Selection from The Third Kind of Horse
BYGONE ERA (PAGES 280-281)
Simone called me at home on a Saturday morning and said, “It’s time.” She meant it was time to take all those ball gowns up to Harlem and give them to someone who could use them. Crystal, D’s first ball friend, offered to store them in the closet D had described to me when he first started going to the balls. Crystal was in the House of Saint Laurent, and they could recycle them.
In the cab, surrounded by dry cleaners bags filled with dresses and old shopping bags of shoes, I watched the East Side transition first from Alphabet city with the projects on one side and the ball parks on the other, into midtown, into the Upper East Side with the park that extended over the highway, and then back to poverty and disintegration with Harlem. Simone was right there, right on the other side of the dresses piled between us on the seat. I wanted to reach out and touch her, but for so long, I had attributed to Kevin all the caring and the kindness, and to Simone all the excitement and the wild sex and desire, that I could not reconcile the need to be taken care of with the person next to me. I wanted to stroke her cheek, have her hold onto me, but it was me who could not do it. Not Simone, me. To give in to needing care meant taking the care from people who needed it more. It meant selling out and being a narcissist. And no one I respected did that. All up and down the avenues and across the streets of the city there were people growing a hard enough shell to endure this crisis. It was too dangerous without some kind of coating
The cab was surrounded by drag queens the moment it stopped. Crystal, who had dyed her hair platinum blonde in mourning for D was the first to open the door. She helped me out, and then picked up a dress. She looked at the beaded fringe, stroked the dress through the plastic, and she shook her head: no, no no no. She passed the dress to the mother of the House of Saint Laurent, who was wearing a black knit skirt suit with a bunch of thick gold chains at the neck and black shiny pumps. Dressed for a funeral. They took the dresses out one at a time and looked at each one. The cabbie was silent, the meter still running. Each dress was passed from hand to hand, and then taken upstairs. I stood next to the open door, tears pouring down my face, and they seemed to me like the last Jews left in a town after the Nazis had been through a few times, collecting folks to take to work camps or gas chambers. They seemed to me to be relics, like the friends of my grandparents with the numbers on their arms and the stories of what it was like to live in Bialastock, or Minsk or Vienna before the war. These queens remembered when sex was free, and the city sparkled at their feet, open to them filled with men who needed a quickie. They were the ones who survived, at least this far. But were they the lucky ones?
The buildings around us were decrepit. There was washing hanging out of the windows. There were no garbage cans, the streetlights were broken off at odd angles, you could tell they would not work at all. The street was edged with trash bags and junk. The wide avenue was almost completely empty of cars, except the parked ones. A few had broken windows, a few no tires.
When the last dress was out of the cab, Crystal hugged me and said, “Stay fierce, baby, stay fierce.”
Simone and I got back in the cab, and I tried carefully not to look at the meter, which I knew would shock me. I wanted to concentrate on D, on the empty car, the smell of his cologne, musk and citrus lingering even though the dresses were gone.
D, I hope this is enough of a funeral for you. It was finally enough for me.
Michelle Auerbach is the author of The Third Kind of Horse (2013 Beatdom Books). Her writing has appeared in (among other places) The New York Times, The London Guardian, The Denver Quarterly,Chelsea Magazine, Bombay Gin, and the literary anthologies The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained (Baksun Books), and You. An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press). She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize. Michelle is an organizational storytelling and communications consultant and lives in Colorado with her partner and her three kids.
Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirty anthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.