Fancy

Olga tacked down a fake eyelash with her fingertip, careful to avoid stabbing herself with her press-on nails. She scrutinized her reflection in the dressing room mirror. Brunette tresses were piled high on her head, the surplus spilling down over her shoulders; thick, even strokes of Liquid Midnight framed brown eyes. The balance was just right. Big enough to read from the back of the house, but not trashy.

She could hear Dixie overhead, hoofing around artlessly to her finale, "Telephone Man." Olga's opalescent pink lips curled around a snatch of lyric: "You just show me where you want it/And I'll put it where I can." Poor Dixie. She wasn't the most creative thing: strictly a one-double entendre kind of gal. Sweet kid, though—as long as she didn't run out of drink tickets.

Olga scurried up the narrow stairs, into the wings, swift but sure of foot. Knocking off her wig was a greater concern than stumbling in her patent leather sling-backs. Basking in the last scraps of applause, Dixie winked at Olga over her shoulder and exited into the darkness opposite.

Matthew's catty voice came crackling over the PA. "All right, you faggots, here's the lady you've been waiting for. Set down those drinks and make some goddamn noise for Miss Boy Bar 1992. . . ." Olga drew in a deep breath and squared her shoulders. "Princess Olga Gabor!"

The Princess cast her gaze sideways, into the shadows, as the spotlight blazed. The audience cheered, as much for the velvet-trimmed red dress, slit up to her shapely hip, as for Miss Boy Bar. That dress never failed. Olga turned her face to the crowd and—with the merest nod of acknowledgement—began to lip-synch: "I remember it all very well looking back/It was the summer I turned eighteen. . . ."

The first time she'd heard the song was the autumn she'd started second grade. Daddy was sleeping in again that morning. Hopefully he'd be gone when school let out, so she wouldn't have to play outside. As Olga finished the milk from her Frosted Flakes, Mama had suddenly stopped packing lunches and turned up the radio. Her mother wagged a finger in Olga's face as she sang along with the chorus: "Here's your one chance, Fancy/Don't let me down." Olga sprang from her chair, and together they danced across the scuffed linoleum.

The Princess mimed along as the heroine's transformation unfolded: "Mama washed and combed and curled my hair/And she painted my eyes and lips. . . ." Olga's mother had lavished attention on her, too, dusting the child with a scented powder puff after every bath. She'd shared Mama's love for pretty things, a bond that infuriated Daddy. Once, after sneaking into her mother's closet, she'd come to the dinner table dressed like a grown-up lady. Mama laughed. When Daddy started cursing, she snuffed out her cigarette and told him to "can it!" Soon they were going at it on the front lawn, for the entire neighborhood to hear.

Years later, long after Mama left, Olga had discovered the record tucked away in the back of the garage. "Fancy," by Bobbie Gentry. Folded inside the sleeve was an article torn from Parade. It told how the singer—who'd gone to #1 with "Ode to Billy Joe" in 1967—had been christened Roberta Streeter and hailed from backwater Chickasaw, Mississippi. She'd found further fame duetting with Glen Campbell and even hosted her own European TV show. Breathing in sour smells of old paint and gasoline, Olga read and re-read of Gentry's accomplishments.

"I did what I had to do but I made myself a solemn vow," Princess Olga continued, "that I was gonna be a lady someday/Though I didn't know when or how." Her head tingled momentarily; somewhere under that wig was a welt that never went down. One afternoon, not long after she'd turned up the discarded 45, Daddy had come upon her singing along to it. Without warning, he'd struck her upside the head with an open palm, fingers splayed, so his thick gold wedding band stung her scalp. After that, she'd only listened to "Fancy" through headphones, mouthing the words silently.

The Princess' dark eyes ignited as she punched the last line of the verse—"I might have been born just plain white trash/But Fancy was my name"—and the audience exploded. Somewhere in the wings, she heard Dixie whistling and stomping in her size 13 pumps.

Olga sauntered off over the fading vamp. As Matthew egged the boys on, she recalled all the short-lived suitors she'd dazzled in her red dress along the way. The clapping and catcalls continued. Princess Olga Gabor double-checked that her wig was still on straight and returned for her bows, marveling at just how far a change of name and address could take a determined girl.

"Fancy" appears on Bobby Gentry's Golden Classics (Collectables Records).

 
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