“O'Brien,” he barked without preamble. “How's the ankle?”
“All healed up, Captain,” said Midge, jumping to her feet.
“Good,” said the man. “Because we're shorthanded tonight. We have to use everyone.” He gestured at Jean. “This the new groom you were telling me about?”
“Hmmmm.” His eyes swept Jean from head to toe, taking in the D.A., the grimy white T-shirt, the jeans with the long keychain, the scuffed black oxfords. Without another word he turned and walked away.
Jean watched him go, indignation and fear churning inside her. “It's a good thing this is temporary,” she finally said.
“Oh, don't let the captain get to you,” Midge said apologetically. “He's always like that, but he's really a good guy.” Without pausing she continued, “You know, I've been meaning to talk to you, Jean, about your appearance.” Midge kept her eyes on her sandwich. “You'd probably get along better in this world if you changed your hairstyle a little bitâyou know, to something more feminineâand got rid of that keychainâ”
Jean thought about little Lester Brown back in Doylestown who never grew to be more than four feet tall, and how it sometimes made folks uncomfortable to be around him until they got used to his looking a little different. But nobody ever asked him to wear platform shoes, or walk around on stilts, pretending to be tall. She crumpled the sandwich wrappings wordlessly. First it would just be changing her hair or her clothes, then it would be pretending to laugh when the policemen made jokes about “queers.”
Just then, Jean spotted an attractive woman in her early thirties coming up behind Midge. Jean took in green eyes which matched the woman's tailored skirt and jacket, and rich brown hair in a smart gamine style. As Jean watched, the woman put both hands over Midge's eyes. “Guess who!” she sang out, the smile on her face leaving little doubt as to her feelings for Midge.
“Tilly!” Midge's face relaxed into a smile, but the next moment it clouded over again. “You know it's not a good idea to come to the stables.” Suddenly remembering Jean, she added nervously, “This is my roommate, Tilly. She's . . . she's allergic to horses. That's why it's a bad idea for her to come around here.”
Tilly extended her hand with a smile. “You must be Jean. Midge has talked about you a lot.”
Jean shook Tilly's hand, then quickly made her excuses and left. She laughed bitterly at the feelings she'd had for Midge, at her thoughts of confiding in Midge. Midge, ashamed of a woman like Tilly, who clearly loved her so much. Jean knew now that she would get no help from Midge.
That evening, she kept brooding about Midge and Tilly, and Chopper. She knew she should leave the job at the stables, but she couldn't bear to abandon Chopper. She'd thought she was through with horses, through with hope and love, but he'd made her realize she wasn't. Usually, Jean would tuck into the heaping plates of pasta that Luigi generously provided, always insisting that they were included in the price of the room, and she wouldn't stop until she'd soaked up every last bit of sauce with thick slices of Italian bread. Tonight she just pushed the pasta around on her plate. Luigi paused by her table, his plump cheeks sagging in exaggerated dismay.
“Whatsa matta, Jean? I make your favorite meatballs and you don't even touch them!”
Jean tried to smile. “I'm sorry, Luigi, the food's tip-top like always. I've had something weighing on my mind all day and now I guess it's decided to weigh on my stomach for a while.”
“What is it, Jean? A fella? You kids always think every little thing is the end of the world.”
Jean couldn't help a wry smile as she reassured Luigi, “It's nothing, I'm sure I'll be fine tomorrow.” Glancing at the clock over the counter, she pushed her plate away from her and got up. It was time to head over to the Stonewall.
Over at the bar it seemed like everybody was in a somber mood. “Who died?” Jean asked Carmen sardonically, but the big drag queen didn't laugh. “Today was the service for Judy,” she responded heavily. She left Jean standing there, regretting her quick tongue, and went over to the jukebox. The strains of “The Man That Got Away” filled the room.
“Jean, bring up a coupla kegs from downstairs,” Tony shouted at her.
“You got it, Tony.”
