Catherine and her husband Britt walked along the boardwalk after dinner. She wore her reddish, almost orange-colored wig instead of the beige turban. The wig was not held fast by bonding strips or other adhesives; a sudden gust off the sea could blow it clean off her head, but she felt ugly in the turban and wore it only at bedtime. A well-meaning coworker at the community college had brought her a jar of Madhatter Glue, which clowns use to secure their wigs. Catherine thanked her and dropped the jar in the trash as soon as she got home.
Tonight Catherine wore a thin rayon dress with black and white stripes. Like all of her new dresses, it showed no cleavage, so as to cover the port-a-cath implanted beneath her left clavicle. She also draped a light-blue satin scarf, decorated with golden astrological signs, over her shoulders. She told Britt that she’d bought the scarf at Macy’s, when in fact it had been a gift from Horacio.
At forty-nine, Catherine was tall and slim with warm hazel eyes, but her long, shapely legs now tended to swell at the ankles. Cancer had made her cheekbones and fine features more pronounced; her arms had begun to look rachitic — “my chicken bones,” she joked. The doctor was less lighthearted about it. “Cachexia,” he said. “We’ll have to fight harder.” Only Horacio found her more beautiful than ever. A painter, he would gaze at her and praise what he called her purity of line.
Dinner had been joyless, not the feast she’d expected on a weekend getaway at the Jersey Shore. Britt had allowed her to order only organic foods, no sugars, no carbohydrates, not even a glass of wine. White bread had become a sin. It was for her own good, Britt insisted. He was right, of course. She couldn’t swallow that much anyway, and she dreaded vomiting. Catherine wasn’t certain, though, that Britt’s enforcement of her strict diet was entirely out of concern for her. He just happened to be interested in health foods, keeping to an impeccable diet himself. He took a dizzying array of vitamins and went to the gym every morning. He berated Catherine for not doing the same. “That’s why you got cancer,” he told her soon after her diagnosis. “You didn’t take responsibility for your body.”
In fact, Catherine had always followed a moderate diet, for long stretches even a vegetarian one. When she was younger, she’d led an aerobics class in the basement of her church. She’d never smoked, and she drank only as a prelude to sex: alcohol loosened her body and took the harsh edge off of her feelings for Britt.
Britt kept going, as though race walking. He could never just relax. Even a stroll along the boardwalk became cardiovascular exercise.
Now, she looked down the long boardwalk. In the distance, the star of the Ferris wheel sparkled against the dimming purple sky. She could see the roller coaster plunging down the track, but could not hear the passengers screaming. She heard only the ocean humming and sighing. It had a salty, fishy smell. Horacio said that a woman’s sex smelled like the sea. Before her illness, this had excited her, but now she could only perceive rotten odors coming in with the tide; she hoped her body did not smell that way. She became nauseated easily. She prayed she wouldn’t throw up tonight. She hated the contractions, the sour gurgling up her throat. She and Britt hadn’t been on a vacation for years—if a weekend counted as a vacation. Catherine had had to beg even for this, and finally had resorted to blackmail.
“This might be the last vacation I ever have. The doctor said a little change of environment will do me good. Please, Britt; I’ll go by myself if I have to.”
Britt hated vacations; they made him restless. He was always thinking about the days of lost income. He made amazing money as an electrician, but was paid per job and depended on a constant flow of work. Catherine remembered some of the vacations Britt had ruined for her. One night in Charleston they took shelter from a heavy downpour under a romantic gazebo, and instead of kissing her, as she’d hoped, he’d only muttered: “Do you know what it’s costing us to be stuck in this stupid rain?” On the second day of a long-awaited trip to the Grand Canyon, he’d insisted on working out at an Iron Muscle gym—even on vacation, he wouldn’t skip a day—and fractured his ankle. They’d had to leave immediately; though in pain, Britt seemed happy for the excuse to abort the trip. Or that time on the cruise to Aruba. Right after sex, he’d turned on the TV and become completely absorbed by Alien.
Recalling so many spoiled journeys, Catherine felt a sudden stab of rage. Strangely, it made her left hand jerk out toward Britt’s. He felt her touch and looked back at her, sneering: “Aw, she wants to hold hands on the boardwalk!” Catherine withdrew her hand quickly and looked down through the cracks between the boardwalk planks. She saw a discarded life preserver, shards of glass, a rusted license plate, and plastic water jugs strangled in knots of seaweed.
