Exalted and Extinguished
Chris hurls the Vogue magazine at his partner’s Pomeranian who squeaks and then begins yapping. Chris grits his teeth, lambasting the pup, “I will fucking cut you, you little bitch. Shut up already!” Chris tosses a squeak toy into the bathroom and kicks the dog inside slamming the door. Then he makes the phone call.
The phone rings for the first time all day. Thor hates working for the family business. He reluctantly picks it up and answers in his artificially chipper voice, “Viking Sprinkler and Fire Safety, Thor speaking. Can I help you?”
Chris calmly recites, “Yes, I own a club downtown. During my next event, there will be a fire dancer. I want to make sure that my sprinkler system is up to code, and I want to know how far away from the sprinklers the dancer needs to be to avoid setting them off.”
Thor responds, “Oh, cool. Yeah, no problem. Was your system installed by us?”
“I’m not sure,” Chris says, hoping that it was.
Thor readies the computer for a query and says, “K, well, let me look you up. What is the name of your club?”
Chris hesitates and stutters out, “Uh. Yeah, it, it is Rose Titty.”
Familiar with the bar, Thor smirks, and he rolls his eyes then waits a beat while placing the voice in his head. He knows it isn’t Mike, the owner, but Crystal, the drag queen that he can’t stand. He doesn’t give this or his own identity away. He types gibberish on the keyboard in front of him and responds, “Oh, yeah, looks like we installed your system three years ago. You have a single-interlocking deluge system, so you are up to code.” He lowers his voice to a whisper, “As far as the event, you might want to disable the smoke alarms above the stage, but of course, I didn’t tell you that. The system can be triggered by smoke or the heat of the flames getting too close.”
Chris’s voice, now affected and higher pitched, spouts, “Fantastic. Thank you so much, you are a sweetheart. And, I guess, if you are into drag shows, this will be the most fabulous one of the year. Come out if you dare.” Thor assumed that Crystal let her cover go, because she’d somehow gotten what she wanted, but he wondered what that was. But he was assured that giving her the wrong information would protect his performance.
Thor’s brother-in-law came up to the desk to ask, “Hey, have you talked to Theresa today? I know she’s with your dad at the hospital, but I can’t get a hold of her. One of the twins just threw up at school.”
Thor sighs and tells him, “No, I figure she’ll call me when there’s bad news. Go ahead and go get him. I can hold down the fort.”
Last time Thor spoke with his sister, she relayed the message that dad didn’t want to see him while he was dying, because it may affect his chances of getting into Heaven.
Thor’s father was a deacon at St. Francis. Their differences began early when Thor’s idea of Sunday best was a pink floral dress with a lace neckline. It was 1990, after all. He began secretly cross-dressing in his sister’s clothes when he was 10.
The last time he genuflected was the first time a guy came in his mouth.
He was 19, and it was his first year at Portland State. He met Trevor in the bathroom of the Student Union after gay alliance meeting. Thor had sat at a table by the window in the commons while the rainbows paraded and gathered around in a circle and began with introductions and an icebreaker—“tell us your name and a word that starts with the same letter of something you like, and bonus points if it is something homo-riffic”—He tuned in and out of the conversations pretending to be reading his Intro to Psych book, but he perked up when, Trevor, a dapper guy that you would assume was straight in any other setting, introduced himself as liking the game Twister. Thor rolled his eyes, but was imagining Trevor splayed and tangled on a color dotted PVC mat. Thor ran into him in the bathroom after the meeting. They both said, “Sorry,” as they locked blue eyes. A month later, they started talking at the Alliance Dance. Trevor invited Thor outside, and they took turns swigging Goldschläger on a bench in the Park Blocks. Thor still associates the smell of cinnamon with dick in his mouth.
This Saturday, the back of Rose Titty, a strip club Sunday through Friday, is awash in taffeta and sequins. Costumes hang from clothes racks and lie draped over chairs. The tables lining the mirrored walls are stacked with chests of makeup, hairspray, and white Styrofoam heads framed in curls of blond, long red, and straight black. It smells like Aqua Net and burning Play-doh from makeup being molded and blown dry to faces. Amid the clutter, four men are tugging, tucking and taping while shouting expletives and demanding looks and nods of approval at their seamless success from the other pantyhose-headed men.
