The Worst Girl's Best Day
It was Fresh Family Farms day. I was a pig on hind legs, a woolly pink giant, but the girl’s mother wanted a picture. She posed us in front of the 60-roll packs of toilet paper. I did my friendliest pig pose: one hoof resting lightly on the girl’s shoulder, the other perched on my flank.
As we waited for her to take our picture, a short, round woman tried to get my attention. “Where do y’all hide the Meow Munch?” Spirals of hair sprang from her head like question marks.
The girl’s mother fussed with the zoom.
“You hear me?” asked the spiral-haired woman. There was something softer than New England in her voice.
In my cheeriest cartoon voice, I gave my line: “Oink, oink, the freshest pork comes from Fresh Family Farms.”
The woman raised her eyebrows.
Click! Finally. I looked down at the little girl beside me. I did a dance, hoping for a real smile. My headpiece tumbled back, then forward. It sailed off snout-first, smacking her forehead. It landed on the floor, near tubs of grape jelly.
She did one of those little-girl shrieks. The warehouse went silent. The only sound was the whoosh of automatic doors leading to the parking lot. Every time they opened, the Connecticut winter blew in.
Her mother yanked her away, like I was dangerous. I get that a lot. I’m big, you see. Tall, but it’s more than that: I’m hefty. Large. I’m a big girl, the worst kind of girl you can be. So I like costumes. I’ve been an Oscar Meyer wiener, a Vlassic pickle, Heinz ketchup. I used to be the Dole pineapple, but since the recession I’m usually cheaper fruit.
The mother shouted, “What’s your name?”
Ger-ry Gi-ant: the old playground chant was in my ears.
They stormed off, the mother holding a bag of frozen peas to her daughter’s face.
Watching all this was the short, spiral-haired woman. “They’ve got you dressed as a farm animal,” she said.
“I didn’t — did I? Hurt her?”
“She’ll hate pigs for a while, she’ll get over it.” She had the sort of face I trust: plain features, wrinkles underway, gray twisting out from the temples.
“I bet it’s an interesting story, the one that ends with you working here, dressed as a pig.”
She laughed, her body soft as a jack-o-lantern weeks past Halloween. “Oh, honey,” she managed finally. “That’s obvious. I bet you need every inch you got. Takes a long view and a little insulation, some days.” She sighed and patted her rump. “You gonna show me where this cat food is?”
But then Rick, the Assistant Manager, arrived trailed by the mother and her daughter, stumbling to keep up. The peas were too low on her forehead, covering her eyes.
“Gerry, what did you do?” Rick’s face bloomed with outrage.
The girl shoved the peas out of her way and glared up with just the slightest… smirk?
“My hands are tied, Gerry,” Rick said, and he held his wrists together as if they really were.
I unzipped the Fresh Family Farms costume. It fell in a pool at my feet.
“Go change in the back,” said Rick. “You had a future here, Gerry.”
I pushed back my shoulders, like Rick always nagged. (He was five-foot-eight, what did he know?) I kicked the costume over to him. “Whatever I had here, Rick, it wasn’t a future.”
The short, spiral-haired woman snorted her approval. Rick snatched up my costume and left, followed again by the mother and daughter. I heard Rick apologizing.
“I’m Ms. K,” the woman said to me. “You’re big, but are you strong? I got a place up north, cat sanctuary. Just lost my strongest guy. You get four of those fifty-pound bags of Meow Munch in my van and you’re hired. You like animals? Just not pigs, maybe?”
“That’s my girl,” Ms. K said, patting me on the ass because she couldn’t reach any higher. Usually I don’t like being touched, especially by short people. But, like I said, she had the sort of face I trust.
I loaded her cart and followed her to a van in the parking lot. It was brown with a bubble window. Both sides had white hand-lettering: Khrystal’s Kitty Korral.
As she unlocked the rear doors, it occurred to me that regular women know better than to follow strangers into vans. But it’s the one advantage of my size, being a less likely target.
I heaved a bag of Meow Munch into the van and pointed out her company’s unfortunate acronym. “Good Lord,” she yelped, “KKK! How’d I miss that? See, I need you.”
Ms. K’s van wasn’t dangerous, just in need of a wash. She told me to leave my car behind for now, ride with her.
“I take the bus,” I said. “Had to sell my car a while back.”
Ms. K looked at me and I hoped she understood: Things were bad.
As Ms. K drove, the commercial boulevard fell away to depressed suburbs, then just the occasional trailer set back from the road. Roofs sagged with old snow. Windows displayed hearts for Valentine’s Day. Hope gets us all through.
“I won’t feel sorry for you,” said Ms. K. Her spirals bounced with the ruts in the road. “But I’d like to hear that story of yours.” Ms. K kept her foot on the gas, even when we hit ice. She understood momentum.
So I told her. How I used to be Gerry Giant. How there was no one I needed to call. How I already missed that costume, but had everything essential with me.
My words bubbled up, then evaporated. For the rest of that day I was happy. Happier. Ms. K drove me towards whatever was next. My past shrank to nothing in the rearview.