Cinderella waves as she passes. I see her inside my head, floating, her hair hanging down to her shoulders, her skin albescent, the color of baby fish all white and soft in the belly. Im hot, dancing, a big Dopey grin on my face. Later I will go and wait for her, gauge her mood by how she hurries or lingers, will hop up when she approaches and do a little dance. If shes happy shell laugh and rub her fingers around my ear, and if shes angry or sad shell want a drink and ask if I have any cash.
Tonight shes buoyant and bounces toward me. Changed into jeans and a Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt, smoking, she bends to pat my head. I see traces of makeup shes not washed off, her eyes green as okra, her scent patchouli and Lucky Strikes. She tells me Speltzer has promised to take her dancing and what a kickass time they plan to have. I grunt and say, Thats swell.
Jane looks down and sighs, Yeah, it is.
Because shes high and doesnt need me to keep her company, she asks about Alice. I give a Yak! and remind her, Alice Liddell is a pig, that she has fat hands and yellow teeth, her legs are like swollen stumps fitted with knots for feet, and how ridiculous she looks in the Parks parade, prancing about as a virginal fairy when I can bang on her trailer door whenever I want and have her any way I please.
Janes apartment is a half-mile from the Magic Forest. Those of us whove worked here a year or more are allowed to take their costumes home, and sometimes Jane, when late, will race from the back lot in her powder-blue dress and fake glass slippers. In six years, Ive never once kept my costume on after a show. Maybe if you were someone else, Jane says as I toss my head and large fool shoes. Day after day I check the list to see what parts are available, have learned all the footwork and gestures for the better roles, have asked Drago to make me the Prince or even one of the lesser knights, but he refuses and tells me to not be a dope—how he laughs when he says this—and swears I should be happy having any job at all.
Inside, Janes apartment smells of oranges, cigarettes, and cheese. She hands me her Lucky Strike, goes into the bedroom, pulls off her t-shirt, and hunts for something else to wear. The way she undresses in front of me is cool, although I know her lack of discretion suggests something other than intimacy and, frustrated, I turn only after catching a good long glimpse of her tits and ass.
She takes off her bra and throws it over her shoulder. In her closet she finds a light-blue top that hugs her middle and shows off her near-flat belly. Spel will be here soon, she says, as a way of letting me know its time to leave. I finish her cigarette, blow smoke through my nose. Speltzer is a prick and I say as much to Jane, the way he carries on like a big fish, talking about Hollywood and New York when his resumes nothing more than two local commercials and a one-line guest shot on CSI: Miami. Hes been at the Park three seasons, has played our Knight, and dances each day with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. After bribing Drago with reefer, he gets to ride the float with Jane, mixing up the story lines, unseating the Prince, whos told not to sweat it, and stands now in the afternoon pouting beside the Wicked Stepmother.
Jane says, OK, quit, when I start in. I drop her cigarette in the orange sea shell she uses as an ashtray and wish just this once shed let me hide in the closet so I can jump out and yell, Hey! when Speltzer comes in. Not that it would matter even if she did. Speltzer is too self-absorbed to be shaken, a big, dumb fuck who laughs everything off, calls me little man, and moves past me with a quick turn of his hip. If you want, I offer, reminding Jane how often the bastard has stood her up, letting her know she can call me. Dont worry, she answers. Not tonight. Her yellow hair is tied in a tail, her face all giddy and sweet. She smiles, then winks and pats my head, blows me a kiss and pushes me into the hall.
* * *
The Red Earle is where people from the Park come to drink, performers and gift shop clerks, groundskeepers and ride operators. Drago sits in the back of the bar and holds court, a notebook and pocketknife, bottle of Single Barrel Jack Daniels, and two shot glasses on the table in front of him. I order a beer. Snow White moonlights, serves me a Heineken and charges me for a Bud. Everything that happens in or around the Park runs through Drago, officially or otherwise. Halfway through my beer, Snow White tells me he wants a word. I stand like the others in front of the table, until he tires of staring at just my head and has me sit down.
Dragos moustache covers his upper lip like a furry scar. Hes broad shouldered, with a wide head, thick arms, and flat brow. People say we look alike, that Im a miniature version absent the facial hair, a claim Drago dismisses as horseshit, then laughs and tells me, Youre lucky if thats true, Dopey, and grabs at his crotch as if lifting the weight of a horse.
So? he pours us each a shot, pushes the glass toward me. Whats up?
At the ball.
Drago howls. The joke is old, but he appreciates my situation and says, Speltzer? with a shake of his head. You got time to do a little something, then?
