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Types of Circus, by Jen Knox

The last day I saw Michelle she weighed 325.2 pounds. She used to greet me each morning by reading her weight as it was recorded earlier that day in a small black notebook. If she was losing weight, she’d treat herself to a glazed donut and give me a high-five. If she was gaining, she’d shrug and leave the cream out of her coffee. Michelle drove an airport shuttle bus then, and I drove a taxi; I trailed behind her all day long, watching her body closely.   

Michelle averaged around 310, but even when she got up to 330.7, her highest weight, she was damn sexy. Michelle’s leg strength, flexibility: remarkable! Driving an airport taxi and being—well, hell, I’ll just say it—a handsome man makes for a nice selection of partners. But no woman was as ecstatic, as fully committed to lovemaking as Michelle. I wanted her all to myself, all the time, even though I knew it would never happen.

When I asked Michelle to marry me, I was a little drunk, but I meant it. We were sprawled out on the floor, sweaty and happy. She was sober, and I worried she might laugh at me. I didn’t think she’d actually consider my proposal. She was silent a long time before those black-lined grey eyes locked my gaze. She spoke slowly. “I was born in 1952.” Sure, I was a little younger than her, but this didn’t matter to me. I was about to slur something to this effect when she continued. “I was pregnant in 1969, 1972 and 1974 in Wyoming and 1977 here in Montana. The fathers are assholes. My kids are all half-asshole. With so many people in my family already, marrying me would be like joining the circus. It’s the type of circus where none of the performers get along, and the trapeze act is painful to watch.” She laughed and put her mouth up to my ear. “I’ll spare you.”

I hated those fathers, though I’d never met any of them. I imagined how remarkable it would be to share something so precious with Michelle, and how stupid they were to leave her alone. I thought often about my bad timing; how different could things have been if only we’d met in our younger years?

Michelle had taken to the bottle heavily while her children were young; consequently, she was blamed for their emotional scars. But, she worked the 12 Steps and made Amends. She became a sponsor, mine, and found me the job at the airport. I left the program soon after meeting her, but Michelle hadn’t left my side, hadn’t scolded me the way I imagine others might’ve. She said she’d always be there for me because she knew I’d get my shit together.

I wasn’t the only man who knew about Michelle’s leg strength. She was known around the way. Sex was sacred to her, like praying or the Steps, and I knew I’d never be lucky enough to have her exclusively. I used to watch the way she’d work. I’d be parked behind her; she’d step out of the shuttle and make her way around it to open the trunk. Her pants would cling to those perfect thighs as she bent over to retrieve a traveler’s baggage.

“People can be incredibly simple,” Michelle once told me. “If you treat them like they’re complex anyway, they’ll love you.”

When Michelle was offered a management job that required a lot of travel, she wasn’t thrilled. When she was offered a thirty-percent increase in salary, she’d damn-near fainted. The last time we made love, as I draped my arm around her, settled my fingers on her hip, she spoke confidingly of her children, especially the two that weren’t speaking to her. She said that only her youngest daughters had forgiven her for being a drunk, and this was only because they were too young to remember her worst days. She told me that she was an utter failure as a mother, but at the same time, she said she knew some things most other people didn’t—she had figured out that living wasn’t about keeping score. She said this was no small realization, even if it seemed simple. I told her that this comment made me want to drink, and she laughed.

Michelle died shortly after accepting her new position. She was mugged and stabbed over twenty times in Chicago, and I guess this is how things go in the big city—when she screamed, apparently no one heard her, and so she died in a grocery store parking lot and wasn’t found until a few hours after her last breath. It was an elderly man who had wanted a cab that found her there, slouched on the side of the vehicle. When her children—the two that had stepped up to arrange a funeral—recreated the scene for me, I told them that I loved their mother, and I knew it sounded odd, but I would be honored to own that little notebook of hers. They looked at me like I was a creep, but a week later the notebook arrived in a manila envelope.

Michelle had kept record in her notebook for two years straight, and still there were blank pages. She’d written in small, blocky letters, and she remained consistent. Each entry was dated and in purple ink. Apparently, she started losing quite a bit of weight after leaving town, and I wondered what this meant. I examined each page, looking for something extra, a note or a doodle in a margin, a hint of what her life was like on the road. But there were only numbers; next to smaller numbers she drew smiley faces; next to larger ones were devil horns. She only pretended to be this simple. It was the only way she could endure the rest of us.

Notes

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