Benjamin Niespodziany is a Pushcart Prize and Best Microfiction nominee with work in Fence, Hobart, Wigleaf, Sporklet, and various others. He works nights in a library in Chicago.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 dancing with the already damp sky. It felt like the end of a black and white movie but with fewer cigarettes. I put in my resignation and waited for the curtain to close.
Corporate encourages that we ride to work on company pogo sticks. Company bicycles and unicycles are also okay, but everything else is frowned upon. “We can't force anyone,” the CEO laughs. Sheryl hates to bounce, rides in on a skateboard every morning. Everyone used to adore Sheryl, used to throw morning glories at her in the staff parking lot. Now co-workers spit on her as they pass her new office in the broken elevator full of fax machines. I remain a loyal employee, a pogo commuter covered head to toe in Band-Aids. My bruises and scabs are the only things that make my wife laugh. I take a pogo stick to work every morning and my poor balance never wins. I fall four of five times before sunrise and my work is only two blocks from my bed. My boss loves the commitment, adores the blood. Can't stop giving me raises.