GlitterShip

An LGBTQ Science Fiction & Fantasy podcast

Episode #49 — “Granny Death and the Drag King of London” by A.J. Fitzwater

Download this episode (right click and save)

And here’s the RSS feed: http://glittership.podbean.com/feed/

 

Episode 49 is part of the Autumn 2017 / Winter 2018 double issue!
“Granny Death and the Drag King of London” is a GLITTERSHIP ORIGINAL.

Support GlitterShip by picking up your copy here: http://www.glittership.com/buy/

 

 

Granny Death and the Drag King of London

By

A.J. Fitzwater

    

Monday, November 25, 1991.

Lacey James had been working for Redpath Catering for three months when Freddie Mercury died.

“Fuck,” she mouthed around her fist and bit harder into her numb flesh. The news was hours old, but still her oesophagus made odd wheezy hiccups, and she couldn’t swallow past the perpetual lump of granite in her chest. “Fuck fuck fuck.”

All going terrible, the weird black sparkles that invaded her vision at a whiff of death would arrive soon, the awful memories of helping nurse Stevie and Toad would nail her, or the creepy old lady that haunted funerals on her catering beat would turn up. Or all at once.

Kitty. Stevie. Gin-Gin. Toad. Paulette. Manil. Now Freddie. Not another one. Not Freddie. No. Hold it together. Big bois don’t cry.

 

[Full transcript after the cut]

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 49 for February 13, 2018. This is your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to be sharing this story with you.

I’m sorry that it’s been so long since I last brought you any fiction—to make it up to you, this episode is part of a double issue, which means that there are six originals and six reprints coming your way as quickly as I can get them out for you.

I would also like to officially welcome Nibedita Sen as GlitterShip’s official assistant editor. She will be helping out with keeping the Ship running smoothly… and hopefully more on time than it has been in the past.


Today we have a poem and a GlitterShip original for you. The poem is “Seven Handy Ideas for Algorithmic Shapeshifting,” by Bogi Takács read by Bogi eirself.

Bogi Takács is a Hungarian Jewish agender trans person currently living in the US as a resident alien. Eir speculative fiction, poetry and nonfiction have been published in a variety of venues like Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons and podcast on Glittership, among others. You can follow Bogi on Twitter, Instagram and Patreon, or visit eir website at www.prezzey.net. Bogi also recently edited Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction 2016, for Lethe Press.


Seven Handy Ideas for Algorithmic Shapeshifting

by Bogi Takács

 

Try it now guaranteed enjoyment or your money back!

Loss of life not covered under the terms of the user agreement.

The classic original: Shapeshift to a surface color the inverse of your environment [reverse chameleon]

To confuse people: Shapeshift to duplicate a nearby object, then change as others move you around [pulse in rhythm / undulate / who turned the sound off]

For a drinking game: Shapeshift into a weasel for 5 seconds whenever someone drinks a stout [some puns deserve to remain obscure] [mind: wildlife needs to be careful around humans]

To make a somewhat mangled political statement: Shapeshift into an object whose possession is illegal in the state and/or country you are entering [no human is illegal] [weaponize your thoughts / fall under export restrictions] [make sure to read the small print]

To receive blessings: Shapeshift into a monk when in the 500 m radius of a Catholic church, respond to Laudetur [nunc et in æternum – practice] [works well in combination with previous]

For the trickster types: Shapeshift into a set of food items, then change back to your original shape as the first person attempts to eat you [do not change back] [change back after you passed through the alimentary canal / the plumbing / all water returns to the sea]

To satisfy extreme curiosity:
Shapeshift into a cis person, at random intervals of time. Cry for 5 minutes. Change back [how did that feel?]

 

 


 

The GlitterShip original short story is “Granny Death and the Drag King of London” by A.J. Fitzwater, also read by the author.

Amanda Fitzwater is a dragon wearing a human meat suit from Christchurch, New Zealand. A graduate of Clarion 2014, she’s had stories published in Shimmer Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and in Paper Road Press’s “At The Edge” anthology. She also has stories coming soon at Kaleidotrope and PodCastle. As a narrator, her voice has been heard across the Escape Artists Network, on Redstone SF, and Interzone. She tweets under her penname as @AJFitzwater

There is a content warning for slurs, homophobia and a lot discussion of AIDS deaths.


 

Granny Death and the Drag King of London

By

A.J. Fitzwater

 

Monday, November 25, 1991.

