Figures Defying Gravity
by J.P. Howley
Ascent Begins With A WillingnessTo Assume All Liability In The EventOf Catastrophic Injury
Connie Burling's legs are splayed and nervously pistoning up-and-down. She's wearing kind of a crazy get-up and trying her hardest to convince three men in nearly identical charcoal wool suits that she's something she's not.
The wall-to-wall's worn through in a few high-traffic areas, and Connie can see bluish-green foam carpet-padding disintegrating beneath her tapping feet. The walls of the room, which occupies the entire volume of a rusting trailer, are covered with a self-adhering wood-veneer wallpaper so fake-looking it's obviously meant to be campy and sort of kitschy-ironic; the guys in suits who share this office--guys who usually just look at the bottom-line--probably don't get the joke.
The middle-aged guy's pulling off his eye-glasses now, and wiping the lenses with the tip of his tie, which he's pulled from the inside of his buttoned jacket. Connie watches him work the tie in small circular motions.
The crazy thing about Connie's get-up is that it's some kind of a homemade super-hero-type get-up--a spandex-heavy, red, white and blue one-piece outfit with the letters "CB" embroidered a foot high with pinkish yarn on both the chest and the back. She's just finished telling these guys that a matching cape's being sewn for her, but her mother just could not, unfortunately, finish it in time for this meeting. She was able to, however, proudly display a hand-painted red, white, blue and pink helmet, complete with a darkly tinted visor that pivots up and down.
Two men--the youngest and the oldest of the three--hold copies of a paper document entitled RÉSUMÉ, which Connie just handed them. "Sorry I only brought two copies, guys. I guess you'll have to share."
Her legs still nervously pop up and down. The place smells like mildewy carpet-padding.
"Not a problem," says the one who just finished wiping his glasses with his tie. As he tucks it back into his jacket, Connie observes a nickel-sized white stain on his tie at about nipple height. Potentially toothpaste. The middle-aged guy perches the thin frames on the bridge of his nose, the tangles in his hair supporting the arms an inch above his ears. His eyes narrow and, he smiles widely and looks askance at Connie's face until she averts her eyes. Then, he leans in over the shoulder of the guy sitting on the office-chair in front of him, and there's a moment of silence in which they all simply read her résumé.
Connie notices three nearly identical sleeping bags and matching pillows piled into one corner of the trailer. She'd come here out of the blue earlier this afternoon, wearing this outfit, asking around for the manager of the place, saying she wanted a job. These men run a carnival, so they're not altogether too busy, and were able to meet with her right away. Even supposing for a moment they were actually busy, she had the outfit and this wonderful helmet (granted, no cape yet, but at least it's being made) so how, in good faith, could they not see her?
A strangely effeminate man with an eye patch--perhaps their secretary, she'd thought--had led her to the office/trailer, which's hitched to a dusty Ford pickup. The eyepatch'd man warned her about a mud puddle that'd developed in front the crudely made plywood steps leading up to the trailer's door. She'd already seen the mud, but considered it an extremely polite gesture, and, apparently not accustomed to receiving polite gestures, she thanked him heartily for his consideration. Then, he ushered her into the trailer, whereupon she introduced herself to the men in suits, distributed her résumé, and took a seat.
The men didn't bother to introduce themselves.
"That's, um, a fabulous outfit you got there," the oldest of the three says, squinting in Connie's direction. He rubs his eyes with bent knuckles and squints at her again.
She can see an undershirt through his flimsy white button-down.
"It's just a prototype."
"Yes." Not all of the seams are aligned properly, and there're already a few holes in the get-up that come close to exposing, shall we say, certain vitally private areas. Connie's seamstress, her flesh and blood mother, was at one time incredibly handy with a Singer foot-peddled sewing machine; but now, at the age of 84 (and of the shaky type, whose lipstick-wearing habits could be defined as highly influenced by Batman's the Joker) her sewing skills, she likes to say, are in hands of Jesus, and Jesus, son of God or not, was a carpenter and not a seamstress.
Connie's not exactly a spring chicken herself, just shy of 60 years old. She's got debilitating cosmetic issues of her own, only hers are more of a seriously-regretted-moment type of issue, as opposed to an unavoidable, geriatric problem.
You see, sometime in the early nineteen-eighties, Connie'd had this crazy idea to get permanent cosmetic tattoos, the kind that could replace her daily make-up applications. At the time of the tattoos, Connie--who's sitting here now practically bouncing in her seat waiting for some kind of response a couple of guys who run a carnival--was on the fast track, corporate-ladder-wise (believe it or not) and it seemed like quite a bargain that, for a few hundred bucks, she could wake up beautiful and ready to go to work on a moment's notice. Her snazzily trendy Ziggy-Stardust-era-David-Bowie style--the same cosmetics-applied-with-a-shotgun look favored today in the 00's only by pushy Queens/Bronx/Jersey-girl-types with extremapermed hair--only added fuel to a career that was already on fire.
"We can see that you obviously have a very impressive background." The man removes his glasses and again uses his waffled tie to rub at some tiny speck on the lens' surface.
When no one's talking, Connie's foot tapping is unusually loud because the floor is hollow.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
"Cashier to Regional Manager, to Manager of Multiple Lower-Ranked Managers, to Vice President of Managers, to Managing Vice President all within in two years," the old one says in kind of a detached tone.
Connie nods, pretends to laugh humbly, then shrugs. "The business section of the Kansas City Star called me a whiz-kid."
"Hey, Boss, y'all call me a whiz-kid right?" asks the young guy, who's shirt's too big at the neck.
Connie pretends to laugh again. The waist on her outfit is up way too high, and she's kind of embarrassed by the aestheta-gluteul implications whenever she's standing. But she needs this job, so she's willing to do anything.
