09/27/2021

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.