Catherine Bush: Accusation

from Accusation, Goose Lane Editions, 2013.

What am I supposed to do, he shouted.  His voice dropped, contrite.  I’m sorry.  Raymond Renaud’s hand reached out across the car, as if to touch Sara’s arm, before skidding away.  Behind the wheel, steering the car through the night, she had a sudden image of Raymond flying through the air with the children of his Ethiopian circus, high over the ocean, the boy who’d been paralysed tumbling from the flock towards the water from that great height. I can’t believe the thing that’s happened, Raymond Renaud said.  It is so terrible, I think, if I go back, he won’t have fallen, it isn’t true, it can’t be.  When Sara glanced at the passenger seat, Raymond was touching his knees with his fingertips, his thighs, the edges of his jacket.  If I was there it wouldn’t have happened, if I had stayed, if I had not come away.  If he fell, I would have saved him.  He is, of all of them, he is —

You can’t think that.

But I do.

They passed the Welcome Port Hope sign, a trick, two places welling out of the dark, though Sara had no idea where Welcome was.  She was on the 401, driving east at night; somehow she had agreed to drive this man, the director of the Ethiopian children’s circus, all the way from Toronto to Montreal.  An irradiating pair of halogen headlamps sped up from behind her, blinding her through the rearview mirror before the car passed and became a pair of red tail lights receding into the dark.  Headlights flared from across the meridian and the broken white line of the lane divider strobed up from the dark tarmac to either side, small flares glimpsed across his face, felt on hers.

She tried again: Would I have seen him, Yitbarek, perform in Copenhagen?

Raymond Renaud was silent, as if holding himself against all that churned through him.  Yes, he said at last.  You would notice him.  He’s small but not the smallest.  He is so alive when he moves.  He does the act with the torches.  He came to us in Dessie in the north.  After a show he found me and he was so excited to show me what he could do.  He was imitating the others, and even then you could see — he was so quick, so flexible, so daring, he just has so much natural talent.  I said to his parents, you must let him come with me.  You must let him do this.  He is that good.  I will make sure he stays in school and does all his school work.  I will look after him, I promise.

He clapped a hand over his mouth, bent forward against the seat belt, as if he were about to be sick.

Raymond, are you okay?

He started up again, eyes shining.  I am responsible for them.  Don’t you see?  They are in my care.  Everything has been so crazy, like a runaway horse.  I am trying to keep hold of the reins.  When I get back, I will do everything for him, raise money for him, do all the rehabilitation, whatever it takes.  I will tell them all, he will walk again.  We will all be stronger, we will come through this.

She looked down at the speedometer to find herself racing along at one hundred and forty, past the sign for the Big Apple, then the Big Apple itself, round and large as a house, the car shuddering only when she lifted her foot from the gas.  Raymond seemed unaware of their speed.  He sat back, palms pressed to his eyes, breath ragged, body shuddering a little, wildness charging through him, as if, left alone, he would have gone galloping through the night, and his grief and care, could it even be love, made Sara’s heart leap towards him.  I’m doing my best to get you back as soon as I can.

 

She slowed in the exit lane that led to the service centre just beyond Odessa.  If Raymond didn’t wake, she would leave him sleeping while she went inside to buy a coffee, needing that fuel to keep herself alert, but as the car decelerated, he stretched and yawned, then pulled the seat upright, and, yawning again, breath curdled, voice nasal with sleep, asked where they were.  Sara told him they were near Kingston, and he could stay in the car if he wanted, she could get him something, but he said no, he’d come inside.

It was glorious to climb out into the cool night air in which crickets were singing, to stretch her arms, squeeze her toes in her blue sandals, tottery on the heels, creases furrowing her linen trousers and shirt, her party clothes.  Beyond the grassy ditch separating parking lot from highway, the slipstream of trucks pushed waves of thundering air towards them.  On the far side of the car, Raymond Renaud stretched, too; then, as they made their way towards the glow of the circular service centre, beneath the hum of the mile-high lot lights, he said, In this country they eat a special food called doughnuts very late at night.  No one knows the true reason they are called this.

