Stella Van-Cartier pulls the seatbelt across my foam neck, which is odd because neither of us is real. Stella is a drag queen persona and I, Delilah, am a foam wig block. So, it should really read “David Lawson pulls the seatbelt across his foam wig block,” but then that would defeat the purpose of my speaking. I can only do so because David has given me a personality; just like he has with Stella, who is now currently choking me.
She pauses, holding the belt above the buckle as she admires my expressionless face. Her eyes wander over my highly arched eyebrows, my poorly eyeshadowed sockets, my striking blue eyes and they stop at the standard togetherness of my lips. I wonder if she is thinking about the necessity of my painted face? But that’s silly since it would be him thinking that.
To be frank, David is a gay man who is yet to come out to his own mother. He still vividly remembers the day she uttered “amen” when the pastor preached about hell for homosexuals. He was aged 10, then. A year before that, his father died of lung cancer leaving mum to find new hope. Instead, she found a scapegoat presented as hope. The Lord does work in mysterious ways.
At least David was smart enough to not believe in God; that would have been too much weight for his already fragile mind.
I won’t go into too much detail on his teenage life at school because that story is pretty cliché. He followed the same spiel every closeted homosexual goes through. At home, he masked his sexuality by plastering bikini-clad women across his walls. At school, he told lies about his sex life to appease his friends. He even joined the ironic chorus of calling questionable fellow classmates “faggots”. See? Cliché.
So, I’ll skip high school and head straight to the Queer Space on level 3 at the University of Technology Sydney. You’d think finding his own people would liberate him, but no. It is true he learned more about his own sexuality in the Queer Space — he even accepted it — but he is still closeted from his mother. You see what I am getting at? His mother is the problem. Well… not exactly the problem, but the fact he cannot come out to her has forced him to create different sides to himself. Including me.
It goes without saying he entered the Queer Space while glancing over his shoulder. But he was glad he entered. It was his way of silently accepting himself; of coming to terms with it all. Nobody was inside when he entered, so he was able to browse the candid pamphlets and study the otherwise crude posters on the wall without distraction. One particularly crude poster discussed syphilis, featuring a stunning hunk grasping his wet bulge and “If it hurts to piss, you might have syphilis” branded down the right side. David was in awe. Despite the high prevalence of STIs in the gay world, he was really going to enjoy the frankness of sexual discourse.
As he lingered a little longer, Jack Farrell had entered. Jack prefers non-binary pronouns to match their gender fluidity. David didn’t mind. By the end of a vibrant one-hour chat, he decided to come out to Jack. It was the first time he told anyone, and it became a powerful memory when Jack replied with: “As long as you’re happy with it.” This response solidified a great friendship between them. Ugh, sorry about the clichés.
Anyway, a few months ago Jack told David about Utopia.
“What’s that?” David asked.
“It’s a charity drag show,” replied Jack, who quickly noticed David’s scrunched eyebrows.
“Haven’t you heard of drag queens before?”
David shook his head.
“Really? That’s weird.” Jack paused to consider the meaning of a drag queen. “Drag queens are men who dress like women and perform women’s songs. They lip-sync them. It’s very camp. You should come!”
David had his own car then and his own job to pay for it. Even his own mother was less nosey over his whereabouts. With that much independence, you take advantage. But dare I say that curiosity was involved in his final decision.
As he arrived at Utopia, a crowd was huddling outside the main entrance with smoke billowing around them. He saw guys dressed casually, some skimpily, girls dressed normal, some over the top and others in butch attire. The sounds of gaiety and freedom enveloped the parking lot. Eventually he noticed that some of the women weren’t really women and he smiled at the idea.
Then someone in the crowd announced: “It’s showtime!” and they all finished their cigarettes, flicking them theatrically or stamping them into the ground. Jack emerged from the hustling crowd and waved at David, who smiled and waved back.
“Hey! Glad to see you made it,” Jack said. They offered David a hug which was accepted with reservations.
The venue was part of a bowling club in Northmead. It was on a tireless main road, but for some reason this didn’t worry David as he entered. There seemed to be this invisible bubble around the place. A force field dispelling reality. Inside was a stage with black curtains, a spinning mirror ball and a small bar up the back. A hundred patrons filled the room. As David sat down on the edge of the dancefloor, loud intro music quelled the noisy audience.
