The Personal Appearance
By Barry O’Farrell
“She has finally returned home to Australia,” Ron Trask, the local sports media entity, announced dramatically through the P.A. to the 2,500 or so people already lined up outside the largest bookstore in the shopping mall. “She has now arrived in the building,” he continued, “And will appear on this very stage, right here, in just one minute.” The crown cheered and shuffled forward a little.
“Have your DVDs and books ready to be signed.” Trask paused, took a breath then announced to the mall as a whole, “If you haven’t bought a DVD or book, remember there are only seven more sleeps to Christmas and what a great, last minute Christmas gift they would make.”
Before he could continue with his sales pitch, security signalled they were ready. Trask immediately went into ring announcer mode:
“Lad-i-e-e-z-z and gentlemen. Presenting, and introducing, the reigning, undisputed, middle weight champion of the world. The greatest, Aussie world champion in the history of female mixed martial arts, Australia’s own, The Heavenly One, Heavenly Helen Haven.”
On cue, Helen Haven burst through the curtained doorway of the book shop, wearing a pink tracksuit from the range of her newly launched ‘Heavenly’ brand of sportswear, and bounced onto the makeshift stage. Predictably, cheering erupted.
Despite the wolf whistles in the crowd, today ‘The Heavenly One’ didn’t look quite so heavenly. Helen sported a black eye plus a vertical cut through her left eyebrow held closed by a pair of butterfly bandages, the battle scars of her successful title defence, televised live per the lucrative pay per view cable sports network, from Las Vegas the previous weekend.
Helen knew taking on the highly ranked and highly regarded American girl in her own backyard would be a big risk. When her opponent fought like a woman possessed in front of her home crowd, the fight proved to be a two woman war and the toughest of her career.
Beaming her best smile, she waved to the applauding crowd whilst mouthing a “Thank You.” As the applause died down, two teenage boys found the cheek to call out, “Love you, Helen.”
“Love you right back,” answered Helen as quick as a whip, to the amusement of the crowd.
Helen took up a marker pen and began the day’s task of signing each item presented to her, trying to find a smile and an appreciative word for each customer. Focussing on the people was therapeutic for her in that it helped to distract her from the three or four niggling little points of pain in her body.
Ron Trask discreetly attended to his secondary function; he identified, special needs children in the crowd. The Heavenly One always made to time to talk to disabled or disadvantaged children regardless of her schedule.
Trask signalled Helen he was shepherding someone forward. Helen quickly observed both the young man and the MS pin worn by his Father. Helen stood up and moved to the side of platform to meet them.
“What is your name handsome?”
“Robert”, the young man answered blushing.
“How old are you Robert?”
“Fourteen next birthday,” he said quickly adding, “I watch you fight.”
“When I get into the cage, are you on my side?”
“Yes I am,” was his emphatic response.
“Tell me Robert, what is the most difficult part of your weekly routine?”
“Stairmaster,” was the instantaneous reply.
“It is also the apparatus which gives him the single most benefit,” chimed in Robert’s Father.
“Stairmaster is tough,” continued Robert, “On a bad day, I can’t even look at it.”
“I am on your side. Look at me.” Helen fixed her gaze on him. “I want you to remember, I am on your side. On a bad day, it will be you and me looking at the Stairmaster together. We will attack it together. It can’t beat the two of us. I want you to attack it for me. I know you can do it. OK?”
Robert nodded with a determined look in his eye responding, ”OK.”
“That’s my man. What can I sign for you?”
“My favourite photo of you. I downloaded it and printed it myself.”
Helen wrote, “To Robert, my friend who attacks the Stairmaster with me. Best wishes, Heavenly Helen Haven.”
“Can I have a kiss on the cheek,” asked Robert blushing even worse.
“Of course you can,” said Helen pausing briefly to allow time for Robert’s Father to focus his camera. She obliged his request and smiled.
As Robert moved away, his Father winked at Helen in thanks. Subtlety, Trask turned her to the next child.
Helen guessed the girl was 12 or 13, perhaps 14 but it was hard to tell with a child afflicted with Downs Syndrome.
“I’m Helen. What is your name?”
The little girl’s response was to pull the top of her t-shirt forward with both hands, showing off the name DORA printed on the front in obvious, large and colourful font. With Helen’s gaze fixed on her, Dora curled the pointer finger of her own left hand, put the first knuckle in her mouth and sucked on it.
“Can you autograph her t-shirt for her please?” asked Dora’s Mother indicating the right shoulder. “Dora is your biggest fan,” continued the Mother as Helen signed. ”We never miss a fight. Dora is thrilled to meet you.”
“I fight for you,” began Helen, “When I get into the cage, are you on my side?”
Dora nodded and continued to suck her knuckle.
“Look at me,” said Helen. “I am on your side. I want you to know that.”
Dora’s Mother smiled.
“Tell me Dora, what is the one most difficult thing for you?” continued Helen. Dora looked at the ceiling and then looked at the floor.
“Her school grades nosedived this year,” Dora’s Mother answered candidly, “And we don’t know why.” Helen didn’t move her gaze from Dora. The anxious tone in the woman’s voice said it all.
Simultaneously the realisation clicked with Helen. The Mother was doing all the talking. Dora was yet to say a word.
Dora looked to the left, looked to the right, then looked at the floor.
“I want to help you,” continued Helen, “Look at me Dora.” Fleetingly, Dora made eye contact. Dora’s eyes had now began to grow wide. “I will stand by your side. I will fight for you. I want you to know I will.”
Dora’s eyes continued to grow wider. Her left hand fell to her side. Startlingly, her face lit up becoming a vision of hope.
“Look at me.” Dora finally met and held Helen’s full gaze intensely. It was as if Dora was asking if this was possible, if this was happening, if this was really true.
“That’s right. I want you to know I fight for you. It’s OK, Dora, you can talk to me. I’m on your side.”
Dora nodded then leant her face forward. Deliberately, quietly, she confided to Helen, “Our priest, Father Frank, says I can’t tell anyone our secret.”
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Barry O’Farrell (BarryO_Tweet) is an actor who sometimes writes, living in Brisbane, Australia. Barry’s other stories can be found in A Story In 100 Words, 101 Words, Cyclamens & Swords and 50 Word Stories.