Britt kept going, as though race walking. He could never just relax. Even a stroll along the boardwalk became cardiovascular exercise. He was fifty-four and had thick, tufted silver hair; some of his racquetball buddies joked that he used hair plugs, but it really was all his own. His muscles showed through his close-fitting red polo shirt. He had always been handsome: as a young man, girls had come to him easily; he’d never had to work for their attention or develop “sensitivity.” Britt bore an uncanny physical resemblance to Ted Kennedy — a fit, sober version of Ted. Everyone told him so, and he hated it. He was solidly Republican and thought Ted Kennedy was scum, especially for Chappaquiddick. Although Britt was attractive, Catherine didn’t think he’d ever cheated on her. This actually annoyed her. His faithfulness was just another part of his smugness. She half wished he’d have an affair, not simply because it would justify her relationship with Horacio. It might make him a better lover and, well, human.
“Please, Britt,” she called out to him. “Do you mind slowing down? I’m feeling short of breath.”
Britt made a face, shook his head, and stopped until she caught up with him. Catherine felt a thin line of sweat running down from her wig.
“Is it straight?” she asked her husband.
He looked at it critically, with squinting eyes. “Yeah, it looks okay. A little more to the right.”
He made the adjustment himself. They started walking again, side by side.
“Feel better?” he asked out of the corner of his mouth, almost mumbling.
Britt was rarely affectionate, even toward their daughter, Sarah, a junior in high school. Though an excellent student, Sarah seemed abnormally desperate to attract boys. Catherine had caught her using Britt’s duct tape to prop up her breasts. When Catherine told him, all he could say was: “Tell her to stop stealing things out of my toolbox.”
Catherine knew that somewhere there was compassion in Britt. It hadn’t helped that he’d seen his mother, a staid Presbyterian, completely dominate his weak-willed, jovial father. Catherine had loved that old man. How many stilted family cookouts he’d saved with his jokes and tall tales, at least until his wife would shut him up. At an early age, Britt had sworn never to be like his henpecked father. At his funeral, Catherine saw Britt biting his trembling lips to keep from crying.
Catherine forced her arm through Britt’s. She could feel his discomfort but kept it there. A pair of sea mews wailed above them. Catherine looked up, saw them hover then pivot back out toward the twilit waves. She thought of those odd times when she really was thankful to Britt. He’d procured marijuana for her recently from the Jamaican handyman at Hardware World, where he purchased most of his supplies. Pot eased the nausea caused by the doxorubicin, among the most aggressive drugs in her chemo cocktail. And during that otherwise awful trip to Aruba, Britt had actually saved her from drowning, swimming toward her with his powerful body at great risk to himself.
“I didn’t know you cared, Britt,” she’d said after they reached the beach safely.
“You’re the mother of my child!” he’d said indignantly, looking at her in disbelief.
Still, she couldn’t forget how, whenever Britt accompanied her to chemo, he was always grumpy and seemed inconvenienced. He gave few, if any, words of comfort or sympathy. As for her home office duties, Britt was unforgiving there too. For years, Catherine had taken care of booking Britt’s appointments after her day job at the community college. He was awkward and short on the phone, she a model of pleasant customer service. One evening, after chemo, she asked him if he minded making the calls himself, just once.
“That’s your job,” he replied, “so hurry up and make those calls before you start throwing up.”
After all, she thought, another man would have divorced her after finding those letters.
But for Sarah, Catherine would have left her husband right there and then and run to Horacio’s studio.
Horacio was Cuban but had come to the United States as part of Operation Peter Pan. He never saw his family again, going from foster home to foster home. He was four years younger than Britt but short and pudgy, with a pronounced belly and a graying prickly beard that Catherine hated. He ate all the wrong foods—pork rinds, greasy hamburgers, and that repulsive brown, jiggling guava paste. He never exercised. (How was it that he never got cancer, Catherine thought bitterly one day when they’d had a spat.) His hair was always uncombed and scruffy, his old-fashioned paisley shirts none too clean, his breath garlicky. He taught painting at the same community college where Catherine worked in Admissions. Though she’d found him disgusting, the bold, raw way he had asked her to model for him in the nude had excited her.
