A Tongue and a Twerk
Ironically, no one ever entered the Hide Away Lounge without being noticed. The pool table was the center of attention, except when the front door opened and the next customer walked in. The quaint club was the perfect place to hang out, especially on the dismally slow Monday nights where regular weekend customers stayed home to regain their vigor before setting their eyes on the next weekend of debauchery and decadence. The few patrons in attendance ranged from a couple of hustler types needing cigarette money to a handful of old drunken neighborhood queens too tired to compete with the younger patrons searching for the infamous dick of death to play with.
No one ever bothered Daphne while she pretended to play pool, nor did they really care that she performed in drag somewhere else. The Hide Away Lounge was only a few blocks from the apartment she shared with her roommate, Sam. Perhaps it was the stench of last night’s beer on the floor, or maybe it was the dim rays of light from the hanging lamps with working bulbs, but for some unknown reason Daphne felt safe and comfortable at the Hide Away Lounge. In her somewhat delusional mind, this was the perfect getaway for an aspiring twenty-one year old entertainer to hang out incognito, free from paparazzi or adoring fans.
Daphne leaned against the post adjacent to the pool table, holding a fresh gin and tonic in her left hand while waiting her turn to hit at least one ball in a pocket before the bar closed for the evening. She awkwardly twirled the pool cue as if it were a silver baton. Wearing a bit of mascara and a touch of gloss on her lips, she felt feminine even out of full-drag makeup and dressed in tight jeans and an oversized pink T-shirt with a giant-sized image of Miley Cyrus’s face.
“Okay, Daff, it’s your turn,” Donnie said as he backed away from the table after missing his shot. “And be careful with that stick. You’re gonna hurt somebody.”
Daphne smiled at the young man she’d met a few weeks earlier. She didn’t know much about him other than he was short and slightly handsome with his shaved head and tattooed neck, and he liked to play pool. And she adored the way he called her “Daff.” His name was perfect with hers, she thought as she would play the scenario over and over in her head. Daphne and Donnie, Daphne and Donnie…they sounded so cute together.
“Daff, pay attention and take your turn.”
Daphne really didn’t like playing pool. She didn’t quite understand the obsession some players like Donnie had for hitting one ball after another in a pocket, nor did she quite get why the holes in the sides of the tables were even called pockets. But the options for an enjoyable evening were minimal. She could either attempt to play pool or hang out at the bar and sing Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland songs and listen to the old queens talk about how great it was to be gay in the 1970’s.
“Which ones are mine?” she asked as she batted her eyes.
“The same as last time. You have the solid ones.”
“I think I’ll hit the red one,” she announced as she sat her drink on the ledge mounted on the wall. She picked up the blue chalk and ground it onto the tip of her cue.
“You’ve been trying to hit the red one for the past fifteen minutes,” Donnie quipped.
“I like red balls,” Daphne replied, not realizing the innuendo.
“Careful what you wish for.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” she said defensively.
“You know you have better shots to make other than just the red one.”
“I’m gonna shoot the red one in first.” The illusive red ball sat behind a cluster of at least five balls as though it were deliberately avoiding any contact. Just as Daphne leaned over the table, pulling her mid-length dirty blond hair to one side behind her ear and pointing her cue at the same time, the front door flew open. Daphne raised up, her eyes focusing on the tiny silhouette posing in the middle of the entryway. A sense of uncertainty came over her.
“Hey, everybody! It’s time to party!”
“It’s that damn Jackie Lynn Peterson,” Daphne whispered to herself.
Barely five-feet tall and weighing no more than ninety-five pounds, Jackie Lynn Peterson was every drag’s nightmare. She had mercy on no one, verbally lashing-out spiteful barbs that would put even the most seasoned and snarky fast talker to shame. She was Birmingham’s queen of trailer trash and feared by most, except Daphne’s mentor Stella, who kept Jackie Lynn at bay simply because she was three times larger than the pint-size bundle of terror.
As she walked by the bar, Jackie Lynn yelled, “Don’t look at me you sick faggots unless you’ve got money to put in my back pocket!” Without hesitation, the patrons quickly turned their backs to the bully. “Just as I thought. I didn’t think any of you bitches had any money.”
“My, my, look what we have here,” she said as she sashayed toward Daphne and Donnie. “Why, it’s Daffy and Donald Duck!”
“Hello, Jackie Lynn,” Daphne mumbled, doing her best not to rile the little tempest. One of the pitfalls of hanging out in a half-empty bar was having nowhere to hide when someone like Jackie Lynn Peterson arrived. Unfortunately, Jackie Lynn and Daphne shared the same preference for the same club. “I like your hair,” Daphne said.
