It happened every time. It was like a gift that kept on giving. It had been more than fifty years but every time Peter saw the damn thing it felt like yesterday. He could still feel the shame of that moment.
Susan knew this. But she still insisted they all go to the Ringling Museum every time any of the extended family visited Florida. (Susan would claim that she’s not insisting. Only encouraging. Always using the same argument: “It’s their heritage. It’s YOUR heritage. Enjoy it. Embrace it.”)
He wanted to refuse, but he never could say no to her. But still he hated the sight of that damn thing. Seeing the family name emblazoned on the front just made it worse. It reminded him that his failure was bigger than just himself. He had let down a whole damn legacy.
He tried to stop the memory but it refused to be ignored. It all came back. He had been so excited. Watching the driver as he parked the truck in its designated spot. Replaying each practice shot in his mind. His anticipation building until finally the time came. He climbed aboard. His grandfather Hugo whispered a quiet “buon viaggio” and then he was off.
Flying out of the cannon like a volcanic eruption of hot white ash. And for a brief moment, he had felt glorious. He remembers that too. (Which makes it harder to forget.) And then nothing. Not even pain. Just a blinding white flash in his mind. The pain came later. Followed by years of unanswered questions.
Was the dummy the wrong weight? Had it gotten wet? Did the driver park in the wrong spot? Was the net too small? Was it in the wrong location? He never found out. All he knows is that every time he comes here, he relives the shame. Because Susan is wrong. It’s not his heritage he can’t accept. It’s his failure to live up to his heritage that he can never let go.
Several of today’s word prompts reminded me of a photo that’s been sitting on my desktop for months. I’ve been waiting for the muse to strike and today it did. So thank you to the following:
The cover photo is from the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. Taken during a visit by the author (me) or her loving spouse. But definitely color-changed by me. (It would look better if he did it!)
*The story is a work of FICTION.
But it is inspired by some real people. First off, the Zacchini family. Hugo Zacchini was the first person to use a compressed-air cannon, which had been invented by his father Ildebrando Zacchini in 1922. Soon after, Hugo and his brothers went to work for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Hugo was a fascinating guy—circus performer and artist with an engineering degree and a Master’s degree in Art. Look him up! Most of Zacchini kids and grandkid’s followed Hugo and his brothers into the circus biz. To my knowledge NONE of them ended up paralyzed. My fictionalized Peter is loosely based on another Ringling performer named Elvin Bale. In 1987 he overshot his landing because his test dummy had been wet (thus heavier) and ended up paralyzed. It’s a dangerous gig. An estimated 30 people have died over the years.