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Family Circle 2010 Fiction Contest: "Divorce Circus"

Jennifer Dupree's story, "Divorce Circus," won second place in the Family Circle 2010 Fiction Contest.

In the bright October morning, Ralph blinked up at the house in front of him, thinking for a moment that he must have taken a wrong turn. He could hardly see the house that had once been his because an enormous red and yellow striped tent sprawled over most of the front lawn. Two monkeys stood like sentinels on either side of the tent's flapping entrance, each holding fistfuls of balloons. Through the opening, Ralph could see a band of six clowns setting up their musical instruments.

"You have got to be kidding me." Ralph squeezed his eyes closed against an impending headache. Vicki was known for excess. Too much makeup, too many presents at Christmas, too much food for family dinners. Once, her spirited belief that more is better had been something Ralph loved about Vicki. Now, though, her obvious lack of restraint revolted him.

In the backseat of the car, Bethany clapped her hands together. "Oh," she said. "A circus tent!" She tapped Ralph on the shoulder, her small fingers like a butterfly. "Can I go, Daddy?"

Ralph nodded and smiled, a feigned happiness for the sake of his daughter. Three weeks ago, Vicki had asked him, in front of Bethany, if they could have her ninth birthday party at "home." The big lawn, she'd said. All of Bethany's friends right there in the neighborhood. Ralph nodded his consent while staring at the crease in his soon-to-be ex-wife's forehead and thinking about how much he hated her.

Now Bethany unfastened her seatbelt and propelled herself out of the car. "Come on!" Her blue and white polka-dot skirt waved liked a flag around her dimpled knees as she ran. Ralph followed his daughter. He heaved himself out of the car and ambled into the tent, the pizza he ate last night lurching around in his paunchy stomach. Bethany turned and granted him only the briefest over-the-shoulder smile as she ran toward the circus.