The Chelsea Drugstore

Alton is a frustrated man. The world isn’t fair and there doesn’t seem to be much he can do about it.

The Chelsea Drugstore
By Angela Rasch

He leaned over to adjust the settings on my window mounted air-conditioning unit; in the process he exposed a pimplish, hairy, plumber’s crack. Standing tall he turned toward me as he pulled a filthy, blue handkerchief out of his back pocket, and then dabbed at the sweat on his furrowed brow. “That baby’s blowing all ten thousand BTU’s.”

I backed away to give him space to collect his tools. A gentle, cool breeze somehow found its way around his ample girth. There’s hope I can salvage part of the day. I thought. The high temperature in my condominium had dreadfully upset me, because the inconvenience cut into my “special” time. If my apartment hadn’t been filled with sweltering heat, I would have been deep into an en femme weekend.

Saturday was my day for all-out dressing, so all traces of perfume and make-up would be gone by Monday morning. Once I had “dressed” on Sunday, and then Sarah in my office remarked the following day about how much my after-shave smelled like Obsession. Of course, Obsession does smell like Obsession.

He appeared done with his job and ready to leave.

I suddenly remembered my manners. “Thank you so much. I had been surprised to find someone who would make a service call on Saturday,” surprised and relieved. The temperature in my condo had already reached 84 °. Given the upper ninety-degree day outside, I had considered renting a hotel room for the weekend to avoid melting.

“We do some of our best work on weekends,” he said. “People stop to think when they get away from work, so they know what they want.”

Huh?

The sweat under his arms had turned nearly a tenth of his maroon shirt a color much closer to black than red.

He must be horribly hot from working so hard. “Would you like a glass of pink lemonade, or a beer?”

He frowned, as if to tell me that a man who chilled pink lemonade in his refrigerator had committed a high crime. “What kinda beer do you have?” he grunted.

“Cold,” I answered pointedly, but then I felt a blast of the heavenly chill coming from the air conditioner and changed my tune. “I have a nice assortment of imports and a few domestics. Maybe you’d like a Michelob?”

“Ya sure — a Mick sounds good.” He smiled, but with reservation, so as not to be overly friendly.

Gawd! What a homophobe. If pink lemonade bothers him so much, imagine what he would do to me if he caught a glimpse of my lingerie drawer. “Would you like a glass for your beer?” Try as I might I couldn’t take all of the lilt out of my Saturday voice. Thankfully he didn’t react. I hate all the stupid games I have to play, so as not to show my femininity. Next thing you know he and I will be talking football. This is my apartment, I should be able to be “me” here, wouldn’t you think? Why does the world have to intrude on my pleasure?

“Sure, I’ll have a glass, please.” He laughed, having considered my question for more than enough time. “I’m civilized, ya know.”

I chuckled on my way to the kitchen to show him that I was one of the boys . . . most of the time.

If losing my job over someone discovering my hobby wasn’t a distinct possibility, I wouldn’t have cared so much what people thought. My active pursuit of sexual partners had ended long ago; I preferred personal satisfaction to all the bother of sustaining a relationship. At twenty-seven I had become a confirmed bachelor and a master of self-gratification.

I reached into my refrigerator and found a Michelob Light. Then I opened the freezer door of my side-by-side and took out a frosted mug. I noticed with some dissatisfaction that it was the last one. I had planned to drink a tall pink lemonade and vodka from it later. . .leaving lovely magenta lipstick stains on the rim in the process.

I slid the frosted mug back into the freezer, and then grabbed a mug off the cupboard shelf. “He wouldn’t appreciate it any how,” I whispered shamelessly. Pulling out another mug for myself from the shelf, I tossed in five ice cubes, and then placed a can of Diet Coke on a tray along with his mug and beer bottle, which was already perspiring.

“Hmmm,” I said, talking quietly again to the most important person in my life, “maybe he would like some pretzels.” A check of the pantry revealed two bags, one that had been open for about a week and a new one that still had its seal.

Those old ones are probably a little stale. Maybe I should throw them out, and serve him the new ones?

My job paid well. I had to clock in looking like a straight, conservative, male asshole in a white shirt and tie -- and they rewarded me with $85,450 a year. I could afford to eat fresh snacks. Yet, something made me dump the older pretzels in a bowl for him, and then happily press my way back into my living room.

He still occupied the space in front of the air-conditioning unit -- hogging all the cold.

