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"The Circus Life" by Nadine Darling



Kate read his cards again. She said, “Marriage, Day of the Dead, me, gun,” and sighed.


“Do you die by gunshot?”


“No, I die in the snow.” She told him all about it, that she would know what was happening to her and she would not fight it, and the cold would spread out into her fingers and become warmth and then there would be such light. After that she would sleep.


“Well, that’s your problem,” said John. “In order to stay alive, all I have to do is not marry you.”


“Yes,” said Kate, “but however will you manage that?”


John thought about it. “I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m willing to give it a shot.”


After he left she read for an old woman who believed herself to be the reincarnated spirit of William Taft.


“Sure,” said Kate. Through the open tent flap she watched John, who’d planted himself on a bench beside the kettle-corn vendor. She waved to him and he waved back.


Mel took Kate’s resignation in stride.


“I seen the greats,” he said. “I used to represent a man who trained monkeys to do popular dances. Classical stuff, too. Waltzes. Fox trots. He fell in love and it ruined him, his gift went sour. He brought in all those monkeys to dance at his reception and they ended up mauling several members of the wedding party.”


“Well, that’s terrible,” said Kate. She shook his hand and he held hers a moment longer, kissed it, pressed it to his heart like a trophy.


He said, “Come back to me if you have a mind to, young Kate, you of the confused bedroom eyes and long-suffering cheekbones, if your beau takes to the drink or the streets or the air. Come back and read cards for me, beside me, for what life is like circus life? What fevered dream of reality can even hope to compare?"


Kate and John honeymooned at Niagara Falls. They woke early and dressed and went outside to watch the falls, a wild and natural thing that begot barrels and luxury hotels and love. The spray was immense, even far from the rail, and the falls spat hard into their faces- gleeful and unrepentant, a landmark with a lisp.


They both caught work, consistent and middling as coughs. Kate read cards in the subway while John toiled away as a proofreader at the fortune cookie factory. Kate was delighted by John’s new job. She’d always enjoyed fortune cookies, the crisp beige lie of them, the way even such a tame confection could be swayed, bastardized by frat boys and girls at slumber parties. Kate was no better. She added in bed to the end of every fortune, delightedly, as though aligning luck with love equaled double-luck, and John never had the heart, nor the research, to challenge her. In bed, Kate, eyebrows raised, would say to John when they ventured out for lo mein and Peking raviolis, cracking open a cookie with both hands like a cootie-catcher. In bed.  


At night they watched Iron Chef and slept on a queen mattress teetering above the frame of a sofa bed. They kept the TV tilted toward them, swiveled on top of an empty tin of graham crackers that served as sort of a crude lazy-susan. Iron Chef was riveting to them; the secret ingredient was giant lobster! The secret ingredient was tomato! The secret ingredient was eel!


          “Why is it never Swedish gummy fish?” asked Kate. “Or love?”

John turned her face to his and said, “If I left, there would be no shooting.”

            “That’s not necessarily true,” said Kate. “What if I shoot you because you leave me?”


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