“You’re so busy doubting yourself while so many others are intimidated by your potential.”
Anton rubbed his balding head while Jules ranted.
“You’re trusting her with a solo act?” The senior aerialist’s voice echoed against the excellent acoustics of the theatre. “She’s self-taught, she misses details. I have to handle setting up the silks for her half the time.”
The ringmaster held up his hand with a sigh. “Enough. You know we struggle to attract an audience. We need fresh acts. She’ll handle a solo just fine.”
Thalia sat in the balcony, slumped low and hidden from sight. Her gut churned as she listened to the two men. It was her act they were discussing, though she didn’t need to eavesdrop to know how Jules felt about her. She and the senior aerialist grated on each other, like oil and water.
Shortly after discussing her shortcomings, the men left the stage. Thalia remained, gnawing on a fingernail as she worked up the desire to stand. Maybe it would be better to just sit here like one of the living statues that handed out roses in front of the theatre to lure folks in for the show. If she stayed perfectly still for long enough, she might even turn to stone, if she was lucky.
Everything changed the day Thalia soloed for the first time. It wasn’t the applause that did it. It wasn’t the clumsy misstep she made on her entrance. It wasn’t the crowd’s gasp as the antigrav lifts launched her too far to the left so she almost missed the next silk rope, nearly falling. It wasn’t the minor praise from Anton and it definitely wasn’t the sneer from Jules after she left the stage.
It was earlier, during rehearsal for a new juggling act, as she slipped onto the balcony to watch. A stranger sat in one of the faux velvet seats, a grin of delight on her face. Thalia crept over to her, unheard over the rehearsing act’s soundtrack blaring over the speakers.
She leaned in and whispered in the young woman’s ear. “You’re in my chair.”
A loud yelp focused all eyes in the house on them and Thalia giggled. The performers glared for a moment, then began picking up fallen pins.
“I’m Thalia and you’re trespassing. I will call security to throw you out.”
The young woman shrugged, smiling. “No you won’t, you don’t have security.”
Thalia gave her a confused look.
“I’m Regine, new stagehand…and security.”
Regine was rough, strong, bold, and not shy about showing Thalia she was deeply desired. They had napped earlier that afternoon, which had turned into something lovely and passionate, and now they talked.
Thalia sat, tidying her hair. “Anton is barely keeping us from going under. He’s might tell us it’s the last show any day now.”
“It’s a sinking ship, love.” Regine lay there, playing with the hem of Thalia’s blouse. Audition for another show. Maybe a traveling circus? I’ll be your assistant.”
“That’s sweet. It does sound kind of exciting, but…those gigs go to better trained performers than me.”
Regine shook her head. “You don’t see the audience when you’re up there. They love you.”
“I…” Thalia started to reply, the contradiction coming easily, but stopped herself. “Let me think about it, okay? Anton gave me my start, a chance when no one else would.”
Still shaking her head, Regine’s kissed her hand. “You’re too loyal for your own good, love.”
Thalia nodded. “I know. And you’re right. It’s a lost cause, but then so were you.” She smirked and saw the tension lessen in Regine’s shoulders. “I just need to process the idea a little, okay?”
It was a challenging rehearsal. Afterward, Thalia hid in the balcony. As she sat having a good cry, the door quietly swooshed open. A moment later Regine was there, flopping into the next seat.
“Don’t let Jules get to you,” she said as a greeting. “You’re special and he resents it.”
Thalia shook her head, her nose red and sniffling. “You say that because you love me.”
“No,” Regine’s tone grew more serious. “You’re special and that is why I fell for you.”
When Thalia didn’t smirk at that, Regine asked what happened.
“Jules complained again that he has to help all the time.”
Regine’s face grew red and she began to stand. “Did he seriously say he had to do your job for you? I’m gonna tell him where he can shove his damn training.”
Thalia put a hand on her arm. “Reggie. It’s okay. He’s kind of right. I do need some help. I have to work harder, build better foundations.”
“It’s not okay. Anton needs to protect you better. You’re too good for that shit.” Regine allowed herself to be pulled back down.
Thalia nodded, “It’s a long shot, but I…am applying to Elysium Bazaar tomorrow.”
An aerialist. It was all Thalia ever wanted to be. Flying through the air, swinging and twisting between the lengths of silk, then leaping into the void as the anti-grav units buoyed her to the next set of silks. It was terrifying and exhilarating and worth every hour of work she had put into learning the art.
