Daphne needs a wealthy husband, but she's an idiot. 2nd Place Rhythms & Writing, July 2018
Daphne Snot brushed a peroxide blonde bang from her face and smiled for the TV cameras. She marched confidently across the studio floor, swishing her ankle-length, floral dress, then claimed a seat on the spacious, crescent-shaped sofa next to her billionaire fiance. Now that she'd reached the wrong side of forty, she feared the bright lights might reveal the wrinkles spreading out from her eyes. Cosmetics could only cover so much, but at least she was still pretty. After what happened in Mexico last year, she hadn’t wanted to do this interview, but Wang insisted. Apparently, he wanted to show her off to the whole of China.
Wang reached over and hugged her. As usual, he stank of stale cigarettes and Scotch, but she clung to him as if he smelled like the perfume counter at Macy’s. At least he wasn’t bad looking for a man two decades her senior. Squeezed into a smart tuxedo and with his puffy red lips, the chubby sixty-year-old reminded her of that cute little penguin from children's TV—Pingu. Simply adorable.
“Welcome to Beijing Today,” said Miss Dian Deng Pao, the show’s pig-faced presenter. She tilted toward the camera in such a way that her ample cleavage must dominate the screen in viewers’ homes and fluttered her heavily mascaraed eyelashes. Daphne couldn't help but be cognizant of the fact that this porcine yet voluptuous femme fatale was the exact same age she'd been when she hooked and reeled in Cyril over a decade ago.
“On today’s show," continued Miss Dian, "I’m pleased to have well-known local philanthropist Mr. Wang Jin, CEO of Wang Automobiles International, along with his new fiancee, Mrs. Snot.”
Daphne nodded demurely, while Wang grinned from ear to ear and patted her thigh in a possessive manner.
“Of course, all China knows you, Jin Jin,” continued Miss Dian, taking a seat on the sofa to his other side. “Who could possibly forget your generous donation to the Beijing People’s Orphanage or your enthusiastic participation in the drive to improve women’s literacy in Xinjiang Province.” She turned to Daphne with a smirk. “But you are quite the mystery to our home audience.”
Daphne covered her mouth and giggled. Hopefully, an affected childish manner would hide the cynicism born of bitter experience.
Miss Dian glanced at the notes in her hands, but the scheming glint in her eyes intimated she knew full well what she was going to say next. “So, Daphne…you don’t mind if I call you Daphne?”
“Not at all.”
“Daphne, you were born in Chicago?”
She shuffled on the padded seat. “No. In Detroit, actually.” She vaguely remembered a cramped and musty trailer parked alongside 8 Mile Road. She’d had to share a bed with her siblings Emmy, Lou, and Steve, while her parents slept on a sofa. She shuddered. If she wanted to avoid a return to those conditions, she'd better get herself hitched to somebody with the wherewithal as soon as possible. “My parents moved to Chicago after my father lost his job at Chrysler. I attended high school there.”
“Both a far cry from the luxury mansion in Beverly Hills, where you lived with your ex-husband, Cyril Snot.”
“My dearly departed husband.” Daphne sniffed. Thankfully, he'd kicked the bucket before he initiated his intended divorce proceedings, so she could play the inconsolable widow card.
“Yes, of course.” Miss Dian edged a little closer to Wang. “And you first met the aging, British punk rock star when you were working as a stripper in Las Vegas?”
The heat rose in her cheeks, and she glanced at Wang's face to judge his reaction to this revelation. She'd been a hostess, not a stripper, but she had done one or two things to get by that she wasn't especially proud of now. Wang just smiled, and she guessed he must be fully aware of that episode in her murky past. She only hoped he hadn't hired a good private detective to dig all the skeletons out from her closet.
“No.” She adjusted her dress' skirt. “A lounge singer.” That sounded slightly better than a hostess, and she had sung Happy Birthday to countless numbers of patrons while working there. “I was performing at the Golden Nugget when I caught Cyril’s eye.” She’d had to do a lot more than sing to catch his eye, but she wasn’t about to admit that on camera.
“And didn’t your age difference cause some controversy at the time?”
She gripped the silky fabric of her skirt. “A few of Cyril’s fans were jealous and said unkind things.” Given that he’d been old enough to be her grandfather, that wasn’t surprising. "But age is just a number. Look how happy Jin Jin and I are, and he's a little older than me." There! She wasn't hiding it.
Miss Dian nodded. “Jealous people can be cruel.”
Daphne produced a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed her forehead. The lights must be causing her to overheat.
“And of course your husband had many, many fans. His second album, Snot on my Face, was a double-platinum hit worldwide, and who could ever forget his most famous single, Party Till Everybody Pukes?”
“Cyril was very talented.” Actually, he was tone deaf and sang like a horny tomcat on crack, but she’d never voice that opinion where anybody could hear.
“Sadly, you missed the height of his fame. Why, when Esquire magazine named him the World’s Ugliest Man in 1980, you were in kindergarten.”
Daphne involuntarily flinched. That was actually one of her earliest memories. Her father had frequently threatened her with Cyril’s photograph from that magazine. Whenever she was naughty, her father would say, “If you don’t behave, I’ll invite Cyril Snot 'round to kiss you goodnight.” Ironically, that’s how she’d recognized him so easily that night in the Golden Nugget when all the other hostesses were avoiding the unpleasant old man dressed like a bum and swearing like a sailor.
