the Dark Ages as a sacrament by various Middle European religious cults. The last known epidemic of ergotism occurred in France in 1816….
I fell asleep with the book in my lap.
For the next several nights, with my father still on the road and without the knowledge of my mother, I lingered till closing time around the carnival.
My father came home at the end of the week and stayed for one night. He smelled like cigars and we played some checkers and laughed, but my mother’s presence made him quiet. He talked about his new vacuum cleaning attachments whenever she entered the room, but after she left he told me something that shocked me.
“No one knows how much I hate selling those machines, son. No one but you. There, now I’ve said it. There’s no other way to make the payments on your mother’s medication.”
Before I knew it, the screen door slammed and he was off in his old Plymouth again. Nights at the carnival became the only things I looked forward to, and soon they paid me to sell popcorn and cotton candy. I thought about joining up and traveling with them, but they were scheduled to leave the state soon, and I didn’t think I could leave my mother..
Shade and a man named Trippie the Clown introduced me to people who seemed out of place at the carnival, like a college professor named Morel, who stood smoothing his pointed grey beard and talking to the dwarves. None of them cared if I drank liquor with them, as long as I only took a small portion. But something strange began to happen. Every night my carnival excursion would end in the same dream:
I am desperately running in and out of performers’ tents in search of my father, my queries always yielding the same answer: “Get your ass outta here, kid!” In one of my dreams one night I unknowingly walked into the Snake Woman’s tent and found her lying asleep next to vacuum cleaner attachments. Every morning I would wake up in my own bed, and back at the carnival the next evening Shade would usually say, “Yeah, kid, we got ‘ya home safe.”
"The sleep of reason
brings forth monsters."