Rosebush Stadium had volleyball courts, where the Ramdonia Roses played regularly and where the final playoffs of the Old Chiliad of 1000 girls' volleyball teams were held at the end of each year. The playoffs of the New Chiliad were held there too, but they took place in mid-year. The New Chiliad was the second association of 1000 teams. The playoffs of the Old Chiliad were called the Pennant Games. Those of the New were the Oriflamme Games.
Ramdonia Stadium also had a ballet theater, which was decorated in a stylish decor, as befits any opera or ballet. Here I myself had danced in the ballet suites The Siege of Candle Tower and The High Maid of Gvagma. Our paramount ballet company was called the Royal Egrets, and they had danced often, and would dance regularly, in Rosebush Stadium, now that their School of Dance had moved to its new building in Gvagma Village.
Ramdonia had a third facility, for ice skating. This was not like an ice skating rink or arena on planet Earth, where gaudy advertisements are painfully visible. In Ramdonia Stadium, there were no posters with caricatures of people smoking given brands of cigarettes or drinking given labels of beer or nibbling particular kinds of potato chips or candy bars. Nor were there any unsightly fixtures, like pipe handrailing, or exposed steel columns and trusses supporting a corrugated metal roof. The entire arena was decorated exactly as if it had been a second ballet theater, with graceful drapes and elegant furnishings. The only difference lay in the sheet of ice that covered the floor.
Unfortunately, however, ice skating had not been given the attention that it deserved. Everyone involved in the development and expansion of Gvagma Village had been so busy seeing to completion all the various other projects we had taken in hand that the ice skating arena, which was already finished, had been neglected. We called the ice skating arena Gvagma Ice Ballet Hall, or simply, Ice Hall.
This dormancy now ended, as breathtakingly beautiful Vinarvi, an ice skater from the Pycyby District of Mecnita, was chosen from among 55,000 contestants as Miss Gvagma '406. At once, ice skating skyrocketed into the firmament of culture and entertainment in Mecnita. Naturally, Cissi's Newsletter covered the grand opening of the Palace of Beauty and the premiere beauty contest, with plenty of articles and pictures. Vinarvi was first and foremost in the headlines that we printed.
Ajinblambia had me invite Vinarvi to skate with the Gvagma Ice Maidens, as we decided to call the troupe. Given my neglectful attitude towards that art form, I felt a little uneasy about functioning as the hostess, but I managed. As soon as Vinarvi was accepted as the prima donna of the Ice Maidens, attendance soared, and Rosebush Stadium became the focal point of the village for a time.
Actually, Rosebush Stadium had already been standing when the Gvagma Wheel began revolving, in year '395. The stadium and the wheel, then, were the foundation of the village, with Ajinblambia allowing me to adopt the stadium, so to speak. Since those days, dozens of charming additions to the village had been made, and its area increased from 160 acres to 1280 acres.
In Royal Council, with all the Geese, as well as Ajinblambia, Udi and Vinarvi, present, we discussed the kinds of shows the Ice Hall would present. It was decided that free-style performances, with skaters moving in extemporaneous glissades and leaps, flips and loops, skips, hops, rotations and mazurkas, would continue unabated. But we decided also to organize ice ballets. As a probe, we voted to adapt The Siege of Candle Tower for two principal skaters, one in white and one in black, and a supporting troupe. We would call it Victory in Vavlu. Both Siege and Victory dramatized Ajinblambia's deposition of Queen Oa, back in year '390.
Let me digress to chronicle this episode from the history of Ung. In '390, witnessing Ajinblambia's ascent to power and apprehensive of the possibility of an evil conspiracy, I conducted some detective work and found that she had come from Mli, our Moon. Convincing Udi that a danger was imminent, I had her send me to Mli for further investigation. She also held Ajinblambia temporarily under house arrest. Spying in Vavlu, I was seized by Queen Oa, Ajinblambia's evil cousin. Oa contacted Udi by astrovision and demanded an enormous ransom. When Ajinblambia learnt of this, she pleaded with Udi to vacate the arrest and let her come to Mli to rescue me from Oa. Besieging Candle Tower for fifty days, Ajinblambia tumbled Oa from off the throne of Ufzu, installing Shandra in her stead. How guilty I felt in that I had had to be rescued gallantly by Ajinblambia while calumniating her as a traitor and usurper! This, I think, was the real tipping of the balance of power between Ajinblambia and me.