Tell me what they’re like, Sara said, both of them giddy and bumping shoulders, as they passed the truck lot, where the great trucks, like elephants, flanked each other, some rumbling, engines idle, running their air-conditioning or refrigerator units. Giddiness didn’t take away from the underlying horror of the paralysed boy; it was bound to this, to the fact that the boy’s plight was now shared knowledge between them.

Inside the women’s washroom, Sara threw cold water over her face and patted her skin dry with paper towels, before making her way along the curved corridor that led to one of two restaurants.  As she turned the corner toward the right-hand restaurant, she looked about for Raymond, and saw him not at the service counter, where she expected him to be, but out among the tables, beneath the shimmering fluorescent lights, stripped of his yellow jacket, in a black T-shirt, in front of two seated boys.  He was juggling.  Juggling.  With what?  She couldn’t see.  Then she could.  Small, multi-coloured balls.  Where had he got them?  Had he brought them from the car, stuffed in the pockets of his jacket, and she had failed to notice?  She was stunned at the sight of him and —

Head tilted up to follow the arcs of the balls, how fluid he seemed, how assured, how calm, despite the balancing twitches of his hips and the shuffle steps of his sandaled feet.  Once again, he was revealed to her in an entirely new way.  She didn’t dare move closer, didn’t want to disturb him but to watch as others were watching, the boys’ mother, or the woman at the same table who was presumably their mother, though darker-haired and more bony-featured than the boys.  Bleary-eyed travellers at other tables were roused to alertness.  The two women behind the counter where the doughnuts were had drawn close to its edge and whispered as they stared, and a man in a trucker’s cap stalled in astonishment inside the side door.  The coloured balls flew up from Raymond’s hands and tumbled down, six balls.  Sara had no names for the patterns he was making, the volleys, a spray of balls, his hands held up and open at the end of each muscled arm, releasing each ball with a flick, easy at the wrist.  He spun around without missing a ball.  She’d had no idea he was so good.  The boys gaped at him in wonder.  Grief and turmoil had to be in him somewhere, transmuted, displaced, and were given this form, this movement, performative yet generous, as if he wanted to find and give others pleasure.

He called out to the women behind the counter for a doughnut, weaving between the tables towards them, keeping the balls in the air, teasing the women, I will pay, do not worry, nothing with icing or glaze.  Catching three balls while keeping three in the air, he stopped by the rack of utensils, plastic and metal ones, and grabbed what, metal, knives, three of them.  The younger woman, in her brimmed visor and hairnet, looked at her co-worker, nervous, then tossed him a doughnut overhand, an old-fashioned, and he dropped a ball but caught the doughnut with a grin, adding it to his volley, catching the knives by the handles, grabbing the doughnut in his mouth when it fell and taking a bite before sending it airborne again.

Someone started to clap, the air alive with excitement and disbelief at this tall man juggling in the wee hours at a service centre on the 401, the jaggedness of something so unexpected.  Raymond finished the doughnut and caught the balls and knives, picking up the dropped ball from the floor, but he was not through yet, and, throughout all this, how calm he remained.  He set down the knives, pulled out a chair and, standing on its seat so that he towered over them all, launched the balls again while tipping the chair forward, not falling but stepping backward onto the back of the chair, rotating the chair beneath his feet, growing taller as he moved, feeling his way backward to balance now on the chair’s legs, keeping himself upright, under the shimmering lights, not looking down as the pressure of his moving weight turned the chair beneath him while his hands kept the balls spinning through the air.  Joy shone on his face, through a sheen of sweat.  At last he caught all the balls in both hands and leaped free of the chair.  When everyone clapped, he gave that shy, dimpled smile that Sara remembered from his appearance with the circus in Copenhagen, and dipped his dark head.  Had she really seen what she’d just seen?  As soon as he stopped and righted the chair, it seemed improbable that any of this had happened, or that it had happened like this, despite the surprised murmurings of everyone around her.

