March 26, 2010
A Story by Blazenka Brysha
“Did you or did you not say: ‘Piss off, you little shit!’?” the magistrate asked, repeating his question.
From his vantage point as the accused, Trevor could see everyone in the courtroom. He looked at the six year-old child to whom he was supposed to have said this. The kid sat there with a bag of sweets in his lap, stuffing one lolly after another into his mouth and entertaining himself by surreptitiously kicking and punching the little girl who sat beside him. She was hitting him straight back. Their mothers were too engrossed in the proceedings to notice the children’s antics.
“I might have said that,” Trevor replied after some thought.
The magistrate went straight on, “And did you lift up that same child, Bradley Ecks, who is here in this court, and hold him over your head near the railing on the second level at Southland Shopping Centre and say, ‘Does action man want to take a shortcut to the lower level?’?”
“Yes,” answered Trevor, getting a bit flustered, “but only if he didn’t stop poking me with that sharp toy, the action figure thing, which is what I wanted to throw downstairs.”
When he was charged, Trevor hadn’t bothered to get Legal Aid because he thought he would not need it. He assumed that he would get justice by just sticking to the truth.
Yes, he had spoken, perhaps a little strongly, to the child who had persecuted him; and yes, he had threatened that same child, but it was done in self defence, after the child had repeatedly assaulted him. Trevor had already attempted to tell the court the whole story, so he resented the way the magistrate concentrated only on the bits that supported the charges.
When Trevor first started as a walkaround character with Henry’s CharactersTM, he liked the work better than he had expected. Dressing up as a chook, rabbit or bush animal and going about in public was closer to his training, as a dancer, than any other paid employment that necessity and Centrelink had forced him into, up to now. Donning the padded suits even inspired a new project, Outer Space, Inner Self, in which he combined various street styles of dance to examine human insignificance in the digitized age. It was a collaboration with a VJ friend who was good at getting small grants. They performed it in a dilapidated dance space, mainly to their friends, who really liked it, some even joining in.
After only six months with Henry’s, Trev was promoted to solo operator, when the company’s resources were stretched to the limit in fulfilling the promotion contract for the “Poss Possum” chocolate bar.
Trev liked the idea of spreading fun and chocolates. In practice, it was a tough gig appearing daily at four different shopping centres, for an hour at each. Although there was no Worksafe ruling on how long the stifling, cumbersome suit could be worn at one time, it was generally accepted in the trade that anything over 90 minutes could be seriously harmful.
But the work was not just hard, it was also thankless. So Trev found as he wobbled his big, foam-padded possum self towards a stroller, holding out a “Poss” bar for the little occupant, who unexpectedly shrieked in fear. As if that wasn’t enough, the mother would start screaming, “Get away from my baby! Can’t you see you’re making her cry?”
Mostly, the mothers apologised for their babies’ wailing.
“I’m sorry but he’s afraid of dogs,” one mother told him.
So much for all the effort he had put into developing his possum persona. He abandoned his marsupial head movements, which consisted of turning his neck sharply, then freezing in a stare. It had looked so good in the mirror at home, especially as the costume had high quality glass eyes. The wearer looked through concealed slits, positioned for human eyes.
By the time Trev got into his scrape at Southland, he had been doing “Poss” for nearly a month.
The combined effect of the school holidays and the mid-year sales, put both the shoppers and retailers on edge.
“Everyone just pushed and shoved,” Trevor had told the court. “It was hard going, I can tell you.”
But even at a quiet time Trev would not have been comfortable in a shopping mall. He was not a consumer and despised the religion of shopping, its places of worship and seasonal rituals. Trev didn’t mention any of this, just in case it cut across the magistrate’s beliefs.
He also didn’t mention the bit about nearly incinerating himself, which really added to his stress on that day.
