How would an expat Mexican drag queen camped out in Amsterdam end it all? In her best drag, as the shiniest fish in the North Sea, Desirée decides.
She hops the empty bus, sits catty-corner from the driver, so she can flirt with him. Using her best Dutch accent, she asks the driver, “Aren’t you gonna ask where am I going, all dressed up?”
The man looks bleary in the blue dawn light.
“I’m off to the beach, to a farewell party—you wanna come?”
He shakes his head, “Too cold.”
When Desirée insists, the conductor begs off, tells her he has to work.
“Me, I’m done for the night. You know how it goes: one minute you’re on stage, next minute you’re a has-been.”
The driver remains silent.
The bus enters the tunnel and, briefly, they dip beneath the inlet to the North Sea.
When the bus emerges from the tunnel’s amber light, Desirée watches as rows of red-brown brick houses give way to industrial buildings, and then the harbor. The bus slows, comes to a rest. As she gets to her feet, Desirée says, “You’re the hottest bus driver in Amsterdam, you know that?”
The man laughs, but when she goes to kiss him goodbye, he puts his hand up like a stop sign.
“Your loss,” she says, before blowing him a kiss and sashaying to the sidewalk.
Her heels clack until she reaches sand. Then she wobbles to the water’s edge.
When the icy North Sea water laps her feet, Desirée cries out, clutches her faux-fur coat.
Lights flash. A tourist boat? A barge? Some lonely sailor? Desirée looks up to see a boat. She waves, but there’s no captain in sight.
Another step, and Desirée is ankle deep. The water waltzes with her red chiffon dress.
She takes two steps back, tosses her rhinestoned purse onto the beach. (Inside the purse: a signed headshot of herself, with a dedication: Sophie honey, I leave all my dresses to you and only you.)
Desirée hears music, punky Eighties music, and she takes it as a sign that this is It, the world’s send off. But it’s her phone ringing. She runs out of the water, her heels sinking into sand. She grabs the phone. For the first time in a month, the screen lights up with “Sophie.”
Desirée’s heart skips three beats. She answers, “Sophie, chica, how was the honeymoon?”
“Better than anything,” Sophie says. “Where are you, anyway? Still at the club? I need to talk to you.”
“I’m at a farewell party,” Desirée chirps.
“This early in the morning?” Sophie says. “Who’s leaving?”
“Just some queen,” Desirée says, “some has-been of a singer.”
“Sounds like a bore. Come meet me for breakfast.”
“I guess I can do that,” Desirée says, “but you’re buying.”
As she rushes from the sand onto the sidewalk, the hem of Desirée’s coat drips water. Desirée doesn’t even mind it when the chiffon of her dress clings to her calves.
At the café, Desirée spots Sophie peek-a-booing with a toddler at the next table.
“Wow, chica,” Desirée calls out, walking toward Sophie, who turns and smiles.
“That must’ve been some honeymoon. You’re tan like cinnamon—like me.” Desirée kisses Sophie on the cheek; she smells of oranges instead of cigarettes.
“You quit smoking?” Desirée says.
But Sophie only reaches out to touch Desirée’s clothing. “Is your dress wet?” she says.
Desirée pulls away, looks down at her dress: “Guess I was standing too close to the mermaid when she took her dive.” She takes off her coat and sits down at the table.
“Huh? Your act has mermaids in it now?” Sophie says.
“No,” Desirée says coyly.
“Look, I’m sorry I’ve been missing your shows,” Sophie smiles. “Anne and I have been so busy.”
“Sure,” Desirée sighs. “I’ve been busy too. If you’d called me at all in the last month, I wouldn’t have been able to pick up.”
But Sophie isn’t listening; she’s calling out to somebody behind Desirée. “Here, sweetie,” she says, “we’re over here.”
Desirée turns to look: it’s the same leather jacket, the same flood-pants, the same cowboy boots, all in the same butch colors—brown, brown, brown.
This is Sophie’s brand new wife, the Dutch giantess.
Anne makes a beeline for Sophie. She takes Sophie’s face in her beefy hands and kisses her.
“Two’s company, three’s a crowd, Anne,” Desirée says.
