Niagara Falls All Over Again

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Book: Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth McCracken
Tags: Fiction
the punch line she looked up, all smiles. A guy named Ben Savant was her straight man, a dark-hearted rogue trying to talk her into a kiss. Basically it was a Dumb Dora act.
Mimi, what do your parents do at night? They put out the cat. Well, what does your father do in the morning? He lets in the cat. No, no: forget about the cat, the cat’s run away from home. Wa-ahah!
    She carried an enormous lollipop that, though she only mimed licking it, got somehow sticky anyhow and picked up pieces of fluff, so it had to be replaced every few days. (If she’d kept the cellophane on, the stage lights would have flashed off.) The act was mostly Savant leering and her acting innocent. Like so many things, funny then, unacceptable now. His suit was as black as his mustache, which was as black as his hat; her blond hair matched her dress. Only the lollipop was lively.
    I had a habit of watching other acts from the wings; green as I was, someone else’s talent could cheer me up. It was the only thing that did. That Saturday night, I saw Mimi and Savant lay ’em in the aisles, which was almost as interesting as their transformation as they stepped off the stage. Savant was a kid, probably not much older than me, and his villainous mustache was blackened cotton wool spirit gummed to his upper lip. “Hot,” he said to me, peeling it off. He stuck it in my hand, like he was tipping a bellboy. Miriam followed. Up close you could see she was no kid. I figured she was at least ten years older than me. You could see how wide her real mouth was, blotted out with pancake, a tiny cupid’s bow pout painted over it like a ribbon on a wreath. Same with her nose: it was a fair-sized hook, but she had it shaded into buttonhood. I’m sure it was convincing from the house. As Mimi, lost child, she kept her eyes wide open, her upper lashes hitting the bottom of her eyebrows; she applied the mascara with a heated pin, to make it thick. Each lash ended in a round ball, like a drawing of a crown in a children’s picture book. It must have been an effort to keep so wide-eyed, because in real life she had the heavy-lidded look of a vamp, sleepy and cynical. The lids came down the minute the curtain did.
    She noticed me clutching another guy’s used mustache and smiled. One of her incisors had come in crooked; it made her look extra delighted.
    â€œHello, son,” she said. “Hungry?”
    I shrugged. Six months on the road alone had made me a lousy conversationalist. Miriam didn’t care.
    â€œCome to dinner,” she said.
    I shrugged again.
    â€œYou’re about to be handed your pictures,” she said accurately. “I’m offering you a free meal. Don’t be dumb.” She extended her hand, and I took it, and she dragged me across the street to a Chinese restaurant, my first. Dark red walls and dark green booths, Chinese tchotchkes everywhere, and a woman dressed as a toddler who sat across the table and seemed to be flirting with me. Despite the costume, I couldn’t reconcile the kid who skipped onstage with this languid creature.
    â€œHey, boy wonder,” Miriam said.
    â€œWho, me?”
    She’d filled in the rest of her lips the minute we sat down; now they matched the scarlet rickrack that trimmed our emerald-green booth. Her elbows were on the tabletop, her hips all the way back on the seat. Though I could not see down her high-necked dress, somehow I felt like I could. “I collect boy wonders,” she said.
    â€œLike your partner?”
    â€œBen? Ben has a crush on the saxophone player.”
    I tried to remember a lady saxophone player.
    â€œDon’t look so shocked!” she said, though at the moment I wasn’t. “He’s a nice boy. They all are.”
    So then I began to get shocked. But she reached across the table and fingered a button on my jacket cuff. She smoked. She swore. An old-timer, she’d been playing six years old for ten years.

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