Anyway, shortly thereafter, I was in my red miniskirt and leotard, playing volleyball for the Eldor Geese, whereas Ajinblambia was sitting on Ung's throne of platinum and sapphire, with Udi at her side begging for kisses.
The irony of the whole affair is that I danced the part of Ajinblambia in The Siege of Candle Tower. Casmerodia danced the part of Queen Oa, while Snippi, a silly little giggling teen-age dancing girl with short hair, danced my part. I heard somebody in the audience say, "Oh look! Snippi is just perfect dancing Vocno!"
That was before my name changed from Vocno to Sissy. Thank goodness, few Ungians still recalled that Vocno and Sissy were one and the same person, that is, myself, I. Still I winced to learn I had cut a figure that people thought Snippi impersonated so well. Who would be our Snippi on the ice?
Vinarvi was far taller than the average lady of Mecnita. At 84 inches, she was of exactly the same height as Ajinblambia. For reasons of artistic symmetry or reciprocity, we wanted to find an equally tall lady to play the part of Oa. In The Siege of Candle Tower, though my height was far less than Ajinblambia's, I was about as tall as Casmerodia, who had danced Oa. We reasoned that comparative height rather than absolute height was important, since everyone knew that Ajinblambia and Oa were of equal size. At any rate, the ballet was choreographed minimalistically and symbolistically.
After dozens of auditions, we finally selected Tenebra, who was also seven feet tall. Some people considered the story of Ajinblambia and Oa something like a mystery or morality play, with Ajinblambia personifying good and Oa evil.
Finally, we needed someone to skate as Vocno. I was left out of the decision-making process in this case, as everyone felt that I would try to skew the choice and make it more favorable to myself. I looked on with frustration and annoyance as eventually Bobola was approved by a landslide. Bobola was a skinny little tomboy. When they had cut her hair to a length of about once inch, Mlechi squealed, "Look! Bobola looks just like Vocno! She couldn't be any closer."
"I don't think that Vocno and Bobola look just alike. Bobola is far too tough-looking to play Vocno convincingly. Can't we find someone a little more sissified?" asked Dhabbi with a mischievous smile on her lips, as if she had been making a joke while, in fact, she was speaking the truth, according to her lights.
After a few minutes of merriment at my expense, a vote was held. Bobola was selected by a vote of 7 to 1, with Dhabbi voting nay.
Despite all the repartee, Vinarvi and I formed a friendship, which enabled me to invite her to Bo House to meet our household. For several day-decades, Vinarvi came to Bo House every evening. No one had appointed me as a coordinator between Ice Hall and Gvagma Village in general, but Vinarvi just seemed to feel that I was the one to work with. Of course, Zevanardia, Ezmeraudia and Nunu were always about the house, but this didn't bother us. Vinarvi and I were engrossed in her new plans.
As I may have mentioned, Alpha Zhrinx, also known as Orobux, is the brightest star in our sky, and serves also as a north rtar. But its distance of almost 2 light-years from Dyo, our local sun, has long made interstellar flights impossible. There is absolutely no evidence of any visitation whatsoever from outer space to be found on the surface of the Nyatic planet. Only now, after all these millennia of research and development, have we been able to set in progress plans to put Nyatics in the Orobuctic solar system.
Everyone is completely aware of the scientific truth in this case, but for literary and historical reasons, the myth of a prehistoric flight from Orobux to Nya is kept alive.
Vinarvi said she had a vision of an ice ballet, with perhaps a score of girl astronauts and skaters representing the crew of the mythical ship OSS Orobux as it lands on Nya, while she herself would dance the part of the captainess. The ice ballet would also be called OSS Orobux. We needed a choreographer, instructresses, a musical composer, somebody to design sets, someone else to design costumes, and so forth. She would like to create the illusion of a ship hovering overhead, while lovely maidens descended on white cord ladders and moved in graceful adagios to stage front center, where Vinarvi would appear in exaltation, with the banners of her ship flapping on the tips of tall spears.
