Joyland

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Clothes Make a Man

by Jessica Michalofsky

edited by Kevin Chong

Here is what I do: I drink a small vessel of sow’s blood. I do this quickly with my eyes closed, and tears come out of my eyes. Then I drink a large jar of water with a heaping tablespoon of salt. I do this not too quickly, so that I don’t vomit right away. Then I tell Stella to keep an eye on Lester infant and the girl, and I cinch up my vest showing the tops of my two white breasts, and I let my hair down a bit. Then I hurry down to the stony place behind the fish shop. Time is of an essence because of what is in my belly. Once there, I let Sonny (little Sonny with the burned face who is only ever steps behind me and is indeed much like a shadow) get us up a good crowd. At least 15 or 20. Sow’s blood is expensive, so I don’t want to waste it on a small crowd. Then there’s me, twirling and bavarading, the blood of the holy spectre spewing from my mouth. People love a good show, especially when it’s coming out of the maws of a profane thing like me. I should say: this is what I do when I’m not in prison, like I am now. I don’t mean to influence you or make you think we have it bad. We do not. Lester infant’s got nice pants and shirts and little leather shoes made in Flanders. I’ve got a fine set of teeth made of snow-shiny ivory. These I take out during the show so as to not break them. I put them in between my breasts for safe keeping. Lester infant calls them tits. He says “ah mama, ah mama, tits tits”. And I give him milk when I’ve got some left. I also feed the chancellor’s girl, a little thing of three months, but I make sure to give Lester infant some of the good yellow milk that’s full of fat early in the morning before I bring the girl. If we could make enough money, I could get out of prison and go back to Lester infant and my house in the lane over the tailor’s shop. The reason I’m in here is partially because of that same tailor, whom I should not have been so gobsmacked as to trust. The terrible thing was how he profited from my scheme to pass as a man and join the army, and once he was paid, then turned me in. Pity also is the waste of a first-rate uniform, which the tailor made with the finest blue woollen fabric, cambric cuffs and gold twist. With my tits, as Lester infant calls them, bound up and flattened out, and my long locks shorn short and my cap on my head, I looked as regular as any of the other big-balled blokes in the regiment. And I could give a hearty laugh, and a hale hurrah, a bollocksy baroo with the lot of them. I should say that I have a very manly look. A broad nose and a wide face and am muscular too. Norman and I had it all planned out: with me gone on assignment in St. Babaresque, and him keeping up Lester infant, and Stella bringing home the girl and giving her pounded biscuit and water, nobody ought to have known I was missing. Lester infant’s got 16 teeth and can grimp a rusk of rye bread like any Brigadier, so he’d have been alright without his mama. But there’s possibilities for enterprise for a ballsy woman here prison too. I’ve got this writing scheme. Which, when I look at all I’ve written looks pretty good. Norman says it should be a novel, which I never heard of, but not knowing something never stopped me before. One time I got it into me to make pork pies and sell them in the street. And another, I stood in on stage for a eunuch who had an abscessed tooth and whose jaw swelled out like a teat. This is where I got the idea of the uniform, from my time on the stage. On that stage, with Cleopatra sitting wigged up like a royal tart, all done up in her black face, and me standing off to the side, I could really feel the clammy breeze coming in off the Nile and the whiff off that old black tramp’s slutty body. I understood then that the clothes make a man, or in my case, make a woman a man. Sonny was the one who got me thinking about writing this down. That someone would want to read about what we do. And buy it. This is all rough, but I have plans for how it’s going to look. Violet ink and a good fine creamy bond. And a cover with a portrait of myself done by Norman, with my hair down and flowing. Norman’s got a stout prick that I can bring up with one pass of my hand. And a firm sac that fills my fingers, and then some. And he can draw. In one picture of a chicken and the publican’s son, you can see each individual broken feather and the raw places where the skin’s been pecked. He uses a very slender pen and black India ink. China ink gets wet in the rain and runs; this is what Norman says. Norman says I got a mind for pleasure wrongdoing. I think he’s got a pretty good hang on it himself. I saw Stella’s stomach swelling out under her skirts from my little barred window. Norman was walking way up ahead with a pen up his skinny arse like a parson, and Stella, the little minx, was sliding around in between the stalls and looking virginal with her hands held out in front. Nobody’s fooled. Still, I don’t blame her, and when I get out, I’ll keep her on as she has no folks and she takes after Lester infant and the girl like she was family. I found Stella up against the stone wall of the abattoir when she was just a small thing, squalling and thrashing like a demented earwig. So I took her home and she’s been with me ever-since. Norman came for a visit today and I showed him my novel. He hummed and pulled on his grizzled chin and said that it isn’t much like a novel. But he liked the part about the tits. He said I should make sure to put in lots of pricks and cunts, but before that, to describe where I am. He called it a setting. So, here I am. In the Nutter’s Prison with all kinds of women who’ve done all sorts of schemes. Most are the get yourself a master kind, the kind where you get with a wealthy man and then puff out your stomach and get him to buy you something good, or at least a promissory for the abortionist (whom she never, of course, pays because she isn’t pregnant). They make up a good third. Then there’s the ones who sold their children and then got caught spending their winnings on the dogs. About one quarter. Then there’s the transgressionists, like me, who did something creative but for which there is no name. The last group, albeit the smallest group, are the husband killers. The ones who chopped him up and shat on his corpse. The ones who boiled his skin off. They’re the least social of them all in here. Norman also