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LGBTQ+ Historical Fiction Sad

This story contains sensitive content

Author's Note: This story contains some images of prejudice and violence against men of an alternate sexual persuasion.

I was born in these hills near where Old Man River runs, but I always claimed that God did not complete me when I was in my mama’s belly.  As I get ready to walk these halls for the last time, I remember thinking back on all of the painful memories of my youth. My daddy telling me that I’d never become a true man.  He was right.  I never did.  But I somehow feel that I was not at fault, because the cards were stacked against me from the start. Things were left off that should have been there and I was made to feel that somehow I was at fault for it all. 

“Beau, it’s time.” The warden says as a guard opens the door to my cell.

“Yessir.” I sigh as another guard collects the empty plates of my last meal.  

“Bless him father.” The minister begins his blessing as the first guard attaches the shackles to my hands and legs. “As he begins his journey to you on this day...” 

When I went to Ito, Japan a few years ago, I heard about these folk tales about arigata meiwaku where someone does something as a favor, but it makes the situation even more inconvenient.  Stories like Visu the Woodsman who spends all his time working until a priest points out he also needs to take time to pray.  Old Visu takes things to the extremes and quits his labors to spend all his time praying.  His family starves due to his devotion to praying. I can relate to Visu as I have spent my life working for something that will not come to pass in my lifetime.  Still there are no prayers strong enough to grant what needs to pass if men like me are welcomed into the community. 

My shackles clink and rattle against the floor, I am reminded of this part of this whole lousy affair that does remind me of myself as the door opens to the execution chamber where a single fixture occupied the center of the room.  

Daddy threw me out of our home when I turned fourteen, because according to the doctor, I had neither female of male genitalia. My daddy could not accept that I would never be a complete man.  

“Beau Ruttlige, I have no idea why you are the way you are.” He could not look me in the eye as I packed my things. “I am sending you to a special home down near Little Rock. I reckon they can figure out what I can’t.” 

I remained silent until I clicked the latches on my suitcase.  Mama stood there with her hands over her eyes to hide her tears.

“I guess I’ll be moving on.” I said, lifting my suitcase off my bed. 

Mama hugged me before I walked out the door.  Daddy started up the old Ford pickup truck he used to deliver his moonshine.  

These were hard times for the hill folk back in the spring of 1932.  Without making moonshine, we surely would have starved, me and my six brothers and sisters.  

As daddy pulled out of our gravel driveway, all six of them with mama stood on the porch waving me goodbye. I was too busy wiping the tears from my eyes to wave them all goodbye.  It would be the last time I’d ever seen them.  I wrote mama a couple of times, but my letters would come back after a while with “Return to Sender” stamped across the top.  I quit writing after that.

The train stopped at Pikesville a few miles from Little Rock.  Mrs. Southernby greeted me wearing a full gingham dress and bonnet like the respectable women did back them.

“Hello Beau, I’m here to take you to St. Ignatius.” She helped me put my bag in the back of the truck before we climbed into the cab where I saw next to Henry or Hank as he liked to be called.  We drove for almost an hour over the bumpiest road I have ever traveled on until we came to this small house on top of a hill.

I would like to say that St. Ignatius reformed me, but the truth is Hank ended up teaching me about who I really was and I’m sure that if Father Bleecher knew what we did in the shed out back, he would have severely punished both of us.  Hank was a brutal man and before long, I decided it was time for me to move on.  

Three years later, I hitchhiked into Little Rock where I lived in a Hooverville for a while.  It turned out to be the closest I ever came to living in a normal home even though the walls were canvas. A couple of older ladies took a shine to me.  I did not tell them about my peculiarities. They treated me like a boy and so I acted like one to make them happy.  This lasted for almost a whole year before the cops came running in on a raid.  We all scattered like dust to the wind.  

I found this place in the seedier part of town called Vieux Temps Gay.  Lively ragtime music poured out of a player piano. Women dressed like me and men dressed like women sat at the tables talking to each other as the music filled the room.  Smartly dressed waiters brought drinks to the customers.

“May I help you?” A woman wearing a man’s suit asked as I wandered in hypnotized by the gaiety and commotion.

“I’m not sure.” I scratched my head.

“What is your name?” She smiled.

“Beau Ruttlige.” I answered, still hypnotized by everyone having such a good time.

“Our show begins in a few minutes.” She led me to an empty seat at the bar.

“Show?” 

“Yes, a drag show.” She winked as she walked away.

