They sat and drank their beers and smoked quietly, like two old friends. A soccer game was on the TV.
“I never knew you were a soccer fan,” said Rick.
“I like the little shorts they wear,” said Reese. “You can see their packages swinging to and fro as they run.”
“Jesus,” said Rick. He grabbed the remote off the coffee table and changed the channel.
“You brought it up, dear.” Reese was applying a base coat of make-up to her big, manly face.
“You never said what you’re getting all gussied up for?”
Reese put the little baton down on the table. “Well, I’m glad you asked.
I need an escort. Interested?”
“Maxine’s. You know Maxine…”
“She’s the other brunette in the show.”
“That’s right. Patty is the little blond….Anyway, Maxine is having a party at her place, and she’s invited everyone from the Dolphin. Your boyfriend Joe should be there.”
“I know. You up for it?”
“Good. Of course, we’ll have to find you a suitable dress to wear.”
“Well, it’s an all drag party. If you go, you must go in drag.”
Rick protested for about an hour, but as he became progressively drunker he began to warm to the idea. He thought it might be amusing. He wasn’t inclined that way, but at this point, he figured he’d try anything once.
They went into Reese’s bedroom and looked for something for Rick to wear. Rick was tall, like Reese, but much thinner.
“How about this, bruiser?” Reese held up a black-and-white polka dot dress. “Fifteen years ago this was my favorite. Joan Crawford, baby. You should have seen me back then.” She made a show of sucking her gut in.
Rick noticed the dress was hung on a wire hanger. He pointed it out to Reese but she was not amused.
“Focus, Ricky, focus.” She hung the dress back on the rack and lightly touched a few others as if she were not only considering options for Rick but also remembering times she’d worn each one. “Well, you’re thin enough. We can really make you look great tonight. We could make you look stunning. Do you want to be stunning?”
“Well, I guess I don’t want to look like total shit, if I can help it.”
“I think we can manage that.”
Looking at all the dresses and shoes and wigs and scarves in the closet, Rick realized that Reese had more women’s clothes than he had clothes period.
“Well, since you’re leaving it up to me, I think we’ll go for a Garbo look.”
“Whatever.” Rick tamped out his cigarette in a green and brown ashtray shaped like a palm tree on a tallboy dresser.
Reese handed Rick the dress. “Go ahead with this and I’ll pick you out some shoes and a hat.”
“All the women of that era wore wonderful hats. I’ll try to find something Anna-Christie-ish.”
Rick looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. The black dress went down to just above his knees and his bushy-haired legs looked all wrong sticking out, slightly bowed, his feet still in white crew socks. He took the socks off and looked again. Better. His arms looked good, he thought. The straps of the dress, tight around his shoulders, emphasized his biceps and shoulder muscles. He looked at his face in the mirror. “You look pretty good,” he said to himself.
Rick walked back into Reese’s bedroom.
“Your ass looks great.”
“Sorry. You’re gonna look fantastic.”
Reese handed Rick a pair of flat-heeled mules with a splash of sequins on each toe.
“I won’t make you wear heels, dear. It’s hard enough when you are sober and know how to walk in them. I don’t want you to break anything.”
Rick put the shoes on and walked in a circle. They were comfortable.
“I can wear these.”
“We’ll forgo the hat and just part your hair to the side and pin it. We’ll use a little product to keep it in place.”
Rick let Reese do his hair and watched in the mirror. He was surprised by how unbothered he felt by all this. He also looked better than he’d thought he would.
“What’s this?” Reese rubbed his finger over a scar on Rick’s scalp.
“Must have been before me. I don’t remember a car accident.”
“Yep. Another life ago.”
“How many lives have you had?”
When Reese was done, Rick stood up and looked at himself in the mirror on one of Reese’s bedroom walls.
“Not bad, huh?” said Reese.
Rick didn’t say anything.
“Here,” said Reese. She handed Rick a small thin-strapped purse. “For your unmentionables.”
Rick took it and put the strap over his shoulder. “I don’t have any unmentionables.”
“Everyone has unmentionables, especially ladies.”
“I’m not a lady, remember? Neither are you.”
Reese put her hand up to her mouth as if Rick had said something scandalous.
“One last thing,” said Reese.
“Really?” Rick looked himself up and down. “What else could there be?”
“We need to put your face on.”
After years of turning her own fat face into something feminine and not altogether unattractive Reese had become an expert at cutting the female out of a male face, like a sculptor almost. Seeing Rick made up, one now realized his face had some natural femininity of its own—a somewhat small and pointed chin, large eyes—which Reese expertly was able to emphasize.
“I look like my sister.” Rick stood in front of the mirror.
“You have a sister? I never knew. I’d love to meet her.”
“I don’t have a sister. But if I did, I bet this is what she’d look like.”
Well, that’s the point, dear. And you look great…except for those hairy legs.”
“I’m not shaving them.”
“No, I didn’t think you would. We can fix that with some stockings.”
