As the newest wife, Trudy always comes last. Six of seven nights, she straddles the main cushion of her sofa sectional. It is the approximate dimensions of Husband, or close enough. Today she trails the other wives, their linen backsides suddenly swerving left to enter a doorway painted to look like a clown’s open mouth. Inside, fluorescent lights make their matching pants glow. The other wives conjoin in a distorted mirror. They form one long bolster, pink and stiff.
The sister wives are on a budget, so they share jumbo hotdogs. At Building C everyone chips in for a set of Tupperware. Trudy is handed the smallest bowl, the size of her diaphragm. She sees it’s good for holding nothing, except for the nub of the leftover wiener marked with other women’s teeth.
The sword swallower faces his audience, which today is a dozen boys, a handful of women, and a stray dog. Each summer fewer people come to see Lion Boy, Pinhead, The Oldest Skeleton—embarrassing relics, like ancient fur coats. As he drops the weapon down his esophagus, the sword swallower visualizes Fat Lady naked, a hill of vanilla soft serve, so he won’t have to think about the blade gliding past his vital organs. Then slowly he removes the sword, bows to the scatter of applause. The five women in front must be sisters, with their old-fashioned gathered hairdos, their same sympathetic smiles. As if they could ever know what it’s like to be a sideshow.
Hay is springy underfoot. At the end of a dusty barn, the sister wives find rows of connected rabbit hutches. They watch one another watching the animals spot-lit by warming lamps. Rabbits mate, sleep, nibble, even give birth. At home, Trudy’s kitchen window faces Original Wife’s bathroom. Sometimes she sees Husband, his furred chest being soaped by a womanly hand wearing a wedding ring identical to her own.
The bird has become separated from the others. It flies over the fair’s rides, which are a marvel of synchronization. In large flocks of starlings, each bird coordinates its movements with its seven nearest neighbors, so they never crash but instead roll and swoop together like a giant apron flapping in the wind. The bird doesn’t know the word family, but that’s what it wants—even a strange, new one. Wings beating rhythmically all around it, another’s tailfeathers to follow.
The Big Wheel
The four wives pair up, cramming into the hot metal seats. Trudy is abandoned to sit with someone’s daughter. Strangers wave good-bye. The ride stalls with their chair at the top, lurching hundreds of feet in the air. When the teenager begins to cry, Trudy sings one gospel song after another, all that she knows. They hold hands as they drop down, eventually returned to the families stuck waiting for spare girls.
After several years of the hit reality TV show, America’s most famous polygamist is filmed asking to not be called a polygamist, which he says makes him sound like a criminal or a 19th-century rube. On the screen, his three wives roll their eyes. The years are speeding ahead, with them aboard. One is studying to be an EMT. Another has filed for divorce. The polygamist’s eighth child marries and says she’d never in a million years be in a plural marriage. Looking into the camera, she says she’s the family’s first feminist, that she now goes by “Ms.”
Last Stand Shooting Gallery
Trudy grew up on a ranch and is an excellent shot. She picks off the tin ducks until a crowd grows. The carny makes her an offer: She can have her choice of the stuffed toys if she’ll just go away. Trudy tosses a purple giraffe over her shoulder to the wives, like a wedding bouquet. She buckles her life-sized Superman stuffed with plastic pellets on top of herself for the van ride home. While he’s a dead weight, he gives her something of her own to hang on to.