A NineStar Press Publication
Drama Queens with Love
© 2017 Kevin Klehr
Art by Natasha Snow ©Copyright 2017
by: Jason Bradley
in 2017 by NineStar Press, New Mexico, USA.
is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the
author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any
resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely
rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any
material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or
otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, NineStar
book contains sexually explicit content, which is only suitable for
with Love Scenes
Table of Contents
First off I’d
like to thank my partner in life, Warren Brown, who showed me more
than deserved patience and encouragement on this endeavor.
Endless thanks to Angus Gault, who has
read, reread, and basically shared this adventure with me, as well as
coming up with some of the best one-liners in the text. His
contribution is immeasurable.
Thanks also to
Brett Tyler and Carmel Keohan
who shared their enthusiasm in the early stages of the project.
Without it, I’m not sure I would have gone anywhere beyond my
handwritten first chapter.
The best line
in the second paragraph comes courtesy of Chris Jones, who said it in
polite conversation. I was quick to ring our home voice mail so I
wouldn’t forget it. It still makes me smile.
Cheers to Nicky, who in a way became my
first fan. Just in being spellbound in my story meant a lot to me. It
helped me believe in myself.
Dr. Anita Heiss
and Dr. Janet Hutchinson have both been inspirational and open to
sharing their knowledge on writing, and the industry. I’ve learnt
Many thanks to the late Mary Belk who was a
great teacher in the art. There was a lot to learn and hopefully, I
took it on board.
Thanks to Mum, Krys, Mary, and Steve, who
always wanted to know how my novel was shaping up.
And to Ethan
Day, Jason Bradley, Val Hughes, J.P. Bowie, Adrian Nicolas, Raevyn
McCann, Kristin, April Blackburn, and Alison.
thanks to Dad, who watched me silently at work.
Drama Queens with Love
that makes me fond of Drama
Queens with Love Scenes
is that it flouts m/m convention throughout.” 4
STARS - Ulysses Dietz, Prism Book Alliance
Klehr has crafted a wonderful new world for these characters–a
glittery, fabulous, and just a little bit catty eternity that lends
itself to the seeds of theatre pop culture, history, and themes he
weaves into the narrative.” Nathan
‘Burgoine (author) for his review in Chelsea Station Magazine
has created some wonderful characters and his prose style immediately
pulls us into the story and into the characters who actually become
our friends.” Amos
Lassen, Amos Lassen Reviews
to author, Kevin Klehr, who has penned the most original love story
I've ever read. Drama
Queens and Love Scenes
is amazing in that the characters are dead, yet full of sass and
STARS – Morgan Wyatt, Goodreads
Drama Queens and Adult
“It is not exactly what I expected, but
ultimately this story offers a powerful love song for readers willing
to listen.” “…I found myself pausing as I read, thinking back
over my own long lifetime as a gay man in a rapidly shifting world.”
4 STARS – Ulysses Dietz, Prism Book Alliance
“There are lovely vivid images evoked
in the story…” “My best analogy would be the sensation of
funhouse mirrors where art imitates life imitates art…” The
“…despite the complexity of the
weave, the story doesn’t feel complex when you’re reading it. It
has a good flow and a three-dimensional feel to the characters and
the story.” 4 STARS – Nephy, Nephy’s World
“Klehr certainly knows how to tell a
story, but I am still not sure if we were laughing at the characters
or at ourselves.” Amos Lassen, Amos Lassen Reviews
Nate and the New Yorker
writing is what really got to me. This starts out nice and slow, like
a good orchestral piece and you’re thinking “nice” and then the
other instruments start to chime in, each one at its exact moment in
queue, until I was surrounded by a full crescendo of such rich
characters, each one developed exactly right for the story, not
overdone or lacking in any sense.” 4.5
STARS – O.J. Cast, O.J. He Says / Goodreads
let’s just get the bottom line out of the way: this is quite
possibly *the* best novella-length story I have ever read.” 5
STARS – Jaycee, Goodreads
That's the only way I can explain what just happened to me. I
mean…holy cow!” 5
STARS - Elaine White (author), Goodreads
think it is fair to say that Klehr has joined the ranks of other gay
men that are writing about our lives.” Amos
Lassen, Amos Lassen Reviews
to this point, I had enjoyed
and the New Yorker,
it was Klehr’s simple, but clever, way of shifting the emotional
momentum of the story which totally won me over. 5
STARS – Kirsty, Joyfully Jay
looked like Jayne Mansfield without the attributes. Her
cherry-colored wide-brimmed hat complemented her black unbuttoned
jacket. A low-cut white dress completed the look. She seemed
overdressed and would have looked better wearing a casual pink
T-shirt and torn jeans, like a pinup girl sparking the imagination of
a lusty army boy. Her pleasing smile said she had been waiting to
angel stood next to her, barefoot in old blue jeans and a
ripped-sleeved khaki shirt. While he didn’t have the glam factor of
the female, his striking dove-gray wings drew focus. They spanned his
height and then some, towering above his head by at least an arm’s
length. He rarely made eye contact with us and stood hunched with his
hands lightly clenched below his navel. His demeanor implied a
vanilla hint of gayness.
what did we actually get up to last night?
friend, Warwick, and I safely considered this scene from the doorway
of our tiny room.
moment ago, we had said goodbye to my uncle and his girlfriend, and
now we were facing two strangers on what looked like the set of a
confused oohs and ahs echoed off the marble black and white tiles,
which stretched so far into the horizon they became gray as they met
a set of stairs. Each step alternated in color, again black and
white. Someone had overdosed on 1980s pop videos when they conceived
do you make of the red velvet curtains, classic or uninspired?” I
asked my friend.
they’re lush. Just lush.”
be alarmed, gentlemen,” the Jayne Mansfield look-alike said with an
air of whimsy.
we nodded awkwardly, she shot a concerned glance at the angel and
whispered, “Don’t smile like that. It doesn’t match the décor.”
he rolled his eyes and mislaid his smile.
began biting my thumbnail as my eyes darted between our hosts and the
opulent aspects of this room.
sex kitten and an angel,” I timidly said to Warwick. “Does this
stepped through the doorway and addressed the angel. “Those wings?
