The Trampoline Girl

She was a trampoline girl, bouncing before the gentlemen with head held high and hair higher. They took off their hats in reverence and dropped change in the bucket before her with one hand and nervously tugged at their mustaches or combed their hair with the other.

You could always spot the ones she was really getting to—really bristling their knickers—by observing who was still, their feet back to back, leaning on their heels, almost rooted to the street. The stiller the lad, the more built-up he was. His knees would lock, his neck would stiffen and he, already elbow-deep in his pockets, would stare with wild mute desire.

Every so often she would enrage a fellow so much that he would enthusiastically rush the trampoline, grab her in mid-air, and kiss her passionately.

She never resisted. She was a show-woman after all and she knew it put ideas in the other men’s heads and more coins in her bucket. She never let it go on for too long, though. Before the boy could ever slip his tongue inside her mouth she was able to withdraw amicably and the fellow would suddenly look out to the crowd and realize what he had just done before sheepishly returning to his place in the huddled mass. He would immediately look so relieved and relaxed. They’d stay just five minutes longer, then curtly turn around and escort themselves out imagining that all the other’s men’s eyes were on them.

If you stuck around long enough and let the crowd dwindle, she would end the show around 8:00 p.m. The last of them would jeer for more, but she never did and they knew that, too; it was just part of showing their appreciation.

She would wrap herself in her battered buttermilk coat, grab the bucket and wheel the trampoline away on her rickety red wagon. The crowd would suddenly turn informal when she put on her frock. A casual observer would suddenly notice her tired eyes and the strands of gray in her hair, her hunched posture and slow movements.

The men would shuffle away regularly, as if she disappeared and was no longer before them. No words were exchanged and they became strangers again. They would part with their heads down: the girl behind her to the dingy street where her flat lay, and the men to the avenues with the lights and cafes.