We all knew that Vinarvi was supremely beautiful and skated with unrivalled grace. She was tall, slender, supple, shapely, of a golden brown or tawny complexion, with long black hair, beautiful visage and rosy mouth. It was for these reasons that she had won the premiere beauty contest, after all. What we hadn't understood was that she had the talent to direct, manage and supervise the whole ballet. No one had been appointed officially as directress or producer, but gradually Vinarvi took charge of the whole operation. No one resented her spontaneous leadership; everyone admired her and sought to please her by cooperating with charm and facility.
As we got further into the details of organization, Zevanardia and I had Vlarxbub drive us out to Cissi's in New Ozgingd. I wanted to introduce Vinarvi to the girls in our dancewear department. That is where they make tights, leotards, dance belts, tutus, ballet slippers, gowns, scarves and other paraphernalia for ballet practice and for actual performances upon the stage.
The creation of a tutu or a gown for a sumptuous ballet is not conducted as it would be if it were done at home by a homemaker on her own personal sewing machine. The homemaker would measure herself and make the pattern, if she could not buy a pattern ready made. She would buy only enough fabric to cut out the pieces, exercising great care to avoid mistakes. If she made a mistake anyway, she'd try to find a way to save the cloth, even if it meant amending her design a little. As a last resort, she'd go out to buy more.
...costumes made for Vinarvi and the other ladies...
At Cissi's, for the costumes made for Vinarvi and the other ladies, bolts and bolts of organza, organdy, chiffon and satin were wheeled in from our inventory room. If one of the designers made a mistake with a costume, but could not correct it with just a minimal adjustment, out it went. Then she took fresh lengths of fabric and started again. By the time the skirt of a tutu measuring one yard had been sewn, a dozen yards of remnants had been thrown around on the floor. Porters came, put the remnants in buggies and wheeled them off.
This procedure was followed only during the design phase. No one wanted the designers to feel constrained or inhibited by considerations of frugality and utility. Once the design of a tutu or other garment had been finalized, patterns were made, and regular seamstresses began to make copies in an orderly way, with less prodigality. The results seemed to justify our approach.
Vinarvi's costume was finished the very day of our visit, in the late afternoon. Some of the other ice skaters would have to wait two or three days for theirs. When we had Vinarvi's costume all ready, I called Ajinblambia and asked her to receive us in an hour or so at Eldor Palace. Ajinblambia said that the timing was perfect, because at the time of our arrival, Barti, Usha, Vinja, Dhabbi and Mlechi would be with her in the Royal Council Chamber.
When we entered, I guided Vinarvi before me, so that she appeared first, like a bright star in the sky. The five councilloresses, or Eldor Geese, caught their breath simultaneously, sighing in unsion, as their eyes fell on the perfect face and figure of Miss Gvagma '406. Truly, there was no more beautiful lady anywhere.
Without a minute's hesitation, Barti rose, stepped over to Vinarvi, took her hands, kissed them and asked, "Will you marry me?" I was amazed. I was astounded. I was shocked. Barti, now in her late thirties, had never shown any interest in romance or marriage whatsoever. She was one of the key figures in the government of the Kingdom of Ung and the Nyatic Planet. She was the highest-ranking of six Queens Regnant and third lady of the realm. This had seemed to be her sole concern and purpose. Now we were seeing a new facet of her personality.
Vinarvi replied immediately, "Of course I will marry you. I have always admired and loved you. This is a day of perfect joy that I will never forget."
I simply could not believe it at first. Barti was at least 15 years older than Vinarvi, but that means nothing in Ung. She was herself as beautiful as a sunny day over a placid sea. She was tall, dark, shapely, black-haired, red-lipped and elegantly dressed. At a glance, you could barely tell her from her cousins, Ajinblambia and Shandra. She was Prime Minstress of Ung and also oversaw Ung's aerospace endeavor.
...such a beautiful, glorious union!...
I was impressed and fascinated. This was such a beautiful, glorious union! Seldom had Ung seen the likes of these two, Barti and Vinarvi. I adored them. I was in love with them. I worshipped and envied them.
Apparently, it had been no mere coincidence that Vinarvi was planning an ice ballet that would dramatize a mythical spaceflight from Orobux to Nya at a time when Barti was superintending a real spaceflight from Nya to Orobux.
