August 7, 2020
If You Say I Aim Too High from Down Below by Nancy Freund
Inspired by “I’m Good, I’m Gone” by Lykke Li
Working in the corner, peeking over shoulders, waiting for my time to come. Standing on the tiny, newly welded platform in the roof, that Leo made, I’m among the gold and silver sparkle stars, painted just last week, touched up by our gymnasts, boys who do double-duty prop repair and stitch the heavy vinyl tarps… these walls and ceilings we haul from town to town. We put them up, we take them down. Even people making progress can do damage to themselves by accident, or on purpose. Plus, there’s entropy. But none of that’s my problem now. The air’s all blue and moving here, where I stand perched alone, on high, and muscled up, still thumping from the climb. I breathe. Humid, cool. The tent poles through the roof expose a sliver of night sky I don’t see while I hold here in the sparkle dark. Lions, tigers, dancing bears. I remember you for a flash while I breathe and wait. I remember how you pin me. I’m breaking my back but it’s all good.
If you say I’m not okay with miles to go, if you say there aint no way that I could know…
I red-smack my glossy lacquer lipstick lips and tongue my teeth the whole way round. I feel my body pound. No spotlights on me yet, no net, and no attention, just blue like in Berlin, like that silly village not too far from Warsaw, Indiana, or someplace wishing it was Paris, wishing it was Rome. But here I am, in sequins, in purple shimmer bling. Smell of horses, hay, and elephants. Cymbal sounds and piped-in violins. The girl before me fell. Twenty-three years old. Artists up and leave, of course, or they get gouged and crumpled, crushed and scraped and shattered – even the professionals. I’m an artist now.
If you say I aim too high from down below, well, say it now, ‘cause when I’m gone, you’ll be calling, but I won’t be at the phone. Horns and trumpets, monkeys, donkeys, two giraffes, necks always intertwined, clowns, and goats and sheep. My feet in leather slippers. My chalked up palms. Blood pumping through my thighs, doubled nylons, fishnets whisper as I shift, up above you, darling. My heart. My heart. My sweet and sick, manure, straw, human armpits, yours and mine, your naked neck. Girls fall in love with horses. Girls fall in love with elephants and love them all their lives. I fell in love with you. I smell the tarp’s newly silvered stars. My platform isn’t all that small. Both my feet can fit, even with my legs apart. You’ll see. You’ll look up when you announce me, and you’ll see. I know you have a thing for Leo, in his welder’s hood, a man who handles heat like that.
I’m hanging around till it’s all done. You can’t keep me back once I’ve had some. Yeah, I’m walking by the line, not here, but in my mind. All the eyes will rise to see me soon. We’re ready. My thighs weren’t this big when we began. Every ounce can count, but adrenaline will carry me. I’m certain we’ll connect. I already feel the metal bar behind my knees, even as I stand here damp and shifting.
‘Cause I know I’ll get it back. Yeah, I know your hands will clap. I see the mic at your mouth, way down below, and the spotlights rise gold within the blue to our two rooftop stands. We pose. I pop my knee and prom-queen wave. I was not the prom queen. I was busy getting ready for real life. I can’t see him through the lights, but he’s there, two years on me, performing. He’ll catch me, and you will watch it happen. I know every fraction of his spine, his arms, his arch. I’m pounding. Calves and thighs, calves and thighs, biceps, heart and stars. No net. The training days are over now, so when I leap, I’ll leap on faith. My head is never in it. He goes.
Stepping, a stone, and I’m all gone. Give me the tone, and I’m all gone. The music falls away. I point my toes and go. My wrapped wrists extend, and his hard hands grab mine, we’ve done this a hundred times, already, we’ve done it all – everybody knows, the girl before me too, the way he caught her, same as me. I pike. I twirl. This time, you’re transfixed. This time I’m the girl.
An American-Brit in Switzerland, Nancy Freund has published two novels, Rapeseed and Mailbox, and pieces in Necessary Fiction (US), The Ham (UK), Istanbul Review, (Turkey), Lakeview International Journal, (India), BloodLotus, (US), Offshoots (Switzerland), the Sirenuse Journal (Italy), and the London Independent Story Prize (UK). She earned her BA in English/ Creative Writing and M.Ed. from UCLA and has just turned in her dissertation to complete her MSt, aka MFA, in Creative Writing at Cambridge, UK.