“Why thank you. This is my new Miley Cyrus look. It fits me perfectly, don’t you think?”
Daphne stared straight ahead for a moment, thinking that the two short twisted clumps of hair on top of Jackie Lynn’s head made her look like a dwarfed devil with horns, or better yet, an underfed goat. Except for the fact that she was over forty, she did resemble Miley Cyrus more than anyone in Birmingham. But luckily for all the entertainers who performed as Miley, including Daphne, Jackie Lynn hardly ever hit the stage. For Jackie Lynn, the streets were her domain.
“I said, ‘How do you like it?’” Jackie Lynn asked raising her voice as she put her hands on her hips and demanded an answer.
“It’s perfect,” Daphne replied.
Jackie Lynn spun around. “You like my outfit?”
“It’s nice.” Daphne smiled just to reassure her antagonist that she was in no mood to tangle with the feral street queen, even though the short jumper-inspired costume looked as though Jackie Lynn had stolen a red-and-white checked tablecloth from the local diner on Third Street and forced her half-blind mother at knife point to sew it for her. “It’s really nice,” she added.
“And how about these legs, Donald Duck? Ever seen anything like them before?” Jackie Lynn asked as she shifted her attention to Donnie.
Not amused with the interruption to his pool game, he blurted out, “Yeah, on a dead chicken.”
“Well!” Jackie Lynn huffed. “There is no need for your bad manners and lack of respect.”
Daphne was a little disturbed with Donnie’s remark, knowing well that Jackie Lynn would eventually take out the wrath of the insult on her and not Donnie. With her cue in her hand, she stepped next to Donnie just to feel protected from the ire that might be coming her way.
“Okay, bitch, take his side,” Jackie Lynn said wryly. “But remember, I do get even.” She began to walk away and then paused before turning back around. “Oh, and by the way Miss Daphne Delight, I’ve seen your lame imitation of Miss Miley. It’s more like ‘Manly Cyrus’ if you ask me.” She approached the pool table and leaned over and stuck out her tongue. Out of all the balls on the table, she picked up the red one and licked it before dropping it into the corner pocket. And without any warning, Jackie Lynn bent over and began to twerk. She gyrated for a good sixty seconds before she stood up straight and snapped her fingers at Daphne. “That’s how you do Miley Cyrus!” She strutted past the bar with her hands on her hips. She opened the large metal door, and before she exited, she yelled, “And now you faggots can talk about me, but don’t forget I’ll hear every word you say!” The door shut behind her and not a word was said at the bar, as though the regulars were convinced that Jackie Lynn Peterson could really hear them through brick and mortar. After a moment of silence, except for the Liza music in the background, an overweight effeminate man standing at the end of the bar began to belt out the first line of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The others joined in.
“She really has a long tongue,” Donnie said as he broke the awkward silence. “And hey, look. You finally got your red ball in the pocket.”
“Yeah, I guess I did,” Daphne said with disappointment, and relief, in her voice.
“Why do you let that old queen get to you? You could take her out in a second.”
“Take her out?”
“Yeah, beat the shit out of her.”
Daphne bit her bottom lip for a moment. “Stella said I need to pick my battles. Not exactly sure what she means by that. I don’t want to have to pick any battles.”
“I think she means that you should pick the ones you can win. Want me to beat up Miss Chicken Legs for you? I ain’t scared of the freak. In fact, I get tired of her coming in here and messing with my game.”
“No. I’m not scared of her either, but as a professional entertainer I have to be careful not to tarnish my image with my fans.”
“More advice from Stella? Not sure you’ve noticed, but I don’t think anyone here even knows who the fuck you are, let alone what you do.”
“Well, you never know.”
“So you perform as Miley Cyrus?”
Daphne nodded. “But not all the time. You need to see my show. You said you would come see it last week.”
“Been busy, but I will. You twerk like Miss Chicken Legs?”
“I really wish you wouldn’t call her that. She has a way of hearing everything…at least that’s what I’ve been told about her. She can be mean. Slash your tires, sugar in the gas tank, cut you…I mean the list is endless.”
“Not scared a bit. You didn’t answer my question. You know how to twerk?”
“Well, not really. And to tell you the truth, Jackie Lynn twerks better than anyone in town, probably better than Miley Cyrus herself. I really need to work on it, but you know, it just feels so dirty.”
“Hey, you wanna get out of here?”
“And go where?” Daphne asked sarcastically. “It’s almost two o’clock. Everything will be closed soon.”
“St. Louis. Wanna go to St. Louis with me?”
