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Family Circle 2009 Fiction Contest: "On the Wire"

Vicki L. Wilson's story, "On the Wire," won second place in the Family Circle 2009 Fiction Contest.

That my mother used to be a trapeze artist comes up in conversation more than you might think.

Like when we're piling wood for the winter and she lifts a piece so big and heavy that even my father stops to watch. And she says, "I can't help it. Fifteen years off the wire, and the muscles stick around."

I am twelve, so she didn't quit the wire to have me. She quit to have my sister, Stella.

I'm not sure what it must be like for Stella, knowing that she caused Mom to give up something she loved.

Mom says she stayed on the trapeze right up to her sixth month of pregnancy. I'm not sure I believe that, but then there is my sister's love of balancing on the porch railing and swinging in the tree swing. "She got a taste for the air before she could breathe it," Mom says.

We live on a road in a town where there are no stoplights and no grocery stores. It is as far away from a circus or a show as you can get. I know most people don't live like this anymore, cutting their own wood for the winter, but we do. I ride the bus for an hour to get to school. Stella is saving for a car.

My dad delivers oil for a living. You're probably wondering how a man who delivers oil married a trapeze artist. That comes up in conversation more than you might think, too. My dad met my mom at the circus. He drove the oil truck there, on an afternoon when he had a break between deliveries. He was leaning against his truck in the circus parking lot eating an egg salad sandwich when my mother walked up to him and said, "Driving an oil truck is dangerous."

My dad, not agreeing, but liking the chance to seem dangerous, said, "I've had a few close calls."

Mom nodded. "I'm with the circus. I'm a trapeze artist."

"Now that's dangerous," my dad said.

"No, that's living. 'Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting.'"

That's a quote from the great Karl Wallenda. Mom says it all the time. He was some circus daredevil who did a lot with the tightrope, which Mom did, too.

Neither me nor Stella liked it when Mom quoted Karl. And by the way, my name is Carl, with a C. I guess I'm named after him, but when I was born, my mom didn't know his name was spelled with a K.

Neither me nor Stella liked it when Mom quoted Wallenda because it meant that her life was "just waiting." And we knew enough about age to know that Mom would never go back to the circus no matter how many big pieces of wood she could lift.