I drink his whiskey. Drago opens his notebook, runs a finger along the page as if reviewing prospects, then closes the book and downs his shot. What about Alice? He changes the subject, his interest different from Janes. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Have you seen her?
I got something. He shifts around again. If youre looking. Dragos cell phone rings. He reaches inside the pocket of his jacket, deals with the person on the other end, then sets the phone down beside his knife. Freaks. He laughs louder than before, staring at me. You know what I mean. The things these fuckers want. He opens his notebook to the back this time, writes something on a piece of paper, and tears it out. Two kids. He taps the paper. You got time? Keep thirty. Take you ten minutes. He pulls the paper back, writes a second address down, pushes it toward me again. Guy on the phone is looking for Wicked. Says he came through last spring. I didnt tell him our Wicked has changed. Not that it matters. Drago smiles. This other address—he touches the edge of the paper before I pick it up—guy at the Felmores been asking. Its up to you. Easy money if youre short. Drago howls as if this is the funniest thing hes ever heard. Maybe give Alice a call, he says. Blow the guys mind. Freaks. He smirks and shakes his head again.
I walk back to the Park, slip in through the east lot, use the keys Drago gave me to unlock gates, and get inside the Pirates Cove, down beneath the floor, under the tracks where Drago keeps his stash in a metal box. The Park is off the main roads, the hotels surrounding us easy to reach. I take one of the electric, three-wheeled scooters from the lot, the pedals and seat perfectly suited to my size, and head to the first address. The college kid who opens the door is startled by me and moves away as I enter the room. What the fuck did you expect? I remind him this is the Magic Forest and if he isnt careful Ill turn his ass into a goat.
We complete our deal, and just after ten I drive the scooter along the bike path where people wave at me from their cars, take pictures with their cameras as if Im somehow still part of the show. The dance clubs are on the opposite side of the Park. I consider heading in that direction, to the Emporium or Pleasure Palace to look for Jane, even though I know this is not a good idea. (Maybe if you were someone else, she says as she stands in front of me and reaches down to lift my chin.) The air outside is warm and heavy as it hits my face, the sound of the scooters motor buzzing as I pass the Doubletree and the Hyatt. The fountain in front of the Felmore is lit pink and green, with drops of water caught by the wind spinning colors of their own out toward the curb. I stop and stare for a moment at the fountain and the moon. My shadow from the light stretches tall as a giant, but in reaching for the colors everything turns ghost white and clear.
I drive on, stop a half-block up, and come back. (What the fuck else am I going to do? If youre short, Drago laughed.) The service entrance to the Felmore is in back, the room number written down as 517. I park the scooter near the trees, cross the lot, and slip inside, take the elevator up to the fifth floor. A man in bermuda shorts, a pale-blue shirt, thin gray hair, and white canvas sneakers answers my knock. Ahh, he smiles as if in response to something Ive said. The room is neat, the bed made, and suitcase set against the wall. A food tray is on the table, two magazines beside the bed, a large pad and pencils on the chair. The man studies me closely, all eager and awkward, no different from the others who get in touch with Drago and pay for an hour of my time. I let this one look me over, make a face to warn him of the knife in my pocket and how Ill belly-stab him if he messes with me at all. Are you alone? I ask.
Yes. Alone, right.
The man swears, None.
I go and check the closet and bathroom just the same. (Its impossible to trust these freaks.) Im glad you could make it, the man says. He introduces himself as Albert, extends his hand. I dont respond and he takes his arm away. On his nightstand is a portable video camera. I glance at the dresser for a wallet or envelope with cash, curse Drago and Speltzer under my breath, angry with myself for having wound up here again, and, impatient, say, I only watch whatever bizarre shit gets you off. Nothing else, got it? So, what do you want?
The man has a soft face, hangdog, as if everything inside his head is weighted. He points to the chair, to his pencils and pad. I toss up my hands and howl, You want to draw me, is that it, Albert? The gimmick is unoriginal. Why these guys think they have to lie to me I never understand, and laughing, I tell him,All right. Ill pose here for a hundred bucks. I dont ask if hes an artist, have no interest in this, and wait with my arms folded as he picks up his pad and starts to sketch.
It doesnt take long, as these things never do, before he wonders if I wouldnt mind removing my shirt. I say, Thatll cost you another hundred, and demand the two bills up front. My chest is hairless and unusually formed, not grotesque but out of proportion; my ribs too large, my torso puffed, my hands and feet too big for my ankles and wrists. The problem with my spine is more apparent beneath my waist, and standing in full pose with my arms dangling and pants hitched up, I watch myself appear in charcoal lines.