“Yeah, tonight. Actually, this morning. I’m supposed to meet my family later on for dinner. Kind of like a homecoming. I haven’t been home in two years.”
“I don’t know.” Daphne paused with her mouth wide open in a moment of thought, an unusual habit that always irritated her friends. “Where is St. Louis? I mean, I’ve heard of it, but I’m not really sure where it is.”
“Missouri. About seven hours away. Come on, it’ll be fun, and anyway, I really don’t want to drive all that way by myself. You could keep me company.”
“Well, I don’t have much to do until Wednesday night. I’m going to Miley Cyrus’s concert on Wednesday. I can’t miss her concert.”
“Perfect. We can come back Wednesday morning. We can stay at my mom’s house. Plenty to eat.”
“I have to make the concert. Stella says that if you perform as a real-life star, you have to study them. I’ll have you know I’m a method actress. I’ll be watching Miley perform and then I’ll perfect my moves and expressions so they’ll be exactly like hers.”
“Why don’t you just follow Miss Chicken Legs around and watch her? She does a pretty good job of being cheap and easy.”
“That’s horrible! Miley is an artist, and I am an illusionist. Jackie Lynn is just a…”
“Nasty old bitch way past her prime,” Donnie interjected. “Come on, go with me. You can bring your Miley Cyrus outfit with you and we can go out to one of the clubs. I’ll pretend I’m out with Miley herself.”
“Well,” Daphne said as her interest suddenly peeked.
“And I can take you to see the famous archway by the river.”
“The famous archway? I think I’ve seen pictures of that.”
“So, whatta ya say?”
“We’ll have to go by my place and pack. My roommate, Sam, isn’t going to like this one bit, but if we hurry, we can get there before he gets home.”
“Just leave him a note or text him,” Donnie said as he headed for the door. Daphne followed close behind him.
“Alright, Daphne!” someone yelled from the bar as the pair exited the club, insinuating that the two were headed for a hot tryst. “Do it once for me!”
“See,” Daphne said as the door closed behind them. She put her nose arrogantly in the air and began to skip. “Someone does know who I am.”
Daphne’s eyes opened one at a time. The truck was motionless in the dark, sounds of speeding cars the only noise she could hear. “Where are we?” she asked, lifting her head off of her pink Miley Cyrus backpack she used as a pillow.
“A rest area outside of Memphis,” Donnie answered. “I was tired so I pulled over for a nap.”
“Memphis? Stella says Elvis Presley lives here,” Daphne said with a bit of groggy excitement in her voice.
“Lives? Lived. He’s dead.”
“Oh. That’s sad,” she responded still half awake. “I have to pee.”
Within minutes the two were back on the road as the sun came up, and a few hours later they were in St. Louis. Donnie treated Daphne to breakfast at White Castle and then they drove downtown to see the Gateway Arch. Daphne had never seen anything so big and so beautiful. She suddenly pictured herself as a young ingénue being filmed with the Arch as the central set piece, just as Audrey Hepburn had in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with New York as her backdrop. Since moving in together, Sam had introduced Daphne to old film classics, and more importantly, legends of the silver screen. More than once she tried to replicate, costume and all, famous scenes from her new favorite movies.
“Didn’t Judy Garland make a movie here?” Daphne asked, eyes wide open with the thought.
And just as quickly as one question was barely brought up, another popped right out of her mouth. “So that’s the Mississippi River? I thought it would be bigger.”
Donnie looked at her and grunted in disbelief that someone could have been so sheltered for so long, yet still be so eager to learn.
Later, Donnie showed Daphne some of his old haunts, like the ballpark where he played softball in middle school, and the high school he attended until dropping out in eleventh grade. Daphne was in awe of both schools since she had never attended one. Being homeschooled by her overprotective and zealot grandmother throughout her childhood, Daphne never experienced what many other children had in their lives, things like close friendships, a favorite teacher, music classes, and spelling bees.
“Were you ever in a spelling bee?” Daphne asked.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Did you ever win?”
“Not that I remember.”
“One day I will be in one. I learn a new word every week. Sam teaches me the word and I have to spell it and use it.”
“A word a week?” Donnie asked. “That’s not a lot of words.”
“But they’re really big words, words that make me sound smart. This week’s word is…”
“And here it is, my house,” Donnie interrupted.
“… magnificent. Your house is magnificent!”
“Well, thanks, but it’s really my parents’ house. This is where I grew up,” Donnie said, parking the truck.
