Conversations With My Uncle

Sonofabitch never told her he was a member of the circus, let alone the guy who swallows fire. And after all these years she never suspected a thing. Until one day their son, Justin, the little shit with the small hands and the twig legs, is out back staring at this pile of leaves they was burning. Just standing there looking at the fire, real quiet. Like he was Perry Mason and the fire contained important clues or something. Apparently, this was like a regular activity for him, his most favorite thing to do. He'd stand there all day; they'd literally have to carry him in the house at night - kicking his legs and swinging his arms and crying like his life was over. They thought this was just some little kid quirk, we all thought it was on account of all the smokin' she did while pregnant.

Anyway, Perry Mason apparently decides he needs to inspect something a little more closely. So he reaches into the fire and pulls out a stick. And then for some reason no one seems to understand he starts running around the yard like he's carrying the Olympic freakin' torch. Now, this wasn't a big stick, but you gotta realize Justin is like five years old and a scrawny little puke so even the smallest stick, like anything bigger than matchbook size, may as well have been a blowtorch. And let me digress for a moment to remind you that this is Phoenix and it's dry, real dry, so it's more like his freakish girl hands are holding a stick of dine-o-mite and a gallon of gas-o-lean.

So Carolyn, your lovely aunt, is washing the dishes and just happens to look out the window and, Holy Mother, sees Justin, interestingly stick-like himself, spinning this torch like a baton, just laughing and running and skipping around the yard. He couldn't be happier. She, of course, just about shits and starts screaming bloody murder; dropping a plate on the floor which breaks into, I swear, about 100 pieces and finds it's way into every nook and cranny of that small kitchen, which, don't even get me started on sweeping that bastard; blisters. Hours I spent.

But so anyway Terry, your, ah, uncle-in-law, just so happens to be in the attic shining the very instruments he swallows the fire with - your swords, your metal poles, your sticks of varying sizes and widths - when he hears her screaming. He, of course, thinks Carolyn is right behind him (what with that voice of hers that could pierce surgical steel and make witches and goblins hold their ears and stomp their feet in pain) and has seen all these weapons and shit and probably thinks he's planning a trip to the top of some clock tower, if you follow me here. So he whips his head around real fast; so fast he pinches a nerve and lets out a little scream himself. But, she's not there. Her ear-piercing scream is a full two floors down. Which he quickly realizes probably means some professional head-of-the-household type behavior is required. So he puts the swords back into the velvet sheath, slides the sheath into a long box labeled "tent" and puts the box containing the sheath into a guitar case. Which, they might teach you a lot in the circus, but hiding shit apparently isn't one of them, because who opens a guitar case and sees a box labeled "tent" and thinks this is a perfectly logical place to store the camping gear? Anyway, he runs downstairs and into the kitchen where his wife is standing in the middle of all these pieces of broken plate, her hands against her cheeks, looking every bit a parody of surprise.

She tries to speak but can only gasp and so just points out the window. He looks, turning his whole body slowly here, you know, on account of the pinched nerve which, I don't know if you've ever had one, but trust me, not pleasant. And that's when he sees Justin, waving this burning stick and laughing and having a good ole' time, like maybe he thinks it's the forth of freakin' July and he's been elected grand marshal of the Pint-Sized Idiot Parade. So Terry high-tails it into the back yard without thinking, just like you always hear parents say, and grabs the stick out of Justin's hand and, damn right, swallows it. And the fire goes out. Just like that. Which, sweet Mother of God, thank you Lord, quiets his wife, who by this time has alarmed every neighbor within a five county radius and is now in the back yard holding Justin in her arms, we hope, a lot tighter than she held that freakin' plate. But then a light bulb goes off over her head and she says to Terry "what theā€¦?" And he, with the stick that now looks small and wispy in his heavy callused hands, quickly hides it behind his back, smiles and tries to speak; to continue the string of lies he's told for the last how many years. But when he opens his mouth a plume of smoke comes out and several pieces of ash and he knows he is toast.

So he reaches into his pocket and hands her the crumpled sheet of writing paper he's kept with him every day for the last sixteen years of their marriage, a list containing the names of every woman he's slept with during that span. Thirty names, 23 of which were people from he worked with at the circus, people who, as you might guess, were wickedly and awfully deformed - eye patches and shit. Anyway, two were named Karen. No one named Jill though. A sore point for him, one he's spent the last three years trying to rectify. No luck though, what with that hook arm and wooden leg.

About the author:

Chuck lives in Chicago, Illinois. He has a single-page resume.