Duck, Duck, Dead Duck; chapter one, part one

“Bea, get your ass out there,” Lydia (formerly Linda before she changed her name) Wilkerson barked at me, poking her head in the tiny dressing room.  “You know your shift started at eight.”  She’s a friend of sorts who has higher aspirations.  I didn’t feel very friendly towards her when she pulled her mother superior act on me, I’ll tell you that much.  Fortunately, she usually mellowed after a good dressing down, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to even tolerate her.

“In a minute,” I snapped, procrastinating the degradation of pulling on my giant Maisie Mouse head until the last possible moment.  The heads were basically football helmets with gigantic outer shells attached.  There was so much padding in one of those things, it felt like sticking your head in a basket of towels.  I looked in the mirror at the appalling taffeta skirt sticking straight out from my body.  It had red polka dots sprinkled over a white background and matched nicely with my red t-shirt.  I wore black tights and black patent-leather Mary Janes as a final insult to my dignity.  Yes, my character was patterned after the more-famous mouse who shall remain nameless for litigious reasons, and yes, I had a ‘mousefriend’.  His name was Marvin Mouse, and he looked just as ridiculous in his costume which matched mine except he didn’t have taffeta or polka dots.

“Now, Bea,” Lydia stared meaningfully first at me, then at her watch before pulling her own head back on.  She’s Daphne Duck, but liked to pretend she was the stage manager or something.  Most of the time, we got along just fine.  Once in a while, however, she really chapped my ass.

“It’s Trish,” I reminded her sharply.  For someone who insisted on being called Lydia instead of Linda, she certainly didn’t extend the same courtesy to me even though I hadn’t changed my name.

My mother named me Beatrice after the Beatrice Quimby in the Ramona series.  She loved those books so much, she committed each one to memory and would drive me and my younger sister—yes, named Ramona, but she calls herself Mona—crazy by quoting bits and pieces of the books to us in what she deemed appropriate situations.  My brother Howie—he goes by Owen now—used to plug his ears when mother got on one of her rolls while Henry—Hank, please—would carol at the top of his lungs, but Mona and I were never that daring.  A sunny-natured woman, my mother would explode in wrath if one of us kids dared to suggest that perhaps she could give it a rest.

‘Can’t you hear the beauty?’  She’d ask, her eyes shining with pleasure.  She had changed her name to Dorothy when she was of legal age.  She even tried to pressure my father to change our last names to Quimby, but he put his foot down for once.  A peaceful man, my father usually allowed my strong-willed mother her way, but stood his ground that time because, as he put it, ‘It’d be damn peculiar for a Taiwanese family to have ‘Quimby’ as a last name.’  Even my mother could see the logic in that, but it didn’t quell her enthusiasm.  Luckily for her, my father’s name was Robert so she could call him Bob to her heart’s content.  Mona and I used to joke that she only married him because his name was Robert.

‘Beverly Cleary is a genius.  Better than Emerson or Keats.’  Mother was an English major in college, but now only read children’s books with the occasional young adult book thrown in for variety.  She thought most current literature was trash, and she rarely finished a novel any more.  She said all she needed to know she could read in picture books.  I thought she was nuts, but benignly so.  She couldn’t wait for her children to start propagating so she can continue spreading the Cleary legend.  As I have no intention of bearing children any time in the near future—I’m twenty-seven—and my sister is a lesbian—age twenty-five—it’s up to my brothers—twenty-three and twenty—to carry on the family name.  My mother didn’t quote from Clearly as much these days as she did when I was growing up, but it was still too often for my taste.

“Whatever, Bea,” Lydia said in a muffled tone.  “Just get your ass out on the fairgrounds before Eddie has a cow.”  Eddie Bates was our boss—a fat, middle-aged guy with a receding hairline and a roving eye.  He knew better than to pinch and prod in these litigious times, but he wasn’t above a good leer or two.