The black curtains parted while the spotlight beamed towards the stage. His imagination took over as one drag queen after another performed their spot numbers. Every detail played its part. Every action added to the verisimilitude of it all. Oh, how I would have loved to have been there.
David’s favourite was Amanda Fondle, who performed a dramatic rendition of “I Put A Spell On You.” The song had added dialogue from the female characters off Harry Potter. It was marvellous. The audience went wild when Amanda cupped her hips, looked at a giggling audience member and mimed “It’s levi-O-sa, not Levio-sAA!”
When the show finished, he went to the bar for a glass of coke. As the bartender prepared his order, Amanda popped up next to him. David was starstruck.
“G-great show,” he said, turning his head while his fingers clamped down on the five-dollar note in his hand.
“Thanks, Darl. It’s one of my favourite numbers. I’ve done it for three years and the crowd still loves it.” Her voice was burly, and the juxtaposition between it and the way she looked was exceptionally queer. David grinned. When the bartender dropped off his glass of coke, Amanda ordered a vodka tonic.
“It’s good for the waist,” she said, pinching her hips as she returned her focus to David.
He smiled at how casual and open she was. David was expecting a diva and all he got was another human being. It was wonderful. He took a swig of his coke and asked: “Do you usually perform here?”
“Yeah, when I can. I do other places too.”
“Oh really? How many places like this are there?”
“Hundreds, Darl. Hundreds.”
The bartender placed Amanda’s glass on the bar as she pulled out her credit card to pay for it. Then she plucked out a small straw from the dispenser nearby.
“Straws are a lipstick saver,” she said, stirring her vodka tonic. “Speaking of lipstick, do mine look alright?”
David looked, not exactly knowing what to look for, and yet nodded anyway when he saw that they at least weren’t smudged.
“Good,” Amanda replied.
David smiled again. This new world was so welcoming. At this very moment, he felt rebellious against a life of shrouding himself. His mother would probably denounce him if she knew where he was. At least that’s what he thinks.
Then a thought wafted through his mind. He turned to Amanda who was resting against the bar and taking in the crowd. “How do you learn to be a drag queen?”
“By getting yourself a drag mother,” she replied before handing him a business card from her purse.
As Stella clicks in the buckle, I can’t help but notice how her face looks better than mine. Stella’s sockets are a blend of sky blue, black and gold, along with a pair of sizeable eyelashes that zig-zag just below her black-lined eyebrows. Her cheeks are rouged with bruises of caramel brown, while her mouth is overdone with lip pencil.
It was soothing watching David paint on that face. I had sat on the edge of the coffee table with a good view of it all. The best part is the lashes. Every time David glues them on, he is reminded of what his drag mother once said. “Without these,” Amanda had said, showcasing a pair of lashes in their original box, “you’d look like a man in a dress.” Because of this, David engrosses himself in the methodology, even going so far as replicating a stroke victim as he glues them on. It’s rather amusing if you ask me.
Then, halfway through the placement of his second lash, David’s phone had rung. God, I hate that ringtone. It’s Darude’s Sandstorm. I mean it dearly when I say this but he’s a faggot and needs to deal with it.
Anyway. He obviously ignored the call and finished gluing on the lash before pulling on an awful red wig. Ugh, it looks terrible. I’m seeing it right now as Stella walks around the front of the car. The wig is a maroon bob that has seen better days. Once he had the wig in place, David had toddled over to his phone to see who called.
I knew by the look in his eyes that it was his mother. That and the fact I’m his alter ego. I know everything about him. He was about to drop the phone down before he got a message from her:
Hey, I just wanted to see how you are?
Hope your studies are going well! I miss
you. love mum XO
I knew he wouldn’t call her back. He would have found that awkward. Him, in drag, talking to his mother? Ugh, I know. Instead, he messaged her back with “I’m well. Lots of assignments to do. Chat soon. XOX.”
I had told him then he wouldn’t get anywhere with that attitude.
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not, but I have never met David’s mum and, until he grows some balls and comes out to her, I probably never will. He sees her as a wonderful mother, but he is so fearful of what she will think when he comes out as gay. In all honesty, I really don’t think David needs to worry about it. From what I know about her, which is precisely what David knows about her, she won’t disown him as her son. My main reasoning here is that she already knows about it and she is waiting for him to tell her. David should remember this, but I don’t think he wants to. At least I do.
