The Aesthetics of Envy
By Laura Schiller
Based on the Hermux Tantamoq novels
Copyright: Michael Hoeye
When Tucka was twelve, she envied her cousin Ritzi more than anyone in the world. Ritzi had naturally big black eyes, glossy white fur, and large ears so delicate you could see the sun shining through them like a pair of pink shells. Ritzi wore tight, sparkly clothes, high heels and makeup. Ritzi got a karaoke machine from her parents for her birthday and invited the whole class to sing. Even Tucka.
Tucka wasn't allowed to wear tight, sparkly clothes. Her Grandma thought she was too young. Grandma Mertslin had been Tucka's sole guardian since she had lost her parents in a car accident. Tucka came to the party in a homemade brown dress and stood at the back of the room, nibbling crackers, watching Ritzi prance around with the microphone and bat her eyelashes at the crowd. She watched Ritzi unwrap a pair of real pearl earrings. And a leather handbag. And a stereo. And a music box with a figurine of a ballerina mouse that spun around and around while music played. And Ritzi smiled at her cousin and classmate and said, "Aww, Tucka. Thanks so much for coming. By the way, that dress is really cute. Is it supposed to smell like mothballs though?"
Tucka ran from the room in tears.
When she told her grandmother what happened, the old lady put the kettle on and poured out a bowl full of her speacial sugar cookies. They were shaped like hearts and stars and crosses and they were the best cookies in the world, as far as Tucka was concerned. But on that day, they simply tasted like dust.
"You're beautiful inside, darling," said Grandma, stroking Tucka's cheek. "You don't need all that stuff."
Tucka bit her lips and said nothing. The trouble with being beautiful inside was that nobody could see it.
Grandma Mertsln's funeral was a small, private affair. Just Tucka, the priest and a few of the old lady's friends. Tucka put a wreath of lilies on the grave and shed no tears. She was too anxious to cry. She was eighteen years old, without a friend in the world.
Nobody liked the shy, plain, nervous little Mertslin girl. Nobody had taken notice of her Grandma's death beyond sending a few sympathy cards. Tucka didn't want sympathy cards. She wanted money to live on. And maybe someone to spend it with.
She worked her paws to the bone as a waitress and housecleaner to pay her way through beauty school. She lived in an apartment on the seventh floor with no elevator, which was cold in winter and on in summer. She dreamed of launching her own line of cosmetics. She became very thin.
Sometimes she almost envied her Grandma. Grandma slept in a green garden surrounded by flowers and trees. She didn't have to worry about time or electricity bills or groceries. She was at peace.
Tucka enrolled in Mirrin Stentrill's art class out of pure admiration for the older woman. Miss Stentrill was bold, intelligent, confident; her paintings were so beautiful, they soothed a certain raw, painful spot in Tucka's soul. Tucka loved beautiful things. She also loved wild, shocking, controversial things which rattled viewers out of their complacency and made them rethink their lives.
Miss Stentrill was a rebel. She was known for having had an interspecies affair with a chipmunk and supported said chipmunk's outrageous cat theory. Tucka wanted to be just like her. Hence the outrageous mousetrap installation which Tucka presented as her gradutation piece.
She worked so hard. Building a mousetrap from scratch, arranging a surround-sound feedback loop of squeaks, and cobbling together a papier-mache wedge of cheese is no easy task. She expected Miss Stentrill to shudder, then laugh, then give her an A.
Miss Stentrill shuddered. And screamed. And had Tucka expelled.
Tucka ground her teeth all the way to the unemployment agency. It was unfair. It just proved that in this world, there was no such thing as justice, only power. And to have power, you must have money, fame, or both.
Tucka resolved to have both. She'd show that Stentrill woman!
This was it. The icing on the cake. The cherry on the sundae. Money, power, talent, beauty, independence … and love. Tucka thought she might float away.
She was a singer, dancer, actress, and CEO of Tucka Mertslin Cosmetics. It had taken her twenty years and super-rodentine effort, but here she was. She had ruined careers, reputations, and the nerves of her staff. She had been accessory to murder. But she had her dream come true.
And she was engaged to marry Hinkum Stepfitchler III, a man who, besides being handsome, charismatic and belonging to an old and very wealthy family, actually respected her. He had spoken up for her against a swarm of spiteful heiresses, kissed her hand, and told her she had "excellence of character, exquisitely packaged". It was just what she had always wanted a man to tell her.
She hadn't thought of Grandma in years, or her parents. She didn't like Birkanny, Elusa and Skimpy bringing it up. They had no business grilling her about where the Mertslin fortune had come from. There was no Mertslin fortune, except what Tucka had made herself. No one to inherit it, either.
For just the biefest moment, as Tucka posed under the spotlight in her purple pants and cowboy hat, an old mouse's face flashed before her dazzled eyes. It was Grandma, with a plate of sugar cookies in her paws, staring sorrowfully at Tucka and shaking her head from side to side.
Look at you, she seemed to say. What have you done to yourself?
Tucka ignored her and began to sing. Her audience, the small town girls of Boomerville with their small town dreams, was in awe.
She had the tight, sparkly clothes. She had the makeup. She had the microphone. She was taking Ritzi's place tonight.
"Because it's a scientific fact that envy, and I mean the deep down, green kind of envy, can add unbelievable body and gloss to your fur. Just standing here in front of you tonight and sensing how much you wish you were me is the equivalent of spending a week at one of my own expensive spas. Feeling envied is a wild feeling.
"And let me tell you, I'm feeling wild tonight!"
Note: dialogue is quoted from The Sands of Time (2001 edition), page 151.