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Ever since I was seven I have wanted to be in the circus'one of the tightrope walkers. I've never actually been to a circus, but last year I began pasting pictures of Con Colleano into an old notebook. I would look at it every night. When my brother found out he laughed, and then two days later the book went missing. So instead, I rolled out a long piece of tape on the floor of my room and now I walk straight lines back and forth. My father tells me that I am wasting my talents with an unlikely fantasy. My brother tells me to stop being an idiot and get over it. I still pretend that they're wrong though, that it is possible, but it's not the same.
In my dreams, though, it feels real. In my dreams I can smell the heat and the sweat trapped inside the tent. In the distance there are shouts and gasps, but I don't pay attention to them. Instead, I stand on the rope and look down; I realize how small everything actually is. For a moment the wire begins to shake, panic climbs through my fingernails and it is only then I discover that there is no tent, there is no crowd, there is no rope. It is just me suspended in the sky.
I dream too much, I know it. But I think that we all need something to hold on to. My brother watches the rain. He says it's like taking a shower, like scrubbing off all the dirt and starting over again.
And my mother used to run. She gave all these explanations about the scenery and the fresh air, but I knew that none of them were true. She ran because she was unsatisfied. Because it was pointless, just another stupid thing to pass the time. Because when she ran, she got the sensation of moving forward, of making progress, of breaking through.
And my father, he collects organs'but only the ones people don't need. He wraps them in old grocery bags and puts them in the back of the fridge where no one will touch them. Every week he takes them out to check for freezer burn. My mother thinks it's disgusting, but he always looks too excited for me to say anything.
'In a couple of years,' he tells me, 'they'll be worth a fortune.'
One day, when my father had finished and gone to work, my brother dragged me into the kitchen. He lined up the organs on the table, prodding them with the backside of a metal spoon.
'Which one's your favorite?'
'I don't know,' I said. 'Don't you need all of them?'
'Mine's the liver.'
'But what's a liver without a heart?'
'Well,' he said, 'What's a heart without a liver?'
I was silent.
'See, you make no sense.'
Sometimes I wonder if he's right. I have this image of my brain where it's blind, carrying the long white cane and wearing the dark-tinted sunglasses. I can see it stumbling around, trying the make sense of everything. But in the end it doesn't really matter. It's not true. It's just me, making things up.
I have a hard time, though, trying to understand my father. He makes me and my brother sit on the couch some nights, while he paces back and forth.
'Listen kids,' he says. 'You are growing up; you've got to hear it. It's a competitive world'if you're not careful people are going to climb all over you. So you've got to do everything you can. Aim high, end up higher.'
He tells us to study in school, to get good jobs, to make something of ourselves. He tells us to do absolutely everything we can to get ahead. Aim high, end up higher, he says.
There are times when I don't think he's even speaking to us, when I don't think he even sees us. My mother tells me not to worry about it, that I wouldn't understand.
I don't understand a lot of things.
Last Christmas my mother gave me a kiss, my father gave me twenty dollars, and my brother gave me a box. On the box he had written, 'Practicality.' I was confused, but I smiled and said, 'Thank you.'
Later I had taken the box to my room and put my feet in it. I had stood there for half an hour shifting around, but it wasn't comfortable. When I went to step out, my foot got caught in one of the corners and I ended up tearing the box. At first I was surprised and then I was scared. I ran to my brother's room and told him what happened.
'Who cares?' he said. 'It's just a box.'
My mother's last run was on the day of first snow.
She had left with her gloves and her scarf and her determination. But when she came home she was red and wheezing. She told me that the wind had thrown the snow at her, and that the snow had whipped against her face until she couldn't see, until she couldn't breathe. She told me she barely made it home.
'It's not worth it,' she said.
She has not gone running since.
Sometimes I wonder if she is happy, if she has ever been happy. I asked my brother once what he thought and he told me it wasn't my problem. I don't think she's happy.
