To Send Up

by Sam Fickling 4 months ago in literature

The Barry Humphries Impersonator

To Send Up

David is walking into school. He’s carrying two bags: one holds his papers for school, the other books, CDs and what-have-you. There are also a few classical music books scattered here and there. He’s somewhat late for class, but his class waits for him. David has a good relationship with them. Two small headphones sit lodged in his ears, blaring out music from an Australian comedian’s comedy album.

Instinctively, David catches his face in the mirror of a classroom window, and not a day goes by when he doesn’t imagine it’s someone else’s face reflected back at him. He does this again today, looking straight through the glass. The sunlight makes David’s reflection clearer. Several students walk past, murmuring and laughing. He tries his best to ignore them, looking down. The school bell rings to signal the start of classes. David walks in late, apologising profusely. No one says anything. ‘God, it’s gonna be a long day,’ he says to himself.

All the students have already tuned their instruments. He brandishes his conductor’s baton, and motions them to start playing. After two long periods of conducting, David feels slightly tired. He checks his face in a mirror, again imagining himself as someone else.

Later on, at around lunchtime, he spots an eccentric-looking man. Much to his shock, the man is cross dressed, wearing awful make-up and sporting elaborately styled hair. Apparently it’s all for some kind of fundraising event where fancy dress was required. People huddle around him, requesting a chat or a selfie. Jealousy rages within David like a strong wind. He’s always longed to receive the same kind of attention this man's receiving. And then it comes to him. Rudely and without warning, David pushes through a group to go home.

John, David’s partner of five years, drives into the school to pick him up. David seems upset. ‘What’s wrong,’ John asks. No answer. John tries again: ‘David?’ Still no answer. David seems to be in deep thought. But then he blurts out, ‘Oh, was that you, John?’ ‘Yes,’ John answers, slightly annoyed. David thinks, and admits, ‘I guess I’m confused...I saw someone today who was dressed...’ He can’t finish his sentence. John doesn’t say anything. David goes silent. There’s now an intense awkwardness hovering between them.

They’re stuck in traffic, and John keeps prodding the car forward, desperate to get home. He doesn’t realise the extent of his partner’s obsession. ‘I have something...,’ David slips, again unable to complete his thought. John’s confused, looking directly ahead. It’s eerily quiet inside the car. John asks, ‘Can we discuss this at home, David?’ ‘I guess,’ David replies, confused.

They both live in a two-bedroom apartment in Brunswick. It’s not enormous, but it’s home. For John, it’s definitely home, since David hasn’t found his own place yet and has been living with him for the past eight months. Maybe music teachers working at high schools in Melbourne aren’t being paid enough. They’ve never talked about this, mostly because David never saw it as a problem. There are many other things they should talk about, sooner or later. David asks, ‘Hey, can we talk about something?’ John sighs, casting a tired glance at David as he turns around. ‘Goodnight, David,’ he replies assertively, tired from the day’s work and evidently not in the mood for conversation, even though it’s only seven o’clock. Successive strings of cars pass the apartment, shining their headlights on the apartment’s windows.

The whole street is dark now, imperceptible even to ghosts. David walks into the spare bedroom of the apartment. He opens a small closet. Rows and rows of colourful dresses hit his eyes, as if he’d opened an ancient tomb and found gold. He tries on one outfit, making sure it’s the right size. Bored, David takes a cigarette from a spare pack sitting near the window. Lighting it, he notices how feminine he looks. John’s already asleep, and David’s careful not to wake him. With this same care, he tiptoes to his bedroom and hops into bed, keeping the outfit on.

Morning: mums are out with prams, people are walking dogs, and drivers are starting cars to go to work. John’s already up. The TV’s on. He hasn’t made breakfast for David, who’s still asleep. Ten minutes later he comes bounding down the hallway, obviously excited about something. He’s donned a large overcoat. John sees him, deeply curious about he's hiding under the coat. ‘Sorry, gotta go,’ David mumbles, stopping a moment to talk. John’s still curious, asking, ‘But why?’ David says nothing. He throws the door open, running out into the Brunswick sun of the new day.

Huffing and puffing, David approaches a local supermarket. He walked there, since it isn’t far from the apartment. The overcoat has been abandoned in exchange for purple diamond-encrusted glasses. He’s actually meant to be teaching today. David knows he’s meant to be there, but he neglects the impulse to give up his fun.

Only a few people occupy the supermarket aisles. David ambles down one of them, ignoring the food, sashaying to the tune of a Madonna song that’s echoing around the building. People stare at him, but they don’t stare at him in the normal way. It’s as if a bug has crawled inside; no one wants it here. Witnesses have observed other cross dressers coming to and from the supermarket over the past months, but not in the way David’s doing today. A man whispers to his wife, ‘That isn’t who I think it is, is it?’ David looks at a woman, flashing a toothy grin. ‘Dame Edna, it’s bloody Dame Edna,’ the woman screams, tripping over a box as she does, dropping her phone. He sprints out, not looking back.

Later that night, David’s on the couch watching TV. He’s been this way for the past five hours. John walks in from work, clearly tired. A weird silence passes between them for what seems like forever. None of them say anything for a few minutes. Something has happened today, but David’s not prepared to admit he was involved. A loud car zooms past the apartment, breaking the silence.

John can’t take the awkwardness anymore, suggesting, ‘Maybe we should talk, David’. David stares at the floor. ‘Um, David,’ John tries again. David stares up at the ceiling, and mutters, ‘Yes, yes, I guess we better talk. Something happened today, but I won’t say, for all my life, that I wasn’t proud of it’. John attempts to sympathise, replying ‘I know you were involved, and I also know who you were...taking off’. Pause. And then the blow comes, ‘It was Dame Edna Everage, David. Wasn’t it?’

Everyone who saw David in the supermarket today knew, or at least thought they knew, who it was. David still isn’t prepared to admit anything, returning his face back to the ceiling. John tries again, this time with a confession, ‘Look, David, I have something to tell you. You might not like it. But don’t worry, it won’t jeopardise your obsession with, you know, him’. He walks around for a bit, trying to muster the strength to confess it. The words come, ‘I'm a close friend of Barry Humphries. I have been for years. You could even say...that we were...the best of friends’. David’s naturally alarmed at the confession, slowly turning his head at John in horror.

‘Why would you take this long to tell me’? David’s question seems to reverberate up and down the space around them. John tries to placate him, ‘Well, we’re not actually friends anymore. We were once, and not for too long. Please understand, David, we were only mates’. After hearing this, David doesn’t know how else to react.

It’s now past nine in the evening, and John’s tiredness from work has returned. The confession alone wore him out even more. He mounts the stairs to his bedroom, yawning. David, meanwhile, stays downstairs, drinking a glass of water to calm his emotions. He feels like John has hurt him on purpose, and his frozen, almost deathly look of sadness explains it all. Not too long after this, he falls back on the couch, and begins to cry.

Heavy rain, off-and-on, dominates the sky today. David got up early, enthusiastic about making several calls. He’d been planning to do this for days, but never got around to it. He sits down at the kitchen table and makes his first call, waiting for an answer.

A mature voice sounds from the other end, ‘Uh, yes, what was your enquiry?’ ‘This is Mr. Humphries...,’ David lies, pausing for a second ‘...I have several shows coming up at your establishment. I thought I’d remind you that I’m good to go’ The man on the other end sounds suspicious, if not doubtful that it’s actually him. He finally replies, ‘Yes, Mr. Humphries, everything is in order for the shows. We look forward to see-‘ David hangs him up violently, unable to go on any longer with the charade...for now.

Sam Fickling
Sam Fickling
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