Giving It Her Best Shot

WORDS TO USE:  glue – strawberry – penguin – slippers – giggly

PROMPT: Write about being in a talent show.

The annual, secret, late-night Andersonville Zoo Talent Contest was finally happening. Everyone had practiced so hard for it. Then a change in zoo staff in their schedules had worried the animals. Could they still do it?

Penny shoved those thoughts aside. Their plans had all worked out. The sneaky chimps who always managed to get out of their area whenever they pleased had done their assigned task. They prepared special water laced with a small sedative and distributed it to the night staff’s breakrooms. When the staff woke up, the contest would be over, and the animals all be safely back in their designated zoo homes.

Penny was so excited that she could barely stay still. She was giggly. This was such an important night for her, for everyone around her.

In the dimly lit backstage area of the zoo’s amphitheater for special concerts, she glanced around at the other talent show contestants waiting nearby. Zinnia the hippo’s sides trembled with impatience. Tony the rabbit’s nose twitched with nerves. Ginger, the fainting goat, struggled to keep her eyes open and mumbled, “Don’t fall down. Don’t fall down.”

Beyond their area, she heard the audience of zoo animals clapping and cheering on Betty, the giraffe, tap dancing on the stage. Penny was proud of her for doing it when her peer giraffes didn’t think she could do it.

Penny firmly believed you could do whatever you wanted to do, and she wasn’t worried about her act. She had this! She’d practiced a hundred times. No, a thousand times. No one would be expecting a ballerina penguin doing a pirouette, not even a sort of odd one like she did.

Something distracted her from watching Betty. She sniffed, sniffed deeper, and heard Harold the camel groaning in embarrassment. Nerves had finally gotten to him, and he’d had an “accident” that was stinking up the small area. Poor guy.

Everyone tried to move away from the big, brown blob while Betty danced off the far side of the stage. Then the announcer called out, “Alfred is next on the program.”

Alfred, the massive, gentle polar bear standing next to Penny, jumped nearly a foot on hearing his name. Then her best zoo friend stood frozen in place, barely breathing. Panicked.

The announcer called his name again, and Penny could tell the audience was frustrated with his lack of appearance.

She waddled closer to him in her glued-on strawberry slippers. She touched his huge arm, and he looked at her, fear in his eyes. Fear so strong she could almost taste it. In a second, she knew he would turn and flee.

“You can do it, Alfred,” Penny said with faith in her friend. “I know you can.” She gave his furry back a slight nudge.

He drew in a deep breath, steadied himself, and strolled out. He towered over the much shorter announcer, who stepped quickly away, though he looked like he wanted to run.

Alfred gave a brief glance toward Penny for reassurance.

She gave him her best encouraging smile.

After another awkward few seconds, he began singing in his deep, bass voice. “Tale as old as time. True as it can be. Barely even friends.”

He hesitated in his lines from the “Beauty and the Beast” song. He looked toward Penny once more.

She flashed him another smile and waved a flipper at him to go on singing.

He faced the fascinated audience again. “Then somebody bends. Unexpectedly Just a little change. Small, to say the least.” He pulled in a breath. “Both a little scared. Neither one prepared. Beauty and the Beast. Ever just the same.”

By the time he finished the song, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Not in the audience. Not backstage with the other contestants. And Penny was sobbing her heart out at his powerful performance.

Finished with his song, Alfred moseyed off the stage. He held his head high, and pride glistened in his eyes. He stopped in front of Penny, rumbling, “That was for you, my little friend. You gave me the courage to come here today. You believed in me.”

She sniffed back another sob at his heartfelt words. “Yes, yes I did.”

“And next is our surprise ballet performance by Penny.”

Penny’s heart pounded in her chest, and her eyes widened. She couldn’t seem to move.

When Alfred put his massive paw on her back, he smiled and walked with her to center stage.

The announcer gaped at them. “Are you… Are you both…?”

Alfred’s roar of a laugh sent the announcer scurrying away and had the audience gasping. Until he turned, stepping a few feet away from Penny. He gave an impressive bow, saying, “Show them what you can do, my friend. Make everyone see that anyone can do what they believe they can.”

He bowed once more and left the stage.

Penny took his words to heart and let the music to Swan Lake played on a stereo behind her fill her soul. This ballet had long been regarded as one of the most demanding ballets. But she could do this! She was sure that no one anywhere would ever perform it with such grace and skill. Okay, being a penguin, she couldn’t do the leaps as high as a human dancer. But it didn’t matter to her, and the audience didn’t care about that either. They applauded enthusiastically throughout her entire five-minute performance.

When she stopped in the middle of the stage, breathless from exertion, she started to collapse. In a flash, Alfred was there for her. He scooped her into his muscled arms and held her up to face the still clapping audience.

Penny had been the final performer. After some quick deliberation by the judges just off the stage, the winner would soon be announced. The other contestants stepped out and surrounded Alfred and Penny. Everyone waited anxiously for the decision.

Alfred glanced at the others around them, getting subtle nods, and moved to the front of the stage. He looked intently down at the judges. Then up at the audience.

Penny wiggled in his arms, whispering, “Put me down. This is embarrassing.”

He did, but he put his hand on her head to keep her standing in front of him. Again, he looked from the silent judges to the expectant audience. “All of the performances tonight were good.” He smiled down at Penny. “But Penny’s was by far the best. I proclaim her the winner.”

“You can’t—” Penny protested, touched by his pronouncement.

“I did.”

The wild applause from in front of her and behind her had Penny blinking back tears of happiness. She’d done it! She’d actually done it! But how could she top this performance next year?

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