by Rachel Morgandale
Laura slid her hands down the sides of her body feeling the stiff boning around her waist and the sequins like scales that draped, barely covering her hips. She squirmed slightly hoping to make the skirt seem longer. The fading sunlight warmed her little canvas dressing tent. With a pitted looking glass, she applied her powder and slipped on her feathered headband.
Walker came in, shoving the white flap out of his way and wiped remaining spots of shaving lather from his face. He muttered that she needed to hurry up. She stood to leave, but he paused, examining her and quickly tugged her corset a little lower, exposing the slight swell of her cleavage and with his thumbs he smudged her eye makeup.
“It'll do,” was his final word on her appearance. They slipped inside to the wings of the stage. The theatre was little more than a barn, mostly used for local dances, but a second rate act got a second class space. It was full enough, noisy men that didn't bother to remove their hats.
Walker tightened the bright green sash around his waist and stepped out. He spoke with a heavy fake accent- somewhere between Russian and Scottish with the occasional Midwestern vowel slipping in, though he liked to believe no one would guess he was from Kansas. He wanted the show to seem more exotic, as if they had traveled from the far corners of the globe to entertain fifty men in a barn and whatever children had crept into the loft without their parents' knowledge.
“…And my fearless assistant, the lovely Calypso!”
Laura wasn't exotic enough. Neither was her mousy brown hair, that had been dyed black, shocking against her powdered white face and painted red lips. As in every town, her appearance was met with jeers and whistle which drew her mind back to the precarious scraps of fabric around her hips.
Walker led her to the board and she stood spread eagle against it. She stared ahead almost serenely as the knives came toward her. Each one planted itself into the wood and continued quivering a moment. She could feel them strike just inches from her flesh.
As the last blade hit, a burst of applause came as was expected. She stepped forward as Walker collected the knives. They were beautiful, solid from handle to blade, perfectly balanced and always gleaming. Not sharp, except for the very tip, so Walker could hold the blades in his palm so that upon release they would rotate in the air before striking the board.
Laura returned to her place and turned to the side. She curved her back and place one hand on her out hip. Laura had the rare talent of stillness possessed by few men or women, her mother had that quality as well. It was the same skill required by artists' models. Stillness does not mean calm. Laura was not well educated or accomplished, but under her physical stillness her mind was free to move. As the gusts of air from various sharp instruments flying past bathed her face, she could take that time to think. There weren't many places for her mind to go but to what was past and what might be the future.
Applause signaled Walker's finish and she gracefully turned to take her bows before dashing backstage.
Walker met with the manager, Oliver to count the box office. It had been a good night and he gulped from his jug of whiskey with the speed of experience as they divided the profits. Laura dreaded his mirth.
Soon enough he was grasping at her with his sweaty hands and trying to press his sour mouth on hers.
“Walker, I want to practice. It'll make a better show, maybe get a bigger draw.”
“You want to practice now?”
She nodded and he reluctantly gathered up some knives and a practice target. It was deeply pocked with the marks of long hours of skewering. With a clumsy hand, Walker drew a new circle on in chalk, the old one chipped away long ago. He sat down to watch, still drinking steadily. He would likely pass out soon, Laura thought.
With a confident, but unpolished hand, she drew the blade back to her ear and with a flick of her wrist let it go.
“Not bad. You're no Dakota though,” he remarked.
“I saw her for the first time when I was twelve, that's when I fell in love. I thought you'd be just like her.”
“But I'm not.”
Her eyes narrowed as she turned to face him, now staring sleepily. She swiftly released the knife and found she had hit her target impressively. It was buried deep in his chest.Last Updated: 4/29/11