Thor is at the mirror near the back and just finished dressing. He’s now she—Sienna, a half-naked, leather-corseted and pantied sex goddess with metal cuffs on her wrists and biceps. She’s donning her straight black wig, and it is obvious that she’s pulling off the Xena look quite well from the, “Ooh, girl,” and “Damn you look good, won’t you back that ass up,” that Sofonda sings out. “Girl, I can’t wait to see you dance with fire.”
Crystal audibly sighs and clenches her fist so tight that her nails leave marks on her palm.
“Good evening, I’m Heather Cockleer, and I’ll be your cream filled, hostess cupcake for this evening. Don’t forget to come out for Gay Trivia, and show that you know the naughty and gaudy about the gays in the Rose City with me every third Saturday evening of the month from 8-9:30, here at Rose Titty’s. Well drinks are $3 from 6-9. Reminding me, do not forget to tip your sexy bartenders this evening.”
Sienna is sitting on a stool in the dressing room when her phone rings. It is her sister who never calls after 10 pm. She lets it go to voicemail.
“Heather Cockleer here, and we are about to begin the show. Starting off this evening, we have our very own Miss Reigning Rose Titty, Crystal Lights! Give it up for this blonde bombshell. She’ll take your breath away.”
Crystal coyly begins “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” She cocks her head from one side slowly to the other, bats her eyelashes, and blows kisses to her fans. She takes off her long white gloves one at a time and tosses them into the expectant crowd. She holds up her left hand, bent wrist and points to her ring finger with a pout. Some douchey fag has her take a rose out of his mouth with her teeth, and he stuffs a five dollar bill in her cleavage as dollar bills are piling up on the stage. She starts leaning down to kiss her fans leaving red lipstick on their faces.
After her performance, she mingles for a bit, but quickly escapes to smoke a Virginia Slim and make a phone call. She has to leave a message:
“Omigod, Jay. Where the fuck are you? I need you here to witness this bitch go down. I am not losing my crown to some dykey fire-dancer. Get here. Now! Goddamn it!”
Towards the end of Sofonda Cox’s performance to “Single Ladies,” Crystal bolts for the dressing room and grabs hairspray and a lighter and heads for the back bathroom. She locks the door behind her, waiting to hear Sienna’s introduction.
Sofonda picks up the dollars scattered across the stage and heads back to the bar before making her rounds through the crowd to distract from Heather’s idiotic drivel between performances. The “girls” are much better crowd pleasers. Sofonda looks for Crystal, but doesn’t see her working the crowd as usual, so she asks Mike, “Is Crystal powdering her nose?” Mike shrugs to Sofonda’s giggle. But Sofonda is excited to see Sienna’s performance, so she doesn’t look for her.
Heather exuberantly barrels, “And next, our newest talent, that I’m sure the lezzies and lecherous alike are gonna go wild for. She’s a hot, hot mama. Please welcome, Sienna Worthier Princess!”
The stage lights go black, and the music begins. Sienna comes out with her two fire poi swinging in circles to her sides. She then begins to cross them, and the lighting guy hits her with just two red lights. The effect is dazzling.
As soon as Sienna’s song, “Firework” comes on, Crystal steps up on the toilet with her lighter clasped in the hand holding her up against the wall, the hairspray is in the other. She is cocked and ready, aimed right at the sprinkler. She checks her footing and exclaims, “I’m about to rain on your goddamn parade.” She puts the lighter to the spray nozzle, pushes down and strikes. Whoooosh. The flame is intense and the fiberboard ceiling tiles instantly explode into flames, one tile falling onto Crystal’s head, igniting her wig and her dress instantly. The fire alarm starts wailing, but the sprinklers do not kick on. Crystal slaps at the flames on her arm, grabs and shakes the wig off of her head, and dunks her head in the toilet, but she is already badly burnt. It smells like cooking a chicken in piss. She stamps at the ceiling tile on the floor and starts to bolt, but her heel breaks off and she goes down, twisting her ankle. The ceiling is collapsing like flaming dominos. And the smoke is thick. She crawls to the door, unlocks it and crawls out just as the crowd is roaring a standing ovation for Sienna’s performance.
Crystal is trying to scream, but only guttural moans are escaping her. No one can hear her anyway. They can’t hear the fire alarm over the music, hooting and applause. The people at the side of the stage finally notice Crystal as others smell the smoke and hear the alarm. People are pointing and shouting, “Fire!” People are pushing each other and glass is breaking. Sienna leaps from the stage, grabs the fire extinguisher from the wall and runs toward the smoke and flames.
© 2011 Lisa Galloway