He was an ex-boyfriend, which constitutes an ex everything in my eyes. He knows where the mole on the arch of my foot sings, the secret stash of sugar I hide at arms-reach. It’s strange to think he can’t recognise me now. I wonder why? Surely, I’m in a dress, my make‑up taking away the obvious, I’ve managed to cover the lines under my eyes, a gift of my late father, the acne scars and although they are faded now, they feel furry and new like mould. In all my contoured construction, my limbs are mine. My legs trump those of a gladiator. I am a winning racehorse in drag.
There’s a red light on the stage, and I know it jumps off my cheekbones and makes me look like authority. It takes me back to our first date. Twenty-two, two ripened minds discussing William Blake as if we were competing with one another. My dissertation was better than yours. Better, is too strong a word, perhaps, it was more convincing. I mean you never really did want to do an English degree, did you? I didn’t have much confidence back then. My quick wit was protective clothing. It came off when I watched you laugh. I owe everything to Kenneth Williams.
Even then, I flirted with your mystery, it smelt dangerous, like a match. The fire, its sharpness and how quickly it burns the wood. A race. We were always interested in that race, we wanted to start fires, but now we know that starting fires means burning things down.
The bar is full. The crowd looks tiny here, round black heads and stick drawings for bodies like a Lowry landscape. The other two people at my side don’t appear to be nervous. I would be if I were them. Make-up can do wonders, it can trick, it can get you out of any situation, but somehow, it can’t cover up a beard. I hear the crowd growl; their dark heads and spotlight smiles begin to cheer. Their feet stamp. The banging, it resonates. My heart isn’t in my chest, but strapped to me and next to a loudspeaker.
My eyes are on him, but my mind is on you. Your sanguine face, always smiling. It needs no fanfare. Your dimples, even at forty-five years of age your frown hasn’t surrendered to the demands of your job. Goodness, if I were you, my skin would look like a rotten piece of fruit, perhaps a banana. Blotchy, but good on the inside and so you feel reluctant to throw me away.
‘And the winner is’ says Madame Butterfly. Whose large face and deliberate separation of the words makes her as loveable as a carpet burn. Her roughness, her voice is smoky and she looks over cooked.
As soon as my name is called, the audience stands. I feel my face tighten, my eyes closing and my stallion heart amplified. For the first time in my life I felt masculine. I felt masculine even though I stand here in drag. I’m a winner, I’m a winner in drag. What is a winner in drag? I get off the stage and feel your hands grab mine. I knew you’d embrace me, I knew you’d treat me like a champion.
I was alone, taking off my make-up, slipping out of this shell and putting my own skin back on. My bearded ladies came and congratulated me. I loved the sense of brotherhood. I may have won, but somehow, I still had a sensitivity which didn’t discount my racehorse status. Recognition? He must have left by the time I was me again.
So, I lit a cigarette with the last match in the box.
By Liam Anthony
Liam is a Mancunian raised on a diet of pet shop boys, William Blake and plenty of Oscar Wilde. As well as being a teacher, he is working on his first book of poetry. Liam used to sing and write in a band called Motorway Slow Dance. He lives in Malaga with his partner and their two cats.
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