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Watermelon Terracotta Cantaloupe Fireworks

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To ensure the perfect cat-eye, a clever trick is to take a strand of clear tape and flatten it neatly between the tip of the eyebrow and the waterline. As one draws along the tape, they will notice the straightness of the eyeliner that would be otherwise impossible for a fifty-year-old man with a shaky hand to draw himself.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shiiiit.”

An omission: prior to sticking the tape onto one’s face, it is best to first stick it onto the hand and peel it off to remove some of the stronger, more rebellious cling from the strand.

“You okay, girl?”

Roy, after having himself one more expletive, turned to the young man on his left and huffed, “I’m fine, Blakeley. Thank you.”

Roy turned back to the mirror to see the shaky streak of black surrounded by harsh redness poking at the end of his painted brow. He got closer to perfection every time, but when he reached for it, it never quite reached back.

It was twenty minutes before Sara N. Dippity’s appearance on the main stage of  Fuzzy Navel Drag Bar. The bar was known for some of the nastiest Jell-O shots in all of D.C. and one of the lowest health inspection scores east of the Mississippi, but every individual who walked through those cheetah-printed doors were promised to leave with a belly full of liquor and an empty wallet. The queens at Fuzzy Navel gave epics using only their muted lips, all while dancing across empty chairs, kicking out the pink spotlights for kicks, and dropping into splits from the ceiling; there was once a Britney Spears impersonator who was so bold as to bring out a live snake to a mixed audience.

Then there were rookies with stick-figure bodies and side buzz-cuts like Blakeley who couldn’t tell their right foot from their right.

“Anyway, like I was saying,” Roy, from the corner of his eye, saw Blakeley’s arms flail about like he couldn’t decide what part of that beautiful, probably-Swedish-somewhere-down-the-line face he wanted to destroy next. “I was walking home from Club Gecko the other night, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, I was passing Capitol Hill, and you’ll never guess what I saw.”

Roy was only paying half attention. A pop of his lips revealed a bright sheen of purple.  Roy’s answer as he tapped the last remnants of powder away: “Bill Clinton playing bagpipes in drag.”

A huff was followed by a quick slap across Roy’s arm. The thickness of his skin ensured that no one really got hurt. As he stared into the mirror, he announced, “Done.”

Roy smiled as if the mirror was his professional photographer, despite the shoddy bulb dangling above him from a single wire. Roy pouted his lips, then stabbed the bottoms of his eyes with the corners of his mouth. The brown, pink, and red covered everything he needed it to. Yep, all staying, he thought.

Blakeley leaned his lanky body over into Roy's mirror as he slathered green eyeshadow over his eyelid. 

“Beat to the gods as always, queen,” Roy thanked Blakeley before ducking under the table, pretending he knew what that meant. “I tried that tape thing the other night and it just didn’t work,” Blakeley added, “Think I have to get a little more artsy first.”

“Art’s got nothin’ to do with it,” Roy hoisted himself back up with a razor-straight, neon yellow wig on. At the angled contour of his face, the color of the strands changed to pink, blue, purple, or green. The closer the strands got to his shoulders, the brighter the hues. “Were you drunk when you tried it?”

Blakeley looked for the number of tequila shots he had that night on the ceiling.

“Yep, think so,” Blakeley answered with a crumpled nose. “Made some decent tips, though. Almost enough to cover those shots, at least.”

Despite the dressing room being built for two high-maintenance supermodels and housing the accoutrement of ten drag queens, it was easy for any two people to follow each other’s chitter while they worked without much interruption. This was due to the fact that the queens in this room were usually too occupied with adjusting their wigs, curling their lashes, shoving into their padding, or completing the arduous task of taping their genitals up between their legs to say much else.

