Cathy says the circus is a metaphor for hell.
I say tell me, then, what of the magician? The magician is an old Portuguese, or maybe he’s Brazilian. He knows the words for happy smile and children. His hands are the hands of a cobbler, thick and rough and long healed over. There are salt stains covering his shoes, and speckling the cuffs of his trousers. The knees of his trousers are worn, and woven over in circles. There is a painted ocarina, strung on leather ’round his neck, with an image of the Virgin Mother stenciled just below the lip, about the size of a thumb print.
The magician holds up six black squares, each square about the size of a Christmas card, and assembles them into a box. He then opens the lid and up pops the head of a bunny. He takes the bunny by its ears and hides it away inside his overcoat. He blows a note on his holy ocarina, stops to wipe a spittle from his lip, and breaks off into cough.
But even the smiling children, who seem more circumspect than entertained, and with their backpacks of books and their heavy winter coats, they cannot turn their eyes from the motionless bulge inside his overcoat.
—I want the bunny, I say. How much for the bunny? Twenty? Twenty?
—No! You, no! I want the bunny, I tell him pointing to the bulge inside his coat. ¡El conejito! ¿Cuánto es?
—No bunny! ¿Por que? Happy children. . . .
—Let me see it, then!
—Because it’s frightened. It’s frightened being on the subway. You don’t bring a bunny on the subway!
I leaned after him, and I growled into his face, Señor, because you torment the animals, Jesus Christ will condemn you to hell!
He was so totally oblivious. His obliviousness fit him like a bulletproof vest. I thought to make a grab inside his coat, but I was scared I’d have to fight him off. And then who would stand up to defend me? Would those school kids have a clue what I was up to? Or would they make of the commotion just so much sideshow? Probably they would think me a fool, a fool who doesn’t know to keep his distance. And besides, then we’d be stuck with a bunny.
—You’d have to build a hutch, she says, sitting naked astride the toilet, before a mirror she has propped against the seat cover. She is clipping and combing and perfecting her pubes into something on the order of a racing stripe. She calls it la recru. All the same, you’d have to build a hutch, she says.
He told me, happy children. And then he reaches inside his coat, and I could make out him grabbing at the bulge, and then he pulls out a bulge of colored handkerchiefs, and keeps on pulling out this string of colored handkerchiefs. . . . But you could see its ears were trembling. The subways are so loud. So loud with metal noises. And the PA system, all that crackling and hissing. Does the rabbit know it’s not the noises of some beast of prey? I imagine the rabbit’s in a constant state of terror. And everybody pushing in on one another. And breathing with their mouths open! Do rabbits get TB?
—I don’t know. I’m done in here.
She powders herself and takes the bathrobe off the door. . . .
—It’s back, she says handing me the manila package. I got my manuscript back.
—So I suppose he didn’t pass it on. . . . Dear Tim, our editor friend. . . .
—Nope. I think I’ll have to find an agent.
—Did he at least read it?
—Don’t know. Can’t really tell.
—Is there a note?
—Not really. Just this on his business card. . . .
Sorry about this. Let’s try again.
—So then probably he couldn’t get into it. Probably he couldn’t hold on for the first twenty pages. Too offensive to his delicate sensibilities. Our dear Tim, his short attention span.
—I think I need a woman editor to read it.
—The thing about dear Tim is he never grew up, instead of becoming an artist he became an altar boy, and the only way he can live with himself is by believing all real artists are going to hell. It’s perfect that he’s an editor. Why didn’t he become a folk singer or put a band together? Wasn’t he the one, never without his guitar?
—And he wrote poetry. He was into William Carlos Williams.
—And you were into Katherine Mansfield. And Anaïs Nin. . . . It’s ’cause he resents you. You were always just out of reach. And then when you started seeing me, well, then his fascination turned into resentment. So after ten years he’s at last gotten back at you. You rejected him, now he’s rejected you.
—You think it’s because of you?
—I don’t think it’s because of the writing. . . .