People think I must be lying when I say I’m not afraid. How can I not be, they say, standing up there in front of a thousand staring eyes, a flinch away from death? I try to explain to them, but it’s hard. When the spotlight turns on me and I spread my body against the scarred wooden backdrop it’s not fear I feel. It’s not quite excitement either. Really it’s like I’m floating. It’s like he’s holding me in place.
I trust him. Completely. Not just because he’s been throwing knives since he was twelve years old. Not just because I’ve never known him to miss a mark. Not just because I’ve seen him split a blade of grass at seven feet without any visible sign of effort. No, I trust him because I have chosen to trust him. Because my body instinctively trusts him. Because I can do nothing else.
And so I take my place. I stand, loose, easy, legs apart and shoulders back. My body ready to be pinioned, my shoulder blades against the pitted wood, hands palms upward by my sides. As the spotlight turns to spear me, my costume glimmers. A thousand sequins, woven like liquid light into something that clings to my every curve. I face the light and smile, unafraid. I can’t see the audience, but I can feel the drop in pressure from a thousand held breaths. I can’t see him either, but I know that he is there, readying his knives.
Before the first knife is thrown there is silence. Utter silence – the kind you never hear anywhere else. The kind where I can hear my own heart beating – my own breath rushing in and out of my lungs. And then, like an owl swooping, there’s the fwip of a knife parting the air. A thud that I feel as well as hear. Something inside me shivers like breaking ice, but I am uncut. The audience, a living animal, moans with tension.
The act calls for a dozen knives. One by one they thud into place, so close that I can feel the cold of their steel almost-but-not-quite touching my flesh. They pin themselves beside my calves, at my hips, at my shoulders, on either side of my head. One between the spread fingers of each hand, and then a final throw – this one hitting home between my thighs, close enough to kiss the insides of my legs.
Then it’s over. As he moves into the light, I see his face. Steady, calm – not a trace of sweat or pressure. He takes my hands and helps me step forwards; I leave behind an outline of my body in blades. We face the crowd together, and bow. He is a rock. A tower. An island in a storm. My body is surging, my heart beating like a bird’s – the way it does every single time. The applause is thunder, lightning. The applause takes up the world.
Backstage, I retire to my dressing room and look myself in the mirror. After every act I entertain a certain fantasy. I imagine that he comes to my dressing room and shuts the door behind him, then orders me to stand against the wall. He kisses me and I remain as still as a sculpture. As still as I stand when he’s taking aim at me with the blades. He kisses me. My mouth. My neck. Works his way down my body until he is kissing me where the knives kiss me. Their touch is cold and his is warm, but both are strong and certain. Both make me feel as though he’s touching something deeper inside me than he could ever possibly reach.
People think I must be afraid. People ask if I’ve ever been cut. Surely, they insist, in a year of nightly shows those knives must have missed their mark at least once. Must have grazed my flesh. Must have brought blood welling to the surface. But I tell them no. If they think that, then they don’t know him like I know him. A year of shows and you won’t find so much as a graze on my body.
As I remove my makeup, the fantasy fades. There will be another night, and another after that, and another after that. We’ll do it all over again: standing, floating, staring into the light. The knives slamming home. My heart racing. And the truth is this: he has never missed his mark. He is the consummate professional. He has never cut me. But some small part of me sometimes wishes that he would.