“Well, there ya go. If you’re too piss drunk to walk in a straight line, what makes you think you can draw one?” Roy clipped in one star-shaped hoop, then the other. The hoops belonged to his younger sister back when she would sneak out to do coke to Pat Benatar in her boyfriend’s garage. All some of these more vivacious queens had to do for a bump these days was shimmy to the richest-looking group of gays during their number, hit them with a signature finger wave followed by the sit-in-the-lap-of-the-shortest-one trick, and find them after the show and pretend that she’s happy to see them.

Roy could pull all this off, he figured, if, one, he weighed two hundred pounds less, two, if he was born in the 90’s as well, and three, and this was important: if he had any lust left for this at all. 

Becoming too familiar with the rules of a game makes the game less fun, especially once you stop playing for fun.

Roy got up with an aluminum can in his purple talons. As he did, he watched Blakeley work without announcing it. 

“Watch out, world,” Blakeley growled at the mirror like RuPaul and his casting team were on the other side, “Bea Calypso’s prowlin’ on out and she's here to slay!”

No one had ever heard of this “Bea Calypso” until a few months ago, and as far as anyone else was concerned, she was there to be slain. The other queens would read Bea for just about anything: her wardrobe that came from the clearance shelf at Wal-Mart, the sloppiness of her tuck that could be undone the second she tried "prowlin',” or even something as minute to a tipper as the unevenness of her stick-on glitter nails likely stolen from some poor child’s Cinderella costume pack.

“Hold your breath, Blake.”

Blakeley stored two large bubbles of oxygen in his cheeks. Seconds later, Roy added to the looming fog of hairspray above them with a few clicks of his acrylic nails. His eyes flitted upward and saw what the other queens read Bea Calypso for more than anything else: that rough, rough face. The green clashed with the hot pink caked over Blakeley’s chapped lips, and the white of his face was so profound that Roy wondered if Blakeley was still going for Bea Calypso or a geisha. Perhaps the harshest thing that caught Roy's attention was Blakeley’s sharp contour, which, as one queen pointed out last week, only made his face look more like a weapon.

But still, for six nights a week, Blakeley would get on that stage right after Roy and make perhaps a fifth of the tips compared to the other girls. That was on a profitable night. Roy figured that Blakeley must have known how deep in the red he was. 

Did Blakeley not sense the disgust in the other queens’ voices when they addressed either persona? Did he not hear every jab in their whispers? Did it not bother him that the only man who willingly set up next to him was an old, fat guy whose body was learning how to hate this after fifteen years?

Thinking about all that exhausted him more than anything else about these gigs.

“You know what?” Blakeley pulled out a black Sharpie and a roll of clear tape, announcing proudly, “I’m gonna try it again. I’m sober this time.”

Roy wouldn’t let a wince ruin his foundation, but oh, did he want to do so regardless. Yet, he couldn’t help but reminisce as he watched Blakeley sink into deep concentration, the tip of the marker dangerously close to his pupil. Other queens in the past had learned a trick or two from Roy behind the curtain or Sara on the stage. That wasn’t what was quite as special to him.

Roy had a lot of first tries in the mirror. Some queens aren’t so humble as to admit that reality themselves.

***

Wendy taught him that eyeliner trick.

It amazed Roy while he was watching her get ready for prom from her bedroom door. He asked her, “Now where did you learn that one?” and she said with an eye-roll and a smile, “You can learn anything on the internet, dad."

Wendy was doing new and crazy things with her makeup all the time.  Roy would often joke that she was more of a drag queen than he could ever be with all the eyeshadow and blush palettes she burned through.

The makeup affinity didn’t come from her father’s nightly gig, nor did it come from her desire to impress the boys at her school; they were already impressed with her, to the point where Wendy had to choose her date among four prospects. She decided to go with some friends, all of them getting matching pearls. When asked nights before why she turned down all four of those boys, she said that any love a boy could give her would only be taped to her heart, and not plastered on.

Wendy stuck a strand of tape on her hand and quickly ripped it off.

“Just like a bandage,” she hummed to no one but her reflection.