I jammed my head on and wandered around looking for my counterpart.  Tommy Starks played Marvin, and he was notorious for trying to elude me for whatever passed as a reason to his pea brain.  I didn’t know why, nor did I bother to ask.  It may only have been a quarter after eight in the morning, but the grounds were crawling with whiny, spoiled brats who were already bugging their mothers for hot dogs and pizza.  I fairly itched to smack one of them in the mouth, but I was already on probation for making a little girl cry.  Hey, I never actually said that Santa was killed in a reindeer accident—I merely implied it.  Was it my fault the little darling had an overactive imagination?  Good old Eddie nearly blew a gasket over that one, and I had to let him get a prolonged gander at my cleavage before he agreed to let me keep my cruddy eight dollars an hour job with non-existent bennies.

“There you are, Marvin,” I said in a high, sweet voice as I espied my beloved.  He waved at me before cutting to his left and disappearing behind a big tree.  It was already climbing towards eighty which felt more like a hundred in the rodent outfit, so I didn’t chase after him.  I noticed a group of five or six years old circling me with quizzical looks on their faces.

“Who are you supposed to be?”  A little boy with carroty hair, jug ears and freckles demanded, his fists on his hips.  “You’re not Minnie Mouse!”

“Yeah, you’re not!”  A little girl with perfect golden curls stuck her tongue out at me.  Boiiiing, the thought came unbidden to my mind.  I brushed it away with annoyance.  I was not going to pull this little girl’s curls like Ramona did to Susan.  Even though I was jealous of those blond curls as my own hair was straight as a stick—jet black of course.  I had to pin it up when I wore my stupid head so it wouldn’t be noticeable.

“I’m Maisie Mouse,” I said as nicely as possible to these brats.  “Welcome to FunLand where your fun is our business!”  I patted the nearest child on the head, causing her to burst into tears.

“You made Sammi cry!”  The redheaded boy said, kicking me in the shins.  “Stupid mouse!”  I tensed, ready to grab him by the back of his neck and shake him until his eyes rattled in his empty head.

“Jimmy!”  A redheaded woman appeared out of nowhere and glowered at the kid who kicked me who was obviously her son.  “That’s not nice!  You apologize to the lady.”

“She made Sammi cry,” he said, gesturing at the red-cheeked girl who was still sniffling.

“Well, I hope you all have fun here at FunLand,” I chirped as best I could through gritted teeth.  “Remember, we’re serious about having fun!”

“I want Minnie!”  Sammi howled, snot dripping from her button nose.  It was on the tip of my tongue to tell her this was Suburbia, Minnesota, not Lala Land, but I stopped myself in time.

“See you kids later!”  I waved at them with my gloved hand before skipping away.  As soon as I was far enough from them, I allowed my pace to slow down.  For the hundredth time, I question how I ended up in an amusement park wearing a large mouse’s head.  I’m a performance artist, for chrissake, not a fucking freak show.  I knew the answer to that, however—I needed to eat.  Even though I lived in the Phillips’ neighborhood and paid only five hundred a month for what was optimistically called a one-bedroom apartment, there were still bills to be paid.  While I performed around the Twin Cities on a fairly regular basis, most of my gigs brought in a nominal fee as they were usually done as favors for a friend of a friend.  I was a sucker for a good cabaret, and the Asian American Renaissance loved to do cabarets.  Not to mention all the queer cabarets.  Since I occasionally slept with women, I was an honorary queer.  Sometimes, I think it’d be easier to be a dyke, but unfortunately for me, I like cock too much to ever totally give it up for munching carpet.  Mona, on the other hand, was a purebred—one-hundred percent dyke.  Never been touched by a man and all that shit.  In my humble opinion, she didn’t know what she was missing.