Daphne had never seen anything like it. The two-story building looked as though it came right out of a fairytale with its aqua blue vinyl siding. There was even a magical sparkle of glittering silver strewn around the sides of the driveway. The abundance of dandelions in the front yard only enhanced the yellow shutters framing each window. A wreath of plastic flamingos accented the blue front double doors. And the gnomes, gnomes of all sizes, were everywhere along the edge of the house, with clusters of artificial flowers tucked in between them.
“Magnificent,” Daphne repeated. “Are those flowers real?”
“Naw. My mom volunteers at the cemetery and she brings them home. She says there’s no need to waste them.”
“Your family must be rich.”
“Heck, a house like this would cost a fortune in Birmingham.”
“Well, maybe. Come on. Let’s go in. I want you to meet my mother.”
“I can’t wait to meet her.”
“Oh, and Daff, there’s one thing.”
“Well, my mom doesn’t know anything about drag queens and entertaining and…”
“So you don’t want me to talk about my career?”
“Well, if you wouldn’t that would be good, you know what I mean?”
Daphne paused, again with her mouth open in deep thought. “You don’t want me to be myself? You want me to pretend to be somebody else?”
“Yeah, like buds.”
“Like buddies. Best friends. No Daphne Delight, just Daff.”
“Well, I am an actress.”
Carrying their bags, the two anxiously walked up the driveway where shiny beer cans littered the edges of the cracked concrete. Suddenly, and up close, the house didn’t look so magical after all. The vinyl siding seemed warped, the paint on the front doors was chipped, and the flamingos were faded by overexposure to the sun. Donnie opened the door and called out to his mother. Within seconds, a large, screaming and overemotional woman appeared, running up the hallway from the kitchen, every inch of her jiggling with excitement.
“Oh, my baby! You’re home. You’re finally home!” she exclaimed. As mother and son embraced, Daphne stood back and enjoyed the scene, one she had never been a part of with her own mother.
“Mom, you’re hurting me,” Donnie playfully said.
His mother slapped him upside the head. “What the hell are you doing here so early? I ain’t even close to having things ready for your party. You told me five o’clock and here it is just barely after twelve.” She smacked the side of his head again.
“Mom, quit it,” Donnie snapped back. “What’s the big deal? We just got here a little early, that’s all.”
“And who’d you bring with you?”
“Mom, this is my good bud, Daff.”
Daphne wasn’t sure if she should courtesy, hold out a hand, or hug Donnie’s mother. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs…” Daphne paused because she couldn’t recollect Donnie’s last name.
“Don’t you ‘Mrs.’ me. Call me Earlene. Any friend of Donnie’s is welcome in my home, except for that no good Bobby Rae Tucker. Caught him stealing more than once. No, that thief ain’t ever welcome here.”
Earlene guided them to the kitchen. “You boys must be hungry. Let me fix you a couple of sandwiches and then the two of you can take a nap or something ‘til dinner time. Daff, you like baloney sandwiches?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.” Daphne sat down on a stool at the counter and watched as Earlene prepared baloney sandwiches with more mayo than meat. Daphne didn’t much care for mayonnaise, but she also knew to be polite and just eat. She was, after all, a guest.
Earlene scampered around the kitchen, putting out a bowl of barbeque flavored chips and a pitcher of iced tea. Her long jet-black hair bounced as she moved around the room, and there was a twinkle in her eyes as she kept embracing her son over and over to her son’s objections. “What’s wrong?” she said. “You scared of your fat mama’s squeezes?” And then she kissed his neck as though she might not see him for another two years. When she decided her son had been given enough affection, she turned her attention to Daphne.
“So, Daff’s a strange name. Doesn’t sound American. Are you American, or is it a nickname?”
Daphne sat silent for a second. “It’s a nickname. And yes, I am American.” No one had ever asked her if she were American before.
“How’d you get the name?” Earlene asked.
Daphne paused again, her mouth wide open, her mind suddenly racing. She wanted to keep her promise to Donnie and could see the nervousness in his eyes as she tried to come up with an answer.
Donnie came to the rescue. “Mom, Daff got his nickname because when he was a baby he couldn’t hear and they thought he’d be deaf for the rest of his life. So they called him Daff.”
“Oh, you poor dear!” Earlene said sympathetically, her voice suddenly raised as though she were talking to someone who really couldn’t hear. Then she laughed and smacked Daphne on the back, “Better to be called Daff than to be called Dumb, right!”
Daphne smiled and felt relieved that she had escaped the situation unscathed. She liked Earlene. Maybe it was Earlene’s large size, her fearless wit, or just the fact she was overbearingly rough around the edges. She reminded Daphne of Stella. Large, loud, and in control.
