The day the parade came to town was the best day of my life. I remember jostling through the crowd to reach the front, before begging my mother to lift me onto her shoulders to get a better look.
My idols were even more beautiful than I’d dreamed. Seven angels floating by in seven glistening glass boxes. Each girl wore a different coloured dress – the colours of the rainbow. Every time they struck a new pose, their arms twisting and torsos bending into the most elegant shapes imaginable, the crowd let out a collective gasp.
“Aren’t they amazing, Mother?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “They’re very lucky.”
“She’s just like me!” I said, pointing at the redhead girl in the green dress.
Her smile was so sweet and pure, and I wished that someday I would feel that happy, so I could smile like that all day.
“I’m going to be one of them!” I said, drawing amused looks from the crowd.
My mother reached up and stroked my hand. “It’s a lovely dream, Katie.”
“I mean it. I’m getting out of this town.”
The crowd teased at the idea of a girl like me making it as an idol. If only I’d taken it to heart, then maybe I wouldn’t have ended up trapped… a prisoner of my dreams.
But instead I watched until the idol with red hair disappeared around the corner of the old brewery ‒ the heady scent of malted barley floating on the breeze ‒ planning how I was going to become her.
Everybody I knew back then is dead now. The streets of my childhood town are lined with unfamiliar faces. A new generation of children sit upon their parents’ shoulders, gawping in awe as we roll by.
If I could speak, if I thought they’d hear me through the glass, I’d try to save them from this hell. But the glass is too thick, and my vocal cords are wrecked from the chemicals our handlers use to preserve our aging bodies, so any attempt would be pointless. Even if I could still talk, my face muscles are too weak to crack the lacquer they use to fix my phony smile. My legs tremble beneath my skirt as I strain to hold my pose. There was a time when maintaining the perfect pose, in the stifling heat of the box, and under the crushing weight of the dress, was a challenge I relished. But that game soon grew old. Like me.
The girl who dragged her mother along to parade all those years ago feels like a fictional character from a far-off land, a deadbeat town beyond my tank.
Without warning, we hook a left at the brewery, leaving the crowds, before stopping in front of a blue door in the side of the building. The door bursts open, and a young redhead girl runs out. She circles my box, caressing her prize. The handlers surround me, open the box door, and yank me out. I plead, silently, through tear-filled eyes for the other idols to help me, but they won’t, they can’t.
Two handlers hook a hand under my armpits and drag me through the door and down a dark staircase. The bitter aroma of burnt hops intensifies as we descend, and my perfect memory of riding high on my mother’s shoulders, her coarse brown hair laced between my fingers, marvelling at my idols, plays over and over.
The day the parade came to town was the best day of my life.
And it always will be.
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