I woke up at 2am. It’s an incessant thing with me; often I’ll have a dream about something that’ll wake me up, and what inspired my dream will refuse to leave my head, so I’ll stay awake for hours even when I have work later.
I had a dream about fairy tales, and I woke up thinking about my failed auditions.
Christmas was approaching, and with it, panto season. Earlier on this year, I attended several pantomime auditions, and failed every one. Why not audition for a role, I thought. I spend a lot of my life playing a part. When I go out, I wear a mask. I pretend to be a normal person, so why not pretend to be Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella instead of Lisa the mutant with a pizza for a head and a body made of mozzarella.
I told myself to go back to bed. I told myself I had work the next day, and despite the fact people at the office still try to nibble on me, pay is pay. Still I stayed awake, however. Still I found myself picking up a certain book I keep near my bed.
A book full of photos and mementos. On a page is stapled an old book of coupons. One of those coupons has been ripped out, and that coupon I owe my very existence to.
Mum heard a lot of good things about “The World’s Best Pizza Place”, so after a hard day of work, she thought the perfect pizza would calm her down. It did, but not in the way she thought.
They brought her a pizza that offered more than passata and pepperoni. A pizza that could talk and think, a pizza that could comfort her and have conversations with her and make her feel more confident. The perfect pizza. The world’s best pizza.
Yes, they married, they started a family. In my book, there’s a photo of my birth. A little baby with a cheese body and a pizza slice for a head, but my mother’s expression is the smile of seeing a new life.
There’s a photo of my graduation, me in mortar board and gown. University was hell, for I am the staple food of students, but in this photo is not a weird cheese creature, but a woman with a future.
The latest photo in my book is a selfie. Me on the sofa with my latest, and currently only, friend, The Pumpkin Woman. Actually, her name is Natalie. She told me that. A creature that could only be summoned when Halloween was in the air, so I summoned her several times throughout September and October.
There’s still Halloween stuff in shops, in the clearance aisles. Perhaps, I thought, I could summon her again.
The picture I was drawn to, however, was my seventh birthday. My trip to Fairy Tale Land, where I went in a big blue dress and plastic tiara, sitting before my birthday cake – I know no living cakes or people with cakes for heads – with Mum and Dad and the other princesses of that park.
I wondered if that was why I went and auditioned for all those pantomimes. That birthday I felt like a princess, and I wanted to feel like a princess again.
I rubbed my face, disturbing the pepperoni slices on it, and walked to my bedroom mirror. There have been times in my life when I wished I could just collapse in my bed and weep, but I can’t cry. My eyes are mushrooms and my pupils are tiny pepperoni slices. I can see, but I can’t make tears fall.
So whenever I feel sad, I sing.
When I was a child, I saw a Christmas cartoon about a creature that melted – a possible fate for me – and since I couldn’t cry at it, I sang the song from it. I sang that song again in front of my bedroom mirror, quietly so as not to wake the neighbours, in hopes that would calm me enough that I could get back to sleep.
I didn’t feel any more sleepy. In fact, I felt more awake than ever.
Light filled my bedroom.
I turned around and there she was; a ghostly woman in a long dress, her head topped with a tiara not unlike the one I wore on my seventh birthday. A woman who glided towards me, holding out her hand. I froze.
‘You have a beautiful singing voice,’ said the woman, ‘and it’s a voice that deserves to be heard.’
I said nothing.
‘Hello, Lisa,’ the woman continued, ‘I’m your fairy godmother, and I know what you want.’
I remained silent and still, attempting to process this occurrence. This was something I had dreamed about for decades, that after all the suffering, all the mockery, all the drooling and licking of lips, someone would come along and end it with magic. They’d deliver punishment upon all those people who tried to munch on me, perhaps have rats chew on them to see how they’d like it. They’d give me an audience to watch me perform and sing.
They’d make me beautiful. They’d make me like everyone else, a being of flesh and blood instead of mozzarella and passata.
This being before me, I felt she could do all that. She had teleported into my bedroom, after all, and she teleported me and her into a familiar place.
Fairy Tale Land. Abandoned for years, with the shoe house and the Three Bears’ cottage covered in graffiti. And there was I, standing in the middle of this abandoned place in my pyjamas. I never went out without a mask or an umbrella or a coat or a cooling vest like sports mascots wear. It was a cool night, so there was little chance of me melting, yet there was still the chance it could rain. I wrapped my arms around myself.
‘Don’t be scared,’ said the Fairy Godmother, a goblet in her hands, ‘I know you’re tired of being a pizza creature. Drink this, and you’ll have a better body. One not made of cheese, one lovely and attractive.’