He was conversing with the boys, leaning over them as Sara approached, telling them about Cirkus Mirak, the children’s circus in Ethiopia, did they know where that was, it was in Africa.  The circus children juggled and did acrobatics. He pulled a folded flyer out of the pocket of his jacket and gave it to the boys and told them some day they should come for a visit.  When Sara came close, Raymond turned to her with a friendly smile, and the boys and their mother also turned and must assume, if she was the companion of this man, that all this was familiar to her.  That she knew his secrets.  Raymond introduced her to the boys, Ben and Matt, and their mother Moira, who were on their way from Sarnia to Moncton, days and nights of travel to take up a new life there, and suddenly she was commiserating with the mother, and joking with them all, saying, no, she had none of his talents, could only appreciate his, this complicity, and wishing them a safe trip onwards, while Raymond offered to buy the boys more doughnuts.  Their mother said, no, really, they’d had enough, she needed them to sleep.  A near-intoxicated glow poured from Raymond, despite his underlying note of distress.  Some sadness and bewilderment came from the boys, too.  He was gentle as he shook both the boys’ hands.

On the way back to the car, Raymond carried a box of doughnuts along with his coffee, the juggling balls weighing down the pockets of his jacket.  Sara was on the verge of asking him where they’d come from. To ask meant the stubborn return to the practical, the stripping away of his mystery.  She stopped herself.

 

*****

Juliet held open a glass door that led into the cool, dim vestibule of a small warehouse building on Bathurst north of Queen.  Immediately behind her, a flight of stairs led upward.  Sunglasses off, eyes adjusting, Sara stepped in from the heat, the outside air thick and sultry even though it was September and afternoon shadows were creeping down from the western housetops as the sun slid low in the sky.  A crease quivered between Juliet’s brows, and strands of her hair, most of it clipped back, wisped about her face.  In a black dress and little turquoise cardigan, she led Sara up the flight of stairs, through another door, past a small seating area where two sofas were set in a L, and down a corridor of closed doors to the one marked Suite C, which Juliet, shoulders hunched, unlocked.  Inside the edit suite, the walls were covered in black felt, and metal shelves climbed up one wall, and there were two monitors, one set upon a metal cart, the other on a desktop.  A blue-white tube of fluorescent lighting trembled overhead.

It had been a long time, Sara thought, since she and Juliet had been alone in a room together.  In the early years after their separate moves to Toronto, they had met in bars and restaurants or galleries, and a couple of times, at Juliet’s invitation, had gone to see dance together, although in those days Sara was often out of town.  The last time they’d been alone in a room with this kind of privacy had been when Sara had come to live with Juliet and her roommates in the apartment on rue de l’Esplanade in Montreal, after she had walked out on Graham or Graham had thrown her out, and Juliet had bumped into her one February afternoon as she sat near campus in a Van Houtte coffee shop, a knapsack bulging with her belongings at her feet.

It was strange to think that Raymond Renaud, founder of a children’s circus in Ethiopia, was the agent of their new proximity, and uncomfortably strange to find herself once more wanting something from Juliet.  As Juliet tucked her keys into the leather handbag that hung from a hook on the back of the door, Sara tried to determine if Juliet seemed resentful of her, given that the circus story had altered so radically since she’d first told Juliet about it.

Juliet, I am so sorry about this whole business.

How could you have known?

With a grimace, Juliet took a seat in front of the monitor on the desk, wrapped a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and, aiming for a smile, patted the chair next to her.  A black bound notebook lay on the desk, a pair of speakers to either side of the monitors, some papers scrawled with what Sara thought were called time codes, and, beside an ordinary keyboard, a contraption with a joystick on it, presumably for manipulating the tape.  Businesslike, Juliet plucked a mini cassette tape, small enough to fit in her palm, from a pile on the desk, slid it into the mouth of the videocassette player, which swallowed it with a mechanical gurgle.  I wasn’t sure what you’d want to see, and there are a lot of rushes, and I could have shown you the rough cut I’ve been working on but now that feels too weird, so I’ve cued up a few other things.

