By Jane Martin (pseudonym for John Jorre)
Published in Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories,
edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas (Peregrine Smith Books, 1986)
[A young woman stands center stage. She is dressed in
a spangled, one-piece swimsuit, the kind for baton twirlers.
She holds a shining silver baton in her hand.]
I started when I was six. Momma sawed off a broom handle, and Uncle Carbo slapped
some sort of silver paint, well, gray, really, on it and I went down in the basement and twirled.
Later on Momma hit the dialy double on horses name Spin Dry and Silver Revolver and she said that was a sign so she gave me lessons at the Dainty Deb Dance Studio, where they lady, Miss Aurelia, taught some twirling on the side.
I won the Ohio Juniors title when I was six and the Midwest Young Adult division three years later, and then in high school I finished fourth in the nationals. Momma and I wore look-alike Statue of Liberty costumes that she had sent clear to Nebraska to get, and Daddy was there in a T-shirt with my name, April--my first name is April and my last name is March. There were four thousand people there, and when they yelled my name golden balloons fell out of the ceiling. Nobody, not even Charlene Ann Morrison, ever finished fourth at my age.
Oh, I've flown high and known tragedy, both. My daddy says it's put spirit in my sould and stell in my heart. My left hand was crushed in a riding accident by a horse named Big Blood Red, and theough I came back to twirl, I couldn't do it at the highest level. That was denied me by Big Blood Red, who clipped my wings. You mustn't pity me, though. Oh, by no means! Being denied showed me the way, showed me the glory that sits inside life where you can't see it.
People think you're a twit if you twir. It's a prejudice of the unknowing. Twirlers are the niggers of a white university. Yes, they are. Once time I was doing fire batons at a night game, and all of a sudden I see this guy walk out of the stands. I was doing triples and he walks right out past the half-time marshals, comes up to me--he had this blue bead headband, I can still see it. Walks right up, and when I come front after a back reverse he spits in my face. That's the only single time I ever dropped a baton. Dropped 'em both in front of sixty thousand people, and he smiles, see, and he says thins thing I won't repeat. He called me a bodily part in front of half of Ohio. It was like being raped. It shows the beauty inspires hate and that hating beauty is Satan.
You haven't twirled, have you? I can see that by your hands. Would you like to hold my silver baton? Here, hold it.
You can't imagine what if feels like to have that baton up in the air. I used to twirl with this girl who called it blue-collar Zen. The 'tons catch the sun when they're up, and when they go up, you go up, too. You can't twirl if you're not inside the 'ton. When you've got 'm up over twenty feet, it's like flying or gliding. Your hands are still down, but your insides spin and rise and leave the ground. Only a twirler knows that, so we're not niggers.
The secret for a twirler is the light. You live or die with the light. It's your fate. The best is a February sky clouded right over in the late afternoon. It's all background then, and what happens is that the 'tons leave tracks, traces, they etch the air, and if you're hot, if your hands have it, you can draw on the sky.
God, Charlene Ann Morrison. God, Charlene Ann! She was inspired by something beyond man. She won the nationals nine years in a row. Unparalleled and unrepeatable. The last two years she had leukemia and at the end you could see through her hands when she twirled. Charlene Ann died with a 'ton thirty feet up, her momma swears on that. I roomed with Charlene at a regional in Fargo, and she may have been fibbin', but she said there was a day when her 'tons erased while they turned. Like the sky was a sheet of rain and the 'tons were car wipers and when she had erased this certain part of the sky you could see the face of the Lord God Jesus, and his hair was all rhinestones and he was doing this incredible singing like the sound of a piccolo. The people who said that Charlene was crazy probably never twired a day in their life.
Twirling is the physical parallel of revelation. You can't know that. Twirling is the throwing of yourself up to God. It's pure gift, hidden from Satan because it is wrapped and disguised in the midst of football. It is God-throwing, spirit fire, and very few come to it. You have to grow eyes in your heart to understand its message, and when it opens to you it becomes your path to suffer ridicule, to be crucified by misunderstanding, and to be spit upon. I need my baton now.
There is one twirling no one sees. At the winter solstice we go to a meadow God showed us just outside of Green Bay. The God throwers come there on December twenty-first. There's snow, sometimes deep snow and our clothes fall away, and we stand un protected while acolytes bring the 'tons. They are ebony 'tons with razors set all along the shaft. There are three feet long. One by one the twirlers throw, two 'tons each, thirty feet up, and as they fall back they cut your hands. The razors arch into the air and find God and they fly down to take your blood in a crucifixion, and the red drops draw God on the ground, and if you are up with the batons you can look down and see Him revealed. Red on white. Red on white. You can't imagaine. You can't imagine how wonderful that is.
I started twirling when I was six, but I never really twirled until my hand was crushed by the horse named Big Blood Red. I have seen God's face from thirty feet up in the air, and I know Him.
Listen. I will leave my silver baton here for you. Lying here as if I forgot it. And when the people file out you can wait back and pick it up, it can be yours, it can be your burden. It is the eye of the needle. I leave it for you.
[The lights fade.]