I believe she got her first inkling when she caught him watching Naked News. It would play at midnight on SBS and David, who was 16 at the time, would watch it in the lounge room when mum was asleep. He found it quirky. Newsreaders stripping as they read real news. Would anyone watch it for the information? Probably not.
He didn’t mind waiting through the stripping women for the men to come on. Indeed, it was a little unfortunate that his mother caught him when a man was stripping. He was watching this hunk of a guy casually take off his clothes, silently talking about the news because the sound was obviously muted. Then David heard his mum’s door shut behind him and he quickly switched the channel.
“What are you still doing up, David?”
He was a little mortified at that moment. He stammered to get his voice box in action before replying.
“I, uh, can’t sleep.” He turned back to the TV and freaked a little before noticing it was just another news channel. A normal news channel, where people keep their clothes on. I’m pretty sure it was Russian news.
“What are you watching?” His mum asked, cupping her mouth to yawn.
“I was just looking through the channels.”
“You weren’t watching anything naughty, were you?”
His mum scrutinised him, then shook her head and said: “Go to bed, David.”
In the morning his mum decided to talk about sexual health. She drilled it into him that he should always wear a condom. There was a moment where she was about to say something uncomfortable, but she held back. Instead, she said: “Just be careful, David. I don’t want you catching anything bad.”
Surely the only reason why she bothered to give him the birds and the bees was because she caught him watching soft-core porn on her TV.
Stella slips into the driver’s seat beside me and drops down the shade above her head, revealing a small mirror. She turns her head this way and that as she seeks out confidence rather than impurities. I think she could have done better, but then I’m just a foam wig block. Why should I care?
Anyway. I guess I should share the story of my mental birth:
A week after David decided to take on the drag world, he moved in with Jack. This was perfect because Jack wasn’t gay, they were just non-binary. Still, he was hoping to move all his stuff himself, since he had his own car, but his mother insisted on seeing the new place. This meant David had to tell Jack that his mum might use the term “him.” Thankfully, Jack understood. David’s heart was pounding at how she will take to Jack when they first entered the apartment together. In the end, they got along well.
Because Jack is majoring in art at UTS, David would join in with their art projects on random nights when they were home together. David is studying communications, but he is a creative at heart. It was on one of those random evenings when David got the wild idea of painting on my face. He had been drinking wine while chatting with Jack who was painting a canvas for some uni project. Something about existentialism.
David had printed out realistic blue eyes. Then he cut them and glued to my face before covering them with resin. Jack told him the stuff would help them stay intact, “as if they were laminated.” I saw the first glimmer of the world when he finished brushing it on. His lounge room looked simple. The walls were bare, a creamy leather couch lined one side, facing a small, dusty flat-screen TV. It was too bland for my liking. And in front of me was David, holding a wet brush and admiring me. He laughed at himself when I said: “Who the fuck are you?”
I stood erect on that wooden coffee table for an hour as he drew all over my face. The worst part was the eyeliner. He got some in my eye and had to rub it off with a wet tissue. That was rude. When he finally finished, he moved back in his chair and smiled. Then he bundled his eyebrows together and aimlessly stared at the wall behind me as if asking himself something. Before I knew it, he looked at me square in the eyes and named me Delilah. Apparently, my name is biblical. The apple never falls far from the tree.
My face consists of black eyeliner, black eyebrows, gold sockets, green arches, rouged cheeks and red lips, topped off with a pair of large, tacky false lashes. I only know this because he showed me after in the bathroom mirror, with my cheek pressed up against his. That moment made me feel like a child.
Then I found out the next day why he bought me. It was late afternoon and he came in with a parcel. He was a little too excited for my liking. David unwrapped the package and pulled out a curly, natural blonde wig. It had a side fringe and the curls whirled down to shoulder length. He held it out and ruffled it before putting it over my head. A wig? For me? That’s the nicest thing he had ever done. That’s what I thought before he started stabbing pins into my head! I know I’m not a sentient life form, but that was just awful. Even now I can hear the traumatic popping sounds as the pins pierced my skull. He put one above my fringe, one above each of my ears and a final one up through the back. When he was done, David rested me on the coffee table again.
