The second photo that inspired me came from my loving wife, Sarah, who always knows that the creepy and strange captivates me.
This photo is so blatantly strange that I could have gone in a dozen directions. I decided that since this image borders on the absurd, I would write something that is lightly influenced by Absurdist theatre, specifically the notion of… well, you’ll see.
Franklin was a skeleton with a penchant for brass instruments. Despite his lack of lips and lungs, he was capable of coaxing vivacious melodies from his trumpet, which would make any musician with skin blush.
“Vaudeville is deader than I am,” the skeleton joked, smiling as he always did.
Maddy, the living doll, didn’t laugh, nor did she usually laugh at Franklin’s attempts at humor. She couldn’t understand why he seemed to focus on the worst when he should just be thankful to be sort of alive.
Lionel Fuzzbriches, the psychic cat, purred contentedly. Unlike Maddy, Lionel was an existentialist and knew that gallows’ humor was the only kind of humor you had when you were strung up by the neck.
The trio had found each other after each had found a lack of regular employment, which in turn brought them to the cramped storeroom of Fung’s Fine Cantonese Restaurant. Jon Fung, with a commendable entrepreneurial spirit, had come across the idea that he could better utilize his massive restaurant’s cavernous dining room by erecting a small, central stage and charging twice as much for his dinners by promising a night of entertainment. The idea had turned Fung a tidy profit, and had become endemic to most of the Cantonese restaurants along the eastern seaboard.
“I think this is an excellent opportunity for us. The audience will enjoy our singing, and a lot of people like Franklin’s jokes. If nothing else, they will have some food, and that always seems to make things better for people,” said Maddy.
She checked herself in the mirror and considered if she should repaint her lips and eyelids. She noticed that one of her glass eyes had a slight crack in it and wondered when that happened. Making a mental note that she needed to buy a spare eye, she turned her attention to Lionel.
“Do you really think that an audience will like our acts more just because they have a plate of Fung’s food in their faces?” asked Lionel in his rich baritone while swishing his tail petulantly. He had made the switch from fortune-teller to singer with aplomb, though he lamented his old act despite its unpopularity. His ability to foretell what a person’s next meal would be was not as exciting for humans as it was for cats. Humans wanted to know whom they would marry or if they would be successful in business, which was, to Lionel, a typical human foible. He couldn’t understand the human tendency to focus on the insignificant details while over-looking the important things in life.
Maddy gently stroked the small black cat’s head and helped him don his still, white collar and red bow tie. In the faint illumination provided by the single light bulb, Maddy noticed how bleak it was in the storeroom. Seated on bags of rice, surrounded by metal shelves lined with aluminum cans, it was not the worst of conditions that Maddy had ever endured in order to prepare for a performance. However, she couldn’t stand the gloom that her partners were exuding; the surroundings and circumstances were bad enough without them making it worse with their complaints. She felt like she had to say something uplifting.
“It’s better than the freak show,” she said.
Maddy’s career had started in Simonson’s Freak Show in the fall of 1900. Her creator had become bored with Maddy and she was sold to Simonson without hesitation. He had created another doll, one more lifelike and womanly, and was happy to be rid of the child-like Maddy. For two years, despite Maddy’s protests, Simonson treated her like a prop. Stored with the tent pegs and ropes, traveling was a bore. It was in her third year with the show that her fellow freaks demanded that she be allowed to travel with them instead of being crammed in the utility wagon.
At the mention of the freak show, Lionel’s fur prickled and he gave a hiss. He knew what happened to cats at the freak show because it happened to his father.
“After you were no longer a viable attraction, it was off to the geek for as long as you could last,” his mother had explained to him when he was just a kitten.
“Your papa had gotten old and slow, and a little clumsy. He couldn’t keep up anymore and then one day, he was gone. I remember seeing that man with black and white fur on his lips and I knew what happened. It was a fate almost as terrible as becoming a house pet. That‘s why I ran away: to give us a better life.”
Lionel calmed himself by purring. He licked his paw, lost in thought, barely listening to Maddy as she continued.
“They always said I was a fake,” she said.
“It hurt sometimes, especially when they called me a marionette. I don’t like to think of myself as an object or something being manipulated.”
“We are all being manipulated,” said Franklin, vigorously polishing his trumpet so that it would shine brightly on stage.
Lionel’s ears perked up as he listened to Franklin.
“We are slaves to fate. They say that life’s a journey, but they never say that we all have the same destination. I’ve been there, and I’ll tell you: it ain’t that great!”
“It’s what we do before the end that matters.” muttered Lionel.
“My kind are short-lived and don’t like wasting what little time we have obsessing over the end. It’ll be here soon enough for all of us. Might as well get the most out of it while you can.”
“It is time,” announced Jon Fung, popping his be speckled and mustachioed face into the storage room and back out again.
“Right away,” said Franklin, giving his trumpet a quick toot.
“Me-me-me-meeee,” warmed up Lionel, preparing his voice for an hour-long set.
The two rushed ahead and Maddy followed. She walked out of the room quiet and pensive, shutting off the light behind her.
And at exactly 1,000 words, I feel like I am on a roll. Enjoy!