Just three days after Barti's proposal, a discreet, private wedding was held in Zolla Chapel. All the Vrikshayas were present, as was the entire household of Bo House. There were some important chancelloresses from major districts of the city of Mecnita. Vronecca and other leading ladies of Ajinblambia's harem were in attendance. Ezmit and Vranquelli had been flown in. The whole party numbered 50 or a few more. Of course, Barti and Vinarvi might have elected to hold a great pageant, splendid and pompous, with millions in attendance, but they preferred the peace and intimacy of Zolla Chapel, in Comargash See, our foremost convent. We needed only the consent of Sister Ultamani, who was in charge of Zolla Chapel.
Ajinblambia, Udi, Barti and Vinarvi were not at all religious. They were all down-to-earth realists, pragmatic, scientific and atheistic. The ladies from Bo House were of a like disposition. Nunu was too young to have decided, as far as I knew. Anyway, she and I had never discussed religion.
However, no one saw any harm in having a wedding ceremony in Zolla Chapel. The nuns required no explanations and we didn't offer any. We did make a generous donation to the chapel however, and I suppose the nuns liked this. I think there's an aphorism that says, "A convent prays on its stomach." The meaning is that even nuns must eat. So as long as they don't eat too much, we should just humor them.
Barti and Vinarvi decided to take up residence in Eldor Palace, in a 10-room apartment given them by Ajinblambia. It was two floors above Ajimblambia's suite and Udi's suite, which lay along the regal corridor with some other apartments and offices. They would have daylight all day long, as well as good electrical lighting of the most sophisticated kind.
Of course, they had a massive canopy bed, with curtains, pillowcases, counterpane and valances of butterscotch-colored silk satin, crisp and smart. I seriously doubt that those two great ladies would descend to the level of inanity and silliness that were the order of the day between Zevanardia and me in bed at Bo House. But who knows? They were only human. The ticking that covered their mattress was snug, firm and resilient, so that if you dropped a coin, it would rebound briskly a few inches before falling again and coming to rest. The tufts of the mattress left dimples on the upper and lower surfaces, and they terminated in small cloth-covered disks like buttons. The ticking was 100% virgin cotton, and was clean and wholesome to the smell.
The posts of the bed were made of maple turnery, only very lightly coated with varnish. But a fragrant polish made of beeswax and sweet orange oil had been applied generously and shined vigorously by buffing with a small piece of soft chamois suede leather, so that if you took a post in your hand, your fingers would be left with an evanescent trace of oil or wax, which you would instinctively put to your nostrils.
Barti and Vinarvi held a reception a couple of days later, and I was one of the guests. Among the 10 rooms of their apartment, there was a large beautiful dressing room or boudoir where their wardrobe would be kept. I was standing with the two ladies in this boudoir, as they showed me around, when Ajinblambia entered and joined us. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard her telling the ladies that I oversaw her intimate apparel so splendidly that she no longer paid any mind to it herself, but left everything to my discretion. "Sissy even selects my bras and panties," I heard her say. I was completely scandalized, but Barti and Vinarvi seemed to think nothing of it.
Ajinblambia offered, if it was agreeable to Barti and Vinarvi, to let me take over the direction of their intimate apparel as well, saying that, with my vast factories and numerous stores, I could supply all the peignoirs, negligees, chemises, brassieres and panties they could ever possibly want. I was also a very seasoned advisor on intimate apparel and could meet with them for consultations whenever they pleased.
I was shocked and amazed that Ajinblambia was offering my services so glibly and blithely without even asking me in advance whether I would like such an assignment. I was shocked and amazed even futher when Barti and Vinarvi, obviously delighted, accepted right on the spot, without hesitation. When the shock wore off, a feeling of exhilaration overtook me. I was absolutely thrilled that I had been accorded the honor of being named lady-in-waiting to Barti and Vinarvi. I was in ecstasies and raptures.
There was a large
hassock in the dressing room. As Ajinblambia raved about my
qualifications as a manufacturer and oracle in the world of lingerie, I
sat on the hassock, idly picking up a peach-colored brassiere and panty set that had been lying on a low table just nearby. I held the matched garments up to
look at them for a moment. Barti and Vinarvi were standing just behind me. At that point, Zevanardia came into the room
with her camera, and took a candid picture of me.
