The first time he sees her she is plummeting to the ground, a stream of chiffon and Chantilly lace. His heart leaps into his throat as he jumps from his seat gasping, arms outstretched, ready to catch her fall. The leather harnesses and ropes yank her back up and out of his reach, ricocheting like a bungy cord, depositing her high atop the wooden scaffolding. There she rests perfectly still, a shimmering blue heron overlooking a mirror lake, letting out the barest of breath while the audience, aghast, recovers theirs.
The act is death-defying, mesmerizing, a tour de force. But for Eduardo, it is another matter altogether, something unimaginable. While risking life and limb, she looked at him, truly looked at him. And she did not avert her gaze.
Now, back again, Eduardo takes his seat in the front row along the edge of the rotunda in the Grand Chapiteau. The excitement is palpable. The air hot and electric. Dreamy oboe arpeggios snake and coil through the audience, curling toes, limbering bodies, wiping away the weight of the weary worn. They come from the orchards and the fields, to sway and weave; to be enchanted.
Tonight, he sits waiting for her to reappear; perchance another encounter. He thinks of little else. The spotlight searches the cavernous room, illuminating heavy brocade drapes, guy wires, and towering king poles. The crowd whoops and claps. The hammering of the cimbalom rings loudly. On cue, she swoops down, her sinewy form undulating and twisting, her elegantly arched back and powerful legs dangling, shimmying. Then in a flurry she is gone, floating up into the rafters.
Each time it is the same. She holds his gaze until she reaches the top, and for that split second everything is there: everything he has been missing. It is an eternity found. He is beyond happy. He is almost brave.
He decides this time he will go to see her. He will wait by her dressing room. He will let her know. He has rehearsed their face-to-face meeting. He worries that up close she will see his scars, the disfigurement, permanent and blue. He fears she will be deterred; that she will turn away.
He is all too familiar with eyes that turn away, eyes that are lowered. But her gaze gives him courage. He feels she is different and imagines the moments in their future; the true things one sees when one does not look away. He tells himself that "In the end we only regret the chances we do not take."
Eduardo gets up and leaves his seat. He weaves his way through the tiered pews toward the exit and backstage. He will be there waiting for her to arrive after her performance. It is the finale. He has seen her penultimate flight untethered before. Turning to catch a last glimpse of her in terminal flare, he wonders if she will notice his empty seat, that he has gone.
"Next time," he mumbles, pulling on his cap, letting the stage door close behind him. Maybe next time.