For the next two hours I watched as men dressed as women in fishnet stockings and short frilly dresses paraded across the tiny stage to raucous music. My heart warmed as I sipped on my drink of gin and tonic. I felt as if I had finally found my true home. 

As it turned out I had.  Monsieur Duval hired me as one of the acts in the show under the mentorship of Hugo Shaville.

“Daaaarrrrllling.” Hugo would greet me every day, “Put on this wig and this costume.  We have work to do.” 

I learned a couple of dances including the Can-Can which is a line dance that requires a lot of kicking to reveal your frilly undergarments.  

“The higher you kick, the better the tips will be.” Hugo shrugged as we practiced.

It did not take long until Hugo became a close friend.  I told him about my problem.

“Oh darling, half of the men in the show have the same thing.  There is no place for them in this world.” He explained with his high pitch laugh. “You are born either male or female.  Heaven help you if you are not quite either.” 

“Are you a…?”

“Hermaphrodite?  Darling no, but I sometimes wish I was born a woman.” He batted his long eyelashes which had become his trademark. “Stay clear of the churches around here since most of them are founded on the principle of sending us all to Hell after we dangle at the end of a rope.  Bouncy once almost got lynched by a group of them when she had the unfortunate timing of walking by when they were letting the congregation out after the service.  She is able to run fast.  That day she probably broke the speed record.” 

Now accepted as one of the girls, I had the pleasure of getting to know them on my own terms. Bouncy was one of the larger members of the show, but there was no doubt she could move fast when she had to.  Known to the world originally as Big Knute Rudding who was reputed to have carried an injured heffer on his shoulders down a hill, he was the gentest soul I had ever met.  With his large meaty fingers, he was known as an expert seamstress.  Candy Kane was another extraordinary performer as she dressed in a blood red dress and shiny red stiletto heels.  Jesse Hart was once a professional tap dancer who could electrify the stage with her dance moves.  Sometimes she would wear a formal evening gown and perform a breathtaking dance, a waltz-like number with a female member dressed in a formal tuxedo.  All in all everyone of the dancers were highly skilled at what they did and I felt an honor to be a member of the ensemble.  

Walter Kenning announced he was running for governor in the 1936 election against Junius Marion Futrell.  Known as a conservative with his roots deep in the Baptist church in the local area, he made it quite clear that he would put an end to the depravity that Governor Futrell had allowed to corrupt the state.  In a rally in Allsop Park near the Arkansas River, Kenning announced some plans that would put an end to the “hanky-panky” that was seeping into the souls of God-fearing Christians.  The crowd cheered when he left the podium chanting his name.  

“What do you do, Mr. Ruttlige?” I was asked by a pollster who had come to my door.  

“I am a dancer.” I answered, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

“What kind of dancer?” He asked, smiling.

“Male dancer.” I answered without thinking.

“I see.” He coughed, writing my answer down on the paper on his clipboard. I could tell by the look in his eye that I was a member of the opposing team. After a brief pause, he asked, “Are you planning to vote in the election?”

“I fail to see what good it will do.  Nothing ever really gets done, now does it?” I managed a smile, but it would not negate his scowl. 

Shortly after that Monsieur Duval called a meeting in Vieux Temps an hour before the show for that evening.  Sitting next to Maurice, his partner since he had opened his place ten years ago, Monsieur Duval seemed quite concerned as he looked across the room at each of us.  Clearing his throat he began, “I am holding this meeting as a precaution to each of you.  Somehow we have joined the list of those scapegoats responsible for these difficult times.  Due to our immorality and disregard for Christian values, we are now under siege from those who believe we are in league with Satan.”

Some of the performers began to mutter among themselves.  Hugo just shook and bowed his head,  muttering “We have gone through this before.” 

“I fear this zealot will stir up the good Christian citizens against us.  We have been through this before, but when they start to bring torches and other weapons, I become concerned for the safety of my performers.” He looked around the room again. “I will not blame any of you who do not wish to continue.  I understand some of you have others depending on you.  Just tender your resignation and no questions will be asked.”

He stood by the paper, but not a single person stepped forward to sign it.  After several uncomfortable minutes, he looked around yet again, “No one?  I cannot guarantee your safety, but I will support you with everything I can.”

There was a cheer that rose up as he left the room hand in hand with Maurice. 

A week later the trouble came.  Hugo stood next to me with nearly five pounds of costume jewelry hanging from his dress, neck and ears.  Bouncy was stretching his massive legs.  Jesse Hart was also stretching his legs and getting ready for a strenuous routine in the show that night when a group of men broke down the door.

