The Exquisite Corpse Adventure
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The Exquisite Corpse
By Gregory Maguire
“Hold everything,” said Boppo.
Everyone obeyed as much as possible. Joe held the birthday card with their parents’ urgent cry for help. Nancy held the bull-whip in readiness. The baby held the last note in the “Star Wars” theme song. Einstein held his breath.
“I’m not holding a thing, including you! Get off my back!” snarled the dripping black pig with the white eye patch. Boppo hung on as the pig began to buck like a bronco. “I tell you I’m not joining forces with you!”
“We can work together as villains!” cried Boppo, mopping his clown face with a trail of nine linked handkerchiefs in different colors. “Trust me.”
“I never trust another villain!” answered the pig. He snorted and contorted so quickly the eye-patch flung off. Without that clever disguise, Joe and Nancy suddenly recognized him as Genius Kelly, the dancing pig from the circus they had tried to run away from but which, increasingly, seemed to be hunting them down.
“Can we stop holding our breaths now?” wheezed Einstein.
“You don’t need permission to breathe,” snapped Nancy. She turned the bullwhip on Boppo the clown and Genius Kelly the dancing pig and she bound them together. She snared the pig’s hooves in a secondary loop of which she was particularly proud, because it brought the pig into a snout-dive right before them all.
Joe and Nancy, the baby, and Einstein stared fiercely at the immobilized pair of evil circus agents.
“I want some answers and I want them now,” said Nancy. Her prowess at the bullwhip was getting to her head. “First things first. Genius Kelly, I never knew you could talk.”
“The world is full of surprises,” replied the pig. “Did you know that as Winston Churchill led Britain to victory in World War II, every night he smoked a pink cigar while sitting in a bathtub filled with rubber cement?”
“Is that true?” asked Joe, who being ninety seconds younger than Nancy was sometimes gullible.
“All of it. Except the part about Winston Churchill. Never be surprised by surprises; it’s bad for the digestion. Did you know that your stage name, Sloppy Joe, is really a cunning code name devised to throw alien enemies off the trail in case they tracked you down to the Sick and Tired Circus?”
“No! I thought it was my stage name because my thinking is sloppy. What with my being so much younger and more immature than Nancy. And constantly reminded about it by Ringmaster, who never let me talk in public. What’s my real true name when I am not disguised as Sloppy Joe?”
“Clever! No one would ever guess.” Joe trusted everyone so nicely. This is a charming trait if sometimes dangerous.
Nancy asked, “If my stage name is Dancy Nancy, then what’s my real name? Nancy Dancy?”
“No,” said the pig. “You’re his sister. Your real name is Nancy Sloppy.”
“I don’t think I like that.”
“We haven’t time to convene a meeting of the Everyone-Feel-Sorry-For-Nancy Club. Your brother has another question. Yes, Sloppy Joe?”
Nancy stuck out her tongue at the pig. Joe said, “Since you’re answering questions, what is an Exquisite Corpse?”
“It’s a yoga position invented by Winston Churchill at the height of World War II in which you balance yourself on your eyelashes and touch your knees to your adenoids.”
“Is that true?”
“All of it. Except the part about Winston Churchill. Actually the position was invented by his evil twin brother, Princeton Churchill.”
“Don’t listen to a word of this!” shouted Boppo. “Almost every word he says is a lie, including ‘lo-cal’ and ‘de-caf’!”
Nancy drew herself up straight. “Now look. I’m a girl proud of a certain inner compass that guides her right in terms of her—” She paused.
“Morals?” interrupted Boppo and Genius Kelly, witheringly.
“Timing,” she declared. “It is time for some true answers. I get the feeling Genius Kelly is using his garbled history to distract us from something important. I want to know what an Exquisite Corpse really is before we go any farther.” Suddenly she got a circus-y sort of idea about how to deal with these lunatics. Clown with them. “Knock knock,” she said. “Who’s there?” they all answered, except the baby.
“Thermos be an explanation of the Exquisite Corpse, and I want it now.”
“That’s easy,” said Einstein, who out of anxiety, probably, had been trying to crochet his hair into a potholder. “Listen carefully. You understand that corpses of any sort follow a routine pattern of corruption and decomposition. But if you can get some flitch of a corpse up to warp speed—a fingernail, a dying leaf off a tree, a bird’s feather—you can throw up enough of a shadow-thing, an exquisite replica, that might last long enough to be useful. Myself, I experimented with a lock of my baby hair that Mama had saved in a volume of poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and look what I have now.” He indicated his nimbus of white hair. “The grafting was painful but it proves my point. I call the process ‘Renaissance.’”
“Excuse my sloppy thinking but I thought the corpse was a robot,” said Joe.
“Even a robot can be regenerated by my warp-speed process,” said Einstein, “if you start with a useful cog or the right computer chip or maybe a pair of triple-A batteries. And if we get the corpse of a slain robot to regenerate, it might be capable of bringing Nancy and Joe to rescue their mom.” He shrugged at the clown-and-pig roll-up as if to say, Sorry, villains.
“Didn’t we need to rescue both our parents? And didn’t you call us Artoo and Detoo?” said Nancy.
“I was just trying to get the Baby in the Star Wars mood,” said Einstein. “I suppose you’ve guessed there are sometimes glitches in trying to generate an Exquisite Corpse, and Baby is one of them. I hadn’t expected to make the introductions just yet, but I suppose, as Genius Kelly advises, never be surprised by surprises. Children, allow me to present you to your illustrious father, Professor Alistair Sloppy.
“Daddy?” whispered Joe and Nancy.
The baby smiled broadly and wet his diaper, which was, when you come to think of it, not much of a surprise.
Audio recordings provided by National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance and the Butler Center for Children's Literature at Dominican University have developed a companion educational resource center (external link) to support “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.”