The gold-buttoned coat

Cassie stared around in wild panic before she realised it had just been the dream again.

She waited for her heart to slow and for the sweat to cool on her burning skin before getting up to make tea.

She sat on the caravan steps in the pale dawn, breathing in the woodsmoke and hay and damp canvas. The burnt popcorn and incense that perfumed her nights and early mornings. Only the animal keepers would be up at this time; all was still while the clowns and dancers and acrobats slept off their hangovers.

The dream of the man in the long, gold-buttoned coat had come every few months since Cassie could remember and always ended the same way: the man brought Cassie’s death with a charming smile and an outstretched hand.

The coat was an unusual one, like nothing Cassie had ever seen outside of her dreams, with stiff fronting and shining, smart gold buttons in gleaming rows. She couldn’t imagine what sort of man might wear such a garment.

There was no hospital, just a flash of orange fire, a deafening crash, the crackle of electricity in the rain. Then nothing, darkness,

Cassie’s mother, Leah, had worked in the milking sheds before a dashing young acrobat sailed in with the circus to whisk her away to a life of sawdust and sparkles. Leah had learned to read the future in the cards from the toothless crone she came to replace.

It had been the only life Cassie had ever known, and, on the same night her mother died, Cassie picked up the cards herself and the show, as ever, went on.

They thought what Cassie did was simple trickery veiled in cleverness, even when she saw her father’s death at the bottom of a bottle, months before they found him, choked on his own vomit behind the slide in the elephant enclosure. Predicting that death, they said, hardly demanded clairvoyance.

The troupe had set up camp near Mumbles three days ago. Some of the dancing girls had been into town and had gossiped about the bars, the boys, the new electric tram cars and the strange local language. Cassie preferred to stay home turning her cards, watching from the shadows.

That night, as the gates flew open and the crowds poured in, Cassie met young sweethearts looking for marriage in the cards, old women seeking redemption, kids after answers or a thrill, or a fright.

And then one man simply took her breath away.

He came alone, smiling, charming; concerned more with her future than his past; seeing more than kohl-rimmed eyes and veils of chiffon and incense. This man intrigued her. This man saw her.

He wasn’t handsome, or rich, but something about the smile in his eyes made her breath catch in her chest. He was, he told her proudly, a conductor on the new tram car, and when he asked her to meet him at his work the next day she told him yes.

Outside, rain had begun to fall, lightly at first, but as the young man left it grew heavier, settling into a storm that would last several miserable, treacherous days. As he slipped, light-hearted from Cassie’s caravan he pulled on his long, gold-buttoned tram conductor’s coat and headed off into the night.