DISCLAIMER: Carnivale and its canon characters are the property of HBO and the show's producers; no copyright infringement is intended.
"What happened to me?"
"You got hurt in a fight, Ben, but you're doin' fine. Do you remember the fight?"
"Oh, yeah. Sure. With...one o' the rousties?"
"I'm just askin' you to dance, Lib," Samson coaxed. "You know we're shorthanded. Sabina an' Rollo were two of our biggest attractions, an' we gotta keep them under wraps for a while 'cause Crowe's seen them." Rightly or wrongly, he believed that if their carnival could be identified as the one that had been in New Canaan, they'd be hounded by the law and targeted by assassins.
"If we don't want to starve," he went on, "the cootch show has to attract the rubes. An' who ever heard of a cootch show with only one dancer?"
Libby glowered at him. "Are you sure what you're askin' is 'proper'? After all, by your reckonin', I'm a new widow!" She still resented his admission that he believed Jonesy was dead.
"C'mon, Lib. We all gotta pull together here."
"I've been helpin' Ruthie an' Gabe take care o' Ben -"
"Yeah, an' everyone appreciates that. But Gabe says he's doin' a little better now. I know you can take some time away. Just do dance routines you an' Rita Sue have used for years, that won't need no rehearsin'.
"Even when Jonesy was here, you were willin' to dance, when you knew your folks needed money!"
Yes. But then she'd had her husband for moral support, a strong male voice to back up her refusal if she was asked to do more.
Ben's being "a little better" didn't mean much. The high fevers and raving delirium had passed; but he was still wracked by pain, drifting in and out of consciousness, never truly lucid. Libby couldn't ask him for advice.
Her parents wouldn't express opinions, one way or the other. They just looked embarrassed.
"All right," she said reluctantly. "But only dancin', you hear?"
"What happened to me?"
"You got hurt in a fight, but you're doin' fine. Do you remember the fight?"
"Yeah, sure I do. With, uh...a friend o' Burley's?"
Samson was waiting for her when she came out of Ruthie's trailer. "This business with the dancin' ain't workin', Lib."
"I know it ain't workin'!" She was tired and irritable. "For God's sake, you hafta let Daddy hire someone."
"Out o' the question." As she headed for her family's tent, he tagged along beside her. "I've heard how the rubes behaved the last few nights. Bein' real cruel to your mama, hissin' her an' sayin' they want to see the young one strip. Don't you feel bad for your mama, want to help her? They always appreciated her just fine when you were both strippin'."
"But now I'm -" She broke off.
"You were gonna say 'a married woman,' weren't you?"
"Yeah." She felt tears welling up in her eyes, and muttered a curse.
Am I startin' to believe I ain't a married woman no more?
"Your mama's married, too. An' I ain't askin' you to do everythin' she does, just to strip. Jonesy would understand."
"No, he wouldn't."
They argued all the way back to the Dreifusses' tent, where she found Rita Sue in tears.
Stumpy just stood there looking helpless, as Samson continued the pitch to his daughter. At one point he opened his mouth...then closed it again.
Thanks a heap, Daddy.
At last she broke down. "Okay, I'll strip, damn it! But I ain't doin' no blow-off."
That resolution lasted for only one night.
"I don't understand why I'm still alive."
"I done what I was put on earth to do, killed the Usher. I don't understand why God left me here, like this. Bein' a burden to other people."
"You're gonna be fine! An' till you are, it ain't no burden for any of us to take care o' you. It's an honor."
"Sweet o' you to say that, Lib, but we both know it's a crock. An' you should be spendin' more time with your husband. You're still newlyweds!"
Samson approached her again. "Lib -"
"No! I know what you're gonna ask, an' the answer is no!"
She already felt dirty - as she never had in the old days. Before Jonesy made an honest woman o' me, she thought, recognizing the irony of that good-humored saying as applied to her.
"I wouldn't ask," Samson told her, "if we weren't flat broke."
He didn't mention that he'd given Rita Sue the entire "nut" back in New Canaan, to help pay off Stumpy's gambling debt. But Libby knew he hadn't forgotten.
She, however, hadn't forgotten that he owed her, big time, for having ruined her reputation in the troupe. To lend credibility to the notion that Jonesy and Sofie had run off together, he'd spread a false rumor that she'd gotten Jonesy drunk to induce him to marry her.
In the most withering tone she could summon up, she said, "Ain't you got no shame?"
"At this point," he said bluntly, "no."
But then he looked up at her - and she saw for the first time that his face was gray, his eyes haunted.
"Truth is, Lib, the question 'bout turnin' tricks wasn't the first one I meant to ask you today."
"It wasn't? Sorry. What was the first question?"
"I need a report. Sometimes I ain't sure I can trust Ruthie. You know why."
Libby gave a faint gasp. His actually saying that came as a shock. But after a beat, she nodded, and said reluctantly, "I know."
Then she felt she had to add, "I care about Ben too, y'know!"
"Yeah, but you ain't in love with him."
"Can't argue with that." She thought for a few seconds, then said, "He's still in a lot o' pain. All the time. We ain't got nothin' to give him but aspirin an' whiskey.
"An' he's real helpless, so weak that he can't even feed hisself. Can't keep solid food down, anyway. Ruthie thinks his intestines are hurt.
"But he's awake more. An' " - this was the key point, the hardest thing for her to say - "his mind is clear. He recognizes us, remembers things he should remember."
"New Canaan?" Samson said softly.
"Yeah. He remembers he killed the Usher. He's been frettin' 'bout Sofie, an' for a couple days, we kept tellin' him, 'She's safe, but that's all we know.' Now he's caught on that we ain't been honest with him. When he gets on that subject, he gets mad an' frustrated.
"He understands that we're a safe distance from New Canaan, an' you're busy runnin' things. He never knew Jonesy had gone missin', so he ain't worried 'bout him."
After a heavy silence, Samson said, "Sounds like it's about time."
She couldn't stop herself from blurting out, "No!"
From the beginning, they'd longed for Ben to show improvement - but they'd also dreaded it. Because at some point, Samson and Ruthie would have to tell him the awful truth: Justin Crowe had come back to life.
"Tellin' him too soon could kill him!" Libby protested. "The condition he's in, he could thrash around an' hurt hisself more, or have a heart attack or stroke -"
"D'you think I don't know that?" Samson said fiercely. "It's even possible he'll never be well enough to hear this news without its killin' him. But some one o' these days, I'll have to take the chance.
"I went along with Ruthie, ain't risked upsettin' him by bargin' into the trailer myself an' maybe remindin' him o' New Canaan too soon.
"But she's so afraid o' hurtin' him more that she'll never admit he might be ready. An' if he is, damn it, he needs to know! Hawkins is some kind o' divine Prophet o' Light, an' his mission ain't over. Not with Crowe still out there."
They lapsed into troubled silence.
Until Samson spoke up and said, almost incredulously, "I'm rememberin' somethin' you mentioned - aspirin an' whiskey?"
"All Ruthie's got to give him for pain is aspirin an' whiskey? I didn't know we were that bad off."
"Yeah..." She'd never really thought about alternatives. Now, suddenly, she did. "Shit. If we had more money, we could buy medical supplies, couldn't we? Painkillers an' stuff!"
"You mean, if we had any money."
She looked at him and said, slowly, "There's money in whorin'."
"Yeah, Lib, there is."