My bedroom window faces the expanse of yellowing, unloved grass behind the duplex I used to share with Simon. I can see everything. There’s nothing to see. But it’s the spritzing I hear, late at night. Phizzt, phizzt, phizzt. Like a balloon sputtering air by degrees. I’m so used to the quiet, the quiet that always seemed to follow Simon and has followed him this last time. Phizzt, phizzt, phizzt. She’s out there in an oversized lime sweater, floral-print Capri pants, and wedge heels. Tending her plants. No doubt Blanche Devereaux calls my porch a lanai.
“What we need is a jailbreak party!” She looks somewhere close yet far away, picturing it. “All the men will be wearing jumpsuits. I’ll be the warden. They haven’t seen a woman in too damn long.”
I’ve wandered out onto the lanai—I mean, my porch. The July overnight is humid and a hazard. Mosquitoes ravage me. The only light comes from a streetlamp, too dim to offer security, at the property’s back end.
“Ten years hard labor!” She pantomimes banging a gavel. Now she must be the judge. “Don’t sass me, sir!”
It’s too much late-night Hallmark Channel. It’s too much Merlot. It’s too many nights stifling my tears because no one can see them. I go back to bed. It’s the sensible thing.
The next night, she’s reclining in a deck chair. She scribbles furiously into a notebook. Page after page. First, I watch her from my bedroom window. Then I slip onto my porch, absurdly hoping I don’t frighten her away.
“They will teach my book in universities.” She pauses. She gazes into the sky. “Or wherever great literature is taught.”
What would Blanche Devereaux write about? There’s an episode where a sleep-starved Blanche churns out pages of drivel, too exhausted to recognize it as crap. But doesn’t she also write in the episode where her sister cribs from her life for her own roman a clef. Maybe not. Simon would know. He’d hassle me over my uncertainty.
I want to ask about her novel. I speak to no one upon returning home, not since my brother shot himself. It would be nice to have a conversation. With anyone. About anything. But it’s not until her fourth night on the lanai—she’s munching double-stuff Oreos—that I find the courage.
She grins. “I was wondering how long you’d let that cat hold your tongue.”
“Where did you come from?”
“I am from the great city of Atlanta, G-A.”
“No, no—I know that.” I don’t know that. “But just now. Where did you come from just now?”
“The living room, I suppose.”
Blanche looks baffled. I feel shitty.
Like her, I’m a Southern woman. It’s a privilege. It’s an obligation. It’s a tradition that sparks snickers when followed and incites derision when not. In short, Blanche Devereaux is a guest in my home, no matter that she thinks it’s hers.
I tell her my name. I assure her no request is too bothersome, no task too tedious.
She pops an Oreo into her mouth, crunches like its crumbling surprises her. “Next weekend, the full moon will hang high in the sky. Harvest moon. Oh, dear child, you will help me celebrate, won’t you?”
I’ve seen enough episodes. There’s only one reason Blanche Devereaux throws parties. She implores me to ink out the invitations, the cream-colored envelopes ready for rustic calligraphy, for Mel Bushman and the rest. We use my stamps for the invites, ignoring the fact Florida lies another time zone east. I suppose wherever Blanche calls home is too ephemeral for such mundane matters as postage or supermarkets or death.
Helping her might help me, despite the fact she doesn’t exist. She never existed. We laughed and cheered for her, Simon and I, but that never made her real and that’s what kept us safe. I wonder if all these invitations to make-believe men will boomerang back to my mailbox. Does the postman watch the show? He seems straight to me.
I’m not sure how I know, but after Moonlight Madness, Blanche will disappear. No one will be left to call it a lanai. I will never learn what her godawful novel is about. I shouldn’t be upset, it’s natural. How easy to welcome houseguests, knowing they will one day depart.
At first, I didn’t understand my brother’s fascination, not with Blanche, not with the whole Golden Girls dreamscape: four old women shack up because aging in America is nothing but slow-drip indignity. They trade insults and crack sex jokes. They confront a litany of hot-button social issues—or, at least, what passed for controversial in the Eighties. I don’t feel the gravitas. Those bickering biddies represent no one but themselves.
Simon, the smoke trailing from his Pall Mall as he gestured wildly, explained why this Miami address housed multitudes. From his lair, wigs on Styrofoam heads and evening dresses too fabulous to hide in any closet, Simon explained how Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia were forced by an indifferent, sometimes hostile, society to form a makeshift family of their own. This unit soon eclipsed their blood relations in trust and familiarity. Gay men had enacted this social ritual for generations, he noted. It always irritated me how Simon could hitch any component of the pop culture to his queer identity. But how to explain his shameless simpatico with Blanche Devereaux? It was simple, Simon said. Despite her vanity, greed, selfishness, and her devotion to dick, Blanche was also fiercely loyal, resourceful, confident in her sexuality, and beholden to no one. Blanche Devereaux, my brother insisted, was the ideal homosexual.