Please tell me they aren’t real.”
angel gracefully flapped them three times before shrugging. I
switched my denial into overdrive.
the past week, Warwick and I had left our chaotic beach-town lives
for a little break. My dead-end job was getting me down, and my
partner in crime suggested a holiday would be the best remedy. Until
this point, he was right. All had been going as planned. We’d
visited my uncle Bryant and his new love interest in Melbourne before
considering a driving trip around Tasmania. Who could have imagined
this strange twist in our plotline?
hosts seemed to study us like a diplomat about to shake hands with a
head of state. The angel endeavored to smile again, while the blonde
bombshell gave us a moment to gauge our bearings. Then her arms
extended in greeting like Jesus in a biblical painting.
name is Samantha, and this is Guy. We’re here to welcome you.”
Warwick, and this is Allan,” my friend said. He gestured back in my
stepped into their lavish space. Five-meter-high crimson walls
screamed at me; several burnt-caramel marble arches signposted
entrances to other rooms, each shielded by more red velvet curtains.
It was lavish in a color-blind sort of way. All that was missing was
nice to meet you, but where exactly are we?” I asked.
in the Limelight Quarter,” announced Guy.
sorry, but I really don’t understand what’s going on. Where did
you say we were?” I was fearful of the answers.
in the Limelight Quarter,” replied Samantha. “We’ve been sent
to show you to your new home.”
stood confidently, owning the floor beneath her. I mouthed the words
“our new home” as she read my lips. The more our hosts tried to
enlighten us, the more obscure this setting became.
courted my short attention by subtly pointing above us. I was already
feeling nauseous at the combination of colors, but by looking
straight up, I saw something that made me picture Liberace and his
piano bringing this room to life. Projecting rainbow colors
throughout the space was a mammoth chandelier, even though there were
no rays of sunlight streaming into the room. I could sense the echo
of ivories entertaining an audience of women with their best years
far behind them. His grand instrument dazzling us with reflected
hues. Was this camp heaven or decorator hell?
in pleasant company. Don’t be alarmed,” Samantha continued.
beamed in what seemed an attempt to win us over. Her feminine charms
began to work.
realize all of this is going over our heads,” Warwick explained.
“We’ve never heard of the Limelight Quarter, and we don’t
understand why we have new homes.”
arrived in our little sector. A place we like to describe as the
theater district,” she replied.
why are we here?” I was desperately piecing together the moments
before our arrival.
resumes tell us that you’re both comfortable treading the boards,”
it was true that we both dabbled in acting, but at that point, we
were hardly household names.
welcome new visitors to our theatrical paradise. That’s our job,”
said Samantha. “We know about your thespian tendencies, so you’ve
been assigned to stay here.”
that means the Limelight Quarter is just part of this unique
location?” Warwick asked.
answered Guy. “People from all walks of life inhabit their sectors
of interest. We match new visitors to their hobbies.”
the Limelight Quarter is part of what other place?” I rubbed
my chin, not really wanting my doubts confirmed. This query seemed to
stump our angel. Was he biting his bottom lip to avoid the question,
or was it an attempt to work out an ambiguous answer?
you are here! That’s all that matters,” replied our hostess. Her
charisma was working overtime. “Now, Allan and Warwick, we have to
welcome you in the traditional manner.”
is?” I asked.
friendly cocktail at our own special bar,” she replied. “Follow
us. The Pedestal awaits!”
do anything that feels familiar,” I replied. “Lead the way.”
* * *
feet were massaged by the cobbled streets as we followed our hosts.
Striking sandstone apartment buildings, all about three stories high,
sported luxurious balconies. The perfect setting for theatrical types
to hide away between plays, soaking up the golden sunshine from the
terrace while skimming through their lines.
in the Afterlife, there were architects who knew what they are doing.
I felt calmer. Around us, local inhabitants either strolled or rode
pushbikes around the streets, enjoying the weather. Warwick placed
his hand on my shoulder as he strode next to me. I was so glad I
wasn’t experiencing this alone.
tall woman in a scarlet dress and black feather boa sauntered past
me, closely followed by a couple of older stylish men in corduroy
jackets and tortoise-shell glasses. They had a sexy lecturer look
that made me want to share in their knowledge.
long have you all been here?” Warwick asked.
fair while,” said Samantha. “There are so many fascinating people
here, it’s not worth leaving.”
who are they?” I asked.
any one time, our new arrivals are the most interesting souls. But
our ever-changing cast of characters are sure to delight your
these characters as intriguing as you?”
dear, no one is as intriguing as me.”
rolled his eyes as his wings flapped a couple of times. I wondered if
this angelic gesture was similar in effect to a mortal coughing after
hearing a lame comment. The banter continued for several more paces
before we arrived at an art-deco building ruined by electric-blue
paint and a multicolored neon sign flashing “The Pedestal.” It
was like someone had consulted Mr. Magoo for decorating tips. I
welcomed the idea of drowning my bewilderment in alcohol, even if it
was to just rid myself of this horrid image.
did an eccentric half twirl between us and the doorway. Guy glanced
at the sky, seemingly underwhelmed by her flamboyant antics. Warwick
huddled close to me as they ushered us inside.
stood at the back of the bar as my friend rubbed my shoulders. I
still had a far way to go before accepting our demise. I was
wondering if the drinks here contained alcohol, or was that against
the rules in the Afterlife? Did we need to be holier than thou?
Pedestal was an artist’s space, a nightclub in feel. Candlelight
flickered from tables, accenting its distinct cast of creative types.
