He reached for my hand, and, forcing a smile, I grabbed it. He had a white glove on that matched the white makeup on his face, and the fabric felt like sandpaper against my palm. I felt the heat of his hand emitting under the cotton, a sensation much like feeling hot coffee through a ceramic mug. He returned my smile with a wide, lopsided one, his top lip concealed under the black, glued on toothbrush mustache. He reached up and tipped the top of his bowler hat in a cordial greeting and, playing along, I curtsied. Some onlookers in the quickly forming crowd surrounding us chuckled, and I felt my cheeks flush.
All day I had walked around with my friend Melanie, who had insisted on bringing me to a town fair to get me out of the miserable, sorrowful state-of-mind I had been wallowing in ever since Robert left town. Ever since he left because of me. As if being surrounded by hyperactive children and couples on their first dates could make me feel better about regrettably breaking the heart of the man I loved. "If anything, you'll enjoy the Chaplin act," she had told me as we drove. "I hear the guy is really good."
Melanie knew of my adoration for Charlie Chaplin. When I watched Chaplin's movies, emotions were pulled out of me from different ends of the emotional spectrum. He could make me unexplicably happy, provoking a smile to appear on my face simply by smiling himself, and also make tears slide down my cheeks when I watched him stare longingly at his unattainable lady love. Much like watching Chaplin, I had never felt so unexplicably happy or had so many tears fall down my face than when I was with Robert.
The Chaplin imitator released my hand and reached into his oversized pants pocket. I heard some chuckling from the crowd as he appeared to struggle to bring forth the object inside. I just stood smiling because I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Finally, after looking like he was trying to remove his underwear through his pocket, his hand emerged. Between his gloved fingers was a heart cut out of red felt, no bigger than an ornament on a christmas tree. Some people laughed at his anti-climatic pocket-finding. The Chaplin man took the heart, held it to his chest, and then out to me as if to say, "my heart is yours". My smile faded.
"My heart is yours. It's always been yours. You know that, you have to know that," Robert said, cupping my face delicately. His hands were warm, yet I shivered under his touch. His eyes eagerly searched mine, awaiting my response like he was waiting to hear he'd just won a million dollars. My response didn't make him feel like a millionaire. "Robert," I said, my voice cracking, "I do love you. But it's Mark..it's always going to be Mark.."
At my distraught reaction, the Chaplin man frowned. He was quite good at displaying emotion with his facial expressions. The light actually faded from his black rimmed eyes and his lips quivered sadly but not overdramatically. The crowd behind us "aww-ed" in stereo.
"Why didn't she take his heart?" I heard a child ask. This wasn't the place to succumb to regrets and mistakes. I plastered the fakest smile I could on my face and held out my hand so The Chaplin man could go on with his comic act. Just because I wasn't up for some cheesy love skit didn't mean I couldn't play along. He'd chosen me, afterall. I might as well run with it.
The Chaplin man also ran with it. He took my hesitation of reaching for his heart into consideration and slowly brought the heart back to his chest. He stared at me with cautious eyes, looking back and forth from my eyes to my hand.
"I'll have your heart," I said, chuckling. The Chaplin man smiled at those words, a wide, beautiful smile, and threw his arms around me into a dramatic bear hug. Some people in the crowd laughed, some "aww-ed", and others clapped. When he pulled away my face was red from embarrassment. I wasn't used to having so many people watching me, much less seeing me agree to take a man's heart, whether it be real or theatrical. The Chaplin man looked like he was beginning to describe a beautiful sunset with his hands, but my gaze shifted past him, to the police man slowly creeping up behind him. He had bright pink blush on his cheeks and there was no gun in his holster, so I knew he was part of the act and not a real cop. The Chaplin man turned to follow my stare, and that's when the real Chaplin shtick came into play. The cop began to chase the little Tramp, who dodged the cop's endeavors by ducking and pretending to be things like trees and part of the crowd. The audience cheered and clapped when the Chaplin man kicked the cop in the behind after nearly being captured. I watched, humored. Robert was only the only other man I knew who could do a Chaplin impersonation so well, and my smile faded as I watched this imitator, even though he wasn't doing anything intentionally to make me sad. With the cop and the Chaplin involved in their chase, I looked at Melanie. She was laughing along with the crowd, and when our eyes met she gave me a thumbs up.
The Chaplin man made his way back to me just as the cop grabbed him from behind. With a look of defeat, the little Tramp took the felt heart and ripped it in half. He held one half out to me and I took it immediately this time, just as the cop lifted the little man over his shoulder. Chaplin man was grinning a wide grin, and tipped his bowler hat at me, seemingly unphased that he had been captured and was being taken away. The two actors disappeared into the crowd, and after a few moments without anything happening, the crowd suspected the act was over and began dispersing. I made my way back to Melanie.
