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The Voice Is a Wild Thing. It Can't Be Bred in Captivity.

ELLEN: We love it when our favorite paras can take time out of their schedules to come on the show. Please welcome Wonder City's cosmic diva, Olivia Valdes, the Fat Lady!

THE FAT LADY: (performance of "Recelaré siempre la canción del cuco")

ELLEN: I'm so happy you could... wow, that's an amazing dress! It swishes so much!

THE FAT LADY: I love these dresses. I wear them all the time. Want one? I'm sure they'd be willing to make it in your size. Half the fabric!

ELLEN: I don't know that I could rock it the way you do.


ELLEN: This is so great. You're about to go on tour, and you have only a couple of days before you're due in... where?

THE FAT LADY: Starting out in my favorite city, San Francisco!

AUDIENCE: (applause)

ELLEN: Well, I appreciate your coming here very much, especially since it's been a long time since you last went on tour out of Wonder City. How long has it been?

THE FAT LADY: Oh, honey, I think that tour was announced on Merv Griffin's show.

AUDIENCE: (laughter)

ELLEN: Oh, Merv, you got all the winners. But this is the first time you've come to our show, and we've been looking forward to it! Can you tell us a little about your touring show?

THE FAT LADY: Oh, I love to talk about it. The show is called Hera and Zeus, and it was written for me -- for me! -- by a very talented young Cuban composer, Alejandra Grenet Famosa. I've never been so flattered. It's in the style of Spanish opera called zarzuela.

ELLEN: Zarzuela?

THE FAT LADY: Zarzuela. Quite old, and it nearly went extinct for a while.

ELLEN: And here I thought opera had to be in Italian or German. I think I understood at least half that song. That can't be right.

AUDIENCE: (laughter)

ELLEN: Where in the show does that song come up?

THE FAT LADY: Quite early, actually. The title translates, roughly, to "I will always dread the cuckoo's song." It's sort of Hera's sadder-but-wiser girl song.

ELLEN: That's pretty heavy. Not a comedy, I think.

THE FAT LADY: No, sadly, Hera has always been a tragic figure.

ELLEN: Well, I'm going to look forward to seeing the whole show. I hear you've also got a book out.

THE FAT LADY: Yes, indeed.

ELLEN: I haven't read it, so I need to ask this question before I end up in a Margaret Cho routine: is Spanish your original language?

THE FAT LADY: I'm actually natively bilingual, Spanish and English. My parents were academics who fled Cuba in the revolution, and they spoke both languages in our house.

ELLEN: Wow. Do you speak other languages?

THE FAT LADY: I'm fluent in Italian, which wasn't much of a jump from Spanish, and I can muddle along all right in French and Portuguese and Romanian and German.

ELLEN: Romanian. Really?

THE FAT LADY: It's a Romance language like Spanish.

ELLEN: Oh! Wow, that's awesome.

THE FAT LADY: Thank you.

ELLEN: So, we were talking a little backstage, but I didn't get to ask this, so I'm asking now: how did you discover your power?

THE FAT LADY: Oh, I always loved to sing. And I had a pretty sharp choir director in high school.


1975: Overheard in the faculty parking lot

The high school choir director inhaled as if he had a personal vendetta against the cigarette between his lips. "I'm going to catch hell, I can see it. The choir is going straight into the shitcan this year."

The geometry teacher dropped his own cigarette onto the asphalt and ground it under his heel. "Why? You lost a bunch of seniors last spring, but you've got a big crop of freshmen."

The choir director exhaled through pursed lips. "The crop's going to fail. The best voice in the lot is a fat little spic. She'll get bored and start running around in the next month if she can find anyone to fuck her."

The geometry teacher scowled. "You don't mean the Valdes girl, do you?"

"Yeah, you know her?" The choir director inhaled hard enough to bring his cigarette down to the filter, then flicked it away into the nearby weeds.

"She's in my class, as a matter of fact," the geometry teacher said, brushing invisible lint off his sleeve. "She's okay."

The choir director grunted unmusically.

The geometry teacher opened his mouth, then shut it, and said, "Well, I've got to be going. Better watch your mouth, though. You know the new principal doesn't like that sort of talk."

The choir director grunted again, and lit another cigarette.


ELLEN: That's your singing, but what about your para power?

THE FAT LADY: Oh, that power. Thought you meant my OTHER powers!

AUDIENCE: (laughter)

ELLEN: Well, we've all heard about stories about what you can do with your para power. This is the part where I ask how you were "discovered"!

THE FAT LADY: It wasn't that big a deal, really. The "origin incident" was pretty small. Well... for a para power.


1977: Overheard at the student lockers

"Oli, are you okay?" Rose leaned her head against the locker so she could see Olivia's face. "You look grey."

