The music began. A steady drum roll.
"This oughta be good."
The lights died and a single spot light soared to the trapeze. A woman stood there. Even at this distance, high above the crowd, the muscles on her petite frame were visible, stretching the already taut leotard. A jeweled mask covered the top of her face. Only her mouth was visible. Luis could see her lips. They were smiling.
The drums ended with a single harsh crash of the symbol and the woman took flight. A gasp rolled through the audience as understanding dawned: she wasn't tethered. Her hands were free. Held up high above her head, fingers stretching to the max. As she fell, the ends of her tutu flapped in the breeze. Aside from them and the feathers on her mask, the rest of her body maintained an unnatural pose. Straight, rigid if not for the sense of extreme calm she exuded. In this pose, she appeared defiant in the face of everything. Gravity, reality, certain death. They whipped off her like the wind as she cut through the air.
Still, she fell. Luis tightened in his seat. Without realizing it, he was holding his breath, pressing the soles of his shoes into the ground, grinding his body into his seat. If she fell, if nature took its course, if the world was truly solid and devoid of magic, as his brothers so often said, then when reality came crashing in and she hit, he wondered if his body would push clean through the seat, dislodging it from the floor. Or if he would deflate, and melt to nothing right there in the arena.
Yards from the floor. Feet. Inches. Luis felt his stomach twist. Acids in his bowels sizzled and threatened to revolt. This was it. He felt faint and wondered if this was what it felt like to collapse.
This woman was going to die. And he was going to watch it happen.
A moment before hitting the ground, the woman twisted, arching her back, forcing her to spin three hundred and sixty degrees in the air. Gymnasts did this when spinning from bar to bar, when dismounting, when propelled by solid structures. Divers moved like this after hurling themselves from boards. Spinning in mid air before straightening and diving missile-sharp into clear blue. This woman had no such structures to use to move the way she did, and yet she spun. And then, without a sound, she disappeared into the ground.
The crowd gasped, sharper this time. Luis thought he could feel their collective intake of breath pulling on his clothes. His hair moved. His clothes shifted. His heart wore itself out. Who was this woman and where did she go?
A moment later, as if in response to his unasked question, she exploded out of the top of the second trapeze tower, her body still pinwheeling, finishing the momentum of her previous spin.
She flew so high, Luis had to raise his hand to his eyes to block out the lights. And even then, the acrobat still disappeared into the shadow of the rafters despite the spot light operator trying desperately to locate her. When it did, the woman appeared to be done spinning--though Luis' head continued to do so. Instead, she appeared to be floating, suspended just below the ceiling. Again, Luis thought, this must be a mistake. A bought of stress-induced delusion, making him see things. She couldn't be there, hovering above all of them like some petite god Just as surely as she couldn't have fallen all those hundreds of feet only to disappear into the ground.
Yet there she was, approaching the building's zenith, daring herself to kiss the ceiling. Hesitating, as if to coax doubt from the audience. Daring them to defy her the way she defied physics. Then, as doubt grew into disbelief, she reached forward, pouted her lips, and kissed the sky.
Luis' couldn't breath.
She fell again. This time arching her back and pointing her head down, down, down. A death spiral cutting down the center of the arena like a meteor threatening to crater earth.
One after the other, her hands reached out in front of her, fingers open, palms out. With a strength that blinded the mind, her fingers wrapped around the bar of the trapeze swing, causing her two spin once, twice, three times around before she let go and careened into the air again.
"How..." Hector said, somehow communicating that he meant to say more, meant to ask a more pointed question, but simply couldn't muster the focus to do so.
Luis tried to answer, but all he could manage was a slow shake of his head. The ropes holding the trapeze swing hadn't even moved when she grabbed old of it. And now she was spinning again, perfectly framed between the two ropes. When she began to drop again, Luis could feel his brain stop. Nothing had made sense. From the moment the man in the bowler hat had come through the smoke and walked into his bakery, the world had become a stranger to him. If trying to understand the world through the normal processes of cause and effect