Catherine had never met anyone like Horacio. She still lived in the small, close-knit central New Jersey suburb where she had been born. All of her best friends had grown up in the same town. She rarely even ventured to nearby Manhattan, and she had never been to Europe despite having a British mother, a cold, frugal Catholic widow. The cruise to Aruba was the extent of her foreign travel. Catherine’s father had died when she was barely six months old. At twenty Catherine had dreamed of moving to Manhattan and working as a waitress to support a freelance career in journalism. All of her English teachers had praised her talent for writing. Instead, she settled for a sensible job at the local FedEx office, where Britt worked as a delivery driver. They started dating and were married a year later.
While Catherine never did consent to be Horacio’s model, let alone sleep with him, their friendship developed into daily lunches at the college snack bar, walks around the pond behind the library, and visits to a nearby petting zoo, where he charmed her by talking to the animals in Spanish. “My own Saint Francis,” she called him. They began to e-mail each other at night. At first, the e-mails were mostly comparing memories of growing up in the ’60s. Gradually they became amorous, then erotic, acting out in words what Catherine would never consent to in “real” life. One day, Britt confronted her with reams of e-mails he’d discovered by using spyware. Catherine shuddered to remember how he had read aloud, with a twisted, mocking mouth, from one of her letters to Horacio:
“It is exciting to think of using butter as a lubricant. I get turned on just by the word, lubrication.”
Britt crumpled the printout in his huge fist.
Catherine swore that she had never acted upon any of these fantasies. She and Horacio were close friends, soul mates, but nothing more. (“Soul mates,” Britt had murmured, and she could tell he was withering inside.) She agreed to end the e-mails but not the friendship.
“Now you listen to me, Cath. You’ve got a daughter, a nice house, two dogs, a BMW, and a hot tub out on the deck. Are you going to give it all up? If I find any more e-mails, you’ll lose it all, and I’ll beat the shit out of that Spic, right in front of you.”
“You leave him alone. It’s more my fault than his. I promise: no more e-mails.” And she had kept to that. She knew that to this day Britt continued to monitor all of her e-mail activity. But she accepted it. After all, she thought, another man would have divorced her after finding those letters.
And for a time Britt became more attentive toward her. He’d help her carry in the groceries on Saturday afternoons, tearing himself away from his plasma-screen TV or Rush Limbaugh on satellite radio. He listened to her more closely on Friday nights when they sipped their precoital bourbon in the den. In bed, for their once-a-week sex, he no longer just went down on her, but turned her over and kissed the small of her back, running his erection teasingly along the crack of her ass. He even waited a little longer after climax before switching on the TV in their bedroom.
When she told Horacio that her husband had improved, Horacio accused her of having used him to reanimate her moribund marriage. “You wanted him to find those letters,” he shouted. She swore to him that she hadn’t, but in fact she was conscious as never before of how unfit Horacio seemed compared to Britt, and how unsuccessful and poor he was. Why, he didn’t even own a car, and she often had to give him rides in her BMW. But gradually Britt settled back into his usual indifference, and Catherine went back to desiring Horacio.
Catherine and Horacio only spoke their sexual fantasies to each other now and never wrote them down.
“Just imagine,” he said in a low, thrilling voice as they walked around the pond, “that I find you wearing nothing but your wig. Your panties and bra are lying on the floor. What will you do?”
Swallowing thickly and blushing, she responded: “I’ll go on all fours on the bed, stick my ass out, and look back at you with a dirty smile. My pussy’s hairless now because of the chemo, and extra smooth…”
Even as she was speaking, she was asking God for forgiveness and would not let Horacio hold or kiss her, which drove him insane with anger. “Hypocrite,” he called her. “Puta de mierda!”
Horacio’s sexual language excited her so much that sometimes she would have to finish herself off in a stall in the women’s bathroom before returning to her desk. When Britt was inside her, she would close her eyes and see Horacio—it was the only way she could come anymore. She imagined Horacio pinning her down, greasing her anal cherry, fucking the goody-two-shoes Catholic schoolgirl into complete submission.
Catherine wondered, though, what life with Horacio really would be like. His paintings were merely wheels of color—one wheel he titled Catherine. It made no sense to her, though he tried to explain something called “Orphism” and went on and on about some Russian artist or other. Also, he was a snob. Horacio would put her down for watching American Idol with her daughter—he called it “American Idolatry.” His temper was the worst part of it. One day as they were walking back from lunch, she had tried to impress him by saying, “To deny the literal truth of the raising of Lazarus is like denying the Holocaust.” She had not been prepared for his explosion of rage.
