“Pete and Florence Mardo, 1923” ~ Frederick W. Glasier, photographer

Our timing is perfect, a three-minute distraction.

We pass, we flirt, I drop a handkerchief; he bends to retrieve it (the sway of his exaggerated bottom! The laughter!); the return, the curtsey, the bow; our dance, a farcical mazurka, faces pushed close together, bodies angled out; he produces from one of his innumerable pockets a rose; we kiss.

Josef’s face is so close to mine I can smell the greasepaint, see where sweat has left tunnels like tears. His plastered makeup smells like egg whites, that shiny gloss stage, when you’re done beating and ready to bake.

Or maybe it just looks like egg whites, and I imagine the smell. I remember bakery windows full of tiny iced cakes in every color, pillowy loaves of challah, crusty boulders of rye. I remember when anyone could buy eggs and sugar. Could buy a train ticket and go wherever they liked.

Marta is good as gold through the whole act, not a poke, not a peep. I sewed the harness in Josef’s costume, showed her how to fold in her arms and legs, tuck her head between her shoulders. Like doing a somersault, I said. She’s watched the tumblers; she knows.

Curled up in her harness, quiet as a rabbit, she knows. But no one else knows. She disappears. They see a clown with a huge, padded bottom, a ridiculous fat figure swaying and dancing his clumsy dance, and everyone laughs. They don’t see Marta.

You were good, I tell her after. Everybody clapped!

May she be so good when we cross the border.

***

Kathryn Kulpa is an editor at Cleaver Magazine and has work published or forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly, Longleaf Review, and Pidgeonholes. She was the winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash fiction collection Girls on Film and a finalist in the Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook Competition.

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