American Gothic Redux is an ongoing series of vignettes giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of the people in a small New Jersey town. Don't miss the earlier entries, as they all tie together.
The feel of silk against his skin had set Lola off every since he was a little boy. He didn’t know why it was so exhilarating, and he didn’t care to know. All he knew was that he enjoyed the soft material against his body, and wearing it out in public, and passing for a woman most everywhere he went gave him a rush like nothing else. He was experiencing that very rush as he entered the town square of Taft New Jersey, his newly, if somewhat reluctantly, adopted hometown.
“It’s so Mayberry,” he said to himself. He imagined his husband, Chuck, playing there as a child. Somehow he instantly understood Chuck’s reluctance to speak of his childhood, or of his hometown. It was too picture postcard to be believed.
Lola brushed his hand across the white silk dress with a single red rose design hand painted down the left side, adjusted his Sandra Dee styled blonde wig, and retied the red silk scarf around his head. He gracefully moved out into the mainstream of Taft society, the hustle and bustle of the main drag, as it were, clicking the metal heels of his spiked patent leather white pumps, and swinging his petite red and white checked purse ever so slightly as he walked.
He could feel the judging eyes of small town society, the women of the local beauty parlor and men of the hardware store, glaring at him from around the quaint hometown square with its charming gazebo and tiny fountain in the park across the thoroughfare. Word of Chuck Crawford’s return had spread through Taft like a flu epidemic. Absolutely everyone in town had heard, via his less friendly sister, of the terrible trauma he put upon his beloved mother and nasty father by bringing a young transvestite home and introducing him as his wife.
Lola knew he had to make an appearance just so the townsfolk got over their glaring and pointing. It was almost obligatory, and he was enjoying the commotion in many different ways. If it weren’t for the reasons he was strutting his stuff in his finest circa 1950s attire, he thought to himself, he might really enjoy being in Taft. An elderly lady standing on the corner waving a cane in the air interrupted his thoughts.
“Will someone please help me?”
Lola picked up his pace and almost ran to the woman. “Ma’am, are you all right?”
The elderly lady huffed and sighed. “At my age being alive is considered all right, young lady. I need help getting to the post office. I know it’s around here somewhere.”
Lola looked around. The women of the beauty parlor were glued to the front window like those little stuffed animals with suction cups attached to their paws one sticks on the rear window of a car, and the men of the hardware store were shuffling about and glancing up or down, as the case may be, avoiding eye contact with an outsider.
Lola turned her head and spotted the post office across the square. “I see it, right over there,” he pointed across the street.
“Would you mind helping me?” the elderly lady asked.
“Not at all,” Lola replied.
“You’re a sweet young thing, and so refined. You’re not from Taft, are you?”
“No, my husband and I just moved back here from California.”
“Is he originally from Taft?”
“Yes. Charles Crawford. Do you know him?”
“Is he Jean and Floyd’s son?”
“Yes, he is.”
“But I thought—“ The elderly lady paused for a moment. “I’m Esme Standish. And you are?”
“Call me Lola.”
“Lola. That’s such an exotic name. I’ll bet a girl like you is the talk of the town.”
“You have no idea,” Lola said, as he helped Esme across the square to the post office.
“You know I remember hearing all these stories about your husband, many years ago,” Esme said. “But look at you. Here he went to California and came home with a lovely young slip of a thing. I’ll bet the young men of this town are green with envy, when they see what California has to offer.
“You know, in my day I had a boyish figure like yours. Today all the men are interested in is tits,” Esme spit the word out. “But in my day I was courted by many of the finer men of Taft.”
Lola smiled to himself. “Here we are,” he said, referring to the post office.
“Would you mind helping me in? I don’t get around as well as I used to,” Esme said.
Lola took her by the arm again and guided her slowly up the ramp to the door. “I’ll bet Taft was a lovely town back in your day,” he said.
“It still can be, when the vicious tongues aren’t wagging around the square. Don’t you pay attention to the things you hear in town; your husband seems to have found what he was looking for in you, and that’s all that matters,” Esme said. “I’d love to take the two of you to dinner as a repayment for your kindness.”
“Oh that won’t be necessary,” Lola exclaimed. “Just talking with you is repayment enough.”
“Nonsense,” Esme said, reaching into her purse and producing an old fashion calling card. “You call me tonight and we’ll make plans. This town could use more sweet young girls like yourself.”
Lola blushed and fought a pang of guilt over his deception. Never before had he felt bad about being himself. He knew he had to tell Esme the truth, but for the moment he would just enjoy being a girl.
Robert is the author of the novels Cool Mint Blue, Melba Ridge, and the recently released The Adventures of Homosexual Man and Lesbian Lad; and the creator of the on-line comix Impure Thoughts found at his web site Inside R.A. Melos, as well as having been an on-line staff writer for QBliss where he had a monthly humor column, Maybe A Yip, Maybe A Yap. In his non-writing time, when he's not studying the metaphysical or creating a tarot deck, he sells real estate in Middlesex County New Jersey, hangs out with his dog Zeus, and spends time at the Pride Center of New Jersey in Highland Park, NJ, where he is on the Board of Trustees.
ABOUT ROBERT A. MELOS
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.31.03 @ 10:28a
Personally, I don't think Esme was fooled for one minute. Bless her heart.
10.31.03 @ 4:40p
I'm not sure. Given the mind set of the community, and the slightly daffy elderly lady, she might not have seen the truth. On the other hand, she isn't as out of touch as she may appear.
Lola/Larry is also getting adjusted to the less than fastlane lifestyle of the town. Although some fastlane activities are in store once he discovers the true nature of his husband's new business.