“What’s wrong with you, Trixie?”  Eddie snuck up on me while I was ruminating.  “You’re supposed to be entertaining the kiddies, not scaring them off.”  Why was it that no one bothered to call me by the name I preferred, which was Trish?  Lydia and the rest of my coworkers called me Bea; Eddie called me Trixie; my mother, of course, called me Beezus; my siblings called me Dodo because I was obsessed with Dodo birds for a year when I was eight.  My friends called me Trix while my boyfriend called me Bet when he wasn’t calling me querida.  I wondered what it said about me that no one called me Trish, which was what I called myself.  Only my best friend, Liza, called me Trish unless she was mad at me, then she called me Trash.  If she did that, however, the gloves were off, and I called her Lizard, Lazy, and whatever else came to mind.  Oh, yes, my father called me Trish as well, but he was a prince among men.

“Are you listening, Chen?”  Eddie shouted, sticking his face in mind.  I knew he was mad because he called me by my last name, so I snapped to attention.

“Sorry, Eddie,” I said with false sincerity, looping my arm through his.  “I’m on the rag today—you know how it is.”  I loved using my period as an excuse because a guy like Eddie would never question me further about it.

“Yeah, well, talk to the children, ok?”  Eddie growled before beating a hasty retreat.  I laughed at his cowardice before turning on the charm.  I waved and chatted with the kiddies to the best of my ability for the next eight hours.  By the time it was four o’clock and time to go home, my feet were killing me, my throat was raw, and all I wanted to do was go home and soak in the tub.  I idly wondered if Rafe would be off work by the time I got home.  Raphael Ferguson, boyfriend extraordinaire.  He’s a construction worker so his hours were flexible, which theoretically meant he should be able to manage showing up on my doorstep with flowers once in a while, but in reality, it usually meant that I had a beer waiting for him by the time he staggered through the door.

“Trixie, got another complaint about you,” Eddie leered at me, brushing too close as he squeezed by me.  “Gotta clean up your act if you want to keep your job.”  He said it magnanimously, as if he were bestowing me the crown jewels.  “Ya gotta be nice to the kiddies because that’s how we make our money.  You be nice to them—mommy is happy and then buys more.”  He patted my shoulder—I glared at him to make sure his hand didn’t wander.

“Gotta change, Eddie,” I said, pulling the damn head off.  “So don’t take this the wrong way, but get the hell out of here.”  He ruffled my hair before disappearing.  Every fucking day he had to give me grief.  I wondered if he actually thought I enjoyed the little ritual.  With his thick head, it was entirely possible that he thought of it as rapport with his employees.

“Fucking perv,” Lydia grumbled as she entered without knocking.  Both of us had worked at FunLand for three years, which made us old-timers.

“You must be talking about our illustrious boss,” I said as I quickly changed out of my rat outfit.  I slid into blue jeans and a black Oxford shirt.  I ran a comb through my shoulder-length hair, then touched up my makeup.  I didn’t wear much, but what I did apply in the morning was long gone by the end of the day.  I dusted on a bit of rouge as well as a layer of lipstick.  Passionate Nights it was called, and it was a deep red.  I like the contrast between my pale skin and the redness of my lips.  With my black hair as the background, it was a nice combination.

“Yeah, I swear he touched my ass as I walked by, but he did it real casual-like,” Lydia griped, jerking her head off as well.  She looked in the mirror and groaned as her mahogany curls hung limply to her shoulders.  She lit up a cigarette and quickly inhaled a few puffs before putting it out.  Others around us glared, but I savored the smell of Camel Ultralight.  Even though I didn’t smoked, I enjoyed the smell and taste of it.  Fortunately for me, Rafe smoked socially so I could vicariously live through him from time to time.  Lydia tried to fluff out her hair, but it was hopeless without a can of hairspray.  She quickly outlined her thin lips in a pearly pink color which did nothing for her muddy complexion, but who was I to judge?

“One of these days, he’s going to cross the line,” I predicted, unbuttoning the two top buttons on my shirt.  “That’s when we nail him.”

“I say we nail him, anyway,” Lydia countered.  “To the fucking wall.”  This was a variation of the same conversation we had three to four times a week; we might as well tape it and play it back at the end of each day.  It got old, but it was also comforting in a way.  It’s like the day couldn’t be done until we indulged in our griping.  Once we talked about Eddie and what a pervert he was, we could call it a day and go home.

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