FLORENCIA LIA MORRICAN KNEW the exact moment she conceived what was to be her one and only child, Iris Belen Morrican, by the overpowering scent of salt water that washed over her right at the moment Billy Doheny collapsed, already asleep, on top of her in the field behind the old circus tent. No matter that they were nowhere near the sea, or that—as some argued—salt water had no smell. No matter that Billy Doheny had used a condom or that Florencia Lia Morrican, at twenty-four, was not exactly what you might call “proper” and therefore would normally not be expected to know when, precisely, she had been impregnated, let alone by whom.
No, it was immediate and certain, as certain as the understanding that Iris Belen would be born fatherless and somewhere far away from here, and that the two abiding passions that would haunt Iris for her entire, very long life, would be the ocean and the circus.
In that dark, deserted field, Florencia lay under the not-unsubstantial weight of Billy Doheny and contemplated her next move. She would need money, which meant a good job. And that meant leaving Rose, Nebraska. There was no work in Rose, nor had there been for as long as anyone could remember. Most of Florencia’s friends had already left, scattered across the country like bad weather. Her parents had died years ago in a dreadful and much-reported-on car crash involving two passenger cars and a cow. Her other remaining family—a cousin several times removed and a great-aunt with advanced Alzheimer’s—were so far from Florencia’s life that they may as well not have existed at all.
Her very best friend, the friend she had met while sharing the title of Miss Young Circus in fourth grade—the first year there had ever been a tie—had moved after high school to Los Angeles. Jenna had won Ms. Young Circus based on looks; Florencia based on…well, even now she wasn’t sure. Sheer balls, she guessed. Sheer dogged determinism.
Jenna and Florencia had bonded over their mutual distrust of the clowns and adorartion of the elephants, and had been inseparable ever since. Unlike Florencia, who had settled into her average but dependable looks, Jenna got prettier and prettier as she grew until she took her career of acting in school plays and winning local beauty pageants and to the City of Angels, where she seemed at least settled if not happy.
In that moment beneath Billy, Florencia decided: If her daughter was to need the ocean, as Florencia knew she would, then it may as well be Los Angeles.
The very next day Florencia called her friend.
“I’m pregnant,” she said as soon as Jenna picked up the phone.
Jenna screamed. Florencia knew Jenna well enough that she already had the phone a convenient distance from her ear. When the scream faded into incomprehensible, mile-a-minute banter, Florencia returned the earpiece to its rightful place.
“…my god, who’s the dad, how do you feel? I can’t believe it, I mean, of course I can believe it, it’s just, well, it’s just wow! When are you due? Are you keeping it?”
Florencia waited for the questions to die down. Then she said, “Fine, October 17th, yes.”
“October seventeenth? So you conceived…” Florencia waited while Jenna counted it out, “…yesterday?” A note of disbelief crept into the familiar voice.
“Last night. Jenna, I need a better job. Which means I have to leave. I was hoping to stay with you for a while, just until–”
“Of course you can stay with me, are you crazy?” Another pause. “Who’s the dad?”
This was inevitable. Florencia sighed, and then because she was honest she said, “Billy Doheny.”