A day or so later, Cissi's Newsletter featured an article reporting that Ajinblambia had appointed me lady-in-waiting to Barti and Vinarvi, who were identified as the "the second royal couple." This appointment was of the nature of a wedding gift, according to the article. It so happened that the boudoir of the second royal couple had a tiny office with a desk. This was called my office in the ten-room apartment. The photograph that Zevanardia had taken accompanied the article. The caption read, "Sissy selects bra and panties for Vivarvi, as Barti looks on approvingly." I was furious that Zevanardia had fabricated this bit of "news", but she only laughed merrily as I carried on in Bo House, ranting and raving. A couple of days later, from surveys conducted by telephone it was learned that the photograph had been received favorably by the great majority of the ladies of the city, so I calmed down a little. Zevanardia and I chuckled about it as we lay in bed that evening. I even got a spanking for throwing a tantrum. Bo House was back to normal.
Right after the Oriflamme Games, which of course were held in Rosebush Stadium, we staged OSS Orobux in Gvagma Ice Ballet Hall, also a part of Rosebush Stadium. Never had such numerous crowds filled the stadium. Everyone was just dying to see Vinarvi, who skated to perfection in every performance. This went on for 30 days in a row, but after that Vinarvi said she was beginning to feel too much stress to continue daily performances. So we scheduled them for every third evening until further notice.
Victory in Vavlu was presented in the same time-frame, and was successful, but Vinarvi's real fame rested on OSS Orobux.
Nunu's tutoress in geology, reported around day 275 that Nunu was doing
remarkably well in her lessons, assimilating information like a computer. Nunu
was also still quite active in her mathematical studies, having begun to teach
herself tensor calculus and matrix algebra. She was still playing the
harpsichord daily and composing fugues impromptu. And she had gained some
proficiency in dressmaking, amassing a little wardrobe for herself from pieces
of cloth I supplied to the purpose. She was a real whiz for her six years!
Now, she was manifesting an interest in baking. I sensed immediately that this had to do with her constant craving for cookies, and by asking a few questions I was able to confirm this theory. Nunu had begun to bake oatmeal cookies and peanut butter cookies with ingredients from our pantry at Bo House. But she was dissatisfied with the paucity of the selection that we had on hand.
"Sissy, why don't you open a supermarket right here in Gvagma Village?" Nunu asked suddenly one day at about this time of year.
I appreciated immediately that the question was completely justified, and I wondered that, in all these years, the idea of a supermarket had never occurred to me, or to Zevanardia either I guess. "Hmm," I replied, "that's a very good idea, Nunu. Why don't we hold a meeting of the Three Sissies?" Of course, The Three Sissies was the name of the chamber music group that had been formed by Zevanardia, Nunu and myself, but sometimes we used it informally to refer to ourselves in any capacity, musical or otherwise.
That evening, the Three Sissies held an informal meeting in the living room of Bo House, with Ezmeraudia in attendance too. We all agreed that an elegant, sophisticated supermarket would be entirely in keeping with the spirit of Gvagma Village. Zevanardia even picked Nunu up and kissed her, saying, "Nunu, you are priceless! Your suggestion must have come from the heavens!"
We decided tentatively, pending the approval of Ajinblambia, to proceed with the supermarket, which we would call Nunu's Grocery Depot. We would build it in the annex, just behind A Bit of Ungonesia.
According to our plan, Nunu's Grocery Depot would be organized to conduct business in a novel way for supermarkets both on Nya and on Earth. We would have 15 or 20 aisles, which would be kept perfectly free of obstructions. There would be no building columns standing in any of the aisles. Any columns would be between aisles. If there was a special sale, it would not be permitted for anyone to block an aisle by setting up a temporary display, for example, a heap of watermelons or a stack of cans of coffee sticking out into in the aisle with posters.
Shopping carts, inevitably creating jams and blocks, would not be allowed in the aisles. Instead, a lady would park her cart at a rail in front of the aisles and then walk down each aisle with a basket, returning her purchases to her cart. Key pads which ladies could use to locate products would be installed in many locations throughout the store.