My father hasn't noticed. He's been too busy talking to George Mathewson, the man who works at the morgue. I wish he'd notice. Last week my father took me to Mr. Mathewson's shop to pick up something. I figured it was really special because when we walked in Mr. Mathewson lifted himself from his big armchair, turned off the radio, and gave us a smile.
'Hey, hey, how've you been?'
But my father was not in a mood of talking. He just shook his head and walked over to the counter and Mr. Mathewson understood. He bent down, and grabbed an old wooden box off a bookshelf in the corner of the room, heaving as he placed it on the counter. He was wearing a tweed jacket, his hair slicked back, the faint smell of urine on his hands. They were big hands, veins darting from the knuckles of his fingers all the way underneath the sleeves of his shirt. My father watched his hands too. Once the box was at his side of the counter, my father reached into his pants pocket and slid a wad of money towards Mr. Mathewson. Mr. Mathewson's bulky fingers shuffled through the bills.
'Twenty short,' he said.
My father looked annoyed.
'Wallet's in the car. Give me a minute.'
My father walked outside of the store and then it was just me and him.
'What's in the box?' I finally asked.
His face brightened up; he seemed very proud.
'A brain,' he said. 'It's a brain.'
I was terrified.
'Why do you do it?' I asked.
'Well, sweetie, a brain's not worth much if it's buried in the ground.'
I've been thinking of that a lot recently, about what he said. It's not worth much.
A few years ago my father took his hammer and nailed a five-dollar bill into the wall by my brother's bed. I was amazed; the nail pierced right through Lincoln's skull.
'This is it, son,' my father had said. 'This is you now.'
Once he caught my brother trying to pry out the nail, trying to save Lincoln. He looked absolutely horrified, and my brother never tried to remove it again.
That night I asked him what he was doing. He gave me a suspicious look before he spoke.
'Nothing. I was just trying to start over.'
I don't think any of them are happy. I don't really know if I'm happy. I just don't understand things. I don't understand why my father talks to Mr. Mathewson. I don't understand why my mother stopped running. I don't understand why my brother left. Starting over, he said, but I don't understand. His room is empty now, just a shadow. He took everything except Lincoln nailed to the wall, giving me the look of a man crucified.
'Lincoln,' I ask, 'what happened?'
Lincoln doesn't answer me because not even he knows. My brother left for somewhere, for something. My mother tried to shake it out of him, grabbing him by the shoulders, asking him not to leave the family, not to leave her behind. My father just watched with a gray face. And I was silent too, shifting the weight from my left foot to my right foot, back and forth.
He hugged each of us before he left, first my father, then my mother, then me. When he hugged me he whispered something very softly.
'Get out of here,' he said.
I felt nauseous as he turned and left.
It is late now and everyone is asleep. I am feeling restless. I'm not sure why I do it, but I go into the kitchen, open the fridge, and pick up the brain. It slides easily out of the bag, and I discover that I am not afraid to touch it. It is cold and soft between my fingers. I look at it and I know that it is absolutely worthless. It is ugly. I hate it.
I lift it above my shoulders, squeezing it tight so the juice drips down my arms and into my hair. And then I smile and hurl the brain against a wall. It bounces off onto the floor, leaving one slimy mark from the impact. I pick the brain up again and drop it into the garbage disposal. The machine gives off a screech. Then there is silence.
I decide to run. I open the door and breathe in the air. I feel like I am chasing something. I want to go home, but I can't stop. There is something I must catch. I try to block out my frustration, and so I listen to my feet bouncing off the asphalt. It is then I understand that I am not alone, that behind me is my father, my mother, my brother. They are there running with me. I can feel them. I run for hours.
It is only when the moon is directly overhead that I begin to pick up speed. I run harder, and the world seems to blend together, objects and colors fusing. All I actually know is the sensation of the air brushing against my sides. It is then that I take flight. I am no longer on the ground, but ascending into the sky. And I realize that I am not actually chasing anything but myself. I wonder where I am going, but that is a silly question.
'Nowhere,' I say. 'I am going nowhere.'
I smile and marvel how tiny everything seems from up here.