She approached me in a dive bar in Savannah called Pinkies, the most beautiful girl in the world, or at least my portion of it. Came on like a young Debbie Harry, all popcorn coloured hair and candy floss lips…all the fun of the fair.
She hailed from somewhere to the southwest and the singular thing about her was she had actually been born a boy, given name Joseph S. Baumgarten Jnr. “If I gets to liking you, you can call me Gentry.” I pondered a little on that name and asked if it was after the country singer Bobbie Gentry. She steepled her tiny, delicate hands under her chin and pouted. “No, you fool, because I is descended from gentry.” I didn’t question that unlikely statement.
I asked her how she made ends meet. She came over all Blanche Dubois, “I depend on the kindness of strangers.” She asked me if I wanted to “swing by her place” – a discount could be arranged – “being as how I was so kind ‘n’ all.” I said that wasn’t going to happen but I’d buy her a few drinks in exchange for her company.
Her voice as she settles to telling her story is like warm butterscotch but when she’s bitching it turns into splintered toffee. All angles and grit:
“Ain’t nuthin’ new to my tale hunny, daddy found me in his girlfriend’s dress – haute couture baby – I was fixing on trying on some Chanel pumps when I caught sight of his reflection in the window, he was all kinda frozed with anger. He didn’t hit me, he just hurt me, said I was none of his making.”
That self same day she dealt the few cards she held and they came up night train to Anywhere, U.S. of A. She was just north of fifteen-years-old.
It’s late now and the Pernod & blackcurrant is slurring her words into one sticky mess. The night has turned maudlin in a mellow warm way. We have moved to a booth and she has taken to smoking menthol cigarettes with wonderful affectation. In the half-light she has managed to morph into Cameron Diaz. It’s all there in the still dazzle of her fading smile. She owns it’s time she caught some beauty sleep, asks me again if I’ll sweeten her night, only this time it comes free. Again I shake my head and ask her this last question, how old are you now?
She feigns shock and then bubbles into laughter, all chocolate and smoke. “I’m twenty- seven next birthday.”
But she is lying and soon too she is crying, for lost time, for the waste of it. Just as abruptly her eyes beam with hope, she bites on a cherry blossom nail and says:
“I’m gonna do me some settling down, find me a good man, a big boned boy of Boston Irish stock, hair like spun gold, like to wrap me in his arms and keep me close.” With that, and a peck on the cheek, she ups and leaves.
I call “go well Gentry” but she doesn’t turn round, she’s already off searching for heroes. Looking in all the wrong places. Looking in all the wrong places.