It Takes Two to Tangle (Crone 2)

Written in response to: Write about a character who leads a secret double life outside of their day job.... view prompt

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Fiction Funny

A double life? Crone 2 knows about that first-hand because her life is one multiplied by two. Not to be overlooked is the fact that by 'double' people usually mean one of the lives is secret. That was Crone 2’s situation for sure. She worked as a faculty member at one of the biggest universities in the country. Not only was it one of the biggest. It was also one of the most prestigious. Obviously, with a job like hers, she didn’t want to become the laughingstock of the English Department, so she jealously guarded her other form of employment. It was thrilling, in a way, even if a bit dangerous…

A lot of people moonlight because they can use the extra income. This case wasn’t one of moonlighting to earn more money. It was an antidote to the academic life, so serious and oh so dedicated to counting beans (the number of students enrolled, the amount of grant monies rolling in), as if more beans would improve the quality of the institution. It didn’t, but administrators weren’t trained to know that. If once upon a time they had been in the classroom, those days were long forgotten. Education was not the goal; raking in the money was.

Crone 2 might have been able to find solace at discovering herself in this situation by having several martinis every night on getting home. Lots of colleagues did. However, she was way too intelligent for that. She didn't need those sorts of brain-dulling substances because she had an alternative way to spend her time. It was legal, and didn't cause hang-overs. Much healthier.

This secret second employment was stimulating, required creative thinking (with no bean counting!), and made people of all ages smile. Crone 2 felt fortunate and knew it was all due to taking an art course, either on a whim or a dare. She had found a friend in Art.

Crone 2’s name was unusual. Her mother had named her Rima, after the bird girl in W.H. Hudson’s novel Green Mansions, set in South America. Always a free spirit, perhaps because of her name, Rima had enrolled in the art course that had been about making simple books. Over the course of several weeks she had designed pop-up cards, paper dolls, and other things. She had been surprised at what she could invent and surprised at how much people who saw her paper creations liked them.

After the course was over, Rima didn't want to stop. She kept making book-like structures, some more like stiff paper castles or haunted houses or theaters that the recipients pop out and use tabs to assemble. Her designs could be whimsical (fairies, trolls, etc.) as well as intended to ‘scare’ the recipients, with their zombies and ghosts and monster mummies. She took her inspiration from what was around her. She was very good at it. 

This was all done with no detriment to her 'real job', the one she officially held at her institution. She did not want anybody accusing her of not performing as required. Nobody suspected she led a secret life, either, because she wouldn't be caught dead in those professional circles.

Her colleagues would never understand, and they certainly would laugh. Nevertheless, they would not like knowing that she was beginning to become known for her work with paper designs, to the point where she had several contracts. She was getting paid to enjoy herself, which was more than she could say about her university employment. Working at a degree store wasn’t what she had expected when she got into higher education. She used a name slightly different from her regular name for her artwork, so that when she did certain projects, she signed them as Dima, on the outside chance that some colleague would see her name printed in small letters on a card or paper doll.

For these reasons, Rima felt just a bit like Stephen King’s main character in The Dark Half. Well, kind of. Thaddeus Beaumont was a meek English professor by day and an author of slasher novels by night. The slasher novels brought in the money, but came from something he had from birth. Rima had not been artistically inclined, not really, during her years as a student, although she'd gone to a lot of museums.

After a few months, or maybe it was a couple of years, Rima’s paper productions were looking poised to become her more profitable job, potentially paying more than her official occupation. It was incredible! Fortunately, the paper art did not come back to haunt her the way King’s protagonist was haunted by his violent fictional creations. 

By day, Rima was absolutely the model professor. By night, she made numerous novelty cards and pop-ups. She made fancy designs that were printed with perfect colors on heavy paper and given as birthday or Christmas gifts, even sometimes sold as souvenirs. People of all ages were fascinated by the structures that folded and were cut away so cleverly. She didn't bother designing anything like the Eiffel Tower or the Sphynx, because people had already done that. She preferred scenes like snowy mouuntains with pine trees that popped up, or books that open and their pages were assembled to look like a salad, some looking like lettuce or tomatoes, others like onions and mushrooms.

The story should have ended there, with the designs and sales taking up a few evening hours a week, but it didn’t. That was because one day Rima had decided to make paper dolls of her colleagues. Her colleagues were unfriendly, competitive, pitiful people and so many times she’d had to bite her tongue so she wouldn’t correct their errors. They misquoted famous authors, had no idea of modern critical theory, and students fell asleep in their classes. The numbers of majors were dropping. All those beans were being lost. Nobody seemed to notice.

That's why Rima didn’t think they’d notice if she had some fun with her sideline job, risking being caught at engaging in such a childish activity. (They would definitely think it was childish and were happy to have an eexcuse to write her off as an academic who wasn't serious enough about her career.)