“Donnie, take Daff up to Sissy’s old room when he’s finished with his sandwich.” Earlene turned to Daphne and raised her voice, “Sissy is Donnie’s sister. Ran away with a black man twice her age about three years ago. Her daddy never got over it.” Daphne thought for a moment that Missouri wasn’t a whole lot different than Alabama. “You can use her room to take a nap. The bathroom’s at the top of the stairs.”
Daphne thanked Earlene for her hospitality and followed Donnie up the stairs. “Why don’t you get cleaned up and get some sleep?” Donnie suggested. “It’s already after one, and dinner will be at five. I’ll wake you up when it’s ready. Sound like a plan?”
“Yeah, sounds like a plan,” Daphne replied. She couldn’t wait to hit the shower and lie down in a real bed.
“Daff. Daff,” Donnie said quietly as he knocked on the bedroom door. He entered to find Daphne sitting in a chair next to the window, old issues of Essence Magazine in her lap. “Dinner’s ready,” he said. “Everyone’s here. You ready to eat?”
Daphne took a deep breath. The aroma of fried chicken permeated the room. “Do I smell fried chicken?”
“Yeah. KFC. Mama says if you can’t make it better than KFC, then don’t try. She puts it in the oven to keep it warm and then tells everybody she cooked it herself. Smells great, yeah? She knows it’s my favorite.”
“That’s nice,” Daphne said stretching her arms in the air.
“I see you’ve got a red one too,” Donnie said referring to Daphne’s red Miley Cyrus T-shirt.
“Yeah, got one in four different colors. It’s okay to wear to dinner, isn’t it?”
“Sure. You and my cousin Vincent will get along fine. He loves her. Always talking about how he’d let her use that tongue of hers for something really good.”
“Ugh, can’t wait to meet him.”
The two walked down the stairs, Donnie acting like the proud host, and Daphne nervously following her nose to the fried chicken and side dishes that filled the table. “Everybody, this is my friend, Daff.”
“Hey, Daff!” the family yelled in unison. Earlene had told everyone that Daphne could not hear.
“Hey,” Daphne replied as she raised her hand and gently waved back, moving her fingers as though she were signing.
Earlene jumped up and hollered, “Sweetie, you sit over here next to Debbie Ann. She’s Donnie’s cousin. Just finished high school and still looking for a boyfriend.”
“Uh, Aunt Earlene,” Debbie Ann protested. “I told you I don’t want a boyfriend.” With or without the plaid flannel shirt, it was obvious to Daphne that Debbie Ann was a lesbian. Couldn’t the rest of the family see it? she thought to herself.
Once seated, everyone went around the table and with boisterous voices and over-enunciation introduced themselves as platters of food moved from one set of hands to another. Daphne was barely listening, knowing that after the third introduction she had already forgotten names. She figured that after tomorrow, she wouldn’t remember any of them. Her ears began to hurt. She wanted to let them all know that she could hear perfectly fine without them screaming, but then she didn’t want to talk at all.
“Like your shirt,” Vincent said, grinning like a goofy inbred. Daphne just smiled as she put a forkful of mashed potatoes in her mouth.
“That woman’s disgusting,” Grandma Ballard stated with contempt. “I liked her when she was Hanna Montana. Now she’s just a…”
“That’s enough, Grandma!” Earlene interrupted. “Don’t get riled up. You know it will encourage your reflux.”
Donnie’s father, Larry, sat stoically through the onset of the meal, staring at Daphne with piercing eyes barely visible from under his dark blue ball cap with the edges worn. Daphne could feel his glances but ignored them as she reached for another piece of chicken.
“What the hell happened to your eyebrows?” Donnie’s father asked. The chatter at the table came to a halt.
Daphne looked up and around. Eyebrows? She thought for a moment for an answer to his question. She had no response to having no eyebrows. It occurred to her that at that moment, it would be convenient to lose her sense of hearing, if she could.
“Oh, Larry,” Earlene interjected. “Probably an aerosol or meth explosion.”
“Yeah, like that,” Daphne replied, not at all sure what Earlene was referring to.
Suddenly, Donnie stood up and walked around the table, positioning himself directly behind Daphne. Daphne paid no attention and took a bite of a chicken breast, hoping the whole situation would just go away.
“I have an announcement to make,” Donnie proclaimed with his eyes nearly shut. Earlene put her fork down, and all the family members followed suit. Donnie made sure he had everyone’s attention before he nervously stated, “I just want you all to know that since I went to prison, I’ve changed.”
Silence ensued until Vincent asked, “How? Did you get your GED?”