“Stars and sweet music.” Blanche gazes into the night sky, her hands held aloft. The dim streetlamp adds meager drama. “Nights like this you can’t help but fall in love.” She grins and glances at me. “Maybe two or three times.”
What would Blanche say if she learned I were still a virgin? I’m not the kind of woman who receives offers, at least not from men who desire me. They desire warmth, they desire a welcoming hole, they desire a good sport. Tame your sexual hunger, however, and you’ll find a peace no less seductive. I turn thirty this fall.
We’re decorating for the party. At some point, I don’t know when, we’ll be done sprucing up the lanai. The men will arrive and Blanche Devereaux will live for a day. I’ve no proof this will happen. But Blanche seems convinced, and if she possesses the wherewithal to appear from nowhere, her hangdog suitors can’t trail far behind. I’m excited because excitement comes easily to those who rarely experience it.
“Tell me, honey, what’s a sturdy girl with excellent teeth doing in this house all by herself?”
“I’m really not alone.” I pause. It’s the sort of deceit people expect. The welcome some lies receive outmatches that offered those telling them. “My brother used to live here.”
“Found himself a sweet young filly, I reckon?”
“He needed his own place. I get a postcard now and again.”
We’re lighting Lumineers, their bottoms weighted by pebbles. I’m not afraid the duplex might catch fire before the party. Such calamities never befall Blanche Devereaux. This is yet more proof she isn’t real, and that keeps me safe.
“Don’t let it trouble you, girl.” She traces the lanai’s perimeter, scoots lighted bags an inch this way, an inch that. “There’s nothing less sexy than a man who can’t afford his own place.”
I refuse to cry in front of a woman never far afield from canned laughter.
“Simon doesn’t have that problem now.”
“Simon! There’s a Simon at the Rusty Anchor. Plays the piano. Maybe some night, someone might actually sing along.”
I remember now. That episode at the Rusty Anchor. “The Journey to the Center of Attention.” Simon would be so proud—or, at least, make sure to convince me he was. Blanche invites semi-recluse Dorothy to her favorite pub, a place meant to evoke sleaze but instead a sanitized sitcom set. Dorothy belts out a torch song that makes those fickle fucks forget Blanche’s single-entendres and tongue tricks. The sudden demand for her dowdy friend enrages Blanche. Her ill-fated sultry follow-up, “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” was Simon’s favorite to perform at the club in Dallas. The day before his brains spattered the walls, his dresses, his wigs, he confided sadly how too many drag queens relied on infantile irony to win laughs. My brother preferred slapstick, choreographed and precise as a petty officer’s pivots. At least, that’s how he described his antics whenever he mistook my polite chatter for actual interest.
I’m weeping. I don’t make a sound. It’s how I imagine sex might be.
Blanche gently lays her hand on my shoulder. “There, there. No reason for tears. I’ve invited enough men to chase away any trouble a girl might have.”
I fear asking might break the spell, but I ask anyway. The party? When is it?
“Next week, my child. Can’t you feel the moon migrating us toward our destiny? Moonlight Madness will soon start its magic.”
The afternoon before Blanche’s party, the doorbell surprises me. I discover Stanfield at the door. The orchid looped through his lapel matches his dented top hat matches his drooping cummerbund matches his worn Converses. I recognize him from photos Simon kept framed on his wall, Stanfield forever besieged by grinning, grasping queens. Simon often mentioned his name.
My brother’s manager invites himself inside. What does he want? My brother is dead. Surely, there must be a transsexual somewhere in Dallas desperate for applause. Stanfield heads directly for Simon’s room. He turns the knob. The door does not relent.
“I haven’t yet figured out what to do with his room.”
“Those wigs and gowns belong to the club,” he says.
“I need to have them cleaned.”
Stanfield tries the knob again. I don’t like this man. Simon treated his wigs and disguises better than his real clothes. I assumed they belonged to him. It shouldn’t matter. It does matter. When did Simon give this man a key? Perhaps his knock at the front door was mere courtesy. The door swings open before I can think to warn him.
“Good God, woman! Miss Blanche died two weeks ago!”
I hustle through the doorway. “His name was Simon.”
Stanfield—did he fuck my brother? it always comes down to sex for those boys bunkered in their soul-rot cities—gapes at the gore still spattered everywhere. The stench any mannered houseguest would ignore, this guest does not. It’s curdled to a business-like brown, my brother’s blood. This fussy, fickle stooge is horrified. I understand. His repulsion grants him an identity, like Blanche did for my brother.
“If you couldn’t bear to clean, you could’ve called…”
“I do not live in this room,” I remind him. “What happens here does not happen to me.”
Stanfield’s cummerbund pops undone. He does not retrieve it. I have offered this impertinent pimp enough hospitality. Moonlight Madness might begin as soon as sundown.
Outside my front door, I demand Simon’s key. His manager will leave without his wigs, without his gowns. He stares at me as if finally grasping a punchline to a joke no one wanted told. He hands me a DVD encased in clear plastic.
“Simon always wished you might catch his act.”
“Dallas is a bit of a drive.”