***

Minutes before Sara N. Dippity got on the main stage, the last queen to perform, Casey NoRoyale, warned her that there were hardly any tips to be made that night. 

“I’m seeing some of George, but none of his friends,” she sighed while puffing away at her last cigarette, “You might make enough to get a taxi home.”

Unfortunately, she was right. All that could be gathered was a hearty fistful. The song Sara performed, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” was a classic of hers, yet there were just barely enough biters for Roy to buy what he needed for his last stop of the night.

“Hey, dad.”

Visiting hours were over, but Roy was able to swindle old Cathy and the other nurses into letting him come in after his shows for the past two weeks. He told Wendy that he had “worked his magic,” when really, doughnuts, cordial conversation, and a healthy dose of sympathy from the nurses was enough to keep everyone quiet.

“Hey there, chickadee,” Roy took off his wig, showing the bald dome underneath. 

Wendy put her hand to her eyes and squinted.

“Oh God, someone turn down the lights! Going blind here!” she cried, leaning her head back with her hand like she would faint into her down pillow. Roy laughed along despite hating Wendy’s convincing acting.

It was hardly acting, and Roy was already convinced. Wendy was looking worse. It became less deniable with each visit he made. Wendy once explained to him that staying up this late never bothered her, seeing as how the friends she had her age were likely out partying or whatever at this hour anyway. And yet, she always looked asleep. The bed was swallowing her, and it would continue to swallow her until the ground claimed her next. 

Roy complimented Wendy’s makeup, and she thanked him, huffing about how she had to use the water glass as a mirror.

“I asked the nurse for a compact, and I swear to God, she never came back. But, you know, whatever. I didn’t need her,” Wendy gently patted at the few freckles that remained in the milk of her rouged cheeks. “I was able to do it myself in the end.”

Prom was three months ago. To Roy, it only felt like last night, but it also somehow felt like last decade. It was ages since that next morning when Wendy coughed up blood, and the morning after that when she coughed up even more blood, and the hospital decided that the stay would be longer, and then that the stays would be more, and then that the stay would be “comfortable.”

“Like you always do. Now,” Roy rubbed his thumb between Wendy’s painted eyebrows. “Close your eyes.”

His thumb movement already relaxed Wendy, just as it did throughout her childhood. 

“Open.”

Before Wendy was a square chocolate cake hoisted on her lap. Her pupils gleamed before Roy could even light the candle.

“Happy eighteenth birthday, chickadee,” Roy pulled a lighter from his bra and lit the single, brave candle standing alone in the center of rainbow sprinkles. “Make a wish.”

Wendy pinched her eyes shut, and the wish left her cheeks.

***

“So what do you do when you forget the words?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, like, when you’re performing. Do you ever find yourself forgetting the words when you lip-sync?”

Roy did sometimes, but he wouldn’t admit it on this walk.

When Roy learned from an offhand comment of Blakeley’s that he walked home alone every night, he would hear nothing more of it. Even though Blakeley persisted that he was fine by himself, he silently welcomed the company. 

The two walked side by side with their drag still on and their heels in their hands.

“My old drag mother once told me that if you ever forget the words to a song,” Roy recalled to the breeze, “You mouth, ‘watermelon terracotta cantaloupe fireworks’ as fast as you can multiple times. With your lips moving that fast, people won’t notice that you don’t know the real words.”

“Well, sure sounds better than what I did Saturday night at Club Gecko.”

“And what did you do Saturday night at Club Gecko?” 

“You’ll laugh at me.”

“You’re probably right,” Roy turned to Blakeley and planned to stand in the middle of the street until Blakeley answered his question. “But you did this to yourself, kid.”

“Fine, fine,” Blakeley whined. He traced the heel of his go-go boot. The squeaks the leather made at his touch made Roy cringe, but he was still attentive. 

