We all think the Mayor’s daughter is odd. Her scraggly hair is never brushed, there is mud on her face and her knees are always grazed. Her nose is too red and her eyes are too bright. Her fingers are long, like talons, and she wears a coat that is at least five sizes too big. She keeps all sorts of strange things in the pockets of this coat: two brown mice, which she frequently has conversations with, a red lipstick – which her father, the Mayor, has banned her from wearing – several pieces of rose quartz to ward against evil, a ginger root, coins from across the sea and, strangest of all, a collection of books.
The Mayor’s daughter carries at least seventeen books around with her at one time. Her nose is always buried inside the pages. Mr Number 25, Applechew Lane suggested that perhaps this is why her nose is always so red, but we told him this was a ridiculous theory, as there is no red ink used in the Mayor’s daughter’s books. They are full of words rather than pictures. She reads about animals and make-believe worlds; about magic, science, art, film, theatre and history.
The Mayor says his daughter is the smartest person in the whole town, but we find this hard to believe.
On Fridays after school the Mayor’s daughter goes to her father’s office in the town hall, a big white building right in the centre of town. She has to walk up five hundred steps to get to his office, which sits at the top of a tower overlooking the whole square. From the office window she can see the butcher’s shop and the sweet shop and something strange happening in the bushes next to the deli – it looks like the deli owner and Mrs Dill, who loves coming into the deli to buy pickles – are at it again. What will her husband say? She can see the duck pond where other children are feeding the ducks loaves of white bread.
“They shouldn’t be doing that,” says the Mayor’s daughter.
The Mayor looks up from the letter he’s been working at. He’s arguing about something with the Mayor from three, maybe four towns over and is ready for bed and a brandy.
“They shouldn’t be feeding the ducks bread,” the Mayor’s daughter says. “It will inflate them like they’re made of rubber.”
“Then you could float them in your bathtub,” the Mayor says. He’s isn’t really listening, preoccupied by writing his letter.
The Mayor’s daughter sighs, pulling a book out of one of her many coat pockets.
“I want to join the circus,” she says.
“You’re going to be Mayor after me,” says the Mayor. “Can you seal that pile of envelopes, please?” He points at a stack on the side table, threatening to spill onto the floor. “I’m behind again; very behind.”
“I don’t want to be Mayor,” says the Mayor’s daughter. “I want to be a tightrope walker.”
“Absurd,” says the Mayor. “Now, get started on those letters.”
The Mayor’s daughter ties a thick piece of rope to the two trees in her backyard. She practises walking along it. She feels as light as a feather, as delicate as a china doll. But her balance is terrible and she falls from the rope and lands loudly on the ground. Her knees start to bleed. There is a lump on her head.
The Mayor’s bedroom window opens and he pokes out his head. “What on earth are you doing?”
“I was trying to walk the tightrope,” says the Mayor’s daughter. “But I fell.”
“You need to get your head out of the clouds!” says the Mayor, angrily. But then his daughter starts to cry so he wraps her up in a blanket and makes her a warm cup of milk and honey.
We all think the Mayor’s daughter is odd. She’s not normal. She sits at the ice cream parlour with a triple peanut butter sundae, talking to her two brown mice.
“Get those out of here!” says Mr Dill, who is looking for his wife (she didn’t come home again last night.) “So unhygienic.”
The Mayor’s daughter’s mice scowl at Mr Dill and poke their tongues out, but Mr Dill doesn’t notice – he’s just seen a flash of his wife’s red ringlets, headed into the deli.
“Ignore the nasty man,” the Mayor’s daughter tells her mice, tucking them back in her coat pocket.
“She’s not normal,” the Mayor’s daughter’s Maths teacher says at the parent-teacher conference. “She doesn’t care about numbers.”
“Numbers are fairly dull,” says the Mayor.
“She’s always reading those ridiculous books. I’ve never seen a girl read so many books!”
“Would it be better if she was a boy?” the Mayor asks.
