“Don’t worry, Bob, I’m just fixing the popper. That’s the part of the whip that makes it accurate.” Bob shows relief. The audience laughs. I tug a new popper into place with my teeth and set my right arm in line with the celery he’s holding. The world narrows to the whip and the target.
“Remember, Bob—do not move, until I am done. Do not move, until I am done. Just like at home.”
I am one of the top ten best in the world at what I do.
Top three women.
Not that there’s any real ranking, or way to count, but it’s a small world, whip-cracking, and we all know each other. Australians cracking fifty ways, circus front, windshield wiper, around the world, connected sequences with arcane names and a grasp of momentum, the body moving hardly at all unless you use it as a style. North Americans focused on target-breaking, working with nylon as well as the traditional kangaroo, all of us scorning cowhide, cheap whips made in Mexico, sure you can make a noise with that, but it’s not really a whip. The little cliques of whipmaker devotees, Nice—who made it?, the answer immediately denoting commitment and price. The snide superiority of knowing it’s not how loud you crack, it’s where the whip coils in space, it’s switching from left-handed to right and back again, it’s taking the cigarette from your partner’s mouth in three pieces instead of one, because you can. The need to make it pretty, make the audience gasp as the whip passes your partner’s eyes at the speed of sound, take one more break, not just good enough, earn the applause.
The audience doesn’t know how small I can make the target. My partner—the next target-holder—reminds me of this, “It’s OK to stop early.” She will hold the target until I am done, her eyes sometimes asking, Do you want it? and my response a quiet, off-mike, “I’ll take it,” if I’m at least eighty-percent sure I can.
Most shows, I remember it’s OK to stop. Most shows, I do not risk my dignity and my partner’s face (two thousand shows in twelve years: one forehead slice, two split noses, one split lip, one fingernail, hitting myself doesn’t count but that’s the scar on my right waist), or an audience member’s hand, for the sake of an extra half-inch for an already-thrilled crowd. Three inches is no worse than two, unless you’ve seen them back to back. Unless you know you can do better, you can earn it.
People—and by people I mean men, and by men, I mean skeeveballs in black jeans with hair two days past wash day and a faint eau de Doritos—sometimes ask me, “Have you heard about that club? In that warehouse downtown? Thursday nights?” What they mean is, ‘You’re a dominatrix, right?’ I pretend to be oblivious, preoccupied with something else. Because nothing would be hotter than getting blood on a four-hundred-dollar prop while you come in your pants.
People—and by people I mean everyone—ask, “How long’d it take to learn that?”
Some skills I encourage. “Sure, you could learn trapeze/silks/acrobatics. The closest aerial gym is _______. Costs maybe twenty bucks a workshop. Go sign up—I didn’t start till my late twenties!”
Whip has a different price. I say, “Ten years to get good enough to do it. Ten more to get good enough to do it every time.”
They don’t ask when I started. I don’t tell them about the Southern Town Girls’ Club Medieval Faire, about being fifteen and then sixteen, crushing on the leader of the performers for months, sleeping in his borrowed shirt long after it stopped smelling of him. I don’t tell them about a cowhide whip, first borrowed and then a present, about hours in the field behind his complex, circus front, around the world, right hand, left hand. I don’t tell them about the room where the volunteer punch cooler sat on a folding table, about draining the last of the red bug juice, washing out the cooler and turning it over to dry. I don’t tell them about him bending me over the table, detached, almost preoccupied, that’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?
That wasn’t what I wanted.
But this is.
whipchick is in South Africa again, where the lady in the exceedingly-modern house across the street doesn't know her sandblasted shower glass has been installed wrong side out. Perhaps a note in the mailbox is in order.