Do you mind? he says again, and asks me to climb onto the table, for perspective. He has me refold my arms, then prefers I let them hang. What a motherfucker. Any second now I expect him to start getting queer. I stand beneath the light above the table, the bulb warming the top of my head, and think of Jane. Albert is in a trance. You like this crap, dont you, Al? I calculate the distance, plot my leap toward his neck, my fingers tightening as he falls. Freaks, I say. You get your kicks.
He stops and squints, sits on the edge of the bed, only half surprised, the pad in his lap. I enjoy drawing, he tells me.
Yeah, right. No sunsets, Al? No fruits in a bowl?
If you mean, why did I ask for you.
Thats it. Why?
Things more visceral.
Theres something exciting.
In what? Say it.
But you asked.
Are you queer, Al?
Just not into normal, is that it? Drawing nude chicks doesnt do it for you, huh?
This isnt about sex.
Like hell. I move across the center of the table. Youre the one who said exciting. Exciting, you said.
If you dont mind, he says, standing, shoulders stooped, the pad unsteady in his hand, Ive paid.
And thats all you want?
Bullshit. I move closer to the tables edge, feel the shift of balance beneath my feet. How fucked it is, I think. If I was six feet tall, I wouldnt be here now, thats for sure, drawing dwarfs in a hotel room when I could have my Jane. Real and exciting, Al? Is that it? I raise up on my toes, almost topple the table, point toward the nightstand and the video camera. Whats that for, Al? Something to remember me by? When I laugh this time the sound comes out low, like a growl before a bark. You think this is my first night out? You think I havent done this crap before? You think I dont know? I hop down, pull on my shirt, tell him about the others, just a few examples to make things clear, and picking up the video recorder, which is small and fits nicely in my hand, I say You want real, Al? Is that what you want? What if I could show you something youve never seen before? How much would you pay me, Al? How much is it worth to get more than you bargained for?
The trailers sit in the southernmost corner of the Magic Forest where new Park people rent space each season and the turnover rate is high. Of the 20 trailers on site, only Alice renews her lease year after year. I leave the scooter on the dirt path out front and knock on her door. The light from the television flickers through the window. Inside, all the furniture is shrunk to size, the green couch and brown chair. Alice smiles, happy to see me, her teeth the color of old corn, her hair dyed blond and stiff as straw. Shes an inch shorter than me, pear-shaped as if someone has opened a valve at the base of her ass and blown in too much air. Well, heres a surprise, she says as she opens the door and touches my sleeve.
I set the video camera down on the counter. Drago asked me to fence this, I tell her,but the guy he sent me to see wasnt there. Waste of time. I take a cigarette from Alices pack—she smokes Virginia Slims—and, looking toward the fridge, I ask,You got anything to drink?
Her robe is yellow with a faded red rose on the pocket, belted at the waist with the sides open up top. Alice pulls the two halves together. The air in the trailer is dank. A small floor fan runs in the hall, blows warm past the kitchen and toward the tv. Alice goes to the fridge and hands me a beer. Have you eaten? Her feet are stuffed inside a pair of untied sneakers, her legs bare between the ankle and knee. I dont like it when shes kind to me; I feel her neediness in the solicitation, her clinging like old flesh on the surface of new skin.
Hungry, yeah, I say.
Jay Leno is on the TV, talking to an actress I recognize but dont know by name. Lenos head is huge. I find the remote and click the picture off. A glass of red wine is on the table beside the couch. Eggs? Alice asks.
Scrambled or sunny side?
Either way. I wait until she has her head in the fridge, then pull the tinfoil from my pocket and drop half of what I stole from Dragos stash into Alices drink. I dont need to do this, I know, though I want to, convinced things wont matter as much if shes stoned, that Im doing her a favor, letting her off the hook, and turning the camera around, I press the button, bring her wine into the kitchen, and set it beside the sink.
Thanks. She smiles again, her face soft beneath the eyes, her nose small, and lips plump as a fishs mouth.
Cheers, I say, and we drink.
Alice mixes three eggs in a bowl, chats with me as if starved for conversation, going on about people we know and stories shes heard. What a little party were having. What a cozy couple. Alice drinks. I move behind her and touch her shoulders, my hands raised high as she stands on a stool in order to work at the sink. I feel her muscles tense then slacken as she tries to relax. My jaw is clenched as she turns to face me, her expression welcoming, nervous and wondering. I dont want to look and I close my eyes as she steps down so we can kiss.
Her breath is sweet. I try not to think of her teeth or to feel the fat of her tongue as she forces it in over mine, and pulling away, I reach for my beer, get Alice to face the camera and finish her wine.
