The girl stood on the platform and stared atthe wire that stretched out before her. She was young, not much over fourteen, but the body of a woman strained against her ballet costume. She wore dirty pink tights that bulged at the knee and a cardboard tiara that sparkled in the sun....
The girl stood on the platform and stared atthe wire that stretched out before her. She was young, not much over fourteen, but the body of a woman strained against her ballet costume. She wore dirty pink tights that bulged at the knee and a cardboard tiara that sparkled in the sun. The tulle skirt was torn in several places, dropping sequins on her tights and slippers. Her mother stood directly below her, cranking a barrel organ that alternated between two popular songs.
"It is time to begin, maideleh," she called up. "They're waiting."
It was market day and the air smelled of rotting fruit, manure, and sweating horses. Jewish housewives, still clutching their checkered winter shawls, strolled up and down the aisles of stalls. Over by the rag dealer, women pulled on worn dresses over their clothes. If they liked their reflection in the little mirror hanging on the stall, they kept it to themselves. Better to bargain the price down.
The girl looked out on the crowd that had stopped to watch her. She took a breath and with arms outstretched stepped onto the wire. She paused and waited for the wire to stop bouncing and then took another cautious step. One boy in the back was not fooled by her trepidation. He knew it was all part of the act. He had seen her performance earlier on his way to school and knew she only appeared frightened to win the sympathy of the audience. Soon her confidence would appear to grow as her tricks became increasingly more difficult. In the finale, she would execute a perfect handstand and finish with the splits, her legs delicately balanced on the wire, her arms held high in triumph.
The boy knew he needed to get going. School had let out nearly an hour ago and he was expected at the Chernyi Griaz, a billiards club