My older sister was a Trapeze Artist, a famous flyer who worked without a net. One night in Toledo, she let go early, missed the bar, and died, her golden future puddling out of her cracked head like yolk from an egg onto the sawdust and peanut shells.
Suddenly alone, a chuckle of clowns spent the rest of the season tripping over their oversized shoes to fuck me. I’d slip their grease paint by hiding in the dark beneath the metal bleachers, feet from where my sister died. Even when Toledo was long behind us, I was still always feet from where she died because nothing changes under the big top, no matter how far you go.
I met Henry that spring. Henry ran a game where customers shot water down the throats of plastic clown heads, inflating balloons until one popped. I took that as kismet. He was beefy and kind like a big friendly cow, and one night I led him behind the funhouse where we kissed, and I floated three feet off the ground. I’d kissed other boys before, it was the circus after all, but until Henry, the most any of them had managed was an inch or so — barely worth the chapped lips. Henry was different. I knew that if I took him back to my trailer, let him dip his hands inside my yellow leotard, I’d need the tin roof above me to keep from floating away.
The ringmaster scheduled my debut for our first night back in Toledo. By the time I’d reached the ladder’s top rung, the crowd was on its feet, thrumming with macabre anticipation, as eager to see me fall as they were to see me fly.
Henry closed his game early to come see me. He sat in the front row, twisting his cap in anxious hands. High above, I chalked my own and took a breath. My partner swung the bar, and I leaped to catch it, knowing Henry’s love would keep me pinned to the clouds.
Keith J. Powell writes fiction, CNF, reviews, and plays. He is a founding editor of Your Impossible Voice and occasionally tweets @KeithJ_Powell.