Frogs, Dogs and the Dancing Queen
The Ballerina Babydoll
"So it's one year contract without the fake boobs, and two year contract with them. Am I right?" This is a short story about sex, love and death.
"Try to relax and spread your legs, just like frogs swimming." The wry instruction from stern-faced Dr Li only served to make Rita stiffen up further. Rita was an award-winning actress with a vast experience in a variety of roles. Throughout her past thirty two years, Rita never liked frogs and never had to act like them. She once liked cute drawings of green tree frogs when she was in kindergarten. Later on, in primary school, she got to see real frogs and realised they were not the same thing. She actually started detesting frogs after watching them beheaded in the local wet market when she was nine. That happened twenty three years before but she still couldn't forget the vivid scene no matter how hard she tried, just like the TV commercials on Colgate toothpaste she grew up watching in childhood. The hawker held a live frog on a chopping board placed on the blood-stained pavement next to his stall. He raised the chopper and hacked the frog's head off, in a manner best described as "business-like". There was no pleasure, nor displeasure, on his face. He didn't think it would matter much to the frog, or to anybody watching this happen. He was only half right. He let the first frog go to grab the next one. The beheaded frog hopped around as if it was heading somewhere purposefully. It simply went around in circles, not seeing where it was going. The hawker held down the next frog and repeated the movements with precision and efficiency. It was too much for Rita to stay and watch any more. Petrified, she ran home as fast as she could. With her heart pounding hard in her chest, she searched the dining room, the sitting room and the bedrooms, just to find that there was nobody home, as usual, to tell her that it's all right. A few years later, she knew more about frogs after reading a report in a nature magazine about them. She didn't particularly want to read it but got sucked into reading on by a few bizarre-looking photographs of frogs mating. The first paragraph of the article went like this: "When frogs mate, the male frog tends to clasp the female underneath in an embrace called amplexus. He literally climbs on her back, reaches his arms around her waist, either just in front of the hind legs, just behind the front legs, or even around the head. Amplexus can last several days. While in some cases, complicated courting behavior occurs before mating, many species of frogs are known for attempting to mate with anything that moves which isn't small enough to eat!" One of the photographs was so off-beat that she had thought about it as the world's greatest turn-offs ever since. Now, she was to spread her legs like a swimming frog for cold-blooded and humourless Dr Li to take a look at her most private part.
"Can you make ... make me sleep ... sleep first, please?" Rita managed to make a request in spite of the fright and the tears.
"Miss Chen, we shall let you sleep when the time comes. Now, can you please let me examine you?" Dr Li replied, in a tone which suggested that Rita was acting rude, like asking for a second opinion or whether he knew what he was doing, at the last minute. Dr Li frowned upon his nurse to gesture that she wasn't doing her job right. The nurse grabbed Rita's knees firmly to spread her thighs at the hips. This only made Rita press her thighs in further, turning herself into a log.
"OK, Miss Chen, We'll let you sleep now." Dr Li unwillingly conceded. He injected a small volume of a milky liquid into the cannula set on Rita's arm and flushed it through with some saline.
"This might sting your vein a little."
"Blatant liar, it feels like my arm is getting burn in a flame," Rita cursed in her head.
"However, you'll fall asleep in two minutes. This is good medicine. You'll have only nice dreams and wake up smiling. It's never given anybody bad dreams. Even if you should wake up during the procedure, you will still feel calm and relaxed, I promise. Don't worry about it. It is the safest thing one can have." Dr Li sounded more amiable now, or maybe his medicine was starting to work. Rita could feel her throat letting go, then her shoulders and tummy. Finally, she could feel her groin, hip and thigh muscles relax. The lights in the treatment room dimmed suddenly, just like a movie theatre would, when starting the projection of the movie feature. She stared at the pale ceiling which had now turned into a movie projection screen. It didn't make sense to her that she was watching flashbacks of her past projected on the ceiling in front of her eyes. She remembered a saying that the dying soul would see flashbacks of his past just before he would take his last breath and bid goodbye to his own body face to face, before leaving it behind on this earth. She wondered whether this would be similar to the experience she was going through. However, the sedative did relax her and stopped her thinking about it. Dr Li and his nurse were too engaged in parting Rita's thighs again to notice what was going on above their capped heads and masked faces. Rita forgot about them and started concentrating on the flashbacks shown on the ceiling. The flashbacks were overlapped moving coloured images showing on a three-foot by three-foot square of ceiling just above Rita's face. She could also hear the voices and sounds accompanying the images, coming from somewhere behind her own forehead. Thanks to her experiences in acting out scenes of movies in jumbled order, all the superimposed moving images and sounds still made perfect sense to Rita, who could watch and hear everything happening together, and at the same time, dissect out the superimposed shapes, figures and sounds and re-group them back into their appropriate corresponding sets and scenes. She believed the flashbacks should take the following order.
The first flashback.
Rita was six years old and wearing her white dress with pastel green floral patterns. She had a blue ribbon around her pony tail. She was at her Aunt Helen's place to see Lucy, Aunt Helen's six month old bitch, a usually playful cocker spaniel. Aunt Helen didn't have any children and treated Lucy like her own child. Since Lucy's arrival four months ago, Rita, who lived down the road, had been visiting her everyday. On this day, Lucy didn't want to play. This had never happened before. Rita could tell right away that not all was well. She was certain that Lucy was dying. She was lying motionless on the floor. She had on her lower tummy the biggest band-aid that Rita had even seen. If not for her nostrils expanding and contracting, her expired breath fogging the tiled floor, her tummy going in and out and her misty eyes turning sluggishly, Lucy would pass for a stuffed puppy soft toy.
"Aunt Helen, what's wrong with Lucy?" Rita was almost in tears.
"She's OK, my dear. She simply doesn't want to move. She was spayed this morning." Aunt Helen hardly lifted her eyes off her ironing.
"Spayed? What's that? What for? Was she ill?"
Aunt Helen was forced to stop ironing for a moment. "No, she's all right. We spay female dogs to stop them having babies. Having babies makes them weak, tired and age quickly. Unspayed bitches bother themselves too much with finding mates. The male dogs will mate with them and take off, leaving them the trouble of pregnancy and babies to look after. Sometimes, they die if something goes wrong when they give birth to their pups. They get cancers of the breasts and of the womb more often too. It's simply not worth the trouble." Aunt Helen sounded calm and confident.
"What did they do to Lucy? Did they cut something away?"
"Yes. They cut away her female organs. Don't worry. She doesn't really need those to stay healthy or happy."
"It must have hurt a lot though."
"No. She was given an anaesthetic, that's a medicine to make her fall asleep so that she won't feel any pain."
"Did she wake up with pain?"
"No. She didn't. She only felt pain when she tried to get up. Then she realised that she would be better off lying still. She will be perfectly OK tomorrow. She won't even remember the pain she has had today. Dogs are very good at forgetting pain. Sometimes, I wish I could be as good as they are at this. Now, say goodbye to Lucy. Let her rest today and come back to see her tomorrow. I'm sure she will want to play then."
Rita did not understand all these,not one single bit. She just wanted tomorrow to arrive right away. She petted Lucy again and comforted her.
"Good Lucy. You must be tired. Sleep now. Tomorrow, you won't remember the pain. You will play with me, OK?"
Lucy wagged her tail a few times as if she was saying yes.
"What a sweet girl! I would never think of doing that to you if you were my own puppy," Rita thought to herself as she headed home. Nonetheless, she knew she could not have her own puppy, with her mother working as a dancer during day-time and a waitress in the evening. She had never seen her father but sometimes imagined that her father would one day turn up at her door, with a puppy in a box for her as a present.
The second flashback.
Rita was twelve years old and wearing a ballerina bun and skin-coloured tights. She was pressing her chin on the back of her stretched right thigh. She liked the drill as she could press lower and hold it longer than anyone else. She particularly liked it when she finished the whole set and she could feel the ache going from the back of her thigh and her spine. Dancing was the only thing she was good at and she had been practicing hard. She had her eyes on the leading role in "The Nutcracker Suite" Ballet in the coming Christmas performance. Miss Liu, her chief instructor, sent for her. When Rita was seated, Miss Liu handed her a skin-coloured bodice.
“Rita, you have to start wearing this now that your breasts are developing, or you'll look clumsy and lose your leading role to Jo.”