“Have a chair,” I said cheerily, setting the tray down. I handed him his beer, mug, and pretzels, and then directed him toward my burgundy, leather loveseat, located about fifteen feet downwind. I sighed with bliss as I sat directly in front of the A/C.

He was well mannered enough to wait perched on the edge of his seat until I had poured my Diet Coke. “Mud in your eye,” he said, while jauntily tipping his beer bottle toward me.

I reciprocated with a wave of my mug.

His eyes danced around the room, skipping from my eighty-four-inch, oak bookshelf, which I had crammed full of tattered paperback romance novels, to a lighted trophy case that contained too many memories of not enough first-place finishes.

“Are you a bowler?” he asked politely, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

I gasped at the notion of dragging around a huge black ball and wearing funny-colored shoes. “Heavens no. Those trophies are for theatrical performances.” Actually my “theatrical performances” were drag queen competitions. I had perfected my fetish to the point of nearly always being judged as one of the top three divas.

Thank God I had the good sense to remove all the little metal labels and store out-of-sight all those that had engraving right on the trophy. I would have had a horrible time explaining how I won first in the Miss Upper East Side contest. An essential part of having friends or family come over had become policing my apartment so I could keep my job and the few good relationships I had. If anyone ever found out, I would be ruined. My boss had once commented on how he had walked out on “Mrs. Doubtfire”-- once he figured out the plot included an “asshole cross-dresser.”

I fantasized about waltzing right into work looking spectacular and letting the chips fall where they may. As long as it remained a fantasy I would be okay, as one of the “chips” would be never working in my industry again. I didn’t ever come close to kids, but the stigma would prevent me from doing my job as an efficiency expert in the childcare industry. No one wants a pervert associated with his or her little bundle of joy.

He munched on the pretzels as if they tasted like the best snack he had eaten in years. I thought about opening the other bag, but decided he would only want another beer and that whole cycle of eating and drinking wouldn’t get me into my little aqua Michael Kors print any sooner. I had been dieting for weeks so it would fit. Whatever possessed me to buy a size ten?

“Can we get down to business?” he asked gently.

“Business?” Oh, I haven’t paid him. “I’ll get my checkbook.” I started to rise, but he waved me back into my chair.

“I’m not going to charge you,” he said.

“No,” I responded, a little frightened, “that wouldn’t be right. You fixed my unit; and I’m going to pay.” He had to weigh well over two bills, maybe double my weight, or so -- and unlike my thin arms, his were heavily muscled.

“That was nothing,” he said. “It’s the other problems you have that will take a little doing. Changing the whole world isn’t as easy as it once was.” He leaned back and put his feet up on the coffee table, as if to conserve energy he would later need. The bottom of his left shoe had a wad of pale rose gum stuck in the part that doesn’t quite hit the sidewalk. “Back when Noah asked me to clean things up, all I had to do was add water and stir a bit, but what you want done. . .now that’s major duty.” He ran a hand through his hair, which seemed to sparkle as if charged with static electricity.

“I don’t follow,” I said honestly. Maybe I should ask him to get his feet off my furniture; he might get offended and leave — or he could get offended and kick my ass.

He rubbed the bottom of his nose lightly with his index finger and sniffed. “When you called into the shop you asked if I could help you with your problems.”

“No I didn’t,” I argued, not wanting to extend his stay. “I asked you to help me with my problem.” I pointed to the window unit. “And you did.”

He shook his head. “Nope. . .you said ‘problemssss.’ ”

“I said problemmmmmm.” Although I tried my best to sound like “Chuck,” my voice had slipped into “Nancy” -- sounding more like singing than talking.

He shook his head slowly. “Let’s check.” He snapped his fingers and nodded.

“Hello, Dairy Air?” I heard myself giggle and remembered I had just caught the humor in the firm’s name when I said it out loud. “I have some problems here at my condo I would like help with.”

No one could deny he had recorded my voice and somehow could play it back. But how?

“How?” I asked, wondering how much it would cost to add that option to my phone.

“It’s sort of what you might call ‘magic.’ ” He smiled. “Maybe it would help for demonstration purposes if I played something from your file from a few days ago.” He snapped twice and nodded briefly.

“Cynthia is such a bitch.” Again it was my voice. I recognized the context immediately; I had been backstage speaking to the owner of Barely Vagina. My archrival had demanded she go on last in the competition, which was too, too much of an advantage when I’m already five years older than her and. . . .