Inspired conversation and polite small talk could be vaguely heard
around the room. A fusion of sandalwood from burning wax, and other
faint perfumes wafted past us. Diner-style
booths graced the walls to the sides, as mismatched furniture in
leather, denim, and assorted fabrics fought for attention. This
varied seating arrangement littered about two-thirds of the available
space, leaving a drink-stained bar to one side and a cozy dance floor
and stage at the front. The performance space also featured a pair of
those hideous red velvet curtains pushed to the sides.
the main focus on stage was an eye-catching dark-skinned woman in a
pin-striped man’s suit. She was introduced as Nellie by one of her
jazz band. This statuesque figure held her microphone as if it were
some sultry extension of her body. Her soulful lips emitted a tone
that could melt chocolate.
she sang, a young lady in burlesque attire stood captivated in front
of the stage, mouthing her lyrics. Nothing could mistake her
glance—she was a lesbian waiting to happen. We perched ourselves at
the bar, where next to us a woman in her late thirties gazed
longingly at the barman as he poured a glass of red wine.
keep the change. Just give me the look of love,” she uttered as the
barman grinned flirtatiously. It seemed a strange comment as I didn’t
see any exchange of currency.
place? Shabby or charming?” I asked Warwick.
in a shabby sort of way.”
this short space of time, there’d been a lot to take in. Two
strangers posing as new friends leading us from ostentatious opulence
to mix-and-match glam. If my friend was as guarded as I was, he
definitely was not making it known.
spotted several framed portrait shots hung between faded theatrical
posters at the back of the club. Cheesy smiles and forlorn looks
graced those faces. Some posters looked like cut-and-paste montages
for school plays, while others embraced graphic concepts so out
there, you’d swear Salvador Dali had set up a studio nearby.
Elsewhere, this charismatic ad hoc décor laced with local creative
types would have put me at ease.
look over there.” I pointed to the booths. “That petite old
Korean woman. She’s arguing with her son.” My friend squinted to
think that’s her boy-toy,” said Samantha. “She’s with a
different one every time I see her.”
has good taste in her vices,” I replied. “Who is she?”
extraordinary old star waiting to be rediscovered.”
agrees with her.”
found solace in examining the characters around us. Not all of them
looked like your average theater crowd. There was a sprinkling of
actor-types wearing flashy clothes, and a middle-aged plump woman
taking notes for what I assumed to be her next role.
the non-thespian crowd were two tree huggers solving the world’s
problems while sharing herbal cigarettes. Another hippie, who already
had his share of smoke, danced like an epileptic octopus on valium,
interpreting a beat only known to himself.
was studying ghostly souls, a thought that started to unnerve me
again, so I followed Warwick’s lead to discover more about our
you ever not like who comes through the door?” I asked.
was an old fortune-teller with a pet snake,” moaned Samantha. “She
freaked out as soon as she saw Guy.”
screamed at me!” added Guy, shuddering.
she had foreseen prepared her for this place.”
just couldn’t cope with life. That’s what happens when you live
alone for too long.”
she had her pet snake,” said Samantha, raising a brow.
is she now?” Warwick asked.
finally found inner peace when an old friend arrived.”
of inner peace,” I said, “where will we be staying?”
all in hand,” replied Samantha. “For now, just enjoy yourselves.
We’ll show you to your rooms later.”
metallic body clanked across the dance floor.
Roman gladiator at three o’clock. Overdone?”
studied the armored visitor, then made his assessment. “Maybe he’s
assumption unsettled me. Had this soldier been wandering around
aimlessly for centuries?
I whispered. “What’s going on here?”
I’m supposed to know?” he replied. The ancient warrior’s armory
squeaked as he took his seat. “It’s like we’re in a time-travel
movie. But the only difference is the angel. A real live
expect Bibles at the bar,” I said. A small flame glowed from the
corner. The toy-boy was lighting a cigarette for the Korean cougar.
“What about her for instance? The priest would wash his own
mouth out with soap after her confessional.”
God’s not as judgmental as we think,” Warwick replied.
Buddha or Ganesha or whoever?”
there’s a VIP room where they all sit around chilling out?”
they spend their days singing religious chants with Krishna on
smiled. He was usually the expert in not getting his feathers ruffled
while I often grappled with the world, but in this instance, we both
three days ago, he was prescribing this holiday while I was dealing
with my own personal dramas. Warwick was making me a perfect cup of
peppermint tea. He stood, devoted to this task, while I was
mesmerized by his supple latte-colored skin. He looked as inviting as
the homemade lime cheesecake that sat under glass on our kitchen
bench. Which would be tastier? Maybe I could have the two of them at
the same time? One bite here, one nibble there. When he mentioned a
visit to my uncle, I dispensed with the fantasies, then looked up as
he handed me my tea. But that was three days ago when the world made
sense. Now we were guest-starring in a surreal reality show. If
Samantha had broken into song or Guy morphed into a reptile, it
wouldn’t have dumbfounded me at this point.
we staying here forever?” Warwick asked our hosts.
necessarily. Stay for as long as you like,” answered Samantha.
words only puzzled me more. Life was easier when there was just lime
cheesecake to consider.
at some stage, are we going to return home?” I asked.
think of it as a holiday, pet. Stay as long as you need to.”
crooning began washing over me like a comforting embrace, or maybe it
was just the vodka and cranberry juice. The liquid additive was
definitely diminishing my fears. Around me contented beings swayed to
the singer’s hum. She was the hypnotist, and they were captured by
much as I try, I just can’t get jazz,” said Guy in a
don’t realize what you’re missing,” I replied.
rousing applause followed. The saxophone’s gentle notes invited us
to free our concerns. The soothing voice of the large bass seduced us
as the cheeky piano held us captive with its prearranged melody. Soon
the cheerful flute made us ready to play. I was drunk, and jazz was
now my mistress.