 

Lacey James had been working for Redpath Catering for three months when Freddie Mercury died.

“Fuck,” she mouthed around her fist and bit harder into her numb flesh. The news was hours old, but still her esophagus made odd wheezy hiccups, and she couldn’t swallow past the perpetual lump of granite in her chest. “Fuck fuck fuck.”

All going terrible, the weird black sparkles that invaded her vision at a whiff of death would arrive soon, the awful memories of helping nurse Stevie and Toad would nail her, or the creepy old lady that haunted funerals on her catering beat would turn up. Or all at once.

Kitty. Stevie. Gin-Gin. Toad. Paulette. Manil. Now Freddie. Not another one. Not Freddie. No. Hold it together. Big bois don’t cry.

The brick wall of the east end church (where the hell am I today?) didn’t do its job of holding her up and she slumped behind the rubbish skip. She didn’t care if that bastard Rocko docked her pay for a wet and dirty uniform. She didn’t care about the latest job rejection letter crumpled in her pocket. She didn’t care if the cold bricks made her back seize up; there’d be no sleep tonight.

The back door pinged on its spring-hinge, banging off the scabby handrail, and Lacey sprang to her feet.

“Oi!” Rocko Redpath barked, all six foot two of his dirty blondness. “How long does it take one to take out the rubbish. Move one’s dyke arse.”

Not a dyke, arsehole.

Lacey let her square ragged nails do the work on her palms.

“Coming.”

“You better be.”

The stagnant scent of cabbage and wine biscuits gusted out as the door banged shut.

Why do I have to keep putting up with this git? Because I can’t get a serious job in this town. No one wants a dyke import. Loser.

Lacey knuckled her dry eyes and straightened her ill-fitting jacket best she could. The darts under the arms made it too tight across the chest even though she’d bound up with a fresh Ace bandage that morning.

Come on, loser. Be the best king Freddie’d want you to be.

Inside, the strange blast of cold concrete and oven heat sunk claws into Lacey’s flesh. She bit her lip hard to hold back another dry heave sob. Breathing deeply sometimes delayed the black sparkles. But this was a funeral. They were bound to come.

Stainless steel clanged. Ovens whooped. Crockery clattered. Scones hunkered everywhere. Girls in too tight skirts bickered with too young chefs in too skinny pants.

Rocko Redpath lorded over it all. Redpath sounded like a lad but he dressed Saint Pauls, pretending he was James Bond on a Maxwell Smart budget.

“Jesus, you kiwis are all so bloody lazy.” He sneered, the perfect villain. “What’s the matter, Lace? Who took a dump in your cornflakes?”

Only my friends call me Lace, arsehole.

“Got the news a friend died,” she mumbled as she swung towards the door with a tray of finger sandwiches.

Was that a flinch from Rocko?

“Aww, poor widdle Wace all boo hoo. You gonna cry, widdle girl?” He clicked his fingers in front of her face, blocking her path, sunshine breaking across his craggy, broken-nose face. “Wait, wait. I think I heard it on the news. That rock star fag you like. That who you mean?”

That…feeling. A tickle on the back of her neck; it was how she imagined if the black sparkles were made flesh. All jokes about gaydars aside, she was one hundred percent dead on (dead. on) at picking them. She knew some closeted gay guys had massive internalized issues, but Rocko?

One of the girls whipping cream flinched, her pink mouth popping open in shock. “But Freddie only announced two days ago…”

Rocko snapped his fingers in her direction and pointed, finger quivering slightly. “Quiet. Lace. That homo with the mo. That who you cut up about?”

Shut up I need this job shut up. Good girls don’t get into fights.

“Ah forget it. One less virulent motherfucker clogging up the NHS.” Rocko flipped a hand. Lacey flinched away. Rocko’s eyes were red like he was on another bender. “Do yer job. Go say hello to your favorite funeral-loving geriatric.”

“What?”

“Eff-day Granny-yay,” Rocko stage whispered as he whisked aside dramatically and held the door open.

Fuck. Now this. Granny Death.

Parishioners were doddering into the hall while bored kids played in the dusty blue velvet curtains. Ancient radiant heaters fizzed and popped, and Lacey dodged along the walls from cold to heat. She needed a new pair of brogues as desperately as she needed a haircut, but neither was in her next pay day.