“What?” I asked, knowing my one-word question would have to do, as I couldn’t possibly say anything more.

“Oh, we don’t tap into private conversations anymore than what we have to, but yours have been quite interesting for over a year.” He took another handful of pretzels, and then laid his head back on my new sofa throw.

“Ah. . .um. . .ah?”

“I’m a spirit,” he said. “There are more precise terms for what I am in my world, but I find them too restricting. I’m not one for labels.” He grinned.

I cupped my chin in my left hand, and then leaned forward with my elbow resting on my thigh. I felt faint.

“You’re not going to pass out,” he assured me, looking at his wristwatch, which seemed much too expensive for a tradesman, “but I’ve got a portal to get to; and we need to proceed.”

I shuddered. He’s the devil!

“I’m not the devil,” he laughed, “but I can read your mind. That’s what got me here in the first place. You’ve been visualizing a changed world you’d like to live in; and I can’t think of a reason why the world shouldn’t be like you want it. I think just about everyone would enjoy life on Earth much better that way.”

I blinked. He’s going to offer to change me into a woman, and then in return I’m going to have to have sex with him and have his baby.

He laughed so hard tears rolled down the side of his chubby face. “Believe me,” he forced out between his mirthful cackle, “you’re no sex goddess.”

“Then what?” I asked, realizing fully I had no secrets from him.

He stood and stretched. “What?” He paced to the cabinet where my trophies were displayed. “You’ve done well in your dressing-up contests.”

Dressing- up! Well it’s a lot more than that! “Do you want my trophies, or -- are you going to offer to rig all future runway walk-offs, so I win -- in exchange for my soul.”

He nodded. “That could be arranged, I suppose. Except the maintenance on a soul is ungodly high and the market is severely depressed, so what’s the point?” He moved back to stand just four feet from me. “And, that isn’t really what you want, is it?”

Again with the finger snapping and nodding.

“Why can’t we have a world where people just leave us alone? Why should people care if I want to put on a dress and make-up? It’s my business, not theirs.” The voice sounded like mine, whining to Cheryl at the Barely Vagina; she was really Ralph, an accountant — or so she said. Everyone lied about their name, occupation, age, weight, and whatever else they told you.

I looked up at my visitor’s face. He stared into my eyes. Unexpectedly, he smelled a lot more like caramel than sulfur. If he had chosen a female body to wear while harassing me, I might have wanted to nibble on his ear.

He smirked and covered both of his ears with his hands.

Even though I knew I didn’t have to speak to communicate, I did. “That’s how I feel. People are such losers about things. Woman can wear trousers, but if a man puts on a skirt, all hell breaks loose.”

“Not really,” he giggled. “I’ve seen ‘all hell’ break loose. It happens every Halloween. Those guys really know how to get it on.” He stopped and suddenly became serious. “So here’s the deal. . .there is no deal. There’s no quid pro quo. You’ve already earned what I’m about to offer. All you need to do is say the word, and I’ll fix things just like you said. You’ll be able to dress just the way you want, and no one will say ‘boo.’ ”

My eyes shot wide open and my heart pounded. This can’t really be happening. This whole thing has to be an elaborate hoax . . . but what if. . . ? “What the hell! What do I have to lose?”

“You’ll be able to wear your new aqua dress or anything else you want -- walk around any place you want, and no one will think anything of it.” He smiled encouragingly. “That little number waiting for you in the other room will look great with your dark skin-tones.”

Damn Skippy it will! I folded my arms across my chest like Barbara Eden; if I could have wiggled my nose like Elizabeth Montgomery, I would have. “Make it so.”

The next instant he had vanished. Half a mug of Michelob Light sat on the coffee table in mute testimony to what had been one hell of a self-delusion.

I ran my eyes around my living room; still sitting in my chair in the path of the manufactured cool air . . . bewildered. Obviously, I had too much to drink last night. I must have dozed off and dreamt the whole thing. Everything from my A/C breaking down, to a stranger drinking my beer has to have been the product of a cheap-wine hangover.

I shook my head and looked at the grandfather’s clock I had inherited from my parents. Nearly noon and I’ve wasted almost half my day. I cleared away the remnants of a strange mental episode and headed for my bedroom.

For the next two hours I went through an A to Z transformation. My mother had named me “Alton” after her favorite uncle -- and I called the prettier side of me “Zora,” which means “dawn” in Slavik. Whoever that man had been in my dreams, he had been right; my dress did look fantastic with my skin. I had planned to stay in and enjoy myself in bed, but the vision in the mirror urged me to take a walk.

