* * * * *
Blake basks in the spotlight and winks over his shoulder at the line of contestants holding hands. The audience quiets. Taylor slips an envelope to Blake. Ten tensioned seconds later, Blake lifts his mic. “And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for, ladies and gentlemen – the awards presentation. I will read all the winners’ names, then the winners’ parents or guardians may collect the trophies.” He opens the envelope and pulls out the paper. “The ‘Beauty Without Effort’ Award goes to Swan Sweeny! Who says a makeup allergy and neonatal seborrhoeic dermatitis will keep a natural beauty from winning at a beauty pageant? Not the Lil’ Toddlers Beauty Pageant!”
A teary mom rushes the stage, shouting, “We love you, Swanie!”
Taylor escorts her back to her seat.
Blake smacks his lips. “Next we have the ‘Positive Affirmation Award’ – that goes to Leslie Bustle. We at the Lil’ Toddlers Pageant recognize developmental delays are something to be proud of. They make you special. A big ‘atta girl’ for Miss Leslie’s lisp and lazy eye!” Several people in the second row stand and applaud.
“Moving on, the ‘Princess of the Parallel Multiverses Award’ goes to Eden Alexxa Steel. For the media people, that’s ‘Eden Alexxa’ with two x’s and no hyphen. The Lil’ Toddlers Pageant is proud to recognize this year’s most gifted and talented future histrionic personality disorder queen.”
A dad in the front row hoots and cat-calls, pumping his fist.
“And now the grand finale – the ‘Ultimate Grand Supreme Award’ of the Lil’ Toddlers Beauty Pageant goes to Barbie-Angelica Gilchrist. For the media, that’s ‘Barbie-Angelica’ with a b-i-e and a hyphen.”
The audience squirts a scream.
“Pan-faced and saucer-eyed, Miss Barbie-Angelica is a living cartoon character,” Blake shouts over the din. “Absorb her vainglory. At only four years old, she’s a high glitz pro! Full, thick, shiny hair, thanks to a record-breaking 15% solution of formaldehyde Brazilian Blowout. Snow white plasma arc-bleached deciduous teeth. Golden brown dihydroxyacetone spray tan. Dermapigmentated brow, eye, and lip liner. Hot pink dibutyl phthalate-polished fingernails and toenails. And the only brown adipose tissue is in her adorably chubby cheeks. We have a real heart-breaker here. Uh, future heart-breaker.”
The audience gives a standing ovation, Blake and Taylor fawn and swoon, and the adults claim their proxy prizes.
An hour later, the theater is nearly deserted.
Blake closes his eyes. “The back row was empty this year. We need to do better. I need a word which starts with a ‘P’ to go with ‘pageant’ and ‘planet.’”
Taylor thumps her forehead with a knuckle. “Precocious?”
Blake opens his eyes. “Premature.” He winks at Taylor.
“But how can you judge preemies?”
“Not preemies – prematures. Zygotes. All done in utero via genetic testing. No OSHA breathing down our backs, and no child welfare agencies throwing tantrums. We’ve got to be innovative to stay in the game. Next year it’s the Lil’ Zygotes Beauty Pageant – the most premature pageant on the planet!”
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