And They Call It Puppet Love
Monday through Friday, from eleven to five, Harry did two fifteen-minute shows an hour. His cast included three different puppets: Wooffuss the Dog, Little Betty Ann, and Vito the Voice who closed each show with impersonations of cartoon characters. He did his show in a sunken court where weary parents rested while energetic children ran up and down wide, carpeted tiers. Once the show started, the children sat down and interacted with the puppets.
Opposite the stage was a soap store. Every day for the last two weeks, a woman in a green apron made her way to the display table by the entrance to arrange, rearrange, or dust the bars, jars, and boxes of soap just as Harry was starting his two-thirty show. He caught her chuckling at one of Wooffuss the Dog’s jokes, a joke she had already heard a dozen or so times. It endeared her to Harry.
One afternoon he saw the woman in the green apron holding a hinge-topped box in her palm. She opened and closed the lid like the box was talking. Her eyes met his. She dropped the box to the display table and turned away.
Harry wanted to tell her not to be embarrassed but a group of kids wanted pictures taken with the puppets. Harry always obliged. It wasn’t just the kids stopping him from approaching the woman. He found it difficult to discuss his life as a ventriloquist. No one ever understood it was a career, not a hobby. Why could he talk through a puppet but couldn’t find a voice to say hello to the woman in the soap store? The last thing he wanted to do was hide behind his puppets.
‘Monday,’ he told himself. ‘You’re going over there to say hello.’
Harry did his grocery shopping on Saturday mornings. The evenings were spent doing a more adult version of his act involving puppets named Dr. Prude, Mal Ware the Malicious Worm, and Rude Paul. His life was a juggling act: Kid shows weekdays; adult shows weekends. Fingers crossed he never confused the two.
“I can help the next person in line over here,” a woman at a register said.
Harry moved his cart to the newly opened aisle. He was putting his items up on the belt when he heard someone use one of his jokes. There was no one behind him so when he turned, it surprised him to be looking at the woman from the soap store. She now wore a red apron while she worked the register.
She smiled and made her hand like a talking fist by moving her thumb knuckle up and down. She tried throwing her voice without moving her lips.
“Hi, Harry. I’m Dawn.”
“Dawn! So that’s your name!” Harry said.
She kept trying to use her hand as a puppet. Instead of throwing her voice, she spoke out of the side of her mouth. “Yes it is. I’ve been practicing at home in front of a mirror. How am I doing?”
“Don’t quit your day job...unless you did and now you work here.”
“Two jobs. Paying my way through school. I want to be a pediatric nurse. Watching how you work with those kids each day gave me the idea I could reach out to kids who need someone to talk to about what they’re going through.”
“Exactly. Only problem is the nursing school doesn’t offer classes in puppetry. And you already saw I need help.”
“I could teach you.”
“That would be wonderful. When could we start? Tonight? My shift ends at five.”
“Can’t. I have a show at the Laugh Loft. It’s a little more adultish show than the one I do at the mall.”
“What time? I’d love to see it. For pointers.”
“I go on at nine.”
“Sounds awesome. Can I bring my boyfriend?”
“I’m joking, Harry. I don’t have a boyfriend. Yet.”
“You got me. I’ll leave a pass at the door.”
Harry balled his fist into his own hand puppet. Speaking with a French accent, Harry said, “I will teach you the ways of the puppet.”
Dawn held up her hand puppet. “Merci!” She pressed the side of her puppet’s mouth against his puppet’s mouth and made smooching sounds until a customer behind Harry announced her ice cream was melting.
“That’s my cue!” Harry bowed.
After all the ridicule he endured for being a ventriloquist, Harry found it refreshing that it had been the puppets his friends mocked that brought the two of them together.
And it wasn’t even Monday.