The Paris Review

The Juggler’s Wife

EMILY HUNT KIVEL

The situation in itself is not unique. There was a man who hated his job and wanted a new one. There was a man who was sick of his boring job and wanted an exciting job instead. This man was depressed, but he saw a way out. He thought this way out was a distantly Rilkean change of life. Not his whole life. Really, just his job. How he spent his days, occupied his mind, set goals long-term and short. The man wanted to embrace a buried part of himself, see the edges of his mind glimmer under an unknown light; wanted the blind and transcendental experience of losing himself to some craft; wanted to make art.

This man had a wife who was concerned. The wife’s job was to not have a job and to instead stay home and take care of their two-year-old son. She was good at it and she liked it. One Saturday afternoon, the wife was in the living room, playing the son little melodies on the baby grand piano. It was late spring and sunlight bounced through the windows, hit the black sheen of the piano’s varnish, hovered there for a moment, dissipated into the air. She played “Au clair de la lune.” The man was wandering outside in the garden. The wife could see the top of his large head bobbing behind the hedges.

The man came inside. Shut the sliding glass door behind him.

“I want to be a juggler,” he said.

“A juggler?” the wife said.

“All my life I’ve watched others juggle, and now I want to do it, too,” he said.

The wife shooed the son out of the room.

“Are you really so unhappy?” the wife said.

“I’m very unhappy,” the man said.

They talked a little while, and soon the man left. The wife sat on the piano bench, thinking. She sat there until the light turned to gold, to purple, to black, and it was night.

A juggler, she thought to herself. Good god.

She had always expected this. Well, perhaps not this exactly, but something similar. That a flood of violent and poetic capriciousness would enter the man’s soul and shake him, blow rubble and shit all over everything they’d done.

THERE WERE TALKS. These were short, relatively speaking, and were finished over the course of a few days. The discussions were, on some level, productive. It’s necessary for couples to make allowances, engage in negotiations at some point or another. I’ve been unhappy for this amount of years, one will say, and now it’s your turn. What if I only do it for such and such amount of years? the other will counter. Can I make a few particular adjustments so that, while I’ll still be unhappy, I won’t be quite as unhappy as you have been? Well, sure, the first will concede. We couldn’t have predicted that.

So, yes, the couple knew these things intellectually. And they were willing to give it a try.

The juggler set himself to juggling. He quit his job, threw his old work briefcase into a large metal trash receptacle down the block. He screamed, “Whoop! Whoop!” He joined an academy of jugglers in the city, took a bullet train to get there every morning at the break of dawn. He grew a beard, stopped eating, became thin but not in a good way. In a really icky way. He looked like total dogshit, really. All back fat and hip handles and bone. He spent all day at the academy and was not back until evening.

The juggler’s wife found work to support their family. What she did was irrelevant. Okay, it was graphic design. She’d studied it in college. Along with other miscellaneous arts and letters. Now she was something of an entry-level employee. She was older than most of

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