There hadn’t been any support in getting there. No money for the training and definitely no funds for the costly investment of a place with the equipment and space to practice on her own. So she saved and managed to get the basic silks now mounted to her apartment’s ceiling. She went to every circus in the surrounding ten sectors of Torant City and took notes. She practiced until her hands were calloused and her arms strong.
She didn’t know the name of any pose when she joined Anton’s Circus of Dreams but she had earned a place there and her skills grew quickly. Now it seemed that time was coming to a close and the future was uncertain.
Yet the silks were still there for her. Anchored yet flexible, they still had much to teach her, and she was a willing student.
Lights flooded the theatre. From the stage to the high rafters, it glittered off the fine filaments woven into the silks. The fabric swayed as Thalia pulled herself up, anti-gravs carrying her higher and higher. She stopped two-thirds up their length and began her dance.
Regine had kissed her soundly before she entered the stage, now very far below. “You’ve got this,” she whispered. The aerialist’s nerves were wound tight tonight, there was a ring master in the audience. An opening at Elysium Bazaar was available and they were scouting her, much to Anton’s disappointment.
Thalia moved across the silks. Arabesque, split, side lean, swing and then a leap to the next set of silks while the crowd gasped. It felt good, until it didn’t. The anti-grav sputtered off and there was not a sound in the theatre as Thalia barely grasped the next silk and swung there for a moment, shaking. Anton started to step onto the stage, but she waved him off.
A deep breath later, she began improvising. She did drops and roll ups and things she only tried in her apartment, abandoning choreography. She failed the audition, but she would finish her act for the audience.
It was no surprise that the ring master for Elysium Bazaar did not come back stage. Thalia had missed something in her setup on the anti-gravs, some detail she had forgotten to check.
She told everyone, Regine included, that she wanted to be on her own for a bit. Donning street clothes, she left by the stage door, intent on finding a quiet space to think. A few blocks away was an observation deck looking out across Torant City.
“This far from the Lowers it almost looks beautiful,” she thought, surfacing old memories of more vulnerable times.
“Ye’ve come a long ol’ way, dearie. I seen ye. Been watchin’ yer shows.”
Thalia had not heard the old woman approach yet somehow was not startled by her appearance.
She patted Thalia’s arm. “Jus ye wait an’ see. Ye’ve worked hard. Ye’ll get yer due.”
“Th…thank you, Grannie,” Thalia stuttered out, hoping the spontaneous endearment didn’t insult her.
The old woman nodded, smiling as she turned and toddled off.
A sense of calm washed over Thalia. Something about the old woman’s validation had bolstered Regine’s reassurances. She wasn’t sure how it would happen, but Thalia was ready for whatever came next.
“Someone left a note,” a stagehand called to Thalia as she opened her dressing room door, garment bag over her shoulder.
She nodded, entering the closet-sized room with the massive mirror. An envelope sat in the only clear spot on her table of makeup and brushes. She placed the bag on the chair, then slit the envelope open with a hair pin.
Turn off the machines and play. Then come see me. Teach us your style, if you are willing. We leave next week. – MV
Madame Velena. She ran Cirque Paradisio, which was getting astounding reviews, and audiences. They were new, but were already taking apprentices. They wanted her in a senior role. Thalia’s heart soared.
That night, high above the stage, she signaled to Regine to turn off the anti-gravs. She had no plan, but her body knew what would excite wonder and awe in the hearts of the audience below. She trusted her hours of practice, she trusted her instincts, and she trusted her heart. For the first time, everything felt right and her heart was full.
As she left the stage to wild applause, she saw Madame Velena take her leave with a smile on her face.
“This is your suite.” Madame Velena opened the door into a brightly-lit space. Dressing area to one side, silks mounted to the ceiling on the other and a door across from them that led to her private quarters. It was close but cozy.
“Costumes in that closet. The rest of your things in there.” Velena indicated the bedroom. “One of the troupe will be around to give you a tour of the ship and ensure you have all you need.”
“Thank you,” Thalia answered, doing her best not to gape at the space.
“No, Thalia, thank you.” Velena smiled at her. “We need creativity and energy and honestly we need true artists. Audiences grow weary of perfect form. They want grit within the grace.”
The lump in her throat left Thalia speechless. With a nod, Velena squeezed Thalia’s arm as she left.
Regine would arrive soon to say goodbye for the next few months. Thalia’s tears would flow freely then. For now, there was a set of silks here in her new room that she wanted to test. Heart full of gratitude and renewed confidence, she began to play with ideas for her what felt like her true first performance.