Olivia pressed her forehead and cheek to the cool metal harder, trying to silence the jackhammering in her skull. "I feel pretty grey."

Rose pursed her lips worriedly. "This happens every time we go to chorus now. Mr. Joslin told me..."

"That if I didn't get in there right now, I was out," Olivia said, her nails scraping the metal of the lockers in frustration. "I know, I heard."

"You did?" Rose looked so shocked that Olivia leaned away from the locker to see her more clearly. "But, Oli, he... I thought he whispered it to me."

Olivia felt her upper lip twitch in the start of the snarl she usually used for discussions of Mr. Joslin, but pressed her lips together. "Fine. I'll come back. I'll sing. I'll sing his ass right out of the room."

Olivia did her best impression of the a great ship under full sail, as her Abuelita had told her to, but she felt like she managed at most a leaky dinghy.

"Well, well, how is our little prima donna then?" Mr. Joslin said with a sneer. "Done having the vapors? Are you ready to actually sing instead of having a snit fit? I swear, if any of the rest of them had a voice among them, I'd drop your solo in a heartbeat."

She took a long breath and didn't look at him. "Yes, sir, I'm ready to sing."

He peered at her, tapping the side of his nose with the pencil he used to conduct. "You look like crap."

Olivia lost her patience, but still didn't look at him. "I'm ready to sing."

He shrugged and indicated that they should begin.

As she worked her way through to her solo in "I Wonder As I Wander," Olivia composed herself around the searing agony that was blinding her right eye. She knew the words and music, she didn't need to see the page she held. She just needed to keep opening her mouth and...

And then the wall behind Mr. Joslin simply... fell apart into a cloud of dust.

Mr. Joslin's toupee tumbled off. He dropped his pencil.

Then all hell broke loose.

But at least her headache was gone.


ELLEN: You disintegrated the wall and knocked off his toupee?

THE FAT LADY: I know. The toupee was just salt in the wound. I probably wouldn't have gotten suspended but for the toupee.

ELLEN: I'm just picturing your principal's reaction. "She did... what?"

THE FAT LADY: (laughing) Do you know Mr. Crosslan? That was a dead-on impression of him.

ELLEN: I know principals. So you got suspended from school... what did you do then?

THE FAT LADY: Well, the US wasn't a happy place for paras in the 70s, as you may recall. I ended up moving out of the country to stay with a private tutor.


1977: Overheard in an alley

Olivia crept out of the basement door of the abandoned building into the dim twilight of the evening alleyway, carefully avoiding tearing the cobwebs that dangled from the top of the door. Her dark hair was greasy and tangled, and her scalp itched. All of her itched, actually; it had been at least a week since she last saw the inside of a shower. But right now, she was intent on her snarling stomach, and thus intent on the back door of the Italian restaurant down the street. The dishwasher she'd befriended would be on duty, and could always slip her something on his smoke break.

She was brought up short by a figure looming out of the darkness nearby. She was gathering herself for a mad dash, or a scream, or maybe disintegrating the wall with the power of sheer luck, when the figure boomed, "Stop!" in a deep, commanding tone, and a heavy hand dropped upon her shoulder.

Her heart was pounding as she turned, trying to wriggle out from under the hand. He took a step into a shaft of light from the street, and his saturnine countenance and Einsteinian white hair stopped her in her tracks.

"I have been seeking you, Olivia Valdes," he said.

She looked madly for anything that might tell her if this guy was a cop or a G-man or what. He was wearing a black suit, with a black opera cloak over the shoulders, and a white cravat, and white gloves, and... he was looking less and less like a G-man, the more she saw. "What for?" she said finally.

He squeezed her shoulder briefly, then released it and swept a bow. "I am... the Maestro."

She looked at him blankly.

"You have heard of me?" he said, looking at her from under ridiculously bushy white eyebrows.

She shook her head.

"Alas, the young," he sighed. "I have sought you because I can help you with your power. I can train you to use it properly."

"What's the catch?" she said, pressing her back to the brick wall.

He smiled tolerantly. "No catch, my dear. You come away with me now, and I will use my not-inconsiderable powers of persuasion to convince the federal authorities to release your family --" She gasped and his smile widened. "Oh, yes, they've been taken up on suspicion of hiding you away. There is some speculation that you'd been sent back to Cuba." He waggled his eyebrows expressively. "No one wants Castro to have more paras now, do they?"

"Damn." She clutched her head and felt the pressure of tears and all the accompanying unpleasantness in her sinuses. "Oh, god, I never even thought..."

"No," he said, and his voice was gentle. "No, we never do, dear. It's all about survival, and you did what needed to be done." He held out his hand. "Come with me, and we'll get them out. I promise."


ELLEN: Didn't the Maestro give the Gold Stars a bad time back in the 40s and 50s? I thought I heard that he was a really successful supervillain.

