The sidewalks were slushy, gray with dirt and grime. The streets slicked black and the temps were fighting through the thirties. I yanked my overcoat tightly as I arrived at SL Tax Prep.
Today was not going to be fun.
But as say in the biz, the show must go on. After all, I was a performer first, and so a little snow, ice, or slush wasn’t going to stop me from bringing them in. Last tax season I’d taken this gig in a slump. Calling it a slump this season was putting it nicely.
I performed in the lot from nine to three with a few breaks to thaw out, slug down some terrible coffee, and bang the feeling back into my hands. All for sixty bucks a day.
I never liked the robe, or the spikey crown. But if lady liberty could do it then so could i.
Give me your tired, your poor, your penalized WII’s.
Was it shady that the tax company paid me in cash? Yes, yes it was. And I took it and didn’t ask questions. I wore my crown, my gown, and I danced, sang, did everything in my classically trained repertoire to lure the people into SL TAX Prep.
And sometimes it worked. Other times, not so much.
I’d had trash hurled at me. I’ve been robbed. I’ve been insulted in ways I never thought possible. Not once, in high school, when I was onstage quoting Shakespeare, did I picture myself ducking a beer bottle hurled by some redneck truck passenger calling me a queen. Well, I wasn’t going to be run off that easily. The show must go on.
Besides, people weren’t totally heartless. I’ve been tipped on occasion. I’ve been given a bouquet of flowers, hot chocolate, one time someone once tossed a twenty at my feet. Hmm, that was a good day.
But this morning, as I walked inside, Carol glanced up from her computer and nearly gasped before she set a pitiful smile to her chubby face.
“Hi Carol.” Usually we might discuss theater, what books we were reading. We played name that tune on Fridays, one of us humming while the other tried to guess. Not today. Carol only blinked several times and set her head back to the screen.
She looked up and opened her mouth as Harold walked out from his office. “Tom, uh, could you…” He nodded towards his door. In my short time at SL Tax, Harold had never found the time to finish a sentence
“Sure,” I said, glancing back to Carol who again buried her doughy eyes in her screen. “Let me grab my gown.”
By then Carol was openly crying. It was three minutes until nine. I grabbed my gown from the hook in the back, throwing it over my coat and smoothing out the bulk. I still wanted a chance to run over my lines. I’d been working on a song, sort of a showtune, I wanted to try out today.
“Well, uh, it’s…” Harold looked off, fixed his shirt sleeves. “It’s… we’ve received a new financial plan, something to help us, uh… eliminate waste. Cut cost and that sort of thing if you…”
I nodded, wondering what he was getting at. Costs. Waste. I thought about poor Carol, at her computer hardly able to hold it together. The bell to the front door clanged as it opened. A man in overalls stopped and looked around, the slush from his boots puddling on the floor.
“Wavy Man delivery.”
Carol met the man a funereal nod. I looked back at Harold, whose chest rose with his heavy breath. “I’m afraid we have to… we can keep your contact info, if you know, something were to…”
I jumped to my feet. “What’s going on? Wait, I’m the waste?”
Outside, another man in overalls worked to untangle a pile of colorful plastic. A few honks at the intersection and then a humming sound.
Harold hemmed and hawed behind me. “It’s just, well the insurance on someone at the curb, it’s a safety risk and besides, the Wavy Man stands a hundred feet and so the visibility…”
Carol blew her nose. The man in the overalls looked around, holding the clipboard as though it were a grenade. He glanced at my gown. “Oh.”
Oh was right. I glared at Harold. His face was flushed and strained. “I’m being replaced, by a…” I looked out to the figure waggling to life before my eyes. Up and up it went, patriotic stars and stripes catching the wind and weaving from one side to the next. It even had its own crown.
Harold shook his head. “Tom, I’m sorry. As I said, this came down from….
I didn’t have to listen to this any longer. I fixed the crown upon my head and stomped out the door, my weathered and tattered garments waving in the wind. I marched directly to the man fiddling with the little compressor. He looked me over with a small smirk. I wondered how many times he’d seen this exact scenario play out.
But my anger froze as I watched the vinyl monstrosity slow traffic. Car stopped. A crowd formed. Suddenly everyone was disregarding green lights and right of ways, I saw the gleeful smile of the kids in windows. I watched the parents pointing, the people laughing at the animated inanimate object. It was nothing more than vinyl and plastic, simply air and color. It couldn’t sing, play piano, recite Homer. It only wiggled.
And that was it. I returned to SL Tax Prep, climbed the stairs and removed the gown. Carol sobbed and offered me bus fare, but I only held my chin high as Orestes came to mind. “This, the last time I talk with you ever…”
And the phone rang. The man in the overalls shrugged and turned for the door. A car pulled into the parking lot and Harold fixed his shirt. “Very well, but… he motioned to the crown. “We uh, need that too.”
I removed the crown and lay it on Carol’s desk as she scrolled through the calendar to make an appointment. She never looked up as I turned for the door and made my exit.
And so it was. My last performance.