A travelling troupe of actors comes to town. The women have scarlet lips and voluptuous breasts which all the boys at school dream of touching. They wake up to go to school and their horrified parents find their beds wet.
The troupe smoke long cigars which smell of apple and spice. They put a show on in the square, a show by William Somebody, and the Mayor is so emotional that he weeps.
He cries so much that he creates a small pool in the square, which has to be roped off.
“Perhaps we can fill it with eels,” grunts the butcher.
“I’m going to be an actor,” says the Mayor’s daughter, prancing around the house, “I might join the troupe.”
“You can’t,” says the Mayor, his eyes still very red. “You’re going to be the Mayor of this town after me.”
“But I don’t want to be the Mayor,” says the Mayor’s daughter.
“You need to get your head out of the clouds,” says the Mayor. His eyes are watering again. “Now get me a box of tissues would you, I’m thinking about that lovely young actress’ untimely death.”
The Mayor’s daughter starts practising her singing. She sings all night and all day. She isn’t very good. Windows crack when she passes and perfect pieces of fruit shrivel. The butcher is scaling a freshwater trout as she walks past, singing her song, and the fish is so terrified that it opens it’s dead eyes and flaps and flops back to the pond where it is eaten by a bloated duck.
“She’s not normal,” we say.
“Why is she so strange?” we say.
“The poor Mayor, having a daughter like that,” we say.
The Mayor’s daughter’s head starts to float like a balloon.
She wakes up one morning and goes to sit at the kitchen table with the Mayor, who is cooking trout. He notices that her head is hovering a few centimetres above her dainty neck.
“What’s happened?” he asks.
The Mayor’s daughter shrugs. “I just woke up like this,” she says, “are we really having trout for breakfast?”
“With spinach and pearl onion,” says the Mayor.
The Mayor’s daughter draws even more attention than usual as she walks down the street with her nose buried in a book about an island full of treasure.
“What’s happened to her head?” we say.
“She’s not normal,” we say.
Mrs Dill faints into the arms of her lover.
“We have to tell my husband,” she says, only coming to when the smell of pickle juice wafts into her overlarge nostrils.
The children at school laugh about the Mayor’s daughter’s floating head.
“Why does your head look like that?” the butcher’s son, who is a chubby, red-faced and nasty boy, asks.
“Why does your head look like that?” the Mayor’s daughter says.
The Mayor’s daughter decides she wants to be a fortune teller. She wears gold bangles up her arms and jingles all down the street. Her head drifts further from her neck. The Mayor’s daughter decides she wants to be a hip-hop dancer. She practises her dancing next to the eel pond. The eels thrash around in horror. Her head drifts further from her neck. Her head won’t go through the front door unless she whistles to it. Then it will follow her like a golden retriever. At dinner the Mayor’s daughter has to hold her head firmly under her arm while she feeds it carrots and green beans.
“I’m getting a little concerned,” the Mayor says, fairly.
Something has to be done about the Mayor’s daughter’s head, we think. We call a town meeting.
“Sew it to her neck!” says the butcher.
“Burn her books!” says Mr Dill.
“Force her to do Maths!” says the Maths teacher.
“Keep her inside!” shrieks Mrs Dill, “so that no one has to see that monstrosity.”
“That monstrosity is my daughter, Mrs Dill,” says the Mayor.
“Banish her!” says the deli owner.
“Kill her mice!
“Stitch her up!”
“Buy her a new head!”
“SILENCE!” shouts the Mayor, his face ruby-red.
The Mayor doesn’t burn his daughter’s books. He doesn’t keep her imprisoned inside. He lets her dance next to the eel pond and talk to her mice and imagine herself as anyone else. He lets her put red lipstick onto the lips of her floating head.
“This will only end badly,” we say.
One day when the Mayor’s daughter is sitting by the duck pond with her mice in her lap, not feeding the ducks white bread, her head floats up into the clouds, leaving her small body behind.
“Goodbye body,” says the Mayor’s daughter’s head, goodbye mice. I’m sorry you couldn’t come with me.”
Her head floats away. The cloudy sky swallows it.