);

THE FIRST TIME I PERFORMED by Benjamin Niespodziany

1.

The first time I performed in Russia was under the direction of the king. His daughter’s best friend’s wedding was held in a refurbished factory that once made statues of the great whirling dervishes. I was the third piece of the matryoshka at the wedding, jumping out of a cloud once the song started to play. The fellow who fell after me broke his leg and the rest of the event was a medical disaster. The king got drunk. We still got paid.

2.

The first time I performed in Penn Station, an overweight man asked me to be his wife. He said he had a basement down the street that was just for me. My top hat grew full of spare change and an eyeless woman snatched it. She hopped on the next train just as the doors closed and showed me her dead white eyes. The rats fast scurried up my shirt. I ate a napkin, swallowed a receipt. I slept on the floor and dreamed about warmth.

3.

The first time I performed on a beach in Vietnam, I passed out. Woke with nightfall covered in sunburns. The local entertainers told me to wrap up head to toe in clothing. They wore bandannas over their faces and asked for fast massages. I took off the next week and soaked in aloe vera. Plucked fruit I had never seen from a tree I could hardly reach. I bathed in a cave while the locals prayed about King Kong’s promised return. A rude man in my canoe ate my shoes then offered me coffee. I laughed at a three-legged calf. I deserved it. The sunsets were so damn beautiful, less cheap than the noodles.

4.

The first time I performed at the circus I was a lower level balancing act. Most of us were hungover, unsober, tip-toeing gracefully into our next sip. I slipped into a spin but caught myself and avoided disaster. No one but the director noticed my error. I was never asked back. As I left, I said farewell to the lion as it ate the trapeze artist’s vibrator inside of his cage, a cage nicer than mine.

5.

The first time I performed my last performance was earlier today. The sky was gray, vacant of both sunshine and stars. I was flawlessly processing the Macarena on a tight rope when the opera house caught fire. At first, everyone cheered, thinking it part of the show, but when the song went silent and I properly screamed atop the balance beam, the audience knew it was real. We are all outside now, wrapped in firefighter blankets, watching the building burn, the ash dance with the already damp sky. It felt like the end of a black and white movie but with less cigarettes. I put in my resignation and waited for the curtain to close.

Read Next: MIND WHAT’S GOOD by L Mari Harris