The flowers on my desk are fake.

Yes. Fake. They're actually Meredith's flowers from our shared office in Utica. The fourth person this year walked by my office and admired my flowers. I always feel compelled to tell people they're not real. I just feel like I need to establish that contract between the viewer and the thing they're viewing. They're always shocked and inevitably, they wind up saying, "Well, they're beautiful anyway."

When I was twelve years old, the Malheur County Fair rolled through Ontario, right around early August. Naturally it was the thing to go see in a town with one bowling alley, a roller skating rink, a decaying mall, and one McDonalds franchise on the outskirts. Among all the midway games like the coin toss and the ring-on-the-bottle, was the freak tent. Really, no joking. The freak tent. Anyway, it was a quarter admission to get into the freak tent and for the day, the "Freak of the Week" was the snake girl. So my friends and I ponied up the quarters we would otherwise have spent on playing space invaders and entered the tent.

At the center of the tent was a raised, square platform. At each of the sides of the plantform were small wooden stairs. Solid wooden doors nailed together and on their sides rose up from the center of the platform, concealing the view of those who were in line, waiting to see the snake girl. The carnie in charge of the tent was quite aggressive about having only four people surrounding the stage. He smelled like a campfire and one of his boots had a hole at the ankle. He was losing his hair and part of what remained, he brushed over to the side in a slender, greasy comma.

When it was my turn to see the snake girl, I walked up the stairs and peered over the edge of the upright doors. At the center of the arena was sawdust. . . plenty of sawdust pilled up into a mound at the center. From the center of the mound, coiled the green body of a snake, maybe a boa constricter. However, from the center of that mound of sawdust, you could see the blinking eyes, hair, and forehead of a 20ish woman. The disturbing part of this was that her mouth was concealed by both the sawdust and the coil of the snake body. Even more disturbing was the knowledge that I had blown my quarter on a hoax.

So if you're walking by my office and you happen to see the flowers on my desk, before you begin to speak . . . let me tell you, they're fake.

Oliver de la Paz