Councilor Greg Hughes loved the Victoria Day parade in Eganville, Ontario until he had to run the damned thing by himself. No town councilor ever wanted to organize the annual event — especially in an election year. Voters could lash out if they didn’t like the planner’s decisions. No matter what the unlucky planner decided, some people got pissed off.
Greg had laid low in town council meetings for seven years until the Mayor finally delegated the hot potato of a task to him. Now Greg had to decide who would play the Queen.
Fist fights had broken out over who got the coveted role. Siblings had stopped speaking to each other. Wills had been rewritten.
Two months until the parade. Snow fell outside. The ice on the Bonnechere River hadn’t melted yet. Typical March weather in northern Ontario.
And with March came auditions for Victoria.
Brenda Murphy, Lisa Grattan, and David Buckwald were about to get into a screaming match over who deserved the role. Brenda and Lisa wanted to be Victoria. David thought his four-year-old should ride the float.
Greg closed his eyes and brushed back what remained of his thinning hair. He wished he were anywhere but here — like the rest of the town council, who had picked today to go on an ill-defined fact-finding mission in rural Quebec. Out of cell phone range, they claimed. Nobody would pin the audition results on them.
“Why don’t the three of you ride the float together, ay?” Greg asked the candidates.
“Ridiculous,” Brenda Murphy said. Dressed in black, she was the mourning Victoria after Prince Albert, her husband of twenty years, died. “Most people think of Victoria at the height of the British Empire.”
“Who are you supposed to be? Judi Dench?” Lisa snorted. The cashier at Canadian Tire was in her late twenties. She wore a light blue frock with a bonnet and parasol. Never mind that royalty would never wear anything so plain. You couldn’t tell Lisa anything.
“No. We are Victoria,” Brenda said.
“Victoria accomplished nothing of substance after Albert died, Disraeli had to go find her,” Lisa said. “She was hiding. Hardly someone who should ride a float in celebration.”
“Well, she certainly accomplished little in her wayward years,” Brenda said. “The young Victoria? Ha!”
David patted his little girl on the head. “People want the youngest Victoria, the unsoiled innocent.”
Brenda let out a dry little laugh. “Lord, David. There’s not even a television show about the baby—”
“The youngest Victoria, you mean,” David insisted.
“She wasn’t queen until she was eighteen,” Lisa said.
The door to the town council chambers flung open, sending a blast of cold air into the room. A woman in a regal red gown entered. “Le défilé a besoin de la Victoria française.”
Greg threw up his hands. “No! I’m drawing the damned line. There is no such thing as the French Victoria.”
“L’Ontario est bilingue,” the newcomer said. “You cannot only have an English queen.”
Greg rolled his eyes. “She was an English queen! She ruled over the British Empire!”
“We do not need to be restricted by the prejudices of the past,” the newcomer said. “We are far more diverse today. And, open-minded. Some of us, anyway.”
“No!” Greg shouted. “Queen Victoria will not be French!”
The French Victoria left in a huff, slamming the door on the way out.
David Buckwald laughed. “Some people are crazy, ay? No sense of history.”
“Yeah,” Greg muttered. His heart raced. He needed a beer.
David picked up his daughter and placed her on the table. He brushed back the girl’s blond hair.
“Your decision should be easy now,” David said.
The child began to cry.
“Shhh, Honey,” David cooed.
Brenda stepped in front of David and his daughter. She produced a fan and unfolded it and with a flourish cooled herself in a room that wasn’t exactly warm. “So, what is your decision, Mr. Town Councilor?”
Greg just wanted to go to the Bo Peep restaurant and get a cold microbrew and a plate of poutine. He’d even settle for French fries with vinegar. Just no ketchup.
Lisa sashayed over to Greg. “Yes, the decision should be easy.”
Greg didn’t like any of these Victorias. They were trying too hard. The real Victoria couldn’t have tried this hard.
Three sets of expectant eyes stared at him. He wouldn’t make it out of this room alive.
He cleared his throat.
“I’ve made up my mind,” he said. “We’re going to give Victoria the year off.”
“You can’t do that!” David, Lisa, and Brenda protested in unison.
“It’s Victoria Day,” David said.
“There is someone else who gets very little attention. Someone who is integral to the story,” Greg said. “Someone who deserves some recognition.”
May 20th, Greg sat on the throne on the first float in the parade. Five minutes until show time.
He hadn’t realized he looked the part. Thinning hair. Forty-one. It hadn’t been that hard to grow the mutton chop sideburns or the mustache.
And the Bonnechere Valley Little Theater had an old-style tuxedo left over from A Doll’s House. Not quite period, but close enough.
With a lurch the float started and lumbered past Bimm’s Red and White Grocery towards the bridge over the Bonnechere.
“Hey, do you have Prince Albert in a can?” somebody yelled.
Greg just waved. He had a feeling he’d be hearing more references to that old crank call today.
He only had to be Prince Albert for an hour. Soon he’d be in street clothes with the rest of the town watching the fireworks.
Then next year — after the election — the parade would be somebody else’s problem. That unlucky soul could deal with Greg’s promise to the gaggle of would-be Victorias that they would be given special consideration next year.
This Prince Albert might not be in a can, but he sure could kick the can down the road.
Peter Wood lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his very patient wife. He has had stories published by Asimov’s, Stupefying Stories, and Every Day Fiction. He grew up in Ottawa. He spent his summers in Eganville where his Dad ran the Ottawa Boys Club Camp on Mink Lake. July 4, 1970, Pete had a brush with royalty when his Dad gave Prince Charles a tour of the camp.