ANNIE, GET YOUR GOWN!
For the real Annie Oakley
Dreamed 1988/9/14 by Chris Wayan
I've still been feeling shy and guilty when I go for things I want, whether it's romance or work or just attention... my head knows very well there's nothing WRONG with chasing someone I like or a job I want... or even getting up on stage, with all eyes on me.
But tell that to my body. It just KNOWS I'm gonna pay for it somehow...
I'm living in a Hollywood musical, around 1940; people keep bursting into song...
I play myself, pretty much: a cowgirl named Annie who's working as a sharpshooter in a Wild West show in the early 1900s. We tour all those big Eastern cities. At one show, an elegant European aristocrat sees me and starts following the show from town to town. He says he loves me. "Yeah, right," I say at first, but he's a persistent fellow. He says it's my blunt American honesty that charms him. Though he's so different from me, he is a charmer--so polished you might slip and fall, but if you scrape down under the charm, he's solid enough.
So when he proposes, I say yes. Well, I sing it, and he joins in. Our big duet...
He's a high official back home, and I agree to move there with him; I'm not too scared, for the show will always welcome me back if things turn out to be, well, not what they seem.
So one month later, we arrive in an Eastern European capital where I'm a hick from the High Plains who only knows four good words: yes, hello, goodbye, no.
We arrive just six hours before a big masquerade ball. There's no time to shop.
But my husband sends out, and within an hour, a gown arrives! I'm impressed till I try it on. Shocked, I blurt "I can't go in this--LOOK at this dress you bought me!"
My husband, says neutrally, "Yes... I bought you that dress." He seems puzzled, if anything.
"You can see right through it!" It's silk, a flame-red gown, far too low-cut to be decent. But I know it's the fashion, and "when in Rome" said my pa. But there are limits. The silk is sheer! Well, not like gauze, but you can see my limbs and, well, everything, it's indecent. I can't wear this, even as a costume. Ma would spin in her grave. The maid who sent the order out for this speaks pretty fair English for a French girl, excuse me, Flemish, that's it, so I tell her "Marie, try again! I want a gorilla suit. If I'm gonna be a howling barbarian, I'm goin' go all the way."
My husband says "We've been through all this. The gorilla suits of Vienna are already spoken for."
"Well, I'm not wearin' THIS. And it's only six hours till the ball."
He says matter of factly "Five. Well, let's see what else we can come up with."
Now there's a little part of me--soul is a fancy word, but you could call it a fan of the Hollywood musical if you like--there's a part of me that's thinking, "Annie, you've got to be yourself, and you knew that'd mean goin' up against their class snobbery and social pretensions. You're a straight-shootin' American girl and proud of it. But Annie... you look WONDERFUL in that dress."
So I take a deep breath and let it out, relax, aim, and fire: "How about this? Marie and Gretchen are coming to the ball! Order them two more red gowns just like this. We'll all wear masks, and let 'em guess which one is me. Heck, nobody in this town's ever seen me. We'll all claim to be your wife. That'll get 'em."
I'm scared, but I know inside I want to do this, be beautiful and, yes, wanton, just a bit. I've got to be true to myself, but when your heart don't agree with your fears, you got to follow your heart. And suddenly mine's aflame. My cheeks will be too, in that get-up, but the mask will handle that.
My husband smiles, and he and Marie and Gretchen break into song. A lovely little number, too--a real Oscar contender: "Thank Heaven for Little Gun-Totin' Girls."
I'm going to the ball! All three of me.
The dream isn't quite as surreal as it seems. The real Annie Oakley did visit the crowned heads of Europe as part of Wild Bill Hickock's "Wild West Traveling Show" around 1900; and a musical comedy/romance was based on her life: Annie, Get Your Gun, though I don't recall if it dates to the 1940s. Annie led a busy life, but as far as I know she never did wear a gorilla suit.
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