“I, uh…I did nothing. I didn’t say anything, didn’t move, didn’t do anything. I just stared off. Like, not only did I forget the words, but I forgot I was performing a song. Then, I basically forgot where I was. I don’t remember what happened the next few minutes after that. All I know is that I was quickly laughed out of there before I could even get a word out,”

Roy wasn’t sure what to say.

“You’re not laughing.”

Roy shrugged, only replying with, “I only laugh when something’s funny.”

Blakeley shook his head and gave a dying chuckle. As Blakeley talked, he paced around the circumference of a manhole, not once throwing a glance over at Roy.

“I made a dumbass out of myself. I honestly don’t know why I’ve been trying at this so hard. Wanna know how much I made tonight? Six. Dollars. That’s two dollars more than last night. I love being on stage, I do. I love watching all of you perform, and I want to be that. I want to be that! I just get so wrapped up inside myself,”

Roy came closer to him.

“I...I know what the other girls think about me. A-And I know what they say. But they’re right. They all are,” Blakeley stopped to twitch his head downward, rejecting his own tears. “I can’t afford to be good at this, and I never will. Beyond that, I hardly have the talent to collect enough to get my damn bus fare. But it’s all I have right now. Three months ago, I stood in the window of my apartment with the full intent of jumping out of it. But something told me to not. That there was still ‘something’ out there for me, and ‘something’ in me thought that maybe it was Bea. And honestly, I don’t have much else in this world I see light in besides her. Even that’s dimming. I don’t even know what that ‘something’ is anymore, you know? I keep saying things don’t bother me, but they do. God, they do. They do so bad...” 

Blakeley tried to chuckle again, but the attempt ended with him sinking over the manhole and, eventually, sobbing against Roy’s sequins. 

“Why can’t I say any of this to anyone else?” he howled into Roy’s breast pads.

They had already arrived at Blakeley’s. It rained. Neither went inside.

***

Roy turned the corner and arrived at the hospital later that night, his wig sopping wet.

Knock-knock.

“Who’s there?” Roy cooed. Water from his arm dripped down the door.

There was silence on the other side.

Roy’s fist dropped. His blood grew cold. As Cathy teetered behind him with her cart of cleared dishes, she gently scratched him in the back keyhole of his dress and said, “She’s been sleeping on and off all day, sugar. You know how she can get. Breathe.”

She bit into some leftover birthday cake, stuck a cup of hot cocoa in Roy’s hand, and took the elevator down. 

Roy turned back to the door and slowly opened it, greeted only by darkness. He tossed his pumps aside. Lights didn’t have to be on for Roy to find his way around this room. This room, this damn place! Roy thought while on sloshy tiptoes.

The two sitting chairs were to his right. Fingers coasted along the leather upholstery until his cocoa hit the cabinets that housed every single drop of medication that did nothing for his daughter. While awake, she would insist, and insist, and insist that she was fine, that “something” was working.

Roy wanted to take that “something” and trap it in a bottle. Surely it wasn’t already in these cabinets. 

He hit a wall, turned, walked. Soft exhales drew him back to where he needed to be. 

After placing the cocoa on the invisible side table, Roy ran his hand through what remained of his daughter’s hair. He would braid her thick, black locks for karate, do up large cinnamon buns for ballet, and eventually use her as a regular test for his own wig stylings as she got older. He would never ruin it by cutting or dyeing it, nor would he dream of it; he would especially not waver from this if he knew that this thin blanket of spiderwebs was what would one day remain. Wendy never stirred, but Roy felt the coldness of her skin as he scooted up half of his soaked body next to hers. He wanted to be careful, believing that one thoughtless move of his arm could get his paper doll crumpled.

Despite the darkness, Roy was close enough to see Wendy’s cat-eye, and this time, she drew little black hearts in the purple bags that made her cheeks droop. He traced both lines with the tips of his acrylic nails. Perfect as always. She did a little rouge, too. Roy’s stubby thumb went to the bridge of her nose, rubbing up to her forehead. Her breath slowed.

