To the Sword-Swallowing Woman in Uranus, Missouri
Let me start out by saying that I’ve never once tried to swallow a sword. I’ve performed fellatio on many occasions, so I know a bit about muscle relaxation. But I haven’t put anything remotely sharp down my throat. Your talent is far beyond what I could ever hope to pull off.
I’m sure you get tired of standing behind a counter all day. Rowdy families pile out of their minivans and mill around the gift shop. Tittering loudly, they scoop up coffee mugs that read, “Uranus Gas and Lube.” Teenagers pose for selfies, wearing tee-shirts emblazoned with the words, “Straight Outta Uranus.”
After they return home, the tourists will have no use for these items. Mom and Dad will pull into their driveways in Boise, Idaho, Portland, Maine, or Tupelo, Mississippi, glad to finally have a chance to relax on their recliners with a few stiff martinis. They’ll shove the mugs and clothing into the backs of cabinets and drawers. No one wants to enter Safeway while sporting a sweatshirt that proclaims, “The Best Fudge Comes From Uranus.”
Like everyone else, I stumbled upon your workplace as I was tooling down Route 66, searching for roadside adventure. Who can resist an establishment with a two-headed turtle? Not me.
Ignoring the signs for funnel cakes and brewpub experiences, I headed straight for the sideshow museum. Once inside, I felt disoriented. I spent too much time staring at the exhibit about Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in the world. As a geeky kid, reading “The Guinness Book of World Records”, I developed a crush-like fascination with Wadlow. The poor man suffered from a condition that caused hyperplasia of his pituitary gland. I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded rough.
Museum photos showed Wadlow, dressed in crisp, specially made suits, smiling as he stood beside people of normal height. He didn’t quit growing until he reached 8’11. One day, he just stopped stretching upward. It must have been a relief to not be any taller than he was the previous month.
Wadlow managed to appear happy in the photographs. Like he’d achieved a state of zen bliss, even if he had to gaze at the tops of people’s heads all day long. After an unsatisfying stint in the circus, he became a shoe salesman. Free shoes for life. No matter what, he made the best of everything.
I confess that I was absorbed in the exhibits and didn’t see you at first. I strolled amongst the mummies, mermaids, and alligator men, trying to find meaning in the chaos. The place was weird, but it beat the hell out of the Cadillac Ranch. I wondered whether I should break down and buy some fudge. Or at least a couple of postcards. Decisions, decisions.
You gestured towards me from your place behind the counter. A plump, heavily tattooed woman in a tiger print sundress. Instantly, I fell in love. You fixed me with a petulant expression. “Leaving already? Would you like to stay longer and watch me swallow a sword?”
Who could say no to such a request? I followed you to a tiny platform in the back room. The audience area was devoid of chairs, so I stood on the linoleum floor while you prepared backstage for your act. Apparently, you’d planned a solo show, something just for me. My heart pounded with exhilaration.
A minute later, you charged onto the stage and began to gyrate. Your heavy hips and ample thighs jiggled with a rhythm that only you could hear. I gazed at you, enthralled. You stared at the space behind my head, but I didn’t mind. It wasn’t every day that I got to see a sword swallower in Uranus.
When the suspense became unbearable, you pulled a sword from behind the curtains. Your body was stock-still as you opened your lips wide. You held the sword aloft, then plunged its long blade deep inside your mouth.
The whole process took only a couple of seconds. You extracted the sword and placed it on a table behind you. Then you shrugged. “Well, that’s it.” Your tone sounded brisk, matter-of fact. “Would you like me to do it again?”
“No, really, that’s okay. Once is enough. Thank you so much.” I’d paid six bucks admission, so I’d more than gotten my money’s worth. I didn’t want you swallowing swords all afternoon on my account. The pay scale in Uranus probably isn’t high, even for someone with such a rare skill.
Feeling dazed, I staggered towards the door. I felt certain I would never see you again. You’d probably already forgotten about my existence, but I couldn’t blame you. I was just another aimless tourist with too much money to spend on nothing.
The parking lot seemed unnaturally bright. One hour before closing, most of the cars had already left. They’d found the freeway and made a beeline towards MacDonald’s, Long John Silver’s, and Cracker Barrel. In the distance, I could see the silhouettes of Uranus’ outbuildings, with their comical signs: The Moonicorn Creamery and Funnel Cakery. The Uranus Axehole. Chicken Bones Party Bar and Grill.
None of these options appealed to me. If I left soon, perhaps I’d find Route 66 without too much trouble. The last thing I wanted was to go in circles and end up stuck in Uranus. I had gotten lost on the route more than once.
You probably take 66 all the time. At the end of each day, you pack away your sword, punch the clock, and head home. I hope you live in a place that’s as exotic as you are, and not just some lonely trailer beside a field.
Unmarked highways are difficult to navigate, especially at night. No wonder most people take the interstate. Freeways are a hell of a lot faster. Normal folks plan their route and their destination, but they miss everything in the process. I guess that’s why I never cared much for normal folks.
Leah Mueller's work appears in Rattle, NonBinary Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Citron Review, The Spectacle, New Flash Fiction Review, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and more. She is a 2022 nominee for both Pushcart and Best of the Net. Leah's flash piece, "Land of Eternal Thirst" appears in the 2022 edition of Best Small Fictions. Her two newest books are The Failure of Photography (Garden Party Press, 2023) and Widow's Fire (Alien Buddha Press, 2023). Website: http://www.leahmueller.org.