by Phebe Jewell
What does a 70-year-old wear to a drag show?
Nancy runs her fingers over silk blouses, linen tunics, then shuts the closet door. Really? It’s the Milagro Bar on Beacon, not Vegas. No need to change out of jeans and a tee shirt. She and Barb are catching Margo Largo’s first set over a few drinks.
Still, it’s her birthday tomorrow. 71. Not a milestone like 70 or 75. She would be okay skipping it altogether, but Barb insists. “Let’s celebrate your birthday for a whole week.”
Nancy’s never been afraid of getting old, but the latest changes in her body feel more like subtractions than additions.
Opening the bathroom door, Nancy catches her 14-year-old self in front of the mirror, checking for signs her breasts grew overnight. Not that it mattered. Once she was a 34D, boys only talked to her chest. Some days she hid in baggy clothes. Others she reveled in the attention.
Her dark, curly hair was her best feature. How many men and women had run their fingers through her unruly mop? Thick tendrils when long, wild horned cowlicks when cut short. Now completely gray, she pulls it away from her face in a loose ponytail.
Nancy leans in to the bathroom mirror, tweezers in hand. Just this morning she’d seen a dark whisker sprouting under her chin. How could she have missed it? The tweezers catch the bristle and with one vigorous tug she pulls the whisker out, holds it to the light. Thick, hard, unforgiving.
“Come on,” Barb calls from the kitchen. “You know how small the Milagro is. We won’t get a table if we dawdle.” Nancy blows a raspberry at her reflection. Really, she’d be just fine staying home tonight.
Arm-in-arm, the couple stroll to the Milagro, Nancy setting an easy, measured pace. Since Barb’s fall last year, they can’t be too careful. Outside the bar, Nancy catches their reflection in the plate-glass window — two gray-haired women leaning together, heads bent beneath the rainbow flag draped alongside the entrance. Barb lets go of Nancy’s arm and two-steps with her reflection before grabbing Nancy’s hand. Such a show-off. A man in a porkpie hat set at a rakish angle smiles, stubbing out his cigarette before opening the door for the two old women.
The bar is packed. Margo Largo has been on tour and has returned to her Beacon Hill home in Seattle. The regulars, old queens from the neighborhood who’ve survived more than one plague, are already tipsy, pulling out ones and fives to stuff in Margo’s cleavage. Nancy squeezes through the crowd of gray-haired men with beer bellies and earrings and orders two margaritas. They’ve missed happy hour, but the drinks at the Milagro are always heavy on tequila and lime.
Margo sashays to “I Will Survive,” as patrons join in. Her blonde beehive towers over everyone, scraping the bar’s low ceiling. No matter how many times Nancy has heard this anthem, she always mixes up the lines. She belts out the song all the same, sure she’s mangled the words again. There are more important things to watch out for, like not spilling their drinks as she makes her way to Barb, waving from a corner. While Margo twirls in a sequined strapless revealing her powerful biceps, Nancy eases into her wife’s arm, cocooned by the crush of generations and genders, bodies that have been broken and remade only to be broken again.
By the time Nancy orders a second margarita, Margo has moved through “Like a Virgin” and “Respect” to a mix of Amy Winehouse and Adele standards. The late summer sun fills the Milagro as Margo begins “Born This Way,” pulling out one of her falsies. The crowd swirls around her, waving their arms, whistling, reaching to touch a nipple, to hold the moon-shaped disc.
Watching the revelry, Barb laughs, pulls Nancy to her. “Happy Birthday, darling.”
Nancy leans in to kiss her wife. “Thanks for another wonderful year.” Shaking her hair free, she lifts her glass to the prancing Miss Largo. Long may you live, girl, in all the bodies you hold.
Phebe Jewell has lived in South Seattle since 2003. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she also volunteers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for women in prison. “All the Bodies” was inspired by a memorable evening at Baja Bistro before the pandemic. Read more of her work at https://phebejewellwrites.com.
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