The kitchen light is lemon-white. I stand behind Alice again, slip off her robe, lift up the t-shirt she has on beneath. Her breasts are heavy like squash, hang from her with nipples huge and dark and brown. I cup her tits, bite her neck, harder than she expects, until she says,Yow! and laughs as if to let me know its OK. Down go her undies, her fat ass tight as a drum, her bush not blond but brown like dirt in a wet tilled garden. I bring her into the front of the trailer, manage to turn the camera around without her noticing, get her to sit on the couch and show me all there is with fingers stiff and probing.
She smiles uneasily, her eyes shy as if to ask,Is this OK? Even on the small couch shes not quite large enough and must sink low for her feet to reach the floor. Spread wide, her flesh porcelain, dimpled like an old doll, her stubby limbs, puck face, and starched wheat hair make me think of trolls. I move closer and let her suck my cock, get her to stand again, and propping her arms against the wall, mount her from behind. Im nearly finished when the cell phone hooked to my belt rings, and pumping through, I pull up my pants, answer the call, the ID flashing Jane.
To get to the Pleasure Palace I have to reenter the Park. The locked gates are a pain, but I know every twist in the Forest and how to avoid the guards. I drive as fast as I can, past the Pirates Cove, the Roller Rails, and Splash Log Express. Come get me, Jane said, her voice through my cell, the noise of the crowd in the club like cheers; its all I can do to keep control, my foot pressed hard on the gas.
I can hear music from the Pleasure Palace as I reach the far side of the Enchanted Mountain and head down Treasure Lane, the entrance separate from the rest of the Park, which is already closed. The video camera is stashed beneath my seat, the knife in my pants pocket pressing against my leg. (Alice on the floor of her trailer does not look well, a dog on her haunches, she gazes up confused and drugged and says, Where are you going? Somehow I cant find her robe, run up the hall, knock over the fan, Alices fairy costume laid out on the bed. I grab the white wings and body stocking, return to the front of the trailer and toss it at her before racing out the door.) The crowd outside the club smokes cigarettes and reefer, drinks beer from plastic cups, cools themselves from the heat of dancing. I leap, at last the gallant knight, jumping from my faithful steed and pushing through the crowd. (Come get me, Jane said.) My heart enormous, swells against the bones of my chest. I look around, wonder where shes waiting, pissed at myself for not suggesting where to meet.
Inside the club, Green Days American Idiot blasts from six separate speakers. People are everywhere. I am hip high, a cat in the grass, parting the crowd by banging my elbows against their knees. All of what is happening seems familiar, a variation on how Ive imagined Cinderella calling a thousand times inside my head. When finally I spot Jane, shes at a table, sitting and laughing, her left foot bare, dangling sidesaddle, perched on Speltzers lap. Oh, shit, she says, when she sees me, oh, shit. Jesus, Im sorry. I meant to call you back.
I hear little after that. Whatever excuse she has doesnt matter. Speltzer turns his face from me as Jane squirms. I take my knife and stick it in his thigh. Green Day gives way to U2s Vertigo. The crowd is loud and barely notices the screams. I dont dash but walk outside, take the scooter, and leave the Park. Theres a brook that runs along the edge of the Magic Forest, an estuary that flows toward deeper rivers. I throw the knife and the video I made of Alice into the water. Alberts camera I decide to keep for my troubles. A siren in the distance becomes louder, not from the direction of the Pleasure Palace, but to the south and the trailers parked beneath the moon. I shudder, for the first time all night, and standing on soft sands and stone, pronounce the words almost as a prayer. Fucking freaks, I mouth, and pulling off my shoes and socks, wait to see if the water will rise and wash everything away.
I am one of those writers who has to write every day for fear of the muse packing her bags and taking up with some bastard down the street. In any event, I was recently persuaded by my wife to take the kids to Disneyland. I am not much of an amusement park guy, but my wife and kids love them so off I went. While at Disneyland, I could not believe how truly obsessed all the park employees were with the Disney-ness, all the parades and pins and trivia and such, and couldnt help but wonder what these people were really like. Who were these people dancing about in pink hippo costumes, in Dopey heads, and waving to me as a smiling Cinderella? What went on behind the scenes, I wondered, and therein was the inspiration for Courting Jane. I began drafting the story in our hotel room, and on the plane, and continued to write and rework the story when I got home. As love often finds its way into my work in various forms of want and need and the ever-present unrequited, I used the characters of Courting Jane to explore these issues in a freaky sort of way, to see how they might be resolved. The result: Love again winds up FRiGGed.
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