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CIRQUE

Matt Caprioli

Ringlets Mom cooked dinner while trying to tell me something important. She paced around the closet-sized kitchen and signaled my attention with “—So Matt.” The spaghetti drained. She cleared her voice: “I was chatting with Stacy earlier today, and it sounds like Jim may have set up a, kind-of trap, to stop his mother from escaping.” Jim was Josh’s best friend. Josh was my stepdad. I looked at her from the kitchen table, my homework splayed all around. “Wait. So, does that mean he, like, killed her?” Mom watched the steam evaporate before facing me. She spoke in the voice she used to teach Sunday School: “Well, that’s not entirely clear at the moment. It’s quite possible. He’s a suspect now.” Later that month, the papers reported that Jim really had killed his mother. He didn’t flat out strangle her or shoot her in the face, but he did make precise calculations that led to her physical demise. “So what exactly did he do?” I asked. She plopped the spaghetti and meatballs dinner onto my plate. “Well,” she started. “The police are suggesting that he blocked the exit downstairs. Apparently, there were bikes scattered all over the stairway. One thing that’s especially fishy, they said, is that they found some accelerants in Jim’s room.” “Whoa,” I replied, flipping my textbooks shut. “That’s—pretty serious.” We exchanged incredulous smiles. When sad things hit us square in the face, we didn’t know how to reply, so we laughed. We had what Auden had in his later years—that care-free, comic vision. Even when tragedy struck our lives—a death in the family, a goodbye that would last a year, the finale of Finding Nemo—our weeping was strewn with the occasional chuckle. Now confronted with the uncomfortable magnitude of matricide, we had to share a smile. “Yes,” Mom said, sitting herself down, positioning her body at the table uprightly. When it came to manners, Mom was an exiled queen—perfect posture, dainty hand gestures. Her opinions were hardly high-brow, and she didn’t think of herself as better than anyone, but she

cultivated an air of refinement that seemed to have no material cause or justification. If a W-4 is reality, she was poor, her income just above the national poverty line. Were her manners to reflect reality, she would be missing a few teeth and telling me to knock up a girl before they got too much sense in them. Fortunately, her smile was regal, and though she didn’t approve of my sexuality, she never made me feel bad about it. “So, do we know why he killed her?” I asked. “They think it was for the insurance money.” “Hmm,” I said, thoughtfully chewing on a meatball. I swallowed, and changed the topic. “I did well on a history test I didn’t study for,” and dinner resumed as usual. • Jim and Josh were the father figures in my life from 11 to 14. After Jim’s 75-year sentence, the sole father figure became Josh. • I first met Josh at Farm Loop, a mega Pentecostal church in Palmer. I was 11, visiting Alaska for Christmas with my sister Lee Ann, who was furious that she had to leave California to spend her winter break in Alaska. A sweaty man in a thick black leather jacket approached us. Each arm was lined with the fraying fringes you’d see on a cowboy. The sleeves were oddly tight and made the outline of his biceps palpable. The jacket was open and hung unevenly from his wire-framed shoulders. A plain wife-beater lay beneath the leather. His firm chest was on open display, and the field of curly vellus hair confused me. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he removed a revolver from his jacket’s inside pocket, spun it around a few times on his index finger, and greeted us with, “Howdy folks.” I didn’t know how or why he kept his jacket on. A Sunday morning sermon at Farm Loop was as strenuous as a jazzercise class. Young men sprinted around the perimeter of the church; women bounced and clapped in their seat; even the crippled found something to do with their hands. Not a soul left that building without a few drops of sweat on the forehead. Josh was a member of the young men group, and had whooped and hollered with the best of them. His skin was now spotty and teaming with sweat. His BO was formidable; I felt as though two rotting capers had been shoved up my nose. His posture offended my vision. He had a special

Cirque, Vol. 7 No. 1  

A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim

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