Tugging at the chiffon sleeves of Desirée’s dress, Anne says, “Aren’t you all dressed up, crazy Pablo—”
“It’s Desirée to you, darling,” she tells Anne. “Notice the lips and lashes, tits and tights.”
Anne rolls her eyes. Tapping her wristwatch, she turns to Sophie. “Listen, Pablo, we want to ask you something.”
But when the couple starts to talk at the same time, Anne says, “Give us a minute, Pablo.” Then Anne and Sophie begin whispering—in Dutch.
“You do remember I speak Dutch,” Desirée says, but they don’t hear.
To Desirée, it feels just like their wedding, with Anne deciding everything. According to her, the maid-of-honor dress Desirée had sketched for herself was “way too kitsch.” So Desirée let Sophie talk her into wearing a blue suit and tie—and going as her boy self, Pablo. That meant no singing at the ceremony. (“I won’t sing in a cheap suit,” Desireé said.) At first, Sophie gave Desirée a consolation prize: allowing her to make the wedding dress. But on the day, Sophie walked down the aisle in a cookie-cutter white silk dress her mother-in-law had ordered from a catalogue. (Desirée almost fainted. “It doesn’t even have a train,” she cried.) But, before they walked down the aisle, Sophie painted Desirée’s rosy lips on Pablo and thanked her for being family. The only family that either of them had in Amsterdam—or anywhere. Desirée forgave Sophie.
“So, here’s the big question,” Anne says, looking at Sophie expectantly.
Desirée looks up, startled.
“Have you ever thought about having kids, Desirée?” Sophie says.
Desirée drops her teaspoon. “What?”
“This is the deal, Pablo. We want kids,” Anne says, and she grips Sophie’s hand. “And after much, much discussion,” Anne turns to Sophie, “she wants to ask you—”
“We want to ask you if you’ll donate your sperm.”
When Sophie says this, something warm inside of Desirée bursts free.
“So?” Anne says, waving her hand in front of Desirée’s face. “So?”
Desirée blushes. She runs to Sophie and hugs her. The chair tumbles over.
“Oh, honey,” Desirée breathes, “I’d live, die, and come back to life, just to do it all again, for you. Of course I’ll do it.” Her eyes stream.
“Fine, Pablo. Sophie will walk you through the details.” Anne drops a twenty-euro note on the table before she leaves.
Later, when she reaches home, Desirée draws with tangerine colored lipstick on her bathroom mirror. She makes a heart. Inside, she writes Sophie & Desirée & Baby.
Sophie turns up at Desirée’s apartment early the next morning.
“Wear these.” She thrusts a twelve-pack of plaid boxer shorts at Desirée. “No briefs or trunks.”
“Fine,” Desirée says, “I wear panties anyway.”
“No panties or thongs, either.”
“What’s wrong with thongs?” Desirée cries.
“They squash the swimmers.” Sophie wags her finger at Desirée. “And no tucking your junk. You can still sing at the club—as long as you wear boxers.”
“Honey, you should see what the other queens are wearing now. I could dress up like Bigfoot, for all they care,” Desirée says. “All of a sudden they’re hiring bearded queens, clown-queens, queens with hips padded like cartoon—”
“We need to run some tests,” Sophie says as she lays out the boxers on the bed. “Medical stuff.”
“Medical stuff? Me? Sophie, you’re the one getting all the action—or am I wrong?”
“Just to check your swimmers,” Sophie says, “and other, you know, health stuff. How often do you get tested?”
“There’s nothing wrong with me, honey,” Desirée says.
“Of course not. But if it’s a money thing, we’ll pay. Anyway, we’re doing this,” Sophie says. Before she leaves, she slips some money into Desirée’s hand. “Just to cover the rent while you’re on call for, you know, baby-making.”
That night, Desirée prays to La Virgencita de Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary. “Please, Virgencita, let me have this, let me be clean for Sophie.”
Desirée insists that she’s afraid of needles, but Sophie drags her to the clinic anyway. When the needle pierces her arm, Desirée lets out a shriek. And when they take a second tube of blood, and then a third, she says, “How many do tubes you need, you gonna bleed me dry?”