I focused back on Warwick and our hosts, I noticed that Guy had gone
to chat with a handsome man slouched on a formal coffee-colored sofa.
began moving his hips on the barstool, bopping around like a dazed
Eurovision diva. Alcohol had definitely taken hold. Whenever he got
like this, I had an evil desire to stick fake eyelashes on him, just
to watch them flutter.
after, Guy returned with his friend. In this informal atmosphere,
only Guy looked out of place. Maybe angels were not supposed to
surrender to sensual pleasures like music? Before introductions were
made, I asked about his deficient jazz gene.
don’t you like Nellie and her band?”
like songs,” he replied. “Melodic songs. The band is okay, but
they’re not my taste.”
angel needed an injection of cool, unlike his handsome
companion. I was a sucker for polo-neck jumpers, which his friend
harmonized with a leather jacket and corduroy jeans. All in basic
black. Color-wise, it was a lazy mix-and-match job. But who was I to
argue as I was drawn into his hazel eyes and lips that were moist,
rosy, and imminently kissable.
Allan, meet Pedro,” said Guy. “You’re going to share the stage
examined this man, hoping to share more than just the stage.
even written the piece you’re going to perform,” said Samantha.
a man of many talents.” I listed his possible abilities in my head.
just something I’ve been working on,” Pedro said in a faded
how long have you been working on it?” I asked.
Had I just caught onto the one advantage of our fate? This man was
thirty-something surely, while that Roman gladiator still looked
buffed. Everyone who ends up here must stop aging. I glanced at
Warwick, grinning like a faded movie star who’d found a discount
the roaring twenties,” explained Samantha. “That’s when this
delightful young man stumbled here from New York.”
thing too. I was penniless. I lived with rats in moldy public
housing. I even gave gangster names to the two rats that slept by my
bedside. Mr. Money and Mr. Death.”
on, Pedro, it wasn’t that bad.”
writer was embellishing. He recognized he had a captive audience.
It’s true about the rats, but I had lots of friends, and lots of
friends with cocaine to help me keep my sanity. My string of affairs
helped me survive without a blanket. In between real life, I wrote.
Mostly one-act plays about cheerful things, like alcoholic street
workers and murderous cops. One of my plays was even performed at a
chic uptown party.”
was it about?” I asked.
night Santa was kidnapped.”
Knife-wielding youngsters set a bear trap down their chimney.” A
sinister grin spread over his face. “And Rudolph was served with
mashed potatoes and corn.”
lovely venison meal.”
glowed in the dark. No candlelight needed!”
must have found fame after that?” I admired his originality.
not really. It was a Christmas gathering. Mrs. Simpson made sure I
was never recommended to any in her circle after she swore I made her
die of embarrassment.”
you’re about to take the lead in your newly penned work,”
it about?” I asked.
based on the rats I shared my flat with.”
introduced her next number. The raucous improvisation made it
difficult to converse, so I closed my eyes. My mind and my tapping
foot were taking pleasure in my own solitary nirvana. The saxophone
randomly voiced its frustrations. In a jumble of emotion, I felt it
scream out for liberty before it wallowed back into its comfort zone.
Next, the clarinet took flight. With sharp notes, it took for granted
what the saxophone was yearning for. I opened my eyes.
had returned to his comfy sofa. His eyes were closed as his head and
shoulders swayed in rhythm and his hand slapped his knee in time.
Warwick and Samantha had joined him on the couch, and after sharing a
few words, they too copied his seated dance.
also began to sway and turned to Guy to share in this infectious
beat. He looked back at me as if I needed a toilet. I effortlessly
moved my arms as if I was dancing with an invisible partner. He just
shook his head like I was an idiot. This angel was no jazz fan, so I
decided to converse instead.
must be marvelous to be able to fly.”
paused for a second, then answered, “I wouldn’t know.” He bit
his bottom lip again, before the sides of his mouth pushed nervously
into his cheeks.
I asking you about something you don’t want to talk about?”
wasn’t brought up by my parents, so I never learned. I’m an
wanted to ask more but chose to wait until he volunteered the
information. I had a wicked urge to ask if he was hatched or
delivered the normal way.
was now in torch-song mode, and the admirer who had been mouthing her
words earlier patiently waited with the hippies. From where we were
perched, we could take in the aroma of their joint. Recollections of
Amsterdam were interrupted by the angel’s decision to open up.
was brought up by my auntie Jemima. She wasn’t really my auntie as
she didn’t have wings, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that
I put two and two together and realized we weren’t related.”
who are your real parents?”
don’t know. I had a fantasy about my father being some brave dragon
slayer, while my mum would be some mystical woman, in love with life.
I dreamt that she would return and show me the joy in everyday
things. Aunty Jem was fascinated with other people, and I never
realized at the time how special that was. I appreciate it now.”
wasn’t there anyone else who could teach you to fly?”
took a mouthful from his wine glass before easing into his tale.
had a friend named Joshua who tried to teach me to fly, but I was too
scared to learn. Everyone admired his spectacular black wings. He was
always dying his hair, sometimes a white blond, sometimes golden, and
to me this was daring.
day we walked toward a cliff, side by side with arms outstretched,
hands on each other’s shoulders. This was his way of forcing me to
fly. We stepped over, and I flapped frantically. A couple of times I
was able to keep his pace and fly beside him, but I kept losing
altitude and dangled below as he tried to hold onto me. After a while
he gave up, landing us both on the ground. We spent a bit more time
together that day, but after that, we just drifted apart. I never
understood why, and I never asked.”
was an awkward silence as I wondered if Joshua was a lover. Guy had
bared his soul and seemed to be avoiding any more conversation on the
subject, and as much as I wanted to, I knew I shouldn’t ask. I
didn’t need to. Another sip for strength and the winged one
knew almost everyone where we lived, but I really didn’t connect. I
just watched my life go by, not living it. I craved for things like a
friend, or a lover, but when they didn’t appear in exactly the way
I expected them, I didn’t develop the relationship.”
