A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Tickle"
Originally featured on 12-25-2007
As part of our series "Relatively Forced Holiday Laughter"

“I think I was six or seven. I look at old pictures and you can barely see it, just a little fuzz. But every year it got worse.”


“Of course it was hard, you know how horrible kids can be. You show up on the first day of fourth grade with a mustache, what do you think they’re gonna do, throw you a party? I guess it would have been different if I was a boy.”


“What do you think? Who wants to date the creepy hairy chick? I did go to the prom, I wasn’t going to miss my prom. My Mom made this really pretty lavender dress for me and she let me wear her good pearls. I didn’t have a date but I still went, and you know what? I actually had a pretty good time.”


“All the time. I cut my face up real good, but after a couple of days it would just come back so I stopped. And waxing hurt like hell.”


“Yeah, Mom was great. She never let the hair thing become a huge deal, to her it was just like having a big nose or ears that stuck out, it wasn’t an issue. She always said I was beautiful. I wasn’t, I knew that, and I’d get mad at her when she said it, sometimes really mad, but that didn’t stop her from saying it.”


“Yeah, of course. I mean, people with big noses do get nose jobs. I was taken to some of the best doctors around. Well, they called themselves the best, how was I supposed to know? I started getting weekly treatments the day after my tenth birthday. I remember that because Mom and I were in the mall picking out a present for me. We went into a toy store and I was looking at something and she and I got separated. While I was looking for her a couple of older kids started teasing me. As I was walking away one of the kids grabbed my cheek and pulled hard, then they laughed and ran away. Mom found me balled up in a corner crying. The next day I began treatment. Once a week I’d get these lasers shot into my face. It didn’t hurt but I had to stay still for hours. At first it seemed to be working, there was less hair, but of course it didn’t last. Mom took me to more specialists and even some holistic people — she probably spent a fortune — but nothing ever worked.”


“Yeah, he wasn’t…he didn’t stay around too long. I don’t want to talk about him, okay? Mom said he’s who I got the hair gene from, that’s all you need to know about him.”


“I didn’t plan on joining the sideshow, I mean I know I have a beard and all but not every bearded lady has to become, you know, The Bearded Lady. But everything changed when I met Mr. Randolph, the owner of the carnival.”


“It’s actually a funny story. It was a few years after high school and I was working at this awful fast food place, Char Burger. I hated it there but it was the only place that would hire me. I didn’t even go near the food but they still made me wear two hairnets. So one day I go to clean up some soda on the floor and I see this little old guy staring at me. Of course that’s not new, everybody stares, but then he gets up and comes over to me. He introduced himself — in kind of this funny, high voice — and asked me if I would do the honor of meeting him later for an important proposition, I still remember him saying that. And the whole time he’s looking at my beard.”


“Yeah, that thought did cross my mind but I figured what the hell did I have to lose? I was working at stupid Char Burger making minimum wage, I had nothing else going on, so why not see what he wanted? So after I get off work I go to meet him at this trailer at the fairgrounds where they’re setting up the carnival. He was really happy to see me, I’m not sure he thought I was gonna come. So I sit down and he starts telling me about the carnival and the sideshow and then he mentions the bearded lady. I thought the whole thing was a joke and I said that but he wasn’t laughing or anything. He told me about the history of bearded ladies — did you know that most of the early ones were fakes? Yup, glue, tape, you name it they’d use it to stick those beards on. Then Mr. Randolph tells me about Betty Stansfield, she was really the first famous bearded lady, she’s a legend among carnival folk. Of course I didn’t know that then but I certainly do now. And then Mr. Randolph comes out from behind his desk and asks me if I’d like to join the carnival, apparently their last bearded lady had quit a month earlier. Pay was $150 a week — I make almost double that now — food and a place to stay were all taken care of, it actually sounded like a pretty sweet deal. I was really surprised, but like I said, I had nothing going on so I agreed.”


“She cried when I told her. I’ll never forget it. She didn’t try to talk me out of it or anything and I love her so much for that. And two days later I started working at the carnival. They had me sitting on a stool on kind of a little stage under this dirty tent. I was so nervous! I didn’t know what to do, I had completely forgotten Mr. Randolph’s directions. But after a little while I got the hang of it — you talk to the customers, let ‘em touch your beard if they want. Just as I was letting a little kid tug on it, I saw Mom walk in. I was a little embarrassed at first but then I saw how proud she looked, she couldn’t stop smiling. She didn’t even pay attention to the punk teenagers making some rude comments. She…she just looked happy. During a break we went and had some corn dogs. It was really nice. The night before the carnival left for Wichita, I think it was, we had our farewell dinner. This time we both cried. That was, wow, almost nine years ago.”


“Yeah, it took a while to get used to everything but once I did I loved it. I think I was meant to live on the road, I like going to sleep in one town and waking up in another, you really get to meet a lot of interesting people that way. And everybody in the sideshow is so nice. Gary, did you meet him? He’s like a brother to me now. And his claws don’t bother me at all anymore, I don’t even notice them. And Mary Elizabeth is great. We actually didn’t get along at first — she was friends with the previous Bearded Lady — and, I’m kind of ashamed to admit it now, but her scaly skin really freaked me out. I know, it’s horrible, but now I don’t even see it and we’re great friends.”


“Yeah, of course they do, it seems like every town we go to they’ll be at least a few people like that.”


“I don’t know, I guess it makes people feel somehow better about themselves when they can, you know, laugh at or make fun of people who are different. I feel sorry for them.”


“Because they’re ignorant and small-minded. To judge people just on the way they look. It’s just like the kids who used to make fun of me. I hated them, I really hated them. But now I realize they’re not worth getting upset over, people like that, they’re not worth worrying about at all.”


“Well, actually, more than you might think. You’d be surprised how many guys are into it. Some of them really get off touching it, rubbing it, braiding it even. One guy I met in Cincinnati loved me to tickle his feet with it. Yeah, can you believe it? Another one in Boise said I reminded him of his mother. I didn’t ask. Yeah, there have been some nice guys, but I don’t think I’ve met anyone I’d, you know, want to marry or anything, but you never know, it could happen.”


“My best day? Well, besides the days I get to go home and see Mom, she’s been kind of sick lately, so I try to get home when I can, my best day was last year. We were doing a week in Tallahassee and just before I went on for the night, I got a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around I was stunned. It was Betty Stansfield! She’s really old but her beard still looked great. It was all white but still big and bushy like it was in the pictures I had seen. She smiled and introduced herself — like she needed to! — and she said how happy she was that I was doing what she used to do and carrying on the tradition. I couldn’t believe how nice she was and I think I stammered some kind of thank you. Then she and a man she was with — a really handsome man — walked away. It was…it was great.”


“You know, if you had asked me that seven or eight years ago, I probably would have said, yes, sign me up, I’ll take the treatment, remove the hair, let me live a normal life. But now? I can’t imagine living without it. This is my life, it might not be as normal as most people’s but so what? This is who I am. I’m The Bearded Lady. Oh, that’s my cue, I gotta run. It was nice talking to you. Bye now.”

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