THE BOY IN THE RED DRESS
The Nightshade Club
My best friend Marion always took the stage at midnight sharp on Fridays and Saturdays, narrow hips clad in shimmering sequins, wide eyes fringed in fluttering black. The room full of loud-talking dolls and daddies quieted down when they saw him – her, as she was then. They watched Marion shape red lips around “You’re the Cream in My Coffee;” they studied the shape of shoulder and jaw, whispered to each other, “Is that really a man?”
On the good nights — and those were many — the people forgot all their questions by the end of Marion’s set. They saw him like I did, a ruby shining in a bucket of rocks. They fell in a pie-eyed sort of love, the sort that made them want to come back to Aunt Al’s dim little speakeasy and see him again and again and again.
He glowed on those nights. Hummed with the energy of being loved. Could not stop smiling in the dressing room after, like a poker player dealt a handful of face cards. I brought him gin I’d sneaked out of Aunt Al’s stash and watched him talk fast and take off his makeup slow, always slow those nights, like he wanted to stay Marion-the-glamorous forever.
It was easy to forget then about the other kind of night. The ugly ones, when a loudmouth turned the crowd, when some table full of slumming Tulane cake-eaters jeered and talked over Marion’s songs. Those nights, the people saw only the novelty, the joke of a boy in a dress. They didn’t see Marion at all.
Those nights, he didn’t talk after. He took off his makeup in long swipes, not meeting his own eye in the mirror.
The night he disappeared was one of the ugly ones