stopped at this point. Nellie was taking a break while her band
played up-tempo lounge music. Warwick, Samantha, and Pedro were in
animated conversation. Pedro sat self-assured as Samantha slouched in
alcoholic bliss. Warwick was all arm gestures, almost communicating
with the deaf.
like your friend, don’t you?” asked Guy.
knows what to say to keep me serene. Like you, I’ve always tried to
control things. I’m learning to let go and fall without the
not what I meant, Allan. Of course you like your friend; otherwise he
wouldn’t be your friend. But you’d like to be more than
just friends; that much is obvious.”
didn’t answer. I had been exposed.
of how I felt, the angel placed his hand on mine and waited for me to
and I met at work in our under-stimulating public service jobs about
a year ago. We clicked immediately and enjoyed long lunch hours to
alleviate the boredom. We socialized, met each other’s friends,
then shortly after we moved in together. Our flat became Grand
Central Station, as people would drop in with drinks or other social
additives. We enjoyed what life had to offer.
came the week from hell! Warwick had the flu, and I was simply burnt
out. I crashed in bed and didn’t raise my head unless my stomach
rumbled. That was six months ago, so we decided there was only one
solution. A sea change!
moved our public service jobs to Port Macquarie and tried to slow
down. It was like The Golden Girls but with half the
polyester, and our feet nowhere near the grave. The chemical
additives stopped, but champagne became the substitute. Our city
posse was replaced by our regional mob, and those fabulous parties
started up again.
it was the salt air that cleared my thinking in between hangovers,
but over that time, I found myself viewing Warwick in a different
light. The thoughts were subtle at first. A simple caress from his
waist to his shoulders. An impulsive beard rub to the back of his
neck. But over time, full cinemascope scenarios barged in during
night, while cooking Peruvian curried chicken, I envisioned Warwick
entering the kitchen wearing nothing more than a white apron. He’d
saunter over to check if I had enough spice. Once while polishing the
furniture, I imagined him placing one hand on mine, assisting me in
rubbing in the oil. These circular motions would reduce, as we found
more appealing places to rub. I won’t even tell you what vacuuming
the apartment conjured up.”
Guy’s wry smile, I knew he understood exactly what I was talking
about. I had learned nothing about Joshua, but Guy was discovering
all there was to know about my unrequited passions.
there were those moments. Times when I thought fantasy would
become reality. Three months ago, we were celebrating the news of our
friends’ engagement at our favorite little drinking establishment.
Warwick and I had plastered ourselves with a blend of orange liqueur,
soda, and lime. Curtis and Carmel were equally soaked as we kept
raising glasses to an endless supply of causes. We toasted Port
Macquarie, a milder lifestyle, and possibly every individual grain of
sand on the beach. As the lovebirds gradually overlooked our
presence, they began to demonstrate the foreplay that led to the
proposal. We were convinced theirs was a shotgun wedding, and this
was a reenactment of how they got into this predicament.
left our soft-porn friends at the pub and staggered home where,
although the details are sketchy thanks to alcohol-induced amnesia,
we both rested in my bed. We cuddled the way friends do when
inhibition is laid to rest. He positioned his head on my chest. With
sleep being the last thing on my mind, I kissed his scalp and
caressed his neck. The scent of faded cologne reminded me of how much
I had come to appreciate his distinctive tastes. The smart jacket
draped on my bedpost would never be out of vogue. The burgundy shirt,
which was half-unbuttoned, spoke elegance and style. I guided my hand
under the shirt and caressed his defined torso. His silky chest hairs
helped my fingers slide over his upper body. He wriggled briefly in
that endearing way people do to gesture that they like what you’re
quickly ordered another glass of wine while I shared the sordid
wish I could tell you that the yoga classes we had been taking came
in handy. The term ‘downward dog’ may have had a new meaning.
Frankly, I don’t remember. I woke several hours later, head feeling
like a battered boxer down for the count, but with Warwick still in
position. I didn’t move. I concluded that we didn’t do it and
prayed that I wouldn’t throw up.”
a moment, I felt I had said too much. Guy was staring past me in the
direction of our other companions. I swiveled on my barstool and
watched Samantha wander back to us. Beyond her, though, another story
was unfolding. With intense fervor, my friend and the brooding writer
were sharing saliva. As I scrutinized their kiss, I was more taken
back by Warwick’s uncharacteristic display of public affection than
the desire to take Pedro’s place.
one word, Guy summed up my emotion. With his hand still on mine, he
squeezed, then simply said, “Ouch!”
sprawled out on the plush red sofa, gazing at the antique
harlequin money box in the display cabinet.
Samantha and Guy had shown me to our lodgings the night before, sadly
without Warwick, and my erratic sleep patterns put me in a zombielike
apartment was almost a match for our rental back in Port Macquarie. A
fusion of subdued primary colors coated the walls in the living
space, making way for bolder pigments in the bedrooms. Vintage and
modern ornaments sparked curiosity amid the classic furniture. A
glass devil dancing on one leg, a bronze cubist sculpture, and cheeky
Norman Lindsey prints celebrating old-world Eros were near perfect
matches for collectables we had at home.
renovation terms, it was “grandmother meets gay boy.” Its
welcoming décor could include a cultured old woman working on a
crossword, with her grandson seated next to her checking out male
models in Cosmopolitan. The crisp aroma of Beef Wellington,
which either might have prepared, would fill the room.
this carbon copy of our home gave me a fresh perspective on our
tastes. I couldn’t wait to hear Warwick’s view. Without him
there, I felt something was missing. Fearful thoughts that our
friendship would dissolve echoed in my head. When I needed a
companion to deal with this strange adventure, my spirit would be
void of his comfort. I wanted to hear his reassuring voice in all its
theatrical tones. I missed seeing his glossy, curly black hair and
noticing how tight those little ringlets were. I wanted to admire his
light brown skin and his alluring dark brown eyes enhanced by the
kept telling myself that I had no right to be jealous. After all, if
the shoe was on the other foot, I’d have whisked Pedro’s clothes
off him so fast he’d be in danger of a nosebleed. Even the
harlequin figurine glared at pathetic me. I closed my eyes and
focused on the events of the past day. We couldn’t have landed
ourselves in a campier setting if we tried. A saucy blonde, a gay
angel, and a set to rival any Hollywood epic. Then, within minutes, a
trip to a club with a sultry drag king. Throw in the Ziegfeld Follies
and this truly would be heaven!