“You are not supposed to be here.” Monsieur Duval rushed from the backroom only to be clubbed to the ground by a burly man with a red beard. Maurice ran to Duval’s side, but was felled by an iron pipe brought down on his head. Blood ran from his mouth and ears onto the wooden floor.

“No!” Hugo lunged for the man who had struck Maurice, but a shot rang out.  Hugo fell to his knees clutching his chest as his blood stained his evening gown.

“Oh God, no.” I yelled running to his side as Hugo slumped to the floor.  

Candy Kane took a bullet to his forehead falling backwards onto the stage.

“You devils are going straight to hell!” The man with a smoking gun announced.  

I watched in horror as one of the men carrying a torch set fire to the curtains.  Flames ran up the wall and spread like a web across the ceiling.  I ran out the stage door.  One of the men had a club, but I grabbed his arm, wrestled the club from his grip and used the weapon on him.  He grunted and fell in the alleyway next to some trash cans.  I could see the smoke already rising from the Vieux Temps. Flames burst through the windows.

"Get out!" I screamed at the top of my lungs only to be drowned out by the deafening sound of the roof as it collapsed. I did not see anyone come running out of the burning building.  A fire truck pulled up, but there was nothing they could do at this point.

During the morbid clean up, nine badly burnt bodies were recovered from the ashes.  Nine members of my adopted family were pulled out on stretchers as members of three Baptist churches in town watched the grim task.

"Aren't you one of them?" One of the church elders pointed A bony finger at me.

"Yeah he's one of them headed straight to hell!" A woman standing next to him confirmed shaking her fist at me.

I felt it was best if I moved on.  Hugo, Chancy, and Candy Kane were the first to be identified by the coroner.  I asked if I could have a few moments with their remains in private which he granted with a quick nod.

"I will get even for this, mark my words." I said grinding my teeth together. 

"Tragic as this fire was, the remains should not be buried in a Christian cemetery on sacred ground." Walter Kenning addressed the crowd in his makeshift podium at the First Baptist Cemetery. "We must protect our communities, our children from these perverts that live among us.  They, through their sins, shall inherit the Kingdom."

His words of hatred made the hairs on my neck stand up as he prettied on. I kept my hat pulled down so no one in the crowd could see my face.  Maurice walked with me still grieving the death of his lifelong partner, his hands showing the burns from his futile attempt to save him.  

He must die, I thought to myself when he finished his speech that concluded with a blessing.

Hypocrite.

I am the bear who will rid the people of the annoying gnat buzzing about their faces by dropping A boulder on the bug.  I will deliver my own brand of arigata meiwaku and rid this community of this nuisance once and for all.  I did not tell anyone about my feelings.  

Walter Kenning was tree stumping all over the state, trying to stir up the dust about how this economic depression was God's vengeance on our immortality and disregard of His word.  Lynchings began to be commonplace among members of my community.

On A rainy afternoon on the outskirts of town, I saw Walter Kenning was speaking in front of A crowd.  I could no longer hold my peace.  With a single shot-Derringer stuffed in my pocket, I stepped to face him as he stepped from the podium and dropped my boulder. He put his hand to the red spot in the middle of his forehead and fell to his knees with that maniacal grin still on his face.  One of his bodyguards cursed and grabbed me with the pistol still smoking in my hand.  Walter Kenning did not make it to the hospital before he expired.

Somehow, I was spared from the vigilante justice that lurked just outside my jailhouse window every night I was held here at the jailhouse.  Due to the serious nature of my crime, the federal marshals transported me to a federal holding area where I stayed tucked away until my trial was over.  

The annoying gnat was dead, but in my attempt to rid our community of the pest, I ended up sacrificing my own life.  My trial was over by the end of the month with a conviction for the murder of Walter Kenning.  Two days later the judge passed down my death sentence.  From there I was transported to this federal prison where I was put on Death Row with a dozen other convicts.   

The guards strap me into the chair.  I see a mirror, but I know Maurice and a couple other survivors from the fire at Vieux Temps are watching behind the two-way mirror.  

The minister makes the sign of the cross before exiting the room. His heels striking the wooden floor will most likely be the last sound I will hear in this life.  I pray it will be quick. The two guards stand on either side of the door. 

One of the guards signals to an unseen official.  My body jerks as the lethal voltage that surges through me.  I smell something burning as the world goes dark.  

April 10, 2023 15:05

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1 comment

Joel Sommers
07:51 May 28, 2023

Yeah, I loved this story. Pulling off a local accent or dialect is difficult, and this read naturally. Well done~!

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