“How can you say something so ignorant, so stupid, so inhuman! I hear the cries of six million Jews!” His every word was a physical blow, his face purple beneath the beard, bloated, frightening. Why was he so upset? Could it be, Catherine thought, that he wasn’t a Catholic, as he claimed, but a Jew? Were there Jews in Cuba? They did not speak to each other for over a week.
Horacio never apologized for his outbursts. He justified them, saying that he was trying to educate her, to rescue her from her ignorance and complaisance. He got angry, he said, because he really cared. “You have no one in your life who will challenge your mental laziness. Certainly not your husband.”
“Oh, he punishes me, just like you.”
By now Catherine and Britt had reached the middle of the boardwalk, jostled by crowds, engulfed in fumes of curly fries, funnel cakes, and stale beer. Shrill bells deafened them, sirens, bullhorns, mega-speakers throbbing with relentless electronic music and trashy oldies from the 1980s. Britt made them stop in front of a shooting range. The moving target was the turbaned head of Osama bin Laden.
Maniacal children crashed into each other in bumper cars; crypto-suicides leaped from bungee towers; slot machines rang and set off dizzying rows of flashing lightbulbs; an obese white man in a Speedo shimmied effeminately in a cage to “Disco Inferno.”
“I’m gonna nail this bastard,” Britt shouted, cradling a rifle.
Britt peered through the viewfinder, taking careful aim at the taunting bearded face.
“This is for 9/11!”
He pulled the trigger and a hole appeared between bin Laden’s eyes, setting off “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Britt was competitive and liked to win. When Catherine had first met him, no one could beat him at pool.
The barker exclaimed through his bullhorn, “You, sir, are an American hero! Choose your prize!”
Britt smirked as if he had single-handedly won the war in Afghanistan. “You pick,” he said to Catherine, pointing up at the stuffed animals that hung, heads down, from a wire above the stall.
Catherine loved animals, felt a special compassion for them, even toy animals. She prayed that when she died, she would go to the heaven of animals. Animals never berated you for not going to the gym or for misspeaking about the Holocaust. Catherine thought that her daughter might want one of the teddy bears, but they looked strangled, their button eyes bulging, their white fur sooty and sticky. A wave of nausea swept through her.
“Please, Britt, I don’t want one. Let’s go.”
Maniacal children crashed into each other in bumper cars; crypto-suicides leaped from bungee towers; slot machines rang and set off dizzying rows of flashing lightbulbs; an obese white man in a Speedo shimmied effeminately in a cage to “Disco Inferno.”
Catherine saw a pizza stand illuminated in green neon. The fragrance that came from it made her nausea give way to a deep, elemental hunger. She knew better than to indulge in a greasy slice, but she couldn’t resist. She remembered an especially cold winter afternoon in her childhood. She must have been seven. She was walking home through the snow with her mother after Mass. They passed an Italian restaurant that gave off a warm, succulent aroma of pizza.
“That smells so good, Mummy!” she’d said. Catherine had not yet lost a quasi-English accent.
“Children shouldn’t hint,” her mother responded harshly. “It’s very poor manners. I do not approve of spending good money on unhealthy food. You can have a nice helping of Bovril at home. There are only two infallible powers in the world, Catherine: the Pope and Bovril!”
“Britt, I’m getting a slice of pizza over there.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Britt shouted above the din of rides and music.
She broke away from him, running, dodging a couple of drunk Shriners in crooked fezzes, one of whom made a grab for her and almost pulled off her wig. Catherine shoved her two dollars at the cashier, greedily snatching the paper plate with the oozing cheese pizza. The pointed end of the slice drooped meltingly over the edge of the plate like a severed tongue.
“Cath!” she heard her husband yell.
She bit into the slice savagely. It seared the roof of her mouth. She spit out the molten chunk onto the boardwalk. Britt tore the plate from her. He walked to the trash can, holding the pizza away from him like some contagious virus. He looked back at Catherine with contempt. She was crying, her hands pressed over her scorched lips. Shaking his head, he bought a bottle of water and commanded her to drink. She swished the cold water around in her mouth and swallowed. It soothed her, but when the water reached her stomach, it was a dagger in the gut. She doubled over, green in the glow of the neon.
“It’s your own fault, Cath!” Britt said, but he put his arms around her and helped her up. “Do you have to vomit?”
She wiped her lips of the brown-tasting regurgitated water and nodded no, but she’d been close. Above them, the roller coaster roared around a death-defying curve, casting off veering human screams and a shower of purple sparks from the straining metal wheels.
