Page 12

“Oh, I know.”


* * *


Classes exit the drop period, and it’s August and her packs of scantrons and lecture after lecture five days a week. This lands her with the latest shifts, and she finds herself audience to the weirdest characters and most bizarre events that descend upon Billy’s under the cloak of night.

Her first week, she spent twenty minutes explaining to a drunk man why he couldn’t order a bratwurst and, failing that, why he couldn’t do pelvic floor exercises on top of the bar. Part of being a Brooklyn institution, August has learned, is collecting all the New York strangeness at the end of the night like a pool filter full of june bugs.

Tonight, it’s a table of men in leather dusters loudly discussing the social scandals of the local vampire fetish community. They sent back their first order of pancakes with a demand for more chocolate chips and did not take kindly to the Count Chocula joke August attempted. They’re not leaving a tip.

At the bar, there’s a drag queen fresh from a gig, sipping a milkshake, all skintight catsuit and heels, her press-on nails arranged in two neat rows of five on the counter. She watches August at the register, smoothing the ends of her pink lace front. There’s something familiar about her that August can’t seem to pin down.

“Can I get you anything else?” August asks.

The queen laughs. “A frontal lobotomy to forget the night I had?”

August cringes, commiserative. “Rough one?”

“Walked in on one of the girls experiencing the very graphic aftermath of a vegan tuna melt in the dressing room. That’s why I’m—” She gestures widely to herself. “Usually I de-drag before I take the subway, but it was fucked up in there.”

“Yikes,” August says. “I thought I had it bad with the Lost Boys over there.”

The queen glances at the leather-clad disciples of darkness, who are patiently passing around the butter pecan syrup from one gloved hand to the next. “Never thought I’d see a vampire I absolutely didn’t want to fuck.”

August laughs and leans into the bar. This close, she can catch the sticky-sweet smell of hairspray and body glitter. It smells like Mardi Gras—amazing.

“Hold up, I know you,” the queen says. “You live above the Popeyes, right? Parkside and Flatbush?”

August blinks, observing the way her gold highlight gleams on top of her dark brown cheekbone. “Yeah?”

“I’ve seen you around a couple of times. I live there too. Sixth floor.”

“Oh,” August says. “Oh! You must be the drag queen who lives across the hall!”

“I’m an accountant,” she deadpans. “Nah, I’m playing with you. I mean, that is my day job. But yeah, that’s me, Annie.”

She makes an expansive gesture to mimic a marquee, milkshake in one hand.

“Annie Depressant. Pride of Brooklyn.” She thinks about it for a second. “Or at least Flatbush. Northeast Flatbush. Kind of.” She shrugs and returns the straw to her mouth. “Anyway, I’m very prolific.”

“I’m August,” August says, pointing to her nametag. “I’m, uh, not famous, by Flatbush standards, or any at all.”

“That’s cool,” Annie says. “Welcome to the building. Amenities include luxurious World War II–era plumbing and a vegetarian drag queen who can do your taxes.”

“Thanks,” August says. Her building must have the highest concentration of aggressively friendly people per square foot in the entire city. “Yeah, I kind of … like it?”

“Oh, it’s the best,” Annie says readily. “You moved in across the hall? So you live with Wes?”

“Yeah, you know him?”

Annie takes a noisy slurp from her shake and says, “I’ve been in love with Wes for, like, five hundred years.”

August nearly drops the rag she’s been using to wipe down the bar. “What? Are y’all … a thing?”

“Oh, no,” Annie says. “I’m just in love with him.”

August opens and closes her mouth a couple of times. “Does he know?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve told him,” Annie says with a dismissive wave of her hand. “We’ve kissed, like, three times, but he has that thing where he’s terrified of being loved and refuses to believe he deserves it. It’s so tedious.” She sees the look on August’s face and laughs. “I’m joking. I mean, that is his deal. But I’ve never found that boy tedious.”

Annie’s signing her bill when she clocks out, and August finds herself walking back to their building with a drag queen towering a foot over her, the clacking of her six-inch platforms cutting the soft thumps of August’s sneakers.

In the orange glow of the Popeyes, August reaches to unlock the door to the shabby little entrance of their building, but Annie heads for the Popeyes.

“Are you actually taking the stairs?” Annie asks her.

“Are you … not?”

Annie laughs and heads inside, and August’s curiosity wins out. She follows. The guy at the register takes a furtive look around before sliding into the hallway that leads to the bathrooms, where he unlocks a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY.

Annie gives him a kiss on the cheek as she passes, and August waves awkwardly, buoyed along by the current of Annie’s energy. They take a left and there, behind Popeyes boxes and jugs of soybean oil, is something August never imagined she’d find in this wonderful shithole of a building: an elevator.

“Service elevator,” Annie explains as she jams the button with her thumb. “Nobody uses it anymore, but the busted old bitch works.”

On the ride up, August unties her apron, and Annie starts pulling off all six pairs of her false eyelashes, depositing them in a retainer case alongside her nails. She’s got a confident meticulousness to her chaos, a perfectly contained party with champagne. August can picture her sitting in her apartment in the middle of the night, all the spare shitty bedrooms an accountant’s salary can buy, humming along to Patti LaBelle as she diligently returns each nail and lash to their places in her vanity.

The elevator dings six floors up, and the doors slide open.

“Everybody says New Yorkers are so unfriendly, but you just have to know how to win them over,” Annie says as she steps out. She’s holding her heels, leading the way down the hall on fishnet-covered feet, yet she seems like she could go all night. “Me and that guy go way back, ever since I broke up a fight between some drunk assholes over a chicken tender meal.”

“Over chicken that doesn’t even have the bones?”

Annie hums in agreement. “Right? I haven’t even eaten meat in nine years, but fuck.”

They reach their doors—August’s, 6F, Annie’s, 6E.

“Come to a show sometime,” Annie says. “And if you see me around and I’m a boy, you can call me Isaiah.”

“Isaiah. Okay.” August reaches into her purse and fishes her keys out. “Thank you for the elevator thing.”

“It’s all good,” Annie says. In the soft light of the hallway, August sees the way her face transforms, Annie and Isaiah blurring together. “Tell Wes hi for me. And that he still owes me a slice of pizza and thirty bucks.”