How My Love Was Sawed in Half

Playwright, novelist, and short-story writer, ROBERT FONTAINE is perhaps best remembered for his Broadway success, THE HAPPY TIME. Fontaine jans will enjoy his most recent book, THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION,a humorous guide to the writing trade recently published by The Writer.


WHEN I was about twelve, or maybe I was fourteen, I ran away from home one summer. My home was a lovely, cool home. The bees would buzz in our flowerful back yard; great monarch butterflies would arch their way about the phlox and verbena. There would be watermelon on the vine, and red tomatoes. It was all neatly arranged and predictable. That was why I ran away.

My mother and father, very strict parents indeed, thought I had gone to summer camp. My Uncle Louis, a great lover of good wine, thought I had gone to summer camp. All the neighbors thought so, too.

I started for summer camp, but I got off the train because I saw a carnival setting up. I intended to stay only until the next train north. Then I remembered the advice of my uncle: “If you do not see all of this world, you will not be ready for the next.”

The carnival was bright as a fairy tale, as noisy and exciting as a hockey game, as colorful as a birthday party.

I roamed about in a daze, smelling the popcorn and candied apples, listening to the singing of the barkers, tasting maple leaves made of sugar, and riding swiftly to the skies in a make-believe airplane.

When the next train had long gone by, and the next after that, I was still wild-eyed and enamored.

I was drunk with sound and color. I was in love with movement.

How could my camp, my family, my home, my school, my life vanish so utterly from my heart? What was this magnificence that now took the place of all those small, concrete things that had been my life? It had no name, but it sang and it filled me and made me drunk.

There was nothing I wanted more to do than to stay with the carnival forever. Here, at last, was the place for me. Here was made solid any dream. Life at home, I used to tell myself in the quiet of my small room, was not the way it should be. Life should be vastly more entertaining, more filled with surprises, more provocative of laughter. Here, in the Universal Greater Shows, it was.

I came down out of the sky and I went about asking for work. I would do anything. I was a Strong boy, big for my age. Could I sell tickets? Could I care for the raging lions? I loved animals. Might I help swirl those Western apples in the maple candy coating? My mother had taught me much about cooking, and besides I was a Boy Scout.

No. No. No one wanted me. I was in my own world, and they did not recognize me. Huge men with sweating faces and beer breaths looked at me and smiled, nodding no. Big women in flamboyant dresses patted my shoulder and said no.

I came to the fortuneteller, a thin, great-eyed woman with red cheeks and arms covered with golden bracelets. Could I not help her?

“Let me see your palm,” she said. I held out my shaking hand. She looked at it for a long time. “You will be disappointed in love,” she said. After a moment she added wistfully, “But then, who isn’t, eh?”

“Were you?” I asked.

“Always. First Hypo the Hypnotist. Then Greco the Strong Man, and even Haha the Laugher, who runs the House of Mirrors.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “About you, I mean.”

She felt on my head. “The bumps are good. The bump here of progress is well along, and this one here, of shrewdness, is of significant size. Perhaps I can do something. Because of my second sight, I have great influence here. Except in matters of love.”

“Oh, please do help me,” I begged.

“Come back at dark. You can sleep tonight in the wagon in back. You must wash the dishes though, and stay on your own side of the room.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

I WANDERED around excitedly after that. I saw everything. At last I came to Hypo the Hypnotist. His face was painted as if he were not alive, like a strange man — all white, with two red dots at the cheeks.

I watched eagerly as he sawed a woman in half; sawed in half a beautiful girl before my very eyes. I was stunned. Never had I seen this sort ot thing, nor had I ever seen a girl so brave and beautiful. She lay there with her head extended from a box, smiling so beautifully and lovingly. She was the girl I had always pictured when I read love stories. She was the girl I had always dreamed about — golden hair, blue eyes, a bright smile, and brave and true.

It did not bother her at all when the saw went through her. She still smiled. And then, miracle! In a few minutes she was restored to perfect wholeness. What lovely magic!

“A trick,” some bumpkin beside me said.

“Done with mirrors,” a fat woman supplied.

“Have you been in the Mirror House?” the first one asked. The woman nodded. “Exactly the same sort of thing. You go here and there, and you look for people and they are gone, and then you are surrounded by yourself, and then by a dozen samples of other people. It is all trickery.”

I shrugged. Some things might be trickery, but I had stood very close indeed to Hypo and with my own eyes I had seen the saw go through the beautiful Belle-Linda and I had seen her face become white. Perhaps these other people did not have the bumps of shrewdness and progress that I had.

I went back to the fortuneteller, Ramia, and she said, “You can stay with me. There is enough to eat. People will talk, but let them.”