"Yeeeeahhhhhh, I don't know, here." The older guy squints toward the résumé. "But, Connie however, none of this is--this is not really relevant to any kind of job you could be seeking here."
"Right. I've sort of dropped out of the corporate world--on a hiatus, you know. Trying new things."
"Nearly 18 years, eh?"
"Well, takes time to find the right job," she says, arching her lightly-bruised-looking eyebrows. The truth is, she got those tattoos and, naturally, after a few years, the styles changed--a fact that, while under the needle in that tat parlor on seven separate occasions (one visit for each lip, each cheek, each eye plus a final touch-up), Connie somehow didn't realize was inevitable. Worse than just the changes in trends, however, was the havoc reeked by the decline in the saturation of the inks and natural changes in her own body: after a few years, the eyeliner faded from violet to a sickly bluish-grey; and, as her skin tone evolved naturally with age, her lipstick-red lips and rouged cheeks became far too bright for her complexion. Eventually, she became so terrifyingly self-conscious of her own sun-bleached, Raggedy Ann doll physiognomy she stopped going to work. Of course, they subsequently fired her. Soon, she'd stopped going out almost entirely, unless absolutely necessary, and remains somewhat hermitic. She's especially avoided going to malls, where those peppy, over-perfumed cosmetics girls always bleat in her direction, trying to get her to sit down and "try out a new look," as if she could. "Frankly," Connie told her mother once, "if another person holding a jar of Age-Defying Gel or Powderless Foundation comes at me, I'm going to kill them, and it'll be justifiable self-defense."
The old man snorts and says, "So what you want to do is... what exactly?"
"She's a motorcycle stunter," the younger guy says. Connie nods in affirmation. He continues enthusiastically, "You know like--jumping over buses and cars and flaming things."
"Flames are good! I like to hear that. People like to see things on fire. How'd ya feel about flames, Carrie?"
"Connie's the name, actually.... Yes, I'd assumed there'd be flames involved."
Connie can't help but stare at the white splotch on the middle-aged guy's tie.
The younger one: "What about, like, instead of a flaming hoop, we get a group of children from the audience for you to jump over! More tension, you know. Fear of death, all that... Of course, we couldn't set them on fire, I suppose--or could we?"
"Hmph--we'll work the details out later." The older one speaks with kind of a slight Midwestern, country drawl. "What we want to know is, do you have any experience jumping over"--looks to younger guy and squints--"various objects on motorcycles?"
"Well, um, no."
Squinting: "Well, do you have a motorcycle?"
Snorting: "What, then, do you have?"
"Well, for one thing, confidence. And poise, and I'm very-detail oriented... and I've got this, uh, this costume, which I'll admit could use, um, some more work, you know, on those details--"
"You're going to need more than that, lady. You picked a dangerous sport and we've got fiscal responsibilities to be aware of. You know, I mean, our insurance alone would cost--"
"I also am willing to sign a liability waiver, if that'd make a difference."
The men look at each other.
"But you'll have to get your own motorcycle."
"And maybe add some more red fabric to that get-up of yours--it'll be good camouflage if there's--you know, in case there's blood."
Connie legs stop bouncing.
"We do have children around, Connie. You know that don't you?"
"Yes, I saw them on my way in."
"Well, the children, they can witness you fall--at least studies about roller coasters prove--and that alone won't traumatize them. But blood is very bad. Definitely a long-term, large-dollar lawsuit type of incident. So, let's not have any blood, okay?"
"Well--no, no blood. I don't want that either."
"Although, you're signing the waiver, so--you know, it's up to you."
"We take no responsibility."
"So that's it. We'll give you the papers to sign when you show up--mmmwhy don't we say starting Saturday afternoon. Ready to go."
"You can have the cape by then, right?"
"I think so--"
"Oh, and the motorcycle?"
"We'll supply the ramp."
They seal the deal with a handshake--or three handshakes, to be exact--and Connie's shown her way out. The middle-aged man politely holds her hand as she walks down the trailer's plywood steps, and catches her as she stumbles slightly, saving her from falling into the mud puddle at the bottom of the stairs. Connie thanks him, looking back towards the trailer occasionally as she walks to the parking lot, wondering why the middle-aged guy in the suit is still staring and smiling at her.
She tosses her helmet into the back of an ancient Japanese hatchback, which she's going to sell first thing tomorrow to finance the purchase of a motorcycle, and drives off towards the home she shares with her mother and twelve border collies forty-five minutes away, on the outskirts of the suburbs.
The effeminate eyepatch'd man, who has been leaning up against the exterior of the trailer and smoking cigarettes for the last twenty minutes, approaches the middle-aged guy--now listlessly watching Connie drive away--and asks him, "Who's that lady anyhow?"
The middle-aged guy, who never even told Connie his name, shakes his head slowly and replies: "I'm going to make that woman a very happy lady one day."
There's a pause in which both men avoid eye contact and silently judge each other; then, the conversation having long-since reached a point where it couldn't possibly go on any longer, the two silently walk off in different directions. As the distance between the pair increases with each step, the middle-aged man removes his glasses and fogs the lenses through o-shaped lips, wiping them with clean with the triangular end of his tie. He puts his glasses back on. Before he tucks the tie back into his suit, he notices its nipple-height stain and, lifting it to his mouth, licks the white splotch. "Toothpaste," he mutters, imagining himself brushing his teeth in Connie's bathroom.
Meanwhile, the effeminate eyepatch'd man, as he's walking away, rotates the patch from his left-eye to his right-eye, the elastic band snapping the convex plastic eye-cover securely into place. He squints the freshly uncovered eye, allowing the dilated pupil to gradually adjust to the late-afternoon sun, and wonders aloud if he'll ever know what it's like to be in love.