Our cra­zi­est shoot ever!

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider -

I asked for an in­ter­na­tional-law text­book.

I didn’t get one. In­stead I got 100 pink bal­loons, a full-sized carousel and a brand-new bal­let out­fit, even though I’ve never had lessons. Some kids dream of run­ning away to the cir­cus;


or my 10th birth­day, I asked for an in­ter­na­tional-law text­book. I didn’t get one. In­stead I got 100 pink bal­loons, a full-sized carousel and a brand-new bal­let out­fit, even though I’ve never had lessons. Some kids dream of run­ning away to the cir­cus; I dream of run­ning away from it.

I have no dad. Not any­more, any­way. He left when I was two. Fire-eat­ing—like my mother, like me—had been a pass­ing fancy. The note he left said: “I’ve gone to law school. Please don’t try to find me.” It didn’t say any­thing about me.

What I have in­stead of a dad is a mom and a grandma and Aunt Sand­dune and Un­cle Ze­phyr and his girl­friend, Ocelot, and all the peo­ple who come to the house ev­ery Fri­day and Satur­day and Sun­day when we are Open and Busi­ness Is Good. That’s when I put on my bal­let clothes and dance in the gar­den, even though I don’t re­ally know bal­let. I just do moves I think real bal­leri­nas would do and imag­ine that some­one in the cot­ton-candy-eat­ing, lemon­ade-drink­ing au­di­ence is my fa­ther. That man in the khaki shorts hold­ing the hand of a just-nor­mal woman in jeans. The bald­ing guy push­ing a stroller with a baby. I look them in the eye and dance as beau­ti­fully as I can, un­til they wan­der off to­ward Ocelot’s ac­cor­dion show or the for­tune teller who is ac­tu­ally Grandma or the con­tor­tion­ist who is ac­tu­ally Un­cle Ze­phyr. They never stay in the gar­den for very long.

Be­fore the doors opened on the day af­ter my birth­day, I told ev­ery­one that I was leav­ing. That I was go­ing to find my fa­ther. “Where?” said Aunt Sand­dune. “The law firms,” I said. “Down­town.” I would look all day dur­ing nor­mal busi­ness hours, and if I still didn’t find him I’d hitch­hike to the next town big enough to have lawyers. “Then you’ll prob­a­bly be back by six?” asked Un­cle Ze­phyr. “Or maybe six-thirty, if some of them are worka­holics....” said Ocelot.

“No,” I said. “I won’t be back un­til much longer than that. I might not be back ever.” “Well, then,” said my grandma, “we’re com­ing with you.” Be­side her, my mother nod­ded. “Yes,” she said, qui­etly. “Yes, we’re com­ing with you.”

They put a “Closed for Fam­ily Emer­gency” sign on the door, and a bowl of free un-in­flated bal­loons un­der­neath for dis­ap­pointed cus­tomers, and went off to get ready for ad­ven­tur­ing. Grandma got sun­glasses that made her eyes look like a fish’s, Mom and Aunt Sand­dune got match­ing fake-fur jack­ets in pink and yel­low, Un­cle Ze­phyr got a brown cow­boy jacket with dan­gling frills all up the front and back, and Ocelot got a neck­lace made of hun­dreds of fake pearls stuck to­gether into one gi­ant fake-pearl ball. She tried to bring her ac­cor­dion, strapped around her arms like a back­pack, but it kept bump­ing the pearl ball so she had to leave it be­hind. I found my most nor­mal jacket, dark denim, and put it on over my bal­let things.

Peo­ple thought we were a pa­rade. They lined the side­walks to watch us pass, and some clapped. Lit­tle kids gave us high-fives. We walked in a line all the way to the first law firm, in a build­ing that was all square and glass. “Do you want to go in by your­self?” asked my mother. Her yel­low faux fur brushed my arm. “Yes, please,” I said. “Okay,” she said. “Then you should know, Lily, that your fa­ther’s real name is Henry, not Flames Inferno—Henry Dowell.” “Okay,” I said, “Thank you.” They all stayed in the lobby while I took the el­e­va­tor up. Grandma dis­tracted the se­cu­rity guard by telling his for­tune.

My fa­ther wasn’t there. He wasn’t at any of the next six firms, ei­ther. Or the next six af­ter that. But then, at a firm in a tall square glass build­ing, a woman all in navy cocked her head and said: “Henry? Henry Dowell? Yes, I think he does work here. Here, fol­low me.”

She led me down the hall, away from the bright light­ing, to where it was dim. At the end of the hall, she stopped at a door that said “Cus­to­dian” on it and smelled like le­mon bleach. “There you go,” she said and left. I lifted my hand to knock but didn’t. I just held it there, breath­ing in the le­mon, the bleach.

When I got back down­stairs, my mother asked, as al­ways, “Did you find him?” And I an­swered, as al­ways, “No.” “...And then you’ll die of heat ex­haus­tion,” said Grandma, fin­ish­ing up with the se­cu­rity guard be­fore turn­ing to me. “On to the next?” she said. It was five-forty-five. “No,” I said. “I’m done.” “Done?” said my mother. “Yes, done,” I said. Ev­ery­one was look­ing at me. Mom, Grandma, Un­cle Ze­phyr, Aunt Sand­dune, Ocelot.

“They...” I said, swal­low­ing, “they told me about him. About Dad. That he used to be a lawyer, but then he ran off. That, now, he is off with another cir­cus, swal­low­ing fire. In China. Far, far from here. Too far for us to go.” “Oh,” said Un­cle Ze­phyr. “Okay?” said Mom. “Yeah,” I said. We pa­raded back down the streets to our house, and peo­ple watched and clapped and gave us high-fives and Mom said to me, “You know, I guess that means he’s still Flames Inferno af­ter all, not Henry Dowell.” “Yes,” I said. “I guess so.” “That’s good, isn’t it?” asked Mom. “Yes,” I said. “It is.” I used one hand to high-five a tod­dler in a stroller and, with the other, held my mom’s, yel­low faux fur brush­ing against my wrist with ev­ery step. n

Emma Hooper’s de­but novel, Etta and Otto and Rus­sell and James, was pub­lished in Jan­uary.


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