Chapter 8: John's Place
Mary awoke from a dream where she was bouncing. She had been trying to stop bouncing, but every time she touched the earth, she had catapulted back up further and further into the sky. On the last bounce, she surfaced above the clouds, where the sun could be seen resting on top of the thunderstorm’s darkness. This time, falling brought her to consciousness. She was on a couch –Darci Dark’s couch. Blankets on the floor covered a myriad of sleeping bodies. Darci had woken one of them up the night before and made them drop to the floor, surrendering the couch for Mary.
The room was taking in the morning light and it was a comforting scene. Flowering plants stretched towards the apartment’s windows where the light met their reach. A small statuette of a boy holding a lamppost sat on the table at the end of the couch, black paint peeling off the face. The room was well kept and filled with knick-knacks, plants and photographs. They were not of Darci. A man with brown, feathered hair was in most of them. From what could be the latest pictures, he looked about forty and he appeared to be involved in the theatre. Various images of him in theatrical clothing were grouped in blocks on the wall. Shakespeare, Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams and George Bernard Shaw were all represented. Congratulation notes and positive newspaper criticisms were framed within these groupings that took up large portions of the walls.
The calming display nearly allowed Mary to forget the morning sickness that accompanied her awakenings until it gave her a quick reminder. The nausea caught her off guard but she managed to stifle it and avoid a run to the bathroom. She rubbed her stomach underneath her dress. The room was nice but it wouldn’t make a very good home for a baby.
The smell of bacon frying was causing a stir beneath the sheets and blankets across the floor. A young boy poked his head from underneath his covers, just below Mary. His frizzy blonde hair stood on end as if he were touching one of those static electricity gadgets in a science experiment. His wide blue eyes gazed around the room and then up at Mary.
“I’m Gumby. You took my bed last night.”
“I’m sorry. Did you sleep ok?”
“Oh ya. I can sleep anywhere. Sometimes, I sleep without a pillow on purpose. That way, if I don’t have a pillow, it doesn’t bother me. I think it’s good to get used to sleeping any way you can, don’t you?”
“I prefer a pillow, but I see what you’re getting at.”
“Where do you come from?”
“Never heard of it. I’m from Toronto. Came out here a couple months ago. This city’s awesome. You’re gonna love it. I do. I made two hundred bucks last night.”
“How old are you?”
“Thirteen next week. You gonna be here for my birthday? I’m gonna throw a kick-ass party. Might be at Oliver’s. I dunno. You should come.”
“How did you make your two hundred dollars?”
“Guys pay me for dates.”
A man walked out from the kitchen and began pulling all the blankets off the sleeping patrons. Apart from Gumby, there was a couple near the window and another man on the floor closer to the kitchen. The couple by the window sat up and looked over at Mary. They were about seventeen or eighteen. The boy had long blonde hair that sat across his face. The girl had similar hair and neither produced a smile. They sat there with their knees pulled up to their chests taking in the morning ritual. The man in the kitchen, who was obviously the man in the photographs on the wall, came in with plates of bacon, hash browns, and eggs. He dropped them on the coffee table that had been pulled into the corner of the room, out of the way of the sleeping guests.
“Eat the fuck up and get out. I got shit to do today.”
The man who had been sleeping closest to the kitchen sprung to his feet and grabbed the cook around the waist, picking him up with a hug.
“Put me down Pat. Jesus Christ.”
“You just look so damn grumpy. I thought you needed a hug.”
“I don’t need a hug and who the fuck is this? Another one? Darci has got to quit bringing home strays. This isn’t a fucking half-way house for lost souls. What the fuck is your name?”
Gumby jumped up and positioned himself beside Mary on the couch. He grabbed her hand and gripped it.
“She’s with me. She gets to stay.”
“No one’s staying. You’re all leaving after breakfast. Now hurry the fuck up and eat. I have a doctor’s appointment at ten thirty and you all have to be gone. I’m not leaving anyone here alone.”
Gumby leaned over and whispered in Mary’s ear.
“That’s John. Don’t let him frighten you. He’s alright. Just a little crabby in the morning.”
Gumby’s hand moved across Mary’s back, in a comforting motion. Then, suddenly, it dipped down to caress the exposed part of her lower back. His fingertips stretched out the elastic on her underwear, beneath her skirt, and he stroked the crack of her ass. Mary shifted abruptly to stop the intrusion. Gumby only smiled and rolled back onto the floor.
“Guys pay me tons. I bet I’m the best paid chicken in town.”
“What’s a ‘chicken’?”
“That’s a young boy. A chicken hawk is a guy that pays young boys. You’re kind of a chicken too. Except not a boy chicken. You’re a girl chicken.”
“I don’t want to be a chicken.”
“Oh, it’s easy. You’ll see. Have you met Larry yet?”
“Ya. I met him last night at Oliver’s. Why?”
“He’s a chicken hawk. He’s always checking out all the new chickens. He’s probably the best paying one too. He won’t like you though. He only likes boys. You’re a girl.”