“About what?” I asked.

Ramia smiled. “About everything.”

I stayed and helped Ramia. She was not old, but she was like a mother to me. She cooked for me and washed and pressed my clothes. Now and then one of the men in the show would come to see her and would notice me and smile. “He is a big boy.”

“I am taking care of him like a son,” Ramia would say,

“Like a son, eh? Ha ha.”

“Like a son. He is a good boy and wants to learn.”

I helped her a great deal. I went in the midst of the crowd and struck up friendships. I told my friends how Ramia had predicted things for me that happened and how she had told me everything about my past. I helped her business very much.

After a few weeks I was madly in love with Belle-Linda, and I told Ramia as much. She laughed. “In a way it is too bad, but then perhaps it will be a lesson. You love the impossible and so does every man. You love a blonde, blueeyed creature, and yet, with the other side of your heart, you love a dark, brown-eyed creature.”

“I love Belle-Linda,” I said stoutly, “and no one else, except perhaps my mother — and you.”

The fortuneteller hugged me. “You are a nice boy. Love whom you please while you may.”

It came near the time for me to leave. The camp would soon be over, and I had to get home.

I had sent letters to my churns to forward to my parents. They were the same letters I always sent from the same camp. But the day came when I was due home. Finally I had to leave this wonderland.

Before I went, I wanted to kiss Belle-Linda and tell her I loved her for her beauty and her bravery. I tried several times to speak to her when she was about to be sawed in half, but Hypo always pushed me away.

I never saw her except when she was thus confined until the day before I was to leave. I was wandering about near the merry-go-round when I saw her golden hair and her trim figure. I ran, but she disappeared into the House of Mirrors. I yelled after her. I raced toward the House, showed my pass, and went in.

“Be careful, son,” the barker said. “Strange things can happen here.”

I ignored him. I went into the labyrinth and was appalled. It was my first time, and I saw myself everywhere, reproduced a hundred times. I felt against the glass and found an aisle, and then more glass and more reflections of me. I was lost, surrounded by myself. I was alone with thousands of myself, and I was lonely.

“Belle-Linda,” I called. “Dear Belle-Linda!”

I waited. Suddenly I saw her reflection, golden and blue-eyed and beautiful. When I reached for her, she was glass. And then she was gone. I was alone and afraid again. Perhaps I would never find my way out.

Then there appeared another girl, almost the opposite of Belle-Linda but with the shoes and stockings of my love. This other girl was darkeyed, black-haired, and also heartbreakingly beautiful. It was hard for me to know which was the more lovely.

The dark one came toward me, and then appeared in a dozen mirrors, and then disappeared. Abruptly, I was beside the blonde. She touched me and smiled. “I am Belle,”she said.

“I love you,” I managed, breathlessly. “I have often seen you.”

“You are a sweet boy,” she said, and she kissed me. She turned and was gone in the maze.

In another moment the dark girl was beside me. She laughed like bells and said, “I am Linda.”


“You are a sweet boy.”

She kissed me, and her kiss was warm and loving. Then she, too, was gone, and I was alone with a hundred images of myself, wandering about.

In the end I found my way out, and I was alive and happy in the open air. The man at the ticket window said, “Was it exciting?”

“Oh, yes,” I said firmly.

I raced to Ramia and told her what had happened. “The girl, the one Hypo saws in half, she kissed me. But another one, a dark one, quite different, also kissed me.”

When I had calmed down Ramia stroked my head and said, “I told you. There will always be two women, quite different. The one whose face you know so well, and the other, who is quite the opposite and whom you do not know at all.”

“But is she one woman?” I asked.

“Now she is one; then again, she is two. But we must clean you up and arrange your clothes and get you ready for the train. I hope you found adventure. Not many boys have this sort of summer camp.”

I hugged her. “Oh, it has been so exciting. And I am in love. And I am growing up quickly.”

“Good for you.”

When I got home everything was the same. It was the same cool world, with quiet speech and watermelon on the vine and the giant butterflies in the yard and the August Yellow Transparents now ripe on the tree.

“You did not get very tanned,” my mother said.

“I kept out of the sun.”

My father said, “Good boy. Too much sun is not good.”

Later, my Uncle Louis, full of wine, said, “You have been up to something. You went away with clouds in your eyes, and now there are stars. You must tell me sometime.”

In the dead of melancholy winter, I told him one day. He explained to me, “Ah, well, there are two girls, you see. One is the head, and she is folded up, so. The other is the feet, and she is folded up, so. When the man saws, he saws between the two. Understand? It is all a trick.”

I smiled and pretended I believed him. He did not understand. He was not, perhaps, in love with anyone at the time.