The spunk sample comes easily, though: Desirée winks at the hunky male nurse whose job it is to hand out plastic cups. When he asks for her name, Desirée says, “Desirée, but you, baby, can call me Desire.” The guy blushes.
A week later, Desirée jumps for joy when she finds out she’s got the goods—and that she’s clean.
“Like I told you, honey, I never even had a canker sore,” she gloats to Sophie and the doctor.
The doctor smiles and asks Sophie, “Is your partner ready for this?”
“She’s thrilled we’re having a baby,” Sophie says.
“And how is she coping with the side effects—Anne, is her name?”
Sophie eyes Desirée. “Desi, can you wait outside for a second?”
When Desirée hesitates, Sophie bats her eyelashes, mumbles something about female problems.
In a huff, Desirée leaves the office, waits in the dented leather seats outside the consulting room.
Later, as they leave the medical center, Desirée practically skips; Sophie walks slowly, then stops. When Desirée runs back to her, Sophie says, “Desirée, I’m not sure what I’m doing is such a good idea.”
“Honey, listen,” Desirée says, taking Sophie’s hands. “You’re gonna be a crazy-good mother: your love could wrap around this sick, sad world twice over and there’d still be enough fabric for thirteen wedding dresses with crazy-long trains like Celine Dion’s.”
Sophie rests her head on Desirée’s shoulder. For the rest of the way home, Desirée holds her close.
On-call for Sophie when she is ovulating, Desirée fills her time sewing catsuits and gowns for other queens. She sews a pink onesie for the baby. These days, Desirée is dressed as her boy self, Pablo. She wears the boxers Sophie gave her, along with loose cotton pants, flower shirts, suede loafers. It’s comfortable, but nothing like the hug of a dress against her body.
The phone is silent for the first week—and then the second. During her vigil for Sophie, Desirée sings only to the sewing machine. Her thoughts go to the club, where she imagines herself in comeback mode, back with her audience, back with her people.
On Saturday, she visits the club that exiled her for being uncool. She is incognito—as Pablo. No earrings, makeup, wig, she even keeps her sewing glasses on.
Camouflaged as Pablo, Desirée greets the barman who doesn’t recognize her.
The tall glass of tonic water in her hand glows in the black light of the club. Men approach Desirée, tell her she’s a beautiful boy and offer to buy her drinks; she merely does her research, asks them if they like what they see on stage: a queen in caked makeup doing stand-up, queens in flashy dresses lip-synching to techno songs.
“How you think she’s doing?” Desirée asks the lanky guy on the barstool next to her. He replies he’s not there for the queens, and Desirée moves to the other end of the bar.
The second night undercover, Desirée takes a small notebook with her. She jots down the titles of the songs the audience cheers to, the songs that get them dancing. She leaves the club early, just after the lip-synch competition.
Next morning, she does not put on her boy clothes, does not sit behind the sewing machine. Instead, Desirée fastens herself into the white leather corset and the tutu speckled with pink paint. After she chooses the right makeup, the right necklaces, the right wig and heels, the phone rings.
“It’s time,” Sophie says.
Desirée bolts from the apartment without her coat. Within a minute she’s pedaling and pedaling her bicycle as if she’s in the Tour de France.
At the front door of Sophie and Anne’s apartment, Desirée knocks, then jiggles the doorknob.
Anne unlocks the door.
“I believe you were expecting me,” Desirée says in her lady-of-the-evening voice.
“What the fuck, Pablo,” Anne says, pulls at the tutu.
“What’s your problem, child?” Desirée says.
“We told you not to tuck your junk, Pablo.”
Desirée lifts up the tutu and pulls down her pantyhose. “See,” she says, “I’m not even wearing panties,” and walks past Anne into the kitchen.
“Who said you could wear pantyhose,” Anne calls after her.
Sophie sits at the table and pours vodka into a shot glass. She looks up at Desirée and giggles. “Girl, there better be boxers underneath that puffy thing you’re wearing,” Sophie says and downs the shot of vodka.
Desirée lifts up her tutu: “Honey, I haven’t tucked in weeks.” She hugs Sophie, feels Sophie’s breasts move beneath the sateen robe—no bra. “Ooh girl, you are ready to go.”