“This was our July Fourth showcase. Two of the other girls dressed as Dorothy and Rose. Simon insisted the deejay dust off an old Pointer Sisters medley.”
“I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute for my baby brother.” I don’t sound sincere because I am not.
Underneath the streetlamp, its impotent sheen triggered by the deepening twilight, a Dumpster resides: shut and tidy. I march toward the latched gate to exit the backyard.
After tossing back the lid, I hurl the DVD into the Dumpster. Perversely, it lands cozily between two stuffed garbage bags. In this sort of neighborhood, even trash disposal impacts your reputation. Someone might spot it. Someone might mistake it as wanted. I heft myself up to the bin’s lip then climb inside. I haven’t much time. Blanche would be so baffled to discover me among the garbage.
I try to break the disc, still encased, into halves. It bends and creaks, but one half slips from my grip before it can break. I rip off the case. Still, the disc will not break in two. My nails leave crisscrossed scratches along the underside. I can’t summon the necessary force. I’m as powerless as a prayer.
I smash the disc against the bin’s metal side. A cluster of cracks followed by pain, moments later by blood. Those first fractures make the next few possible. Now no one can unearth the footage of my baby brother prancing across a scuffed dancefloor, dressed as a menopausal sitcom slut, a crowd of sissies flashing dollar bills and hooting at the spectacle. All those men who refuse to admit they’re men, preening and laughing. I never laughed at my brother. I loved that lost, lonely boy. I knew no man, no real man, would ever seize from me those reins. I’m sobbing. I’m sobbing and Moonlight Madness will begin any moment.
Blanche Devereaux can’t believe no man has claimed me.
All that remains of the sun are streaks of marigold and violet nestled atop the tree line. I cross the backyard. The lanai features such detailed, overdone decoration, I start dreaming of holidays no one celebrates but should. Blanche pops out through the sliding glass door, smiling, smiling, smiling.
How did she emerge onto the lanai without first entering the duplex? I thought she existed only in my backyard.
“My goodness, girl, you’re bleeding like a basset hound stuck in a bear trap.”
I hold out my hands, dumbly. I’ve ruined Blanche’s party and it hasn’t even started.
Blanche, her voice now curt and solemn, instructs me to follow her inside. There are bandages and peroxide in the bathroom, she says. I know this. It’s my bathroom.
The peroxide stings, rivulets running down my forearms. Blanche wraps my wounds briskly. Who knew Blanche Devereaux was so handy in an emergency?
“You might need stitches,” she advises.
“And miss the party?”
She grins. “Now that’s an attitude I can admire.”
The spell will break if I pay logic any heed, but Blanche will depart anyway, well before dawn.
“How did you get inside the house?”
She chuckles, tweaks my nose. “Every door has a key. Yours is no different.”
Outside on the lanai, Mel Bushman and all of Blanche’s other middle-aged, thick-waisted suitors congregate. None seem to notice me. I’m not hurt. I’m not offended. I’m still surprised I could bleed.
Blanche Devereaux lingers in the doorway, arms stretched overhead, resting against the frame. Her left hip juts to the side. She’s smiling with the confidence of a woman accustomed to men smiling back. Simon was wrong. She isn’t the ideal homosexual. She’s something so much more essential.
“Nothing says Moonlight Madness like a conga line beneath the stars.” She switches on a portable stereo and the Pointer Sisters do not disappoint. Now get in line, she calls. Blanche’s men live for Blanche’s attention. Already, their behinds twitch, the men shifting from foot to foot.
“Not so fast, boys!” She dashes into the yard, to the head of the line. “This train needs an engineer.”
The conga line jolts to life. Mel Bushman brings up the rear. It stuns me when he glances over his shoulder and winks at me.
“This train needs a caboose, too, pretty girl.”
For so long, I’ve feared loneliness. For so long, I’ve feared anyone who might relieve it.
My bandaged hands lightly resting on Mel Bushman’s hips, the conga line shimmies into the yard. That damn dim streetlamp offers our only illumination. Blanche is wrong about the harvest moon. A Moonlight Madness party on a moonless night? Don’t tell the poor woman!
I peer ahead to catch a glimpse of her, but what I find makes me stumble. Can’t have a loose caboose, Mel Bushman wisecracks. It must be the light. There’s never enough light to see clearly what you must see clearly.
It’s my baby brother, Simon. A light brown bouffant wig perched on his head, he swivels and struts deeper into the darkness, the conga line happily keeping pace. He wears an oversized lime sweater, floral-print Capri pants and wedge heels. He’s so radiant, and I forgive him every heartbreak. The streetlamp blinks out, but the conga line sashays onward.
I glance back at the lanai. How gracious of Blanche Devereaux to concede her menfolk to my baby brother. She waves at us—Simon, her suitors, and me. She keeps waving, but we’ve journeyed too deep into the darkness. Of course, I tell myself. She wants to wish us farewell. After all, she’ll never see us again.
Powered by Froala Editor
Powered by Froala Editor