It was windy at the beach. The ocean breeze swept up over the sea-oat-covered dunes and blew against Rick and Reese as they got out of Rick’s car and walked up the driveway toward Maxine’s front door.
Maxine, a tall drag queen wearing a barrel, with apparently nothing underneath it, and a bright-orange bouffant wig, answered the door. Her face was covered in heavy make-up and she looked to Rick like a rodeo clown. She gasped and stood with the door open.
“Darlings! Reese, who is this?”
“You can’t tell?”
“Yep.” After speaking Rick became painfully aware of his completely flat, low male voice. It was something, unlike his body, that he could not disguise. He did not have the same capacity for flamboyance and flair that these men had.
“I had no idea you cleaned up so well. Come in, come in.” Maxine moved to the side, barrel thudding against the door as she turned, and Rick and Reese walked in.
“Have a seat. I’ll be back momentarily with some drinks.”
Rick sat down on a couch that a very fat, very still drag queen was also sitting on. He looked at her and tried to figure out her outfit. She looked vaguely like someone. She was wearing a black business suit, black heels, and a short black wig. She was holding a microphone in one hand, a prop.
“You supposed to be somebody?”
“I don’t know. I have no idea.”
She held the microphone in front of her own mouth. “Rikki Lake.”
“Never mind.” She went back to being very still. She reminded Rick of those animatronics you see at places like Disney World and Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Maxine came back with cans of beer for everyone. “I’m going to be standing all night in this get-up. But—I couldn’t resist. I was at that old drugstore on 5th ST, in Poseidon Beach. They have these great postcards. I always look through them when I go there—I send postcards to everyone, Rick. I’ll have to get your address later. Anyway, they had this one—I bought it—it’s around here somewhere—of this cute young gal standing on the beach wearing nothing but a barrel, and so, TA-DA!!! That’s how I got the idea for this.”
Reese suggested going out to the back patio and they all got up and walked toward the back of the house.
A rush of ocean air met them all as Maxine opened the door. It smelled fishy and salty. Everyone stood holding onto their wigs until they sensed they weren’t going to fly away with the wind.
“I just can’t get over you, Rick. What a transformation.” Maxine looked at Reese. “You really have gotten good at turning boys into girls!”
“Well, Rick gave me something to work with, unlike some people.” Reese looked over at the Rikki Lake impersonator. She was transfixed, motionless again, watching the waves break.
The four of them sat quietly on the deck and drank their beers and watched the waves.
By six o’clock Rick was fairly buzzed and there were maybe twenty-five drag queens milling around on the back patio now, screeching, moaning, howling, laughing and giggling at full roar. “It’s amazing,” Rick said to Reese, “what a few beers, a dress, and a whole lot of make-up will do to a full-grown man.”
Reese hadn’t left Rick’s side the whole time. She was being protective. Rick appreciated it. No matter how many nights he’d spent at the Dolphin, or at Reese’s apartment, surrounded by these very same people, he wasn’t quite prepared for this. This night, for reasons he couldn’t quite articulate, was different. He was dressed up just like one of them, and that somehow changed things.
“Well, that’s where you’re wrong.” Reese sipped from a can of Schlitz.
“How’s that?” Rick held the hem of his dress between his index finger and thumb. It was soft.
“These people were never ‘full-grown’ anything. I’m not a ‘full-grown’ anything.”
Rick didn’t respond. What Reese said sounded right. These men were more like children, or some of them, even babies. He thought of the one dressed like Rikki Lake, holding onto her microphone, like a baby’s rattle, barely saying a word. A large, obese infant.
“We’re all something stunted,” Rick finally said.
“Oh, so morose,” said Reese. “We’re at a party. Let’s behave like it!”
Reese stood up and said she’d be back in a few minutes and then she danced off into the house.
Reese sat and watched everything going on around him. He was feeling more comfortable now. At times he even forgot he was wearing a dress, make-up, stockings, or that he had a small purse for his unmentionables slung over his shoulder. In fact, he thought, this doesn’t feel that out of place after all. Every time he crossed his legs he felt his thighs touch together through the stockings he wore. It wasn’t anything like wearing pants. It was more like being naked. It was a freeing feeling, which was odd, considering he’d always heard that women’s clothing was less freeing and more restrictive than men’s clothing. It didn’t seem that way to him now.
He felt an urge to be completely naked. He looked out at the beach and the waves and he pictured himself running naked into the water. “Man, even my thoughts are becoming more feminine.” He went to stand up but realized he had an erection. He stayed seated and covered himself with the handbag. For my unmentionables, he thought. He closed his eyes.