“Gosh, you look beautiful,” he had said.
Stella flicks the shade back up and turns the key in the ignition. With quick feet dressed in sheer-to-waist stockings, she edges out of the driveway.
In the corner of my eye, I can see Stella’s hands gripping the steering wheel. In front of me is the glove compartment and I can see the outside world through the windscreen, minus the road. The weather looks lovely too if you care to know.
Ah, here comes a tree, dead ahead. The car slows a little and —
Whoa! Oh, god! I’m slipping, you fool! Stella just swung the car to the left of the tree and is now circumnavigating the damn thing! My neck is slipping through the seatbelt as my head seems in want of the passenger door.
Ahh, oh, yes… thank god! Warn me next time!
Don’t you dare touch that phone, you idiot! Remember what happened last time? You were lucky the cop was nice and let you off with a warning.
And for the love of God, please don’t play Darude. Nobody would ever believe you’re that straight. If you must play something, make it easy listening. Oh, great, show tunes… How original. I don’t have to look at her to know she’s mouthing the lyrics. Ah well, practice makes perfect.
Two traffic lights rise on either side of my peripheral vision, each blaring the colour red. We stop — thankfully — and the tops of cars fly past the bottom of the windscreen, scattered and determined. Red, blue, black, green, orange, white. A whole fleet of them.
“C’mon, we’ve seen these lights,” Stella says. I hear ya, girl!
Oh God, leave that damn phone alone! It’s not going anywhere. And that wig needs to die in a fire. Stella is swinging her head between the traffic lights in front of her and the stupid phone in her hand, making her wig flit about. That mop has had its day. She needs to get over it and sacrifice it to the Gods.
Okay, the lights are green now, drop that pho —
Arrgh! Lay off the accelerator, woman! Did you get your driver’s license from a cereal box? You stup —
Oooff! What was that for? Stella just slapped her hand over my face as she slammed the brakes.
“Bloody idiot,” she says. Yeah, I can say the same about you. Through my left eye, between the gap in her fingers, I see the upper half of a woman scuttling along the top of the dashboard. The woman raises her hand at Stella and then does a double-take. Yes, honey, this is a drag queen.
Stella lets go of my face, peeling off my right lash in the process. It dangles from the corner of her palm and she looks at it in mild horror. Then she looks at me.
“No,” she says under her breath, almost like a whine. A horn beeps off behind us and Stella picks off the lash from her palm and places it on the dashboard.
It’s just a lash. Be thankful you didn’t peel off my eye!
She continues along, throwing her hand out the window as if she was lazily catching the wind. Eventually, she pulls into a driveway. The bump nearly knocks me over. Calm down, girl!
When she stops the car, Stella unlatches my seatbelt and picks me up by the neck. Then she grabs the lash from the dashboard and —
Oowww! Stop that! How would you like it if I pressed my thumb into your eye!
Owwwwwwww! It’s not gonna stick, woman! The spirit gum would have dried three weeks ago.
Oh, thank god. She’s given up. Don’t look at me like that. Sulking won’t change anything.
“I’m sorry,” she says. I wish I had the ability to glare at her right now. But then something struck me.
Wait, you know I’m not real, right?
Ow! Why did you pull the other lash off? Oh, wait… I see. You cannot fathom the idea of walking into the club with a doll head sporting one lash. So typical of you.
Stella discards the second lash on the dashboard. She returns her glance to me and purses her lips as her eyebrows scrunch together. Then she reluctantly reaches for the glovebox, opens it and pulls out a weird looking package.
She plucks two wet napkins from the package and —
Hey! No need to be rough! Stella’s hand scrubs the wet sheet all over my face, from my eyebrows and sockets to my cheeks and my lips. Now I know how David feels when he was subjected to his mother’s spit rag when he was younger.
Stella finished, holding the napkins away from my face and scrutinising me. I probably look like plaster dipped in water. A fucking clay blob in the faint shape of a human head. At least she didn’t use baby oil like she does when removing her own faces. That stuff’s awful to get off.
Oh God, please stop with that smile. It’s creepy as hell.
“You are still beautiful,” she says to me.
Well, of course I am. I don’t think they purposefully make ugly foam heads at the factory.
