Henry’s package was delivered by a mail truck in France by a driver named Marc-Antoine Polaert who whistled as he drove along the dirty wine stained streets. He ran over a rat or two. They felt like chunky rocks, living speed bumps. Marc-Antoine’s friends called him Marco, and he was only working for Les Internationaux Expriment to make some extra francs so he could prove to his girlfriend that he could treat her to fancy dinners and jewelry. She had quit smoking for him, because he told her that she tasted like an ashtray. He whistled when he thought of her, the way her lips used to hug the filter and blow perfect smoke rings. When she stopped smoking, she tasted better, but she was not the same girl. He didn’t know how he felt about her anymore. Marco whistled to clear his head, to distract himself from the rats. When he arrived at his destination, a small office in a building near the Seine, he chucked the small envelopes into the narrow mail slot, and left an unusually large package at the door with a note. He had stopped whistling, and was eager to move on with his deliveries.
A shrunken woman with a heavily lined face gathered up the deliveries about three hours later. She had not noticed the package on the other side of the door, and when she left, exited out the back way. The oversized delivery stayed pressed up against the door all weekend, gathering rat shit on the bottom. Although it failed to rain, the edged of the yellow envelope curled from the dew, and the rat shit crusted underbelly turned damp. A filmy layer of dirt had settled along the rim.
On Monday, the sky was overcast and threatening rain. Marco returned whistling with a new collection of letters and a yellow slicker, fearing the worst. He immediately noticed the package, picked it up like a child and tried to brush to filth off that had gathered over the weekend. Marco felt obligated to knock on the door and hand it to the addressee, but the package was so disheveled that he was ashamed. He held it for a bit, rubbing off the rat shit and squaring off the moistened corners. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door. He whistled while he waited, noticing a particularly large rat scuttling up an adjacent alleyway. Marco knocked again. He continued to wait, debating whether or not to write a note. Finally, the door opened.
An older woman stood in the doorway, holding a long, slender cigarette stained with red lipstick. Oddly enough, the woman didn’t seem to be wearing any lipstick. She leaned against the doorway, holding onto its frame like a crutch and waving her cigarette around. Marco noticed that it was unlit. He thought of his girlfriend, and repressed a whistle.
“Madame, est-ce- que ce vôtre est?”
Madame looked at the package and wagged her cigarette in front of Marco’s eyes. Her long bathrobe swayed with her in the doorway, and her head rolled back gently. She began to mumble, and Marco began to whistle. He thrust the package at the woman, who took it clumsily.
“Merci, mon beau garçon,” she muttered, dropped the package at his feet and slammed the door.
Marco’s face fell into a sad grimace. Again he picked up the package and this time took it back to his truck. He found a pen on the floor and crossed off the address and wrote REVENEZ A L’EXPEDITEUR. There was no return address, save the block letters U.S.A. The address said 541 E. 72 Rue, Paris. Marco wrote 541 E. 72 Road, New York. He dropped it in a mailbox on the corner of 541 and Rue D’Église, and walked back to his truck, tripping on an upturned cobblestone. A week later he broke up with his girlfriend and quit his job, deciding he was better of at the university anyway. His girlfriend never appreciated his knowledge of political affairs, and Marco was ready for a change.
After a month touring France, Wooden Circus traveled to New York City, just a short train-ride away from its birthplace of Poughkeepsie. Correctly labeled, a young lady dumped the package in a mail bin outside of an office building in the Upper East Side. Morris, a middle aged black man with a terrible cough, sorted through the mail as he sucked on a cheap cherry cigar. He noticed the stained package, fresh from Paris, and he stuck it on a shelf next to his ashtray, along with other interesting postal addresses he had collected throughout the years. At the end of the day, he gathered up the package and cut off the stamped writing with a sharp exacto knife he carried in his belt loop with a few extra cigars and books of matches. He stuck some of the sticky tobacco on the corners of the neat slice of envelope and stuck it to the wall above the shelf just to the right of the ashtray. Using tape and some left over pages of an old New York Post, he fastened a patch to go over the gaping square that had been cut from the package. The next day, he filed the tobacco-stained package away to the mailroom.
Jazzy found the weird, disheveled package on the floor of the mail room early one morning before the bulk of the day’s mail would arrive in great bins. He picked it up and held it under his nose, smelling a fine blend of cherries, smoke, newsprint and rat shit. Deciding it smelled delightful, Jazzy felt fairly apprehensive about its contents.
The Paris Review’s mail desk sent Wooden Circus to an editor with a post-it on the huge package. The post-it warned that the submission was oversized, and therefore might possibly contain explosive material. It was signed xoxo Jazzy. When Stuart Diamond opened the package, he likes to tell people that an explosion was just what he found.