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  • Wax
  • Jessica Roeder (bio)

Kid believed, though he was no longer a child, that elephants made new elephants from the earth beneath them, dampening it with water sucked in through the trunk and then with urine, treading on the spot, kneading the liquid in and beginning to shape, a back, a mound with a ridge of spine, more water and more earth, working down, until the back began to rise on flanks and the head of the new elephant emerged facing away from the maker, a fine head that the maker elephant would know anywhere. Kid had faith in attention. He believed that the act of an elephant forming a new elephant was sacred. He believed he'd seen a bull, an elephant, involved in such work. The circus moved on before the bull could finish; the memory itself was incomplete. Every bull he'd known was female. They formed herds wherever you put them, and they knew how to work.

For most of his life, he had believed that he was born of woman. He was almost certain, though his father said No. When he was old enough, he understood that his mother had suffered, had screamed, sweated, clawed, and bled, and he supposed that his father kept a photo of her, hidden.

At eight years, he'd seen an elephant die. He was there when she buckled, the front legs and then the back. Ignoring prohibitions, he kicked loose some bolts and allowed a second bull in. That one, older and tuskless, stroked the one who had died: the head, the hollow behind the head, the back. He thought her work might revive the dead one, but it didn't. She dipped her head and nudged the flank, and the elephant rolled, the mass of her shifting under the skin, and then the trainer was there, and he knocked Kid down and beat him with the elephant's chain. When Kid woke, he knew that his father had saved his life.

He was fifteen now. He was a clown rather than the son of a clown. Ann's hands, inside his shirt, paused over the dents where the chain had bitten in. Sensation was weak there; her fingers seemed to pull back [End Page 85] and come close again. She may have thought that his father left those marks, though his father hadn't beaten him, or hardly ever.

Ann could think anything. She'd never met Kid's father, who was missing in the war. Kid had left the old circus two months after his father's unit shipped. He'd thought not to be a clown anymore; he might have found work in a diner or at a munitions plant or on a farm. Instead he came to the Setterle Circus. Ann was there. And so it went. She closed her eyes, and he kissed them. She kissed his throat, tucked her head under his chin, and went on.

Kid shook. He had wanted, from Ann, a slower pace. When he began to suspect she was pregnant, he imagined inside her a chalk doll. He saw dimpled knees, a fat belly, a dimpled smile. About the baby, he felt neither love nor fear. He waited. Ann didn't tell him. The baby at birth would be slick with Ann's flesh, because chalk was rough in the places where it broke and would catch on anything.


But he hadn't known Ann at first. He'd cared for no one except the horse that Sid had given him to ride, a stout gray mare with a silver mane and tail. The horse's eyes, too, in certain lights, had a silver sheen. Only the horse brought Kid peace. He spoke little. Those first weeks, when he was alone, the air buzzed. Kid thought everything might be shaken loose. When he rode, he matched his breathing to the horse's. Lucky, they'd named her. He called her Horse, and he supposed that if she called him anything it was Clown.

Because his father feared horses but pretended to hate them, Kid had never truly become a trick rider. He had used riding only as a...


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pp. 85-100
Launched on MUSE
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