Donna D. Vitucci

       The dad sat on his patio and sipped his early evening cocktail, minding his girls as they played in the yard turning gloomy.  Neela and Coco, they were, with names like gorilla baby names, and with the sweet malleable mugs gorillas have before they elongate, grow second teeth, puff up linebacker-ish in breadth and swagger.  He could locate them by their screams, by their sing-songing.  They played under the apple tree, stealing the apples-- but not those really rotten and liquefying-- from the September bees, accruing a little bomb shelter stockpile.  The game they played they called Armo-Get-On.  They watched too much doomsday TV.
       They plopped the apples in the wheelbarrow, each took a handle, serious about their jobs and transportation.  As they wobbled their produce around the side between houses, the backyard accepted a film of peace.  Until the teenager next door—the side not with the girls wheelbarrow-ing the apples—started pitching his knives.  The dad heard weapons thwapping, sticking the side of the neighbor's wood shed, and the kid missing, the kid cursing.  Tattoos and weightlifting in the garage.  Now knives.  The kid was perfecting all his circus angles.
       The dad sipped, and then upended the ice to rattle down and clink his teeth.  The side of the house was in shadow and his girls could not be seen.  Or heard.  And this set off his boozy-woozy alarm.  On the goth-boy side, knives graced the grass, innocent tossed play things.  The dad circled the whole of his house outside, carrying his empty cocktail.  His girls and the boy had vanished.  The drink in him said, “Ran away with the circus.”
       A kalliope or an ice cream truck played music in the street.  A lion or a greyhound trotted at the end of a leash.  The man waved his glass to the dog walker, who did not emerge from behind the ice cream truck.  The manhole cover in the middle of the street had been shifted to reveal the sewer.
       A field full of bees swarmed the man's backyard.  They were lifting the apple tree.  They were that many and that strong and that determined.  They could lift little girls hunched in a big metal wheelbarrow and strong man knife throwers and women lion tamers.  The bees were eager to increase their throng, and changing the shapes of things as they did.
       The girls would learn to trapeze in skimpy, spanglely outfits against all child labor and laws of decency.  Before this night they had only ever hung upside down by their bent knees from the lowest apple tree branch.  Soon they would rocket through air.  They would learn timing.
       While the dad cricked his neck tilting up at the sky, wondering how they'd got away from him, who put his girls up there and made them stars, and how they would get down, Neela and Coco forgot they ever had a dad, or a place to return to, other than the silver bar advancing and receding, metronome teaching them the word “rely” in a world without a net.  Show business names they brought with them like lucky pennies in their shoes.  At the end of their act each night, their ballerina feet poised fifth position in the sawdust and the sublime, they held hands to bow.  Their noses touched their knees. They had always been so flexible.  Eyes shiny as wet stones, hair lustrous as moonlight, they folded in half.
       The gorillas inside their cages gave up furious, muscular applause.  A lion roared and the woman tossed it an extra large dog biscuit.  The kalliope sang Don't Sit under the Apple Tree, and all the town's children stirred in their dreams. Where the trailers had been parked among cinders, knives crowded into one place perpendicular, and the boy, pale without his makeup but painted on his limbs, pulled them free of the tree bark, as his arms had grown stronger and his aim more accurate.  His upper lip predicted a ring master's moustache, and a time when all things would buckle to his whip.
       A bearded man hummed among the tents in his janitor-like way.  He carried a push-broom for a prop.  Unless you drew close you wouldn't know he wore a beard of bees to hide a weak and negligible chin.  Huddling up and hugging his face, the hive operated as one wide wing, caressing where whiskers refused to grow.  In their bee-hungry hearts, relishing their sting, they knew Neela and Coco wasted allergic.  Those girls-- collecting sappy apples among bees, the initial mistake, and their flying through the firmament merely an irritating delay.
       Neela and Coco were paper thin, they walked an origami path, they folded themselves flat as the alphabet. The circus celebrated contortionists,  but what those girls could do was out of this world.
       Tomorrow's headline already set in 46 point: Another Negligent Father?  And in smaller type: Authorities are investigating.
       A Child Protective Services spokesperson said, in its best blend of active and passive, “We are reviewing our field notes to see what might have been missed on our last visit.”
       The dad's rebuttal by telephone interview: “I do what I can as a lone parent.”
       “Those girls were hot from the get-go,” said an anonymous neighbor who wished to remain so.  “They glowed in their bassinets.  What collected in their diapers scorched.”--Fueling speculation the speaker had once been the girls' babysitter.
       “Their Hoochie Mama left us,” the dad said in another feel-sorry-for-me statement. He couldn't catch a break from the crowd.
       The vendor behind the scratched-up plasti-glass of the ice cream truck said, “They had star quality.”   He cited grubbiness his reason for not lifting the window for better auditory.  A few said he needed a shave and others said the compressor keeping the end-of-the-season ice cream cold inside buzzed like a son-of-a-gun.
       The lady next door denied she ever gave birth.  Her greyhound posed on the patio slab regally, squinted his eyes at the backyard while she stroked its hatchet-sized head.  She said, “What boy?”