The Show Must Not Go On 
by Lance Brown

Marianne screamed, "No! Did you hear me?! I said no!!"

She slapped him hard, but Paul had already catapulted out of reality, so to speak. She knew the look all too well. Marianne's eyes followed his arm down to where his hand was vise-gripped on the rope, and she understood that there was nothing she (or anyone else) could do. She closed her eyes and stepped back, bowing her head just as she heard the familiar click of the latch opening, followed as always by the reluctant groan of that old spring.

"SUICIDAL ACROBAT PERFORMS FATAL STUNT", the headline read the next day. Marianne grabbed a handful of copies for the relatives who would want clippings. As she paid the man at the newsstand, he caught her looking at the article and said, "Damnedest thing, ain't it? I remember seeing that guy at Barnum and Bailey's when I was a kid. The, uh, flying, what were they, the flying, um-"

"The Flying Motza Brothers."

"Yeah, that's right-- that's what it was! The Flying Motza Brothers. Man...they did amazing stuff!" He paused. "I guess maybe it got to him, huh? Doing all that wild stuff? Ya think?"

Marianne felt the sour tightening of the muscles above her cheekbones, foreshadowing another bout of crying. She had time to reply, "I guess maybe so," before she was forced to turn away, her hand rising in anticipation of the tears soon to come. She rushed off.

"Hey, you forgot your change!" the man at the stand said.

She half-looked back, replied in a cracked voice, "That's fine, you keep it. Thank you," and then tumbled back into the sidewalk crowd.

As she walked back to the house the three of them had shared, Marianne scanned the faces of the other people on the street. How many of them, like that man, had seen Paul when they were kids? And how many felt sad about his loss, or even remembered him, when they saw the headline today? (Or the absolutely dreadful news broadcast last night?) Probably a lot of people laughed, she thought. After all, wasn't that their job? To entertain? Wasn't Paul just being a Flying Motza Brother to the very end?

She was approaching the house when her stomach began to sink. Her heart started to race, and she felt as though all the blood was rushing out of her. As she struggled to draw full breaths of air, she felt herself graying out, and she careened toward the bus stop bench. Her hand grabbed it just as her legs turned to jelly, and she landed hard on the bench, hitting her head against the wall of the kiosk. Marianne slapped the newspapers down next to her and leaned forward, elbows on her knees and palms grasping the sides of her head. 

And then it came.

It started bubbling up from what felt like her lungs. At first she thought she had a cough or a sneeze coming on, but suddenly the burbling feeling gained voice, and moments later, she was full-tilt wailing, with the unrestrained pitch reserved for newborn babies, the insane, and the bereaved.

Once the crest of that wave had passed, Marianne looked around to see if anyone was witnessing her spectacle, but all she saw were glints of light and blurry, refracted images. It didn't seem like anyone else was there. There was a ringing in her ears, and she wondered when it had started. It made her feel dizzy.

For her, the worst part was that she couldn't distinguish between her feelings of loss and her feelings of guilt. She wished emptily that this had been a clean ending--that she would only have to deal with her grief. But she was responsible, she knew, and the prison cell of earned guilt was going to own her for the rest of her life. She could feel it--and all she could do about it was cry like a baby, and hope it didn't drive her mad.

"Marianne, what are you doing out here?"

It was Maurice. Mr. 'Let's Move On'. "Oh my God, look at you. You're a wreck. Come on inside. Here, put your arm around my shoulder. I've got you."

"Don't forget the papers," she monotoned. She could feel coldness taking over, as if she had caught it from the bus stop bench. Mom always said never to touch public surfaces, she thought whimsically. A small chuckle popped out.

Maurice stopped and looked at her. "Did you just laugh?"

"I'm fine," she replied, and pulled away enough to prove it. "I think the sun just got to me or something."

"Hey, it's OK to be sad, sweetie. You've just got to be careful. Someone could have mugged you easy, the state you were in."

"I'd like to see them try." She pulled the rest of the way away, and walked up the stairs ahead of him.

"There's my girl." Maurice smiled with relief as he followed her inside.

The police returned Maurice's catapult the next day. He was out making funeral arrangements, so it just sat out in front of the house, near the bus stop. By noon, a small crowd of people had created an impromptu memorial for Paul, and the curb was littered with candles, flowers, and cards. Marianne couldn't get herself to go out there--instead she sat at the window all day, watching and weeping, as children of the fans of her late husband did somersaults and cartwheels, while their parents revisited a childhood memory.

It was while watching one of those children that she realized that she would never be able to forgive herself for what she did. She couldn't forgive herself, and she couldn't forgive Maurice either. She stared out at the catapult and the crowd for a while more, and gradually a sleepy grin crept onto her face. She knew what to do.

Maurice opened his eyes, and saw only darkness--a blindfold. He screamed. "Help! Where am I? Help!"

"No one's going to hear you, Maurice. Trust me."

"Marianne? What's going on? Who's got us?"

"I've got you, Maurice. It's time for our big number." She ran a stick along the ridges of the giant spring, playing a familiar scale.

"Oh my God, I'm in the catapult! What are you doing, Marianne? What the hell is going on?!"

Marianne turned on the big light, and checked the videocamera for a last time. "I told you, Maurice-- our big number."

"What? No, Marianne. Don't do this. You don't know what you're doing!"

Marianne took a deep breath as she stood in position, facing the camera. Before she began, she turned and said out of the side of her mouth, "I know perfectly well what I'm doing."

To the camera she said, "Ladies and gentlemen, children and seniors, sons, daughters, parents and grandparents! Welcome one and all to the final performance of The Flying Motza Brothers! I am your hostess, and humble assistant, Marianne Motza!"

Maurice began to scream at the top of his lungs. "Somebody help me! She's gone nuts! Helllp!"

"Tonight we will do a memorial performance in honor of the great Paul Motza, who as you may know recently left this world. I am joined tonight by his brother Maurice Motza, who is a son of a bitch, pardon my language. It is with Maurice's 'World-Famous Catapultic Contraption' that he and I will do our greatest stunt ever. Now, Maurice is blindfolded, and can't see where the contraption is pointed, but you and I can, and as you can tell, you're in for a truly spectacular show!"

Maurice's screaming was wordless now-- just a horrified screech.

Marianne reached up and put her hands on the edge of the catapult's cup. It had been over ten years since she had done this. With a focused grunt, she kicked off, her legs swinging up and around in a perfect arc, her uniform sparkling in the glare of the light. She landed in the cup, let go of the edge, and slapped Maurice across the face, hard. Then she grabbed his mouth, silencing him, and yanked off his blindfold.

She lowered her voice so that only he could hear. "I did a lot of thinking about it, Maurice, and it's simple. Now, you tell me--you were his brother. Tell me that you didn't know that he would kill himself if he ever found out about us. Tell me that."

She pulled her hand away. Maurice simply wept.

"I thought so. This is the right thing to do, Maurice. This is what we have to do."

She grabbed the rope which had launched Paul to his death only days before, and stood up to face the camera again. 

"Ladies and gentlemen, children and seniors, sons, daughters, parents and grandparents! On behalf of The Flying Motza Brothers, I bid you fond farewell!"

Maurice nearly started to scream again, but he caught himself and bit it down. No point in spoiling it, he thought.

Their flight was silent--and it was absolutely stunning.

Copyright Lance Brown, All Rights Reserved