Weak air-conditioning attempted to cool the room, stuffy with odours of dust and sweat. A small plastic fan clamped to the side of one metal shelf waved some air across them.  Juliet reached to switch off the overhead light as an image flared onto the monitor screen: a dirt path by the side of a road sped past, presumably in Addis Ababa, presumably shot through the window of a moving vehicle.  There were trees and people walking along the tamped red earth, women in sweaters and flowered dresses with plastic bags swinging from their hands; a man in a suit came close then vanished; a flock of goats or sheep skittered from the road  into the comfort of a ditch; a barefoot boy trudged behind a wooden wheelbarrow; voices outside brayed and were whipped away like flags while voices from within the car mumbled and fluttered.  The footage felt real because it was raw.

This is our first full day in Addis, Juliet said.  We’re on our way to the circus compound.  Where they rehearse?

A donkey trotted along, skinny poles of wood lashed to its sides; a gas station appeared on the right as the car made a sharp turn to the left and scrunched to a stop on dirt and stones.  Whoever was holding the camera climbed from the car, footsteps crunching as the view lurched across more scrubby trees and the dusty yellow planes of the car, before rising up the length of a wooden pole at the top of which the cut-out wooden figure of a boy balanced on his hands, legs in the air.  His unitard was painted pink, his body red-brown, a splash of black hair daubed atop his head.

Did you get hold of your assistant, Sara asked.

Juliet nodded.

You told him about the allegations?

Juliet muted the sound as the car and its passengers jolted up a steep hill, stones projecting from the craterous red dirt, a scrim of trees bouncing outside the car window.

Justin was totally shocked.  He spent more time hanging out with the performers than I did, the older ones.  But they didn’t speak much English and mostly they were goofing around or trying to teach him to juggle or playing soccer.  He said he didn’t notice anything, and they didn’t seem upset.  They didn’t talk to him about Raymond.

On the screen, at the top of the hillside, where the land levelled into a flat parking area, a white pickup truck, coated in a skin of red dirt, was parked alongside a couple of older, smaller cars.  Light glinted off the windshields.  Across a hummocky expanse of dirt and grass rose two yellowish single-storey buildings, a fringe of trees beyond them, and on the ground, in front of the buildings, moved a clump of human figures, all of them small, maquette-sized.

Everything felt compressed and intense and mostly we were going crazy trying to make the film, Juliet said.

Something Sara had seen previously, in a photograph, sprang to life: older boys in pink leotards with ribbons dangling from them tossed juggling pins and wandered around the perimeter of a brown square of tarpaulin spread on the ground.  A scrim of blue canvas was mounted behind them.  A lean, olive-complexioned man in a khaki vest stepped back from a tripod-mounted camera as a human pyramid of girls in white outfits dismantled itself; the girl at the top, whose feet had waved alongside her ears, unwound first one leg then the other in a graceful arc, her feet resting briefly on the torso of the girl beneath her before she jumped free.  So at ease in her body, seemingly at ease, even languid.  And so extraordinarily flexible.  Raymond Renaud, red ball cap on his head, sunglasses shielding his eyes, turned, separated himself from the children and the photographer, and waved.

The photographer’s name is Paolo Sabatini, Italian but shooting for a Dutch magazine, Juliet said, and he was only there for a couple of days.  There was an Italian sociologist studying the circus, but he didn’t really interact with anyone, just sat around taking notes.  There were always people around, always people observing him.  Apart from when we interviewed him and once when we went out to dinner, I don’t think I ever saw him alone.  And he let me film what I wanted, where and when I wanted.

Can you pass on Justin’s email or phone number to me?