He had wanted a smoke but couldn’t go outside because a walkaround character was never allowed to take off the costume head in public. It was one of the unbreakable rules of this commercial performance genre. Trev’s only option for privacy was the loos, although they were also part of the smoke-free complex. To his credit, Trev had considered trying to squeeze himself into his car in the carpark but he knew he wouldn’t fit without removing the suit. So, he had no choice.
Seated in a cubicle, his possum head on the floor beside his basket of chocolates, Trev puffed away peacefully. He didn’t notice a lumpy, burning bit of tobacco drop from the tip of his rollie. Suddenly the cubicle was full of smoke and Trevor was on his feet belting his smouldering sleeve with his bare hand. The sprinklers came on just as he reached down for his head and his basket. Hurried on by the ringing fire alarm, he brushed down his wet fur, which now stank, straightened his false head and made his way back into the crowd.
The costume was just singed over a large area but his nerves had been fried to a crisp. Although he wanted to get out of the place, he still had a lot of bars to give away. Experience had taught him that the best way to get rid of them, apart from dumping them at intersections when the lights changed, was to mooch along, ignoring everyone. That way he was never confused with collectors from the Wilderness Society, who dressed as koalas and carried buckets for donations.
The fear of being asked for donations blinded people to the difference between the limp, daggy koala suits whose hooded headpieces did not even hide the face of the wearer, and a state of the art, fully-sculptured costume like Trevor’s.
As he ambled along the walkways surrounding the cavernous atrium, children dipped their hands into his basket. His heavy suit was getting hotter and hotter.
It was from this point that Trev picked up his story for the magistrate. “I was nearly finished, so, I started heading off in the direction of an exit. I felt a sharp jab in my leg. I looked down and I saw that boy.”
He indicated the child, who was now sprawled across two seats and swinging his legs to kick the backrest of the seats in front of him.
“You mean Bradley Ecks?”
“Yes,” Trevor answered. “So I gave him some chocolates and some to that girl, too.”
Once again, the magistrate spoke, “You mean Cantrella Timms?”
Trevor turned his eyes to the girl. She was upside down on her seat, her legs against the backrest.
“Yes.” Trev was doing his best to play along. “Anyway, I tried to go but the boy just kept jabbing me with his hard plastic toy. As I gave him even more chocolates, the girl poured her drink on my foot.
“Then, as I looked around to see who was with these kids, the boy tried to set my tail on fire. He had taken my lighter from my pocket and was lighting it. I grabbed my lighter and tried to walk away but the kid jabbed me again. That’s when I told him off, which I shouldn’t have done because a proper walkaround character must never speak.”
“Why not?” asked the magistrate, intrigued by this legally gratuitous detail.
“It’s one of the rules. Speaking breaks the illusion.”
Trevor found it impossible to go on about the rest of what happened. He didn’t remember anything except the boy’s face as he held him up beside the railing. Having spent many hours hoisting dance partners into the air, Trev was used to hurling much bigger bodies about; picking up the child took no effort and it certainly got the kid’s respectful attention. Then someone screamed. Trev put the boy back on the ground and was nearly out the door when the security guard caught him.
Although the children’s mothers had not seen the disturbance because they were trying on clothes in an adjacent shop, there were more than a dozen witnesses statements against Trevor.
He was glad to have his boss, Libby Henry, vouch for him in person. She was highly groomed and wore a suit instead of her usual jeans. Trevor also dressed more formally for his day in court, donning a jacket that he bought specially the day before at the op shop. At the last minute he had decided against wearing his silk tie because it had The Cat in the Hat on it, which may have given the wrong impression. Libby had not removed the over-sized spider ring that she usually wore on the index finger of her right hand. She also did not tone down her bright lipstick. Although she was twenty years Trevor’s senior, she had retained a lithe body. No one would have been surprised to learn that she had been a Vegas showgirl and was a veteran of Disneyland.
She told the court, “Trevor was a reliable member of our Bush Friends troupe, especially as Barry, the Tasmanian Devil. I had been thinking of training him as The Count, one of our most popular children’s party characters. When all this fuss occurred, I had to suspend him from public appearances.
