I fold backward like a pack of matches. I stretch for two hours daily, and this move is easy for me. But it doesn’t matter because all talent scouts see when they look at me anymore is the accumulation of a few too many years. Why else would No. 7, who fell flat on her face, and No. 12, who tripped on the chorus and didn’t cover it up professionally at all, still be in the running? Here I am waiting in the back row. I didn’t mess up a thing, yet they deliberate. When No. 7 is called, I fight the urge to step forward. I want to shove her out of the way and claim my rightful space.
“The back row is excused,” says the scrawniest of scrawny men. He wears a black turtleneck and fitted slacks. His voice is as slippery as glass.
I watch the rain from the back seat. There are two other performers on the ride. We, the rejected. Melinda, 27 and gorgeous, is in the passenger seat. And Giovanni, nearing 35 and flirtatious — who said I had nice toes on the way up to the audition — is next to me with his head against the opposite window. We are all staring out our respective windows, quiet. The rain begins to race around the car’s exterior, a million dancing feet. The driver is silently cursing the wet roads and sloppy wet turns. His gruff tone, in some inexplicable way, feels close to my heart.
I do not say goodbye as Giovanni collects his backpack and eases out with umbrella poised, and I do not wave when Melinda gets off a few blocks later and I see her run by my window. I live the furthest south, which equates to least desirable here in Canton, but today this doesn’t bother me. Today, it feels fitting, just like my teal tights and this rain, and what I think is the start of a mean case of heartburn.
“Aging is highly inconvenient,” I told my landlord when he asked why my rent was late again. He told me to get a new job, one that’s more “suitable.” I would’ve backhanded him had he said that at the wrong time — like now. But maybe he’s right. I always take this ride anymore. The Giovannis and Melindas of the world take it every now and again.
Coach used to always say, “You can and you will!” May he rest in peace, I think, and I place my hand to my heart. I repeat that old mantra as the shuttle slides on a flooded portion of Fredericksburg Road. “I can and I will,” I say aloud. Just like that I think about a YouTube video that a performer played for me last week. The contortionist had gone viral, whatever that means, and collected a bunch of cash after making a series of videos, showing off what she could do. I look down at my feet and think, or maybe say aloud, “I’ll do that.”
“What?” the driver says. He might be speaking into his phone, so I don’t answer.
I stretch out my hips, balancing my ankle on the opposite knee and bending deeply until I can kiss my thigh, then move my head beyond it. I ease my leg back further so that my calf is situated like a travel pillow. I’ll work on my flips. If I can come up with a routine, maybe my old signature routine, and add a backflip at the end, I’d go viral for sure. For once in quite a long time, my age could be an attribute.
My hamstrings tingle a little, but I ignore the sensation. I catch the driver’s eyes in the rearview and smile with purple lips. Purples and blues were the colors we all wore, right down to the shadows and lipsticks. I think we were fairies or something — don’t remember. Whatever we were supposed to be, I carry the look well. I lick my bottom lip and wink, and the gaze is averted. Too old even for him? He looks a tough-lived 55. I only have a few — 10 or so — years on him. I wonder. Then I notice him looking again and smiling.
“Bad audition?” he asks. Before I can answer, he yells, “Suck it!” to a driver who swerves in the lane next to us.
“It’s all one big learning experience,” I say.
“This rain is killing me today, sweetheart. Sorry for my mouth. Yeah, auditions … I bet. I bet there is always something you can do better. I used to feel that way when I played baseball.”
“Baseball? The difference, um, what’s your name?”
“The difference, Max, is that you don’t get rejected for being old. Your acceptance is based on performance alone. Me, I’m kicking these kids’ asses and still getting the boot.”
“I bet you are,” he says with a touch of sleaze that I kind of like.
The next morning, Max asks me to join him at the doughnut shop — his day job — where he will “hook me up” with a cruller. I tell him I have to get started on my YouTube channel. It’s still raining outside, and when he gets his pants on and ventures toward the window, I smile because I know he’s going to curse at the sky before he goes. I feel connected to him in this strange way.
He yells at the rain, calls it an inconvenience and an asshole. Nature is an asshole, I think, and I look down to my hands. Liver spots — the grossly named logo of old age, of out-of-work acrobats and contortionists. I never looked at my hands when I was younger. My hands were tools, holding me up, twisting body around and facilitating my trademark Ta da! As audiences used their own hands to clap, my soft, young hands did their work.
I watch Max drive off, and I toss his number on my desk. My computer’s camera is not the best, but it will have to do. I dim the lights for mood and tell the camera hello. Then I turn it off and begin to practice. I practice four hours every day, from the time I wake up in the morning to lunch. Then I visualize the flips, the moves. I recall my old routine but add more flourish. I ignore calls, and I continue on. I give it my all. I can. And, I will.
With the camera pointed my way, taking in my perfect pink lips and black leotard with the reflective strips up the side, I introduce myself once again.
I fold backward and feel resistance. My hamstrings ache. But I spring up and back, landing on my feet; and with only a slight waver, I lift my torso with strength. My chest swells toward the ceiling and I reach up like a superhero. The impossible move, the one thing I’ve never been able to do was just done, expertly, in front of all these people. It is here, at the top of my game, that I think about Max and how much I’d love to quit all this and join him at that doughnut shop for chalky coffee, but the rain doesn’t want to stop. The roads are flooded. So I watch my channel, waiting for the first thumbs up.