I wrote a short story in the spirit of both my book Baby, You Are My Religion and Valentine’s Day for this month’s blog. Happy Valentines’ month. <3 Marie
She remembered that is what it had said, “To my funny, queer valentine.” She had thought then, as she squatted on the toilet at the If Club in downtown Los Angeles, 1963, trying to read the graffiti in front of her that yes, that is what it said. She thought to herself, Shirl, that is some graffiti. It read, “To my funny, queer valentine: I’ll miss you. I’ll always miss you.” Shirl could hear in the background Lesley Gore singing her new hit, “It’s My Party.”
What the hell Shirl thought. What kind of song was that to play tonight of all nights, Valentine’s Day? C’mon, she thought, getting up and using the two squares of toilet paper allotted to those entering the bathroom. She could barely wipe herself. She dropped the paper in the john and flushed. She had a pen behind her ear and she drew a heart above the word “valentine” as someone knocked on the door.
“Coming!” she yelled back, sliding her pen behind her ear and easing herself out of the bathroom and the world of the club. She unrolled her cigarette pack from her T-shirt sleeve and stuck a cigarette behind the ear without the pen, and re-rolled the pack up her sleeve. It was a performance, and she was good at it. She lit the cigarette and blew an expert smoke ring.
Bingo! At the jukebox, baby!
She saw Twyla, beehive, red lips, full skirt– Shirl could just imagine sliding her hand under that skirt….
Nope, too late. Her butch competition, Tex, was already lighting Twyla’s cigarette.
Shit. She took another drag and walked slowly down the gauntlet of the bar. She was a king here. She didn’t need to “Cry if I want to,” along with Lesley’s song. Besides that song was ending. The deejay segued into Elvis’ oldie-but-goodie, “Heartbreak Hotel.” Really? Shirl could not believe there was a less romantic playlist anywhere in the city.
She leaned on the bar and nodded to her friend, Ru, and gave a thumbs up. Ru came by with Shirl’s regular drink, Lucky Lager. Luck be a lady, Shirl thought. She was headed to the deejay to request the Sinatra tune.
She hooked her thumb in the neck of the beer bottle, moved past the pool table, and then stopped. There was a deuce with two femmes -– no butches around—and the two femmes laughing. Shirl swaggered over, picked up a chair, spun it around and straddled it, dragging on her cigarette.
“Hey, which of you delectable babes want to be my valentine tonight?” Shirl asked.
They both eyed her. “We’re not from Los Angeles,” the brunette said. “We’re from Indio. We’re visiting.”
“Indio. Dates. Date shakes,’ Shirl said. “I know it.”
“You do?” said the redhead.
Shirl could see that the brunette’s eyes were wandering around the bar. Shirl focused her attention on the redhead. Shirl realized the song had changed to Love Me Tender.
Finally, a song she could ask a girl to dance to. “Wanna dance?” Shirl raised her eyebrows at the redhead.
“I do love this song,” said the redhead. “But I should be honest and tell you I don’t date girls. I’m just here with my friend. You know, moral support.”
“On Valentine’s Day? You’re here with a friend?” Shirl paused. “How nice of you.”
“I know,” Red smiled.
“Cigarette?’ Shirl offered, and leaned in to light it. She could smell Red’s Evening in Paris perfume.
“But a dance wouldn’t hurt – if you really don’t mind that, you know, I don’t like girls,” said Red.
Shirl stood up, slipped the chair around and offered her hand. They both put their cigarettes in the table’s ashtray; the smoke from the two cigarettes swirled up together into the dusky If Club air. Shirl took the girl into her arms.
Funny, how valentines start, Shirl thought now. Queer ones could lead to a lifetime.
And it had, Shirl thought now fifty years after that Valentine’s night. She sat here holding the hand of that redheaded woman who stole her heart. Today that redhead didn’t know who Shirl was, but she might tomorrow. And that was enough.
Enough to make any day– Valentine’s Day. <3
BIO: Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University; and a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.