Irene says: I hadn’t considered the cotton candy machine. That was the worst part. Lugging the cotton candy machine from my little car out on the street, across their lawns, up their steps, into the houses.
The stainless steel of that machine was always red hot, digging into me and burning the skin below my bra. Even through the armor of the costume.
Things that some other people would have minded, I didn’t. I could deal with the makeup and the wig, even in the heat of the summer. I could deal with the parents and their disconnected way of speaking to me. The undertones. I could tune out the sounds of the dogs behind the bedroom doors, clawing and barking to be let out. Desperate. So desperate to be let out. It was a party, after all, and everyone wants to be invited to a party.
My true fear was the children. Would I be able to face them again after what happened in Wooster? All those screaming, over eager children? Could I deal with them? It turned out that part was easy. All you had to do was plug in the cotton candy machine. Dump in the sugar and the water, let it whir to life. Make them all some cotton candy. They were yours then. You could get them to do whatever you wanted. All it took was a little cotton candy.
After just an hour, you’re free to go. Fifty dollars in your pocket. Then it’s the struggle with the machine down the steps, across the lawn, through the sprinklers. The dogs barking from the windows. Venetian blinds crooked, nearly ripped down by paws and gnashing teeth. Frantic. They are always so frantic to get at you.
They’re not the only ones.
The children don’t ever think to wave goodbye. They are busy with the birthday cake. It’s timed that way.
Take the wig off in the car. Wipe the makeup away. Remove the costume in the back seat. Reveal your true identity layer by layer, however flawed it is. Pink skin. Sweat. A young body like a piece of music that no one notices just yet. Maybe by the time you die they will appreciate it. Sing along, buddy. Sing along. Looking out the windows to see if the coasts clear, no leering lawn boys or ice cream truck men…quick, change into your little bikini, neon tetra neon tetra, steam up the windows. Meet your girlfriends at the beach.
Whatever lingering traces of the face paint remained around the edges of the eyelid and corners of the mouth, the ocean would wash off of you.
That is love.
My father caught me coming down the stairs from my room. Touched my arm. This was serious.
“Sweetie, I want to talk to you.”
“I just wanted to say that I’m a little worried about something…” Trying to be delicate with his wording.
“Clowns usually wind up becoming alcoholics.”
“OK, so just…watch your drinking.”
“Thanks.” It’s awkward. He stands there looking at me. Not sure who I am. I don’t know how to ease his worry about me. What happens is, each person becomes just one thing averaged out to each person who is even aware that you exist. I am worried about being boring. I am worried about being reduced to something simpler than I could really be.
“I’m going for bagels. Everything?”
“Everything.” I said.
The service sent me out as Cinderella, which was better. I didn’t have to drag around heavy props. I could dust on a regular dosage of human flavored makeup. I got to wear a big wig, which is always something I like. My hair is thin. I hate it. I like having a big head. Some fake eyelashes, a long beautiful gold gown and some clear plastic slippers. We in business, son.
The crux was that I had to park the car a few blocks away and walk through the neighborhood in my gown. An illusion for the kids. Cinderella wouldn’t drive a brown Dodge Omni in real life, would she?
People walking their dogs would bust out laughing. Boys in loud import cars idle up next to me and tell me they wanted to show me their pumpkin. Even the mailman had some commentary. “I Like your costume.” “I like yours too.” I say. Eyes on fire till he looks down at his mailman shoes.
The party was tame. Little girls, all happy to see me. We drank fruit punch, pretended it was tea. They were asking tons of questions about Prince Charming. How many ponies did I own? Could I fly? Did I personally know Alice? Was I close friends with Snow White? Of course I know her, she’s my best friend. Were her dwarves as short in real life? Shorter. Snow White herself is a dwarf. The dwarves are just slightly bigger than microscopic.
After the party, the mother and father herd me into the guest room. They had a few points they wanted to discuss before they pay me and release me back into the wild.
“You were really good.” The mother said, “You’re a natural. How old are you?”
“Perfect. This a summer job for college?”
“I want to give you our card. We have our own business.”
She handed me red card. I looked down at it. TEMPTATIONS.
