Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chapter 10: An Inspiration

Chapter 10
An Inspiration

Helen barreled out of her bedroom, waiving a thick packet high in the air. She had checked the mail only moments before. She crossed the front entryway, and then jigged the length of the living room, hips a-swivel, packet held high. Tennessee and I watched mesmerized as she passed us and came to rest in the dining room, one hand on her bosom as she drew a very deep breath.
            “I got them!” she said, and then gulped more air while gesturing with the packet. “The patio . . . I’ll show you . . . on the patio . . . huh?” She raised the packet high in the air again. “Hot pics from I-O-Way!” Helen knew all the deals. She sent her film to the cheapest mail-order photo service in America—in Iowa. She clung to the doorjamb for support as she descended the steps to the patio.
            “Well,” Tennessee said, following a few feet behind her, “what’s that—have you been playing the numbers?”
            “Pictures. Hold on . . .”
            It seemed like ages had passed, but Key West’s Fantasy Fest, an extended Halloween celebration, had been barely a month ago. At the time, shortly before I met Tennessee, I joined Skye and Helen for the festivities. The three of us had gone into town for Halloween night, the festival’s climax. Gary had to work at The Sands, and could not join us. Helen brought her camera.
            “Wait ‘til you see this!”
            She pulled the photos from the envelope. The top one showed seven feet of green-painted body clad in an orchid dress, a long blond wig, and stiletto heels that matched Nancy-red lips. She handed it to Tennessee.
            It had taken a lot of vodka to get me dressed, and it showed. The camera had caught me in a turn—head thrown back, drink about to spill. Seeing the photo, I was mortified. I had never dressed in women’s clothes before, and given my height, the whole town must have seen me.
            “My God!” Tennessee said, “Who is this exotic creature?”
            “The Amazon Adulteress!” Helen sang out.
            “I should have known.” Tennessee looked me up and down. “A Jezebel in the house. You never revealed these talents before . . .”
            My face flushed anew. I felt awkward and vulnerable standing before Tennessee. I looked down at the photo again. With my big aviator glasses and the straight-haired wig, I could pass for Gloria Steinem.
            Tennessee looked at me again. “Should I call Tab Hunter?”
Helen pulled out a picture of herself. She had told us she was coming as the Infant of Prague. After she had drained the Chambord bottle at Captain Gene’s, the bartender gave her the orb, but instead, she had arrived clad in leather, flicking a riding crop and a whip. All night she ordered scantily clad boys to do her bidding, and many of them came within a lick of obeying fully.
“Helen,” Tennessee said, “I believe you’ve found your calling.”
She reddened.
“I hope we haven’t been cramping your style here.”
“I . . .” Helen’s voice cracked as she shifted her body into an aggressive stance. “I sneak out at night—through the window.” She cracked an imaginary whip. “Whoops!” She grabbed Tennessee to steady herself.
“A little more practice might be in order,” he said.
She smiled as she pulled a picture of Skye from the pack. His tanned, muscular physique showed through the clear plastic jumpsuit. He wore nothing underneath. The plastic clothing had fogged—except where flesh pressed against it. Where his body touched it, the plastic was perfectly clear. The points of revelation had changed constantly as his body moved. This photograph was surprisingly modest compared to what I remembered, but still, in its hide-and-seek way, it revealed a physicality that for many would be a dream come true—twenties, blonde, handsome, and nearly hairless. In fact, we, or at least he, had quite a following that night as we made our way through the Duval Street crowds.
“Let me see those.” Tennessee said, reaching for the photos.
“They didn’t develop all of them,” Helen said.
“I see. I-O-Way wasn’t quite ready for Fantasy Fest.” He thumbed through the prints, pulling a couple of Skye. “He’s actually quite sensitive, you know. Very . . . vulnerable. I sense something hidden, something tragic behind his smile.” Tennessee held up a print, and examined it more closely. He sighed. “He does seem quite devoted to Gary.” He pocketed the photo. “Lovely skin.” Tennessee walked toward the open kitchen door. Just before disappearing into the house, he turned and said, “I think I’ll paint his portrait.”


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