THE FAT LADY: Yes. He was very successful. He'd reformed by the 70s, though. I guess there's only so much money one can steal before it gets trite. I think I was a... a project for his old age.

ELLEN: There were rumors that you and he were...

THE FAT LADY: Oh, no, my dear. Augustin was desperately, madly in love, and was, as far as I know, perfectly faithful all her life, and remained so even after she died in 1979. Besides, he was very old, and in my last several years with him, he was quite ill.


1983: Overheard in a Tuscan villa

The Maestro raised his thin hand. "Again," he said.

Olivia obediently sang the phrase again. She didn't put enough energy into it, and was commanded by the furious old man to sing it yet again. "Sir," she said, feeling the full weight of her exhaustion settling on her shoulders, "I... it's after midnight, sir."

He huddled his wasted shoulders and said, petulantly, "Why did that girl let us go so late? Where are my pills?"

On cue, the door to the music room opened and a small hurricane of efficiency swept in. "You are overtiring yourself, Augustin. Again! What will Olivia do if you cannot rise tomorrow?"

"Sing," the Maestro said. "I am fine, Mariangela. Where are my pills?"

"You took them already, you old fool," Mariangela said, kicking the brakes off the wheelchair. She flashed her brightest smile at Olivia and tossed her head. "You would be dead within three days if I left, Augustin."

"Yes," the Maestro said, voice tired. "Yes, I would. Good night, Olivia."

"Good night, sir," Olivia said, watching Mariangela push his chair from the room. Then she allowed herself to collapse into a chair. She rested her head against the back of the overstuffed chair and stared at the angelic murals on the domed ceiling of the music room.

Olivia woke to the scent of Mariangela's lilac perfume.

Mariangela was leaning over her and calling her very softly. Her graying braid slithered forward and spilled against Olivia's expansive bosom. Her dark brown eyes were lively, despite the hour, and her smile was just as dazzling and welcoming as it had been the first day Olivia arrived at the villa. "Allodola," she said, "Allodola, come to bed, my love."

Olivia allowed Mariangela to help her up, and linked arms with her as they proceeded down the darkened hallway to their bedroom. "How is he, really?"

Mariangela's lips pressed together tightly and she was silent. They reached their bedroom and undressed without turning on the lights. Moonlight streamed in the floor-to-ceiling windows, and a warm breeze lightly ruffled the curtains.

When they were in bed, holding each other, Mariangela finally said, "I think he is not long for the world, Allodola. His lawyer is coming tomorrow during lunch, so he can update the will."

"I hope he is leaving you the villa," Olivia said.

"I think he is," Mariangela said. She smiled in the darkness, but there was a sad note in her voice. "He thinks of me as his niece, because I was her niece. And you will leave when he is gone."

"No," Olivia said, horrified. "No, I want to stay."

"That is not," Mariangela said, "the life Augustin intends for you. There is a life out there for you, and the best homage you can make him is to take it."


ELLEN: Of course, everyone thinks that sort of thing, whenever there's a story about an older man and a younger woman.

THE FAT LADY: An affair with my teacher? How utterly dreary. I hope I've got much more scandal than that in my life.

ELLEN: (laughing) I thought opera singers were all about being staid and classical.

THE FAT LADY: There is nothing more classical than scandal.

ELLEN: I think the tabloids would certainly agree with you. What happened after the Maestro died?

THE FAT LADY: The politics in the US had finally warmed up toward paras. Reagan had realized that paras were as useful as Calvin Coolidge had ever claimed we were.

ELLEN: The bad old days of Reaganistration.

THE FAT LADY: Exactly! The Gold Stars were the keepers of the registry, so I had to go to them for testing and classification.


1984: Overheard at the Gold Stars Compound, Wonder City, USA

"Ms. Valdes! Ms. Valdes!"

The calls came to Olivia through the large pile of debris that was fortuitously held above her by some of the remaining building supports. She tried to call to her rescuers, but got a mouthful of settling dust. She coughed as delicately as she could, given the situation, but the debris still creaked alarmingly.

After a minute of coughing, she mopped the tears from her eyes and inhaled deeply through the torn fabric of her blouse. She pitched her voice far above. "I think I'm just under your feet. Be careful! I can hear it shifting."

There was a pause in the progress of movement, and then, with exquisite care, the rescuers started to shift the concrete.

It was a couple of hot, sweaty, dusty, thirsty hours. By that time, she'd managed to stanch the blood from her scalp wound and had taken inventory of her limbs. All through it, she could hear them talking about the devastation her voice had wrought. The first rays of late afternoon sunlight were nearly as good as a cool drink.

"Ms. Valdes?" a man's amplified voice said. She recognized him as the Green Machine.

"Yes," she said.

"Oh, good," he said, sounding relieved. She heard him say to the others, "We've gotta widen it. I can't fit yet."