The black sparkles arrived. The languor of death clung tight to church walls, its nails scraping along the gravel lodged in her chest like on a blackboard.

Freddie Freddie Freddie’s dead that fucking virus who’s next you’s next DEAD.

Lacey swung with the sandwich tray through waves of evil-smelling olds. Sure enough, there she was in all her silver coiffed, green-pink-cream-yellow floral glory. The scent of lavender smacked Lacey in the face clear across the hall.

Fucking Granny Death. An emotional vampire. An ever moving shark in necrophiliac waters. She was worse than the front page of The Sun.

“Excuse me, dear. Could you tell me where the powder room is please?”

Fucking hell!

She was Right There. Her face wrinkled by a smile and expectation, but still oddly smooth. Her eyes weren’t blue like Lacey had expected but a very light green.

God, I spaced out again. Concentrate. They’ll send you right back to the loony bin.

“Umm.” Where it always is in these cold concrete pits of 1950s hell, you creepy old bat. “Down that ramp by the kitchen, then straight ahead.”

“Thank you, dear.”

Granny Death’s walking stick thumped a death march on the heel-scarred floor.

Lacey bit her free fist again, squeezing her eyes shut. They made a liquid pop when she opened them. The black sparkles parted just enough.

In between the strands of perfectly set silver hair on the back of Granny Death’s head, a gold eye stared out at Lacey, bloodshot, like it had been crying.

What the…?! That’s it. They said this is what happens to girls who wear too much black. I’ve got that fucking virus and it’s made me batshit.

The idea of some loony old lollypop lady going round churches scaring the beejus out of mourners weighed heavy.

If she turned up at Freddie’s funeral, I fucking swear…

The stench of ammonia and cheap soap hit Lacey full in the face as she pushed into the ladies toilets.

Granny Death leaned against the cracked sink, hands folded primly before her.

“Well, this is interesting,” she said.

“What?” Lacey pulled up short. The finality of the door boom sealed her in.

Oh shit. What if she’s some sort of serial killer?

“You can See.”

“What?”

Granny Death sighed and rolled her eyes. Lacey shuddered, imagining that third eye doing the same. “Come now, dear. I know you’re not stupid. I don’t have all the time in the world. There are other funerals to get to today. What did you See?”

Freddie, help me. That fucking virus is eating my brain.

“Uh. I get black sparkles,” Lacey stammered, wriggling her fingers beside her temples. “But you…you’ve got an eye in the back of your head.”

“Hmm.”

Granny Death’s stillness disturbed Lacey.

Come on, this is absurd!

“What do you mean ‘hmm’?” she demanded, hands on hips in an attempt to make herself bigger. “You have an eye in the back of your head, lady!”

“I mean ‘hmm’ because usually they see horns—” Granny Death twiddled her fingers above her head. “—or hooves. Or wings. Sometimes just bloody stumps of wings, depending.”

“On what?” Lacey glanced behind her, but no one came in.

No rampaging horde of hell beasts?

Granny Death chuckled as if she could hear the noise constantly taking up space in Lacey’s head. “Whatever they gods pleases them. Whatever they think lurks under the skin of a harmless old lady.”

Lacey backed up two steps. “Lady, there is no god in this world if AIDS exists. There’s an explanation for everything. I’m having a meltdown coz it’s a bad day. You don’t seem harmless to me. What are you? What’s with all the funerals?”

“Hmm. So you’ve seen me before.” Granny Death stroked a beard that wasn’t there.

“Damn right. I see you stuffing sandwiches in your handbag at least twice a week.” Now it was Lacey’s turn to fold her arms, but it didn’t have quite the same effect as Granny Death’s quiet poise. “Is this how you get your jollies? Knocking off the catering staff, scaring them into not reporting you to the police?”

Granny Death didn’t stare at Lacey like she imagined a whacko would size up their prey.

“You have questions. You deserve answers.” Granny Death scooped up her walking stick and took an assured step towards towards Lacey. “I take the sandwiches because I like them. No, I don’t like scaring people. Funerals are hard enough places as they are. And people who See—” Granny Death scratched the back of her head. “—do so because they are close to the end of the line.”

Oh god, I do have that fucking virus.

Despite her tiny stature, Granny Death came face to face with Lacey. She continued: “You have lost someone very dear to you recently. That agony slices through The Templace. We feel those cuts.”