Sure, Juliet said, although she sounded surprised to be asked.

Behind Raymond Renaud’s back, the teenaged boys patted each others’ shoulders with carefree bonhomie and the girl contortionist walked with an effortless stride towards them.  All of them among those who had accused Raymond.

That’s Gelila Melesse, Juliet said pointing to the contortionist.  And Alem and Dawit and Kebede Gebremariam.  Do they look —?  I don’t know, I don’t know what I see when I look at them now.

Sara peered at them.  As the photo shoot came to an end, Juliet stopped the tape, extracted it from the player’s mouth, and fed in another from her pile.

Sara had a sudden impression that Juliet didn’t want to be doing this.

In an echoey hall of painted cinder blocks, Raymond huddled with a quartet of girls, including Gelila, demonstrating something with his arms.  Two of the girls made their way into backbends, while Raymond seemed to be discussing with Gelila and the other girl how the two of them would balance atop the bodies of first two.  With one hand, Raymond adjusted the feet of one of the arched girls, as if to secure her weight, then touched his fingers to the back of her ribs as if to nudge the curve of her spine higher.  His manner seemed kind but exacting, as if he had a clear idea of what he wanted.

Isn’t it natural for there to be some kind of touch when you’re doing physical training like this, Juliet said.

I guess so.

That’s not necessarily abuse.

No.

A kitchen, a room with yellow walls: three younger boys sat at a table covered in dirty dishes eating what looked like bread and jam and chatting in Amharic.

Is this his house, Sara asked.

Juliet nodded.

And the boys live there?

Three of them do.  But there are almost always other kids staying over or coming to use his computer or get help with schoolwork or playing in the courtyard.

The camera swung across the room, and Raymond looked up from stirring a pot on the stove.

Where do the boys sleep, or any of them sleep when they’re there?

They have a bedroom.  If there’s too many, then on mats on the floor.  Or the sofa.  He said something about how they need a proper address to get registered in school.

Did he have favourites?

He looked out for the ones who lived with him, who didn’t have other homes.  But usually there were lots of kids, he’d be driving them around in the back of his pick-up, and like I said, they were always running in and out of his house.

Was he affectionate with them?

Sometimes it was more like they, especially the younger ones, were physically affectionate with him.

There were situations in which Sara herself had found it difficult to escape being touched by children: touching and being touched.  Visiting orphanages as a journalist, in Kenya or Iraq or Haiti, she’d been swarmed by children who’d clung to her, who would not let go of her body, her hands.  And it had seemed wrong not to allow this contact, invite it even, given the extremity of the children’s need for touch.  Perhaps, under similar circumstances, his touch had been misconstrued — by someone.

Did he ever take kids off on their own?

All I can say is, not that I saw.  A couple of kids, maybe, but mostly he’d be with a whole gang of them.

The camera swung into a dim hallway, moved past what looked to be a study, where the flash of a round wall clock read ten past nine and daylight streamed through a window, and pieces of paper and a small Canadian flag were pinned to a corkboard.  A door led out into blinding brightness.

And the older ones?

Maybe it was hard because he also had them training the younger kids and leading classes for street kids in addition to their own training so they worked a lot, but the idea was that they would take on this work as they grew older and help run the circus or found other circuses in other places.  And I thought they were genuinely excited by this.  That’s what Gelila said to me.  They seemed excited.  She said she wanted to work for the circus for the rest of her life.

Raymond, visible from the waist up, clad in a pinkish t-shirt, sat outside in a wooden chair, piney fronds and the orange beak of a bird of paradise flower swaying behind him.   Familiar and not familiar; the coiled dark hair, the pale-brown skin, his smile.  Sara’s heart leaped.  Victim?   Or a monster ferociously hiding his true self?  Or someone caught between …?  How different it was to stare at him fixed in the past from the perspective of present, with the knowledge of the allegations against him, of what he might have done.  To observe him with this new intensity.