Anne enters the kitchen. “Shouldn’t you be in the bathroom, Pablo?”
Desirée gives Anne a voodoo look.
On the table: a baby-food jar and a small baster.
“You call that a turkey baster? That thing is not big enough to baste a hummingbird,” Desirée says.
Anne is tapping her foot. “So? The bathroom?” she says.
“How about I do it on the balcony,” Desirée says, “I want the baby to be outdoorsy.”
Stone faced, Anne pushes the empty baby-food jar into Desirée’s hand.
“Wow, girl,” says Desirée, holding the jar up. “You really have no idea how this thing works.”
“What do you mean?” asks Sophie.
“Ahem, we’re gonna need a bigger jar.”
Anne rolls her eyes, grabs the jar from Desirée’s hand, pushes the jar against Desirée’s chest. “Pablo, just do your thing, and leave the rest to us—comprende?”
“Darling, I’m not UPS,” Desirée says. “And it’s Desirée: lips and lashes, tits and tights: got it?”
Sophie nuzzles Desirée’s neck. “Please do this for us, Desi.” Sophie takes Desirée by the hand and leads her to the bathroom door.
“Hold this for me,” Desirée removes her necklaces and earrings, bracelets and bangles. She hands them to Sophie. “I don’t want to sound like a rattlesnake in there.”
Sophie closes the bathroom door.
Desirée pulls the lipstick from her corset. She draws a hot-pink heart on the medicine-chest mirror: Desirée Loves Baby.
Soon, she’s trying to do her thing, being careful not to scratch herself “down there” with the acrylic nails. She sweats as if she’s in the steam room. Desirée removes her wig and hangs it on the towel rack, next to the tutu.
A knock at the door: “How long is this gonna take?” It’s Anne’s voice.
To retaliate, Desirée says, “Madre mía—you’ve frightened it. Now I have to start all over again.”
Desirée hears the sound of flip-flops. “Sweetie, come back and wait with me,” Sophie says to Anne in a stage whisper.
After she hears them pad down the hallway, Desirée looks at the heart drawn on the mirror; she continues.
When Desirée announces that she has spilled her manhood, Sophie rushes to her, taking the jar and placing it between her breasts.
“We need to keep them warm,” Sophie says, as she crosses her arms against her chest.
Sophie kisses Desirée on the cheek. “You’re a sweetheart, Desi. Same time tomorrow? And the day after?”
Before Desirée can answer, Anne appears and reaches into the back pocket of her jeans. She pulls a twenty from her billfold, holds it out to Desirée. “Go buy yourself something,” she says.
“Darling, keep it,” Desirée says. “Buy lipstick—and use it.”
“I don’t need lipstick to be a woman.”
“No, you need it to look like one.” Desirée cocks her head.
When Sophie puts her hand on Anne’s shoulder, the jar slips onto the floor. Desirée scoops it up, hugs the jar with her armpit.
“Give it to me.” Anne reaches for the jar. “And go clean yourself up; your makeup’s running.”
Anne takes Sophie’s hand and guides her down the hallway, toward their bedroom.
“Good luck, honey,” Desirée calls after Sophie, who simply waves goodbye.
Anne says, “The front door locks by itself.”
Desirée returns to the bathroom. Without face wipes, it takes a lot of rubbing with hand soap before her makeup, now a mess, is gone. She puts the wig back on, the tutu, the heels, the jewelry.
Before she leaves, Desirée calls, “Bye, bye, birdies—”
Desirée hears a shriek.
Desirée sheds her heels, grabs one to use as a weapon. She flies down the hall, pulls open the door.
The empty jar skitters across the floor, comes to rest against Desirée’s right foot.
Aiming her shoe at the crouching figure, Desirée growls, “Get away from her, you—”
But it is not Anne crouching at the foot of the bed. It is Sophie who is crouching, Sophie who holds the baster, glinting from between Anne’s legs.
Desirée locks eyes with Sophie. “No. She’s not supposed to be the one—”
“Get out,” Anne barks.
Desirée cries, “It was for you, Sophie—”
Sophie rises from the floor, crosses the room to where Desirée is standing.
Sophie then touches Desirée on her bare chest—and pushes her over the threshold. “Not now,” says Sophie, “go home.”
