'Give a big hand,' he was saying in that loud, majestic voice of his, 'Give a big hand for my glamorous assistant Jenna!' Right on cue I take my bow, trying not to trip over these ridiculous peacock feathers he insists I sew all over this...well I can barely call it an outfit. The audience applaud me, even though my name is not Jenna.
He opens up the long box that I am to climb into. Obediently I slide into it, the smile hurting my face but I am not smiling. Sometimes I think about not getting in, I hate this part. I hate it so much, but of course I'll get in and I'll do it with a smile.
He helps me lie down, all the while praising my bravery to the adoring crowd. My head is free to smile at the crowd, my feet free to wiggle so they know I'm not a dummy from the waist down and the rest of me is closed into this pretty box. At the sound of the first blade, that awful steel on steel sound, I start screaming. I'm still smiling though, no one will ever see through it, after all they came to see a magic trick. I pray that someone will stand up and shout 'that woman needs help!' but he positions himself to slide the sword into the box and no one does. How can they? They just see what they want to see, I am screaming but my face is beaming at them.
He pushes the sword in so it seems to slide in effortlessly. It pierces my side and goes out somewhere near the opposite hip. The pain is unbearable, I don't think I'll ever stop screaming. Six blades in all. The worst is the one through the neck, that goes in last because I can hardly breathe with it and not even he is cruel enough to leave it there for long, convincing me that I'm going to die. Then as quick as it came it's gone. All the swords are pulled out and he helps me to my feet, opening the box to show me whole and unscathed while I smile and parade my untouched body before the crowds. Inside I am weeping.
Then he shouts, 'I need a volunteer!' If I could I would have fainted with shock. In a hundred years I have never heard him call for a volunteer. In fact the last time he did so was a hundred years ago. I remember it well. My intended pushed me up from the crowd and told me to be a sport. I remember the two wardrobe like cabinets he revealed, like the ones he is revealing now. I stepped sheepishly into one, his assistant into the other. A few moments he called me out of the same cabinet and I stepped out convinced something had gone wrong with the trick. The crowd was going wild but why escaped me. I tried to return to my seat but I found myself rooted to the spot, forced to watch as my body stumbled back to my intended and joined in, in the clapping. She looked at me with an expression I had never seen before, something between complete and absolute relief and utter despair. I wonder if her name was Jenna.
'A volunteer, please!' he shouts and I watch as a young man in the front row points at his thoroughly embarrassed girlfriend and pushes her forward. He takes her hand and leads her into one of the cabinets. After the theatrical closing of the door, he comes over and takes my hand. 'Thank you,' he says, quietly, 'you've been a good sport.' My smile hides my shock, my desperation, my sympathy for the girl in the other cabinet. He closes the door and I feel, as I did then, like nothing happens. But when I step out again and see the crowd on their feet applauding, I find for the first time in a hundred years that I can walk of my own volition. I practically fall over myself to get to that empty seat in the front row, but cannot stop myself steeling a glance at the stage.
'Give a big hand for Jenna,' he was shouting and beside him his glamorous assistant was bowing and waving to the cheers. She caught my eye and behind that smile I saw the same confusion and terror that I felt that one time. I take my seat next to the nice young man who puts his arms around me and sit back to watch the rest of the show. I cannot take my eyes off her and I know that I am wearing that same unknowable expression. Relief for myself and utter despair for her. 'My assistant Jenna!' he shouts for the last time and I clap louder and harder than any of them.