THE POLICEMAN APPROACHED her again.
"They're about to start, Ma'am. You should step a little farther back."
She nodded, absently, remembering why she had returned to the house in the first place.
She had baked them for Mary's class, and then, true to her tradition of mishaps, had left them this morning on the kitchen table.
"Ma'am? You have to move. The roof could collapse when they start to pull."
She had a vision, then, of the cookies, left uncovered on the kitchen table—the ceiling caving in, plaster dust and dirt from the attic cascading over the cookies, sticking to the chocolate chips...
She strode toward the house.
"Ma'am! You can't go in there!"
"I'll just be a minute. I have to get something."
The policeman had been caught by surprise. She made it to the door before he could move, but no one else saw her.
Just as she pulled the door open, she saw the midget in the clown suit signal the elephant trainer.
The elephant backed slowly, tugging on the ropes that angled upward to pulleys in the tall pine, and back down to the biplane which had crashed into her roof, lifting it slowly so it could be swung safely to the ground.
The absurdity of the scene struck a chord for her.
Her life, she realized, was just not a drama—it was a comedy.
She stepped inside, then stopped in the entry hall.
Suddenly everything made sense.
She spun around to peer through the open door at the face of the elephant.
It was very, very, familiar.
The roof collapsed, and the entire building came down on her with a thunderous roar of laughter.
And she was back.
They surrounded her, in the eternal circle.
Loki held his sides, rolling on the ground with mirth. Toci roared her laughter from an open mouth. Waaq chuckled quietly to himself. Elohim wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Ba'al and Jah pounded each other on the back, hooting the whole while.
Facing her was her best friend, Ganesh, his eyes smiling over wrinkled cheeks. His enormous ears and long drooping nose were familiar in more ways than one.
She narrowed her eyes at him.
He nodded, controlling his glee.
"That was the worst one yet!"
A tear ran down his cheek. His belly shook in spite of his enormous self-control.
"But you were wonderful, Athena. You moved through it all with such marvelous aplomb. I was so sorry when you began to realize..."
The ghost of a smile appeared on her lips, though she still fixed him with a stern gaze.
"Yes," she said. "Well. It's your turn next. And don't expect me to go easy—not after the life you just put me through."
"Do your worst," he laughed. "Fair is fair."
They hugged and changed places.
The laughter died, everyone became silent, and the game began again.