"I made a mistake, Mel," I said inbetween sobs. I felt my friend's hand on my head, stroking my hair in a comforting manner, but I could not be comforted. "How can I tell him? How can I tell him now that he's gone? How can I tell him that everything I thought Mark was, he already is..."
Melanie gave a reply, but I was crying too much to hear a word she said. "I could actually see his heart break," I continued. Fresh, hot tears fell down my cheeks. "I could see it in his eyes. Now he'll never know it was him the whole time. He was the one I truly loved..."
"I hate you," I muttered, only grinning slightly to show I wasn't totally serious.
"Why?" Melanie asked. "You love Chaplin and I took you to see a live Chaplin show. You even got to participate. You should be loving me right now."
"Yeah," I said with a sigh, "but his act was about being in love and giving his heart to someone he would never see again. It was so sad."
"That's not what the act was about," Melanie protested. I raised an eyebrow at her.
"Oh?" I asked. "What was it about then?"
"Well," Melanie started in a matter-of-fact tone, "Obviously he gave you part of his heart to remind you that he'd always love you. Something to hold on to until he came back. It was a happy ending."
I felt my sadness returning. The hole inside my heart had been covered temporarily, but now that I had no distraction it was quickly caving in to become a nothingness that attached itself to my being like a relentless leech.
"Hey," Melanie said. I turned to her. "Look."
I followed her gaze and saw the Chaplin man making his way back through the sea of people. He looked confused, clutching the piece of the felt heart delicately in his hands like he was holding an actual heart. Those left standing around watched him search their faces with a hopeful expression. He studied some women more carefully than others, frowning when he didn't find what he was searching for.
And then his eyes were on me.
Just like the real Charlie Chaplin, this imitator was able to make me smile with a mere smile of his own. He walked slowly toward me, never averting his eyes from mine, like I was the only thing in life worth seeing. I blushed at the intensity, only half remembering that this was all an act and the feelings being presented were artificial. As he got closer, he held out his piece of the heart to me. I held out mine, and the Chaplin man pushed them together like magnets reacting. The people watching "aww-ed" in stereo again. After an adorable "Chaplin-like' leg spasm the imitator threw his arms around me and kissed my cheek. My blush magnified and the crowed clapped at the happy ending.
"That was sweet," Melanie commented to the Chaplin man. He smiled and meekly waved at my friend, staying in his silent character. He turned back to me and held out his hand, so I held out my piece of the heart thinking that was what he wanted. Instead, he gently grabbed my wrist and kissed the top of my hand, then tipped his bowler hat at me.
"You're a good Chaplin," I complimented. "There's only one other person I know who can do the Chaplin walk."
The hole inside my chest deepened, becoming a painful knot under my skin. The sincerity in my face must have faded, for the Chaplin man frowned at my expression. His blue eyes stayed bright and vibrant though, and as I studied them, I realized something.
"Blue contacts," I stated. The Chaplin man gave a curt nod. "You've done your research. Not too many people know that Chaplin had blue eyes."
The Chaplin man nodded again, grinning slightly. I wasn't sure why he was continuing to linger. Perhaps he was expecting me to ask for an autograph? Or....was I supposed to tip him? I looked to Melanie for reassurance on the situation. Her smile was wide, and her eyes were gleaming at the Chaplin man. I realized then that she must've had a crush on him, and I decided to go wait in the car.
"Well, here's your heart," I said, a little more sorrowful than I had meant. After realizing how incredibly sad that statement sounded, I frowned. "It felt like forever waiting for you. Glad to see that jail didn't change you." I smiled, feeling silly for staying in character, but the smile didn't reach my eyes.
"It felt like forever waiting for you as well."
My eyes widened at the man's voice and my breath caught in my throat. I stared at the imitator as he reached up and delicately removed his blue contacts. Natural brown eyes now peered into mine. Familiar eyes. He continued to remove his costume, starting with the bowler hat. Wavy espresso colored locks unraved from under it, falling just above his ears. He peeled off his thick, dark eyebrows, which were really thick eyebrow stickers that covered his natural dark ones. When, at last, he removed the moustache and his true face showed through, my lips quivered under the weight of emotions bursting through the emptiness like fireworks in a darkened sky.
"Robert?" I breathed, shaking my head in disbelief. "What...how...why..." So many questions, yet I couldn't form a single one. Instead, I turned to Melanie, who was harboring a conspiratorial smile.
"Like I said," she said with a shrug, "It's a happy ending."