Tiffany Murphy looks out the window of the Guess Who Tavern And Music Hall in Asheville, North Carolina, where she works as a bartender. The rain is pouring down on Haywood Road, the remnants of Hurricane Alice hitting the city as predicted. She reads the ads written on the window in shoe polish, which are from her perspective, backwards. “THGIN CIM NEPO” she reads. “7 MP SYADNOM”.
Tiffany wishes it was open mic night, but it’s not. It is, to quote the Beatles, a “stupid bloody Tuesday”, and that, coupled with the weather, means the club is D-E-A-D. She wishes she could get drunk, but drinking on the job goes against the unwritten rules of being a bartender, so she stands there in mind-numbing boredom. She looks at her watch: 9 o’clock, three hours left on her shift. If something doesn’t happen soon, she thinks, wiping down the bar, I’m going to lose my fucking mind.
“I’m taking a break,” she finally her fellow bartender, Stacey. Tiffany is insanely jealous of Stacey, a platinum blonde practically poured into a tank top and cut off blue jeans. Her own body is all elbows and odd angles, with no curves, despite three years on estrogen.
Tiffany goes into the ladies’ room, and the stall she has claimed as her own, her happy place as it were. It hasn’t always been that way. When she was first performing at the club as transgender singer/songwriter Boulder Colorado, she was almost too scared to come in here, for fear that there would be a scene and she would be banned from the club for life, if not made to register as a sex offender. But over the years, as she got to know the owners and started working here, it’s gotten a lot easier,
She pees - rather a lot, actually, she wonders if she is developing diabetes or something – while she lights up a joint of Smokey Tokey Gold, the finest marijuana grown in the Great Smokies National Park. She takes a toke, and after a few minutes begins to feel really good, so good, in fact, that she loses all track of time, and is jolted back to reality when Stacey sticks her head in the ladies’ room door.
“Tiff?” Stacey asks. “You’ve been in here a while. Everything okay?”
“I’m fine,” Tiffany answers unconvincingly, extinguishing the joint in the toilet. She straightens her dress, washes her hands, and checks her short purple hair in the mirror before emerging.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Stacey asks, as Tiffany comes back behind the bar.
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
“Something’s going on,” Stacey says, polishing a beer mug.
“No, there’s not.”
“Hey, I’ve been a bartender a lot longer than you have, and you’re showing all the signs. What can I get you?”
“You know we’re not supposed to drink on the job!”
“Says the woman who reeks of weed. What can I get you that’s non-alcoholic?”
“Now you’re just making fun of me,” Tiffany says, leaning on the bar, and watching the rain again. After a long silence, she speaks.
“Do you think I’m ever gonna have a body like yours?”
“Whoa, where’s this coming from?” Stacey replies.
“I’m just extremely jealous of your, uh, endowments.”
“You mean my boobs? Believe me, having big breasts ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. They get in the way, it’s hard to find bras and clothes in general that fit, and worst of all, people tend to just assume you’re an airhead.”
“Still, it would be nice to have some cleavage.”
“Well, I’ve heard it said that you’ll get something like the genetic females in your family have. Your mother, your sister, etc.”
“Great, they were all pretty flat chested.”
“You could always get implants, I suppose.”
“On a bartender’s salary? Yeah, right,” Tiffany says, leaning on the bar. “Damn it, I’m never gonna be passable.”
“Oh, but you are. I’ve seen guys in here hitting on you all the time.”
“Oh, great, guys. I’m not interested in guys, I’m a trans lesbian. And all the real lesbians can tell. It’s like they have radar, or a sixth sense or something. Who am I kidding, I’m just going to grow old, and die alone.”
Suddenly there is a nearby flash of lightning, and a tremendous clap of thunder, followed immediately by the sound of an explosion. The bar goes dark and quiet, the music that was playing moments before abruptly silenced.
“Shit,” Stacey says from somewhere in the pitch black bar. “Must’ve hit a transformer. Well, I guess we’ll have to close up early then. I’ll lock the front door, you get the back.”
Tiffany is about to lock the back door, when a soggy, bedraggled figure comes in from the parking lot.
“I’m sorry, but we’re just closing,” Tiffany says, trying to make out the person in the darkness.
“Is that you, Matthew Murphy?”
“No, it’s Tiffany.” Matthew is her dead name, and it sounds strange and foreign to hear somebody apply it to her. She wonders who could be using it now.
“I was told that I could find Matthew Murphy here.”
“Well there’s no one here by that name, and like I said, we’re trying to close . . . “
"It is you! Your voice always does that thing where it goes up an octave when you’re stressed out.”
“Who are you, anyway?”
“Funny that I recognize you, and you can’t place me. It’s me, Matthew, your old girlfriend, Denise.”
The voice is certainly Densie-like, and there is no reason not to believe it’s her. For a moment Tiffany is caught off guard, but she manages a quick recovery. “Please don’t use that name. I’m Tiffany, now.”
