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Tuesday Night at the Rainbow Club

by Ron Van Sweringen

The blue lights came on over the dance floor, accompanied by an old Donna Summer disco number. Half of the tables were empty. The regulars knew what the blue lights meant: one hour till closing. If you didn’t want to go home alone, you’d better start hustling something, anything. Tuesday nights at the Rainbow Club sucked.

The Friday and Saturday night drag shows and the Sunday afternoon tea party were the big draws. At those times, over two hundred people filled the small bar and patio out back.

Billie told herself she should have stayed home with her cat Snooks. But tomorrow was her day off and she could sleep in. Here she was finishing her third margarita, bored, while two overweight drag queens got it together on the dance floor. Four hundred pounds of rhinestones and glitter, perspiring in unison.

She was about to light a cigarette when she noticed a man in faded jeans and a dark leather jacket, standing at the bar watching her. Tall, dark and straight. She had been around long enough to spot his kind and was seldom wrong. She couldn’t put it into words, but it was something in his body language that told her, like the old saying “It takes one to know one.” In Billie’s case it took one to know who wasn’t one.

By the time her cigarette was in the ash tray, he was standing in front of her table. The tight crotch of his jeans held out hope it might not be a wasted night after all. “How about another drink?” he asked, looking directly into her eyes. “I could use some company tonight.”

He was better-looking close up, but not as young as she had guessed from across the room: maybe early thirties. Her intuition told her this might be dangerous, but she couldn’t stop mentally unzipping his pants.

“OK,” she smiled, running her hand through her blonde wig, “one more won’t hurt.”

She was glad she hadn’t overdressed and that she’d gone light on the makeup. Billie Dawn was her drag name. Her real name was Robert Earl Smithson, a twenty-six year old computer geek from Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Not a good place to be from, when you stood out as she did. At seventeen, a Greyhound bus had taken her out of town with her parents’ blessings and two hundred and fifty dollars. The escape was a relief for everyone. The whole town knew Mr. and Mrs. Smithson were rid of their skinny queer son, and Robert Earl would no longer be constantly harassed and beaten up at school. So she escaped into a world of live and let live, if you’re lucky.

The fourth margarita arrived with a splash as the bartender set it down. “I’m Charles,” her benefactor said, paying the bartender and offering his hand across the table. Billie accepted it; her own hand was lost in the size and strength of Charles’. She remembered a hand like that from high school. One that had grasped her head firmly in a deserted bathroom, where she was on her knees with an open mouth.

There were others also, who turned her over in private and then used their fists on her in public. She was used to paying for her pleasure with pain.

He smelled good, and Billie wondered how he tasted. She hadn’t had sex for a while now: it was either feast or famine in a drag queen’s world. Very few of the ‘girls’ had steady partners, and even fewer had lovers. It was usually one-night stands, some good and some bad. It was a never-ending search for Mr. Perfection.

A voice shouted out from behind the bar, “Last call girls, drink up and put out. But not here, do it at home.”

“Can we get it on tonight?” he asked, his eyes on her. Billie answered with the name he had given her, although she suspected it was a lie.

“OK, Charles,” she replied, “I have an apartment not far from here.”

The night air was sharp and Billie pulled her coat tight around her. There was little conversation between them on the short walk to her apartment. Somehow it felt awkward under the harsh street lights, making small talk.

The tiny apartment was warm, one light burned in the living room. Billie turned on another in the bedroom, dropping her coat on a chair.

He stood close behind her now, his body against hers. She felt him remove his jacket, but she did not turn around. In her world it was his call, to signal what he wanted. Billie waited, his warm breath blowing down her neck.

‘”My name is not Charles,” he whispered softly, his tongue moving against her cheek. “They say your whole life passes before you just before you die. Is it true?”

Copyright © 2010 by Ron Van Sweringen

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