They worked for several more minutes. A woman -- the Amazon -- called down, "Ms. Valdes, can you move at all?"

"Yes," she said.

"Can you see around you? Is there a good spot where there's some intact structure to shield you if some of the load shifts?"

"I think I'd best stay right where I am," Olivia said. "This looks like the best spot. It has a lovely view, quite ruinous, and besides, one of my legs is trapped."

"All right. Okay." The Amazon said, to Green Machine, "Use your anti-grav unit instead of the rockets. I know it doesn't have as much lift..."

"But it won't disturb things. Yeah, Maggie, I got it covered." The Green Machine said, louder, "Ms. Valdes, I'm coming down now."

The blocky humanoid armor lowered, slowly and soundlessly, through the hole and into Olivia's view. The light from the helmet swept over her. "How badly injured are you?" he said.

"Just a flesh wound," she said, with a stiff attempt at a smile.

"We'll have you out soon," he said. She guessed he'd said it to hundreds, if not thousands, of people he had rescued.

The Amazon, a huge woman with cropped black hair, stepped down onto the Green Machine's helmet, and then used the armor as a means of climbing down to the area upon which Olivia rested. The Amazon's cutoff jeans and t-shirt were filthy, and her hair was plastered to her skull by sweat. She crouched down to examine where Olivia's leg was trapped. "Hmm," she said. "I'll need the torch, GM."

A door in the side of the armor opened, and a little arm extended, offering her a metallic cylinder. The Amazon took it, turned on the thin, high-tech line of heat, and bent to cutting the beam that pinned Olivia in place.

After that, it was a matter of a few minutes for the Green Machine to lift Olivia out to the grounds, then retrieve the Amazon. Professor Canis, a brisk, professional black woman with a short afro and a white lab coat, had set up a hospital room, complete with bed and scanning equipment, a little away from the site of the wreckage. She spent the next several minutes checking Olivia over for damage.

Peacenik, a lean, angular man in his 40s, received permission to enter the room and stood there uncomfortably, adjusting his wire-rim glasses and his patchwork denim jacket, while the Professor finished her evaluation.

"You're as well as one could be, considering," Professor Canis said. "You'll need to stay off that leg for a few days, I'm afraid, and you'll probably have a sore throat and irritated eyes from the dust. I've cleaned and sealed up the scalp wound."

"Good thing I don't have a performance scheduled yet," Olivia said with a wry smile. "I expect I look like hell." She looked at Peacenik.

"Ms. Valdes, I'd just like to apologize on behalf of the Gold Stars," Peacenik said, fiddling with some change in his jeans pocket.

"I just destroyed your testing facility, and you're apologizing to me?" she said.

"We should... we should not have underestimated your power levels," he said. "We should have tested you at our bunker in New Mexico. You warned us that you had never yet hit your power limit, and we didn't listen. Because of that, we endangered your life, as well as the team and all our neighbors. I'm very sorry."

"Well," Olivia said, gathering the shreds of her poise around her, and offered her hand to him. "I think we should just agree that this whole situation was suboptimal. If you still feel bad about it, you can take me out to dinner before we go out to the bunker for the next test."

Peacenik gave her a relieved, if lopsided and mournful, smile. "I think I can just about manage that, Ms. Valdes." They shook on it.


ELLEN: So that was when you were first rated as a Class 10 paranormal?

THE FAT LADY: Yes. And believe me, no one was more surprised than I was.

ELLEN: I'm sorry to say we're almost out of time, but tell us about your fabulous new autobiography?

THE FAT LADY: My book, On a Massive Scale, is in stores right now. It's a chronicle of my childhood and teens and twenties mostly, but you do get some dish about all the important people in my life up till now.

ELLEN: Well, Olivia, thank you so much for coming on the show, and I hope you'll come back soon.

THE FAT LADY: Thank you for having me, and I'd love to come back.

ELLEN: Remember, Olivia Valdes' autobiography, On a Massive Scale is in stores now, and watch for her show, Hera and Zeus to come to an opera house near you.

AUDIENCE: (applause)

For Hanne.

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction! Please? We're falling down the ratings!

Also, it has turned into a surprise kind of lean month, so if you have ever thought about donating to Wonder City Stories and you happen to have the extra cash, it would be MUCH appreciated right now. And if you donate, you get to tell me what non-major character you'd like to see more of in Volume 2!


Date: 2010-10-16 06:10 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
>>ELLEN: I don't know that I could rock it the way you do.<<

This bit reminded me of my bellydance teacher Thais, vast of body and talent. There are moves of hers I'll never be able to do because I don't have the body parts for.

Date: 2010-12-24 06:26 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The Fat Lady really is one of my top favourites. (Don't tell Pacifica and Simon.) I love her aplomb.


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