On screen, he looked good-natured and expectant, innocent if for no other reason than that he had no idea what was thundering towards him. Through the speakers came breezy flutters from the mike pinned like a spider to his T-shirt, and some off-camera mumbles from Juliet about wind and the quality of sound; then Justin: I think it’s all right.

Still off-camera, Juliet asked Raymond how he’d come to Addis Ababa, and he launched into the story of how he’d arrived to teach English and French at the international school and, as he biked through the city, had things thrown at him, and, on a whim one day, had taken a set of juggling pins and juggled in the street.  He wasn’t  simply repeating the story as Sara had previously heard it, using the same words, like something memorized.  His voice, addressed to Juliet, had a different, thoughtful lightness.

She wondered what Juliet felt as she watched him.  After a few minutes, Juliet stopped the tape.  Do you want to see more of this or should we go on to something else?

Nothing felt clear, or clearer.  Taking in his image, Sara didn’t feel monstrousness.  Which didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

A little more.

In his pink T-shirt, he said, There are maybe twenty thousand street kids here so we work with only such a tiny number. First we have to train the kids to busk and then we have to get permission from the police.

Was he ever verbally abusive?  Angry, shouting, physically rough with them?

He said, They are working in an environment that is very unusual here.  It is very cooperative.  When they build a pyramid they have to work together to do it.

Juliet ejected the tape.  No.  Well, angry, maybe.  Frustrated.  He shouted.  Especially around the time of the trip to Sodo.  But nothing that felt outrageous and none of the kids seemed that upset.  We were supposed to go in a bus.  They travel in this bus but the bus broke down at the last minute so he had to organize something else.  We ended up going in three different minivans.  Plus there was all this equipment that had to be loaded in and didn’t fit properly, and we were supposed to leave before dawn so we could get there in the afternoon, but we didn’t obviously, and it was a nine-hour trip south on not great roads.

Maybe he felt guilty about getting angry at them?  That evening we stayed up late in the hotel and talked.  There was like an outdoor corridor outside the rooms.  Really it was more like a shabby motel with barely running water and all these trucks parked in the yard.  He did say how exhausted he was and how he never got a break.  Then he talked about how he wanted to create the first black African circus, and make it one of the world’s big circuses.  How he thought that was possible.  I told him I wanted him to repeat all this for me on tape, because I wasn’t filming, which was dumb, but somehow we never found the time.

So anyway, Juliet went on, shoving in a new tape, this is Sodo.

Raymond, in his red cap, caught a handful of white juggling pins and turned and, like a lithe piper, waved at the crowd of people who followed him.

There was a parade through the streets before the show, and by the end it was like everyone in town had joined in, Juliet said.  And at the time it seemed completely magical.

Two boys on stilts clumped along, tall above those around them; a musician in a green felt hat arched over his saxophone.  Gelila and another girl laughed as they strode in their white costumes, and more costumed boys wove among and around men in dusty jackets, women in traditional white veils, a woman in shirt and dark skirt, children skipping and running alongside them.  There were goats, and two boys passed juggling balls back and forth against a backdrop of small buildings with flaking plaster walls, and everyone projected an air of shambling and expectant excitement.

Another shot: In daylight, on a large rectangle of tarpaulin spread on the ground, two girls, older and younger, mimed actions.  The older girl wore a vest with the emblem of the Red Cross sewn on its back and seemed to be showing the younger how to wash her hands with soap; equipped with cordless mikes, they spoke in Amharic.  To one side of the stage, a large rectangle of canvas, laced with nylon string to an upright metal frame, featured a series of cheerful, painted illustrations, of a sick child in bed, a boy with a crutch, a veiled woman holding a baby in a doctor’s office while a white-coated doctor held out his hands to her, the illustrations tagged with phrases in Amharic script.  Raymond Renaud stood beside this banner, cap in hand, intent on the performance, as other costumed performers waited solemnly, one boy with hands on hips, close to Raymond, not avoiding him.  There was nothing obvious to be gleaned from Raymond’s stance or the boy’s stance other than their absorption in the show.  Across a low dirt slope, the dark heads of seated children bobbed, engrossed, and curious adults formed a ring around them, mostly men but also a few white-veiled women standing beneath a line of skinny eucalyptus trees.

