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Snakes and Daggers by Naomi Richardson

© Naomi Richardson

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© Naomi Richardson February 2014

Gotta hold my breath, best I can now. Aint gotta move a muscle, nor flinch, or take a deep breath, or nothin’. Hell - I’m as jumpy as a cat in a room fulla rocking chairs!

I gotta make sure not to look at the spotlight either, cos’ then I get this big black hole right in front of my eyes - can’t see a dam thing.

I have to keep watching for the swing of his arm see, then the flash of the blades when they come flyin’ through the air – they really hiss them knives – hiss through the air like you wouldn’t believe. They’re gonna turn twice before they reach the wheel, so it’s two flashes and then THWACK!! …that sure rattles your teeth darn near shakes your eyeballs outa their sockets.

Lord, I hate this waiting around…

I have to smile n’all - all the time I’m spinning, which aint so easy. I’m what’s known in the trade as a Target Girl, so I get strapped into this darn thing every night - and twice on Saturdays and Sundays.

There are these here thick leather cuffs that fasten round my wrists and my ankles and I’m hog-tied cross this thing. That took some getting used to I can tell you.

I guess you ‘all will’ve seen this kinda act before - the Wheel of Death? Or as Slick calls it, the Wheel of Destiny – ‘cos that’s my name see – Destiny.

God, I hate this hanging about….

When I’m on the wheel I sing a song in my head, or think about making love, or somethin’ stupid like that - just to take my mind off it y’know? But not tonight. Tonight is different – cos’ Lord above, I think he knows.

I think he knows what I did and let me tell you, I’m scared…I mean more scared than I ever been, in the whole of my short, sweet life.

Slick Dagger ’n me, we been together nigh on three years now. Been real good buddies all that time and, let me tell you, hot to trot
lovers too. He’s my sweetheart, the only man I ever loved and we’ve been good together - we’re a great team y’know? Guess I just didn’t want to lose him.

Uh-huh, there’s them top lights going down and the spotlight coming up. Full house tonight - and boy they’re a noisy crowd! Mr Bob and Jemmy been carpet clowning out there and got ‘em really fired up n’ no mistake.

“Quiet down Ladies and Gentlemen, please!” That’s Mr Bob McNamara – he’s the Gaffer and our Master of Ceremonies - a real showman. Slick says he could talk the bark off a tree. I wanta reach out and grab him, tell him what’s going on down here, but I just go on smiling.

They’re getting the wheel turning now, Mr Bob and Jemmy. It’s mighty heavy and it spins real slow at first - takes a while to get up to the right speed, which is pretty fast, I can tell you. I can hear Slick knocking them blades together now and catch the spangles on his vest flashin’ in the light. Sweet Lord - feels like I’ve been hung out to dry….

Here it comes now - flash, flash - THWACK! That’s No. 1 - left, lower leg; coupla old scars down there see, ‘cos it’s the first throw, y’know?

Slick sure put all his weight behind that blade - gotta hold fire till the board stops shaking now. Truth is I don’t know if it’s the board or me that’s doing the most shaking, but Slick’s gotta hold his horses till things quiet down some.

The worst’s round my head, y’know? They’re the last ones see, 8, 9 and 10 – they make my ears ring-a-ling and every hair on my precious scalp scream for mercy. Lord, do I hate them critters - can’t help but squint my eyes, and that’s kinda hard when you s’posed to smile all the time.

Jeez – think I’m gonna get it in the neck tonight – n’ that’s a fact.

Here comes number two – flash, flash and THWACK! Right, lower leg and that’s home safe now. Lord, it’s number 3 next, which let me tell you, makes my blood run cold every night – don’t even like to think about it – way too close for comfort.

What the.....?

Good Lord! There’s a shrieker in the house – shut that woman up Bob, for Pete’s sake! Ssshhhut up lady! Gee Whiz – nothin’ spooks us artistes like a shrieker.

Mr Bob’s doing his pitch now – taking his time. He’s tellin’ ‘em how darn dangerous this act is n’all and how they gotta keep quiet – but he don’t know how bad it really is – he don’t know what’s really bin goin’ on.

Let me tell you, life was sweet n’ everything hunky-dory til’ they come along. Why the hell did they have to join this show? Not that I got anything against snakes as such, but the minute I saw that snake charmer’s wife, I knew.

She had the eyes of a biblical whore and a mouthful of ripe promises, syrup-sweet and sassy at the same time. I could tell SIick took a real shine to her straight off. Charlie the snake charmer guy – he aint no oil painting see - teeth so bucked he could strip a corncob through a picket fence and Slick – Slick is one beautiful son of a gun. So yeh, sure I was rattled.

Listen, I get to dress up as an Indian sqaw for this act and let me tell you, buckskin and moccasins aint no match for fishnets n’ high heels. With them bodacious stilettos she wears, the gal’s loaded and dressed to kill every single night of the week – and twice on Saturday and Sundays.

