He was a Gibson Girl, best seen in black and white.
Joshua Rennick was born in the wrong era, lived in the wrong body, and dreamed of things already forgotten.
But work only allowed one piercing per ear and insisted on a men’s white dress shirt. Frowned at necklaces and sent him home for nude lipstick no matter how tastefully applied.
He walked toward his tiny apartment while fixing his hair, hoping that the Cro-Magnon of a roommate had already left for the bar to avoid the classes his parents paid for. Hoping to avoid the confrontation of the late rent and wasted food that Joshua couldn’t afford to replace, especially now that he was missing a second day of work this month. Mostly just walking slowly, enjoying the sun, wishing he had brought a parasol so he could saunter properly down the street. Wishing he had someplace or someone worth going to visit on an unscheduled day off of work with his long straight hair now piled high.
“Madame de Lazure – Psychic to the Stars” the hanging sign read. It was old, the gold leaf a ghost of its former glory, the blue eye now blood shot with varnish cracks and snags of fabric.
“Well?” a voice prompted him as he studied the sign.
Joshua drug his eyes away from the sign and found himself staring at an old woman, leather face under impeccable make-up, as she watched him and took a sip from a sweat covered crystal wine glass with the barest hint of a smile. She stood up from an old straight chair with faded velvet and waved him toward the shop door.
Six months of walking to and from the consumer electronics hell that paid his rent and Joshua had never spotted the store before. The large display window was dark, maroon curtains obscured the view of the interior and he could barely make out a faded all-seeing-eye painted on the glass above a palm readers hand. Six months of living in the city and no one in his eclectic group of friends and artists had mentioned the shop or the ancient woman who now towered over him, so obviously in drag.
“One would think you were a cat,” she prompted with a wink and moved to enter the store first. Joshua stood for a moment longer, trying to catalogue the silver spiked heels that peaked out from under the flowing black cotton slacks, the gold chain worn loose at the waist over a simple midnight blue sleeveless tunic that was a framed with silver trim turned black by tarnish until it looked perfect next to her sun darkened skin. The flip of her hair as it curled at her shoulder in a perfect coif and the scent of Channel .9 pulled him forward and Joshua walked into the store.
He stopped as the door swung closed behind him with a faint ring of silver bells on wood. He had expected a dark, closed in space, heavy with ancient dust and forgotten treasures, a magical haven with crystals and books. Instead he found the overhead lights harsh, illuminating what might have been a tailor’s shop and could have been a hat shop once, with boxes of shoes, mannequins half dressed in pieces of polyester and plaid, tables covered with bolts of velvet and stacks of magazines long since forgotten.
“Drink?” the question came from behind an old silk screened accordion room divider that was broken and taped and broken again, and Joshua moved forward before answering.
“I think a drink would be delightful,” he said, realized he had whispered, and forced a light cough as an excuse.
“So, you can talk, that’s always a bonus,” his host said in less of a woman’s voice than she had used outside.
“Sometimes,” Joshua teased back, starting to relax, and he moved into the screened doorway of the tiny kitchenette. From the doorway, he could glimpse a living room, as dark and dusty as he had expected, and a single window above a steel alley door.
“Sometimes,” she echoed.
Joshua arced an eyebrow at the pitcher of liquid that was poured to refill his hosts glass and a new crystal wine glass.
“Tory Angelique,” she answered with her name.
“Joshua Rennick,” he returned and accepted the cold glass.
“Such an uninspired name, Joshua, had your parents no aspirations?” she teased as they made their way back into the work room.
“Oh, they had plans for me and an uncle’s construction company. I made my own plans and left theirs behind,” Joshua answered. He took a drink of the cocktail and found gin and more in a complex swirl of flavor about his tongue, giving teasing hints of source and origin as he tried to analyze the flavors.
He saw her watch him savor a second sip with a new hint of a smile.
“You look like a writer, poetry and essays, sometimes science fiction,” she stated as she moved to set her drink down and started to place a fold of velvet and lace into a labeled postal box.
“I dream,” Joshua whispered. “I’m an artist,” he blurted out, and felt the defensiveness in his voice as he buried his pain in a new sip for chilled alcohol.
“An artist with a mundane day job is just a dreamer,” she agreed as she continued placing black velvet into mailing boxes and adding a single sheet of floral paper before sealing the boxes carefully.
She was old, and he watched her work, something in her slow, deliberate pace spoke to him of pain and exhaustion, and he thought about offering to help but didn’t want to offend.
