“God, did I tie one on last night,” Lydia groaned, holding her head in her hands. “It was Brian’s birthday, and boy, did we celebrate. He loved the painting I did for him.” Lydia dabbled in painting and could be really good at it if she put more effort into it.
“Rafe’s birthday is next week. Maybe I’ll get you to paint a picture of me as his present,” I replied. I’d seen Lydia’s work, and I liked her style.
“Love to,” Lydia said, beaming at me. We took our time getting ready. We were both early, so there was no rush. “I hate coming here.”
“I’m glad my two days are coming up,” I agreed. The way it worked, we each worked five days on, then two days off, in rotation. I was lucky to have Saturday and Sunday off this week, like normal people. “This job is for the shits.” I brushed my hair, though there really was no need considering I’d just have to cram the stupid head over it again.
“Hey, you want to trade costumes?” Lydia asked, her eyes sparkling. “I’m tired of being a damn duck.
“Groovy,” I said with enthusiasm. We put on each other’s costume with alacrity, and I must admit it was a refreshing change not to have to be that damn mouse for a change. “Quack, quack,” I said, my voice muffled.
“Squeak, squeak!” Lydia said in return. We both burst out laughing. “Eddie’s gonna kill us,” Lydia said, her voice merry.
“Who cares?” I said blithely. “If that fat lout wants to make a federal case of it, so be it.” One of the first things Eddie stressed when he hired someone was that none of us were to switch costumes without asking him first. He talked a lot of nonsense about the sanctity of the roles and other such bullshit. None of us paid him much attention, which was par the course. The door opened, and Antoinette Crawley came in, holding her rabbit head under her arm which was covered in an elbow-length satin white glove. She was Jessalyn Rabbit, and I hated her. She was curvy, and busty, and all the boys loved her. If that weren’t enough, she was a racist bitch to boot. When she didn’t know I was in earshot, she made a comment to one of the boys about moving to Minnesota from Illinois because she hated being surrounded by ‘fucking n—–s’. Her words, not mine. Hitler would certainly approve of her long, golden locks and china-blue eyes.
“Well, if it isn’t Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum,” she said coolly surveying me and Lydia. By one accord, neither of us said anything in return. “What, you’re not talking to me? How juvenile.” She turned to the mirror and preened, fluffing out her hair. “You know, Eddie is giving me a raise because he said I’m the best employee he’s ever had.” She giggled, but her eyes remained hard. “I guess you girls just don’t have what it takes.” Lydia gave her the finger behind her back, but Antoinette caught her in the mirror and whirled around to face her. “Listen, you damn Chink,” Antoinette began before catching herself. “You better not mess with me, you understand?” Lydia gave her the finger again, then leaned back in her chair. Antoinette looked as if she would slap Lydia, who she seemed to think was me, then stormed out of the room.
“Way to go, Lydia!” I said, clapping my hands. “You just made an enemy of Miss Crawley.”
“No, I didn’t,” Lydia chortled. “You did.” I gave her the finger, then burst into laughter. I didn’t much care if Antoinette hated me more than she already did since the feeling was more than mutual. We slapped palms, then went our separate ways.
The place was packed. The kids all wanted to touch me, slobber over me, and basically suffocate me. I strove to keep my temper, which wasn’t great in the best of times, and this was definitely not the best of times. I patted the little ones on their heads until I thought my hand would fall off. I did enjoy not being Maisie Mouse for one day, and I played my temporary role of Daphne Duck to the hilt. I minced around, swishing my feathery tail. I flirted with Marvin Mouse which confused him, but he didn’t seem to mind. Come to think of it, he flirted right back. Funny, he always tried to avoid me when I was Maisie. Perhaps he had a crush on Lydia. I’d have to ask her later.
“Take my picture with the duck, Mommy!” A tow-headed boy with his front teeth missing beamed up at me as he tugged on his mother’s hand.
“Do you mind?” The mother asked in a weary tone, holding up a digital camera.
“That’s what I’m here for!’ I said in my perkiest tone. I placed my hand on the boy’s head and allowed the mother to take her pictures.
“More, Mommy!” The boy, approximately four, demanded.
“Why don’t we see if we can find the other characters,” the mother said in a terribly patient voice.
“No,” the boy said, his lower lip trembling. “I like the duck. I want to stay with the duck.” Without warning, he threw himself at my legs and held on. While we made a touching scene to be sure, I didn’t want this boy to be hanging onto me all day.
“What’s your name?” I asked in my best duck voice.
“Billy,” he said, his face buried in my thigh.
“Billy, let go right now,” his mother said sharply, the patience melting from her voice.
“Billy, will you do me a favor?” I asked brightly, doing my best not to deck the poor kid. “I miss Darryl Duck terribly. Do you think you could find him for me? Tell him Daphne misses him.”
“Sure!” Billy immediately let go and raced off, his mother right on his tail.
“Damn brats,” I mumbled under my breath, careful not to let anyone hear me. There had to be an easier way to make my nut than to pander to these little shits. Unfortunately, I was not well-suited to sitting in a cubicle for eight hours a day, pounding away on a computer until my brain gave way. The only time I wanted to find my ass in front of my computer was when the inspiration hit, and I was working on a new performance piece. Otherwise, I’d rather leave the information highway to the nerds how have nothing better to do with their lives.