By now, the breakfast was almost all eaten. The couple on the floor had wolfed down most of it. Mary was feeling the effects of her morning sickness so she hadn’t been able to eat a bite. The guy named Pat was in the bathroom cleaning up and John had gone back to his room to dress. Darci Dark was still nowhere to be seen.
Mary knew she had to get her bearings straight. She needed to figure out a game plan. Bern was gone. She had no idea where he was and it wasn’t likely she would find him again in a city this size any time soon. She was pregnant. She guessed she was about three months in. She knew who the father was and she wasn’t going to tell anyone. It didn’t matter to her that her son or daughter would never know their real father. She’d known him and that was enough. No one else needed to go through that. If people asked who the father was, she would just lie and say there was no father. She’d tell them it was an immaculate conception. Her name was Mary, after all.
Mary’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the buzzer on the wall. It was someone at the front door of the apartment building, waiting to be buzzed in. John emerged from the bedroom to answer the sound.
“Jesus Christ, who is that now? I’m telling you, you all have to leave soon. I have to get to this appointment. Hello? Who is this? Oh, fuck, Diana? You’re with who? Oh, for Christ sake, alright, you can come up, but I have to go, so don’t get comfortable!”
Within a minute, there was a knock on the door and then it was pushed open before anyone could answer it. Mary counted seven men entering the apartment. They were all laughing and chatting amongst themselves and each one of them carried a handful of bags and folded clothes. Most of them wore jeans or cut-off shorts and a few either wore or held women’s high-heel shoes in their hands. Each one of them also carried a purse. They moved into the kitchen and bathroom area and placed their inventories down, extracting make-up cases, dresses and wigs. A large man with short-shorts and high-heel shoes began poking his head into the bedrooms.
“Where the fuck is Darci? She isn’t up yet? Well, we’re certainly going to have to change that. Cynthia, go wake Darci up. Spare no pain girl. That bitch needs to get her day on. She knows we have a show to practice for. Tell her the brothers are here to become sisters. And ask her where my eyeliner is. She borrowed it yesterday and that shit was expensive. Well, it would have been expensive if I’d had to pay for it.”
Mary sat on the couch watching the circus that had erupted in front of her. Seven half-men had now completely invaded the apartment and they were setting up what appeared to be an ad hoc dressing room throughout the kitchen and bathroom. Bags of make-up, brushes, combs, and various other instruments of hair manipulation, both electric and manual, were now strewn about with the electric cords forming a black spider’s web between the rooms.
Darci wandered out from a bedroom in a bathrobe with a smoke in his mouth. The five o’clock shadow on his face made him look far more like a man than he had the night before. He grabbed a coffee from the kitchen and moved into the living room to sit down next to Mary.
“Don’t mind these boys. They have a drag show tomorrow, so today is dress rehearsal. You sleep ok? If you need to, you can come here again tonight. Did you eat anything?”
“I’m really not that hungry.”
“Well, try and grab a piece of toast before you leave. Don’t mind John either. He’s a fart this time of day. He comes out of his dark emotional shell in the afternoons and evenings. You should see it sometime. He really can be quite lovely. Say, if you want to meet me later tonight at Oliver’s, I’ll pay you to sit and sell coke. I’ll give you five bucks for every flap you sell. Get Gumby to go with you today. He’ll show you where to go and hang out until Oliver’s is busy. Here’s twenty dollars. You can owe me.”
Mary took the money and pushed it into her sock. She didn’t even own a purse.
“No problem sweetie. Now, let me get these boys out of here before John has a nervous breakdown. He’s rather prone to those. Don’t let his butch looks fool you. He’s a bigger Diva than anyone you’re about to see come out of that kitchen.”
Mary sat on the couch next to Gumby and watched as the seven men transformed before her eyes. Inside of a half hour, they had all become ladies, each with a distinctly personal style of dress. Some wore full evening gowns with laced up high-heeled shoes; others wore knee-length summer frocks with tennis shoes. One man wore a stewardess outfit, complete with the airline cap on his head. There was even a cheerleader. All of them were fighting for a place in the bathroom mirror, where make-up was being applied in what looked like a rugby scrum. Elbowing and jostling for position, they grabbed at each other’s lipstick and eyeliner, marking up their faces to an overstated degree.
The sight of the whole arrangement was stunning for Mary. She had never met a drag queen before Darci, and now there were seven more of them surrounding her in the living room, laughing and shoving each other around like this was a high-school homeroom before the teacher arrived. Gumby shifted back up onto the couch beside Mary and his arm went up over her shoulder.
“What do you say me and you get out of here? I’ll take you to Oliver’s for breakfast. My treat. We gotta get out of here anyway. John’s gonna explode soon and you don’t want to see that. He can get real nasty when people won’t leave.”
Gumby took Mary by the hand and led her up off the couch. They stepped over the growing piles of jeans and runners at the front door and made their way out of the apartment, down the elevator and out onto the street. Mary took note of the address as they cut up the block onto a main avenue. The intersection was Bute and Davie. She needed to remember that. It was her only hope for a place to stay that evening and she knew how much it would matter when the time came. Regardless of how crazy that apartment had been, she was very thankful for it; thankful for Darci and thankful for this crazy little kid who was now pulling her, hand first, down the sidewalk.