cast my mind back to the beginning of this adventure. The details
seemed sketchy for a moment, even though they had happened just a few
days ago. It was like trying to remember the details of a dream from
the night before. The longer you are awake, the more the dream fades.
recalled three days ago, Warwick handed me a cup of peppermint tea he
had prepared with loving care. “You know, Mr. Incompetent is
getting you down at the moment. You need to stop waiting for your
fortunes to change. Allan, you need freedom!”
was silence. His luscious maroon lips had a point. I let his words
sink in. Here was an opportunity to not only break the monotony but
to chill out with my friend. Perhaps taste those luscious lips. It
was time to be selfish.
a world where work opportunities were limited, I was putting up with
an insecure baby boomer. He was the type of boss who came from the
“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school. No promotions meant
no hassles. Loyalty was a foreign concept, unless aimed at the
endless string of nubile under-twenty-ones he’d hire for jobs that
do I tell Mr. Incompetent? I can’t just march in there and say I’m
having a holiday!”
could see it. His assistant, Natalie, in that pink breast-hugging
jumper of hers, sitting on his desk, legs crossed, and notepad
poised. She’d carefully trace the tip of her tongue around the
shape of her mouth. I’d make my demands, standing over him, while
his downstairs stirrings would make him too self-conscious to stand
up. Natalie would have no trouble in helping me set this up, if only
I had the guts to play out my rebellious fantasies.
you could be a coward and just not show up for work. After all, your
uncle has been complaining that you’ve never visited him since he
moved away.” Warwick paused to let his words sink in. Then came his
demand. “Come on, let’s leave today!”
tended to plan every aspect of my life, not always achieving the
results I expected. So what if I didn’t arrive at work? I looked up
at Warwick who was verbally going over what to pack. My internal
argument was about to be resolved externally. We went to his bedroom
where he unzipped his favorite navy sports bag and slid open his
wardrobe. I contemplated the temperature down south. Deciding that
clothes for all types of weather might be best, I followed his lead
and charged to my own bedroom. My much-loved black suitcase was flung
onto my bed as I took pride on my first radical deed since I had
rigged my sister’s pregnancy kit to reveal a positive result.
* * *
I was snoozing, some part of my brain zeroed in on the sound of a key
jiggling around in a lock. My subconscious was spying on Warwick.
Samantha or Guy must have caught up with him to give him a key. As
the doorknob turned, I checked the room for a magazine or book,
anything to obscure the fact that I’d just woken up. Nothing. It
was time to stare at that harlequin again.
are you looking at?” asked Warwick. He strode cocksure into the
antique money box.”
went to pick it up. As with the one back home, he needed both hands
to raise it, as the nineteenth-century child who might have owned it
could never lift its weight. Its painted metal surface had become
lackluster over the years. The harlequin smirked as if keeping a
wicked secret. Maybe he was having a torrid affair with the bearded
lady? Perhaps he’d given her hair remover disguised as beauty
cream? Whatever the reason, his spirited smile intrigued me.
almost like the one you bought in New Zealand,” Warwick said.
gaze guardedly scanned the living area right before his head turned
to follow its lead. He let out a nervous sigh while numbly pointing
at various items in the room.
the…?” he mumbled.
what I said twelve hours ago,” I replied. “Come check out the
antique in the dining room.”
wandered over to a gramophone. He had one just like it back home,
which we affectionately christened Edgar. He commented in disbelief
about it having the same 78-rpm record on the platter we often
displayed—“Island in the Sun” by Harry Belafonte.
do you make of it?” he asked.
I replied. “And that’s not the half of it. There’s a laptop
with the same video-editing software I was thinking of buying, and a
video camera similar to mine. There’s even more weird stuff in our
bedrooms.” As I led him to my room, he noticed several other items
that matched the décor in our rental back home. His modern
surrealist pictures hanging in the hallway and the wood grain doors
with brass doorknobs all raised disturbed remarks. Even the kitchen
with its burnt-orange tiles and aged-ash cupboards were doing their
best to stop us from feeling homesick.
made my way to my wardrobe and presented exhibit A, a black shirt
with a Chinese collar. It didn’t button up in the middle. The
buttons were to the right of the shirt and worked their way up to a
scarlet triangular flap. This meant nothing to Warwick, but I
explained that it was like one I’d been given as a teenager. I had
a fascination with 80s new-wave bands like the Models, Deckchairs
Overboard, and Japan, so a neighbor had made it for me. Now and again
it came out to parties.
next exhibit was recognized instantly. A hand-me-down checkered
western shirt from my brother. He didn’t fit into it anymore, so
Warwick and I often took turns wearing it. A gray-and-white knitted
beanie was next on display. A friend had knitted this for me as a
gift for letting him stay over when he was in town. How it had made
its way to our modest 1970s-replica style apartment in the Limelight
Quarter stumped us both.
darted to his bedroom as I followed. His heavyset wooden bed was an
accurate match, except for the color of the lacquer. Back home it was
a deep mahogany; here it was maple. At least the Afterlife spies got
some things wrong when they decked out this place. However, his
classic black leather jacket was displayed prominently in front of
all other garments, exactly as he’d left it days ago before our
trip. As he thumbed through his much-loved attire, he uttered several
unrelated vowels before sitting on his bed.
had a whole evening to get used to it,” I said. I perched myself
next to him. “But last night when Guy and Samantha showed me
around, my head was spinning.”
else is there?”
of your pots and pans. Almost all my music collection. But to cap it
off, my digital photos are in an album in my bedroom.”
left Warwick and fetched them before jumping back on his bed. As soon
as I turned the cover, the images haunted me as much as they did the
previous night. We peered at artistic monochrome shots of chess
pieces taken for high school art class. There were family party
photos featuring childhood versions of my now married brother. Some
publicity shots from my high school play. An old lover. An old
friend. An old friend who became a lover. A photo-booth strip of my
sister and I making each other laugh.
the time we found the images of Gary’s hospital-emergency-themed
party near its back pages, Warwick recovered his composure. He placed
his hand on my knee, but I was self-conscious at how clammy I was.
