Story: The Acrobat and The Ballerina
By: Gaither Stewart
From her seat high in the corner of the grandstand Sophia is at the same altitude as the acrobat on the trapeze. She leans forward from the edge of her seat and gazes across at him. His tight costume is blue. His face also is painted blue. He has blond hair. Sophia can see the whites of his eyes within the blue of his face.
Yet he is distant. A celestial body. Evanescent. Silence, she knows, touches him. Silence lives in him. The silence she loves of the touch of her ballet slippers on soft wooden boards.
He is touching the sky while I am still on earth. It is that great emptiness under him that separates us. It is the silence, and the tiers of the grandstand under me.
In her mind she calls him Borís.
Borís sits on the trapeze bar as casually I sit on a kitchen chair. His hands touch his painted face and smooth down his long hair as I do in front of my mirror. With his little finger he touches the corner of an eye. His legs swing back and forth. He uses a foot to push away from the tiny platform behind him as I used to do in a swing in the park. I love the moment when he dives straight out from the platform, his outstretched hands clenching to grab the arriving ring. Miraculous how it’s always there. The ring. Then he flies. Again. Always in flight.
Now he is looking at me as also yesterday evening. As he will do every evening. As he did last year. He is smiling at me. He wipes at an eye as if wiping away a tear. He is teasing me. Or is he telling me how lonely it is up there?
Sophia smiles too. She imagines him diving into space and riding the magic ring to her. He could fly her up there with him.
Tishiná! Tishiná! He is aware of the great silence around him. Heavenly silence.
Up here near the sky it is all quiet and stillness. It is lonely, in the immensity. People don’t count, up here. Nor houses, nor cars and trains. It is secure, up here. No floods or earthquakes. No hungry and desperate people, up here.
I live only to perceive the altitude and to leap headlong into space. I live for the silence of those seconds of flight when the universe vanishes. When I am totally alone.
The ring is waiting for me. The meeting with the ring is my destiny. I catch it and hold onto it. It carries me to other space places—and then securely back home.
Up here, I belong.
Belong? Birds belong up here. And the clouds and the sun and the moon and the stars belong up here. But a man? Should a man belong up here?
If you’re born up here, live up here, you travel on the earth with trepidation. You lose your balance. You have unlearned equilibrium. You stagger and stumble. You place one foot before the other with fear. You are walking on another planet.
Yet my heart urges me to descend.
For up here there is no love. Man cannot live without love. And love belongs to the heart. Not to the trapeze. The trapeze bar is cold. Cold on my hands, cold on my legs, cold in my heart. It is cold and lonely and hollow in the thin air above the emptiness, high above the tiny spectators—only spectators—who in their hearts want to see me miss the ring.
Up here, I have to invent love. Tut naverkhu, nado pridumyvat lyubov.
My heart! Serdtse! My heart tells me to risk descent. I would follow my heart down in search of love.
She is looking at me. Her eyes are locked in mine.
Yes. Yes. But down there, in your love, in your arms, what would I be? How could I walk with you on the trembling meadows?
I know in my heart that I don’t belong on earth. The lie, the great lie, is bigger than us.
But up there? she is asking me. Yes, tell me that I don’t belong up here. A cold trapeze bar cannot be home. I don’t jump into the unknown as earth people believe. I know secrets. I know that out there in that empty space the iron ring is waiting for me. It is my destiny. Always on time.
Sophia was excited when the circus arrived on schedule in late September. Since she was five her father took her each season to the big tent on the meadow near the crossroads.
The one-ring Fratelli Cragnotti Circus came to the suburb each fall. Sophia watched them put up the big tent, secure the camels on the field behind and feed the three old tigers in their cage. She admired the ageless elephant that helped the workers. She clapped her hands when she heard the roll of drums and the first bars of circus music over the loudspeakers. She stopped to watch the artists set up house keeping for the two-week stand. Exotic women were outside adjusting portable tables and chairs and unpacking travel bags. She wondered about their nomadic life.