Lacey flinched, but Granny Death didn’t pat her on the shoulder awkwardly in comfort. She didn’t even say she was sorry.

What’s the point of saying you’re sorry to the bereaved, anyway?

The black danced close around Lacey’s vision again.

Granny Death nodded. “When you’re ready for the full truth, we’ll be ready for you. We’ll find you. We need more good people.”

Granny Death pushed out through the toilet door, her lavender scent obscuring the dankness.

“Wait!” Lacey called. “Who is this ‘we’ you speak of?”

The third eye winked, and Granny Death glanced back. She didn’t smile or grimace, sneer or raise her eyebrows.

“Death,” came her quiet reply. “I work for the entity you know as Death.”

 

 

Tuesday, November 26, 1991.

 

Even the tube couldn’t lull Lacey into a desperate rest.

Calling in sick allowed Rocko a hysteria-tinged rant about lazy kiwi dykes. The tea-bags her flatmates had left for her—what she had stolen from the Redpath pantries had run out—gave her no sense of comradeship. Throwing the letter from Gore, New Zealand unopened in the rubbish extended none of the usual satisfaction. Wrapping herself around a hot water bottle in her dank Hackney flat didn’t bring any comfort. The impossible backwards lean, open lips, and microphone as extension of self of her Queen: Live at Wembley poster was a constant reminder.

I’ll never see darling Freddie live, see him alive, now. I’m two years too late. Did you know way back when, dear Freddie? Did you have that fucking alien in your brain, and you were just ignoring it? Don’t look don’t look don’t look don’t look death in the eye.

The crowd on the tube did their best to ignore the girl in a cheap suit, though her pride and joy was the only thing holding her together. The granite lump in her chest grew too large, the mountain of its pressure almost choking her. The younger ones eyed the AIDS posters like they’d leap out and bite them.

Kitty. Stevie. Gin-Gin. Toad. Paulette. Manil. All Gone. All invaded. All stats. Maybe I picked it up off the shit piss blood vomit. Maybe it’s been dormant in my mattress all this time.

She’d had no experience in nursing, but she did her best when the families of her friends shut their doors, ignoring their wasting away until it was time to play the magnanimous heroes and return their soul to where it didn’t want to be.  

A strange thought grabbed her: Had Granny been there? Had she witnessed?

A too skinny guy in a too big trench coat coughed, and Lacey swore everyone in the tube car flinched.

Never going to eat going to die emaciated and covered in lesions never going to fuck again. Would Granny Death come and laugh at my funeral?

She’d be the only one I’d want there.

Where had that come from?

Logan Place would now be packed with, but a crowd meant touching. A crowd meant all new sorts of pain, a public display of grief she couldn’t face yet.

Old Compton Street felt the safest place to be. The girls there knew when to touch and when to not. It would be a shitter of a wake, but at least she could bum free alcohol off Blue.

Someone behind her barked a laugh just like Rocko’s and she had to turn to check it wasn’t him. He’d been his usual self on the phone, but his nastiness had sounded forced. Judging tone of voice, pitch, weight of the words had been a skill she’d honed over her years to avoid the knife tip slipping under her ribs.

Questions. Granny said she had the answers. What a load of horse shit. No one has answers to anything. Not a yes for a good job. Not to this virus.

“STOP WHINING,” said her mother, thousands of miles and years ago. “Why can’t you just wear a dress like all good little girls? You’d look so much prettier.”

I don’t want to be pretty. I want to be handsome.

The walk from King’s Cross looked the same. The tourists, the red buses, the yuppies in their Savile Row suits, the casuals in their too clean Adidas trackies yelling slurs at the too tired girls in their big wigs and small skirts. Some caring Soho record store blared out Bohemian Rhapsody. Street lights flickered up, too bright for the street, too dim for the faces.

How can you all carry on like nothing has changed?

It had taken Lacey an entire year to work up the gumption to walk back on to Old Compton Street after a disastrous first visit to the Pembroke in Earls Court. Even three years on she often had to stop and take a moment to check if she was allowed on the street, but women in suits or ripped jeans and plaid either ignored her or offered small up-nods.

Lacey shivered, resisting the urge to touch-check the mascara on her upper lip and sideburns. Her chest binding and suit were alright, but just alright. She didn’t have the money to keep up with Soho.

I like my suit. My suit likes me.