When Jean had brought up the kegs, Stony, one of the women who was a regular at the bar, beckoned her over. “Say, kid, you better be on your toes tonight,” she advised Jean.
“Thanks, StonyâI will be. Trouble in the air, huh?”
“Yeah,” Stony sighed. “You know, kid, I wish I could say I remembered a time when I could sit and have a drink and not feel like trouble was breathing down my neck.”
Jean nodded sadly, and bought Stony a beer before she took up her position by the door.
It was with a sense of resignation, that she saw the police car pull up to the curb sometime after midnight. “Betty Law!” she cried, flicking the lights. The drag queens dancing together in the main bar separated. The go-go boy scrambled down from his gilded cage. Everywhere there were cries of “Oh please!” and “Not again.” Jean quickly snatched a beer and sat at a table, pretending to be a customer. Sullenly she showed her ID to the uniformed detective who came in the door. Tonight she didn't care if she was arrested. “You a boy or a girl?” the officer smirked. “You got on three pieces of woman's clothing? You ever had a real man?” But his attention was pulled away by Carmen, who was trying to slip by carrying a cigar box full of cash. “I'll take that off your hands, âlady,' ” he said. And Jean took the opportunity to slip out the door.
Outside she was surprised to see that the street and the little park across the way were filling up with peopleâneighbors, patrons from the folk bar down the street, Stonewall regulars who'd escaped arrest. She stood there too, watching, waiting for something to happen.
The police were herding the most flamboyant drag queens into the paddy wagon when it started. Jean saw one of the policemen push Carmen, so that she tripped in her high heels and fell hard on the pavement. “Pigs!” someone in the crowd shouted. The police pushed another of the drag queens, and she pushed back. The crowd roared its approval, and now they were throwing things, and everyone was scuffling. Some of the queens were freeing themselves from the paddy wagon. Jean heard the sound of a gun, a warning shot, and suddenly she was back in the hollow.
She was kissing Cathy's face, feeling her softness, feeling Cathy's hands on her. They were half sitting, half lying next to Cracker, who was cropping grass peacefully. The steady munching blended in with the trembling of their bodies as they pressed up against each other. It was the first time, for both of them . . .
And then there was the shot, and Cracker had fallen, whinnying with pain, and there was Cathy's father standing with a rifle in his hand, a look of hate on his face. “I missed,” was all he said. Cathy was sobbing hysterically, her hands shaking as she buttoned her blouse. She had offered no resistance when her father took her arm and led her to the car up on the road. And Jean had been left with Cracker, watching the blood pump out of the big vein on his neck, watching his eyes glaze over as death took him . . .
The terrified whinnying echoed again in Jean's head, and then she was back in Sheridan Square and she realized it wasn't an echo, it was real. A troop of police horses was advancing on the rioters, and there was Midge struggling to control Chopper, who had broken ranks, whinnying in fear.
Jean ran over and grabbed Chopper's bridle. “Midge, what are you doing? Don't you see what this is doing to Chopper?”
“Jean!” Midge gasped. “What are you doing here?”
“This is where I live, Midge, these are my people. Don't tell me you haven't guessed that! What are
“I'm upholding the law,” Midge shot back. She took a deep breath. “JeanâI know it's hard to understandâ”
“What does Tilly think of you âupholding the law'?” Jean asked. Midge stiffened and Jean knew that her dig had hit home.
“Tilly understands!” Midge shot back, “Why can't you? Is all this”âshe gestured at the line of drag queens mocking the police with high kicksâ“worth risking jail for?”
“Yes!” shouted Jean, just as one of the drag queens was torn from the line by a policeman with billy club raised.
Then a shout came from a retreating policeman in riot gear, “O'Brien! Get over here! Now!”
“Let go of my horse,” said Midge harshly.
“I won't!” Jean cried. “Stop trying to make Chopper into something he isn't, something he can't be! When will you learn? When will you ever learn?”