“What are you doing here, Denise? The last time I saw you, you were leaving for Arizona with some rich guy, telling me you had been planning to marry for money all along. That hurt, Denise. That hurt a lot. What do you want, anyway?”
“It didn’t work out, Matthew . . . “
“Tiffany. Not Matthew, Tiffany, Tiffany, Tiffany. Get that through your thick head. Tiffany.”
“Fine, Tiffany. I’ve come back, and I want us to start over again. I got a substantial divorce settlement, you might even say I’m loaded. Come back to me, and you can share in it. I can make you a kept man.”
“What part of ‘Tiffany’ don’t you understand? I don’t want to be a kept man. I don’t want to be any kind of man.”
“Do you want me to throw her out?” Stacey says from somewhere in the darkened bar.
“I got it, Stacey, thanks,” Tiffany replies.
“Fine,” Denise says, turning to leave. “If you change your mind, I’m at the Radisson, room 302.”
After Denise is gone, Stacey asks Tiffany about her.
“I met her right here at the Guess Who at an open mic night,” Tiffany says wistfully. “Most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on in my life. Mousy blonde hair, great legs, and her voice . . . heavenly. I told myself right then and there that I was not going to fall in love with her.”
“So what happened?”
“She started calling me, no, calling on me, to do stuff, drive her on errands, go to the movies, all sorts of stuff like that. Before I knew what had happened, I had pretty much moved in with her. We had some amazing times before she up and ditched me for that rich guy, Bornstein, Weinstein, whatever the hell his name was.”
“Did she know about Tiffany?”
“No, I pretty much kept her under wraps, hoping that if the relationship went anywhere, I wouldn’t need Tiffany.”
“Did you love her?”
“At the time? Definitely.”
“Unfair question. It’s too early to tell.”
“So what are you going to do?” Stacey says, locking the back door behind them, as they step out into the rain.
“I’m not going to the Radisson, that’s for sure.”
Tiffany awakens the next morning from a dream about money. In the dream, she had a seemingly limitless amount of cash, which she spent on a new car, a house, even a boat, which she finds really strange since she can’t even swim. It was so foreign to her waking life, of scrimping by, putting things off, of watching every penny. The dream can only have been caused by Denise’s visit the night before, but no one, no one could be well off enough to buy her back, and certainly not to make her revert to being a male. No one, she thinks, except Denise. For her, she is pretty sure she would do anything, and that worries her.
Surely, she thinks as she showers and gets dressed for work, it wouldn’t hurt to go talk to her. Maybe they could work out some kind of compromise where she could stay Tiffany. Maybe if Denise got to know Tiffany, she could learn to love and accept her.
“No!” Tiffany says loudly, slamming the front door behind her. “She broke your heart, remember? Use your head! Don’t do something fucking stupid, stupid, stupid!”
The more Tiffany tries to push the thought of Denise and her “substantial divorce settlement” away, the more it seems to stay with her. God knows she could use some money. Working as a bartender pays okay, if you add in the tips, but the city seems to get more expensive to live in every day. The monthly rent on her one bedroom apartment on the city’s west side recently went up to $1000/month, and that’s well below the Asheville average. She basically finds herself between a rock and a hard place, between living in poverty as her true self, or selling that true self out for a life of ease as a kept man. It’s not something that has ever come up in her transition before, and she finds it frustrating and confusing.
“So what did you decide?” Stacey asks her when she walks into the Guess Who to start her Wednesday night shift.
“That’s it? No ‘hello?” No ‘how are you?’ Just right for the throat?”
“Sorry, it just seems like such a fascinating problem that I want to hear more about it.”
“Well it’s not ‘fascinating’ for me, it’s a fucking pain in the ass!”
“I love it when you talk dirty,” Stacey says, positioning a new keg under one of the beer taps.
“I don’t know what to do. On the one hand the money would be a plus, but on the other I can’t see myself not being Tiffany any more. I mean, it’s who I am, who I’m meant to be. And Denise hurt me very badly when she left. Who’s to say she wouldn’t do it again?”
“Good point. If it were me, I would get the details on this ‘substantial divorce settlement’ before proceeding. Anybody could afford a room at the Radisson for a couple of nights, and still not have a lot of money.”
“So true,” Tiffany replies, chopping up limes for margaritas. “So true indeed.”
As the night progresses, Tiffany tries to do a brutal analysis of her time with Denise, to see if it would be worth restarting. She remembers the night they met, Denise in a white dress, with an expensive white guitar, singing so sweetly a song called, ironically, White Flag. How she had told herself that Denise was completely out of her league. The times – and they were often – when Denise had reached out to her when she was a psychosis fueled hot mess and needed someone to get her through the night without hurting herself. The nights they had spent in bed together watching movies, but not making love because Denise felt like it would ruin the friendship.
This is ridiculous, she thinks, the only way to settle her mind is to go see Denise and see what might come of it. Fortunately, it is another slow night at the Guess Who, so she doesn’t feel bad cutting out early.
