We were all sitting on the field behind the ring toss and Peter said Joshua pass the vodka, and Joshua did, a cut glass bottle about a quarter full. Peter took a big swig of it. Silas said hey Matty odds are you finish the rest of that vodka and Matty said I don’t know, alright seven, and they went three, two, one, and then both shouted two! And the whole group went ooooh! Don’t do it Matty I said, come on, he said sorry I have to, and I said please Matty you’re just gonna puke and then it won’t be fun for anyone. Matty said sorry Alice, odds are is the rule, and he chugged it. Everyone cheered. I said that’s some middle school shit you guys and thought these boys have issues. Alice looks unhappy Silas said. I am I told him, and suddenly they all started laughing…
it’s just water Alice! Silas said. —What? —It’s just water. Joshua keeps water in that bottle. You can smell it, look. —What the hell guys? Was that planned? Nah Silas said, the whole thing was improvised. —Well how did you both say two? I was tapping two fingers on my chest Silas said, Matty caught on at the last moment. I stared at him. I took another look at the empty bottle that said RYE WHISKEY. I’m too high for this I said. I’m starting to feel the set crumble around my whole life which is just a bit. You’re not really my friends. You’re just here for the bit. It was all a bit Silas said, our ancestors came to America and created New Jersey and all the eighteenth nineteenth and twentieth centuries happened to prepare for this bit. And now that the bit is over history has ended.
As we lay in the grass I grew fuzzier, and gradually more touched by the whole situation, given how much they all had to know about each other in order to make that bit work. Peter had to know that Joshua kept water in that whiskey bottle, and Joshua had to know that Peter knew that, and is often sarcastic, and Joshua had to want to play along with Peter’s sarcasm when he passed Peter the bottle, even though Joshua isn’t a sarcastic person. And Silas had to know that everyone else knew it was just water in that bottle, too, except me, and in the moment he gave Matty the odds are all the other boys had to silently catch on and decide to do the bit together. They were little things, but they came from spending so much time around one another. And it was touching, really, that they’d reached this point together—they were all so different aside from going to our school and smoking pot every day.
Well, that wasn’t so true. They understood each other. They must have known it early on. When one of them went to a certain plane the others were there. We were all on our backs now, the air was humming. Peter, Silas said. Did you know that there are more spiders within five feet of you than there are people who have ever lived in the world. Wow said Peter. I did not know that. That’s amazing. And then there’s Spiders George, Silas said, have you heard of him Peter. People are saying it’s not true that everyone eats an average of eight spiders in their lifetime. Well it is true, the average is true, and it’s because of Spiders George, Peter. He lives in a cave and eats a thousand spiders a day. He throws off the average.
Peter took the joint from Matty and puffed it busily. That’s important information he said. Are people talking about this yet, do people know about this? He coughed and passed the joint along, slouched forward, fidgeted with his shoelaces. At that time of night dusk powder hung in the air and dusted the hills light black. I touched the grass, wet and cold, and heard the clinking ring toss behind me, the chattering of boys and girls. Peter’s gotten taller I thought, and his jeans ride high above his ankles now. He was skinny, always a nerdy looking kid, but in a pretty way, with his thick, dark ringlets and high cheekbones. He did a magic show for kids at the library and looked good in a tailcoat. He probably knew that to some extent. His head fell against one shoulder. Has it occurred he said, has it occurred to anyone why there’s a circus. That’s something we haven’t discussed yet. What the circus is doing here.
After a pause Peter said frankly I think it’s ridiculous that it happened at all. Where do these events even come from. Acrobats? Stilts? Fire eating? I don’t know who thought it was a good idea and who thought it was entertaining but people in the past were wack and we just keep it going because we think it’s nice to do that. Nah Matty said, that’s not true about the circus.
People take it seriously. I’ve read so many accounts of people being moved to tears by the circus.
You’ve read so many accounts of that? Peter said. Have you visited the circus archives? Are you doing research on the circus? Laughter made the rounds, Matty mumbled shut up, grinning. Whatever he said, it’s still true. It’s beautiful coordination, people are so graceful at the circus. He looked off, added quietly, on trapezes…on horses and…the ringmaster…they’re always spinning……I see that, Joshua said. That’s beautiful.
