Short Story Contest
“Lois, babe,” you said, “this is the
easiest money you will ever make.”
“So I’m hired?”
There was something kind of charming
in the way you threw my flimsy
resumé over your shoulder and said,
“Say good-bye to Squaresville. You got
the look, kid.”
You were wiry and excitable, like a
whippet I used to have. I wanted to
believe you. I wanted to run away
with the circus.
“What do I have to do?”
“Nothing. Isn’t it sweet? You’ll wear
this—” You tossed a white sequined
bathing suit at me. “—and stand there.”
You guided me over to the backdrop,
not slowing down while I picked my
way through the sawdust in my high
heels. I looked at the target painted
on the wooden board with your name
spelled out in glitter: “Rapid-Fire Ray.”
I reached out to touch all the little
scrapes and gouges, painted over
many times. They outlined the form of
the girl who used to work for you. I
think she was shorter than me.
“So you’re going to tie me to this
“No, no, no. That wouldn’t work at all.
The audience needs to see that you’re
here of your own free will. You have
such trust in my awesome talent that
you like having me throw knives at
you. It’s no big deal. That’s why it’s so
important to smile.”
I’m not really a performer. I used to
be a bank teller—one of the rubes you
probably make fun of. I answered your
ad because it was literally the only one
in the paper that day and I was hard
up. It didn’t really say what the job
was, but I’m an optimist. What’s the
worst that can happen, right? I suspect
you hired me for my hair, which is
platinum and kind of dramatic. It looks
like a wedding veil when I wear it
“I like it,” you said, and touched it,
going deep for a handful at the back of
my neck. “It’s real.”
I had never had a boss who touched
me and I guess I passed your first test
of self control because I did not freak
out. I didn’t step away or scream. I
didn’t smile either; it was hard for me
then to smile at fear.
“Can you wear it up?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Great. We should get you some big
hoop earrings. I’ll bet I could put a
knife through one of those.”
“You don’t know if you can?”
“Lois, sweetie, I’m an artist, an
innovator. I push myself. What’s the
point of doing something you’re
absolutely sure you can do?”
I guess this was where I could have
backed out. There must be some other
way to make money. I just wouldn’t
get it today, so I didn’t say anything
and you took that as a yes.
“All right, let’s get changed and we’ll
rehearse a little.”
“Yeah, babe.” You had already turned
away and brought out your knives, a
big black, shiny case just full of them.
“This might be a little easier for me if I
could see you throw around somebody
else first. You know, just so I know
what I’m in for.”
You smiled and gave me a look of pity.
“There isn’t anybody else. That’s why I
had to hire you. If you can’t do this, I
can’t go on tonight.”
“But hey, if it’ll make you feel better,
You swooped up a handful of little
stilettos, holding them by the points.
You threw them so fast, one right after
the other, they whipped through the
air and landed in an exact pattern
where a girl’s head should be. I looked
closer and saw that the arc of knives
was higher than the old marks. You
must have been thinking of me.
The costume was a perfect fit, which I
took as a sign. I stepped in front of the
target and stood straight and
compressed, trying to make myself as
small as possible.
“One thing I need to teach you Lois, is
a sense of showmanship. Spread your
arms and legs like you’re trying to grip
the edges. Surrender yourself to the
You had changed too. It’s not every
man who could put on a gypsy
costume and own it, but somehow you
did. Your pencil moustache didn’t seem
“Stay absolutely still, babe. Believe
me, it’s important.”
“Say, Ray, what happened to your last
By you? I wondered.
“Can’t do a pregnant girl. People go
into conniptions over babies and
animals. If I tied a chimp to that
board, people would string me up, but
pretty ladies are always good fun. Like
your life is worth less than a chimp’s. I
don’t know. Here it comes.”
It was over so fast. I heard the quick
chunks as the knives went into the
board. One by my head, one by my
right hand, one by my inner thigh, so
close I could feel it quivering against
my skin. When it was over, I stepped
away from the board and ran for the
barrel by the gaudy tent flap. My legs
were shaking and I stumbled like a
newborn calf. Oh, God.
“Not bad, not bad,” you commented.
“I don’t mind puking the first time, but
if you faint, ever, I can’t use you.”
I nodded, pleased that I hadn’t
disqualified myself. You handed me a
bottle of water. “Let’s do it again.”
I just stared at you.
“It’ll be easier this time. You’ll see.”
What was it about you? I stepped up
to the target and stretched out.
“Two things, babe. You need to keep
your eyes open and you need to smile.
This is supposed to be fun.”
All I could think was that I hadn’t told
anybody I had a job interview. Nobody
knew where I was.
“That’s not a smile. That’s a grimace,
and it’s worse than no smile at all.”
You did the only thing you could do.
You smiled at me first, a warm
conspiratorial smile that I had to
return. I’m glad I kept my eyes open.
I got to see the arch of your eyebrow
as you closed one eye and aimed. I
followed the blur of the flying knives.
Most people never get to see such
things, but I did.
“Much improved, kid. How do you
People are starting to gather by the
tent flap, snooping to check out the
new girl. I feel special and brave—
something that has never, ever
happened to me before. Spin the
wheel, set me on fire. You’ve given
me something, Ray, and I think I
might have a taste for it.
Colleen Quinn has been published in The
Brooklyn Rail and Spinetingler Magazine. She
lives in Brooklyn, New York.