The Ta-Da Girlby Terese Svoboda
I have no experience in anything so I can do anything, a logic that lets me dial up every Want Ad and say sweetly whatever they want. I feed their want and then pull back, I have talent, just what in isn’t settled, and I can type but who wants to? Besides, I have a dog I support, I need to work short expensive hours so he won’t be left alone and go wild.
I’ve already answered the photo model’s ad, an interview where they look at you—what they?—it is one guy with a beard that hides even his eyes, who says Now let’s see what you have and I wonder what I have and feel for my wallet in my back jeans pocket but no, that’s not what I have. Top, he says and flicks his pen up over his clipboard at my chest. I obey, just like that, like this is normal—I pull up my top and he says Off and I obey because after all, it is photography that the ad said they were doing. I am still naive enough—no, vain enough—to have thought that it was my face the ad wanted. The rest, he says and I do that too, I unbuckle and push the rest down and he laughs when I stop at the knees, when I don’t pull the pants off. Next, he says, like there are more waiting who can do so much better.
I can do better too.
But now I am wary about any ad that insists on anything other than a morning appointment and this one interviews only at night time, this appointment’s at nine. I wear a tucked-in shirt and a thick sweater and bring my dog. Like the photographer’s studio, there is no line of applicants. I wait anyway, holding my nearly blank resume. We are getting hungry, the dog and I. Will babysitting count as being able to hold an audience? That’s all they say they need in the ad.
The two guys like the dog and ask its name. Art—Fine Art—I tell them and they say Student? and I have to nod like I am caught. They speak Lithuanian or something to each other I can’t catch and aren’t so much older than I am. The one with nimble hands signals the other to stack chairs in a corner. Both are well-muscled and show it in wife-beaters, a fashion that no one I know chooses. We stand behind curtains in an empty theater and my dog flops down beside me, ears forward, his eyes on the chair handler.
You see, you take three of them, he says, and he locks the legs of one chair into the legs of the other two into little no-see-um slots, until one chair is stacked and sticks out from the other, then all five of them, and he twirls all of them together on one of the legs.
The other guy steps away from the twirling chairs, almost into the dog. Nice dog, he says to its growl, and then he jumps into the top chair and the other one jumps on top of him and balances himself up-side-down on the other’s hands, twirling.
My mother forbids me to waitress.
The dog is silent, in shock, until they start to twirl sticks.
I tie the dog to a post outside while a horror movie Don’t do that backs into my head. They are still twirling when I return, but slower, tossing a burning stick between them.
Have you ever worked in a bathing suit? asks the first one after he dismounts—this is the only word for how they separate while the chairs rock to a stop.
All one summer I say, at a pool.
If you want the job, you’ll have to wear one. He doesn’t look me in the eye when he says it. They’re over there.
The dog barks outside while I finger its sequins.
The other one says, forget the costume, just try stacking the chairs. We have only thirty seconds here. You know—the audience. He points toward the curtain. No mistakes.
The chairs are so light. I fit them together quickly, I twirl them.
They come apart fast.
One of them collects the furthest flung chair and sits on it. Patience, he says like he means something else. You don’t want us to fail.
That’s when I notice he’s all nerves, that those muscles are twitching. It’s as if he can’t stop moving.
The dog’s barking louder.
I want to ask, What happened to your last girl? But I try stacking again. The nervous one gives me a nervous smile. This time I’m good but I take too long.
The other comes over and stretches out my arm as if it’s a yardstick inspection. I get it, I say, I stretch out the other and say Ta-da!
He claps, but the nervous one barely waits for the chairs to stop spinning before making me do it again.
The lights get hot, warns the other one.
I feel the lights, the glare on my sequins-to-be, the applause like it’s all for me.
I’ll do it, I say. How much an hour? The ad didn’t say.
Depends on your experience, says the one again on the chairs. We’ll call you, says the other.
They are very cute, the way they wave together, spinning, the other jumping onto the chairs again.
I practice throwing my hand out in front of the mirror. I tell the dog we’ll work him in. I dream of mirrored balls, chairs that fall and men who hit the walls. I crawl off the stage while they lie kayoed, the centrifugal and all the chairs’ secret slots fully female.
I press my breast-tips into the audience.
Two days later, I find an ad for a pretzel vendor. The dog interviews too and this job we get, but even there, in the early afternoon on the stairs to the subway, a man walks up and kisses me.
Terese Svoboda's Trailer Girl and Other Stories will be out in paperback this fall. Her fifth novel, Pirate Talk or Mermelade, will be published in 2010.