“You know something?” said Zelda. “I think they heard.”
She let him tie the black silk over her eyes and he knotted it and jerked it so tight that she gasped and said, “Loosen it, damn you, Johnny, loosen it, or I won’t go on!’?
“Sure,” he said easily, and she smelled his sharp breath; while beyond; the crowd rustled against the rope barrier and the carnival tent flapped in the night wind, and off, there was a drift of calliope music and the rattle of a trap drum.
Dimly, through the black silk, she could see the men, the boys, the few women, a good crowd, paying out dimes to see her strapped in this electric chair, the electrodes on her wrists and neck, waiting.
“There.” Johnny’s voice whispered through the blindfold. “That better?”
She said nothing, but her hands gripped the ends of the wooden chair. She felt her pulse beating in her arms and neck.. Outside the pitchman yelled through his small cardboard megaphone and slapped his cane across the banner where Electra’s portrait shivered in the wind: yellow hair, hard blue eyes, sharp chin, seated in her death-chair like someone come for tea.
With the black silk blinding her, it was easier to let her mind run back to wherever it wanted to go …
The carnival was either setting up in a new town or letting go; its brown tents inhaling by day, exhaling its stale air by night as the canvases slid rustling down along the dark poles. And then?
Last Monday night this young man with the long arms and the eager pink face bought three tickets to the sideshow and stood watching Electra three times as the electricity burned through her like blue fire while this young man strained at the rope barrier, and memorized her every move as she sat high up there on the platform, all fire and pale flesh.
He came four nights in a row.
“You got an audience, Ellie,” said Johnny on the third night.
“So I see,” she said.
“Don’t pay no attention,” said Johnny.
“I won’t,” she said. “Why should I? Don’t worry.”
After all, she’d done the act for years. Johnny slammed on the power, and it filled her from ankle to elbows to ears as he handed her the bright sword and she thrust it out blindly over the audience, smiling under her half mask, to let them tap shoulders and brows as the blue sparks crackled and spat. On the fourth night she shoved the sword far out toward the young man with the sweating pink face, first among the crowd. The young man raised his hand swiftly, eagerly, as if to seize the blade. Blue sparks leaped the gap, but his hand didn’t flinch or stop as he grabbed on and took the fire in his fingers and then his fist and then his wrist and his arm into his body.
His eyes, in the light, flared with blue alcohol flame, fed by the sword, whose fire in passing lit her arm and face and body. He stretched his hand still farther out, his waist jammed against the rope, silent and tense. Then Johnny cried, “Everybody touch it! Every one!” And Electra lifted the blade out on the air for others to feel and stroke, while Johnny cursed. Through the blindfold she saw the terrible illumination which would not leave the young man’s face.
The fifth night, instead of touching the young man’s fingers, she tapped the blazing tip of the sword against the palm of his hand, brushing and burning until he shut his eyes.
That night she walked out on the lake pier after the show and did not look back as she moved, but listened and began to smile. The lake shook against the rotting piles. The carnival lights made wandering, uneasy roads on the black water. The Ferris wheel whirled high and around, with its faint screams, and far away the calliope steamed and sobbed “Beautiful Ohio.” She slowed her walking. She put out her right foot, slowly, then her left, then she stopped and turned her head. And as she turned she saw the shadow, and his arms moved around her. A long time later she leaned back in his arms and stared up into his healthy, excited pink face, and said, “My God, you’re more dangerous than my chair!”