Trust Fall, by Fiona McKay
Three-ring high, her smile nailed on with paint and practice, she is poised to dive. It has taken effort to get here. The many, many steps that have burnt her thighs as she smiles, waves, points her toes. The many, many years of practice, stripping her body down to its gears and levers; a machine capable of simulating flight. The crowd roars, the spotlight dazzles, she reaches out for the swinging bar.
The impossible art of knowing when to arc out, when to let go. She has never thought to wonder who first had seen the potential in lengths of rope and wooden bars. The tall, tall ladders were added later. And eventually, the net. If asked, a person not conversant with this art will describe two pendula swinging wide, then close, in mathematical harmony. Not so, not so. The arcs swing out of regulation, precision drilled into the bones. And swing, and go, and swing, and higher, and swing, and release, and tumble, and catch. Or fall.
The second spot comes on, illuminating him, his brilliant face. The crowd can’t see back through time, the hours and years spent swinging, counting, catching. Can’t see the sweat, the tawdry sequins. From their distance, the crowd sees only glamour. She can’t see, from where she waits, the lines and creases of his frown. Can’t read the map of his mood. Can only count, count, and believe.
Looking down, she can feel the burn of the net, so many, many times. The times she fell. The times he didn’t catch her. It was never clear which were errors, which were opportunities to learn. He would always tell her she must stay sharp. Never take anything for granted. Gravity would always be there, waiting, waiting to catch her out. She is always keeping watch, and it’s exhausting.
The music isn’t incidental, despite how haphazard it may seem. The careful, structured beats are there, though the tune leers woozily through tinny amplification. The waves of sound disintegrate trying to reach the top of the tent. But underneath it all, they are counting, counting, counting, like a heartbeat. He grabs the bar on ‘four’ and gets the rhythm building.
The drumroll is unleashed from far below them, a signal to the crowd, though not for her. Distantly, they stop their chatting. One hundred feet away, they raise their eyes. Her hands are chalked against the sweat, and ready. He’s swinging through the air with arms outstretched. If ever there was a time to doubt him, his waning strength, his jealousy, his fear. She grabs the bar, steps out into air, to fly.
Fiona McKay has work published in The Waxed Lemon, The Lumiere Review, Scrawl Place, Janus Literary, Twin Pies and others. Writes flash fiction with Writers’HQ and is working on a novel. Nominated for Best Microfiction 2021. Her novella-in-flash was long-listed in the 2022 Bath, and Reflex Novella competitions. Tweets at @fionaemckayryan