says to talk about what the trees and grass looks like outside. He says, tell ‘em about the little puffs of orange flowers going to seed along the road, and the lichen on the stone on the walls of the streets. He says, tell ‘em about the little shrivelled women sitting on rickety chairs in the lane playing with a piece of string and chanting about how their husbands’ gone off to the city and coming back soon and it’s been twenty five years since he’s gone. He says, describe the town and the low brown hills that surround us, and the brown and green sea. And beyond that the sky that is black at night and slopped full of milk-white stars. He didn’t say that last part, but I think it’s admirable. Norman also says I should strike the part about Stella and himself, but he’s just being modest. He also said that I’ve got to develop a character: it is me! So here is a little bit about myself. I was born Charlotta De Erauso, here in this village by the sea. My father was a religious writer and was hung for something that I do not know. My mother lived a few years after his death when I was nine, and by the time I was 13, I was working in the fabric house hauling ends and cutting bolts. I did that for three years and couldn’t stand it anymore and turned to the streets. Which was a fortune for me! There I found my talent; selling wares and telling stories and showing shows to the curious and the all. Which brings me to now; me sitting in Nutter’s with my blessed milk drying up. Chances are I won’t have any for the girl when I get out, but she’ll be used to the pounded biscuit anyway and her household won’t be any the wiser. Norman also says I have to have a plot, by which he means that I have to have a struggle. This should not be difficult. Let’s see. My main problem today is finding out where the mangy husband killer with whom I bunk has put the piss bucket. This morning I caught her admiring her reflection in the piss, and I rounded her smartly, and since then, I have not seen the damned thing. I will have to piss in the corner of our cell, which is a struggle, for now it will smell in here not only of unwashed women in all stages of their cycle, but also of piss. Now that I’ve got the literary aspects of the novel reported, I’d like to tell you about some of my ideas. I’ve been thinking about a pants with a latch in the crotch for attaching a spongy pad, which could be pulled in and out during a woman’s time. Another invention is a long piece of extendable wood that smacks at cats that lick at the butter. Another is a clay prick that can be fastened to a woman’s body by means of a leather strap. This is for the men that are always asking for it but you never have anything but your fingers. I’ve made up drawings for the pants and the prick. I think that the cat stick has already been developed. Another plan that I have is for a play for the stage. I’ve thought about a good plot: a man dresses like a woman and goes out to the street to find the child that he lost. He lost it because he was a fiendish prick and left the a woman pregnant and never gave her anything and even swore to the magistrate that he never knew her, even when she cried and cried and she swelled up and got sick. And she lost that one, but when she took him back, because he was sorry, and she got up with another pregnancy and again he abandoned her, she was angry this time, not with him, but with herself for not knowing any better. But then later, he changes his heart and he accepts his wrong and he wants to find the young child whom he has sired. The reason he goes in women’s clothes is that he is afraid of the husband killers and thinks that mother of his child might get him. And so he goes out all galled up in these women’s clothes: a lovely bonnet and a full skirt and a buxomy blouse with pretend bosoms. And after making some inquiries, he meets another woman in the market, an older woman, who tells him she knows something about the whereabouts of his child (he doesn’t know the child is a son). Secretly, the old woman is a young woman, well, pretty young but a bit weary-looking, and she tells the man to go to the harbour at midnight, and when he gets there he sees only a boy of about 10 or 11. The boy’s carrying a torch and he says, come this way, and the man does, following him along the water’s edge beyond where the ships come in. The shore is rocky, and at times the man stumbles to keep up to the child, who is nimble and moves easily over the slimy rocks. They come to a cave after some time and the man is now peevish, angry. He grabs the child by the neck and tells him to come to, and shakes him. The child then tells him that he’s to leave some money at the entrance to the cave and that soon the infant will be brought out. But the woman is inside the cave, and she’s dressed like a man, and she’s holding a big mallet with which to strike the fiendish man. But the man, sensing a scheme, grabs the child and thrusts the torch into his face, holding him down on the slimy jagged rocks and burning the boy’s face with the fire, and the woman rushes out, dressed like a man, and with a man’s strength, bludgeons the real man, and the man and the real man wrestle a bit on the rocks, and finally the woman dressed like a man kills the man dressed like a woman. And that’s the end of the play. When I told it to Norman, he said it was a tragedy, and I thought he meant it was bad, but then he explained that a tragedy is when something bad happens to someone noble but deranged. But I disagreed. I said, a tragedy is when something bad happens to someone deranged and they don’t die. I think my play is a comedy because the wicked are punished, and at the end the real man is the real woman. And the boy recovers from his burn wound and is scarred; but joyously, he is able to get pennies for his ugly face on the street. An alternate ending would be to not kill the man dressed as a woman, and instead truss him up and turn him in all got up in his women’s garb and have him sent to the Nutter’s for men for transgressive behaviour. From my cell I can see the whole village and the harbour where the ships come in. I can see the manly men with blue tattoos and I can see the women by the public house with their nipples hanging out. And I can see the town with houses and shops and government buildings. I have got a scheme for every one of them, and when I get out of Nutter’s, I’ll have milk for Lester infant, and Sonny will work up a good crowd, and it’ll be good.