Seeing these pictures again unnerved me. Had someone broken into my
home and reviewed my life by printing my photos?
Artistic wannabe? What would they have thought?
looked up and smiled. I wanted to savor his maroon lips. Their sheen
was highlighted against the claret-colored wall. I wanted to reach
behind his head and slide my fingers through his thick curly hair,
before leisurely moving his lips to mine.
astounded!” he said.
paused my daydream to compute what he’d uttered.
‘feels like home’ astounded, or unnervingly ‘what the frig’
like ‘stunned, I need answers but not jumping to conclusions’
at this stage, we have no choice but to jump to conclusions. Where
the Limelight Quarter,” he replied, blank-faced.
funny. You know what I mean.”
friend wandered to the window. I watched him, unrealistically
believing he could give me all the answers. He viewed the flourishing
garden outside before turning to me.
all seem secretive,” he said. “The only answer I seem to get from
people is the Limelight Quarter. I don’t feel we’re in danger,
choice do we have? After bonding with Guy last night, I feel pretty
guess it makes sense to find comfort in an angel. He’s the only one
who has to be a true local.”
yes; answers, no.”
I thought you’d find him sort of a geek. He’s a bit, Gomer Pyle.
When we first got here, you were admiring Samantha’s outfit and
gawking at Guy’s.”
was not much I could keep secret from Warwick.
I did at first, but you left me so I had to get to know him. In some
ways, he reminded me of what I was like when you first met me. A bit
of a lost soul. Our chat helped take my mind off this bizarre place.”
Allan, I went home with Pedro to take my mind off this bizarre
repeated phrase reverberated in my head. I stared at Warwick. He
stared back. The thought of my demise was hard enough to face, but
this version of the Afterlife with no link back to concepts favored
in religious texts made it harder to accept. There was not an
omnipotent being in sight. We had one angel surrounded by a cast from
different eras of earthbound time, going about their business with no
qualms. And still, no one wanted to elaborate.
or hell?” my friend asked.
limbo, or maybe we’re just having a weird dream?”
course, Allan, at exactly the same time.” Warwick winked at me.
maybe. Your wet dream with Pedro and my, my…”
buddy-genre dream with an angel.”
made me smile. As he looked out at the garden again, a more
believable explanation came to me.
maybe I’m just in a coma, and somewhere near my hospital bed,
you’re talking to me, trying to wake me up.”
if I am talking to you from your hospital bed, how will I know you
can hear me?”
Warwick, I’m wiggling my toes.”
friend turned to see me lift my legs and shake both feet.
what if you’re covered by a blanket, and I can’t notice your
be silly. You’d notice my toes wiggling under the covers.”
there’s a serving tray or a hospital chart on the sheets?”
thrashed my legs more violently, just in case there was some truth in
you’re not in a coma.”
can you be sure?”
from my point of view, I might be the one in a coma.”
legs stopped kicking.
either way we should keep conversing, so no one ends up pulling the
plug from our life support.”
chill ran up my spine. I looked past my friend to glimpse the garden
outside. It flourished with an assortment of trees and bushes, all
leafy and in full bloom. Dark purple flowers blossomed in several
makeshift pots, welcoming visitors who wandered along the brick
pathway leading to the building. I pictured a lion and a lamb taking
in the scent of the buds before regarding each other with kindness
and lying on the grass. As serene as this thought was, it did little
to pacify me. Warwick came back to the bed and sat beside me.
going to be a lot to get used to from now on,” he said.
nodded. “If that’s the case, Warwick, I have something else for
us to get used to.” I raced to my bedroom, grabbed a makeshift
bound manuscript, and returned. “This is Pedro’s script. There’s
a copy for you in my room as well.”
team of gangsters trying to outwit each other. One of them wants to
become a partner in a lucrative moonshine business. You’re playing
the head gangster’s moll.”
looked as if our landlord had just burst in for a surprise
okay. I always pictured myself as RuPaul. So what else do we need to
get used to?”
read through the first few pages last night before going to bed.” I
thumbed through the script to show him the page I was up to. “This
morning, while I was getting dressed in front of the mirror, I
recited those lines.”
mean with the script in your hands?”
I read this once last night. Today, I remembered the lines as clearly
as if I was reading them off the page.”
only you could’ve done that with our theater society back home.”
Warwick was right. I usually paraphrased and was grateful if the
director didn’t mind. “What’s Pedro like as a wordsmith?”
play is corny as all hell, but hopefully it’s meant to be. What’s
Pedro like as a lover?”
a two-star rating out of five. His equipment reminds me of a turtle
retreating into its shell.”
could always coax it back out with a lettuce leaf,” I replied. I
knew this would be territory Warwick wouldn’t be keen to revisit.
“So was he devoid of passion?”
he’s passionate, but not in the bedroom. Foreplay is A-plus, but
coming up with the goods, C-minus.”
bit like his script. What do you make of Samantha? Simply sex kitten,
or is there more to her?”
she’s definitely in charge around here. At least she is with the
people we’ve met. I think there’s a side of her we’ve yet to
discover. What about Guy? Self-doubting angel or mystery man?”
definitely something mysterious about him. I’ve found out a lot.
