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"The Circus Life" by Nadine Darling



No one questioned him. The old men who worked beside him, whose fingernails were stained blue with ink, who had thought in sentences for so long they could barely speak in single words and whose faces were lax and lined from contemplation, shook his hand and nodded, mute as new grooms to such hysteria, such conflict. Like Kate, they understood the punch line. The joke itself was only filler.


The night after Halloween, John drove Kate out past city limits, past barns and scarecrows, past flooded out pumpkin patches where pumpkins floated like shadows of full orange moons. He said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about the future and what we control.”


Kate didn’t answer. He’d had it, she knew. He’d told her he’d had it. The worst part was not knowing, he’d said and she’d nodded when he’d said it, to be supportive, although in her experience not knowing had always been the best part of all.


“I have a gun in my pocket,” he said. It was cold; the back window of the car was broken- some Halloween hijinks handed down by stupid kids or drunken adults- and John’s breath was visible in white, fervent puffs. 


“I have complete control over this situation,” he said.  


Then the car broke down. It made a noise like two amorous cats caught in a wheat thresher and eased to a gentle stop at the edge of a cornfield. Great dead stalks remained, husks trailing down, grazing at the earth like rancid streamers.  


They got out of the car and walked.


“Where are we going?” asked Kate.


“Don’t you know?” said John. “Don’t you know where we’re going?”



John spat.


“Hold my hand,” said Kate, but John ignored her.


He slid the gun from his pocket.


He said, “Do you see this?” 


Kate nodded.


“Embrace your fucking future!” said John, and again he spat.  Kate began to walk faster.


“Don’t you run from me!” said John. He hurled the gun at her. It skidded to a halt near her left foot. Kate stopped and looked down at the gun and then at John, and she waited.


“Well, do it,” said John.


Kate stood there in the cold, the dark sweeping in slow from both sides like closing hands, and watched John. It began to rain- she could hear it. It was a thing the town had been waiting for, the rain, wistfully, ruefully, as though for a lover or a bill. Old women and meteorologists, great teams of meteorologists loud and consistent and brightly dressed as circus-tent reverends, insisted upon it, and Kate was relieved for herself, for everyone. It oxidized the blood and soothed the brain, she thought, to wait so long for something that came.


“It’s raining,” she said.


“Well, it was coming,” said John, “and I’ll bet you knew that, too.”


“Hold my hand,” said Kate. “Come to me and hold my hand.”



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