The set of designs she decided upon was a barnyard with its animals and three buildings: the farmhouse, the stables, and a big barn. Animals are always big hits and her ability to draw them was amazing. However, she did something quirky with the hends, horses, cows, donkeys, and other farm residents: she put almost human faces on them. The eyes looked human, and there was something human in the jaw lines or noses. One had to look closely to see this, but there were certainly human features on her animals. Kids loved them, because they always like smiling roosters and sheep. They would put the livestock in their stands, which were paper circles with slits, and then their imaginations would take over.  

That was when she had an idea. What if she deliberately put a human face on a paper character and the face were that of a colleague? That flash of inspiration led to a pop-up series called The Funny Farm. After that, she tackled the idea of a jungle scene populated by humanoids who roared and growled, stalked their prey and devoured it. The mechanisms for the paper figures and scenes got increasingly complex, but Rima continued to be up to the challenge. She was spending more and more time on her art, though.

Finally, somebody became suspicious. It was the arrogant experto (so he claimed) on Shakespeare who had gotten a card for his grandson's birthday. When he was trying to figure out how to attach a twenty dollar bill to it in a funny way, hoping the little boy would see how inventive he was, he stopped. He was looking at one of the animals.

"Do you see that pig? The one standing on its two back legs and prancing around, looking like he's tap dancing?"

The people who saw the card looked closely and agreed there was something odd about the swine's expression.

"That’s me," said Mr., no, Dr. Shakespeare expert. "That pig is me. It looks like me." He grimaced and looked really perturbed, but the others got a good laugh out of it. He was right, though: the pig did look like him and he looked like the pig.

Then another person looked at the bull's head and came to the same conclusion. It too looked familiar. In fact, the person saw his own face reflected in the animal's. 

"That bull looks like me!" was the reaction, with a definite tone of ruffled feathers.

"And me! The goat looks just like me." There was no stifling the laughter, but there was also fear - fear that the likenesses were more than a little real. Fortunately, nobody dared joke about the smells and other things that characterize a barnyard. The small group that had stumbled on the animals with people faces in the pop-up card with parts to assemble then felt embarrassed and decided it was just the over-active imagination of their Shakespeare colleague. They didn't wanted to look at the paper fauna any more.

This would have created great problems for Rima if they had insisted on finding out who had made the card, but they hadn't. Time went by and nobody else mentioned it, so she probably never knew how close she had come to being discovered. Still, she was careful to maintain good standing in her department and not to put human faces on her animals for a while. Just to be safe, and because she was having way too much fun.

Then the temptation returned. Rima had been commissioned to do a set of paper dolls that would be little children at a daycare center. They would be involved in all sorts of activities and could be dressed up in many ways. It was a real challenge, but she thought she could draw toddlers in diapers with all their toys and books and food fights. Yes, it would be fun. She set about sketching and smiled, grateful for those who inspired her. This second career was far more lucrative- and fun - than she had anticipated. 

For that next project, Rima knew she wanted to dress all her colleagues up in toddlers’ clothes and create a paper playground to be assembled, complete with slide and teeter totter. These were little children, not animals, so naturally (?) they would have human faces. The thing was, Rima gave them faces of grown-ups. Babies with adult faces, doing little kids' things and all the while dead ringers for her colleagues in the department.

This could have gotten the secret paper artist into a whole heap of trouble if anybody had noticed, but she already had her response planned if that were to happen. She would say she used old photos of relatives she had never met and who were long gone. They'd have to believe her.

And so it went, year after year. Rima's colleagues never seemed to notice anything odd after that one incident with Shakespeare Expert's card for his grandson, or if they did, they were quiet about it. That explains how she went on to have a brilliant career using the ears, eyes, and noses, or even the hair and body shapes of her haughty colleagues, in her cards and dolls, her exquisite and very popular art. Nobody knew who the creator was, but everybody who did purchase something of hers marveled at its mysterious quality.

Keep your eyes open. You might run into a Count Dracula with the air of a certain chairperson. Or a bat with a scowling expression similar to the professor of utopian literature. Or the snake and monkey who resembled the epistolary novel expert and the author of a concordance of Whitman's poems, respectively. New examples are appearing all the time.

If you're lucky, you might be able to get Rima to show you what she hasn't dared publish yet. It seems she's created a town that's full of walking dead characters. The zombies look familiar, just like the animals and toddlers did. Too familiar. These figures, the monsters that walk among us, are real. Their bodies may be ravaged, but the faces are ones she knows well. 

It appears Rima is willing to customize some walking dead sets or any type of set a customer wants, using faces of the living, the arrogant, and the ignorant.

I'm putting in an order now with the faces of my people, so I'll be able to purchase the set by Christmas. I think I want my paper people to be students in a classroom with me as their professor. I want to teach all my ghouls to behave, to do what I say. Like Rima, I have a collection of colleagues who need to learn to be decent human beings.

(Stops talking, starts humming Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper.")

September 04, 2021 01:48

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2 comments

Jay Stormer
21:08 Sep 09, 2021

This certainly betrays a close familiarity with the academic world. Great!

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Kathleen March
22:46 Sep 09, 2021

Betrays or reveals?

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