See – and this here’s the awful thing. I saw ‘em together, last night. Slick and that Savannah - pirooting around the back of the yard, behind them trailers. They were making out like there was no tomorrow. You get the picture.

I swear I coulda died right there on the spot. It creased me in two and I guess I went crazy. I bolted like a jackrabbit back to the trailer and then darn it, got all liquored up. I can’t tell you how loco half a bottle of bourbon gets me. Mama always said don’t go wakin’ snakes. Guess I’m a darn fool, cos that’s exactly what I been and done.

Sorry Mama, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing him….like we lost Daddy.

Them townsfolk have quieted down some now and I can tell Slick’s raising his arm for the next throw. Gotta bite the bullet – shoulda bit ma lip. Lord, wish I gotta a shot a whiskey right this very minute!

Flash, flash – THWACK. That’s the third blade. Right between my squirming thighs - can’t cross my legs, but cross my heart, I swear he’s gonna nail me good tonight.

‘Cos you see, like the little fool that I am, all liquored up n’all, I found the snake charmer guy and I told him. I told Charlie ‘bout them two fooling around - and Boy, was he mad. He was ranting and ’ravin’ fit to be tied. Guess I was outa my head too. For crying out loud why don’ I keep my big mouth shut.

And I think Slick knows I let the cat outa the bag by the way he’s been looking at me all day. Ma always said lettin’ the cat outa the bag was a darn site easier than puttin’ it back in. She was surely right about that.

Four, five. THWACK, THWACK – them knives’re rattlin’ past my ribcage, right now, fast as all get out– six, seven THWACK, THWACK!

Wish to hell I was a cat right now – they got nine lives aint they?

Now there’s Artie, rolling the drums for the headshots. Wish I could shout him now – Artie, Artie!

Flash, flash - THWACK!

Flash, flash – THWACK!

Sweet Jesus – them two grazed each side of my neck – feel like I been snakebit. Hell, if I was a snake I’d darn well shuck ma skin and hightail it outa here. I’m praying to the Lord right now, and that aint normal, cos’ I’m usually cussin’ him.

Gotta smile. Gotta hold my breath, best I can now, best I can….flash, flash…


…I wake up - my heart’s pumping and that sound’s ringin’ in my ears like gunshot in a canyon. I’m dripping with sweat and shaking all over like I’m havin’ some kinda conniption fit.

This darn nightmare bushwhacks my sleep most every night – same dream, over n’ over. I guess it’s the way a troubled soul tries to get a handle on what’s gone down - like getting shot of the devils inside.

Sometimes I feel kinda bad about what happened to Slick and Charlie. Folks tell me I aint got nothing to feel sorry for - that the pair of them were just pig-headed and plain stupid. AlI I know is Slick was a two-timing jackass…just like my Daddy was.

That night Slick and Charlie went loco - near mashed each other to death and half the townsfolk joined in. It was like a crazy house and the sheriff and his men got bought out.

Both them knuckleheads ended up in jail and the circus folded four nights early. The whole outfit had to head back to winter quarters and nobody got paid a brass nickel. You can guess how that went down with the rest of the crew. There was no way Mr Bob was gonna hire either of ‘em back on.

Where Slick is now I have no idea and to be real honest with you, I don’t give a flyin’ fig.

I throw off my bedroll and reach out for the warm body next to me. A soft and sweet smellin’ arm snakes round my waist and scoops me up safe and sound. “Sweetie, go to sleep now, it’s OK”.

Me n’ Savannah saw fit to bury the hatchet, as us ladies quite often do in matters of the heart. We been together nigh on 6 months now and we got a great act going. We sure pull in the marks and people’re clamouring to get sight of us every night - and twice on Saturdays and Sundays.

I get to wear some real pretty clothes too, satin bodice, silk stockings, snakeskin shoes n’ the like. Look and feel like a million dollars now and If I ever set eyes on that two-timing jackass again I'm gonna be shouting "How d'ya like them apples, you son of a bitch!".

Me n' Savannah're out on the road for the summer now and if you care to come along to our show you’ll hear Mr Bob pitching us to the crowd like so…

“Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages – welcome to the one and only, the mighty, the magnificent McNamara’s Circus. For the first time in the history of this great show we bring you an act that’s going to astound and amaze you.

Your gonna meet two charming artistes and the four ornery rattlesnakes they sweet-talk into submission. When you see these gorgeous gals I’m sure you will agree that they must’ve done some kinda a deal with the devil ‘cos these snakes are fully fanged and fulla venom - hundred percent guaranteed!

How they do it we’re still don’t know, but It’s the most thrilling n’ enchanting spectacle you’re ever likely to see and I know you’re gonna just love ‘em.

Ladies and gentlemen I give you the wild, the wonderful, the delightfully wicked, Eve and Delilah - the truly incredible Snakebite Sisters!”

Let me tell you, listening to them words each night is real good medicine for my soul. Mama used to say that what don’t kill ya sure makes ya strong and I guess she was right about that too.

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