“I opened the cigar box. The Polaroids were wrapped in a pale-blue chiffon scarf I recognized as our mother’s. I slipped them out and looked at them, one by one, anger sparking and roiling inside me, throbbing up into my throat, my face burning hot under the make-up. “He did this to you,” I said. “Cecil did this to you.”
Ray was turned away from me. He didn’t move. I looked down at the last picture, Cecil’s face quite clear in this one, that shit-eating grin, as though he were posing at a tourist attraction.
“I told you,” Ray said quietly. “Drag is wonderful. But not when you’re unarmed.”
My mouth felt dry, the scent of my own hairspray pressing in on me. The sequined dress was too close to my skin, the seams biting at my waist, my chest. I wanted to tear it off, split it in two. I wanted to rip up the pictures, break everything in the room, burn the building down. I wanted to kill Cecil. Slowly.
But instead I took a moment. I unzipped the dress and stepped out of it, ladylike. I went into my duffel bag on the floor and pulled out a T-shirt and shorts, yanked off my high heels, removed my wig and my stuffed bra.
When Ray finally turned around and looked at me, Jessica Lee Handiwipes was a thing of the past, replaced once again by Billy the chorus boy. “I didn’t mean to ruin your evening,” he said. “I’m sorry, bro.”
I would have hugged him. If only he didn’t hate to be hugged.
I slipped out of the room, past clusters of guests, wrecking themselves and each other and Ray’s apartment—just another boy in shorts and make-up, weaving his way through the glittering crowd.
As I sought out Cecil and made eye contact with him, I tuned out everyone else in the room—Ray, the other drag queens, the hustlers and junkies and freaks. The sailor, too, who may or may not have noticed the guy in the New York Dolls T-shirt and cut-offs, staring down the man with the beefy, fatherly, vaguely familiar face. A soap opera groupie, that’s what I am. With a trembling hand, I beckoned to Cecil. “Come with me,” I said. “I’ll show you a good time.”
Cecil frowned, but his thirst was both profound and obvious. I knew he wouldn’t be able to fight it for long. He was a weak man, and I was not.
I maneuvered my way to the door. As I put my hand on the doorknob, I felt hot breath at the back of my neck, smelled the gin on it. My lips twitched into a smile. So predictable. He followed me down three flights of stairs. Once we got to the first-floor landing, he came up behind me and pushed me against the wall, but I was ready with the switchblade. Hilt against my palm, blade out, I socked him in the stomach, driving it in.”
From “Sister Ray” by Alison Gaylin, included in the anthology DIRTY BOULEVARD, edited by David James Keaton. Used with the permission of the publisher, Down and Out Books. Copyright © 2018 by Alison Gaylin.