Just then, a rock flew from the crowd, hitting Chopper on his scarred legs. With a frightened whinny he reared, tossing Midge from the saddle. Jean tried to hang on, but the frantic horse was too much for her, and the next thing she knew the reins were yanked from her hands and she heard the distant sound of hoofbeats fading away down Christopher Street.
A few nights later, Jean walked into the Colony and looked around. On the surface, everything seemed the sameâDorothy, Marcie, the sad-eyed girl at the barâbut somehow, everything had changed. Dorothy and Frankie were sitting with Marcie and a long-haired man folding leaflets. The sad-eyed girl at the bar didn't look so sad, and was in earnest discussion with a sharp-featured girl with black hair. The jukebox wasn't playing “So Long,” but some new song about “Respect.” Only the drunk at the back table, her head lying in a pool of beer, looked like the old days.
The bartender waved Jean over. “Could you give me a hand with that drunk in the back? These people are going to hold a meeting here.”
“Sure,” said Jean. She went to the back table and pulled the drunk into a sitting position, then started back in horror. “Midge!” she exclaimed.
Midge's head flopped forward. “Tilly . . . Jean . . . Chopper . . . nobody understands li'l Midge,” she muttered thickly. “N'body cares âbout my sac'fices . . . did th' best I could . . .” She trailed off and collapsed on the table again.
“You know her?” said the bartender. “There someone we can call?”
“Yes,” choked out Jean. “I'll take care of it.” She used the bar phone to call Tilly. “Midge is here at the Colony,” she explained tersely. “She's too drunk to walk.”
After several more unsuccessful attempts to rouse Midge, a cab pulled up and Tilly leaped out. “Oh Midge,” she mourned. “I was afraid of something like this.” Turning to Jean, she said, “Thank you, Jean, and try to understand. Midge's problem is overidentification with her father, which compelled her to embrace a patriarchal power system, while her own desires placed her squarely in opposition to that very system. She does the best she can.”
Jean nodded slowly. “I guess I do understand, a little bit. And maybe I could forgive her, if it wasn't for Chopper.”
“Chopper!” Midge echoed drunkenly, tears streaming down her freckled face. “Best horse I ever had, 'cept for Lucky. Lucky dead, Chopper dead, all dead . . .”
Jean's blood froze. Chopper wasâdead?
Tilly spoke, in answer to Jean's unspoken question. “We don't know what happened to Chopper. Midge hasn't seen him since that night.”
Jean collapsed into a chair, her face in her hands. When she looked up again, there was a large frame blocking the doorway. Could it be? Jean wiped the tears from her eyes and looked again. A familiar whinny told her that she wasn't seeing things. Chopper! “Midge!” she cried, hugging the drunken woman. “Look who's here!”
“Hey, Jean, I've been looking for you!” Louise said with her wide smile as she squeezed past Chopper. “I thought maybe you'd have an idea of what I could do with this horse I found. Do you know him? I was keeping him at my friend Andy's place, the Factory, but they're getting into psychedelics right now, and it didn't seem like the best environment for a horse. What do you think? Should I take him to my parents' place in the Hamptons? They run a dressage school.”
“Chopper!” Jean flung her arms around the horse. “I think Chopper would love the Hamptons!”
“Poor li'l Midge never got t'go t'th' Hamptons,” Midge muttered.
The long-haired man approached the group by the door. “We're having a meeting here in a little while,” he said, distributing fliers. “Maybe some of you would be interested in coming.” Jean looked at the flier, which announced at the top “The Gay Liberation Front.” Liberationâthat had a sweet sound.
“I'm certainly interested,” Tilly declared, folding the flier up and putting it in her pocketbook. “After Midge has had a little coffee, we'll both be back! It's time some changes were made.”
“Sounds fabulous,” Louise agreed. “Can Chopper stay?”
“Liberation is for everyone,” the man answered earnestly.