Today, she never failed to go to the circus on the meadow near the crossroads. But this year something different was in the air—for Sophia the circus had become a personal affair.
Sophia was a ballet dancer, delicate, beautiful legs, long brown hair, green eyes, a sensual mouth. She moved with a light step as if she were levitating above the earth she walked on. Ballet was her life. She breathed ballet. Each day she trained at the Rome Opera Theater where she danced in the corps de ballet. Sophia had no time for men and lived with her parents in the nearby hills.
Her favorite circus acts were the acrobats on the trapeze. She loved their free flight. The way they dominated space was intoxicating. Up there, she said to herself. She admired their self-assurance of royalty. Oh, if she could only hold herself in the air for that extra instant!
Last year she went alone to the circus on the meadow near the crossroads. That first evening something extraordinary happened. She returned again and again. She and the acrobat entered into secret communion. Their communication traveled over a secret wavelength—between her in the grandstand and him on the trapeze. She knew she had fallen under the strange man’s spell.
All the past year the acrobat had been on her mind—in her heart, she said to herself. She had never pronounced his name to anyone.
Borís has loved the circus all his life. As a little boy he dreamed of high wires and trapezes and the meeting with the ring in the air. Since he was a child he has felt the steel in his hands and the sensation of the bar under his legs and the flight through the emptiness.
Each year his father took him to the Moscow Circus. From the time he was six he knew what his destiny was. He was born for the heights. The trapeze held him. He wanted to walk on wires, swing on the bar, hear the drums, dive into space, and soar upwards again. He wanted to fly. He would live up there.
His father arranged for Borís to enter the Moscow Circus School. Borís was the perfect acrobat—strong, graceful, courageous, a man of the high places. But for other trapeze artists dreamy Boris was not the ideal partner. He was a genius, they knew, but he was a dreamer. He was passion. He wanted to fly. A ring from him might not arrive on time. Or dreaming again, he might arrive too late.
He never wanted to come down. Unhappy on earth, he lived alone up there. Isolated up there. He spoke only in Russian. He never learned languages. After an unfulfilled dream of the great Moscow Circus, he had tried Stockholm. Then Copenhagen, Oslo, and the Circus Krone in Munich. Borís was a nomad.
Until two years ago at the Swedish Circus Talent Fair the younger Cragnotti saw something in his deep blue Russian eyes and hired him for the provincial Italian circus. Now he knew his destiny was truly on the trapeze bar, under the tent, on the meadow near the crossroads.
On the last night Sophia’s eyes scan the packed grandstand, the box seats below, the clowns and the dogs and the camels and the tigers and the prancing horses in the ring. She sees the tiny elephant ready on the entrance ramp.
She looks at the acrobat.
That’s what I’m here for. He is looking at me. He is talking. Or is he singing? He doesn’t hold on. The iron bar must be cold. On his hands, on his legs, in his heart. He’s pushing with his foot. He rocks and swings. He raises one hand. He is beckoning to me. To do what? Go up there? With him into space?
Frustration’s tears roll down her cheeks.
She thought. She knew.
Un uomo lassú, restare non puó.
She doesn’t understand. Nie ponimaet. Can an earth person ever understand?
Up here or down there? Where is my place?
From here the elephant is a toy. The tigers are kittens. The leaping dogs, insects. The clowns are puppets. The megaphone of the Master of Ceremonies is a mere whisper in the universe.
Up here in my space, the air is thin. Swing the trapeze, Borís! The ropes are sturdy. The emptiness of space is waiting. Inviting. The magical iron ring is waiting. At the roll of the drums you can aim for heaven, high above the meadow, high above the crossroads.
But the bar is cold. My heart is cold. I want to jump. The bar will be waiting.
Her eyes are in mine. Her eyes are in my heart. Yes, yes, I will come down for you and carry you back up here—and never again descend.