Now That the Circus Has Shut Down, the Human Cannonball Looks for Work
She thinks it might be nice to work somewhere quiet. A library or maybe
a museum. Imagines herself pushing a cart full of books past bent heads.
Footfalls muffled by carpet, no one looks up as she whispers by. Or leading
a small group through cool marble halls. Ceilings so high she barely has to
raise her voice as she points—this is a Chagall, this is a Degas.
She updates her LinkedIn profile. Switching the picture of her posing next
to her cannon—spangled helmet and goggles, fists jammed into hip bones
like Wonder Woman—for one that her mom took at Christmas a few years ago.
She's standing in front of a lighted tree, but her forest-green sweater and
black slacks could pass for business casual. Her arms hang sedate at her
She stays up reading articles from The Muse on her phone. "How to
Craft a Career-Change Resume" recommends highlighting transferable skills,
so she falls asleep brainstorming descriptive bullet points.
- Strong work ethic—Eight shows a week. No sick days.
- Company loyalty—She'd been with her circus, and only her
circus, for half her life. Faithful as a lover.
- Quick learner—She wasn't always the Human Cannonball.
She works on a cover letter, but isn't sure how to talk about herself
without exclamation points.
She heard that there's a field in Indiana full of stunt cannons from all the
circuses that closed up. Pictures seeing them through the window of a train.
Their painted stars and stripes blurring purple among the cornstalks.
Barrels angled toward the sky.
She calls her friend Ryan. He used to pratfall for bleachers full of people
and now works birthday parties along the Main Line, making balloon animals
for the toddlers and pulling quarters from behind their mothers' ears. He's
happy to be a reference, but he's not sure how much weight the words of a
clown will carry.
She gets called for an interview at the public library. The night before,
she puts on her interview outfit—black skirt, white shirt, tan cardigan,
black flats—and wheels a shopping cart through the 24-hour grocery as
quietly as possible. She pretends the cans of soup and box of cereal are
books to be shelved, that the displays of spices and candy at the ends of
aisles are readers that should not be disturbed.
She expects to be asked about her old job at the interview, but she doesn't
anticipate how difficult it will be to answer. The head librarian asks if
she misses flying. She says yes because it's simpler. What she really misses
is this: the moment before the pneumatic pump launched her from the cannon's
mouth. Snug in the barrel, with her name on the ringmaster's lips, with a
whole tent full of hearts beating for her, she always knew where she was
going to land.
Meghan Phillips has shorts in Paper Darts, matchbook, Cheap Pop, Hobart and
many others. She's the fiction editor for Third Point Press.
Read her postcard.
Detail of watercolor on main page courtesy
of Levin Garson.
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