“But I think he’d been through a lot. The possum costume was ruined. It cost about $2,000; it’s very high quality. Going by the singe mark on it, Trevor would have been badly burnt, if it wasn’t made from fire-retardant fibre. However, between the burn mark and the soaking, it was quite wrecked. I had to make an insurance claim.
“I find it impossible to believe he meant the child any harm. He gets on very well with my dog, Petal, and Petal is never wrong about people.”
Hearing this, Bradley’s mother rolled her eyes and Cantrella’s mother stopped chewing her gum momentarily.
Under the circumstances, Trevor was grateful for Petal’s good opinion, especially since he had inadvertently nearly killed the dog by feeding it chocolate during the “Poss Possum” training programme. Boxes and boxes of “Poss” bars had been delivered for the promotion and everyone was getting into them. Trevor was having one after another and Petal sat transfixed in front of him. It made Trevor feel bad, knowing that the dog really wanted some. Petal was a small, hairy male and the only silly thing about him was his name. Trevor soon broke under the dog’s gaze and he gave him some of the chocolate. Then he gave him a little more and before long they were going fifty-fifty. It gave Trev a gut-ache and probably one to Petal, as well, since the dog vomited a litre of chocolate sludge on the carpet in Libby’s office. It made her very angry and she marched about demanding to know who fed Petal the chocolate and didn’t they know that chocolate can kill a dog? Trevor said nothing but felt, at the time, that it could kill him, too.
The magistrate glanced over his notes, preparing to finish the case.
He addressed Trevor, “Has it occurred to you how traumatic it must have been for a child to be lifted up like that?”
Trevor could imagine that it could be for some children but in little Brad’s case, it was merely enough to bring him to reason. However, Trev tried to appear as if he could suddenly see the magistrate’s point. He cast his eyes down, he stiffened his lips, he glanced up to make eye contact with the magistrate, for a second packed with remorse. All those years of dance training to become physically articulate now paid off. And Trevor was actually sorry: he was sorry to be caught up in this; he was sorry that he had to work in a ridiculous job that found him in settings he despised, surrounded by people he loathed. Yes, he was sorry.
“Nevertheless,” continued the magistrate, “I can see that you were put under extreme pressure. You reacted impulsively but without malicious intent.”
He put Trevor on a six-month good behaviour bond, with the condition that he was to get counselling for stress management.
Winding up the session, the magistrate spoke directly to the children, “You will pick up all those lolly wrappers on the floor before you go.”
The children ignored the order, leaving the clean-up to their mothers, who only picked up the biggest bits of rubbish.
On her way to the bin, the boy’s mother managed to tell Trevor, “You should have been put away!”
Outside, he caught up with Libby and thanked her. She pressed her lips together and nodded.
“Did you really want to train me as The Count?”
The question surprised her.
“Get real! You can’t handle six year-olds at Southland. The kids that want The Count at their parties would wash down their sushi with your blood.”
In the distance, Bradley and Cantrella bashed each other as their mothers talked beside their four-wheel drives.
“So there’s no work for me?” Trevor asked, to cover up his embarrassment at his naivety. He realised that Libby’s motive was to protect her business name.
“Not where children are involved. I’m sorry. But I might have something else,” she went on, guardedly. “I’m developing a Fred and Ginger thing with a show band for big functions. A couple of the girls would be good – Jenni, Lauren.”
“Jenni was my pas de deux partner at college!” Trevor blurted out.
“Also, I thought we could bring it up to date and go into a street thing…”
Now Trevor was excited, “Oh, cool. You haven’t even seen my street side!”
“I think I have. You mean that hip hop shuffle routine you were doing when you should have been cleaning out the store room?
“Need a lift?” she asked. Parking was tight and very expensive in that area. Trevor had trammed it. “Petal’s in the car. Don’t feed him anything, OK!”