"List of Items that Antonio Bandini
(Professional Sword Swallower) Refuses to Swallow"
1. There can be nothing more damaging to the dignity of the professional than those who portray an understanding of the professional's struggle. And for this reason, I, with chin held stiff, refuse to indulge those who request my swallowing of great-great granddaddy's Civil War relic, that beastly cavalier's sword, with its rust and cuts of battle. Would you ask Cézanne to paint from your child's watercolor trough?
2. Never, never again will I agree to take on balloons of any color or curvature, no matter how thin or slick their exteriors might be. Your child will be just as delighted by the flash of my steel as they would be with the rubbery-squeak of neon tubes.
3. Despite the maddeningly-sick shrieks of debutantes or bachelorettes, absolutely no rubberized male members, no faux-phalluses of any kind will be swallowed.
4. There were days, still flush with the boldness of my youth, that I'd accept the challenge of all comers. Yes! Bring forth your most arcane cutlery! Bring forth your instruments of torture! No more. Sense has shown me enough to deny any oil-slicked crankshafts, any antennas snapped free from unsuspecting Buicks or Coupes de Ville. I, for the last time, am not an automobile.
5. Under no circumstances will the swallowing of live creatures be accepted. Snakes and eels included.
6. I can understand the elegant curve of a Persian shamshir. I can understand the physics behind a jouster's sharp poke. I cannot and will not engage in the swallowing of foodstuffs. Keep your sausages, your salamis, your frankfurters, and your Polish kielbasa. Keep all of your cured and cylindrical meats.
7. On principle: I refuse to swallow the barrel of a pistol, shotgun, or rifle (assault or otherwise). I am not your Kurt Cobain, your Van Gogh, or your sad and lonely Hemingway.
8. After much fuss, and after a most unfortunate and expanding event in Cincinnati, the swallowing of umbrellas has been permanently ceased.
9. I've had stars shot into my eyes, stars flung skyward from deep within my esophagus, and I've tasted the gunpowdery residue from a thousand of your so-called fireworks. While I am here for your elevated entertainment, I am no dancing bear. No bottle rockets, no Black Cat crackers, and no Roman candles of any kind will be swallowed.
10. Listen: a quick snap like a dry twig, and the mercury found its home in my Anita, my love, with all the speed of grim death. In honor, memory, and moratorium, the swallowing of thermometers has reached its end. Don't even ask, for I, Antonio Bandini, am a professional sword swallower of the highest regard, and I will never swallow defeat.
Pete Stevens is the fiction editor at Squalorly. His work has appeared or is forthcoming at SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Yemassee, and Word Riot, among others. Currently, he is teaching English and working towards his MFA in fiction at Minnesota State, Mankato. More at petestevensfiction.wordpress.com.