FICTION November 1, 2013

Little Miss Bird-in-Hand

A Little Miss engages in chromatic complexity

Here’s something. The voice, like any acoustic instrument, has its own special chambers for resonating the tone of a vocally produced sound. Once the tone is produced through the vibration of vocal cords, it moves in and through the open resonating chambers, activating the four primary resonances: the chest, the mouth, the nasal mask, and the head.

To aid in understanding this occurrence metaphorically, one might think of these various resonances as vocal colors that exist in a continuous spectrum, from dark or “chest resonance” to light or “head/nasal resonance.” The objective in singing is to have command of all the colors of this resonant spectrum. This command allows the singer a greater range of emotional phrasing and creates a tone that is pleasing to both singer and listener.

Imagine now, how a young girl formally diagnosed with sound to color synesthesia might have experienced this phenomenon as twelve female voices (ranging from contralto to coloratura soprano) vibrated in unison and filled the Munificent Order of the Sons of the Frontier Lodge assembly hall with sound.

Sweetie Dillinger, contestant seven, watched the assembly hall explode with color as the contestants sang the Little Miss Bird-in-Hand County pageant-opening anthem. Technicolor swirled from each girl’s mouth and pirouetted into the crowd. The room shifted and swayed as the hues changed gradient, pulsing like a kaleidoscope. Sweetie mutely mouthed the lyrics so she could focus on the lilts from indigo to chartreuse, orange to emerald.

At the other end of the stage, Sweetie noticed a brilliant red bubbling from Contestant Twelve, the newest girl, Gray. The sound rushed up like oxygen-rich blood rising from a wound and spilled onto the stage. It covered the floor like soft petals. At the end of the song, Sweetie leaned down and wiped her hand on the stage floor. Nothing there. She giggled blue and green.


“If I could change the world in one small way…”

ARABELLA TORNABENE: I would make sure Little Miss Bird-In-Hand County continues to provide Bird-In-Hand County youths with opportunities for scholarships, as well as social and moral advancement.

CLEM SALTHOUSE: I would rescue stray dogs and cats or any animal that needed to be rescued.  Baby birds, wounded rabbits or squirrels, motherless deer babies. Any baby animal, really.

JUNIE-RAE WRIGHT: I would probably try to hold doors open for old people or, like, people in wheel chairs. You know, people with needs.

DARLENE TARKINGTON: I would recycle more.

CHARLENE TARKINGTON: I would recycle more.

REENA DAWKINS: I would teach little kids to play instruments. Any instrument they wanted. Even the triangle.


ESTHER GLIN: I would encourage physical fitness among our county’s most sedentary citizens.

SHIRA WHITEEAGLE: I would help the poor by setting up a monthly food drive.

KATIE DUCKWORTH: I would set up a tutoring service for young girls.

DEEDEE WESSEL-FINK: I wouldn’t…because I’d change it in a big way.

GRAY LIGHTLY: I would build more people that could go out and help those who are
lonely or sick or afraid.

GRIFF KLINGHORN JR.: …Build? Do you mean hire?


On branches of the Tornabene family tree

Arabella Tornabene’s great-great-grandmother, Clothilde Cloutier was a storied dancer. From burlesque to ballet, Clothilde could do it all. They called her the White Sylph, and she danced her way to America in 1924. She married three times, unhappily, the third time to Patricio Tornabene, the man who captured her for good. They had nine children, and her fourth son, Giancarlo, was Arabella’s great-grandfather. None of the Tornabene children knew of their mother’s past life. To them, Clothilde was the tired woman who cooked their food, drew their baths, and kissed their foreheads before bed. They never knew that their mother loved her children less than she loved dancing. The morning of the day Clothilde died, she tried to put on her favorite point shoes but they no longer fit. She was buried with her shoes and her secrets.


The Little Miss Bird-in-Hand County Swimsuit Competition: a logistical record

9 one-piece suits
3 bikinis
437 polka dots
91 stripes
120 painted toenails
1 undiagnosed heart murmur
1 pair of glasses
2 sets of contact lenses
4 sets of shaved legs
1 set of identical twins
3 mouths full of braces
2 cases of scoliosis
206 titanium die-cast bone replicants
804 screws
37 bolts
160 aluminum pulleys
1 autonomous kinetic energy cell
12 glistening, Vaseline-toothed smiles


Reena Dawkins plays the trumpet for her Talent and the Glory of the Lord

Reena Dawkins loved music in a way that made it impossible for her to accept her lack of natural musical talent. She was tone deaf but determined. Her mother was the kind of woman who loved her children so ruthlessly, she was willing to pay the local music teacher $75 dollars extra just so her dogged daughter could buzz air into that brass noisemaker in the company of someone who truly understood just how hopeless Reena really was.

The morning of the pageant Reena shined her trumpet with a care and attention that bordered on evangelic. In the moments just before she went on stage, the odd, quiet girl, Gray, tapped Reena’s shoulder and told her the instrument was some of the most beautiful metalwork she’d ever seen. Reena smiled in gratitude but held her trumpet tight against the sequined lapels of the jumpsuit her mother had sewn for this very day. This was a competition after all. Mama B strode over, clipboard pressed to her chest like a strange vestigial wing, and gently shooed Gray to the dressing room. She whispered hoarsely for Reena to take her mark. It was time.

When Reena walked on stage it all felt right. Her costume, her polished trumpet, her painted fingernails, her tightly curled hair, everything was ready. Her name was announced, and she stood at attention before the crowd. This was her moment to show the world what she’d been working for. She lifted the shining brass to her face and wet her lips. She squinched her eyes shut, inhaled. She blew her sweet breath into the mouthpiece, and for seven and a half minutes, God’s music was made.


The pageant judges tell two truths and a lie

Millard Needlebauer:
Is a linesman for the Asteroid Fire Illuminating Company
Is currently trying his hand at online dating for the first time
Is happiest off the ground, high above the earth and breathing the air that no one else

Rita Rippleton:
Is a high school principal
Is a happily devoted wife
Is not DeeDee Wessel-Fink’s egg donor
Little Miss Bird-in-Hand 11

Elmo Fleet:
Is a talented local artist
Is allergic to shellfish
Isn’t entirely sure why he is here