(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This brief story opens with a description of the promised performance: High atop a tower rising to the clouds stands a plump woman in a spangled bathing suit, poised to plunge into the flaming tub far below. Posters bearing this picture proclaim that “ONE OF THE FABULOUS WONDERS OF MODERN TIMES/ STELLA THE HIGH DIVER” will dive one hundred feet into a “FLAMING CAULDRON.” The posters appear suddenly; some are torn down by grumbling citizens and police officers; a few remain for several weeks, silently enticing the residents of the quiet rural town.

Then, one cool and gray October evening, a battered truck parks at the local fairground, and a sagging army-surplus tent rises beside it. Three people have come in the truck: a limping man; a little girl named Angel, shining always in white and unbelievably clean; and a broad, sturdy, red-haired woman who smiles uncomprehendingly and speaks only with her hands. The man does his trading in the town, whose residents watch the family curiously for several days. One morning, the lame man begins to build what appears to be a drilling derrick on the center of the field. Local men gather to watch the stranger working furiously, and the local police officer asks what he is doing. Curtly, the lame man responds that he is building a tower for Stella’s dive. On being told that he must purchase a twenty-five-dollar permit to produce an exhibition, the man falls still. As he prepares to admit defeat, a local merchant offers to buy the license for him in exchange for half the profits from ticket sales. The lame man grudgingly agrees and schedules the show for the following evening if the weather is good.

By midafternoon of the following day, the lame man has finished preparations for the evening’s performance. Then, a wind rises, bringing rain; the tall, rickety tower sways in the wind. However, wet...

(The entire section is 763 words.)