Two for the Road: Part 1 Sterling, Muhzzurah -1- Mustang

This is a multi-part story I'm working on for Hatbox. It will be appearing in the Patreon feed, a week early for Patrons then briefly for everyone. When each part is finished, it will go into Hatbox. I hope you enjoy...

Picture from the lot of Cloud Nine Classics
Two for the Road: Part 1

Sterling, Muhzzurah -1- Mustang

Erin Halfelven

It all started in the early summer of 1966 when my uncle Travis Hillsborough died. Or maybe it started with my getting tossed out of college and going to live with Uncle Travis who was my mother’s eldest brother, a lifelong bachelor.

Or let’s be honest, it really started when I discovered my older sister’s clean laundry stacked on the floor outside her room back when I was four years old. I went by the name of Martin Todd Mitchell, or Marty, most of the time in those last years of the 1940s.

Years passed and I explored my fascination with women’s clothing when I got the chance — and made my own chances, often as not, right on into college. The University of Missouri took a dim view of crossdressers and so did my folks; it was they who suggested I go live with my uncle since he was the black sheep of his family, too.

Uncle T owned a bar, you see. He had owned it since serving liquor in St. Louis became legal again after Prohibition. And the bar was sort of a cabaret, too; with shows and music and dancing.

And all that relates to how my friend and I ended up in Sterling, Missouri with a broke-down, bright-blue, 1965 Mustang convertible one fine summer day in the middle of June….

* * *

“What are you going to call yourself?” George asked. Or really, sort of not-quite-shouted.

I pushed hair out of my face again. Driving a convertible with the top down does not make conversation easy and I just shook my head at him. Or her.

“You?” I asked in turn. She was wearing a blue gingham shirt-dress with a matching ribbon in her hair and looked really cute.

“Dolly,” she said. “Dolly March. I think. Maybe not March but Dolly, definitely.”

I grinned, glancing sideways at her again. She didn’t look much like someone named March, but she did look kind of like a Dolly. Or a dolly. Small, with a delicate heart-shaped face, wavy black hair and some of the biggest brown eyes I had ever seen added to nut-brown skin and an exotic tilt to those wonder she’d been popular when she danced at Blueberry Hill.

That was the name of my uncle’s bar in St. Louis where George Marquez had been part of a drag revue. But Uncle T had died and the bar had closed and all we had left of him and that life was the 1965 blue convertible Mustang he had signed over to me on his deathbed and about $300 between us. And a trunk full of clothes and makeup from the show along with George’s guitar and my ukelele.

“You’re going to have to call yourself something,” George, or rather Dolly, said. “Martin doesn’t quite fit with your wardrobe any more.” I could see her grin out of the corner of my eye.

I sighed. We’d set out that morning to drive to Los Angeles, or maybe Las Vegas, to look for work and new lives. And as a result of a mutual dare, we had left all of our male clothes behind. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So there I sat in my yellow sundress, wishing not for the first time that my hair was long enough to tie back and stay back. I had a kerchief across the top of my head but my strawberry blond locks are so fine they kept coming out of the covering and blowing around my face.

“Do we have a bonnet or something I could tie under my chin?” I asked. “My hair is making me crazy.”

“You’re driving too fast,” said Dolly. “Slow down to about fifty and it won’t be too bad.”

“Fifty?” I said. “This is a Mustang with a 289 cubic inch V8 and you want me to drive fifty?” But I did slow down. I didn’t want to get stopped by a Missouri State Trooper and have to show I.D.

Dolly waved a hand. “If you’re not going to pick a name for yourself, I will.”

“I used to call myself Marti,” I said.

“So did your parents.”

“But I spelt it with an i,” I protested.

“Poo,” she said. “It’s like a reminder of your old life. Pick something else.”

I thought a moment. “I liked to pretend to be Tammy in that Debbie Reynolds movie,” I said.

“Tammy…. That’s not bad but it sounds fake, because of the movie. And Sandra Dee played Tammy.”

I shook my head. “Not in the first one.”

“And they’re both blondes; you’re a redhead.”

“Bitch. I’m blonde,” I protested again.

“How many blondes have as many freckles as you do?” she asked.

I’m sure I pouted. My freckles were a sore point with me. “Remind me again why we’re friends?” I said.

She laughed. “Don’t sweat it. I’ll think of a name for you.”

I shook my head, trying not to grin. George had always been one to grab a problem and not let it go until he had shaken it into submission. Dolly was no different.

Wait. Had I just called her a bitch? Okay, I did grin.

And she had been right. It was easier to talk and my hair did not blow in my face as much with the speed down below fifty. Of course, we kept getting passed by DeSotos and Ramblers and that was hard on the Mustang’s pride.

A sign up ahead reminded me of something. The next big city on the Interstate would be Columbia where I’d been going to college until I got kicked out. Which is how I ended up living with my uncle instead of with my folks. And why I had no desire to even get within ten miles of the U of Mo. Especially not in my yellow sun frock.

I signaled and moved over to take the next exit. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go through Kansas City; it being too close to where my parents lived in St. Joe. Dolly didn’t say a word as I took the exit and headed south on State 19. And that’s why we were friends; not what we said to each other but what we didn’t have to say.

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