Then, he held her and wept into the divet of her collarbone. 

There was nothing else to do.

***

Knock-knock. “Roy?” Knock-knock-knock. “Roy?” Knock-knock-knock-knock-knock. “Roy, you in there?”

There was silence on the other side.

“This is Blakeley. I know this is your apartment...I-I think,” Blakeley shook his head. He continued, “Listen, it’s been a month since any of us have heard from you. I know you’re alive. I see you walk around town, but never in drag. If you’ve given that up for now, that’s your choice, and it makes me sad and all, but I respect it. It’s just that we’re worried about you...or at least, I am. If you don’t want to come back to Fuzzy Navel with me, that’s fine, too. Just please---”

The door creaked open and jolted to a stop by a chain. Roy’s bloodshot eyes met Blakeley’s.

Roy had already heard Blakeley’s monologue at six different doorways, and his Perler-bead bangles further added to the ambience of his stride. These beads went with a choker that had just as many colors that didn’t go together, colliding perfectly with Blakeley’s black skirt, yellow crop-top with “RICH BITCH” spelled out in rhinestones, and pink, fingerless gloves. Roy would have asked Blakeley what in the hell he was wearing if he had the wind in his lungs for it.

“I’m fine, Blakeley. I’m alive. See? You see me?” Roy unclicked his door open. He wore nothing aside from a bathrobe, and he was developing a beard for the first time in his life. He gestured at his ensemble, stating, “I’m not dead. You can tell everyone that.”

“When should I tell them that you’re coming back?”

Roy let out a hearty laugh. It scared Blakeley to the point where he couldn’t tell if Roy was being earnest or not.

“You really think I’m coming back, Blake? Seriously?” his laughter grew harsh until he hacked.

Blakeley clenched his green nails with turquoise Crackle into his fists and said, “I do. You can’t stay here forever.”

Roy craned his head upward and slowly nodded.

“Ohhhh, I get it. You want to have your moment where you teach me something. You want me to fall on my knees and say that you’re right, and that I should move on, and that this isn’t what Wendy would want, and all that good shit. Well, let me tell you something,” Roy got close enough for Blakeley to smell how many days it had been since he had cleaned any orifice of his body. “The one thing that could help me right now is the one thing I can’t fucking have. How’s that for a message?”

Blakeley paused at the door for a few seconds to sew together what to say.

“Roy,” he began, “I didn’t come here to preach at you. I didn’t walk all the way across town to tell you what Wendy would want from you. I never knew her. But what I did come here to tell you is that locking yourself away from the rest of the world, which loves you so deeply whether you think it or not, won’t help you at all. I would know. You know I would---”

“But have you ever lost a child?” Roy glared upward at Blakeley, his nose nearly touching the young man’s chin. “Why are you suddenly acting like we’re the same?”

Blakeley pursed his lips and replied with nothing. Then, in a start, he swooped under Roy’s shoulder.

“Hey!” Roy spun in a circle.

Blakeley tapped his hand around the wall and turned on the living room light. Trash and laundry and grime lined the walls, but Blakeley spent no time looking at any of it. He threw two pizza boxes from Roy’s recliner onto the ground, dragged the recliner with him into the kitchen, and took out the dishes from the sink. Wendy’s several pairs of eyes followed his movements from the candlelit walls.

“What do you think you’re---”

Before Roy could finish, Blakeley pointed down at the recliner.

“Sit down.”

“I---”

“Sit down, Roy.” Every word from Blakeley’s tongue sounded like its own weapon.

Then, silence. Roy found himself in the recliner.

Blakeley got to work in seconds. He unrolled a shaving kit and leaned Roy’s head back over the kitchen sink with a towel from his Hello Kitty bag. Roy closed his eyes.