“I’ve never been outside . . . dressed,” I said to my reflection. “I’ve always been an inside girl.” Except for the drag theatres and bars where I got dressed on-premises for the competitions, I had never been dressed as a woman anyplace but in my condo. No one other than those who took part in or witnessed one of those gala drag affairs had seen me as Zora.

My make-up is perfect for a walk in the park. My accessories are understated, but quite attractive. My wig is freshly coiffed; there will never be a better time.

After a thorough Zora-inspection, I decided to give it a shot. What the hell; you only go around once. In competitions I always lost points for hand size and voice, but only rarely for anything else. If I didn’t draw attention to my hands and didn’t talk to anyone, I could pass. I went to the door before I could convince myself not to. It was as if an invisible hand pushed on the small of my back, forcing me out.

I pranced about twenty steps from my building -- my head held high -- before I realized how imprudent my decision had been. My legs suddenly turned to concrete as fear overwhelmed me. I had lived in the neighborhood forever and knew everyone. . .and everyone knew me. Spinning in a full circle, I saw at least a dozen people I had known for years — as Alton.

Mr. Parkins from the Rotary had his brown and white Jack Russell Terrier on a bright red leash; and stood nearly on top of me. He smiled broadly. “Zora, you’re looking lovely today.”

I didn’t know whether to turn and run for my door, or gut it out. Zora? No one knows that name — but me. I never even used “Zora” in a competition, preferring to take on a new name for each one on whimsy. “Zora” was mine and mine alone.

He stopped and stared. “Are you feeling okay? That new diet isn’t too much for you, is it? No dress is worth killing yourself over, although I’d say that one might be.” He leered at me, as if I were a sex object.

My God. He did it. That A/C repair guy changed me into a woman! Mr. Parkins’ dog put his paws up on me and stuck his nose in my. . . . I reached down to protect myself, and grabbed my. . .johnson. Nope. It’s still there.

Mr. Parkins gasped. “Zora! Well I never!” he stomped off, apparently offended by something rappers do all the time on stage.

I let go of a piece of me I was delighted to still have and smoothed the front of my silk dress.

Before I could collect my thoughts, Mrs. Jones from my church came up to me. “Zora, could I bother you for a minute?” She proceeded to bend my ear about the upcoming church bazaar. She and I chaired the prize committee; and she was having trouble getting one of the merchants to pony-up goods for the silent auction. From the way she spoke and her facial expressions, you would have thought my dress was a suit and tie -- and my face hadn’t been covered with more cosmetics than hers. “. . .and, perhaps next week you and I can go see that skin-flint together. He’ll listen to you. He responds better to a man.”

I nodded. . .lost.

She moved away waving gaily, while throwing compliments my way about all the weight I had lost.

My head spun; and I decided to make myself a moving target, until I figured things out.

What the hell?

Mr. Tson, my supervisor at work, came toward me. “Alton,” he called.

Goodness gracious, he’s wearing an Elie Tahari skirt and blouse!
Mr. Tson looked like he had stepped off the pages of Vogue. He’s better with his make-up than I am. I never would have thought. . . .

“Alton, am I glad to see you,” he said with great excitement.

I suppose you are. You’re as nuts as I am going out dressed in public, and misery loves company.

“The boss called this morning,” he continued. “I wish the union could find a way to force him to stop calling me at home on Saturday. He loved your report and wants us prepared on Monday to take over the Wadsworth file. Are you willing?”

The Wadsworth account had to be our most important client. It would mean a promotion. I almost forgot how I was dressed -- as I nodded fiercely.

He continued to babble about the great work I had been doing and how much we needed to get down to brass tacks before Monday. In a haze, I agreed to meet with him at the office for a “Sunday skull-session.” Not once did he mention how I looked, except to ask for the name of my perfume. He wanted to buy a bottle for his son.

As he talked, the sun flashed off his brilliantly painted nails. I must have been gawking at them because he stopped mid-sentence to comment. “I took your advice. I’ve just finished with Maria at Your Nails and Such. Say, she mentioned you were coming in at two. You better hurry or you’ll miss your appointment.”

I looked at my hands and realized my nails were longer than I had ever grown them. The nail shop he had referred to was two blocks south of where we stood. I thanked him for reminding me, firmed our meeting time at the office, and left to have my nails done!

