June 28th—An Original Short Story
He sees them from his window. There are rows of them lining up, standing by. The dim streetlight casts eerie shadows in the night, multiplying them, as if they need to be even bigger, ever stronger.
It isn’t then, he reminds himself.
Now. It is now, not then. A mantra. Blue, not brown. He repeats it to himself, over and over, as he lets the curtain drop back into place.
June 27, 1935
“Hey Hans! Wait for me.”
And as Hans turns to the voice, the world sees an ideal young man, a real-life poster boy for the new Reich, a walking, glorious embodiment of the Aryan ideal. He’s young, charming, handsome and seemingly so very sunny.
June 27, 1969
Smoke clouds the room, which is probably just as well because no one needs to see the dingy walls of this unremarkable, dumpy bar on Christopher Street. It’s one more two-steps-down from the street local watering hole in a city filled with them. But here, two-steps-down is also one-world-away. A world where telling the boys from the girls, even if the room were less smoke-infused, is no easy chore.
“Boys, the party has arrived,” announces a young woman posing in her black and white Mary Quant knock-off mini-dress and size fourteen, “absolutely divine,” red vinyl boots. Her long, full, fake eyelashes bat as she takes that extra beat to ensure just enough time for others to revel in her grand, just-as-the-clock-strikes-twelve, entrance.
It has taken her nineteen years to kill off Tommy Thompson from Duluth and be reborn as Trixie LaShay. Nineteen years of being taunted and tormented, being beaten in school only to run home and be beaten again. A never-ending, nineteen-year-cycle of being hated, shameful and ugly Tommy. But that was then.
And this is now. She basks in the catcalls, preening while counting her nineteen in-memoriam seconds before she takes that last step down, “Trixie LaShay is in the house.”
June 27, 1935
Lt. Peter Richler of the German Luftwaffe sits with his leg draped over the arm of the hotel room chair, trying to keep his anticipation in check. She does this to him. He doesn’t know why. He knows they are clamping down on the cabarets, but he can’t stay away; he is a full-fledged addict and she is his narcotic of choice.
Hans sits at the hotel’s vanity mirror, expertly applying powder, eyeliner and perfume, feeling the now-familiar sense of growing confidence, power, transformation. As she rises, she drinks in her own reflection before turning to rendezvous with her dashing flyboy.
She maneuvers her body so the doorframe serves as her stage door, posing herself so she might witness her entrance’s effect. