It was ninety-five degrees and the previous night’s rain was turning the day into an ungodly schvitz. The atmosphere waved and trailed above the street. Each car and big rig zooming past the chandelier outlet slapped Invidio with a noxious gust of hot exhaust. His fuzzy camel suit provided little protection and, in fact, threatened the onset of heat stroke. Invidio relied on licking the sweat from his lips for hydration. His boss, a swarthy man of indeterminate Eastern European extraction, fed his beloved malamute bottled Evian out the palm of his hand.
“Mr. Cicadas,” Invidio started, his voice muffled by the layers of cotton ensconcing his head, “perchance would you be inclined to part with a single bottle of water? I am prepared to provide fair remuneration.”
“No!” barked Cicadas in his unidentifiable accent. “Bottles for puppy. You use sink – later. Now you juggle.” With that Cicadas retired inside the store.
For the past thirty minutes Invidio had been performing card tricks. Before that he had been making balloon animals. He was a certifiable mediocrity at both skills and his fat fuzzy camel hooves made both activities significantly more challenging. Now he was juggling – first baseballs, then bananas, then iPhones. He was careful with the various props. Cicadas had made it known that he would garnish Invidio’s wages if he were to drop the iPhones or lose the baseballs or eat the bananas. Invidio had once asked, “Mr. Cicadas, the bananas with which I entertain the goodly passers-by unfailingly wilt and over-ripen in the blistering forge of the sun. And as you know, said bananas are, alas, rendered useless for the following day’s merriment. For Sol Invictus is a fickle master and takes life as easily as he gifts it. Owing to such, might I have your permission to augment my daily repast with the fruit before they go the way of poor foolish Icarus’s wings?”
“No!” Cicadas had barked. “You eat this,” and had slapped into Invidio’s beseeching hands two antacid tablets and a pushpin.
The day was a largely uneventful one for Invidio. He took his spot outside the front door of the chandelier outlet at precisely nine-thirty and proceeded to pant and perspire inside his velutinous tomb. One car brimming with proud suburban ennui after another zoomed past him during the slower periods of traffic. During the periods of heavier volume cars would form a trundling parade of oblivious steel. Invidio waved at each of them. Most motorists never deigned to look at the pitiful little man in the suit. Invidio knew that if one was to meet his cartoonishly large eyes, that motorist would feel compelled to wave back. They would hate to let the pitiful little man’s torturous and ignominious work go to waste. But what an imposition, shaming innocent people going about their day into buying a chandelier. How else to afford this pitiful little man in the camel suit his dignity? No. Better to simply avoid eye contact.
Parents would deposit their ill-behaved children onto his back and, in accordance with Cicadas’s orders, Invidio would give them camel rides. The kids would whip him with their hands, pantomiming what they had seen on television, while their parents would pose to him the most earnest questions, like: “Is it hard for little people to shop for clothes?” Older children and young adults sauntered past and shouted their typical brand of encouragement: “Faster, Camel!” “Stop hogging all the water, Camel!” “Suck my dick, Camel!” “Fucking raghead!” Invidio took only scant comfort in the protection the camel suit provided from spit, sundries, and assorted solid projectiles. It was his responsibility on his day off to clean the remnants of whatever had been lobbed at him throughout the week. Invidio took every slight, intentional or otherwise, in stride. Everyone values their dignity, he thought. But some have to go in search of theirs.
At five o’ clock, one hour before Invidio’s shift ended, a 1988 Grand National turned into the parking lot, nearly jumping the curb in the process, and broke with a screech just in front of Invidio. A simian-looking creature with tattoos running the length of his neck and an assortment of unorthodox piercings, was behind the wheel. The passenger-side door swung open and out stepped Cicadas’s daughter. She was sixteen-going-on-thirty and looked the part. From afar one could almost mistake her shorts for a bikini bottom and up close they looked primed to tear. Her tank top bore a striking resemblance to a loincloth and it amply displayed her fittingly ample breasts. Invidio could not help but notice the slightest penumbra of areola peeking out the top of the shirt yet again. Same nipple, different day. Invidio liked to refer to it as Kilroy – at least he would have had he known anyone with which to share the joke.
Cicadas’s daughter closed the door and the car sped to the other end of the parking lot. As she approached Invidio, her legs visibly undulating like rubber bands, she lilted, “Hi, Invidio.”
Invidio replied chivalrously, “Good afternoon, Miss Nuzzles.”
Nuzzles stopped and expelled a single breathy chortle. “When are you going introduce me to your girlfriend?”
Invidio blushed behind his mask. “Miss Nuzzles, the transparency of your jest bellies the formidability of your faculties. You know that, come six of the clock, I will retire to my domicile sans paramour.”
Invidio watched Nuzzles start toward him, mischievously planting one long toned leg before the other with each accentuated sashay of her hips. “I don’t believe that,” she intoned. “I’ve seen you out of costume. You’re telling me the girls can’t see what a catch you are?”
Invidio bowed his camel head and quietly said, “Tragically the entirety of the fairer sex does not share your talent for badinage or flattery.”
“It’s only flattery if you’re lying.”
Invidio tensed within his costume. “You are too kind, Miss Nuzzles.”
Nuzzles gently laid her hands on his furry chest. “I like when you call me, ‘Miss Nuzzles.’”
Invidio raised his head by an inch. “Do you?”
Nuzzles bit her lower lip. “I like when you talk to me.”
“Pray tell why, Miss Nuzzles.”
“I like your big words. Even the ones I don’t know.”
“It would be my privilege and honor to augment your vocabulary were you so inclined.”
“You like talking to me?” Nuzzles asked through pursed lips.
“Do you like when I talk to you?” she asked.
Invidio looked into her eyes from behind his laughably simplistic visage of a camel. “Were I flanked by Venus, Ishtar and Scheherezade; I would think only of you, Nuzzles.”
Nuzzles giggled, then whipped around her head to face the parking lot. She cried out, “Drew!”
The Cro-Magnon from the Grand National marched up to them. He grabbed Nuzzles by the arm without stopping and continued toward the chandelier outlet, pulling the girl with him. “C’mon,” he said. “I want to play with your tits some more.”
Invidio watched them disappear into the store. He had allowed the little harlot to manipulate him again. He knew he would fall for her game again. That was when Invidio reminded himself that, like many others, he had to fight for his pride. Unlike others, however, he was uniquely gifted for capturing his pride. He had mastered his talent long ago. He had used it many times and he would use it again that night.
He felt something the size of a soda can collide with the back of his head and heard a male voice scream, “Fuck your mother, you humpbacked dune coon!”