“We’re going back to the hotel,” Britt declared.
“No — no. Let’s make it to the end. I feel better now. Is my wig straight?”
They walked past the immense Ferris wheel. From a distance, it had resembled a bright star; now, seeing the dangling legs of the people in the open gondolas disgusted her, as if they’d been scooped up by a man-eating machine. Keep moving, don’t look up, she told herself, focusing her vision in a straight line ahead of her. Any sudden movement of her head now would make her sick.
Walking with Britt at her side, she wondered what would become of her and Horacio. Their last meeting had been strange. Suddenly, on the boardwalk, it began to worry her. Horacio had been more distant than usual, less adoring; he hadn’t even said anything erotic. He’d mentioned a possible teaching position in the French Pyrenees, in a town not far from Lourdes.
“Oh, well, good luck with that,” Catherine had said dryly, sounding like her mother. She did not believe he could ever leave her. He was too old and not a good enough painter to even get the job —after all, she’d never seen him paint anything real, like a house or a tree or a person, just those colorful disks that anyone could make. He wasn’t going anywhere…
But what if he actually did? Catherine shivered in the sweaty nocturnal heat. The pit of her stomach burned acidly. Anxiety crept up her like bubbling brackish water. She remembered how Horacio helped her vomit one afternoon behind some bushes near the pond. She’d been like a zombie after chemo, when suddenly the retching began. He’d knelt beside her and put his hand on her forehead so she wouldn’t hit the ground with each convulsion. He’d wiped her mouth clean with his bandana…
The rides began to grow infrequent, giving way to crab houses and tiki bars teeming with frat boys. Catherine and Britt were relieved to be reaching the end of the boardwalk, where they would hail a cab back to the hotel. It was then they heard the voice, like someone speaking through an electrolarynx. It wasn’t just the sound that was awful, but the insulting words.
“Faggot, you can’t throw.… Your children stink, lady… Go get plastic surgery, you ugly dyke…”
It came from off the pier, where there were a few last amusement stands.
“Let’s check it out,” Britt said. “Somebody might need help.”
Everyone seemed angry, yet no one, not even the adults with children, turned away. They were waiting to see the clown humiliated.
“You moron.… Aw! Missed again.… It ain’t so easy, is it?” The gravelly, vibrating voice was relentless.
“Britt, I’d rather go back to the hotel. My ankles are swelling; my feet hurt. We’ve done the boardwalk…”
“Wait, I wanna see what’s going on.”
Catherine followed Britt down the pier. His muscles tensed, as if preparing for a fight.
A crowd of men, women, and children stood around a wooden shack on which a hand-scrawled sign read: Obnoxious Clown. Taunt at your own risk. The shack was open at the front, like a puppet theater, and contained a tank of water. Upon a crossbeam above the water sat the most revolting man that Catherine had ever seen. Small and skinny, he seemed to be in his sixties, his face utterly withered, with cracked, blistered lips that his weak vanilla-colored mustache could not hide. He wore a thick layer of red and green makeup that also cracked at the seams of his deep wrinkles. The teeth were like broken candy corn, the eyes red and watery, as though burning from conjunctivitis. He wore cutoff shorts, a T-shirt emblazoned with a Confederate flag, and a New York Yankees baseball cap. Around his neck was a soiled bandanna. His hairless, bony legs dangled over the crossbeam, pocked with scabs and open sores like on the Christ in that painting by some old German that Horacio had pinned up in his studio.
A wire-mesh cage protected the clown from the public; within it, to his left, was a small wooden shelf, on which stood a bottle of Ten High. The man took occasional gulps from the bottle, smacking his repulsive lips. To his right, unprotected by the cage, were a small round target and a boxing bell. If anyone hit the target dead-center with a baseball, it would release the crossbeam and drop the clown into the water tank. A microphone above his head amplified his nightmarish voice.
“Come on, losers!”
A boy of about twelve stepped up to the stand, gave his ticket to a bored attendant, and selected a ball from the rack at the front of the shed. His mother called out after him, “Chuck, be careful!”
The boy took aim, wound up his arm, and threw the ball with all his might. The target seemed easy to hit, but the ball veered and bounced off the clown’s cage, plopping into the black water harmlessly.
“Beat it, you ugly, bucktoothed kid!”
