Erin Lyndal Martin

Flyer, Catcher


When Melina leans over a table, every­thing is span­gled. The sequins on her leo­tard catch light I didn’t even know was there. Before per­for­mances, she puts gloss serum on her hair so it shines too. All the details of her appear­ance are meant to catch the eye.

I saw her back­stage ear­ly today. We had all heard the news. Miguel gath­ered us ear­ly in the morn­ing, He was wear­ing worn jeans and a but­ton-down shirt that showed tufts of gray­ing chest hair, and that was the first time I thought of him as real­ly being the patri­arch of this cir­cus and how one day he would be gone and Rafael or Daniel would take over. If the cir­cus was still around. If any cir­cus was.

Having emerged from her dress­ing room, Melina was sit­ting down in her full cos­tume. Her hair was its famil­iar hot pink and her lip­stick and false eye­lash­es were flaw­less, but she had her fin­gers inter­laced and wore a solemn expres­sion. I won­dered if she prayed with her eyes open.

There is so much I know about Melina. For sev­en years now, we’ve been hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion of phys­i­cal trust and spec­ta­cle. I could write a lex­i­con on her mus­cles. We’re trained to notice micro-move­ments, to know when “ready” actu­al­ly means “ready?” But Melina always spins out any­way, not want­i­ng to hov­er on the trapeze and wait for some pri­mor­dial grace to well up in her.

And there is so much I don’t know about Melina. She isn’t used to being close to any­body. She doesn’t talk about it much, but I know how her rela­tion­ships work. She likes men who are about to move away, men who are only in town for a month or so. Once, Melina and I kissed at a New Year’s Eve par­ty. We were drunk and had tak­en ecsta­sy, and the moment seized us beneath a bare light bulb. Neither of us got turned on–I can hon­est­ly say that no woman has ever done it for me. But after we kissed, she pulled back and traced the out­side of my lips with her tongue and I thought how it was like she was catch­ing me this time.

I don’t even know much about where Melina came from. I think she had one great love, a long time ago. If the rumors are cor­rect, his name was Oscar and he sold bracelets on the street. Then some­thing bad hap­pened (nobody knows what) and she must have had some kind of cri­sis because then she got her start in show busi­ness as a magician’s assis­tant. She learned to act cheer­ful when she was about to be sawed in half or locked inside a tiny box. She claimed to have for­got­ten how all of the tricks were done.

Wherever it was she came from, she was eager to in the spot­light, way up high, twist­ing through the air in a panoply of tricks. I’d had for­mal train­ing and it wasn’t the time I’d held a girl in an “angel,” grasp­ing both her feet and one arm. But it was the first time I’d held Melina that way with the danc­ing Technicolor lights Miguel loved so much, with the music whose beat I was con­vinced mim­ic­ked an excit­ed heart.

Today the news had come down: no more live ani­mals could be used in per­for­mances in Mexico City. This didn’t just apply to killer whales in sea shows; it applied to us. Our tigers who flew through fiery rings could be no more. Our ele­phants who had known noth­ing more than glit­tery cap­tiv­i­ty and the gen­tle com­mands of a train­er could be no more. Miguel had said it gen­tly, but he had still said it: who would come to a cir­cus any­more just for the clowns and the jug­glers and the acro­bats? Some of the oth­er cir­cus­es in town were already stag­ing protests, per­form­ing all the non-ani­mal por­tion of their shows on the streets to show peo­ple how grim the future of the cir­cus would be.

And Melina, despite her seri­ous expres­sion as I saw her sit­ting, her gaze land­ing some­where over her inter­twined fin­gers, didn’t say any­thing about it. She didn’t ask where she’d go next or what she would do. But when I walked by her, she turned her head slow­ly.

Alex,” she said.

Melina,” I said, try­ing to sound cheer­ful.

Today, I want us to end with the shoot­ing star. Can you make that change?”

Sure,” I said, though some­times I still felt a bit of fear when we did the shoot­ing star. It always hap­pened so fast that I wasn’t sure Melina would reach me, and I feared I’d have to grab hold of her head instead of her arms, fear that I’d drop her or miss her alto­geth­er.

When the lights went up, the bright blue orbs pan­ning the crowd and the red ones appear­ing a moment lat­er, we were in posi­tion. Melina was in her hot pink span­gles and I was dressed slight­ly more mod­est­ly, for she was still the lady being cut in half and I was the one who held her halves togeth­er. We enact­ed a brief courtship rit­u­al for the crowd (her lips under the light­bulb that ecsta­sy-rid­den New Year’s Eve) and then she made a somber show of remov­ing her jew­el­ry and acces­sories before I gave her a boost. And then we were in the air, and we were call­ing for each oth­er, and my body grasped hers with a con­fi­dence I did not feel, and once again she told me she was ready to fly.


Erin Lyndal Martin’s flash has appeared in Blue Lake Review and is forth­com­ing in Smokelong Quarterly and Fiction Southeast. Longer fic­tion and poet­ry have appeared wide­ly else­where.