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Standing on the Bridge from Before Sunrise

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan

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At a rodeo - open air, brown dirt, grandstands, a gathering storm in the distance. Soft music over the bullhorn speakers. I am there to see a performance an artist named Toy Hawk, known for their large scale spectacles and gender fluidity. The audience is expecting a grand display but the stadium is empty - there are none of the typical things you'd expect, just empty bullpens. We take our seats and the performance begins. Toy Hawk appears on the jumbotron - they are dressed conservatively in a button-down shirt, calm, broadcasting from the announcer's booth above, surveying. They are a person of color, they are extremely good looking, they are poised and in charge. We are told that this performance will be a little bit different than their other work, to adjust our expectations and to grant the event patience. Then we are told that a performer will be randomly selected from the audience. It is at this point that the spotlight - white and hot - flashes on me. I hear it turn on with a click that reverberates through the stadium. I am instructed to follow the spotlight which leads me down through the grandstand, up over the railing and out onto the center of the arena. Toy Hawk tells me that I am to serve them tea, that I will find everything I need in the library. I feel everyone's eyes on me - hundreds of expectant faces - and I nod Toy Hawk's direction. I am overwhelmed but I understand, more or less, what is being asked of me. The spotlight leads me toward a ramp that slopes underground. I realize that, beneath the stands, is a hidden track where bulls and horses can run before the rodeos. It's blue and harsh with industrial, fluorescent light, but Toy Hawk, I understand, has filled this track with hundreds of bookshelves, artfully arranged and full of books, antiques, photos of Toy Hawk's childhood, wax fruit, gilded mirrors, etc. Ornate but weathered in a way that is befitting of a rodeo stadium. It's brilliant. Toy Hawk continues to speak to me over the PA system, calmly asserting that is time for tea in-between lines of poetry. Their voice is calm but insistent and I feel the silent anticipation of the audience above me - the fact that they cannot see makes my apprehension even worse. I begin by circling, frantically looking for - what? teacups? a kettle? I sprint. Desperate, I begin taking books off the shelf, thinking that perhaps a tea set is somehow hidden behind. One book I try to remove is in fact a lever. Discovering this, I begin frantically, violently clearing the shelves looking for more levers. As I continue to break shit, I realize that I am playing the part of the enraged bull. Toy Hawk encourages me, I hear the audience murmuring, I click the final 6th lever and a shelf opens, revealing a dark and cavernous room beyond the track, under the center of the stadium. At the center, dimly lit, is a small coffee table holding a full tray of tea and sweets and a narrow, white, spiral staircase leading up and back out into the dirt above. I run to the tea, feeling free from the incredible anxiety that has taken hold. I pick up the tray - it is heavier and fancier than I first thought - and approach the spiral staircase, only to realize that it is impossibly small, comically tiny. Anxiety returns. I put down the tray and try to wriggle my way inside the staircase but it's no use - I am far too large. I push and I push, getting more and more worked up, panting and fearing the worst, wondering what the spectators up above must think. Remembering that I am the bull, I ram my body into the stairs, I kick at them, I grab them and try to rip them apart. Finally I realize that the outside of the staircase will hold my weight. I balance the tray in one hand and climb, feeling like a swordfighting hero, and emerge into the arena with applause and thunder in the air. Toy Hawk thanks me for the tea. Then I wake up.

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from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018

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Ben Seretan Troy, New York

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