You must believe me. You and I are Capuchin monkeys. Your name is Berthold. We fled with Pico the Knife-Throwing Dwarf, Stark the Magician and Margot the Chicken Lady to start our own circus away from that fat stupid ringmaster with his mustard-yellow jodhpurs and cracking whip. We split up and adopted disguises to elude the ringmaster’s henchman, Leon the Strongman, a cretin, but tenacious and loyal to the ringmaster, with a sadistic streak as wide as his meaty skull. We lost track, my friend, but I have finally found you. You were always the best at disguises, but this time you have outdone yourself: junior accounts manager with two children and a mortgage in Ipsilanti, Michigan! The delicious absurdity. The woman Doris, I do not know what her game is, but she is not your wife. You must’ve employed her to complete your disguise, but then somehow she mesmerized or drugged you into falling for your own false identity. But your nightmare is over, and when the time is right, I shall come for you. Also, don’t trust your neighbor, Mickey. No one has a mustache like that without it affecting his head.
When you are ready to escape the Doris woman and those hairless creatures she says are your offspring, hang her white vinyl umbrella with overlapping blue and white polka-dots in that sad lone willow in the front lawn. Pack light – a ping-pong paddle, a ball of string. The umbrella dangled from her wrist like a shrunken head as I observed her buying groceries the other day. (Ugh – that woman, her fat ankles and her smug gaping frown examining the price of instant coffee. How can you touch her without a shudder? Those eyebrows drawn-on her death-mask of face, those bulbous flaccid lips she greases scarlet. I half believe she is disguised herself, but what would she have been before?) Please, send the signal soon. We’ve thrown Leon the Strongman off-track, but our informants tell us he has left Mexico City heading north. This cannot bode well. Moreover, I caught Pico the Dwarf and Margot the Chicken Lady, he stood on an overturned bucket, fondling her waddle in a way that could be interpreted as simple esteem, but I fear is much more. If the Stark the Magician found out, I do not know what would come of it.
You distrust me. I await your signal, but the willow is bare. Perhaps fooling others so long, you finally fooled yourself. I observed the place you think is your job. (I was the water-cooler, but even you never suspected, ha-ha. You taught me well, my friend.) Poor Berthold! When I recall how you enchanted the archduke’s mistress, it wounds me seeing you berated by that tinhorn manager. He senses your secret greatness; this he cannot tolerate. What if you were a day late, or twenty? What does time matter in an artist? You, who have juggled twelve electric eels plucked wriggling from the vats! Would they have Michelangelo do spreadsheets? It is to laugh! If my words cannot overcome Doris’ hypnotic tricks, I beg you one thing. Stand before the bathroom mirror each morning before she rises from her loathsome slumber, and repeat to your reflection, “I do not belong here, I do not belong here.” You need not mention being a refugee from the circus, just that this is not your home. Tell yourself this several times and see if this bizarre sham life does not fall apart like sodden tissue. But hurry! Leon nears the border.
Are you speaking to your mirror? If so, I thank you for even this much faith. Today I saw a flash of my old friend. Those so-called friends on the golf course; you are the worst among them and how they taunt you, but today, instinct took hold, and you desisted their stupid sideways stroke, swinging the club between your knees like the croquet mallet you were born to wield. Their faces still deciding between shock and laughter, your ball rocketed a hundred yards, straight to the yellow flag. That silenced them. They liked you no better, but in truth, no less. They secretly fear you, and only smile to see you humiliated. They communicate with the Doris woman. Did you note how she and Mickey stopped talking when they heard you enter? I told you I did not trust him. That mustache. I believe she drugs you with those martinis she feeds you. The gin is harmless, but pimentos are easily doctored. But we have little time. Leon was held up at customs – a laughable mix-up: they thought the poor dunce’s 500-pound dumbbell was a weapon. But Stark asks after Margot, whether she seems broody. I fear he suspects.
You know! I am as certain of it as I am of my own tail! Watching from the eaves, I saw impatience flicker across your face teaching the human child to ride her bike. (How you must recoil each time she throws those bald pink arms around your neck!) She rocked side to side on the training wheels. Why can’t she learn this, you were thinking, it’s so easy. That pink bicycle with the white basket and the streamers from the handlebars. Recognize it? It’s the very one you pedaled around the ring, while I, atop your shoulders, scattered candy coins to the delighted crowd, a yipping schipperke in the basket dressed like a babushka! How they loved us! Doris’ arrogance keeping it right under your nose, what a fool she must have thought you. Somewhere in a drawer or behind some cans you will find your favorite crushed-velvet fez; she would not have thrown that away. You must signal tonight. There is not a moment to lose, Leon has slipped his captors and makes our way. The dwarf Pico and chicken woman Margot grow careless: yellow down on Pico’s collar, a stepstool carelessly left by Margot’s unmade bed.
That forlorn umbrella hanging in the dripping willow, made my heart sank with grief and guilt. The night you finally gave the signal, waiting in the drizzling dark, your overnight bag with its ping-pong paddle and ball of string, I could not be there! Forgive me. We had put together a modest secret circus in anticipation of your arrival, but Stark the Magician caught Pico and Margot. Stark climbed the trapeze and slit his throat. He fell with a horrible burbling from his open windpipe like a wet scream fifty feet to the thin sawdust and packed earth. Pico ran off, and as far as I know, hasn’t stopped running. Margot is all remorse, saying she’d loved only Stark. She is inconsolable and her feathers fall out by the fistful. I kept thinking it had to be one of his illusions, to teach her a lesson. That he’d be up in a flash, clean and dry, brushing himself with a whiskbroom. But Stark is dead. I will come for you tomorrow night. I beg you to trust me one more time.
All week, no signal. I do not blame you, the Doris woman tells you the Circus of Eldorado is a delusion, including a refugee capuchin named Berthold. But if that were so, you would be a product of your own imagination. For your distrust, I blame myself, although if you saw poor bald Margot still weeping and clucking, you would understand why I acted as I did. We cannot delay. Leon the Strongman is in Ipsilanti even now. His search method is as dogged, dim-witted, and relentlessly certain as Leon himself. Beginning at city’s perimeter, he walks its border, through bramble and backyard, easement, highway, and culvert – not deviating an inch or an iota, though he come to a light-pole or a high-rise, each circuit tighter than the one before, spiraling slowly inward. He cannot fail to find us. This is the last time I can write. You must choose once and for all. You are ordinary with ordinary problems and beige carpets, a tedious job, a wife you scarcely know. Or you are Berthold the Capuchin who captivates from Melbourne to Bucharest in a crushed-velvet fez and gold epaulets. You must choose. You must choose. I await your signal.