Donnie placed his hand on Daphne’s shoulder. “I’m gay.” Daphne could feel the mouthful of chicken breast suddenly lodge in her throat. This is worse than the old man asking why she had no eyebrows, she thought. Every person in the room stared at Daphne as though she were the culprit in changing the sexual orientation of their prodigal son.
“You’re a faggot, a queer?” Donnie’s father blurted out. “And this must be your faggot boyfriend you brought to our house. First, Sissy, and now this?”
Debbie Ann leaned over to Daphne and whispered, “Welcome to my bigoted world.”
“Oh, dear Lord, my grandson’s a homo!” Donnie’s grandmother wailed. “Get me the Pepto. Earlene, get me the Pepto!”
Daphne sat motionless as though she wasn’t even there. As the morsel of chicken finally made its way down her esophagus, she wished these strangers would all go away, but they didn’t. It was, after all, their home and not hers. She could feel the contempt and anger as the voices were raised even louder. Earlene tried to get everyone to calm down, but between Grandma Ballard’s drama and Larry’s hateful rhetoric, along with the snide comments of the rest of the family, the noise just got worse. Remembering what her mentor, Stella, had told her many times before, Daphne decided she could not win this battle, so she stood up and walked out of the house, closing the blue door with the pink flamingo wreath behind her. She made her way to Donnie’s truck and climbed into the passenger seat. Donnie soon followed carrying his bag and Daphne’s Miley Cyrus backpack.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said as he started the engine. “I should have known better.”
“Prison?” Daphne asked.
“Yeah, I would have told you…eventually.”
“The chicken was good, didn’t you think?”
Donnie didn’t reply as they headed down the street.
Daphne jumped from the chair when the phone rang, startled by the loud old-fashioned ring of a landline. She stared at the black rotary phone then glanced at the clock sitting next to it. It was eight in the morning. The last thing Daphne remembered was sitting in the wingback chair next to the bed, watching Maury where a black woman in a bad orange weave was beating the crap out of her two-timing boyfriend for having sex with some overweight vagina with two legs.
“Hello?” There was a pause on the other end. “Yes, this is Daphne.” There was another pause. The caller then went on to explain he had just been released from jail. Donnie had been stopped for speeding and had old outstanding warrants as well. The man said he promised Donnie to call and let Daphne know about his arrest and that he might be out in a day or two, and that Daphne needed to stay put until his release. “Okay,” Daphne said at the end of the short conversation before hanging up the phone. She stared at the ceiling in deep thought with her mouth open as she normally did when confused.
Still half asleep, she remembered that she and Donnie had checked in at the Motel 6 on the edge of St. Louis, far away from the archway and right off the Interstate ramp. The plans for the evening were simple. Donnie would go meet one of his old friends for an hour or two and then pick up a bottle of gin, and when he returned, he and Daphne would go out to a local club and possibly play pool.
Daphne stared at the items on the bed. She had unfolded her skimpy Miley Cyrus costume, brushing out the matted pink fake fur collar. The glittery powder-pink leotard was created by Stella for Daphne’s act, and she couldn’t wait to wear it to the concert in Birmingham on Wednesday night. She was sure every Miley drag in the city would attend, and Daphne wanted to make sure she stood out and looked like the “real” Miley and not some lame redneck imposter like Jackie Lynn Peterson. Going out with Donnie was a chance to “feel” like Miley and practice her “tongue and twerk” on strangers
Daphne was a trained “method” actress, a technique Stella had explained to her protégé. “If you want to be somebody else, then you have to practice being that person. You can’t fake it.” Though Daphne might appear eccentric to strangers, she was often just pretending to be somebody she wasn’t. One Sunday morning she caused a great stir when she walked in the Waffle House dressed in a black suit and placed her breakfast order like a drunken Marlene Dietrich. And there was the time she and Sam were stopped at a red light in Birmingham and she suddenly jumped out of the car and began spinning around, totally immersed in becoming Julie Andrews, belting out lyrics from The Sound of Music.
Daphne had waited for Donnie until eleven thirty. She had polished her nails twice and moisturized every inch of her exposed skin. She had practiced her tongue extensions in the hand mirror and when her bottom felt numb from sitting too long, she had practiced twerking. She’d flipped through an assortment of television shows throughout the evening, so many that her thumb was beginning to hurt from using the remote so much. She finally found Maury on an obscure station and was immediately caught up in the baby-daddy drama before nodding off.
Suddenly aware that it was now Wednesday morning, she opened her mouth and screamed, “Miley! Miley Cyrus! Her concert is tonight!” She began to panic, pacing back and forth, all the time looking at the clock. She grabbed her cell phone and texted Sam. Sam always came to her rescue in times of need. Hell, she remembered, he’s not even in Birmingham. He drove Stella to Mobile. There was no way that Sam could make it to St. Louis from Mobile and then drive them back to Birmingham in time for the concert.
