glbtq: the online encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer culture

Subject Studies
E.B. Vandiver

Those old photos of Eulie’s I keep in the panty drawer, wrapped in a pair of granny pants so old and stained no one’d dare touch them. Not that anyone’d be going in my panty drawer -- it’s a rare occasion I go in there myself.

The photos remain in the original envelopes, with the name of the old address scrawled on the front in Eulie’s half-hearted chicken scratch, ink slightly smudged, grease spotted, fingerprinted, but inside, the photos themselves -- flawless. Just once in a very great while, I take them out, spread them over the bed, and examine with the cold, steady eye of an entomologist. Calculate what they’d fetch. Kiddie porn’s good money. But then, they could go the other way. I envision them in Sight, ReVue …

At the other end of the narrow black tunnel, I am sealed under the lens. Gently sleeping, gently breathing, chest fluttering: a bony birdcage, skin taut, drawn tight at sharp corners of collarbones, elbows, ribs, and hips. Scrawny is the word. Yet I am almost translucent. The whole room smells of peanut butter, from the jar I snuck to bed.

The shutter closes briefly, triggers back, and I wake. But slowly. The eye watches, a finger poised. This is the way that I wake. Watched. A lock of hair lashed across the cheek like spilled ink. Glistening, moist. My mouth catches it sideways and begins to gnaw; the eyes slit. Click. Fists. Mash my face into the mattress, squirming like a dog. But I’ve already seen her

The eye closes; the camera retreats. Then it is just Eulie. Barefoot, berry-brown, in her same blue kerchief.

It takes only a quarter hour to pack. There’s not much to the room, besides the furniture. We go in Eulie’s steel blue ’64 Buick Skylark, David driving.

When David comes he drives a pickup loaded up with several types of ladders, dozens of buckets, dirty shovels and trowels. The far end of the seat up front is a clutter of misassembled toolkits. This pickup is at least a decade old, splattered with paint, proclaims FORD in big white block letters across the back. Most days he comes alone. He is generally silent, a peripheral figure that always seems to be present, even when he isn’t, and keeps to the edges of the house, never quite close or far. He is watchful, and smokes cigarettes. He cannot be made to play.

The David that is David alone is the one I like. He shows me how to groom the horses. Carries me on his back, arms secure under the knees. He doesn’t mind that my feet dangle, banging him about the hips, arms wrapped over his shoulders and around his chest. Though surely I am suffocating.

The smell of him is fusty, especially if he’s been at the levee. The back of his neck creases and folds like an elephant trunk as he glances up at the sky to assess the time, smooths out like butter under knife when his face turns down. We ride together, me before him in the saddle, gripping the pommel, through the fields, and the cane drags against our legs, heavy as waves.

Eulie is a different story. Her eyes are the color of the river -- gray-green -- perfectly symmetrical, with low, slow, sleepy lids. More often than not, there is only one river-colored eye. The other, clear, stripped of iris and pupil, zooms, retreats, from a long black socket in a small black case, and clicks when it blinks. Sometimes it flashes a wink of starlight, or whirrs and purrs like a happy cat. When Eulie is resting her extra eye, it hangs from a strap across her shoulder and under one breast, resting on her broad hip, and its eyelid is a black plastic patch that Eulie pops in and out with her fingers.

An eye like that cannot be trusted.

As the Buick starts slowly down the oyster-shell driveway, Eulie twists around in her seat to watch the house disappear through the trees.

The road to Baton Rouge is through flat country, past dun bayous and stands of cow oak silvery in the early light. The mist has only just cleared and the air is cool. Eulie rolls down the window and rests her hand on the edge of the door, cupping the wind in her palm.

Buzzards circle the morning sky, drifting low, just over the treetops. Wheeling in a lazy rhythm, they descend in formation, sliding down on oily dark wings, knotty skulls in a forward crook.

And she lights a cigarette, the last in the pack.

When the houses start to crop up, just past the first signs to town, David switches on the AM, to pick up the Baton Rouge stations.

Won’t you

Be my be my little --

Ronnie Specter and the smoke from Eulie’s Virginia Slim. That’s the last thing I remember before Baton Rouge and all the rest of it.

Then, the Vieux Carre. Carnival over. Stuff clogs the gutters. The boulevards fairly steam, glittering with doubloons between street lamps where the light barely touches, and the strains of a tango ballad from an anonymous reach. This night tastes of bougainvillea.