The woman pulled her son back into the crowd. Catherine was astonished that children were even allowed to hear such language. Everyone seemed angry, yet no one, not even the adults with children, turned away. They were waiting to see the clown humiliated.
The clown took another swig of Ten High and smacked his lips.
“Ah, that tastes good… Well? I’m waiting.”
This broken clown, thought Catherine, embodied all the bitterness and vileness of life, yet at the same time was the freest man in the world, able to say whatever he felt. Did he have to be escorted by bodyguards at the end of his shows?
A muscular black man in a tank top stepped up and gathered three baseballs.
“Whoa! Whad’ya come to the beach for, darky, to work on your tan?”
The black man took aim.
“Let’s see what you can do, nig—”
The ball struck the outer end of the target with a ferocious smack.
“That was pretty close, black boy, but not close enough.”
“Come on, knock him down!” the crowd cheered.
“Knock him down, knock him down,” the clown mocked the audience. “It ain’t so easy, is it, Sambo?”
The man tried again. He had strength and skill, but the ball once more struck the outer perimeter of the target.
“It must be rigged,” Britt said. “It has to be. Somebody’s got to put a stop to this, Cath.”
“Britt, please, let’s go. This is awful.”
But Britt, like the rest, seemed entranced by the spectacle. Catherine started walking backward, away from the crowd.
The black man grasped his last baseball and threw it with full force, not at the target but at the clown himself. The ball smacked against the clown’s cage, denting the wire mesh mere inches from his face. The clown jerked his head back in a split second of fear. He recovered immediately.
“Thought you could get me, huh, porch monkey?”
To her horror, Catherine saw Britt walking up to the stand, buying a ticket, and grasping a baseball.
Her mother had presented her to the group by saying, “This is my daughter. That isn’t her real hair. It’s a wig.”
“Get him!” the crowd urged.
“Britt!” Catherine cried. “Please don’t! He’s just a poor man.”
“Well, what’ve we got here? An old gray fart. Look at him. I’ll bet he has to use Viagra to nail his bitch back there, in the orange wig.”
The crowd turned to look at Catherine, who reddened with shame and humiliation. It was almost a repetition of a month ago, when she’d accompanied her mother to a book club at the senior center. Her mother had presented her to the group by saying, “This is my daughter. That isn’t her real hair. It’s a wig.”
Britt kicked the front of the stand fiercely. “Go ahead, make fun of a woman with cancer, you sick clown. Are we gonna play ball or what?”
“Another blowhard. I see ’em all the time.”
Britt’s first throw made the rim of the target vibrate.
“Aw, too bad. Hey, lady, I really do like your wig. I might borrow it for my act sometime!”
The crowd laughed unwillingly. Catherine felt her legs trembling, turning to water. How long would this last? Horacio, save me! Catherine screamed inside of herself. Bring me back to life!
Britt threw again. This time, the target almost fell sideways. The crowd screamed. The clown even took hold of the shelf, thinking he was about to fall.
“Pretty close, creep, but ya missed. Look at him. I’ll bet he wears panties under them slacks. Hey—!”
Britt’s next throw hit the heart of the target. The boxing bell clanged. The clown had just been about to reach up for another swig of Ten High when the crossbeam unlatched beneath him and he fell, in sitting position, into the water tank, his left arm still upraised. The crowd surrounded Britt, cheering wildly, patting him on the back.
Catherine’s heart pounded, a fist punching its way out of her chest. Her abdominal muscles contracted. She fell to her knees, retching, her mouth a misshapen O. Bile and undigested food burst from her, staining her dress and silken scarf. Again. And again. The last convulsion knocked her wig off onto the planks, where it lay overturned, exposing the inner lining yellowed with sweat. Catherine’s whole body trembled. Britt was holding her. She felt for his face with her hands, like a blind person. Then, with a new, sudden strength she cocked back her skeletal arm and swung it forward in an arc, slapping him, breaking free.
“Cath!” she heard behind her, far, far away. She did not stop. The clown, dripping multicolored ooze, had emerged from the water and was clawing his way back up the cage to his crossbeam. Catherine was running toward him, stumbling, laughing, crying, her arms outstretched, the sea breeze delicious on her glistening bald head.
Alfredo Franco received an MFA in creative writing from New York University, where he studied with Philip Levine, Galway Kinnell, and Donald Hall. Currently, he teaches creative writing at Rutgers University. His work has appeared in Blackbird, Euphony Journal, Failbetter, and other journals.