Aaaahhhh Literati!Welcome to the Cirque du Sully! ( In this file photo author and staff member Derek Thompson swings into action wearing casual Friday attire)
Janet White has entered the arena with this story about what happens when physics gets physical! It is her first time under the big top, so I do hope all you barkers will keep your barking to a minimum.
Remember that each author can submit (there’s that word I sooooo love!) three times, but each entry must contain the words “I swear, it’s not too late.”
by Janet White
Professor Henry Jenkins seized the lowest rung of the silken ladder and began to climb. His tight spandex pants pulled uncomfortably at his nether regions and he silently cursed Marjorie for insisting that he wear the damned costume.
“But Henry, dear, you must look the part.”
The last time Marjorie had said that was when he was dressing for his acceptance speech on winning the Nobel Prize for his theories on fission trajectories. Henry’s throat automatically constricted at the memory of that god-awful tie she’d made him wear with the atomic design all over it. Not only was the tie a hideous color, and the too-tight collar threatened to strangle his carefully worded speech, but the particle tracks were incorrectly drawn, something Godfrey had gleefully pointed out at the reception prior to the ceremony. He learned early on in their fifty-one year marriage that it was wise to accede to Marjorie’s wishes. At least in domestic matters. He’d rather deal any day with a Faculty meeting of the highest degree of political intrigue than with one of Marjorie’s huffs.
As he climbed, hand over hand, foot over foot, Henry focused on the platform above. The chatter in the tent subsided. Aware that all eyes were fixed on him, he sucked in his stomach – the spandex helped with that. He reached the platform and grabbed the safety rail to pause for breath. Without thinking, he glanced down. That was a mistake – they’d warned him not to and his legs started trembling. He could see Marjorie standing way down on the ground at the foot of the ladder. He’d never seen that view of her before, her body foreshortened beneath her curled and molded gray hair. The safety net looked so tiny, stretched out on the ground between the two ladders below. Henry tried to force his mind not to start calculating his own trajectory should he fall. The audience sat in semi-darkness around the ring, their eyes glittering in their upturned faces. He couldn’t spot Godfrey down there in the crowd.
Dante called across from the opposite platform.
“You OK, Henry? I swear, it’s not too late if you’re having second thoughts.”
Henry let go of the railing with his right hand and waved cheerily across the ring at Dante.
He moved to the edge of the platform and reached for the trapeze. The bar felt smooth and cool in his hand. He gripped the edge of the platform with his toes and leaned back to tension the ropes. He’d always imagined it would be like this. In his mind, the band struck up and started to play a jolly Sousa march.
The idea had come to him six weeks earlier. Henry had just won a particularly satisfying argument about thermodynamics with Godfrey at the Faculty Club after the weekly symposium. He was in the process of finishing the victor’s spoils – dunking the remaining digestive biscuits in his tea while idly looking over the classified advertisements in the local newspaper that Godfrey had flung at him in exasperation before striding out. Henry hated to admit it but he was bored out of his mind. What was he thinking when he accepted the retirement package? One could only rest on one’s laurels, even if they included Nobel laurels, for so long. He looked forward to his weekly spat with Godfrey, his one opportunity to sharpen his wits dulled by the seven intervening days of Marjorie’s uninterrupted company. Henry was hungry for a new challenge.
He scanned the paper to see if there was anything unusual for sale. Any excuse to get out of the house. One ad in particular caught his eye.
Come fulfill your fantasy at Circus School – whether it’s clowning around or the flying trapeze we’ll teach you how!
He pulled his reading glasses from his shirt pocket for a closer look at the small print. Very interesting. Very interesting indeed. Henry pressed his hands together as he formed his plan, and then brought his fingers to his lips to suppress the smile that was forming there. He would do it! He would do it to mark the occasion of his seventy fifth birthday. I swear, it’s not too late!
Unbeknownst to Marjorie, since he was a small boy, Henry harbored a wish to run away to join the circus. His first attempt at five years old was thwarted when one of the neighbors had intercepted him at the end of the street and firmly returned him home. At school he’d been seduced by physics and through his undergraduate and graduate studies his desire to fly through the air on a trapeze became subsumed into his obsession with mapping the traces of atomic particles. In middle age, circus fever had spiked and flared once or twice; one time he bought a second hand unicycle and tried, unsuccessfully, to master it. The unicycle was buried somewhere in the garage now, its tire deflated and its frame quietly rusting just like his circus ambitions. He’d also experienced, but never had the courage to act on the occasional urge to spice up a faculty meeting by nonchalantly entering the room with a backflip or somersault.
And now, after six weeks of instruction from Dante and on his seventy fifth birthday, Henry stood on the platform high above his assembled family and friends, poised for flight. He gathered himself up to full height, sucked in his stomach, rose to his toes, firmly grasped the bar and sprang up, just as Dante had taught him. The brass band played merrily in his head, and oblivious to the loud gasp from the crowd, Professor Henry Jenkins swooped through the air in a perfect arc above the ring.