I could walk it eyes closed, the usual route. The first two blocks down Chartres, toward the crush of zydeco bars and market, then at the café, the sugary scent of beignets, a right, and past the jasmine courtyard and a right again to pass the little banana garden. Six blocks further a graveyard crowned with azaleas and incense, next the praline shop and the twin tap dancers beating out a sidewalk rhythm, whistling hey girl!, a turn then again on a narrow residential street, and I’m three minutes from something.

Every part of my being is honed in, hunkered down and focused on the hunger, the pain of vacancy. I look at my hands. Nails crusted black, broken, tissue thin. Palms skinned. These are my hands. But the shock is sluggish, slow to come.

How benign the night is, the night I realize I am going to die. Maybe a different turn to the wind, a few more stars or a few less. But no human being could see the difference.

A man proposes an arrangement. Materialized from nowhere, from a titty bar or an oyster bar or Antoine’s, I don’t know what -- he has a suspiciously bland, cultivated Midwestern anonymity. A nose pushing bulbously from a thick clammy layer of slightly moist skin. He is sweating. Nervous. And he should be. Sick fuck. But I do it, and in the end it’s not so spectacular. Five minutes and it’s over, he’s so excited, and for 300 seconds, 3,740 francs. Five hundred, U.S. He scribbles the name of a bank where I can change the money. A Frenchman -- his English is flawless. He sounds to be pure Chicago.

How long ago was that? I can still hear him, the tricky idioms I didn’t get, the double entendres that only now I recognize for clever. My first lover.


Nightly now I tread the rubber waffle-weave mat, fallen ice cubes crunching underfoot. Safe. Tiers of glass bottles soar clear up the wall, contents shimmering in the footlights. Bombay Sapphire, Tanquery Ten. Vox. A positive shrine to liquor.

A deep, slick expanse of mahogany separates my person from all. I can ignore them, and do so. I can’t stand the way they push up to the bar, hunching up to fit, waving twenties. Hey. You. Kamikaze.

Fuck off, I think. I’ll see you when I see you. It’s a professional hazard, the megalomania. Weekends there’s two of us working the territory, and as we bustle hither and thither, doling out the liquor, the air is thick with schadenfreude, comradery. Delicious silent spite. I wouldn’t recognize any of them in full daylight, colleagues and customers alike. No matter. By night’s end I’ll have pulled down two hundred in tips, at least. The beauty of tending in the Vieux Carre. Two months and I’m flush. Three and the debt’s gone completely. A few more weeks and I’ll be set to go for that tour of the Hawaiian islands I’ve been planning since forever. I can practically taste the pina colada. Last week the brochures came in the mail from the Princeville Resort, so slick they almost fell out of my hands when I took them from the envelope. A big photo spread of the beachfront property. I never thought the ocean could look so blue as that.

If I could just stop thinking about Eulie and the usual. The goddamn photos in my panty drawer. Sell them and be done with it, I say. Fresh start, new leaf, and et cetera. But it’s not happening.

Maybe it’s that girl that’s been hanging around lately, working the bar, trying to be subtle. She’s got Eulie’s way of looking at you sideways, drinking you up when she thinks you don’t see -- even that kind of eye, the color of a river not moving fast enough. Stagnating. Not getting much clientele, either, from the looks of things. The college boys who come around here want a clean lay, or a quick trip to the titty bars with their frat brothers where they can get themselves all worked up and then go home and finish the job in the privacy of their Hilton bathrooms. Street whores are a little much for that kind of kid.

I could tell her where to go. If I wanted to, if I cared. I just wish she’d eat something. It’s the sight of those skinny little elbows that gets to me, propped up on my bar where everytime I go to squirt a tonic from the well I have to look. Finally, after a few days, I order her a hamburger on the house at last call.

"Hey, thanks," she says. "What’s this for?"

I shrug. "They had it left over."

She eats, never taking her eyes off her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. She’s a weird kid. Hair bleach blonde, and not much of it, wisping all over the place, skinny shoulders drawn up tight, fingers clenched around the burger like it might fly away. A big dollop of ketchup drops off the backside of the burger, straight onto her white, faux fur micromini.

"Goddamnit," she says, and, still hanging onto the burger, makes for the bathroom.

John, the owner, says to me, "I want that whore outta here. We’re not that kind of establishment."

"What do you want me to do about it?"

"You’re a woman. You say something."

But she leaves anyway, before I can kick her out, on account of the ketchup. "Gotta change," she says. "See you later." She sounds as if we’ve made an appointment.

I don’t even know why I’m surprised to find her waiting outside when I close up. It’s three in the morning and all I can think about is scrambled eggs. She’s smoking, leaning cross-legged against the dumpster, trying to look casual, sexy, something. And has changed.

