I’ve been writing (and hoarding) short fiction over the pandemic so I thought I’d actually let some of it see the light of day. This piece is based on an encounter I watched some years ago at a local restaurant.
The restaurant was not what she had expected. Described by her co-workers, and the online rating website, as one of the city’s best seafood dining experiences, Malia expected The Oyster House to be a white tablecloth affair. Instead, the long narrow room was decorated in something akin to “upscale sea shanty”. The walls were bead board on the lower half, the raw wood treated to look weathered from exposure to the elements. The upper walls were painted light blue and were adorned with old signs with corny jokes as well as advertisements for crab shacks and oyster po’boys. Shelves above each table included huge dried starfish, glass balls attached to bits of fish netting, and knickknacks made out of lobster shells which Malia found oddly disturbing.
She had tried to get out of coming, but her workmates had insisted. A month into this new job and she still felt out of her element, but Darlene, her deskmate, would not take no for an answer.
“The whole department all go out together for lunch on the last Friday of each month,” the older woman explained. “Since there’s so few of us, we treat it as a team-building exercise. And management pays for half of our food bill.”
“Oh, it’s THAT day of the year again,” Willis opined to Gerald as they settled into a double seat on the streetcar. “Careful the seat isn’t already covered in glitter and who knows what else.
“I mean, really, what must their parents think? This… lifestyle. SUCH an embarrassment. I can’t imagine. How horrible it must be for them. To have your children grow up to be like… this…” Willis gestured widely at the streetcar’s interior, indicating twenty or so people dressed in sparkly clothing, feather boas, and rainbow-themed shirts, his voice full of disdain and intentionally loud enough to be heard.
People turned away, annoyed and disgusted, intent on ignoring Willis and his speechifying.
Stumbling into the darkened bedroom she shared with her younger sister, Beth turned on a table lamp and gasped in shock. It was one of the ‘beauties’. Right there in her sister Alice’s bed. Not just one of them, in fact, but ‘her’ beauty, the girl Beth had been fascinated with for months, ever since the young woman had started showing up at Rumours, the town’s only gay bar, where Beth worked the door.
“What the fuck?!” Beth muttered, leaning in to get a closer look at the girl’s long eyelashes resting on her alabaster cheek.
The place looked the same, Katie thought to herself as she exited the bus from New York. Ten years away and Toronto looked exactly the same. Okay, sure, there were more tall condos and the stores were not the same ones that had been here when she’d left, but overall, it was the same dull, not especially exciting, city that she’d fled.
Or maybe, Katie realized, it was she who had changed so much, and her old hometown just couldn’t keep up.
She caught a streetcar to her Aunt Paula’s house. She hadn’t seen any of her family since her mother’s funeral three years previous, where, against her better judgment, she’d dressed in the only men’s clothing she still owned, a conservative black suit kept specifically for the occasion, so as not to upset anyone by her appearance. It went against her principles, but it had been her mother’s last request of her. Upon returning home she had taken scissors to the suit and then also set it aflame, just for good measure.
Heather and Mattie walked the few blocks to the street party at a quick pace. Heather hadn’t bothered to dress up especially, knowing that Mattie was always the subject of any attention when they were out anywhere together. Once they entered the throng of people, all eyes, and often hands, would be on Mattie. Heather was okay with this. She was content to let Mattie be the draw, and to bask in the glory that surrounded her, knowing that she could take the opportunity to engage people once they approached to see her beautiful companion.
They reached the crowds of Church Street and were immediately an attraction.
“Oh my god! That dog is huge! Lady, can I pat your dog?”
Terrence felt the sweat trickle down his back and pool at the top of his ass crack. It was hot, the humidity making the inside of his costume feel slimy, bits of the rubber chest covering and heavy pants chafing against his skin from the inescapable moisture.
Heads turned to stare at him as he stormed away from the vibrant crowds filling Church Street. Dusk was approaching and the street was lit up with strobes and spot lights. Rainbow flags fluttered everywhere; drag queens, sparkling with sequins and glitter, posed for selfies with tourists. Terrence realized his mistake, his miscalculation, too late to be corrected.
The shirt was a little snug. Dianne rooted through the boxes to find another one a size up, one that didn’t fit so snugly across her ample hips. She didn’t mind her hips, “child-birthing hips” Bruce had called them once when she was pregnant with Madeline, they were part of her and part of her life story, but she knew a tight t-shirt would drive her nuts and she’d be fussing and adjusting the hem all day if she didn’t find something looser.
She tidied the boxes and shoved them back under the long plastic table, repositioning the table skirt and feathering out the pamphlets on top in an arch, making sure that a couple of boxes of tissue were within easy reach. They went through a lot of tissues at Pride. So, so many tissues.
Darren looked himself over in his bedroom mirror. Cargo shorts, white tank top under an open, short-sleeve cotton shirt with a palm tree pattern. Sneakers and short socks. Should he wear a hat? His Mom would suggest a hat, he knew, as she kissed him good-bye and told him to have a good day with his friends. A baseball game, he had told her, hoping there was actually a game on that day, not checking the schedules himself.
He met Michael at the subway. Similarly dressed in a loose summer shirt and shorts, Michael had worn a baseball hat. Crap, Darren thought, I should have worn one, too.
Having spent a lot of time in the gay community and attending at least a few Pride events almost every year, I wanted to do something to celebrate both Pride itself and the interesting people I’ve come across. Most of the people I write about in this series are outliers, people on the periphery of the parades, festivals, and events who don’t exactly fit in, but who most definitely add to the overall atmosphere.
I started outlining this collection last summer, when it seemed as if this year’s Pride would be like all the ones before it. With no parades, marches, or street festivals to attend, no parties or dance clubs at which to gather, I wondered if stories celebrating those activities would even be relevant for Pride 2020. But unique personalities are always worth celebrating, and hopefully by this time next year, we’ll all be back out on the streets, sun-burnt and glitter-covered, reveling in the love and acceptance.
In the meantime, I offer you seven stories of the (perhaps not typical) Pride experience. Running each morning from June 22nd to June 28th, they are short bursts of “flash” fiction, each a quick, fun read, coming in at under 1000 words, and offering a unique perspective on the diverse and amazing people celebrating Pride.
Please stop by each day, starting Monday, June 22nd, for a new story.