Better than sex, Juliet said, Do you remember him saying that the night of the benefit?

Yes, Sara said.

It keeps coming back and I keep trying to remember the context.  I thought at first he meant he was choosing this work instead of sex.  Because it was so important and necessary.  But it doesn’t have to mean that at all.

I did feel, Sara said, there was something shut down in him.  Sexually.  Something closed or blocked off.

Really, Juliet said, and ejected the tape.  Can I show you one more thing?

The grounds of the circus compound back in Addis Ababa were recognizable.  Dusk once more: the sky still light-filled while shadows pulled the trees toward darkness.  Raymond Renaud, in a black T-shirt, was out on the bumpy grass with two of the boys, who were juggling and moving as they juggled, which seemed to be part of the challenge; they were performing a kind of dance, flipping balls and pins and what looked like oranges and water bottles back and forth, their elongated shadows also dancing, while Raymond directed them, conducted them might be a better word, arms in motion, body, visible from behind, lunging forward and back.  Some faint and tinny music wavered from a boom box on the ground, and the music entwined with Raymond’s inaudible words, his tone concerned, emphatic, at moments not quite a shout.  One of the boys was the boy in blue from the Copenhagen show, the elfin, dexterous boy —

The other boy scampered off, hugging the juggling pins to his chest, leaving the elfin boy to kick the rest of their juggling implements into a pile.  Raymond pulled three metal cylinders from a white bucket in which a handful of similar cylinders were upended — torches, that’s what they were, which the boy had been holding in the photograph that Sara had seen at the benefit for the circus in Toronto, torches that Raymond now tossed towards the boy.

From the pocket of his jeans, Raymond drew something: from the back, it was only clear what he was doing when he held the small thing to the tips of the torches and flames gusted from them.  The boy did not flinch.  There was tenderness to Raymond’s gestures.  He was explaining something.  He reached out and adjusted the boy’s hand on the torch.  Again, the boy did not flinch but cast one fiery torch aloft, catching it on its descent as he sent the next upward with a whoosh, and the next, the flare of flame washing over his skin.  The sun set.

He knew you were filming all this?

Yes, Juliet said.  We all walked out together.  Now when I see him touch Yitbarek’s hand, I think —.  Maybe he’s just trying to show him how to do it right.  And he knew he was being filmed.

Leaning over, Raymond plucked the three remaining metal cylinders from the bucket, and, clasping them in one hand, set them alight, and he and the boy passed the torches back and forth, before, at a signal from Raymond, Yitbarek tossed the torches one by one to him, and Raymond, face raised, feet shuffling over the bumpy earth, rotated all six.  He turned towards the camera, smiling, and didn’t seem to be showing off as much as demonstrating the possibility of something, and there was beauty here, and he knew it, he was creating it, and Juliet must have known it, since her eye, filming, was also creating the scene.  In this moment, he was performing for her.  They were collaborating.  Or he was trying to distract her.  To convince her that beauty outshone other things.  On screen, he refracted all these possibilities.

The flames rose and fell, the light truly fading now, and Raymond’s body, in its black t-shirt, began to disappear, and the boy too receded from sight, leaving only the smear of their faces and the hungry flames to grow brighter and brighter.

Catherine Bush is the author of four novels, Accusation, Claire’s Head, The Rules of Engagement, and Minus Time.  Bush has taught Creative Writing at a number of universities and held a variety of writer-in-residence positions and writing fellowships in Canada and the U.S., in addition to working as an arts journalist. She lives in Toronto and is Coordinator of the Creative Writing MFA at the University of Guelph.

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