Amos Goode’s mother, Bianca, was a twin. She was beautiful, talented, and like her sister Chiquita, had studied to be a singer-dancer when she grew up. Unlike her twin, however, Bianca was not ambitious. After modest success in the theater, she retired to marry Clyde Goode (Amos’s father), move to the suburbs, and open a dance studio.
Meanwhile Chiquita, role-by-role, built her reputation and her success. Initially, she was cast in two musical revivals. First as Fiona in Brigadoon (Maid Marion – owner of the Elegant Eccentricities Gift Shop – played her younger sister, Jean, which was the beginning of their lifelong friendship); then as Sergeant Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls. Finally, she got a starring role in a brand new musical called An Epiphany of Sorts, which was wildly successful, even though four potential investors had kept their checkbooks securely sealed on the assumption that “No one will know what the word ‘Epiphany’ means.”
Silly them. It ran for three years.
After that, there was no keeping Chiquita down.
Her life off the stage, though, was about as glamorous as a coffee mug, and when she was not performing, she could usually be found in a house she shared with her husband, Gus Bamberger, two blocks away from her sister’s home.
Like most twins, Chiquita and Bianca remained devoted to each other, and Chiquita, being childless, was as good at being a doting aunt as she was at being a single name celebrity (like Garbo or Gable).
Amos was her only, and she constantly stressed, her favorite nephew.
Neither Chiquita nor anyone else in the family, including her twin, could have projected the stellar trajectory of her career, which over a span of thirty years progressed from theatrical productions to starring roles in movies (always singing and dancing), to dramatic roles on television (she won an Emmy playing a terminally ill high school drama teacher), to retiring from the stage after the then-mayor of The Big City, Cromwell Debham, appointed her to be Commissioner of Cultural Affairs.
To quote a famous celebrity photographer, “Ingénues have smooth skin and big egos. Mature actresses – the lucky ones – have high cheekbones and wisdom.”
At age fifty, Chiquita had both.
Her figure had not changed an inch or a pound since she was eighteen. The skin around her eyes and on her neck was faintly wrinkled, and her cheekbones were considerably more prominent than when she had played Fiona in Brigadoon. It would be easy to say that she could pass for thirty, but more accurate to describe her beauty as timeless.
Whereas her best friend, Maid Marion, gloried in hair that had turned prematurely silver and as a consequence, she looked twenty years older than her real age, Chiquita’s hair – by nature or artifice – was still a luxuriant brown. Despite their radically different styles, however, both women were universally considered drop-dead gorgeous.
Chiquita had intelligent brown eyes, a face so delicate you felt that you could cradle it in the palm of your hand, short spiky hair, and a laugh so loud it might have emerged from the soul of a lumberjack. While performing her duties as Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, she often wore eyeglasses, but, instead of them lessening her appeal, they made her appear somehow sassier. She wore dresses that revealed a slender and curvaceous figure, but also managed to exude elegance, and she always wore large, eye-catching jewelry.
A famous designer once commented about Chiquita’s style that no one should attempt to emulate it, because only she could pull it off.
Chiquita adored her husband, Gus Bamberger, a forensic anthropologist who had spent the early part of his career working in law enforcement, but when Chiquita gave up Broadway to become the Cultural Affairs Commissioner, retired from city government to work as an independent consultant.
Gus Bamberger’s attitude toward his wife’s fame, popularity, and career (he would just smile, bemused, if someone called him “Mr. Chiquita) could be summed up in six words: “I get to take her home.”
As Cultural Affairs Commissioner, one of Chiquita’s first priorities was to bring corporate sponsorship to theatrical productions in public high schools. She coaxed, charmed, and bullied large and small businesses to provide funding, in exchange for which she would sing their praise in school newsletters, on the Internet, in social media, and on stage bills. These same corporate entities were encouraged to create “summer jobs for teens” programs, as well as internships for high school graduates who were not interested in going to college.
When grim-faced anti-business types complained that the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs was “commercializing education,” Chiquita responded with a flutter of her long eyelashes and said, “Thank you, Darling. I didn’t think that you noticed. Now, let’s commercialize art.”
She was about to bring corporate sponsorships to high school art departments when Mayor Cromwell Debham woke up one morning, called out the word “Rosebud” (only joking), clutched at his heart, and dropped dead.
Debham had been a popular mayor with less than a year to serve in his first term, and he had been expected to run unopposed in the next election. His lieutenant mayor, a competent woman who could have ably replaced him, became pregnant with twins shortly after she was sworn in. Although she agreed to finish out Debham’s term, she stated that she had neither the energy nor the desire to be a four-year mayor and would not be running for office herself.
This left the field wide open.
Five people – three men and two women – threw their hats into the ring. Each was a career politician, none had ever held a job in the private sector, all owed debts to pressure groups and campaign contributors, and all had agendas unrelated to the welfare of their constituents.
From the sidelines, Chiquita Bamberger observed all five, none of whom impressed and all of whom depressed her.
Regardless of who won, however, she was not worried about losing her job as she knew she was so popular that if she wanted to, she could run for mayor herself. She had recited that same sentence to herself so many times that three months before the election, she snapped her fingers, dashed into her husband’s office and asked, “Would you divorce me if I ran for mayor?”
Gus Bamberger smiled and replied, “I’d only divorce you if you ran for president. I don’t want to be the First Lady.”
Chiquita plopped onto his lap, wrapped her arms around his neck, and then began to plant red lipstick kisses all over his laughing face.
Her campaign slogan was “Listen to me. I’ve got nothing to lose.” And everyone knew she was telling the truth.
Her landslide victory was no surprise.
But people weren’t quite sure if they had voted for her ideas, her celebrity, her brown eyes, her gorgeous wardrobe, or her charm. They soon found out, however, that she meant what her slogan said.
In response to pressure groups that disagreed with her policies and threatened to end her career, her comeback was:
Political hacks and vengeful journalists did not know what to do with her.
She was beholden to nobody, and in determining what was best for the city, she did exactly as she pleased.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2021. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com