“Ever seen Dream Girls? It’s got Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson in it, and they’re sickening. I think Jamie Foxx is in it, too. He’s okay. I liked him better in Baby Driver. Anyway, the music in Dream Girls is, like, fantastic. I mean, you got Jenifer Holliday’s song in it that goes…”

All of the sounds began to merge together. The shings of the blade across his cheeks and the rushing of the water, all swirled around by the cadence of Blakeley’s ramble, made Roy forget where he was.

“Hold still, okay?” Blakeley interrupted himself, then continued his babble while holding Roy’s head in place. Within seconds, Roy was out of his kitchen and in his daughter’s bedroom, sitting across from her on her bed.

“Hold still, okay?” she asked. Wendy carefully drew across the strand of tape stuck on Roy’s waterline. As she worked, Roy asked her if it was really her, if she was alive, if they were actually in her room, and if Blakeley never showed up, and...

Roy stopped himself when he realized that Wendy couldn’t hear him. If she did, she wasn’t going to respond. She told him to look up, and after a few seconds, she pulled back to look at the side of his eye.

“You can do this without my help, you know. Pretty simple,” she commented with a smirk, but Roy could never quite pull it off like she could. Wendy giggled at this and told him that wasn’t true. She gave him the eyeliner.

“I want you to try this one. No mirror. I won’t even look at you while you do it, but I’ll help you start.”

Roy faintly heard the rushing of the tap. Someone was talking to him from the kitchen.

Wendy pulled out her roll of tape and began to yank off a strand.

“And if I fail?” Roy asked of the impossible.

Wendy ripped a thin line of tape and smacked the strand onto Roy’s hand. Same smirk.

“Well, I guess you’d have to rip off another strand of tape and start again. But you know you can't leave here without a finished face,” Wendy shrugged. “And you can’t just not leave.”

The second Wendy ripped the tape off his hand, Roy’s eyes snapped open. Blakeley turned off the tap.

“All done!” Blakeley exclaimed. 

Roy met his reflection in Blakeley's hand mirror. Every morning for the past month, he saw his reflection when he took his morning piss and then let his scruff scrape his pillows. But this?

This couldn’t be him.

“Blakeley?” Roy asked.

“Yeah?” Blakeley looked down at Roy’s freshly-shaven jaw.

Roy’s request was simple: “Bring me my makeup bag. In the medicine cabinet.”

Once the makeup bag was in his hands, Roy pulled out his stick of eyeliner and the shell of what remained of a roll of Scotch. Yank, yank.

Blakeley tried holding the mirror in place for Roy, but he kept turning against it.

“Do you not need this?”

Roy shook his head.

 Rip, rip.

Just like a bandage.

***

Sara N. Dippity was penciled in as the second to last act of the night, and Bea Calypso was to be the closing finale. The queens got a major hoot out of that one until they all realized that Raymond, the bar owner, wasn’t kidding.

“That really shut ‘em up, didn’t it?” Blakeley whispered to Roy with a familiar smirk. Tongues in cheeks seared through Blakeley’s mirror.

Just as Roy was about to put on the pearls, Sara decided that her outfit didn’t need them. She stood up from her chair and turned to Blakeley.

“How do I look?” she asked in one breath.

The softness of Blakeley’s face eased her.

“Like you’ve always been ready.”

And as long as she walked out with a pretty face, Sara figured that he was right.

“She’s been away for a while, but she’s back, and she’s got something to say!” Raymond boomed into his microphone from his cue card, “Here she is, our D.C. Darling and long-time vet, Miss Sara N. Dippity!”

Applause preceded pink spotlights flashing across the stage. The disco ball sank downward to make the light scatter into fractals. The song, learned only hours before, began with Sara’s lips mouthing from the collar of a fur coat:

“And I am telling you...I’m not going.”

Blakeley smiled as he watched her from the silver tinsel that separated him from the stage. Neither Sara nor Roy needed that little lip-sync trick.

The words just came so naturally.

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