Dance with the Angel

June 15, 1994|By HELEN CHAPPELL

OYSTERBACK, MARYLAND — Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. He may be afraid, but I'm not.

There is a time, dear Desiree, in everyone's life when they should get drunk with a friend and tell all. We're working on that tonight. You see? I told you those weekend people wouldn't be here; they never are, and besides, tonight, this isn't their dock, it's Buddy's Bar and Grill. That's why I'm hanging these chili pepper lights and handing you this bottle of Tres Brujos Tequila, my dear. The bar is officially open.

Of course, a bar's got to have some music. There, now Patsy Cline's singing a somebody-done-me-wrong song. Buddy's Bar and Grill is the sort of place where somebody-done-me-wrong songs are the only music they play, even when they're sung by Cecilia Bartolli, who comes up next. She's fabulous, you'll love her. We went to hear her in Milan, right before Julian got too sick to travel.

And now, I've come home to die, just another tired old queen whose HIV went into AIDS overdrive. Dead at 28, 29 if I'm lucky. But it's been one hell of a life. I've had everything I ever wanted, done everything I ever wanted to do. And almost everyone, too. Don't look at me like that, dear, and for God's sake don't start to cry. No tears at Buddy's Bar and Grill, it's not allowed.

You and I, Desiree, are going to plan my wake. You're the only one I trust to do it, you know. Mom and Jeanne will just tack it up; they won't be in any shape to do much. They're not handling this very well, and I must try to shield them from pain. But you will, Desiree, you're the strong one. Have another drink and a bite of that lime. We drank Tres Brujos every night when we were in Mexico, Julian and I. Have you ever had tequila by moonlight in the ruinas at Palenque? Marvelous. Drink, there's a good girl.

In Manhattan, they called Buddy Leery Charles, and he worked as a production designer for the movies, but back home, I've always been Buddy. I left here a long time ago, not because I hated it, but because my chances of finding personal fulfillment as a gay artist in Oysterback were pretty slender, unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing window display over to Omar Hinton's store.

I have come home, darling Desiree, to die among my own people. All over America, we're coming home. Your children are crawling home to die. Look at the fireflies across the river in the trees. Do you think they're attracted by our chili pepper lights? What would they produce if they mated? I hope wherever I go, Julian's there. God, I miss him so much. Heaven for the climate, hell for the company! Drink up and pass the bottle over here.

Look at me, Desiree. I am the Angel of Death. Did you ever think the Angel of Death would be a golden boy with AIDS? Well, I always did think 99 percent of being gay was good bones. There is something violently obscene about a man not yet 30 planning his own wake. Isn't this the most wonderful tape? Patsy and Cecilia and Reba and Kirsten and Kitty and Maria . . . This is the tape I want to have playing then. I picked out all my favorite things.

Poor Hudson; my brother-in-law is a lovely man, but he won't like this opera music. He'll like Reba though. He and Junie will be pallbearers, of course. We've talked about that. It's funny; the first part of my life I couldn't wait to leave town, and the last part of it, I wanted only to come home. It means a great deal to me to die among my own people, you know. Not all of these redneck men are as macho as everyone thinks they are, either. Oh, I could tell you stories. But I won't. I've never been one to kiss and tell. Take it right to the grave with me. Bad joke.

Don't forget the casablanca lilies, now, there must be casablanca lilies, and you have to get Johnny Ray to sing ''A Trumpet Shall Sound'' just like he does every Christmas when they do The Messiah. And we shall be changed. No, no, it was just that a goose ran over my grave. Don't forget to notify $H everyone in New York, some of them will want to come. The ones who are left. It's nature's way of thinning the herd.

No, I'm fine, really. Drink, my dear. Drink up. Good girl. Smell that honeysuckle? Isn't that divine? Oh, there's Patsy again. Come on, Desiree, stagger to your feet, darling girl and dance with me. A slow dance with the Angel of Death down here at Buddy's Bar and Grill. Are those your tears or mine?

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. . . .

Helen Chappell's play, ''Oysterback Tales,'' will be presented July 2 and 3 in Easton.

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