The door to The Belle Jar was propped open. Lacey watched a pair of kings enter the black maw before working up the courage to approach. Flipper sat inside the stairs on a slashed up chair, licking closed a thin rollie. The muscled bouncer stood up when she saw Lacey, but didn’t offer a hand.

The girls round here knew how things went.

“Fucking sucks, man,” Flipper grunted, her blue eyes more steel than sea.

“Tell me about it,” Lacey sighed.

“You’re taking it well.” Flipper undid the two buttons of her Sonny Crockett jacket, then did them back up.

Lacey shrugged.

“You want in? Blue says no cover charge tonight and tomorrow.”

“Good of her. Might ask for a shift.”

“Yeah. The girls have been crying into their Midoris since the news broke. It’s like a fucking morgue in there.” Flipper offered Lacey a drag of her cigarette, but Lacey shook her head. More down-in-the-mouth kings, queens, femmes, and butches passed by (just for once all moving in the same direction; marching to or from death?). Flipper blew out a long trail of smoke. “Funeral is tomorrow. Private thing.”

“Yeah, saw that on the news.” Lacey couldn’t look at Flipper in the eye. The big girl had tears forming (no no don’t please fuck what do I do).

Lacey barrelled down the stairs. The sticky-sweet stench of years of liquor trod into the carpet, sweaty eye shadow, weed, and clove cigarettes rose up to greet her. Bronski Beat throbbed gently from the speakers. Girls lounged over every upright surface, too many glasses scattered across table and bar top.

None of them were anywhere near old enough to be Granny.

Have you ever seen an old drag queen? An old dyke? Where do they go?

Two shot glasses banged on the bar.

“How the fuck is Maggie Thatcher still alive, and Freddie Mercury isn’t,” growled Blue, sloshing tequila.

Lacey accepted the offering without complaint despite her bad relationship with tequila.

How is anyone alive while Freddie isn’t?

“We only just get the country back from the old witch, now this.” Lacey tried on a joke for size.

“God fuck the Iron Lady,” Blue growled.

They tugged the bottoms of their waistcoats, saluted with their glasses, and slammed.

“Next one you’ll have to pay for, darlin’,” Blue said after they coughed it down.

“Don’t worry. I ‘spect tonight will be easy selling the top shelf.” Lacey took a long hard look around the bar. It was already too full. When girls got all up in their liquor, tears and fists tended to fly.

“Great, we’re short-handed. I’ll give you six percent, cause I’m feelin’ generous.” Blue slid a glass of water towards Lacey.

“Ten.” Lacey grimaced at the DJ who had just put on Adam Ant. It was too early for Adam Ant. No one got up to dance. Lacey gave the DJ the fingers.

“Seven and a half. Final offer.”

“Tally carries over if I don’t use it all tonight.”

The DJ gave Lacey the fingers back and lit a cigarette.

Blue sighed. “Fine.”

“Tell that dick to play better music.”

“Oh god, shut up,” slurred some girl at the bar with bright red lipstick. “I happen to like Adam Ant.”

“Lacey. Drop it,” Blue said in a low voice. “Go sell something to table five. They’ve got dosh.”

The lipstick girl’s top lip curled up and she whispered something to her friend.

A flash of silver caught Lacey’s eye as someone slid onto an empty stool.

“What’s the best whiskey you would recommend?”

Lacey’s tongue went numb. “You!”

“Hello, dear.”

“Hey, Blue! You see this old bag here?” Lacey pointed at Granny Death smoothing out her gloves on the sticky bar top.

Blue gave a don’t-care shrug and turned away to serve Lipstick again. “Sure. I see her round here all the time. Her money is good as any other girl’s.”

All the time? Oh my god, not Blue no no no NO.

Lacey sat, blocking Granny’s view of the rest of the bar. “This funeral bloody well isn’t for you,” she growled.

“Perhaps not,” Granny replied. Her eye shadow was a green twenty years out of date. “But I go wherever I’m needed, and tonight I am needed here.”

Lacey leaned to get a better look at the back of Granny’s head. Sure enough, the red-rimmed gold eye blinked at her. She gestured at Blue to pour out a couple fingers of whiskey. Granny smoothed out a note, Blue pinged it into the register without comment, and made the first mark on Lacey’s tally.

Lacey drank without salute. “Come to get your jollies off a pack of miserable kings and queens, huh?”

