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Family Circle 2009 Fiction Contest: "On the Wire"

My parents were never really angry with Ivan because, as they saw it, it was not him who hid Stella's training from them. "But he didn't use a net!" I heard my dad hiss to my mother once, but she shushed him and said, "Neither did I." And after six months of being grounded, Stella was allowed to go back to training with Ivan. It was my mother who talked my father into this.

On Stella's first day back, Dad stood in the gym next to my mother, in front of Ivan, and demanded that they use a net every time Stella was on the wire. My mother shrugged. In the car on the way home, I sat in the back seat, and my mother said to my father, "You know that they won't use the net every time," and Dad said, "I know."

While Stella was grounded, we talked a lot because she was stuck at home and she was bored. She told me about how it felt to be on a tightrope, and how she had just been learning to fly on the trapeze. She liked the trapeze better than the rope, but it was harder. I asked her if she remembered her fall. She did. I asked her what it was like when she was falling. "It was like being on the trapeze," she said, which is why she hadn't screamed.

"And when Mom caught you?" I said. "When Ivan came over? What did she say to him?" I imagined it was something angry. Profane, even.

"She said 'my life was on that wire.'"

I groaned.

"No, Carl." Stella sighed. "She meant me." Then Stella touched me on the face, and went to the window and was quiet.

I'm not sure what it must be like for Stella, knowing she caused Mom to give up something she loved, because that never comes up in conversation. But now, after Stella's fall, when Mom says the Wallenda quote, it occurs to me, and I think it does to Stella, too, that she says it more for us, than for her.

She wants us up on that wire. And when we are, she'll be waiting.

Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.