Alex's stories · December · finally

Last Act

By Alex Townley

I HEAR the faintest shimmer of broken glass as I fly through the air, the wind numbing my skin, the sky spreading out dark above me.

And suddenly around me a hush falls, soft billowing canvas forms shadecember-alexdows overhead casting dim shades from the bright colours. The audience is murmuring softly, expectant. Children sit staring, waiting to see what comes next, as a little man, with a top hat and a dark waxed moustache, sweeps into the centre of the big top, flapping his red coat tails behind him.

I hold my breath and let my fingers rest in the paper bag of popcorn in front of me, damp fingertips gathering the last sugar crystals from its corners.

His voice comes from somewhere deep and booming, “And finally tonight Ladies and Gentlemen, for your entertainment, we have the amazing, the miraculous, the fantastical, Angels of the Trapeze.”

The air is heady with heat and sweetness, I can feel my eyes start to dry as along with everyone else, I stare into the spotlit centre of the big top as the beams sweep up to the ceiling, showing a thin net and far far above it two tiny platforms fixed to the central tent poles.

A woman, a vision, dressed in a costume of beautiful blue feathers glides gracefully onto our stage and curtseys, as a man in tights bows to the other half of the audience, before they each take to one of the central posts and begin to climb.

The climb is endless, accompanied by the rhythm section of the band, and there are moments when the crowd lets out an audible gasp as one or the other of them places a foot incorrectly and has to catch themself, but she turns the misstep into a graceful twirl around the post, or he beams broadly into the lights so that the crowd is left wondering whether it was all part of the act.

Eventually, eventually, the glorious creatures reach the two tiny platforms and stand there, at ease above the world, hardly bothering to acknowledge the danger of their situation.

From this distance the woman has been transformed into a bird, an angel, her feathers moving in the currents of warm air drifting up from the crowd, and now they both reach to untie ribbons, which flutter down to the sawdust floor, as they release two swings.

My neck cranes to watch them until I am up there amongst them looking down, at the crowd through the fine mesh of the safety net, reaching for the softly worn wood of a swing and taking that first impossible step, buoyed only by the tension in the swing which remains even as gravity takes hold of me.

I am flying through the air.

I am watching, neck craned, fingers sticky.

I am swallowed up by the darkness.

I am followed by the shimmer of glass shards hitting pavement.

I am held by tension, held up by the night.

I am taut, shimmering, darkness, for a moment.

Until I land, and everything is cold, everything is hard, everything is dark.

I feel. Pain. And then numbness. I wait to feel nothing.

Instead lights and sirens in the darkness.

And I wait for the clown car to arrive.

© Alex Townley 2016


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