“One of Cyril's closest friends once described him as ‘the most obnoxious man in Christendom'. What was life with Cyril Snot really like?”
“Oh, he wasn’t all that bad.” Apart from the garlic breath and stinky armpits. “He had many good points.” Mainly the decimal points in his Coutts bank checking account.
Miss Dian moved on to another topic. “You were quite the celebrity couple in Hollywood.”
She nodded. She couldn’t deny that during their turbulent ten-year marriage, their photographs had appeared almost daily in gossip magazines.
“You were known as The Queen of Faux Pas, weren’t you?”
“A silly nickname used by a few unkind reporters.” She glanced across to see Wang's reaction. The happy sparkle in his eyes said that he didn't mind if she occasionally put her foot in it.
“I suppose.” Miss Dian placed a crooked finger on her pouty lips. “But what I really don’t understand is why you decided to move to Mexico after Mr. Snot died. Why didn’t you go back to Chicago where your sister Emmy lives or Detroit to stay with your brother Steve? You could even have remained in the California Bay area. Why go all the way to Mexico?”
She wiped an imaginary tear from the corner of her eye. “After Cyril passed, I was distraught.” That much was true. She’d never imagined a man so incoherent most of the time would think to write a will and leave almost every dime to his thirteen adult kids instead of her. Thankfully, the jewelry he'd given her had proved saleable, and so far she'd been able to maintain her lifestyle. Sadly, she was now down to her last hundred thousand bucks. “I couldn’t bear to stay anywhere where there were constant reminders of my dear departed husband.” Every time she saw Cyril’s picture in the newspapers, she wanted to hurl.
“So, you moved to Mexico for a fresh start?”
“Exactly.” Every eligible billionaire in the western world labeled her a gold digger, but Mexico had seemed a conveniently close place to start afresh.
“But your reputation followed.”
Miss Dian smirked and crossed her legs so that her knee nudged Wang’s thigh. His cheeks darkened, and he loosened his collar.
“My Mexican sources tell me that you hit it off rather well with the popular telenovela star Django Saldana da Gama. Weren’t you two an item for several months?”
Wang raised a wiry eyebrow. “You never mentioned a boyfriend in Mexico.”
Daphne straightened his tie and brushed the non-existent dust from his lapels. “It wasn’t anything serious. He was just a friend.”
“A very handsome friend,” added Miss Dian. “The romantic lead in a half-dozen popular Mexican TV series.”
“I see,” said Wang, straightening on the sofa.
A droplet of sweat trickled down her spine. They really ought to turn the air conditioning down. “Django was only ever romantic on TV. It was all make-believe. He wasn’t half so charming in real life.”
Wang snorted but appeared mollified.
Miss Dian offered him a sympathetic smile and rested her elbow on the back of the sofa behind his shoulders so that she practically had her arm around him. He blinked then edged away, practically climbing onto Daphne's lap to escape.
"Stick that in your pipe and smoke it," was a phrase she'd grown to hate when arguing with Cyril, but now Daphne found herself wanting to say it herself. She'd never felt as vindicated as at this moment. Wang wanted her and not this young, media whore.
Miss Dian licked her lips and turned to Daphne. “You were”—she coughed—”very good friends with Django right up until you made a huge public faux pas.”
“It was a little misunderstanding, that’s all.”
“Why don’t you tell us in your own words?”
“Well, during my childhood I loved The Lone Ranger TV show. There was a character called Tonto—a brave hero. When I first met Django, he reminded me so much of Tonto—tall, dark-skinned, and devilishly handsome—that in my head I began calling him that.”
“But it didn’t stay in your head, did it?”
Daphne examined her intertwined fingers. “We were doing a live interview for Entertainment Mexico. The presenter asked me how I felt about Django, and I told the whole of Mexico that he was my Tonto.”
“I understand that caused some uproar.”
She shrugged. “How was I supposed to know that tonto means idiot in Spanish?”
Miss Dian covered her mouth with one hand, obviously stifling a laugh. Daphne swept back her hair and avoided Dian’s gaze. She wouldn’t be caught out like that again.
Wang patted Daphne’s knee in a comforting manner. “Don’t worry, darling. I know that you don’t think I’m an idiot.”
“Of course not!”
Miss Dian chuckled. "The People's Republic is a long way from Mexico. What first brought you to our shores?"
Daphne sighed with relief. She'd prepared for this question. "China is such an amazing country that I think every American should spend some time here if they are able. It's the oldest civilization in the world and the source of so many important inventions—paper, printing, the compass, and fireworks. The Forbidden City truly has to be seen to be believed, while they say the Great Wall can be seen from space."
"So you're interested in our culture?"
"You bet!" That and the fact that Beijing has more new billionaires per square foot than any city in America.
Miss Dian cocked her head. “And now you're here, what exactly attracted you to the billionaire Wang Jin?”
Daphne straightened in her seat and grinned at Wang. “Oh, he’s my chubby little Pingu.”
Miss Dian’s eyes widened. “Did you just say chubby pìgu?”
“You called Mr. Wang Jin, the most eligible man in China, a fat pìgu*?”
Wang stood and glared at Daphne. “I didn’t come here to be insulted!” He marched out of the studio without once glancing back.
Miss Dian shook her head. “Daphne, darling, I really think you'd be better off going back to Mexico.”
* pìgu means ass in Chinese.
WORD COUNT: 2000
Cover image by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com