by Janice Leotti
Before the curtain goes up, her father dresses her. He holds out lavender stocking, and she climbs into them, a cat’s cradle, between his finger and thumb. He pulls them up, making sure the crotch fits snugly, making sure there are no wrinkles at her knees. He tugs a shirt over her head, twists her into a silver skirt, zipper at the back, his thumb pressing against the clip to lock it. He buffs her patent leather Mary Janes, shines the buckles, and warns her not to run or jump or move—“You’ll scuff the shoes.”
After her father changed, she spied him in the basement. Night after night, with hammer and chisel, he carved a pair of legs. He shaped the first thigh, then knee, curve of the calf muscle, ankle, heel, arch, and toes of the left leg, and with the same attention, he carved the right. He pained both of them the color of flesh and hung them from the rafters to dry. Afterward he dressed them in tights and fitted them with small, black patent leather shoes.
The first time she climbed into the box, he told her there was plenty of room, and it indeed felt that way. But soon she realized there were her legs, and the thighs of the magic legs. There was the illusion of her body sliced in half, and there was her body—neck, breasts, arms, stomach, buttocks, sex, legs and feet—whole inside the box.
There was the saw, and at first she thought it was fake like the legs. But her father explained that it was real. He held it out for her, balancing it in his two smooth palms. He let her touch the teeth. He told her to be careful, but a droplet of blood had already bloomed on her finger.
He told her that during the act she should not speak or scream. She should not react to the saw, except to smile. She practices this by grinning into a mirror and pressing her fingernails into her thigh as hard as she can.
On the night of the show, she stands behind the curtain, very still. Her shoes and the shoes on the fake legs are polished. Her father is a good artist, and if it weren’t for the warmth of her skin, the differences between the two pairs of legs would not be detected.
The curtain goes up revealing the spotlit box. The audience claps. She climbs in, pushes the fake legs out for the audience to see. Her father, the Great Margeaux, closes the lid.
Her hands are hot, and her fingernails grip the wood. Her legs are curled, soft underneath her silver skirt. She moves them, wriggling her toes inside her shoes. Splinters catch her stockings.
Haw, haw. Her father’s saw begins. Keeping still now, she is keen for her part: to kick the fake legs when she is halved. Her smile is like a white knife. The audience gasps.
“Where’s the blood? There should be blood,” says a little boy in the front row.
Stupid kid, she thinks. He should know the difference.
Haw, haw. It’s coming close. There is only a thin piece of plywood between her leg and the saw. She wants to break it, kick her live leg into the saw’s path, teach the little boy a lesson.
Her heel is poised.