In most supermarkets, the checkout stations are operated by checkers, who scan the goods to be charged. If business slows down, the number of checkers is reduced so that the checkers can do other work. So there is always a long wait at any open register, even if the store is practically empty. At Nunu's Grocery Depot, there would be no checkers. There would be about 25 checkout stations, where ladies would scan their own purchases. So there'd always be an available station. At each station, there would be another shopping cart with a vinyl shopping bag placed so that its upper edge was taut around the rim of the cart. As a lady scanned her goods, a conveyor would tumble them into the vinyl bag. When the purchase was complete, the lady would touch an electronic stylus to her transistorized finger-ring, and her account at the Bank of Ung would be debited. At this time, the cart that held the vinyl bag would be unhooked, so that the lady could roll it away without ado.
There would be an electronic article surveillance tower at the exit, but this would be matched with store decor so harmoniously that you'd never guess it was there. If, for any reason, an article had not been scanned, there would be a beep, and usually within minutes the matter would be settled.
Once outside, the lady would transfer the bag to her own cart and proceed with it by autobuggy to the metro station at 7 Ramdonia Circle, where she could take it to the platform level in an elevator. She could also schedule a delivery or take a cab.
Every day there were thousands of visitors in Gvagma Village, and on holidays, there were tens of thousands. Several hundred ladies lived there full-time. These were proprietresses of businesses, like the galleries on Gallery Way, and also employees of some of the entities in the village, like Cissi's Press and the Palace of Beauty. So there was no dearth of potential customers.
Once our design had begun to take shape, I invited Dorina of Sky Pictures Company to Bo House for dinner one evening. Over supper of roast lamb and hash-brown potatoes with poppy-seed twist and warm butter, followed by ice cream, coffee and wine, I outlined to her our new concept, which she liked very much. I asked her to think about an optical image suspended in the air above Nunu's Grocery Depot.
In the past ten years, Sky Pictures had created a number of optical images for us, including the images above the Gvagma Wheel, the sign above Cissi's in Spranceld and also the animated image above Cissi's in New Ozgingd.
According to Dorina, Sky Pictures had new and improved techniques to increase image opacity on sunny days. Previously, images had tended to pale under a brilliant sun. Now she could promise us bright clear images, even on cloudless days.
That very evening, she sat down with a pad of art paper and some colored pencils, producing a picture of Nunu in her red and white pinafore dress pushing a chrome-plated shopping cart. Then she created an animation on the computer. You could see Nunu's legs moving as if she had been walking, and you could see the wheels of the cart turning. But the girl and the cart remained in the same place. There were artistic letters below that said Nunu's Grocery Depot.
We saved the animation so that later we could show it to Ajinblambia.
The very next day, Zevanardia, Nunu and I appeared in Ajinblambia's office after receiving her permission to come. Seeing Nunu with us, which was unusual, Ajinblambia asked playfully, "What is the occasion of this great honor?"
Nunu smiled broadly, knowing that Ajinblmabia was referring to her.
"You are talking to the founding mother of one of the greatest grocery chains on Nya," I answered.
We revealed the whole plan to Ajinblambia, who shared our amazement in that she also had failed to come up with such an idea. She was quite pleased, and gave her wholehearted approval. I guessed that the store would cost upwards of 100 talents ($100 million), but I assured Ajinblambia that we had enough equity in our other holdings in the village that this would pose no problem. Nonetheless, she offered her personal loan guarantee, scheduling an appointment for us with Usha, directress of the Bank of Ung.
She loved the animation depicting Nunu pushing a cart, and saved it to her own computer.
I engaged Amponia and Lidia as architects, and had them seek out a lady electronics engineer to design the checker stations and electronic article surveillance system we would use. Her name was Chippi.
Ramdonia Construction Company was named general contractor. They promised to have the building ready by the end of the year.
A couple of days after the original meeting with Ajinblambia, she summoned Zevanardia and me to her office, instructing us not to bring Nunu. I was worried that perhaps we had offended her by asking her to receive Nunu for the first meeting, but that was not the case at all.
"In twenty years, Queen Udi and I will be over sixty years old and may want to retire from public life. We will need a vigorous, intelligent young lady to impalm the scepter of Ung. There is a good possibility that Nunu may be the best candidate to take over as queen."
"Nunu? Nunu?" I exclaimed, "Why she's not even a natural-born Vrikshaya."
"I know. I know, but all the natural-born Vrikshayas will be too old. Anyway, it's nothing definite yet, but it is something I think we all should start thinking about."
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