“I get my jollies off a good cup of tea and watching Star Trek,” Granny replied, sipping delicately at her drink. “I get no joy from seeing people in pain. I’d take it all away from all you lovely dears if I could. I like your clothes. I like your faces.” Granny sighed. “It’s not fair. He was a very nice chap.”

It’s not fair.

Lacey grimaced and helped herself to another measure. She didn’t care she was drinking too fast. “Then what’s with—” She circled a hand. “—doing Death’s dirty work tonight? Freddie’s funeral is tomorrow.”

Granny dabbed her lips with a paper serviette. “Mister Bulsara does not get just one funeral, my dear. There are many funerals, big and small, happening all over the world. The unmarked ones are just as important. There’s no quality control on this particular passing. Mister Bulsara’s essence has well and truly passed through a Rift to the next dimension. A stable Rift in the Templace is simply a random, if rare, occurrence.”

Lacey rudely crunched ice through the speech. “Nice line, grandma.”

Granny placed the glass carefully on the bar. “I am no one’s grandmother, let alone anyone’s mother. This is a calling, not a job. And besides, despite what this form may allude to, I could not procreate if I wished to. Which I do not.”

Bloody hell.

“I have another, more important reason to be at this particular funeral,” Granny continued. “I am here for you.”

Lacey slid backwards off her stool, hands up. “Woah now there, whack job.”

I AM dead, I just don’t know it.

Granny sighed. “I am here with a proposition—”

“You got to be shitting me. Our age gap has to be illegal.” Lacey backed up further until she bumped into Lipstick, who cussed her out for spilling her drink.

“—of a position within our administration. Death wants you to apprentice to me. You can See me. You talk about the black sparkles. That’s a prelude to being trained to see the Rifts..”

“I said, you owe me another fucking drink, you ugly cunt!”

Hate that word hate it go on call me it again.

“And I said hold your fucking horses,” Lacey growled.

But when she turned back, Granny Death was gone. Only the prim outline of pink lipstick on her glass suggested she had even been there.

Lipstick shoved Lacey in the shoulder. “You fucking ugly dyke cunt. Replace my drink now or I fucking swear.”

“Or what?” Lacey whirled, fingernails cutting her palms.

Don’t don’t, be a good girl. Everyone’s desperate. Desperately sad, desperately drunk, desperately afraid.

Lipstick scowled. She looked just as scared as Rocko had been the day before.

“Have some common decency.” Lacey lowered her voice. “There’s a funeral going on here.”

Lipstick’s friend tugged on her arm. “Come on, not tonight.”

Lipstick shook her off. “Oh yeah? Which of these ugly trannies did us a favor and fucked off?”

Lacey’s fists ached. Heat rushed from her groin to the top of her skull.

Good girls don’t get angry anger is so ugly.

Lipstick’s friend whispered at her.

“Oh riiight. Wah wah. One less gay white man to colonize our spaces,” Lipstick spat.

“That’s it, you’re cut off,” Blue growled.

Don’t don’t I’ve got this.

“He’s not gay. He’s bisexual, like me. And Parsi. He’s from Zanzibar.”

“Wot?” Liptstick got so close Lacey could taste the sour sweetness on her breath. “Bisexual? You hiding a dick in there too?”

By now the friend was backing away, hands up, wanting no part in Lipstick’s charade. Lacey knew the taste of a bully’s fear.

“Wrong one, asshole. Bye-secks-ual.”

“You a Paki loving tranny? Is that it?” Lipstick sneered.

“You better stop,” Lacey said. There was something satisfying in the simple threat.

“Or what? Bisexual. Bullshit. You’re either with us or against us. No wonder he died. So fucking promiscuous. Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

The bar disappeared. The granite in Lacey’s chest didn’t so much as shatter as simply melt away. What she had imagined as meters-thick solid rock was nothing more than a millimeter thin shell that gave way beneath the lightest touch.

Kitty. Stevie. Gin-Gin. Toad. Paulette. Manil. Freddie.

The names became a chant, faces whirling about, grating along her knuckles, clipping the rims of her ears, the smell of antiseptics and fresh washed sheets clogging up her nostrils.

Infect. Rinse. Repeat.

The granite infected her fists, like she was attempting to build a wall one punch at a time.

“Lace.” Blue’s voice. “Hey, Lace.”

Hands on her arms. Arms across her chest.

“God damn it, Lace.” Flipper’s voice, angry, cold, annoyed, satisfied.