When I opened the door to her shop “Maria” called out cheerfully, “Zora have a seat. I’m just finishing-up and you’re next.”

A small TV played a commercial for a movie I had recently seen starring Ted Arneson and Jennifer Grance. As I paid more attention to the film clip, I realized the movie was the same as I had seen, but Ted had starred in the female role and Jennifer in the top male role -- and each was dressed as the other had been in the movie I had seen.

I turned off the television to give myself time to think, but couldn’t put everything into a neat box. Taking a deep breath I decided to go with the flow until an explanation became apparent. While thinking, my hands repeatedly touched my wig, until I realized my own hair had grown two inches below my shoulders.

The sensation of having a complete manicure and polish was as delicious as I had ever imagined. All the while Maria worked on my nails she kept asking if I had met any new girls. Obviously she knew me as a heterosexual man.

After paying her with a credit card from my purse, a purse I had never seen before that dangled on my arm, I left her shop. I recognized the numbers on my MasterCard as being very familiar. If I wasn’t mistaken, it was the same card I had always had.

Everything that needed to be changed to allow me to dress as I want and be accepted has been done, and everything else has stayed the same.

I clicked around the neighborhood for the next three hours in my heels, marveling at how different things were. Everything seemed just perfect. The breeze played with my skirt, flirting with its hem in a friendly tussle that hovered halfway between fun and embarrassment. I had never enjoyed a walk so much in my life.

Men and women dressed in whatever they apparently felt like wearing -- and no one cared. I didn’t see one man berated for his choice to wear a skirt, no matter how hairy his legs or how big his Adam’s apple.

The further I walked, the more I saw that amazed me. My pharmacist, a man who I had thought was as conservative as Strom Thurmond, wore a French maid outfit, including fishnet stockings. The policeman on the corner looked like Dorothy from Oz. Everyone covered themselves modestly, but each displayed their own very personal taste in clothing. Gender created no boundaries.

Even more astonishing -- I seemed to be the only one who recalled a world that had been any different. When I asked several people about what had caused the change, I got blank stares for answers.

The only explanation is magic. . .or something.

A window display for a shop called “Chestacular” caught my eye. When I went in I discovered a store devoted entirely to breastforms and other padding for males. I browsed and became fascinated by a display that claimed the last three Miss Americas had used their products. The woman who waited on me called me by name and asked if I enjoyed my new breast. When I looked down I noted life-like breastforms had been glued to my chest.

“They’re wonderful,” I assured her. “They’re easily the best I’ve ever had.” Their competition had been birdseed in a baggie. I purchased a new bra for work and left wondering what awaited me back at my condo. Surely my closets had been magically filled with wonderful clothing. When I had left I hadn’t looked in them, or my drawers, as everything on me had been laid out on my bed well in advance.

Several times during my walk I refreshed my lipstick and facial powder, and once I spritzed perfume. Other males in dresses around me did the same things.

Best of all, men in dresses carried babies, played in the park with small children, and one man even breast-fed an infant while he sat at a park bench, using a scarf for a modesty cover. I have nothing to fear at my job.

I quit pinching my wrist to make sure I wasn’t dreaming when I started to raise a welt.

Shortly after six I made it back to my condo. Acting more out of habit than anything else I grabbed the body lotion container from my bathroom and headed for my bed -- bent on a bit of personal pleasure. Never before had I been dressed for so long without sexual release.

I stripped to my bra and panties and flopped down. Much to my surprise, the part of me I had been so relieved to find still attached -- wasn’t interested in sex. I tried some of my old never-fail fantasies, but none of them seemed remotely applicable in my new world. I looked down at my diaphanous lingerie and felt. . .nice, like I would wearing a new tie. My former sexual daydreams now seemed silly. What had been so deliciously wicked -- now seemed as normal as. . . .

“Some deals are better than others,” an authoritative voice boomed from my living room.

I pulled on my robe and went out to confront my intruder, knowing whom it would be.

The repairman sat right in front of the A/C unit drinking beer from my frosted mug and eating pretzels straight from my new bag.

“It ain’t as much fun in bed now, is it?” he asked, apparently quite pleased with himself. “Without the intense feelings of guilt and shame you’re not as sexual excited as you used to be, are you?”

I nodded slowly -- seeing for the first time that he had lied. There had been a quid pro quo, a big one.

“Next time,” he said softly, “open the new bag of pretzels.”

The End

Thank you to Dimelza Cassidy for prompting me to do a re-write.



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