Odd-shaped plastic bottles of all the colors that don’t appear in the rainbow—mauve, magenta, and bright tourquoise—lay strewn across the low octanganol table in the corner of the bedroom. Makeup sundries for glueing on fake nails and eyelashes, and for coloring lips poked their gold and black heads up out of the cluttered miasma. Nylons—black, brown, and hot lacy pink—draped over the side of the table next to the crumbling plaster wall, or lay in balls on the worn russet carpet.
Benny was thorough, Rita had to give him that. As she sat on the edge of the unmade bed studying her roommate’s treasure trove of prettying things she felt a familiar twinge of envy. She knew that behind the closet door a few feet away were dresses that looked like ball room gowns and coats that shone with the luster of expensive animal fur. Benny had a calvacade of fashion ameneties that would fill the space inside any strip mall boutique in the back bedroom of the apartment. Living with Benny was bound to make a girl go around seeing green.
He got more boys than she did too, that was most certainly a part of the problem. At six-foot-two, you’d think that a black drag queen living in Omaha, Nebraska, would intimidate the local afficiandos of alternative lifestyle. But no, Benny displayed himself with irreproachable style and grace and he posessed a charm that an Alabama tomboy like Rita could never hope to immitate. She often wondered if her misgivings weren’t bound to push them apart eventually.
She sighed and lay her head back in the middle of the bed. A hillock of orange sheet brushed at her cheek and she closed her eyes, burying her face inside its softness. Breathing deep, Rita gasped with astonishment at her reaction. She could smell him, his scent, and somehow the closeness of his essence was more tantilizing than anything she could have imagined.
This was the real problem, of course. The rough-and-tumble gal with the stringy red hair and the ass that needed extra wide jeans to fit in had fallen in love with a queen. Rita had a bump for a nose and dull brown eyes that were made for looking, not for looking at. Benny was beautiful and Rita was just this side of ugly. If it hadn’t been for her tits, Rita was sure that she would have still been a virgin at age twenty-four. Even if Benny had liked girls he wouldn’t have given her a second glance.
She sniffed the sheet again. Sheer ardor roamed inside her like galloping horses and a hand pressed the front of her jeans. Rita willed the hand away. She’d done it, a few weeks before she’d lay in Benny’s bed and masturbated until the universe pitched sideways and everything had turned black. It had only made things worse of course and she’d locked herself in her room and cried for hours afterward.
What was wrong with her, she wondered. He was queer and she was queerer still. There were so many things screwed up about her attraction for Benny that it seemed impossible to fathom them all. Her heart was like an open sore and Rita knew he was the only man that she’d ever loved. But she also knew that there was no sense in hanging around sniffing his sheets and hating herself. A thing like that was bound to make you crazy after awhile.
Forcing herself up, Rita left Benny’s room. She meandered down the dark hallway and stopped in front of her own bedroom door. It was the oddest thing, lately she’d been afraid to go into her own room. Rita couldn’t stand the thought of being alone in there anymore. She moved past and into the living room. The couch was a familiar place, with old bumps and lumps and stains that brought back good memories. She eased into her spot in the corner and cuddled herself.
The sun hurt her eyes. It invaded the apartment through the living room windows every afternoon and she hated that. It made the scarred coffee table look ugly and it showed how the potted plants were dying. Their once-emerald green leaves were brown and withered. The banana plant that Benny had nurtured and turned from a sprig into a lush healthy forest of deep dark green was almost gone. Rita hated seeing it like that.
A metal click sounded and Rita’s heart began to race. It was Benny! He slowly pushed the front door opened and stood in the doorway for a few moments before he came inside. Her eyes lingered on his dark tapered face. Benny’s beautiful eyes were puckered and drawn and she knew that something was bothering him. Rita said something as he went past, but her voice sounded all echoy and hollow and she wasn’t even sure if Benny had heard her.
Benny came out of his bedroom a few minutes later wearing that silver skirt that showed his figure so well and a lovely pink and gray blouse. Rita was stunned by how pretty he looked. She was going to offer him a compliment and strike up a conversation, but then she saw the suitcase in his hand. Her worst fear exploded inside her and she suddenly felt as cold as a corpse.
Benny was leaving! Rita struggled to yell out, to beg him to stay, but it seemed impossible to speak. Now she understood why he’d been away so much lately. And why the plants were dying from lack of attention. Benny was leaving and he’d abandoned them just like he was abandoning her. She watched in horror as he moved to the front door again and opened it. He was leaving without even saying goodbye! Rita sat there on the couch too stricken to move. It felt like she was dying. Again!
Outside in the hallway Benny sagged against the wall and sobbed. Hot tears dripped down his cheeks and spattered over the front of his blouse. For a split second he thought about how he was ruining a designer Liz Claiborne and just as quickly he realized that he didn’t care about the damned thing at all. He didn’t care about anything anymore.
He would never be able to move out of the apartment by himself. Just being there was too depressing. A horrible memory flashed through his mind and he saw Rita’s cold white body sprawled out over her bed again, the blood still leaking from her wrists. He shuddered. Why!? Why had she gone away . . . ?
Benny staggered away from the apartment door, blinded by his tears. He would have to hire someone to pack his things and move him out. He couldn’t stand being in the apartment. There were too many memories. Too many ghosts.