“DO YOU WANT TO GO into the Globe of Death?” Victor Flores asked. I wasn’t prepared for the question. I had met Victor, the leader of the Fearless Flores Circus and Thrill show, only a few hours earlier. I scanned his face to determine if he was joking. I glanced toward a corner of the Rio Grande Valley fairgrounds in Mercedes, where a spherical cage, made of black crisscrossing wrought-iron bars, was held upright by a few wires and stakes. The moan of content 4-H cattle drifted into the surrounding onion fields. “You mean now?”
“When we do the act,” Victor said. “we are waiting for cousins to come up from Mexico, but it looks like they will not make it, and we need someone to stand in the middle of the motorcycles, you know, when they go around inside.” He smiled, showing two sparkling gold-capped teeth. “You want to do it!” I shrugged.
But the next day the cousins still hadn’t arrived from Mexico. By one o’clock on a 90-degree spring afternoon, Victor’s 22-year-old daughter, Frances Flores, was suited up in a polyester, cobalt-blue pant-and-vest outfit that she had made years ago for the Globe of Death act. She surveyed the family’s simple arrangement on the grass-spotted fairgrounds: stage left, a contraption called a breakaway sway pole; a white-and-cherry-red center ring decorated with hand-painted blue diamonds; stage right, the Globe of Death. She ripped off her silver helmet, sprang off her motorcycle, and wiped the sweat from her upper lip as she turned down the heavy-metal guitar music blaring out of two desk-size speakers. Then she took the microphone and faced curious big-brown-eyed boys and girls wearing pressed denims, slouching on hay bales. Some of them dragged their prize-winning goats close to the ring, then led them back to the show barns, where the sweet cotton-candy smell of hay hung in the sunbeams. Wearing a T-shirt and jeans, I stood behind a two-paneled red-velvet-curtain backdrop and waited for my cue.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, how do you like the show so far?” Frances asked. The crowd clapped and whooped in a singsong of little squeals. “Well, all right, would you like to see some more?” Victor, who was dressed