“Hey, Stacey, I’m going to leave a little early . . .”
“A little? It’s only 7:30.”
“Family emergency, my ass. You’re going to the Radisson.”
“Yes, yes I am. The only way to move past this is to confront it head on.”
“Bad move,” Stacey says, hugging Tiffany. “But good luck.”
The Radisson is located in downtown Asheville on Woodfin Street, right off of I-240. Tiffany gets in her beat up VW bug, and pulls out of the Guess Who parking lot onto Haywood Road, headed for town, but as she reaches Louisiana Avenue, her doubts start creeping in, and she remembers all the frustrating periods of silence, when she couldn’t even get in touch with Denise, because the voicemail on Denise’s phone was “full, and [could] accept no more messages.”
Stacey is right, she thinks, this is a bad idea, so she turns left on Louisiana back toward Patton Avenue, unsure of where she is going to go, but certain it won’t be the hotel, but at Patton, she changes her mind again, and is certain that talking to Denise will be a good thing, so she turns right, and takes Patton to I-240 to the Radisson.
The lobby barely registers as Tiffany finds the elevators, gets in one, and pushes the button for the third floor, but when she gets there, she has a mini-panic attack, and takes the elevator back down to the ground floor.
No, she says, hitting the three button again, you’ve got this. Be confident and direct, and don’t let Denise talk you into something you don’t want to do.
Tiffany knocks on the door to 302, and Denise answers, wearing a short dress that Tiffany remembers from their time together. It displays a lot of leg, and those knees that Tiffany was at one time madly in love with.
“Matthew, you came!”
“Tiffany. T-I-F-F-A-N-Y. It’s like I keep telling you, Matthew is dead.”
“And like I keep telling you, I’ve got more money now than I know what to do with.”
“What did you do to Bornstein, kill him off? Am I being drawn into a web of crime and deception I will later regret?”
“Ha-ha. Nope. I just got sick of the bastard, and got a divorce. So how has life been treating you?”
“Up and down. Down, mostly, when you left, but I’ve been focusing on my transition, and so far that has helped a great deal.”
“Fair enough. But why transition? Surely it would be easier for you to just suppress your feminine urges, and live like a man?”
“I can’t explain it to you, Denise. Practically speaking, you’re right. But Tiffany is who I am, and to continue to live as a male would’ve been a lie. And I would have to say I’m happier for having transitioned.”
“So you won’t go back? Not even for this?” Denise says, pulling the dress off over her head to reveal a set of very expensive, very transparent underwear. She steps close and plants a warm, wet kiss on Tiffany, who lets out a low moan.
“Oh, yes! God, yes! I have missed you so damned much!”
“Then let’s take this rodeo to the bedroom.”
“There’s something I have to tell you,” Tiffany says between kisses, as they lie side by side on top of the covers, hands caressing each other.
“I’ve been on estrogen for about three years now, so things don’t always work down there.”
“What do you mean?” Denise asks, pulling up Tiffany’s skirt, and running her hand across Tiffany’s semi-erect penis.
“Sometimes I can’t get it up.”
“Well surely I can help with that!” Denise says, going down on Tiffany.
Fifteen minutes of frustration later, and Denise gives up. “I can’t believe this! What happened to the well hung stud you used to be?”
“I told you: estrogen.”
“I know I hurt you when I left town,” Denise says, bursting into tears. “But this is how you repay me? By becoming some sick joke of a person?”
“I am not some ‘sick joke’, Denise, I’m a woman now. I am Tiffany. And wasn’t it you who said that sex is not as important as friendship? I still love you, Denise, and would really like to have you back in my life. But only as Tiffany.”
“Just . . . go already!”
Tiffany puts her clothes back on, and leaves the hotel room, wondering if she made a mistake by coming, by making Denise confront the reality of who she is. Too late now, she thinks, riding down in the elevator with a man in a three piece suit. Too late now.
As she reaches the ground floor, her cell phone explodes into it’s Lola ringtone. It’s a number in Arizona. Could it be, she thinks, that Denise has changed her mind and wants her back? No, she tells herself, it’s probably just a coincidence. Denise changing her mind would be too much to even hope for. The relationship is well and truly over for good and forever.
“Aren’t you going to answer that?” the man in the suit says. The remark so startles her that before she can say no, she already has.
“Hello?” she says, expecting to hear some prerecorded message about extending her car warranty, or getting free diabetic supplies by mail.
“Matthew, er, Tiffany, it’s Denise. I made a mistake. I love you no matter what, and I’m willing to accept you whoever you are. All I ask is that you be patient with me. I’m new to all this transgender stuff. Won’t you please come back and let’s talk about it?”
In a heartbeat, Tiffany forgets everything bad that she went through with Denise, every unkind thought, word, and action in their relationship. It’s a whole new ball game, a clean slate, and she’s eager to get on with it.
“I’ll be right up,” she says, excitedly punching all the buttons in the elevator. “I’ll be right up!”