Something rattled in my brain telling me to run, yet my mushroom eyes were drawn to the goblet. Years of anguish and anxiety, I thought, could be ended with a single sip of that liquid. I imagined guzzling it down and then, where once stood Lisa the Pizza Woman, there would be a beautiful woman who could never melt or be reduced to nothing by mice. I could sunbathe without worrying about melting, I could take a shower without coming apart, I could cry.
‘Come on, drink.’
I still stared at the goblet before me.
I reached out for it, only for it to be knocked away by a certain hand.
‘No!’ Natalie now stood before me. ‘It’s a trick.’
That’s why I hesitated in drinking it. It sounded too good to be true.
‘Stay out of this!’ hissed the fairy godmother, right before Natalie punched her head off. Yes, the godmother’s head came right off, revealing wires and circuits.
Natalie pointed to a display based on The Wizard of Oz. Behind the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Lion sat a little yellow possum, working some controls and speaking into a microphone.
‘Fairy Godmothers can be robots,’ she said into the microphone, ‘Don’t think me less legitimate…’ She looked up at us and snarled. ‘How dare you betray me,’ she said to Natalie, ‘I summoned you to do my bidding!’
‘Well, sometimes I don’t want to do bidding,’ retorted Natalie, ‘You were going to turn my friend into chocolate and feed her to…’
‘You got to admit,’ said the possum, ‘that would have been pretty funny. She hoping that she finally has a chance for a normal life, only to…’
It happened involuntarily. I stretched my arm towards the possum and it wrapped around her. As she bore her teeth, I tightened my grip, only for her to disappear and reappear on top of the Scarecrow. ‘Don’t do this!’ the possum snarled, ‘I am all-powerful!’
‘Yeah, yeah, sure,’ smirked Natalie, ‘hence why you needed that bucket of bolts there.’
At that, the possum whistled, and from behind a cottage, there came a pink moose charging towards us. ‘Get them,’ growled the possum.
Again, it happened involuntarily. I lifted my arm at the moose, and I actually shot some cheese into his eyes. After I did that, I grabbed Natalie and we both dove out of the way as he ran and then crashed into a wall. Now that I knew that I could do that, I shot another blob of cheese, this time at the possum. She flew backwards into her machinery before she and the moose disappeared.
‘Lisa!’ Natalie and I embraced each other in a hug. ‘Glad you didn’t drink any of that stuff,’ she added, gesturing towards the bubbling liquid on the ground.
‘That would have really turned me into chocolate?’ I said, shaking my head, ‘I almost did drink that, you know.’
‘Because you thought it would make you “beautiful”? It would make you “normal?”’
‘Well, why would you want to be normal? Did you see yourself out there?’
Twenty-six years I’ve been on this earth, and it was only then I learned about my powers. I tested them out again, stretching my arms and legs, throwing another glob of cheese, with Natalie applauding me all the while.
‘You could be a superhero, you know,’ said Natalie, ‘The Amazing Pizza Woman! Speaking of which, the Lemon Possum has a prisoner we really should be freeing.’
Natalie was brought here to torture a prisoner. I was brought here to be turned into chocolate and force-fed to that prisoner who didn’t like chocolate. That prisoner was a kangaroo in a business suit; Natalie claimed his daughter summoned her at a party once.
‘Thank you,’ said Karl, for that was his name, as we undid his ropes and removed his gag, ‘any enemy of the Lemon Possum is a friend of mine.’ As we helped him to his feet, I explained what happened, and found myself talking about why I had woken up that night, my thoughts and my story.
‘Oh,’ Karl said as we left where he was being kept – Red Riding Hood’s house, ‘I’ve been in pantomimes myself, you know. I could probably get you a role in one, with what I have in my wallet…’
‘No, thank you,’ I said, ‘but you can listen to me sing, if you want.’
‘Very well then,’ replied Karl, and he and Natalie sat on the ground as I sang the song I sung before I came here. Normally, I sung when I was sad, but this was a song of relief, a song of happiness that served to emphasise the fact I was here with my best friend and I accepted who I was.
‘Very lovely,’ said Karl, before handing me a card, ‘you do remind me of my daughter; she had a beautiful singing voice too. You can call me when you need me.’ He gestured at the card before Natalie waved her arm and made him disappear.
‘Could you get me back too?’ I asked Natalie, ‘I have work tomorrow, and I think it’s about to rain.’
In an instant, I was back in my bedroom, with Natalie beside me. ‘You can call me when you need me too, you know,’ she said before we embraced again, giving a warmth that soothed me instead of melting me. When we let go, Natalie smiled at me and said, ‘And you are beautiful.’