Daphne paced some more, then walked to the window and pulled back the shades. The side lot was full of semi trucks. “I could hitch a ride,” she said out loud. She thought of going from one rig to another, knocking on doors in search of the one possible trucker heading to Birmingham, but that would be time consuming, and then she quickly dispelled the idea because of the concessions that might have to be made. There had to be a better way to get to Birmingham by 8:00 p.m.
The idea of taking a bus popped into her mind, but she had less than ten dollars in her pocket. With her adrenaline peaking, she grabbed Donnie’s bag out of the closet and dumped his belongings on the floor. She unrolled his socks and searched through his pockets for any indication of cash, finally finding a plastic bag of rolled-up quarters. She counted exactly twenty taped-up rolls--a gold mine and a way back to Birmingham. Within the hour, she was packed, in a cab, and on a Greyhound bus headed home with one connecting stop in Nashville.
The ride was arduous, to say the least. Daphne found herself befriending an elderly lady when she made her connection in Nashville. Sitting together on the bus, the two exchanged pleasantries, and of course, Daphne began to tell the woman about her career as an entertainer: an illusionist, a female impersonator. It wasn’t until she said, “I’m a drag queen,” that the old lady perked up and replied, “I know what that is,” and the conversation became engaging. By the time the bus pulled into Birmingham, Daphne had revealed her entire life story to the stranger.
The bus station lobby was crowded and bustling, and Daphne walked swiftly to the men’s restroom, her Miley Cyrus backpack over one shoulder. She had exactly one hour to get in drag and make it four blocks to the arena.
She headed for the stall at the end of the room and entered it, closing the door behind her. Like a professional, she sat on the toilet and took a deep breath, then pulled her makeup out of her backpack. With a tiny mirror in one hand and her brushes in the other, she gradually transformed herself into Miley Cyrus. She pulled back her hair and donned the short blond wig, feathering it with her fingers and then spraying it in place with heavy applications of Aqua-Net. Next, she slithered into her costume, and once every piece was in place, she put on the pink satin boots, stood up and gave a sigh of relief. All that was left to do was to fill her backpack with her “boy” clothes and makeup, and head to the arena. She shifted into method mode and closed her eyes, imagining she was the one and only Miley. With her backpack on and her concert ticket in her hand, she opened the stall door. A man at the urinal was the first to see her. Another guy at the sink stopped washing his hands, not sure if he was in the right room.
“I guess you boys weren’t expecting Miley in the men’s room, were you?” The line was totally unrehearsed, but Daphne felt she needed to say something just to get a head start in case one of the men decided to chase her down.
She walked as quickly as she could down Broadway, avoiding any eye contact with passing strangers and drivers who were blowing their horns. After trekking two blocks, she found herself standing and waiting for the light to turn. It wouldn’t do to wait. Miley would never wait, she said to herself. She raised her hands and walked forward, creating a traffic jam as she crossed the street. The arena was in her sight.
As usual, Monday night at the Hide Away Lounge was slow. It had been two weeks since Daphne had made the trek to St. Louis with Donnie. She was resigned to the reality that she would probably never see him again. Instead of hanging out at the pool table, Daphne decided to sit at the bar with the regulars, people she had seen but never actually been introduced to. She met Ron, a retired cashier from Kroger who drank dirty martinis and who amused the others with size-queen encounters of his past. Max was a red-eyed jovial drunk on assistance who had succumbed to being unemployable after being hit by a car ten years earlier on his way home after a night of drinking at a bar downtown. And then Thelma, a sixty-something drag wannabe who knew the words to every Judy and Liza song ever recorded, charmed Daphne with her quick wit and snarky attitude.
“Need another gin and tonic?” Dave, the bartender asked.
“Sure. One more,” Daphne replied.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Dave added as he refilled her drink. “Jackie Lynn Peterson came by earlier. Said she needed to see you. Told me she’d be in later.”
“Oh, that Jackie Lynn is something else,” Thelma chimed in as she rolled her eyes in tribute to a bawdy Betty Davis.
“Yeah, she is,” Daphne agreed. “Why are all of you afraid of her?”
“Afraid?” Thelma responded. “We ain’t afraid of her. We just ignore the crazy thing. She’s all bark and no bite, but she’s a loony for sure. Imagine a queen her age pretending to be someone like Miley Cyrus. It’s disgusting.”
“I heard she’s hung like a horse,” Ron blurted out.