"What do you want?" I say.

"Look, you were so nice to me in there I just wanted to thank you. Fix you breakfast or whatever."

"Fix me breakfast?"

"Sure. Whatever you want. Grits? Bacon? I make a killer breakfast."

Is this her line? Breakfast? But I say, sure, yes, make me breakfast. I live right around the corner.

In the car, I start to get nervous, the way she watches. My heart is pounding all over the place.

"Hey," I say. "Don’t look at me, all right?"

"What’s your problem? Do girls make you edgy?"

Bloody hell, what is this? I have no control, nothing. It’s like being sucked into a black hole, all my limbs going numb and useless in the excess of gravity. Like being seven all over again. She lights a cigarette and laughs. Her name is Chancee, she says. It’s French for lucky.

Once in the apartment, there is no preamble, her halter off before I can shut the door. At me like a moth, fluttering up, trying to be pretty, those eyes in the dark all pupils. Cornered, I’m useless. I know nothing but men, weight, insistence. Her lightness terrifies. She circles me like the two dozen moons of Jupiter, whispering what she thinks to be filthy delights. Pries at me, making me naked. In the end, I do nothing. I lie down on the carpet and let her go about it. I study the geography of my popcorn ceiling. At the end I ask how much.

Two hundred. Hawaii money.

Finally, she sleeps. Apparently she plans to stay the night on my couch. Did we agree to this? I can’t remember. I go through her wallet, find the driver’s license. Nineteen. Her name really is Chancee. Ridiculous. Who’d call a kid lucky?

In the zippered compartment there’s exactly three dollars and forty-nine cents, mostly in pennies. It takes me ten minutes to count it out.

Somehow I find the camera, the one Eulie sent me for my tenth birthday. By then I was already at the third place after hers, had nearly forgotten. Tracking me, that’s what she was doing.

It feels good and solid to the hand, heavy. It’s got to be worth something. Maybe not as much as the photos, but something.

Sleeping, there’s no viciousness about her. Nothing to be afraid of. Twisting the lens, she jumps into startled focus against the threadbare velvet of the couch, alabaster white, all edges -- elbows, knees. Ribs poking up as she inhales. Even sleeping, she must feel me watching. The eyelids shift. My finger edges. I will her to move, just slightly to the right, so she’ll fit entirely in the frame. Go on, I think, and like magic, she does, perfect as a puppet. I squeeze down. Click. Eulie’s camera hums in my hands, ready for the next. The new angle. I adjust. And again.

Eleven o’clock the next morning, waking in my own bed, I remember there’s someone else in the apartment and can’t move, flattened by a nameless dread. Ridiculous, I think. I have every right to be here. She’s the one who should feel out of place.

The camera lies on the next pillow, watching me with its blank eye. I turn it away so it looks at the wall instead.

But when I finally work up my nerve and wander out to the living room in my bathrobe, trying to look casual, as if this happens all the time, the place is empty. I stand in the kitchen, staring around stupidly. Everything seems smaller. I am like Alice after the potion, looming over things too small for me to even pick up with my own hands, a giant with tree trunks for arms and roots for feet. My throat feels thick, soft as cotton.

I dress, dropping hands through the sleeves of a sweatshirt, fitting legs through blue jeans, anchoring feet in a pair of chunky boots that are so good and heavy they feel like brick walls. I’ve always loved these boots. In them I could storm Russia, run an army. It is always strange to take them off, however, and see my feet emerging so thin and white and defenseless, the naked nubs of toes that could be broken with a stubbing, and have been, often.

The grocery is nearly empty, given that it’s a Monday noon. The stacks of vegetables glisten intriguingly in the fluorescent lights. Just as my hand extends uncertainly for a head of iceberg, the misters crank on, and I nearly jump out of my skin. Tiny showers dew my frozen hand. I catch sight of a terrified woman in the overhead mirror and for a long, slow moment don’t even recognize her as me.

But after a good, hour-long prowl through the empty, glaringly white aisles, my cart overflows with bounty, and I depart with a deep sense of satisfaction at the cashier’s awed "You saved 53 dollars and forty-eight cents today, Ms. Cutrer."

When I return to the apartment, the paper bags firm in my arms like good, thriving babies, the stereo is going, and three identical pugs assault me at the door with joyful yips.

"Chancee," I say. "Take care of these goddamn dogs."