Lacey struggled to shake off the infecting hands, but they held tight. Lipstick stood near the stairs, a wall of girls in suits blocking her in. Blue stared the girl down, her words lost beneath the screech of stone on stone in Lacey’s head. Lipstick had a hand over her bloodied nose.

The virus is passed through the sharing of infected bodily fluids.

Someone sauntered out of the bathrooms. “Hey Blue. The condom and dam dispensers are empty,” they shouted, oblivious to the tense scene.

Flipper’s hands relaxed, and she smoothed Lacey’s hair with a sigh.

Don’t TOUCH me…

“What?” grumbled Blue. “I’ve refilled them once tonight already.”

A figure at the top of the stairs, weak twilight framing curly hair into a halo. When they turned away, a golden point of light shrunk with each step, like a train moving back up a tunnel. Doom moving in reverse.

That’s right, little virus, you better run.

 

 

Wednesday, November 27, 1991.

 

Lacey fingered the scratch down the side of her nose.

‘Tis nothing. How much of me is left under her fingernails though?

The crowd milled about Logan Place in respectful patterns. Most were sitting, waiting for something, anything. Lacey ran her fingers along the flapping letters tacked up on the fence, catching a word here or there.

I should write something let him know but I can’t I can’t what are words inadequate how could I compete.

“Hello dear.”

Granny Death blocked her way, wrinkled face scrunched up at the outpouring of love and grief.

Lacey hung her head. “I’m sorry you had to see that display last night. It wasn’t like me at all.”

“You’re not sorry, and of course it was you. That was you in that moment, the you you needed to be.” Granny Death didn’t scold. Blue had done that enough.

“I’m banned from The Belle Jar for a month,” Lacey said. “That other chick’s banned for life. She’s not going to press charges because that was her third strike. Caught her flipping coke in the bathroom. Blue assures me she threw the first bitch slap, but, well, I don’t remember. It was pretty tame by all accounts. But I did land a good one on her nose.”

“And you’re very proud of that.”

“First and last, Granny. First and last.”

But it felt GOOD. Flick of the wrist, and you’re gone baby.

Lacey looked up from her battered sneakers, raised an eyebrow. “You said you have a job for me. Some interview that was, then.”

“So you believe I am who I say I am.” Granny Death pressed a floral note in amongst the forest of words. Lacey didn’t recognize the language.

“No. Yes. I don’t know.” Lacey sighed and rubbed her eyes, catching the edge of the scratch. She licked blood off her finger. “Everything’s…weird. Heavy and light at the same time. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I’m having a dissociative break.”

“Yes, it has been a strange few days,” Granny Death replied, sounding surprised at being surprised. She pulled the shade of a tree around them and the quiet murmur dampened further.

“What do you want to believe?” Granny continued, taking out a pack of hard mints. Lacey sucked the lolly thoughtfully until the taste stung the back of her nose.

“That Freddie isn’t dead,” she said, voice as meek as if her mother stood over her.

“It doesn’t work like that,” Granny said. “We only see them to the edge of the Rift. What becomes of them after? Death doesn’t even know.”

“You make Death sound like a semi-decent kinda person,” Lacey said.

“As far as employers go, they’re better than most,” Granny said. “It’s a service someone has got to do. And the benefits aren’t all that bad. Form of your choosing, extended life span—”

“—free lunch.”

“You get to know who does the better catering,” Granny admitted.

Suddenly her eyebrows lifted.

Expecting a spectral figure in a black robe come to put her blood on the dotted line, Lacey turned to follow her gaze.

Rocko Redpath slinked through the crowd, features set in a brokenness Lacey could never have imagined his rat-like face achieving. He held the hand of a handsome muscle man.

Lacey couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.

Rocko was right in front of her.

He flinched, shuffled a little. Muscles said ‘You right, love?’

Lacey gave her boss a nod. Rocko nodded back, fumbled in his net shopping bag. A peace offering: a packet of PG Tips.

He melted into the crowd.

“So, I’m beginning to suspect I don’t just See things when it comes to Death,” Lacey said. “I knew about Rocko, and it wasn’t just gaydar. Not sure if I forgive him though.”

“You don’t have to,” Granny said. “Let time do its thing. Life has a way of surprising you.”

“Does Life have an admin division too?” Lacey shoved the packet of tea into her backpack, and scrubbed at her face with her palms. Her scratch caught again.

Pain is good. I can feel it this time.