“We’re always looking for girls with as much talent as you.” The father said, stroking his beard.
“You have such a nice figure. Your tits are great. They are such great tits. Have you ever considered stripping?” the mother asked.
“No.” I said.
“You should. I can tell you have great legs even with that gown.”
“Call us. You’ll love the money,” he said.
Then, I walked down the street, the sun reflecting off of my golden dress and my tiara and my long white gloves. I was lit up, impossibly bright and couldn’t stay out of sight, though I tried, believe me. My car was only a few blocks away, it felt like a thousand miles. There are no shadows that time of day. The sun at it’s brightest and most illuminating. Everything is obvious, everything exposed.
I could have stayed in Wooster. Things hadn’t worked out. My friend hooked me up with a job at the daycare center where she worked.
The kids were psycho. More kinetic energy than I can even explain. They ripped at my blouse, pulled my hair, flung things at me. I remember, helping a little boy put blocks away and while I was bent over one of them jumped on my back. Wild. Feral. A Little whirlwind I could not contain. I tried to get him off of me but he wouldn’t let go. Then, the teeth sunk in, pierced me so hard, broke through my skin. Drew blood.
I quit that job on the spot. Stop on a dime.
That night, I stood in the bathroom, looking at my wound in a mirror reflected in a mirror. My blouse crumbled on the tile floor. The circle of blood. My shoulder so swollen that I couldn’t wear my bra. I felt the puffy flesh, it throbbed, it pulsed, it was amplified a hundred times over and represented everything
When I went to the doctor, he wouldn’t give me tetanus shots or rabies shots for it. He thought it was funny I would ask. “Kids don’t have rabies…”
As I drove south, my little car shaking on the highway at moderately high speeds. I felt worthless having to admit defeat and return to my parents. Their house. Their judgement.
The job they set up for me.
I was in a cartoon cowboy suit. A massive helmet obscuring my entire head, a wide brimmed hat affixed to the top. I could see out of two small holes. It was hot in there and my hot breath echoed back at me. I slowly waved at the cars passing by on the road towards the beach. Behind me was a pharmacy that had a little window that sold ice cream cones.
I waved anyway at the traffic. I was anonymous. I could have been anyone. At one point, I saw Jesse and Callie drive by in the convertible. They were on their way to the beach. I very much wanted to be with them. I waved. They waved back. They had no idea that it was me. I could have been anyone.
A gang of little boys rolled up on BMXs.
“Look at this loser!” one kid yelled.
I just waved. They had a plan for me.
The next thing I know, I’m getting pushed around. They’re knocking into me with their bikes. Kicking me in the legs. Shoving me. I collapse onto the asphalt. I’m punched in the stomach, HARD. I feel the giant helmet jarring to the side. I yell at them to stop, they don’t. They just kept beating on me. They are frothing at the mouth in violent excitement. Kick after kick buried deep in my stomach. My neck. Stomping on my hands.
Then, the cowboy head was ripped off.
Cool air and sunlight rushing in. They gasp in surprise.
“IT’S A GIRL!”
The cowboy head is lobbed out into traffic and they flee away on their BMXs, Hurt, I lay there, lightly sobbing. Dizzy and shocked…when I finally get up and drag myself to the window, the ice cream girl doesn’t say anything. She just looks at me like, so? Then, she points at my cowboy head in the middle of the road.
A truck had run it over. Crushing it and splitting it apart all at the same time.
I sat alone at the kitchen table. I took the red business card out of my purse, looked at it. For a long time, I listened to the air conditioner, the sprinklers out in the yard, a bird in a tree. Wooooooo. Woooooooo. I looked down at my breasts that were almost resting on the table. I felt my legs under the table. I could be very good. I had the right body. I liked to entertain children. Men were like children. Weren’t they?
I folded the card in half. Tucked it back in my purse. I opened up the newspaper and looked through the Help Wanted Section.
The service was making me pay for the cowboy head. The joke was on them though, I still their had the cotton candy machine in the trunk of my car, they had no idea, but I didn’t make any more cotton candy. Fried Paradise took me in. I worked the register and I made french fries.
When I sold the machine in the fall, I had enough money for two books that I needed that semester.