The Contortionist by Imogen Rae

After every show, when the crowds shuffle home with the stage lights still winking in their eyes and buttery popcorn kernels refusing to digest in their stomachs, you crawl into your trailer, the one where the freaks sleep. In the corner, on a vinyl table, is your jar. It’s transparent glass, glinting and round, as tall as your torso. The sort of jar that, in another world, might store candies or biscuits on somebody’s mother’s kitchen counter, but this one is just big enough for you.

On stage, you are hot all the time. You wear almost nothing, but the lights and eyes are scalding. During your routine, you stuff yourself into a suitcase to be carried, when you unfold you become arachnid. You crawl about with your feet flung over your head, moving on fingers and toes, neck craned painfully upwards to leer at the audience who leer back. Afterwards, you languish in the spotlight, stretching and stretching, twisting until you feel like you could tear, and you could. You know the audience is confused during your act. You dance between repulsive and arousing, showing them everything they thought they wanted to see. You become queasy with shame, feel your eyes turning plastic and rolling up into your head.

While the trailer is still empty you pull the lid off of that cool, glass jar and step inside. Your joints pop and your skin stretches, the ache of it familiar and soft through your tired muscles. There is only one comfortable position for sleeping here. Every limb must be wrapped close around you, feet up, hands down. Flatten and shrink. You hold your head at a sharp angle and press your open face against the glass and when it’s all done and your breath is blooming like the wings of birds, you feel as if you are in the womb. Cradled, shoulders dislocated. Your feet twisted tightly around your bent neck, a little choking, a little like a lover.

Imogen Rae lives in the Gloucestershire village where she grew up. She loves writing short fiction. Her work is featured in the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network competition anthology and has been shortlisted for the WestWord Prize 2023.

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Photo by Hasan Albari on
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