“Hardly,” Max quietly muttered. “I ought to know. I dated her years ago when she thought she was Cher.”
Just then and on cue, like in a sitcom entrance, the door opened and Jackie Lynn stormed in wearing white denim hot pants and a matching halter top. “Hey bitches!” she yelled in a slow southern drawl.
“Okay, girls. Time to turn the backs,” Thelma cautiously whispered.
“Daphne Delight! Get your ass over here now!” Jackie Lynn demanded as she headed to the table in the back. Daphne slowly slid off the stool and followed. She sat in a chair across from the little terror not knowing what might happen next.
“What is it?” Daphne sheepishly asked.
“Not much. Just wanted to say that I saw the You Tube video and how you jumped up on stage and stuck out your tongue and then twerked. Impressive.”
“I thought Miley was in trouble. When her shoe broke, I knew she needed my help. That’s when I jumped on stage and did the tongue and the twerk, you know, to give her time to put on another pair of shoes and come back out. The whole video thing has embarrassed me. I just wanted to help Miley.”
“Well, you stole the show, and when she came up behind you and you turned around and fainted, well, it was priceless. And if I may add, I think you twerk better than Miley does.”
“Thanks, but can I tell you a secret?”
“I was imitating you, not Miley. You are the best twerker in Birmingham.”
Jackie Lynn sat motionless as her eyes filled with tears. “That’s the best compliment I’ve had since I was twelve when my aunt Ethel told me I had eyes like Barbara Mandrell.” And just as though she had an off-and-on mood switch, she scowled and said, “And don’t you ever tell anyone you saw tears in my eyes, you hear? In fact we never even had this conversation.”
“Sure,” Daphne said, a bit confused.
Jackie Lynn stood up positioning herself in front of Daphne at an angle where everyone in the bar could see the two of them together. She was aware she was being watched as she began to twerk, her best one ever. Then she snapped her fingers in the air and declared, “And, bitch, that’s how you do Miley Cyrus!” She gave Daphne a huge wink with her left eye. Daphne responded with a squinting half wink in return. With her hands on her hips, Jackie Lynn strutted out of the bar.
Daphne slowly made her way back to her stool, amazed that she and her nemesis had shared a secret and a wink. She calmly sat down, her mouth wide open in deep thought.
“Well,” Thelma huffed. “A woman her age acting like that.”
“How does she hide that big wiener in those skimpy outfits?” Ron asked in awe.
“I still get a little twitch when she shakes that ass,” Max thought aloud, a smile coming over his plump face.
It felt good to be at the Hide Away Lounge, Daphne told herself as she stirred her gin and tonic with her little finger. Somehow, she felt drawn and enamored by the Monday night patrons, and now, even less threatened by Jackie Lynn Peterson.
Thelma took a deep raspy breath then exhaled, a pattern she acquired from years of smoking. “Honey, how come you’re not wearing a Miley Cyrus T-shirt tonight?”
Daphne thought for a second, then replied. “Time to move on to something bigger and better.” She paused. “Did Judy Garland ever make a movie in St. Louis?” she asked her new friends.
“Did she ever!” Thelma responded with excitement. The old storyteller smiled and began to emote, “There once was a little girl named Dorothy who had a dog named Toto…”
“Oh, shit. Here we go again,” Ron quipped sarcastically.
Daphne sat in awe and listened as Thelma and the others bantered back and forth about unaccountable facts and sequences of events in the life of the famous singer and actress. After about twenty minutes of a cinema and musical Garland history lesson, Daphne asked her friends, “Did Judy know how to twerk?” What followed were seconds of shocked silence, then the small group of misfits broke into a fit of laughter as Thelma awkwardly portrayed Judy twerking while singing Follow the Yellow Brick Road. Daphne giggled as she watched Thelma wobble back to her stool, holding her back in anguished pain.
“Dave,” Thelma gasped, “I need a double with an OxyContin on the side!”
Max turned to Daphne and said, “Stick around another thirty minutes and you’ll see the real Judy Garland right before your eyes.”
Daphne’s eyes opened wide with anticipation. She couldn’t wait.
In the 1970’s, J.R. Greenwell was a premiere headliner for many years at the Sweet Gum Head in Atlanta, GA, and performed as a female illusionist across the country. He later earned a Masters of Education at the University of Louisville, and now devotes his time as a queer writer creating plays and prose at his home in central Kentucky. He is the author of a memoir, Teased Hair and the Quest for Tiaras, and a collection of short fiction, Who the Hell is Rachel Wells? For more information on J.R. Greenwell visit his Web site at www.jrgreenwellmga79.com.