By Maya Lionne
I started telling fortunes for ten bucks a shot after I ran away from home, Dinah began, her fingers taking their time to scrawl her thoughts on the white college-ruled notebook paper that had yellowed with age in the years it sat on her desk almost totally unnoticed. “No, that’s too recent,” Dinah said out loud, to no one in particular. “Gotta start further back.” Writing her story was difficult, despite the fact that she’d known of Tanya’s impending 18th birthday for several months. She’d procrastinated on finding a gift, and even when Bridget had approached her regarding a book composed of everyone in the house’s stories, Dinah hesitated writing her own. But why?
It was a summer night, that much was certain. Valentine was at his parents’ house between semesters at college, subsisting on money made working campus jobs. He’d met Jhonen in Psychology 205: Introduction to Social Psychology, and while Jhonen had said no to his first date request, he’d eventually relented when Valentine made a show of serenading him outside his dorm room window. They’d been dating for three months when the semester ended, both returning home for the summer, meeting up when they could.
“I don’t know what it is,” Valentine said as he sat back down with a bowl of fresh microwave popcorn. Jhonen put his arm around Valentine, and used his other hand to press play on the remote. The finale of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula resumed at the point where the stagecoach burst into Dracula’s castle just before sunset. “Something about the clothing, about the dance? I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s just something about Mina in the ballroom scene, when she dances with Dracula.”
“Gary Oldman, of course,” Jhonen said. “He can drink me dry any day.”
“It’s not that,” Valentine said.
“You keep telling yourself that,” Jhonen said.
“It’s not him, it’s Mina. When she’s dancing amid all those people and her old soul is reaching back to the time she spent with him before he became a monster, it’s just…”
“Longing. And when I see them, I feel that longing, almost like…like I want to be Mina.”
Jhonen turned away from the movie to stare at Valentine. Valentine didn’t look, but he caught the edge of Jhonen’s brown eyes, dark hair, and kitchen table tan-colored skin. He felt Jhonen’s stare drilling into him with probing questions. ‘What the hell kind of fag are you?’ first on the list.
“I’m still a gay man,” Valentine said. “I just…want to know what it’s like to be in Mina’s shoes, that’s all.”
“Uh-huh,” Jhonen said. “Hey look, its the credits and I’ve got work tomorrow. I’m outie.” He stood up and Valentine followed him to the door.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” Valentine asked.
“Nope,” Jhonen said. “Double shift.”
“My sister’s coming to visit from Brookings.”
“So…you’ll call me?”
“I’ll call you,” Jhonen said as he stepped through the door without kissing Valentine goodnight.
“No he won’t,” came the voice of Valentine’s sister Melissa from the stairs above the front door.
“No he won’t,” Valentine agreed.
Melissa came downstairs to stand beside Valentine as he watched Jhonen drive away. Her makeup was running and her voice was choked with lament and the angst of a torrid teenage love affair.
“Why’d he dump you?” Valentine asked, even though he knew.
“Same reason they always do,” Melissa said. “Everything’s great when you’ve got the cheerleader you’ve always wanted hanging off your arm, but the second she lets slip that she’s got a brain in her head or that she’s really the gamer girl that put a bullet through your avatar’s helmet last night, or that she wont open her legs on command, you kick her to the curb. You call her fraud, you call her slut, you call her bitch. You leave her to cry to her friends about the latest jerk, or to commiserate with her brother when he’s going through the same thing with the latest beau who’s just looking for a plain, ordinary, cis-gay boy and God-forbid he should turn out to be anything more. Anything different.”
“As if being gay wasn’t hard enough,” Valentine said.
“I’m done with men,” Melissa said. “Maybe I’ll go dancing, find myself a nice little ingenue dyke.”
“That’s not funny,” Valentine said.
“It wasn’t a joke,” Melissa said. “Seriously Val, I’ve had it up to here. I just want to find someone once, just once, who isn’t a complete shit and can comprehend the paradox that is Melissa Thompson. I need a makeover. Ugh…Jesus fuck, that makes me a stereotype. Shit.”
“Maybe you’re on to something,” Valentine said, closing the door and facing his sister. “Maybe we both need one. A little paint to cover up old wounds and mistakes on the canvas, a little shine on the border.”
“…you want me to give you a makeover.”
“What the hell,” Melissa said. “Come on up.”
Sitting Valentine down at her vanity, Melissa went about brushing his hair, long and blonde, into something more feminine, even going so far as to add a couple bobby pins. Then she began on the makeup, at first covering up blemishes here and there, then concealing the scar that ran above his right eye into his hairline he’d received from a jock the one and only time he’d dared show his face at a high school football game, the scar on his left cheek he picked up in a knife fight with an Omega Epsilon Omega during rush week his freshman year of college, the scar on his left earlobe where his earring had been ripped out when the same Omega came back the next year to smear the queer with a baseball bat, and finally, the scar around his neck where he’d slit his own throat two hours after finishing his third year of college and a few minutes before he woke up in a hospital bed.
