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The Performers

“The Werstepheiners weren’t named after the bier, the bier was named after us!” This is what they say to begin their act, a simple defense of the family name before One decapitates Two. Two is always getting decapitated. This is not surprising to those that have seen the carnage. And all the limbs, as you may have read, grow back. So One decapitates Two and Half knocks over One and then snaps his suspenders against his bare chest with his thumbs.

They're named based on order of delivery, which contrary to popular opinion was not in the homeland, but in the heartland, just outside Gary, Indiana, amongst the trees, in a nutshell hideaway of a squirrel who’d forgotten his stash. Their very first trick was being born on the same day, not triplets, nor a twin amongst them, three cousins, each from a different wife of a sibling of the Werstepheiner name.

The routine never changes. People come back to the show to see the head back on the shoulders, to see the toes wiggle after they’re turned into little cocktail weenies. One loses all his piggies to an axe in the second act, while Two is still all arms out walking the stage in search of his head. The crowd likes to believe in being tricked, and wants more to believe they can solve the trick. The trick is: there is no trick.

“This is the genetic makeup of the trio doing the heavy lifting of regeneration” boasts their manager and introducer. “They become faceless every time they close their mouths and shut their eyes.” This is the act of caring about the act, not the Werstepheiners themselves. The audience cannot look away from them, the way a face emerges from the blank roundness of their head when they open their eyes. Yet folks look, as if the stage and the audience were separated by glass, as if they are safe. This is bloodsport, the oldest entertainment.

The axe trick is next. Headless Two finds the axe and seeks revenge on Half. He spins the blade out in a quickening motion. Then he chops a head off. Satisfied at the thump he feels he stops his spin cycle to gather the head in his arms. It has hair. It is One, not Half. Two shakes his arms to insinuate rage. Half dances in delight at the far end of the stage.

The act ends with all Werstepheiners pulling daggers from behind their backs. One and Two pin Half to a wall, both shoulders punctured by the blades. Then the curtain closes as they advance towards him, as if to say another head is coming off, you needn't worry, dear audience.

They are backstage in an all yellow dressing room. They request it this way, that the cabinets and the vanities, the chairs and the couches, all be painted the same bright color as the walls, that the fruit bowls be filled with lemons and bananas, and that the yellow candies be plucked from their packs and distributed in glass bowls: the lemon flavors, the banana taffies. They are sweaty, the show is done. Half cleans his knife as One and Two remove their elongated limbs.

“You nearly got me,” muffles Two, whose head is tucked neatly in his chest. He unzips the costume’s panel to reveal the inner network of puppetry strings, cables, a featureless face. “Nearly got my real head.”

“Please,” says Half, counting the money thrown at them from the crowd. “I wasn’t close enough to break a hair.”

“They were onto us,” chimes in One, who has removed his toeless stilts, and is snipping the nails off his actual toes with a pair of yellow scissors.

“Maybe you both have to tighten up,” says Half, eyebrows furrowed, “we’re light. Barely twenty apiece here.”

“Tighten up?” sneers Two, “Maybe you ought to direct us better, while we're out there looking for our heads!"

The three cousins rise from their chairs, each in matching jumpers, each identical in size and shape, bald, faceless, half-men.

“How about we settle this with real knives!” says One.

“You nearly hit me out there,” yelps Half. “So here’s your direction: I’m the Half that stays whole!”

“Half," says Two, "you’re the Werst. Epheiner!”

They buckle over laughing, their faceless faces weeping from unseen seams.