Elvira Smugglepants was next on the stage, and if Meeshtar thought a teddybear was a weird talent, he was about to be electrocuted from shock! Miss Smugglepants's talent took the gold medal, for, you see, from the pocket of her frilly pink knickers, Miss Elvira whipped out a sardine! She dangled it in front of her face for the entire audience to see.
The Meowses in their seats booed. They hissed. They shouted cruel names. They tossed their shirt buttons. Their chubby faces flared as red as the flickering "Emergency Exit" sign at the back of the theater, and their clenched knuckles turned bleach-white.
Miss Smugglepants took no notice. She smiled, twirled her ringlets with her finger, and curtseyed.
That was when it occurred to Meeshtar that he hadn't seen that sardine growing on the bush, or he would have picked that instead of the stupid scissors. At least a sardine would have been worth something. He could have eaten that! But, ooooh no. Miss Smugglepants must have gotten to it first.
Meeshtar bared his two teeth, growled, and thumped his tail against the hardwood. If Miss Smugglepants won, so help him, he was going to take it up with the jerk who was in charge of this event. He'd be sure to let them know that the show was rigged, because, after all, Meeshtar was now certain that someone had known Meeshtar's true talent was eating, and it was obvious that they hid the sardine because they wanted Meeshtar to lose!
It wasn't the fact that Elvira was fortunate enough to pick the sardine, that got Meeshtar's tail thumping. It was what Elvira did with the sardine that made his fur twist in knots. You see, she didn't eat the fish. Nor, did she attempt to cook with it. No..., apparently no one had informed Miss Smugglepants that sardines are a food item.
As Elvira Smugglepants rose from her curtsey, the conductor tapped his stick on his music stand, raised it in the air, and with a flick of the wrist, the orchestra struck the first chord of "Los Dos Sardinas,"--a popular tango song that Meeshtar was never fond of, and certainly didn't like any better now!
Miss Smugglepants winked at the audience, and as she stepped forward into the spotlight, the sardine grew. It grew and grew until it was a wee bit taller than she was. It wrapped its fins around her waist, and the two of them strutted across the stage.
Meeshtar couldn't bare to witness this display, because all the while she was spinning in circles with the sardine in her arms, Meeshtar drooled. He wanted to eat that fish! It was the good thing the Meowse guards had him tied up, or he might not have been able to stop himself from doing just that. Besides. He didn't really see the point of this silly talent. Why on Earth would she tango with a fish?
Nevertheless, the odd couple tangoed across the stage, over to... a sewing machine?
Meeshtar scratched his head. Now where did that come from? His eyes bugged as he watched Miss Smugglepants flip on the machine, and tap her foot on a pedal beneath the sewing table. Faster and faster her foot tapped. Her nimble fingers pushed the golden material beneath the pounding needle.
The sardine hovered over, watching, and every once in a while raised his fins above his head for a cheer from the audience--though, he didn't receive anything more than a muttered groan, and a few tossed carrots that smacked him in the gills.
As "Los Dos Sardinas" crashed into its tango crescendo, Miss Smugglepants flashed the audience her masterpiece: a glittering tuxedo, just the sardine's new size. It was a costume fit for a king!
Meeshtar growled. Drool slithered out his parted lips and puddled on the floor. He inhaled the salty-scented sardine through his mouth, so he might taste its scent in the air. Why, oh why, wasn't she eating that fish? He tugged on the rope around his neck, but it was no use, for the guard only pulled tighter on the other end. A dagger jabbed into Meeshtar's back.
Meeshtar sighed and laid back down in his drool puddle, closed his eyes, and in his mind's eye, pictured a sardine fillet with a lemon wedge on a plate, a napkin tied 'round his neck, and a dish of fresh whole milk--the kind with the cream on top--to wash it down.
Miss Smugglepants slipped the tuxedo over the fish's head and worked his fins through the sleeves. The sardine straightened his back. He stood on the tip of his wobbling fins and waved at the audience.
The Meowses booed and hissed. The sardine slumped back into Miss Smugglepants's arms, and the two of them took off, tangoing across the stage once again.
But as the song reached its final, strutting chords, the sardine's face flushed red. Meeshtar swore he could see steam rising out of its eyes and gills, a bit like a tea-pot about to boil over. In fact, the sardine actually looked like he was about to burst! And what do you know. That fish shot out of Miss Smugglepants's arms, up, up, up into the air, and, Ka-BOOM-Ka-BANG! The sardine exploded, new suit and all, into the most spectacular grand-finale of a fireworks display Meeshtar had ever seen! Bright flashes, deafening booms, bangs, and brilliant colors filled the theater. Meeshtar had to cover his eyes, for fear of being blinded.
Apparently, Meeshtar learned later on that this particular sardine had been born of the Mushroomous Cloudous species--which means, they detonate when they reach the age of one-hundred-plus-twenty-plus-three! And to think Meeshtar never even knew that Sardine bombs existed. He doubted that there were such a thing back home, but if there were, he would have to avoid eating sardines all together, for fear his stomach might be ripped apart. He was suddenly grateful that he'd picked his scissors instead of that fish. In fact, Meeshtar decided that someone was obviously looking out for him, and after the show, he would thank the person in charge for not letting him eat that sardine.
As the fireworks and "Los Dos Sardinas" came to an end, the toad hopped back on top of his hat, the Aye Aye once again strutted onto the stage, and the hanky was raised over Miss Smugglepants's head. The Aye Aye's meter slumped into the red zone. He squeezed his eyes shut and giggled.
Meeshtar blew air out the side of his mouth and rolled his eyes. He'd had about enough of this nonsense. He wasn't too excited, either, that his turn was next, and what good would his scissors do for him?
A low rumble of "Booooooooooo," and "Ssssssssssss," filled the room. One single solitary Meowse in the back, near the emergency exit, raised a pompom and gave a "Whoop, whoop!" and a "Holla!" But it wasn't enough to raise the meter any further than the gold zone. Nope, the arrow hit that gold zone, and wiggled no more than a slight tremor higher.
Meeshtar wasn't about to give a shout-out, either, even though he felt kind of sorry for Miss Smugglepants. That would be helping the competition, after all.
"That performance earned a three, solid." said the Aye Aye, and he scampered off the stage.
Poor Miss Smugglepants, her head drooping and waggling between her shoulders, slumped off the stage and collapsed into her bucket seat.
The theater grew abnormally silent, except for one Meowse, who giggled as he tossed whole watermelons at the--now splattered and drenched--conductor, who, in return, shook his fist.
The guard, who had nearly fallen asleep against the wall, gasped. With his eyes bulging from their sockets, he leaped to his feet, tugging Meeshtar by the neck in one hand, and swinging Meeshtar's scissors in the other. Meeshtar's belly-fat dragged against the hardwood, knotting his fur, burning his skin, and collecting splinters.
Oh, poor Meeshtar! I'm afraid his stomach rumbled and tilted. His eyes wobbled. His head spun all woozy at the sight of the audience. The spotlight twirled around the theater, then came to rest on Meeshtar's face. Just before poor Meeshtar coughed up a dry hairball, the guard removed the rope from around Meeshtar's neck, and handed him the scissors.
To be continued...