With the scars accounted for, Melissa put down her brush.
“You look good,” she said. Valentine took a candy bar from his pants pocket and started eating. “Now: who do you want to look like?”
“I want…” Valentine stopped short of saying ‘Mina.’ “I want to look like me.”
“Okay,” Melissa said, resting her chin on her hands, squinting, holding sets of makeup colors to Valentine’s skin. “Okay.”
At first, Valentine was confused at the colors Melissa was choosing, worried that she was going to make him into some sort of tramp. But purples and blues provided only a part of a base, the same way skin pigmentation involves far more than generic “flesh” color. She did his cheeks, eyes, lips, eyebrows, covered up his stubble quite nicely, did her best to soften his jawline, to round out his cheeks. On several occasions, she took a step back, examined her work, then, apparently unsatisfied, went back to make adjustments or start again.
An hour passed. Then another. Melissa signaled her completion by sitting down in a nearby chair, accepting the chocolate bar Valentine proffered her, and eating it in two bites.
“Do you remember Aunt Dinah?” Melissa asked.
“I remember the story mom always told at family reunions about Aunt Dinah who was in a blockbuster movie but died before she could get another gig and how all the tabloids said it was drugs but it was really a heart attack and that’s why mom eats candy all the time, because Aunt Dinah died when she was twenty two so what the hell does it matter if we eat crap if we’re going to die so damn early. Yeah, I remember.”
“Do you remember the one time mom showed us a photo of her? That newspaper article?”
“No,” Valentine said. “No, I don’t remember. Why?”
“You look exactly like her. Almost.” Melissa got up, rummaged through her closet until she produced her prom dress – an ornate affair shed worn to appease her goth boyfriend-at-the-time. She ushered Valentine into it, the walked him over to the full-length mirror next to her closet. “There. Now you look like Aunt Dinah.”
“Dinah,” Valentine rolled it around his mouth. “Its a beautiful name.”
He stood up to leave.
“Where are you going?” Melissa asked.
“Im going dancing,” Valentine said.
“If mom and dad hear about you dressing like that from any of the neighbors, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“I know. That’s why I’m leaving.”
“Do you know where you’ll go?”
“Yes,” Valentine said. “I’m going to find a ballroom.”
“Fortunes told, ten dollars,” Dinah said. It snowed that morning, and she was bitterly cold. She piled on all her clothes except for the prom dress, which she left tucked away in dry cleaner’s plastic, in her duffle bag. Customers had been scarce, but she’d made enough that morning to actually eat breakfast. A man wearing an Armani suited walked by. “Hey buddy, you want to know what trends the CEO is going to pick to follow next quarter?”
“Holy shit,” the man said, whirling around. “How the hell’d you know that?”
“Ten bucks,” Dinah said. The man paid her. She thought about his future for a moment. “Organic moldable polymers, nano construction tools, and ballistic-resistant solar cells.”
“Un-be-fucking-lievable,” the man said, giving her an extra fifty before leaving, thanking her profusely. A tall woman in a black coat watched him leave before approaching Dinah.
“You’re good,” the woman said in a gravel-road voice. She stank of cigarettes and nightclub.
“Thanks,” Dinah said, focusing on the woman for a moment. “Happy birthday.” The woman laughed.
“I reek of booze and cigarettes. Someone my age, thats a rarity, has to be a birthday party.”
“That wasn’t it,” Dinah said.
“Really. What’s my middle name?”
Dinah thought a little harder. “Yuri.”
“Very good. So…why did you tell that man exactly what he wanted to hear?”
“It’s what he wanted to know,” Dinah said. “I don’t need to be a mind reader to know he’s been worried about this meeting for weeks.”
“Ah, there’s the catch,” the woman said, smiling. “It might’ve been what he wanted to hear, but is it what he needed to hear?”
“What’s the difference?” Dinah asked. The woman sized her up.
“I’ve eaten twice in the last week.”
The woman extended a hand to her. Dinah took it, rising to her feet and out of the newspapers she was sitting in, grabbing her bag as she stood. “I think I may have a hot meal and a gig for you. my name is -“
“I know,” Dinah said. “Your name is Ulyana LaCroix.”
And I think you know the rest. Happy Birthday Tanya! Love and hugs,
Maya Lionne is a genderqueer author, staff contributor for Paper Tape, and professor of writing, currently living in Portland, Oregon. Their work has appeared in The Pitkin Review Literary Magazine, Paper Tape, and Soul’s Road: a Fiction Collection (although you might not know it was them.) They enjoy musty old books, giant robots, and model tanks.