He sighed softly, took a new sip of the drink, and felt the alcohol begin to move into his shoulders and neck. It was noon and he had skipped breakfast in his rush to get to work. He set his glass beside hers and reached out to take the stack of finished boxes from the work space, walking to place them in half full ugly postal tub that was waiting beside the front door. When he turned back to the table she had already filled three more boxes.
“Those Goth kids do love their scarves,” she said.
He nodded without bothering to ask. “I can use a sewing machine,” he offered.
“I have an empty apartment upstairs,” she responded. “Rent free for piece work.”
And his heart almost exploded. Joshua felt six months of fear and stress evaporate. Felt every dream he had refused to finish flood him in a moment of hope before he took a breath, resisted the urge to down his glass of liquid, and turned to meet her eye.
“Can I have friends over from time to time?” he asked, watching her pause to take a drink of her own glass, or maybe his, and then smile at the gin.
“It would be expected,” she said. “I used to throw a mean after party. Theater, you understand.”
And he nodded, without glancing around the old costumers shop.
He picked up the second glass and gave a little toast before drinking a bit deeper.
“There is an outside entrance to upstairs, and four unrented apartments you could manage for us,” she whispered and Joshua heard unshed tears in her old voice as the masculine edges showed through for a moment before she straighten up and toasted him back.
“Do you prefer Mom or Momma?” was his only response as they shared a sip.
“Momma would be nice, my son never preferred it; he had his own plans. Business major.”
Joshua took a moment to let her words sink him, before he stepped forward with an offer for a hug.
He felt her tremor as she engulfed him quickly and then stepped back, drinks unspilled, to finish off her glass.
“Simply delightful,” Joshua said with a new sip.
“It’s a Gibson Cocktail. Two parts Gordon Gin and three parts French Vermouth,” she moved back to the work table, fussing at an unboxed scarf, as she spoke.
“Do the boxes need to go to the Post Office today?” he asked, setting his now empty glass beside hers.
“Yes, dear,” she replied. “They’re stamped and labeled, you just put them into the proper bins.”
He lifted the heavy plastic bin and set his shoulders for the long walk to the Post Office.
“Oh, and Gibson, darling,” she said and it filtered in slowly, the new name. “You rejected your parents plans, it’s time to start living your own.”
“Gibson Rennick,” he whispered. “Gibson Rennick,” he said again. “Hi, my name is Gibson Rennick,” a third time with a laugh, making eye contact.
“Your plans, not mine,” she insisted and stared back at him and into him.
“I’ve always been a Gibson Girl,” he replied, giddy from the gin and new choices.
She opened the door and he heard her sigh as he walked outside into the dim sunlit street, the trees were blooming and he was in a hurry to get, somewhere.
He stopped, looked around confused, and remembered getting sent home from work for wearing pale peach lipstick.
“Screw it!” he said out loud. “I don’t want a job I can’t dress up for.”
He looked down the street again, the small bar ahead had beckoned him before with it’s windows covered in faded political stickers and the old rainbow ones all bleached from the sun. But he was always late or tired or broke. Today he had a sudden desire for gin.
The “Help Wanted” sign was propped up on the bar, as Joshua waited for the old man to make his way from a table to him.
“Pick a poison,” the bar tender quipped.
“A Gibson Cocktail,” Joshua answered and wonder if such a drink existed.
“Coming right up.”
“And a job,” Joshua added, almost as a joke.
“No drinking on the job, the sugar jars need refilling, we’ll do your paper work tomorrow, and freshen you lipstick. You need to dress for tips, dear,” the old man replied as he worked, and Joshua watched him drink the finished Gibson Cocktail in a single swallow. “Do you have a stage name?”
“Gibson. Gibson Rennick,” he responded and it fit so well he never wondered where it came from.
Cheryce Clayton was a ghost writer and non-byline journalist for 17 years, now they are working to build a name as an independent. Putting their name out there is harder than they expected. They wrote the webcomics “Tales from the Z: Living in the Quarantine Zone” and “Ocryx and Joe” along with pubbing shorts in both N-Ink and Native Hoops magazines and a couple of small anthologies. They are dyslexic AF and ESL so work harder on the edit side and having been a ghost writer is always open to editorial changes.
Bio? A Choctaw, rromi, two-spirit, political, veteran who leans to the left side of the libertarian spectrum. They’ve spent a life time switching careers and writing is the only thing that ever stuck.