Rick opened his eyes and looked around and there was no one on the back patio with him. It was very quiet. He sat and listened to the undulating swoosh of the waves and let himself wake up. He stood up and took a few steps toward the end of the patio and he heard a voice from inside the house say, “Oh my God! What is that?” And then there was a chorus of prissy screams followed by hysterical laughter. “Oh, don’t be coy,” another voice said. “You know, you know!” More laughter and screams. Rick walked over to a window and looked in. He saw a crowd of bodies, but couldn’t see anything else. He looked down the patio deck and saw another window on the far end. He walked over to the window and looked in. It was a different angle, but he still only saw bodies standing around. Occasionally bodies would part momentarily and he’d catch a glimpse of something steely and dark colored, but bodies would shift again and he’d lose sight of whatever it was. For some reason the word “contraption” popped into his head.
They all started dancing in place and shouting. They were all swaying back and forth. But he couldn’t hear any music. And then they all started clapping in unison. He walked to the back door and tried to turn the knob but the door was locked. “Do I really want to see what they’re doing in there, anyway?” He decided to walk around to the front of the house and try the front door.
The front door was locked too. “Goddamn it!” he threw his purse down on the ground. He heard a voice from behind him.
He turned and saw a small car on the road in front of the driveway.
“Shit!” He looked down at himself, at his clothes. He picked up the purse and slung it over his shoulder.
The voice called out again. “Ma’am! Vee are lowst. Ken you help?”
Rick squinted to see the man in the car. He was a small-looking middle-aged man. He was sitting in the passenger seat and he had his right arm hung out the window. A chubby woman with short curly hair was driving. They looked harmless enough.
Rick walked toward the car. It was hard to see the ground, so he walked slowly.
“Did you say you’re lost?” He stood a few feet away from the car. He held onto the strap of his purse in front of him with both hands.
“Yes. Vee are lewking for da KOA kemp facilities. Do you know vere is it?”
There was a small camper trailer attached to the back of the car, the kind with a pop-up top. Rick moved closer to the car.
“Uh, yeah,” he said. “I can tell you where that is. It’s not far from here.” He put his right arm on the car door and leaned closer to the window.
He noticed a little girl curled up in the back seat, sleeping. He thought she was about five-years-old. When the man saw that Rick was looking at her, he turned and looked too.
“Granddaughter. Isabelle.” The man smiled and looked at her for a moment. The woman hit the man in the arm with a rolled up road map and said something that sounded like “hike!” and the man turned back to Rick.
“Yes,” said the man. “Please. Help us.”
Rick explained as best he could how to get to the KOA, and as he did, the little girl in the backseat of the small car roused and pushed herself up into a sitting position. She reached down into the darkness of the floorboard and pulled out a little fluffy lamb and held it close to her. When Rick was done he smiled at the little girl and said hi to her. She just stared at him and held her lamb. The man was looking at Rick’s arm now. Rick looked down at his arm too. It was hairy and muscular, a man’s arm. Rick looked back at the man.
“Okay. Be safe. Hope you find it all right.” He backed away from the window and gave a quick wave of his hand.
“Uh, yes,” said the man. He turned to his wife and pointed forward and said something in another language, and the car pulled slowly forward. Rick stood and watched. The car plodded along for a couple blocks. Rick listened to the rocks and sand being crushed under the car’s tires. The car finally turned right and disappeared.
A voice came from the direction of the house and Rick turned around. Reese stood at the front door. “What are you doing, Rick? Come inside! It’s getting very chilly out!”
Rick hesitated at the end of the driveway. Reese was right. It was quite chilly now.
“Rick!” shouted Reese, again. “Already being solicited for sexual favors, I see. You little tramp!”
“They were lost!” Rick shouted back.
“A terminal condition!” said Reese.
Rick walked up the driveway toward Reese who was standing at the front door smiling, holding two cans of beer.
“Are you ready to leave? We can go if you want. I don’t want you feeling weird.”
“Nah,” said Rick, “I’m good.”
Reese handed Rick a beer and they walked back inside.
There were only a few people in the living room now. Most everyone else was back out on the back porch. Two people were passed out on the couch and Ricki Lake was sitting in a recliner chair asleep, snoring. Rick walked to the bar and sat on a barstool. Reese sat on a stool too. She sighed and started fishing around in her purse. Rick noticed that a Dusty Springfield song was playing on the stereo. Reese pulled a tube of lip balm from her purse and applied some to her lips.
“I had a little daughter once,” said Rick.
Reese paused then deposited the lip balm back in her purse.
“In one of your past lives?” she said.
“One of them.”
Ricki Lake made an abrupt nasal sound and turned in the recliner chair. Her microphone hit the floor.
“I’m sorry,” said Reese. “Whatever happened, I’m sorry. If you ever—” she stopped. She looked like she might cry. “—want to talk about it or anything.”
“I think I scared those poor folks out there. They were looking for the KOA.”
Reese did not respond.
Rick looked around the room. It was quiet and peaceful. He could hear the voices of the rest of the party out back on the porch. “I might do that some time,” said Rick. “You know. Talk about it. But right now,” he stuck out his arms and looked down at himself, “I’m just not dressed for it.”
About the Author:
Steve Lambert lives in the uncool, unhistorical part of St. Augustine with his wife and daughter and works in a public library. He is a MFA student at the University of Texas at El Paso.