He’s more open when he has a few drinks, and somehow more
attractive as well. Or maybe he just gets more attractive when I’ve
had a few. There was a revelation in our discussion at the bar.”
explains his lack of confidence.”
he tries to mask that, but it results in him looking uptight.”
smiled, soon becoming absorbed in our own private thoughts. The way
friends do when they know each other well enough to just be still. I
mused over the Roman gladiator I’d been admiring the day before.
How interesting it would be to chat with him about his life.
placed his hand on mine. I felt coy and prayed I wasn’t blushing. I
reached over with my other hand and placed it on top. He wriggled his
hand, sliding it away. My heart sank, surprising me. Had I
overstepped the mark? He picked up his script and flicked through the
do you play?” he asked.
play Mr. Money, the gangster who’s trying to muscle in on Pedro’s
empire. He plays the lead, Mr. Death.” For a moment, I considered
whether to ask my next question, but it fell out of my mouth of its
own accord. “Do you think you’ll revisit Pedro, in the biblical
if I’m desperate. Who knows, maybe you can find a way to
light his fire?”
idea didn’t entice me to the extent it had the day before. For the
rest of the afternoon, we retired to the lounge and learned our
lines. One reading pretty much did the trick, but between scenes, my
private thoughts became fixated on my overdue romance. Maybe his
interlude with Pedro was my wake-up call? Memories of the last few
days on earth were flooding back. My mood had been similar just
before our visit to Uncle Bryant. Like some lost puppy dog on a busy
road, too scared to make a move in any direction, hoping someone
would come and claim me.
usually wasn’t keen to visit family when I wanted a proper break,
but Warwick felt I had to reconnect with my mob before we spent time
alone. If truth be known, he could have suggested anything by that
stage, and I would have blindly followed to avoid routine. A flight
on a space shuttle? Sure! I’ll sell my siblings for the tickets.
Bryant was one of the more blessed members of our family, having won
a large amount of money with a lottery ticket given to him for his
birthday just three years prior. After the win, he chose an upmarket
relocation. Why a bachelor of his vintage needed a penthouse was
beyond our family’s understanding, except maybe to fuel his
addiction to clutter.
smell of musty books permeated the living area. There were piles of
them on makeshift bookshelves, of which about half of them my uncle
admitted he hadn’t read. He always claimed he had some obscure job
to do around the apartment that prevented him from sitting still and
reading. But it never stopped him trawling through secondhand
else, this décor would look appropriate in an attic. Old board games
and train sets I’d swear had never been played with. Archival
documents stacked on top of an early color telly that stood proudly
on its own wooden legs. A 1960s portable record player sat with its
lid open, playing the LP of an AM-radio-inspired soft-rock band.
didn’t want to look too closely at the cornices in case there were
insects trapped in spider webs, begging to be devoured just to escape
the sight of this dust trap.
were also five cats, Misty, Fred, Lipton, Sam, and Pike, and one
goldfish he forgot to name. My uncle often had to replace his
goldfish if he overlooked feeding the cats, but fortunately his cats
were now too old to climb onto the shelf where this new fish looked
out at the world.
other notable newcomer in Uncle Bryant’s apartment was an elderly
woman elegantly poised on the tan upholstered sofa. She was
introduced as Pamela, the retired poet. Pamela lived in a small flat
downstairs and often visited for company. In front of her was half a
cup of tea and the remains of a slice of homemade carrot cake.
long are you planning on staying?” asked my uncle. He always
claimed guests are like fish. They go off after three days.
long,” Warwick replied. “Allan has this odd desire to visit
It’s a country town with its own miniature Melbourne in the CBD.
You moved to Port Macquarie! Aren’t you sick of small towns?”
came to my rescue. “But there’s a sense of the creative in
Adelaide.” Uncle Bryant lifted his head and passively looked to the
ceiling. “Oh sweetheart, I know that look. Just because I don’t
agree with you doesn’t mean that you’ll ration our hanky-panky.”
I wouldn’t survive. I’m more of an Errol Flynn than a—”
let’s not go there,” I said. “Now my other choice is Hobart.
We’ve never been there.” Luckily neither had our hosts, so no
debate was entered into. “We were wondering if we could leave the
car here, fly over, and come back later.”
I have a spare car space. Pamela insists on driving me everywhere.”
tell them where your car is.”
uncle hesitated, then informed us that he sold his trusty old Ford
tell them why you sold it.” This time no reply, so Pamela filled us
in. “He can’t see.”
not very well.”
can see what I need to see!”
then mouthed the words “license renewal,” shaking her head. The
problem was, my uncle was old-school. He came from a generation that
would rather die than wear glasses.
affectionate banter entertained us for the rest of the evening.
Between cups of tea and slices of carrot cake, we heard all about
Bryant and Pamela’s love in bloom. They first met in the elevator,
comparing groceries and chitchatting about prices. Pamela had bought
three T-bone steaks on special, but my uncle still felt she was
ripped off. He recommended his little Greek butcher just down the
road a few blocks, next to the funeral home. The retired poet
shrieked in horror at the cost of Bryant’s leg of lamb and swore
with hand on heart that her Polish butcher was cheaper. And so began
a romance. Taking turns to cook meals, it was my uncle’s honeyed
carrots that initiated the courtship. One taste and she was under his
listened to their story, glancing at each other with wry smiles as
each absurd twist of their culinary courtship unfolded. Maybe there
was a lesson to be learned from them? Maybe food was our
missing sensual ingredient? I made a mental note to rush to the
supermarket once we arrived in Hobart.
continued through dinner, ironically take-away. In that time, Pamela
graced us with a few recitals including “Ode to Honey Dipped
Carrot,” “T-Bone Teaser,” and “The Love Butcher.” The
latter was ripe for a theater restaurant, with dubious references to
rump steak and marinated heart. It was soon after this rendition that
she dropped the “clanger.”
me, it felt like the sky had fallen. It tumbled so effortlessly from
her tongue, it simulated polite conversation. There was no
consumption of alcohol to blame for this error in judgment.