As Lola walked down the corridor in Taft General Hospital, the clicking of his stilettos echoing in his ears drown out the fear in his mind. Of all the places he didn’t want to be, didn’t like to be, dread with unreasoning fear, a hospital was at the top of his list. Yet he was there to see Jean Crawford, his husband’s mother. Somehow he reasoned that a good life partner should learn to get along with his in-laws, even if they hated him or were ambivalent toward him, or just confused by him. Whatever the case, he was making the effort and that was all that counted.
He paused at the door of Jean’s room, retrieved a compact from his white faux leather purse which matched his stilettos and made a striking contrast to his red dress, and checked his makeup before entering the room. He touched his blonde wig, straightening a stray strand of some anonymous donor’s hair and proceeded. Slowly he pushed the door open and peeked in.
Good, he thought. None of her family were there. It wasn’t that he disliked his in-laws, at least not Jo or Scott; he just wasn’t comfortable with their brand of prejudiced. Living in West Hollywood had provided a sheltered existence for him for far too long. If Scott hadn’t convinced Chuck to return to New Jersey, Lola thought, life would’ve remained uncomplicated. He would still be a part time window designer and perfume girl in any local department store that would have him, while pursuing his career as an actress.
He stepped into the room and looked at the elderly woman lying in the bed. She looked so frail, yet Chuck insisted his mother was made of tough stuff and would pull through this crisis. Lola believed in his husband enough to know that Chuck believed in his mother. He crossed the floor to the bed side and peered down at Jean.
Clearing his throat he spoke. “Mrs. Crawford, are you awake?” He gently reached out and tapped her shoulder.
Jean stirred and opened her right eye. She then opened her left eye and tiled her head toward him. “I’m awake.”
Lola smiled. “Do you remember me?”
Jean nodded. “Of course I remember you. You’re Loni Anderson. You played on that television show about a radio station.”
Lola frowned. He wasn’t trying for a Loni Anderson look when he chose his outfit. “No Mrs. Crawford, I’m Lola, Chuck’s life partner.”
Jean paused for a moment. “Oh yeah. Now I remember. You’re a man. Why are you dressed like Loni Anderson? Is it Halloween?”
Lola rolled his eyes and pursed his lips. “No, I’m a transvestite.” He paused for a sign of recognition on Jean’s part. When he got none he decided to try another approach. “I’m a man who likes to wear women’s clothing.”
“I figured that much when I saw you at my house the other day.” Jean looked around. “Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital.”
“I am?” Jean registered surprise. “Why?”
Lola stood for a moment not knowing what to say. The truth, even in a gender illusion, was always the best policy, but he didn’t know what the family had told his mother-in-law. “You’re sick,” he replied.
“For a drag queen you’re a master of understatement. Would you help me get out of here?”
“Do you want to get out of bed?” Lola asked.
“No, I want to get out of this place. They’re trying to kill me in here.”
“Oh Mrs. Crawford, no one is trying to kill you.” Lola said, wondering if he should just leave.
“Yes they are,” Jean insisted. “They come in here, those women in the night, and force pills in my mouth.”
“It’s medication to help you get better,” Lola offered.
“I know what it is,” Jean snapped. “It’s poison. They call it xanax, and xyprexa, and zoloft, but its poison. It makes me see things.”
Lola knew xanax and percocet quite well, and knew the wonderful feelings they provided him when he was down, but apparently the elderly woman didn’t enjoy that same not-quite-there feeling he did. “What does it make you see?”
“It makes me see things, like you. You’re not real, you know?”
“No, you’re a figment of my imagination, induced by the poison.” Jean shifted in the bed again, found the control and pressed the button to raise her head.
“Mrs. Crawford, I’m quite real.”
Jean paused and reached out to touch Lola. Her hand came to rest on his. “Well I’ll be. You are real. And you’re a man dressed liked a woman. May I ask you something?”
“Of course,” Lola nodded.
“When you have sex with my son, does he pretend you’re a real woman?”
Lola opened and closed his mouth a few times. It wasn’t the question he expected from his husband’s mother, or any other little old lady. “You’d have to ask Chuck what he thinks of when we’re intimate,” he finally replied.
“Now I’ve gone and upset you,” Jean said. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I just wondered if my son knows you’re not a woman. I mean, I’m sure he knows, but does he pretend you are?”
Lola shook his head. “Chuck and I don’t pretend with one another,” he said. “And I’m not always in drag when we’re intimate with one another. Mrs. Crawford, could we change the subject? I’m not comfortable talking about sex with my husband’s mother.”
“Why not? Who else can you come to for advice when you want to know why my son is acting like a jerk?” Jean asked. “Honey, to be a real woman is to know that you have to talk to your--what exactly am I to you?”
“In some circles you are considered to be my mother-in-law.”
“That sounds reasonable. I was going to say that, but I wasn’t sure if you folks had a different term for it.”
“You folks? You mean homosexuals?”
“Of course I do, you nit. I’m not anti-Semitic like my husband. Speaking of Floyd, do you know he’s only been to see me once since he had me stuffed in this nut house?” Jean played with the bed control again until her legs were raised up almost level to her head. “This bed doesn’t work right. Now will you help me get out of this place or not?”
“I really can’t,” Lola answered.
“You know, years ago they would’ve put you in here for dressing like that,” Jean said in a sing song tone. “But now I’m the nut and you’re normal.”
“Mrs. Crawford, you not a nut.”
“The doctors tell me I had a nervous breakdown, but I still think they’re poisoning me. I don’t know why I would have a nervous breakdown. I guess after all those years married to Floyd he finally drove me crazy.” Jean reached for the television remote lying on her left side and began pressing buttons. Nothing happened. “Damn family. They didn’t even think to hook up the television for me. I’ll bet you wouldn’t have left your mother in a nut house without a TV.”
Lola felt the fear of the hospital closing in on him, but he fought it. He suddenly knew why he had to be here for Jean. Apparently none of her family was. “Would you like me to get your television hooked up?”
“Yes, would you?”
Lola nodded and took the remote control. He read the printing on it, instructing him to dial an extension for the phone and television services. Picking up the receiver he dialed and waited. “Yes, this is Mrs. Jean Crawford’s daughter-in-law in room 538. I’d like to have my mother-in-law’s television and phone service hooked up please.” He waited and provided the information requested when the operator came back on the line. Within minutes Jean’s television was working.
“You really are sweet,” Jean said. “I hope my son knows how lucky he is to have you.”
So do I, thought Lola. “Would you like anything else?”
“Maybe a sandwich? I’m terribly hungry, and the food here is awful. They don’t know how to make a good plain dinner in this hotel.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Lola turned and walked out of the room. Leaning back against the door as it closed, he breathed a sigh of frustration. This is way more than I expected, he thought. He turned to find a nurses station. If he was going to help his mother-in-law find comfort and peace he had to start with a sandwich, and perhaps a bit of cold slaw.
American Gothic Redux
Stairway to Heaven
Out of Sorrow Comes Joy
Chuck and Lola
Met a Pieman
Dead of Night
The Lady and the Transvestite
Hell Is For Children
The Games People Play
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.
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