"But my breasts are still rather small." Rita blushed but protested weakly.
"They will get into your way and also spoil the photos." Miss Liu had been dishing out these answers and the bodices countless times. She didn't need to think before responding.
Rita didn't particularly like her own growing breasts. Nonetheless, she thought it was ridiculous to try pressing them flat, against their natural shape.
"Well, Miss Liu should know all about these things," she thought to herself and conceded.
A few moments later, Rita was trying on the bodice in one of the changing rooms. She frowned at the appearance of her flat chest created by the garment and hated the soreness on her breasts. The sense of being tied up reminded her of Lucy's leash. She did a couple of hops and jumps. Her breasts were moving in sync with her chest wall rather than dancing about with a will of their own. At least, the bodice was doing something.
That Christmas, Rita got the role she had wanted , danced the best ballet she had ever done, won a standing ovation and two tender breasts.
“May be, it's all worth it, after all,” she reassured herself while taking off the bodice in the changing room.
The third flashback.
Rita was now twenty two. Wearing only a lip gloss and her curly long hair, she was pretty and slim. She was sitting in a large study with posters of curvy dancers in revealing costumes on its walls. She was there to sign a contract with the "Hot Curves Dance Company". Paul, the overtly gay manager of "Hot Curves", whom she found rather handsome, was explaining to her the perks.
"We have the best medical benefits for our members in the whole industry. Even cosmetic procedures, including face jobs, breast implants and lipo-suctions, are all on the house. We'll also pay for deliveries and abortions, but not assisted reproduction," Paul grinned widely, as if this was the news that would find Rita jumping for joy.
"Was he hinting something?" Rita pondered over the knowing grin.
Rita wanted the job bad. Her Ballet Company had closed down six months ago. She had been to a few auditions but "Hot Curves" was the only job offer which eventuated. Her mother, whom she had been supporting for a few years, was thinking of finding a job again. It would be heart-breaking for her to see her mother going job-hunting and getting turned down the way she was. She wanted to make sure, without the thinnest trace of doubt, that there was nothing standing between the contract and herself. "Do I have to go for cosmetic surgery to get the job?" she surprised herself with the direct question.
"No. But if you go for breast implants, we'll give you six weeks of paid sick leave and an extra year contract, to compensate for the inconvenience and honour your determination to contribute," Paul sounded kind,reasonable and almost gentle."Don't worry about such things at this stage. We do have a few of our dancers getting their implants only after they finish their first contracts, to make sure they're not having surgery for a job they don't even enjoy."
"So it's one year contract without the fake boobs, and two year contract with them. Am I right?" Rita wasn't angry but was certainly not amused. Somewhere inside her chest, something sometimes referred to as "pride", was hurting. Those fake boobs were unknowingly receiving the same credit as her years of training and superb dancing performance.
"I'll have to say yes, if you really want to over-simplify the issue to simple mathematics. Mind you, you don't really want to hate us. You might even be one of us from today on. If you think we have bad taste, you will have problem thinking of yourself highly." Paul managed to keep smiling.
"I'll sign a two year contract." Rita responded promptly to stop herself crying and running away.
The fourth flashback.
Rita was now twenty seven. She looked glamorous and sexy in her faultless make-up and stylish low-cut skirt. The skirt and her own skin appeared to be matted together. One could easily figure where her navel was, and where her G-string began and ended. This hot summer night, she was sipping Dom Perignon champagne at a pool-side bar of a five-star hotel, listening to a story line explained to her by Ken Choy, a famous, and some say infamous, film producer, depending on whether you shared his values, or the lack of them. Since moving on from "Hot Curves", Rita had starred in a couple of low-cost productions, mainly in roles like concubines of the villains in the films. Choy was offering her the biggest role ever, a female Chinese spy who would join force with the protagonist to bring down the most vicious Thai drug dealer. The role sounded like a huge would-be-success, someone who was feminine,humorous and mysterious. She would be kicking bad guys unconscious with both legs, and shooting them dead with pistols held in both hands, while smiling in a low-cut mini-skirt. Choy was describing the role with glistening eyes. He appeared genuinely excited. He thought Rita's good looks, long legs and dancing skills would fit in nicely. Even though he had a bad reputation of being a womaniser, he maintained a reasonably good reputation of a professional film producer who did his job well.
