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Family Circle 2009 Fiction Contest: "On the Wire"

Ivan Mennahoff was a frustrated gym teacher. He, too, had been in the circus once, and my mother knew him from friends of friends, and he'd even come to our house once for dinner, although he didn't come back. He was a dark man who drank lots of Jack Daniel's. I don't think my parents ever asked him to dinner again. But he offered private lessons for gymnastics and acrobats and trapezing and tightrope walking. Of course he would take on Stella. She was a natural. And it had been so long since he had a student worth teaching. That's what he told Stella, and she told me. She was pretty sure that Ivan knew the signed parental consent form she'd given him was a fake.

Stella's performance debut was the 6th of April as part of the college's talent show for family weekend. She told our parents she was reading an English essay at the show. Once they were there, she said, she would surprise them with her act and they would see how good she was on the wire and have to let her continue.

The day of the show, I was fidgety.

"What is wrong? Ants in the pants?" my mom said. We were loading ourselves into the car to go to the gymnasium at the college. Dad had dropped Stella off hours before so she could "practice her essay." But I knew she went early because she needed to change into her sequined leotard and warm up her muscles.

I was complicit.

It took my dad a few minutes to figure out what was going on when we walked into the gym, but Mom knew right away. She took one look around and led us to the very front row of the bleachers, closest to the high wire. She was very quiet and said, just once, as she sat, "Oh, Stella."