He smiled, wide and slow. Soon enough his daydream spread to the rest of us, and for what felt like a long time we all just lay there smiling too, floating in thoughts of tightrope walkers and trapezes. I felt Silas stirring beside me and when he opened his mouth I expected to hear singing. A tearful aria or something like that. But Peter he said. We’re not at the circus. Settle down, magic man.
And everyone snickered. We’d been waiting for him to say something though we hadn’t known as much, and there he lay against the hillside, leaned back on his elbows, head nicked toward the sky. Each boy radiated golden beams of attention, and when Silas spoke they flared up and ran straight through him. People like him could hold attention like that. When he muttered sarcastic things in math class you could feel it in the air how everyone waited to hear them. A girl I saw at a party once could do it too, she wasn’t even pretty, she walked up from the basement stairs and one of the boys croaked her name and gave her dap and disappeared behind her. I remember how she walked, slow and wide and sort of hunched, and what she was wearing, some sort of buckle shoe, and I’ve looked for that shoe ever since but I don’t know the name of it….that was a party I came to with the boys, we went places together. We sat together in classes, I talked to Matty and Peter on the bus every morning and I knew they liked me, they did always invite me. But I wanted their attention, I wanted to hold it and keep it at a simmer and know it would be there whenever I opened my mouth. Every time I laughed their golden radiation reached me, shriveled up, slipped around me, as if my body were coated in oil. Peter said surprising things. Peter didn’t care that his voice was whiny. Joshua could hold it because he was always deep in thought, and Silas, you just never knew when he would speak, and when he did the hillside glowed with five brilliant sunbursts of attention.
I want a funnel cake Matty said. But I’m sure there’s a long line. I’ll hold off I guess. To prove it to all you haters Silas said, all of you who doubted that I could resist. Fuck you, dad, you never believed in me. Well just you watch.
I wanted to laugh so badly and to mask it I wandered away. How could I laugh again with nothing to add? The ferris wheel turned lazily above us. I stood in line for it and got in a carriage alone. The boys probably didn’t even realize I was gone. As the wheel creaked and started to turn I could see them in a little ring below, barely moving, and out of the corner of my eye I caught the swinging of another boy in the carriage ahead of me, back and forth, his head bobbing in the air, he could fall out easily if he tried. I stared at him uncontrollably. I had no desire to swing like that at all, what would it feel like to want to? And the boys still sat there muted from this height in their circle, what did they talk about when I wasn’t there, what did they understand about each other that they wouldn’t let me know, what would it feel like to be a low-voiced girl who could lay among them naturally? If I were to ask them, and if I were to say something, well that’s just not what we talk about….
—Do you live around here? The ride had ended. Robotically I had stumbled out and here was kid from the carriage in front of me, a sexual pull in his eyes. —Sorry? I saw you looking at me he said, back there on the ferris wheel. Can I get your number?
I said nothing, only returned his stare. I said nothing still, smiled wide as a banana. You would think that, wouldn’t you? I’m just high is all. Here’s my number ferris wheel boy. Text me hello. Meet me in Prague exactly seven months from now. Change your name, address, and the color of your hair. I’ll be waiting for you at the Imperial Hotel but you won’t see me in the lobby. When you arrive you’ll see a man by the ballroom door, and you’ll lean in and whisper rye whiskey and he will shake your hand and let you inside. Do not contact me further. Do not be afraid. I smiled at all this in my head, told him sorry I don’t live here, and wandered quietly back to our spot behind the ring toss where the boys had gotten out their speakers and started to play something trancelike, repetitive. In the blue carnival lights it was like we were underwater, it was like Silas and Joshua were underwater, every bass note rippled through us while they mimed playing the drums, a little behind the beat, just hi-hat and snare. I mean I could see the drums there, they were so fluid. And I’ve thought many times that I love it when they do that, and maybe when a song comes on that I like I could do that too, but really, I’ve never felt like I could.