“Hey, babe.” Darryl Duck sauntered up to me and threw his arm around my shoulder. “Say, Lydia, what are you doing later on tonight?” Evan Shueler was a wannabe gigolo who thought he was God’s gift to women. To give him his due, he had a tight bod and a not half-bad face with big green eyes and a dimple in his right cheek when he smiled. He had a proliferation of fluffy blond curls that could make a female grind her teeth in envy. Balance those positives with his cold eyes which were always on the make, however, and he was definitely a treat better left unsampled.
“Getting together with my biker boyfriend,” I breathed, trying to imitate Lydia’s nasal tone as closely as possible. “Mikey, he doesn’t like me messing with other guys.”
“I’m not afraid of those damn hog riders,” Evan said, his hand tightening on my shoulder. “What say we get a beer at Hooters after work?”
“Uh, no thanks,” I mumbled, escaping with alacrity. For a minute, I had been tempted to accept just to play a little joke on Lydia, but it would have been too cruel.
“I want a snow cone!”
“Can we go on the roller coaster?”
“Moooom, I’m tired.”
I wished I could stuff my ears with cotton to block out the whining around me. Working here shook my belief that I wanted children some day. The kids swarming around me were at their most unappealing with food smeared down the front of their outfits, sweat trickling down their fat, red faces, and their mouths opened wide—the better to bawl with. I tried to avoid looking at them in my disgruntled state of mind. I wanted nothing more than for the day to end so I could go home and have a couple margaritas with my Mexican mamacita, uh, papacita, but it was just barely past noon. I still had hours to go before I could sleep. I trudged around the fairgrounds, stopping when forced to interact with the kids. Even though this was only my third summer doing this job, I sensed it would be my last.
“Row, row, row your boat,” I sang under my breath as I took a five minute break to down a hotdog. I was sitting in the back room because Eddie didn’t like us to take our heads off in public. I had propped the door to the fairgrounds open—even though Eddie didn’t like that, either—and I heard a commotion just outside. Wolfing down the last bite of my hotdog, I raced out to see what was happening, jamming my head back on just as I burst outside to see Antoinette running towards me.
“Oh my God, Lydia!” Antoinette moaned, clutching my arm. “It’s horrible! Somebody shot Bea!”
“What?” For a minute, time slid out of alignment as I heard my name come out of her mouth.
“Bea is lying over there, probably dead!” For once, Antoinette did not posture or preen. Her face had drained of all color, and she simply pointed in the direction from whence she came.
“Antoinette, it’s me.” I pulled off my head.
“Oh my God!” Antoinette shrieked, her eyes widening. Before I could do anything, she crumpled to the ground.
“Aw, fuck.” I stared down at her, uncertain what to do. Fortunately, she quickly opened her eyes.
“No lunch,” she explained, sitting up. That was hardly a surprise as she was perpetually dieting. “Bea, what are you doing in Lydia’s costume?” She flashed me a suspicious look which rubbed me the wrong way for some reason.
“We traded for the day,” I explained, needlessly, I thought. If she couldn’t figure it out by looking at me that I wasn’t the one lying on the ground in the Maisie Mouse outfit with a hole in my body, then she was more stupid than I thought. I turned my head to the side and gagged.
“Are you going to hurl?” Antoinette’s eyes were huge. Somewhere along the way, she had ditched her head although she was wearing the rest of her costume which wouldn’t make Eddie to happy, let me tell you.
“No, I’m fine,” I snapped, struggling to control myself. “Lead me to the body.” Not that I particularly wanted to see Lydia, but I had to make sure that Antoinette had gotten the story right. She wasn’t the brightest bulb, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she had gotten her facts and fiction mixed up. I trotted after her, carrying my giant head under my arm.
“My God, it’s Bea!” Tommy, who played Marvin, my supposed mate gaped at me in surprise. He also had his head off.
“Then who’s this?” Another character pointed to the ground where there was a body sprawled on her stomach. A neat hole had pierced her left shoulder; another had entered her back approximately where her heart would be.
“Lydia,” I whispered, sinking to my knees. As much as I didn’t want to look at her, I couldn’t turn my eyes away. Unthinkingly, I reached out a hand to her.
“Don’t touch her,” Tommy said sharply, glaring at me owlishly from behind monster spectacles. “We have to leave her for the police.” I blushed as I withdrew my hand. I knew better than to touch her, and I was angry that Tommy had had to scold me like a little child in front of the growing crowd.
“Mommy, what’s wrong with Maisie?” A thin little girl with huge brown eyes was staring down at Lydia. “Why isn’t she moving? Why is she covered with blood?”
“Get away from there!” The mother snatched her daughter in her arms and practically ran out of her shoes in her frantic desire to escape. Not everyone was so smart, however, and the crowd started pressing closer; they were eager to see the gory details up close and personal.
“Damn vultures,” another character said, I wasn’t sure who. All I could do was stare at Lydia who was supposed to be me.