“I presume so, but we don’t do Sunday barbeques in Hyde Park,” Granny replied, deadly serious.

“Never the twain, and all that.”

“Something like that,” Granny said.

A ripple passed through the crowd. People were returning to the house after the service. Some paparazzi called out, jostling for space.

Fucking paps.

“So, is a benefit one of those eyes in the back of your head?” Lacey asked in an undertone.

Her fingers tingled, and she felt like her body was rushing through a tunnel, rushing through all the spaces in the world at once but the meat of her brain stood stock still, sloshing up against the thin eggshell that held her inside. Asking for release.

Let me out, let me be.

“Dear.” Granny patted the air above Lacey’s hand. “We have eyes in all sorts of places.”

Together, they waited out the rest of vigil in silence. Because silence felt good.

 

 

Monday, April 20, 1992.

 

Lacey paused in her duties of handing out red ribbons, condoms, and dams to watch in wonder as Extreme stormed the Wembley Stadium stage with a hot shit rendition of ‘Keep Yourself Alive’. Seventy-two thousand people surged, thundered, cried, and laughed. It was turning out to be a hell of a funeral.

Granny Death popped up beside Lacey, one of her hideous floral scarves tied around her forehead like an aging hippy. It went well with the terrible green polyester flares, sleeveless pastel pink twin set, and pearls.

“How the hell did you get tickets!” Lacey laugh-shouted over the roar of the crowd. “This concert sold out in three hours!”

“I have a little sway here and there.” Granny clapped out of time with the music.

“What, Death is a Queen fan?”

“Something like that.”

Lacey squinted up into the glary Easter Monday sky. The weather held, actually pleasant for London temperatures, but the haze made it difficult to spot Rifts.

Granny followed her gaze. “Relax. This is a day off.”

“You? Saying relax?” Lacey made a whip-crack noise.

“Someone else is covering our territory for the day,” Granny replied, jiggling her ample hips.

That’s new.

More passers-by dug their hands into Lacey’s box of goodies. She’d have to go back for a refill soon.

Just like Blue had to keep refilling the dispensers in the bogs at the Belle Jar. Just like supplies had to topped up at the house. ‘No rubber, no loving’ had become the slogan whenever someone brought a date home to the Hackney flat. Even Blue had gone to get herself tested.

Clear. Thank the Templace, she’s all clear.

Lacey carried her own letter detailing her HIV negative position like a good luck charm in a hidden inner suit jacket pocket.

Granny followed her at a trot as she took a swing through the upper terraces, getting winks and up-nods from the odd king or butch.

“That’s nice dear,” Granny said, sipping a beer.

“What is?”

“Seeing you smile.”

“Ugh, Granny.” Lacey rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so sloppy.”

Freddie, my darling. I miss you so hard gone away gone away.

The chunk of granite in her chest orbited once. Glittering dust sanded off, softening an edge.

Rubbing the hopeful bump on the back of her head, Lacey stared hard into the white hazy sky, forcing her eyes—all of them—to stay dry.

With a gleam like the dust from the fresh edge in her chest, a Rift pondered its way open over the top of stadium.

“Granny, look!” Lacey pointed up. “That’s the biggest I’ve seen yet!”

“Well done!” Granny clapped her hands, bouncing in place. Lacey was sure the old bat would ache like buggery the next day, and she’d be fetching cups of tea and hot water bottles. “Goodness me, that’s a pretty one!”

And it was pretty, layers of blue-shot silver with sparkling black on top, the edges curled up like a smile.

Lacey nudged Granny. “He’s watching us, I swear!”

“Now you’re just being fanciful.” Granny danced off into the crowd. Her voice wafted back along with a teaser of lavender perfume. “You know the Rifts are only a one way trip.”

The Rift stayed open for the entirety of the concert, the longest Lacey had seen. Every time she looked up at the iridescent void, the Nothing that held Everything, her voice inside quelled to a quiet murmur.

Tomorrow. I’ll take my letter down to the fence at Logan Place tomorrow…

 

END


“Seven Handy Ideas for Algorithmic Shapeshifting” is copyright Bogi Takács 2018.

“Granny Death and the Drag King of London” is copyright A.J. Fitzwater 2018.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes.

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of “Smooth Stones and Empty Bones” by Bennett North.

1 Comment

  1. Too good. Glad to see LGBTQ writers doing their thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.