October 25:  Yukon Cornelius reminisces with a Sarangay

“The city rained on itself. The thunder clapped back. Lightning shaded everything it couldn’t reach. Floods of water in the street poured into the sewers. What a night. Then She walked in. She was a dame like no other. ‘Goody’ Goodknife. Seven feet tall, prime beef and pearls, and two sparkly ruby earrings that she guarded with her life. ‘Oh Yukon, these old things?  They’re only six or seven thousand years old. I didn’t even know I was wearing ‘em.’  She was lying. She always lied about her treasure. She’d told me, ‘If I ever told you the truth about what I guarded, I’d have to take your life with my goodknife.’ She’d pull it out and we’d both admire its shine in the streetlamps of the City Without a Soul. She cooed, ‘It has a sparkle all its own—like a jewel. It finds me the finest rubies in the hearts of men.’ I had no doubt Goody made fast work of anyone who tried to take her treasure.”

“Guard your hearts, ladies,” Goody told her girls tonight at the Home for Queens. “There be thieves afoot.”

I remembered our “Monster Noir” years together. Only a short time ago, it seemed: my life.  Now, here visiting Goody at the Home for Queens, it was hard not seeing her as I did twenty years ago, when we were partners in a short-lived detective agency we dubbed ‘Find the Monster’ Noir. We tried to locate pockets of Hiddens and make sure they had what they needed, that they were well and got treatment for injuries, that they survived.  It was a tightrope to walk though, finding them but not revealing them to the public.  We had to be hidden ourselves. How DO you hide a Sarangay?  “Oh, you don’t hide me,” she’d say, “you accessorize me.” Most people called her a minotaur, but she’d correct them. “Honey,” she’d look at them, eyes half-lidded, “it’s a state of mind. Minotaurs are trapped little men raging in their mazes, confused and lost. Sarangays know exactly where they’re going,” and she’d advance on them, casting a shadow, if she could, across their heads, “I’m a saran-Gay, sweetie,” with a sway, “from the House of Sugar Ridge.” She’d pull out that knife, “My horns are longer, my arms are stronger, and I’m here to conquer.” And they’d run, if they knew what was good for them.  She’d softly call out to them, “Get back to your mazes. You’re safe there.”  I’d warn her about pulling out a knife. She’d say, “I wasn’t gonna cut myself, sweetie. I promise.” She’d slip it back into its sheath under her arm. “Every good queen knows how to work a knife.”

Tonight we were a little older. Around Goody, a dozen young queens were at their make-up mirrors, shaping their noses, dusting their cheeks, savoring their Midnight Passion lipstick. They were all human, teens and young adults. They had a big performance tonight. “Ladies, you have thirty minutes,” she called out. They’d all say, “Thank you, Goody.” I remember her requiring the same response out of the people she allowed to live after catching them harassing Hiddens. After she was through with them, bruised, some broken–but alive–they all said, “Thank you, Goody.”

She looked at me across the table. “When am I gonna meet your beau? You just can’t help yourself but go for the tall ones,” she looked smug. I turned the conversation back to her, again. She said, “Oh, this is my life now, chaperoning the young ones into the fold,” she reached over and took a silk flower off one of their shoulders. “You’re not a garden party,” she told her. She looked at me, “I miss the days of skulking down alleys with you, drumming up informers, solving riddles—who was that young one?” she thought quickly. “Oh yes, a sphinx. He’s doing quite well now. I’m sure you’ve heard.”  Some Hiddens made the transition into the public easily. Others struggled. The ones who did well almost always had a skill. “A trick,” she said. “You have to have a trick—something useful. Something entertaining. It distracts them. It offsets the weirdness of you.”

All the queens came to her for a last spot check. She touched up their hair, their corsets, but finally sighing. “Well, that’s what it is! You don’t sparkle enough,” she told them all. “But I know just the thing.” She opened up a box covered in a collage of suns, moons, stars. Inside, exquisite jewelry—earrings, brooches, necklaces—glimmering with an ancient spark. The girls gasped. “Oh Goody, you have the best booty.” She smiled at me. “I do.”

She helped each of them find the perfect touch of elegance and sent them off into the next room with the small stage and the crowd of elderly queens who lived at the Home for Queens. “They usher each other, you know,” she told me. “I don’t do that much at all. The old teach the young. The young revive the old.  I’m just encouragement. I just add a little touch of something divine.” I asked her if those were the same jewels— She winked, “They’re doing nothing sitting in piles in a big cave. Here the jewels get more appreciated, meet the light, sparkle, and make someone happy. They never made anyone happy in a cave.”  She looked at me. “Oh I still guard them, but I also guard the jewels who are wearing the jewels too.  It’s the divine commission I gave myself, Yukon. To guard all the jewels I could.” The room next door erupted in applause.  She said, “Make sure they shine.”  

She invited me to watch them perform. The older queens in the audience were dressed as fine as the young queens on the stage. They beamed at every dynamic turn of a heel.  I didn’t know how many of these nursing homes for queens existed.  Perhaps Goody’s was one of the first.  “My old queens will give these ingénues a good critique afterwards. I have to stare down some of these biddies, though, when they start ripping into my girls a little too fiercely. Goody has to use the eyes. You remember the eyes, Yukon.” I almost couldn’t look at her.  She could stretch her eyes so wide, the pupil quivering inside the whites, she’d scare anyone.  “The Sarangay of Sugar Ridge berserks when she’s protective.”

Later, when the mirror lights were off but one set, and nearly all the dresses were back in their wardrobes, and most of the jewels back in their box, we sat down and shared a glass of wine. She took off her necklace and placed it in a black box. “You wore a purple bowler, Yukon. A deep purple felt bowler. I remember it. Don’t deny it. I always remember–,” she paused, “–interesting fashion choices.” She slipped off her rings. Her hands were thick and massive. She picked off the pink nails carefully, placed the bangles and the bracelets on a metal tree. She rubbed off the lipstick. “We were a good pair of detectives, weren’t we?” she asked. I told her we were. “You don’t see a lot of detectives any more…not like us. It’s all police now.” She removed the silk peony from her side, and effortlessly, for a muscled, massive bovine, slipped her sheer gown over her head without catching it on either horn. “I always felt like we were fighting for the Hiddens we found. We were advocates. I don’t see that as much in the rest of the world. I see,” she folded her gown, “law and order and right and wrong, but I don’t see justice and I don’t see understanding or empathy. And I wonder,” she sat in the chair now next to me, looking at the mirror lights, “I wonder if I’m protecting my jewels from them too.” Her face was now without makeup, her body without a dress, or jewelry.  She always said she had the body of a wrestler.  She was formidable. “I don’t know if there’s enough sarangays in the world to protect all the jewels. If I could foster them like I do queens, I would do it.” She looked at me, as if to say, I think, that she meant it and that she wanted me to know she meant it.  She reached up and touched my hair to push it back like she was fixing a queen for the stage, “You make a pretty good Goodknife yourself.”  I thanked her.  “Keep finding the jewels, Yukon, and do what you can to protect them.” Her eyes met mine, steady, warm from the last mirror lights. “Guard your heart, sweetie. There be thieves afoot.”

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