The last time Jerry ever saw her, she was sporting a tee shirt with the slogan LION TAMERS DO YOU RIGHT emblazoned on the front.
They were in a coffee shop on Tremont and she was sitting alone at the next table. Jerry had seen her a few times wandering the neighborhood, once in the supermarket, but they had never before spoken. Now she seemed in the mood. She told him her name was Celeste. Then she said, “So, tell me a little something about yourself.”
Jerry grew up as an only child on Long Island. His father had been an attorney and his mother a social butterfly, and he worked out of his home trading stocks and writing articles for a local Arts & Culture magazine.
“Born and raised on a farm in Iowa.”
“A country boy.”
Jerry nodded. “Youngest of five. All slept in one room. No indoor plumbing. Walked three miles to get to school.”
“Things were a little rough in those parts, back in the day. No social services. Ma was a shut-in and Pa was a...an alkie. Liked to beat us with his belt. Only when he was drunk though. When he was sober he was worse. Till he had his stroke, that is. But you don’t want to hear all that.”
“What is it you do for a living?”
“Kind of a Jack of all trades. Arc welding, construction when I can get it. Summers I work on an oil rig off the coast of Alaska.”
Now she was looking amused. “The rugged type!”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“Hang around in dives talking to strange men and take my life in the palms of my hands?”
She smiled at him and showed him her palms. They were large, and calloused. Hands that had seen a lot of mileage in their time.
“Give you three guesses. Here’s a hint. These hands were my lifeline once.”
Three guesses as to what she did. Somebody who carries their belongings on their back would have been his first.
“Goal tender on a woman’s soccer team!”
“Not even close.”
“I give up. What?”
“I worked for a circus.”
Now Jerry was amused. “A circus?”
“As a lion tamer?”
Celeste colored slightly. “No, the lion tamer was somebody else.”
“So, what did you do there? At the circus.”
“I was an acrobat. High trapeze. It’s a very specialized thing.”
Jerry looked at her arms. Looked at her shoulders. Looked at her waist. If this was an acrobat, then he was a welder on an oil rig in Alaska.
“It was a long time ago! I was young then. Retired from the business early.”
“Had enough of the high life?”
Celeste shook her head. “I loved it,” she said softly. “Flying above the whole world. I felt like a goddess up there. And they all loved me for it, the fools.”
“Oh? No offense, but I didn’t realize you trapeze acts were such a big deal. I guess the kids...”
“Those with kids took them to see the elephants. The ones that came for the high-wire were different.”
“People like that need something to take their minds off the holes in their lives. Booze or porn. Or pain, just so long as it’s not theirs. Snake man. Monkey boy. Crazy lady. Then they see us up there doing our stuff and they imagine...they imagine it was them up there doing it even though they know they could never do that in a million years, and it makes them feel good for a while. I guess I was that for them. Most popular gal in the whole darn Midwest. Never once used a net.”
“Well, that is crazy.”
“None of us did back then. Not the good ones. A matter of professional pride.”
“So if you loved it so much, why did you quit?”
“One day I fell.”
“Really? It’s a miracle you weren’t...”
“Let’s just say I’m tougher than I look. Like Bruce Willis in that movie. Unbreakable me! Except that...”
“Except that I never did it again after that.”
Now she looked on the verge of tears and Jerry felt like a jerk.
Jerry had had enough of their little game. He took out his wallet and removed a twenty-dollar bill. “Listen, I’m sorry if I...”
She glared at him like he had slapped her, but she took the money and stuffed it into the pocket of her pants.
After he was gone, she dug around in her backpack for a bottle of pain pills and a pack of cigarettes. Then she closed her eyes and set to rocking on her stool. Back and forth she went, back and forth. And they shouted and cheered once more for their darling Celeste.
—From A Box of Dreams (Luchador Press, announced 10-31-20 on Facebook) by Denis Bell, with art by Louise Freshman Brown; story appears here with author’s permission.
is a maker of both mathematical formulas and small fictions, which he believes, weirdly, that he draws from a common font. He was born and raised in London, England and studied at the Universities of Manchester and Warwick. His scientific work has been recognized by national funding, an Outstanding Scholarship Award from the University of North Florida, and a Research Professorship at MSRI in Berkeley, California. Linguistically challenged in earlier life (as evidenced by three attempts to obtain an English O-level!), he started writing fiction relatively recently. His writing has been published in Grub Street, The Maine Review, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Journal of Microliterature, Literary Orphans, and many other print and online literary magazines and journals.
Most of his ramblings, literary and otherwise, can be found at: https://www.unf.edu/~dbell/
His collection of small fictions, A Box of Dreams (with art by Louise Freshman Brown), is available at Barnes & Noble. [Please note that the publisher is Luchador Press.]
Red Dawn, micro-fiction by Denis Bell (with collage art
by Louise Freshman Brown) in Issue 2 of MacQ (March 2020)