“It’s been too long,” Desirée says on the phone to Jacko, the club manager. “Can I come home now?” She asks Jacko if she can go on stage that very night, after happy hour, when all the queens are tipsy.
“You think they’re gonna like you any better when they’re drunk?” Jacko laughs. “I told you, no one’s into Eighties glam rock anymore.”
Desirée tells him she’s different now, she’s got new songs, new drag.
Jacko tells her he’s got a full stable of queens available—and more where they came from.
“Are you talking about queens who sing or queens who lip-synch?” Desirée says. “Why settle for Milli Vanilli when you can have Judy Garland?”
“What part of ‘has-been’ do you not understand?” says Jacko.
That evening, Desirée packs a suitcase, goes outside and hails a cab.
When she arrives, Jacko is standing outside smoking a cigarette.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he says.
“I’m here to show them how it’s done,” Desirée tries to push past him.
When Jacko suggests that Desirée does not know when to quit, she slips him a hundred-euro note.
“Tell you what, jack-off,” Desirée says, “if I don’t bring the house down, you can keep the money.” Then she asks for a dressing room all to herself.
“Don’t push it, sweetie,” Jacko says, grounding out his cigarette against the brick wall.
Inside the club, the barman greets Desirée with a whistle. “Good luck tonight, baby,” he calls after her.
Desirée finds her way backstage, to the makeshift common room that passes for a dressing area. As soon as the emcee finishes her makeup and makes for the stage, Desirée seizes her spot at the dimly lit mirror. Around her, young queens buzz like caffeinated bees.
Desirée unpacks, hanging up the gown she’s fashioned for herself—from emerald-green rubber. She takes off her blouse, her high-waist pants, dons a robe. The phone trills. When Desirée sees the caller’s name, she winces. As she continues to make up her face, Desirée can still feel Sophie’s hand pushing against her chest.
Sophie’s message: Come tomorrow, Desi, it’s all fine.
She fastens her skin-tone bustier, places the silicone cups inside its hollows.
We need to do it tomorrow. Por la bebé.
This time, Desirée tucks extra tight, nudging each testicle up, up, inside her. Using strips of Duct tape, she makes her pecker disappear, binding it against her body.
I can even come to your place to collect it. Desi?
Panties, next, and then the stockings.
You’d said you’d do this for us. Pick up, please.
The cell phone won’t stop nagging.
“Are you gonna get that?” Desirée turns to find a young queen with a heart-shaped face.
“No, I’m not,” Desirée feels a tremor in her hands as she turns off the phone.
“You got a stalker? I hate those.” The young queen leans toward the mirror to draw her eyebrows.
“She used to be my best friend,” Desirée whispers to herself. She stands up, starts to wrestle herself into the dress. She writhes, she wriggles, but the rubber adheres to her padded hips. She tries to stand straight as a cinnamon stick, draws in her breath, but the rings of rubber still constrict her legs.
She topples to the floor, lands on her knees. Desirée hears herself begin to wail.
“You’re on in five, Desirée.”
The sound of Jacko’s voice registers like an electric shock.
“Girl,” Desirée calls to the queen next to her, “come over here and help me pull this thing on.”
Together, they pull and stretch until Desirée is wearing the dress.
Red wig, black gloves, stacked heels.
“Are you gonna sing or not?” Jacko calls again.
Desirée walks onto the stage. She can see the audience, hear their chatter, the clinking of glasses from the bar. Bound by the rubber dress, she feels her heart beating in her throat. When Desirée grabs the microphone, the shriek of feedback commands the crowd’s attention.
“Hello, baby darlings,” Desirée speaks into the microphone, but she flinches when the feedback strikes again.
She can see Jacko smirking as he talks to another man, standing in front row. Desirée catches young queens watching from the wings.
The track starts with the thrum of an electric harp. Desirée steadies herself, standing like a column as she fixes on the audience: “Now, this is what you came here for.”
Héctor Serna Chávez was born and raised in rural Mexico and now lives with his partner in The Netherlands. He is a recent PhD in Ecology. This October, Héctor will start a postgraduate creative writing program in the U.K. Follow him on twitter @NotHere2Hector