She insists that they sleep with us, and all night I lie perfectly still, afraid of turning over and crushing one of the small, warm bodies curled up at the small of my back. She lays inches away, naked, sheets knotted between her knees, breathing so lightly she doesn’t seem alive. But once in awhile, whole sentences emerge in the dark, spoken with complete logic.

"Daddy, the thieves want bananas. Only green ones. For swimming, what d’ya think?"

I look at her hair, which is, in the absence of light, the brightest thing in the room, shining with the cool white of a moon.

One morning when she’s been here a week, she takes over the bathroom, spreading newspapers on the floor, and in a plastic bowl mixes bleach powder into a cream she then applies to her skull with a little brush. With her elbow-high rubber gloves and grim eye on the timer, she resembles a scientist or a meticulous hausfrau -- I watch, fascinated, as the dark roots that have gradually sprouted over the past few days disappear into whiteness.

"How does it do that?" I ask.

"It kills the melanin," she says, "the color," and disappears into the shower.

It’s with the same methodical thoroughness that she approaches when I least expect, teasing a sleeve off her shoulder, fingering open a button, pushing her hands, her tongue, her hip -- I’m halfway naked before I even realize, and she’s making noises that sound as far away as another country, her breath coming fast in a way that has nothing to do with me. She might as well be alone in the room. And when it’s over, she pulls away, smiling a little, "Did I turn you on?" and runs her hand up and down her leg, licking her mouth.

She finds the photos I developed from the first night, spreads them across the kitchen table and stands over them, studying them, arms crossed, while I fidget.

"I think I’ve got what it takes," she says.

"For what."

"I didn’t think so before, you know. I had my doubts."

She tells about the community theaters, how she almost never saw the sun, the lights that beamed in the eyes and made her sweat under the makeup, and the makeup, how thick it was, like a cake, and how she loved it, the people who paid to sit before her, and even the director, who when she was six took her into his office and pulled down his zipper and made her touch it, even that didn’t matter so much, not when he told her she was so beautiful he couldn’t help himself.

I come home from the bar at three and she’s developing her portfolio.

"Take more," she says. "I need at least twenty for a book." She hands me Eulie’s camera, already dressed, already ready. Her eyes are rimmed in purple shadow, lashes sooted to angry points. She climbs on a windowsill and pushes her feet together like a yogi. The pugs run frantic circles round my feet.

A week later, I wake, the bed is empty, and I know. The only thing left of hers are the pugs. They wander in and out of the bedroom with their smushed faces, looking for Chancee, crying for food. I realize I don’t know how to feed them, what they even eat. I give them hamburger, and they have diarrhea all over the kitchen. The landlord smells it, three doors down, comes over and tells me about kibble.

"Purebred?" he asks, eyeing the dogs.

I don’t know, I say.

"You could fetch a pretty penny for them," he tells me.

In the end they net a thousand altogether. I take first class to Honolulu, drinking free champagne until my head swims. It’s high season, and I can see, as we circle in for a landing, that the beaches are crawling with bodies that from this distance look like bright, busy ants.

At the Sheraton Waikiki, my oceanfront room waits like a clean empty shell, smelling of Lysol, perfectly antiseptic. The color scheme is one of pinks and soft greens, the fabric, entirely polyester, shines in the setting sun, of which I have a head-on view.

I am overcome with love, a love as I have never felt for anyone or anything before -- the flawless, plastic bathtub, the immaculate toilet, the shrink-wrapped cups stacked neatly on the counter, a basketful of round, fragrant soaps just waiting to be unwrapped and employed for my cleanliness. This room will never belong to me, to any person. It belongs to itself so perfectly nothing I can do will ever touch it, or it me. I could stay a hundred days and the room would no more be mine than the Pacific folding and unfolding from this beach all the way to Japan.

The window comes open easily. I expect to smell sea salt, brine, the stink of fish, but fifteen floors up, the air is stripped of even this. From below wafts the tempo of Latin dance music, the rhythm for a rhumba, the dance of love.

I imagine how it will shatter upon impact, the glass splitting into thousands of slivers over the white concrete of the plaza below. Suppose it does not break, but sits at the bottom of the drop, winking back up with its one eye, forever -- what will I do then?

I lean over the sill, the photos sticky in my hands. They seem to fly loose of their own accord, winging free, they flutter, catching the last light of sunset, but Eulie’s gift is loathe to go. It presses in my palms. It pleads for the first time with me as my hands split apart, wide open to the world, and the sea.




Buy books at Blithe House, in association with

About The Authors
Submission Guidelines
E-mail Blithe

©1997-2003 Blithe House Quarterly / All Rights Reserved