"What do I have to do to get the role?" Rita had been around long enough to know that you wouldn't get anything this good for free.
"Good question. We are just starting out and need all the help we can find with our investors and sponsors. After the movie comes out, you'll turn into an instant celebrity. We'd appreciate if you can go to dinners, functions and horse-races with some of our investors and sponsors. They will feel that they and their businesses are getting their money's worth with the media coverage that you'll bring."
"Do I have to do anything else after these dinners and things?" It sounded a little too easy to Rita.
"These people want a celebrity for a commercial motive. However, I can't stop anybody wanting one for a personal, or even sexual motive. What happens next is all up to you."
At this very moment, all the flashbacks on the ceiling suddenly faded out. Rita had stopped breathing. Her pulse went down to thirty per minute. The oxymeter which was reading 99%,now read 70%. Her blood pressure crashed to an undetectable level. All alarms sounded together. Dr Li quickly put a ventilation mask on Rita's face to mechanically bag her.
He shouted to his nurse, "one ampoule of anexate and one ampoule of atropine, stat. Then go and get help." After a few more seconds, the room was filled with nurses and ward aids. Someone had started giving Rita CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation). What followed was a few minutes which seemed to have gone on for ever. Every time Dr Li paused the CPR to check on Rita's vital signs, they were exactly the same as when she first collapsed. CPR was recommenced after the quick examination. A nurse checked Rita's pupils and informed Dr Li that they were becoming dilated and unresponsive. Dr Li shouted for further intravenous injections, this time, one ampoule of dexamethasone and one ampoule of adrenaline to protect against swelling of her brain, and to revert possible anaphylaxis.
They said Rita had survived the anaphylaxis without any long term consequence. They had to be guessing, as it was only two days following the accident. Dr Li initially cursed his lack of luck for almost losing a patient with such a simple procedure, something he believed he could do with his eyes blind-folded. Ironically, he subsequently congratulated himself after reading that anaphylactic reactions had at times occurred with this new anaesthetic agent, and the mortality rate for such reactions was in the order of 35 percent. Rita was discharged from the hospital, without any symptoms. She resumed her work right away. The media was unaware of what happened to their screen heart-throb. She was only vaguely aware,herself, of a loss of an ill-defined nature.
Three weeks later, the public was shocked by the news on the death of Rita Chen, the 2009 Best Actress Award Winner. The cause of her death was the subject of a police investigation and was withheld. Rumour suggested pulmonary embolism, sometimes a delayed complication of pelvic surgery, as the cause of her death. Another whispered hearsay was that she was found dead in bed in a six-star-hotel, with a thick and wide plastic tape covering her mouth, and her wrists tied to the bed-poles. The media was largely sympathetic, outlining her rugged road to stardom from a struggling dancer brought up in the local slump area, single-handedly by her jilted mother. She had left behind, in loving memories, her sixty-year-old mother and Lucia, her ten-year-old cocker spaniel. She was missed dearly by thousands of her loyal fans.
Rita was fighting for her breath. She was feeling constricted and squashed in the chest, as if she were wearing a bodice two sizes too small for her. She saw the lights dimming in the room. She knew that she was losing her consciousness. This time there were no superimposed moving coloured images on the ceiling above her. However, She could vaguely make out an image floating in the air in front of her eyes. It was the photo of mating frogs which had become the world's greatest turn-off for her. In the image, three male frogs were mounting the dead body of a female frog. One was on her head, grasping her around her neck. A second was on her back, grasping her around her waist. A third was on her hind legs, grasping both of them to make them into a bundle. While trying to mate, they had held her under water long enough to drown her. Suddenly, Rita heard a noise and the image faded. It was the door bell. She found herself sitting in the flat she grew up in. She walked to open the door. A man was standing at the door with a lid-less carton in his arms. He was smiling and had a familiar face. Rita looked down at the carton and saw two-month-old Lucy ragging her tail in the box. Rita picked her up and looked into her eyes. Lucy had round gentle eyes which were saying, "Good Rita. You must be tired. Sleep now. Tomorrow, you won't remember the pain. You will play with me, OK?"