“Look at you,” she says in a condescending tone as she raises me to the rear-view mirror. She presses her cheek against mine, just like last time. I can’t help but look at myself, she’s aiming my eyes to the mirror with wonderful precision. What else can I do?
All that’s left is the blue eyes, staring straight ahead. My blue eyes.
Actually, they do look rather nice; different, at least in comparison to the rest of my species. Oh, wait… Ha! That was the one thing I tried to imagine after I saw the face David painted on me. I tried to imagine what I originally looked like, since I have never seen myself completely bare before, and this is as close as I’m going to get. Because, of course, if I don’t have eyes, how will I see?
Now Stella is looking at herself. I wonder if she is contemplating the reality of her own existence? I don’t need to, personally. I know I’m not real.
What’s her reality? What do those sizeable lashes, those well-blended sockets, those punchy lips and those bruised cheeks really mean to her? Are they a disguise? A puzzle piece to her made-up personality? Does she really know that, even with those lashes, she is just a man in a dress? Has she finally realised that Stella is just a heightened version of David? A version that he would never showcase in his true male form? I hope so because this façade is becoming a pain. I hate having to be her — and his — makeshift shrink.
Stella places me back on my seat and returns to her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes glimmer with newfound knowledge. Then her hand reaches for her forehead and —
Yay! Thank God! That wig looked awful on you. While you’re at it, could you throw a lit match in the backseat?
Oh, must you always choke me when you pick me up? I mean, I get it, I’m not real, but please!
Stella steps out of the car, clutching my neck. Her car is parked in front of a long building. The main road is keeping busy nearby and the building’s entrance is clouded with smoke. Oh wait, this is Utopia. Underneath all that billowing smoke is the audience I previously spoke about. And here is Stella, wigless… I cannot believe it. I’m so proud of her.
She holds me up and —
Ooooo, aaah, errrnnnn, mmmmm. Must you stab my neck with those pins?
There’s so much fire in her eyes as she plucks out each pin atop my head and pokes them into my neck. It’s like she’s on some cathartic mission to rid herself of crazy thoughts. Or perhaps she just doesn’t care anymore. Oh wait, shouldn’t it be him? Of course it is. Who would it be? Stella wouldn’t do anything like this. She’s just a character. A flat one at best. She doesn’t have values; she just has a particular way of speaking, a particular way of walking and a particular way of performing. Behind it all is the man himself.
David slides the wig off my head, and I feel my existence fading. He tosses me on the front seat and there I wither into oblivion. My reality is his, and he doesn’t want it anymore. He doesn’t need me anymore.
The last thing I see is the silhouette of David holding out the wig that was on my head. My eyes drift away from the scene as I roll down into the crevice of the car seat.
David holds the blonde wig out before him and dives into it headfirst, wrapping it up, over and onto his own head. Like a glove, he thinks. David smiles at the thought of Stella, for now he doesn’t have to act like her. Of course, he can still act the part, but he really is just a man in a dress. And he is okay with that.
But there is one last thing to do before he can really be himself. It’s toyed at him ever since his mother called earlier. He reaches into the car and unplugs his phone from the cable. David’s chest pumps with vitality. His eyes dart with purpose as his fingers tap away at the screen. Then he holds the phone to his ear, caring little about the attention he’s getting from the nearby crowd.
“Hello?” says his Mum from the other side of the phone.
“Oh, hi David. How are you?.”
“Mum.” David pauses. He closes his eyes, trying to tame his nerves.
“Mum, I’ve got something to tell you.” It’s how he has always envisioned it, at least in the way he’s seen it. Hollywood can be so influential. It’s never ‘I’ve got to tell you something’ or ‘there’s something I’ve got to tell you’. It’s always ‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ because it says it all. It’s vulnerable and powerful at the same time; just the way it needs to be.
The moment David said it, he felt a surge of strength rise within him, collecting all the feelings along the way. He smiles at the world around him, lapping up his new reality. A reality he won’t have to adjust for anymore.
He grips the phone and announces: “I’m really gay.”
And he doesn’t care about the response, for it is not necessary anymore. She could denounce him as her son, she could spew out vile words through the phone, or she could accept him for what he is. But none of that matters because at this moment he felt free. Free from the secret that has controlled his life and the way he portrayed it to the world.
From now on, he doesn’t have to care about that anymore.
From now on, he can be his true self.