She was remembering a time she and her husband had taken a child to the circus. There had been clowns and animals and pink-skirted bareback riders, and the little girl had decided she would herself become a circus performer when she grew up. Clara had said, no way, you're going to college. This was in the car, coming home. Her husband had been shocked.
Now I see you were right, she wrote in the letter she was always writing to him. There were many issues of right and wrong to be sorted out. For instance, Clara had been the messy one while her husband was neat, but now that Clara was living with someone messier than she was, she saw the importance of order. Each time she realized he had been right about something, she wondered if he had been right about everything.
I can't believe I said that, she wrote. It had seemed necessary at the time to set the little girl straight, but now she had no idea why a five-year-old who had just had peppermint ice cream at the circus should have her nose rubbed in the concept of college. Why had Clara dragged in Reality like a huge, ungainly prop it took seven men to get onstage?
Her ex-husband, she reflected, really understood children. He knew what to buy them, how to talk to them; he joined them in their world. Once they had visited some friends in the country whose child was massively unhappy. His new stepmother couldn't reach him, but fifteen minutes after their arrival, Clara and her friends were sitting on the porch with drinks, watching her husband, the child and a kite moving in silhouette across the rim of a nearby hill. Clara was proud of her husband's magical ways, although she knew he had chosen the child mostly to avoid their friends, who were really her friends, not his.
Look at that, said the child's father enviously. He was a movie editor, and Clara was in fact thinking of a movie. She was thinking of the silhouette of characters led by Death with his sickle in The Seventh Seal.
Nothing personal, she wrote in the letter. It was just the way you were leading the child along the ridge of the hill, with the kite trailing behind you. It just reminded me of the image, that's all.
Of course they never saw that child again. They never took the other child out again either. Clara reflected that these encounters of her husband's with children were generally brief, although she knew one [End Page 9] child he would have had a longer relationship with. The less she knew about that the better. All she really knew, when you came down to it, was that her husband had bought this child a present at Toys 'R' Us on a certain day. She hadn't actually seen the credit-card bill, but she had heard about it from someone who had.
Clara's ex-husband also liked dogs. He would pat and thump and play with them for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, encouraging them with low, ruffling noises as if he were the one getting thumped and patted. Sometimes he would even get down on the ground like another playful dog. All this was quite sincere. But there was something about it that made Clara think her ex-husband did not actually mind having an audience for what he was doing, even if it was only her. And this thought, that her ex-husband liked being watched when he played with dogs, was not one that would ever have occurred to her while they were married. She had taken him much too seriously for that.
Now Clara has heard a child being interviewed on the radio about the tooth fairy. The interviewer asked what the tooth fairy did with all the teeth she collected, and the little girl, with incredibly charming improvisatory eagerness, answered that the tooth fairy kept the teeth in heaven, where she was saving them until she had enough to build a house with...