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The Sound of Julies

by Mackenzie McGee

This is what a Julie knows: she has perfect pitch and a four-octave vocal range; she is between the ages of twenty and thirty-four; she is a successful actor, singer, and author; and her name is Julie Andrews.

One of my favorite things to do is to take a Julie with me to the grocery store. I iron her pinafore before we go so she looks just like the VHS cover. We rarely make it through the produce section before someone’s mother stops us and says, wow, you look just like Julie Andrews.

The Julies get a kick out of this. They don’t respond. They don’t talk much in general, but they smile plenty, and that’s all people really want. Their smile that says: I like to play guitar in the mountains with my seven adopted children and run through the streets of Salzburg teaching them music theory, before I go home to my husband, Christopher Plummer at the height of his sexual powers.

When I get sad, I like to imagine the Julies in their natural habitat. In some remote mountain valley, there roams a flock of wide-brim hats chanting Do-Re-Mi. At dusk they lay their lovely heads on a bed of wildflowers—buttercups in summer, edelweiss in spring—and wrap slender arms around one another to guard against the alpine chill. They close their eyes and sleep a dreamless sleep, safe in the knowledge that if they were to stray too far from home, they could seek refuge with me. They could trickle into my one-bedroom apartment in twos and threes, filling it with enough singalongs and homemade dresses to make it a home. 

Sometimes the Julie’s presence fills another stranger with vein-popping rage. He marches over with his phone held aloft, brandishing Wikipedia and IMDb to expose this charming imposter. The real Dame Julie Andrews, he says, is an eighty-six-year-old superstar. Odds are she’s in her home in California or Switzerland and not a Kroger in Ohio. 

In a way, a Julie is a delicate creature. One time, a Julie tried to go play an open mic in Cincinnati. I found what was left of her outside my building the next morning: a pile of goo on the sidewalk, framed by a canvas bag and a modest guitar case. Cause of death: unrequited splendor. How many strangers turned from her gaze? Cranked the volume on their earbuds against her song? 

But right now, at the grocery store, the Julie is immortal. It’s the stranger who melts down. They yell fraud, fake, phony, and all she hears is Oscar, BAFTA, Grammy, Tony. They blubber while she twirls away down the ice cream aisle, arms outstretched, singing “The Hills are Alive.” She pours her heart into the crowd as it gathers and we pour in kind, and we don’t even notice the snowflakes falling between us until they catch on our eyelashes. For a single moment, we don’t have to be unique. We don’t have to be real. We are part of something extraordinary, and that is enough. 

Mackenzie McGee is a writer from the Midwest. A winner of the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, her fiction can be found in Porter House Review, Nat. Brut, and Alaska Quarterly Review. She holds an MFA from the University of Arkansas, and she is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Kansas.

Lead image: “a field full of yellow flowers on a sunny day” (Photo by Grant Sams on Unsplash)