by Tom Gumbert  

The crowd on the other side of the curtain grows louder, more energetic with each passing moment, anticipation building as the hands of the massive clock move ever closer to the appointed time.

‘Nervous?’ she asks.

‘Sister, please,’ I tell her before taking a long, slow pull from the bottle. Mindful of my makeup, I pat dry my lips on a linen napkin. ‘When you’ve been in the business as long as I have…’ I wave a hand dismissively.

She leans forward as if sharing some salacious gossip, and whispers, ‘And how long has that been?’

I squint as if trying to see into the past. ‘Since I was fifteen or sixteen,’ I tell her.

She gasps, which causes me to smile. Clearly this was unexpected, though, I can’t imagine why. What did she think, that someone who looked like me, just suddenly fell into this line of work?

She flips open a notepad and jots down notes in shorthand. Haven’t seen anyone use that in…I can’t remember how long. I thought it was a lost art in this age of electronification, especially for a millennial. I like her.

‘What does your family think of your chosen profession?’

‘Daddy was a preacher and quite sententious. He passed several years ago. Haven’t heard from Momma or the sibs in a long time. I guess we are just another dysfunctional American family. If memory serves me, they favored the word ‘Turpitude’ when describing me and my line of work.’

‘That must have hurt.’

I want to tell her it didn’t, that I was impervious to the vitriol of the ‘religious,’ that despite their claims to the contrary, I knew I was not an abomination—and I’d like to believe it.

‘Can you hand me that?’

She looks where I am pointing, and picks up the silk robe with its ornate embroidery, running her fingers over it before holding it out to me.

I smile my thanks and slip into it, as she averts her eyes. It’s unnecessary, I have neither dignity nor modesty.

Nodding toward the curtain she asks, ‘Why do you think they come?’

I consider the audience, mostly young men, a few older and the occasional bachelorette party. ‘For a good time—something to tell their friends. For a few, it might be prurient.’

‘What would you say to those that criticize your show?’

‘Don’t come.’

She smiles at my response and follows up with, ‘What advice would you give to others who might be inclined to emulate you?’

I stand, adjusting my robe in the full-length mirror, shoulders back. ‘Be confident, be proud of your body, and ignore those that would shame you.’

The cheer of the crowd tells me that it is one minute until Showtime. I move to the stage wing, close my eyes and summon the courage required for each performance.

My intro music begins and I hear, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve been waiting for: The Three-Legged Man!

Operations Manager by day and daydreamer by nature, Tom co-authored the anthology, “Nine Lives,” and is the winner of The Sunlight Press 2017 Spring Fiction contest. He is grateful and honored that his work has appeared or is forthcoming in fine publications such as Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, Porridge Magazine, Dodging The Rain, Five2One Magazine, Figroot Press, Occulum, The Ginger Collect and others. When not reading or staring at the Ohio River, Tom works on his writing.