THE BEARED LADY
The woman is beared every evening. She was originally hired as a bearded lady, grooming her thick bale with a rake comb as the ringmaster interviewed her in the managerial tent of the Big Top. But due to a clerical error, she was paperworked as beared. The show must go on! The Ringmaster declared, and by the time the proper amendments were drafted, the bears had already torn the hair from her face; six years of work yanked from skin in an instant, so she stayed on in her original title. Some showgoers sigh when they see her, all fresh-faced and regular, but find her act quite satiating when the bears begin their descent. Every performance is new, as the bears thesaurus their maulings of the lady; bludgeoning her, bashing her, drubbing her, thrashing her, leaving her bumped and bruised in the wet brown dirt of the big top, red with maim, slippery with leaf-laden drool. When her act ends, the clowns whisk her to the back, distracting the bears with oversized bicycle horns and oiled-up banana peels. In her hand, she grips a fistful of kodiak fur, stripped in the midst of battle. After the show, she sits at the vanity in the trailer in the dirt lot behind the big top and rubs her reddened face, caressing the bald moon of her cheeks, addressing the grizzled slope of her brow. I know what you’re thinking, says the mystic from the darkness of his bunk, turning as she holds the secret fur patch in her palm, presses it to the many estates of her chin.
TAKING A STAND FOR CHILDREN
I was named the inventor of new jobs. People waited in line to have me invent a new job for them. I was helping the economy. One woman asked if I could give her a job involving candles. No requests lady, I said, and named her the town Axe Dangler. A man with small ears became The Man Who Nicknames Body Parts. A ponytailed child asked for a job and I said tsk tsk, not yet and she groaned and dropped her head. Adults never let kids do anything, she said, moping, dripping pre-rain sprinkle tears onto the sidewalk. I decided to take a stand for children and named her the Honorary Job Evaluator, tasking her with giving each new invented job a rating on a scale of her choosing. Whenever I gave someone a new job, she’d shout out a word that represented her rating. When I titled someone the Pay Lake Cheerleader, she yelled Spaceship! while wagging her fist as if she were casting a spell with an invisible wand. A man became the Church Goblin and she shouted Dental Floss! This kid’s really got the hang of it, I thought, and her cheers were giving me a confidence boost as well.I told the girl she was doing a great job (although I wasn’t able to make much sense of her ratings). She invited me into her office and said I wish I could tell you the same. She relieved me from my duties. I returned the next week to wait for a new job only to find the position had been automated. The child had been laid off too. It’s a brutal industry, she said, ashing a cigarette.
I HEARD MYSELF IN THE ENHANCED AUDIO OF A PREMIER LEAGUE FOOTBALL MATCH
and shivered at the soured-milk distortion of my own voice, cringing at the inflections and untuned vocal chords. The sound spilled through the speakers as Leighton Baines fired a cross into the eighteen-yard box. I wasn’t in the stadium, nobody was; the voices were collected audio of old games, chants from the past, like the laugh track on Frasier that always made my dad say You know they’re all dead now right? What a legacy that was, to have once lived in the world, to have climbed mountains and raised chickens and flipped pancakes in the world, to have once cackled at a joke on cassette; to now cackle at every joke; at both timeless American Classic™ jokes and bad, not-renewed-for-second-season jokes. I never could tell how Dad felt about his laugh track trivia fact, if he found such an act hopeful or cruel, if laughing for televised eternity was legacy or damnation, and I’d ask him if I could, and I guess I can, but I know what he’ll say, because it’s the same thing he always says, the twenty-two second voicemail that I’ve enlisted to answer every question, salve every nerve, distract me from the frustration of the away side scoring on a free kick over a symphony of spectral booing.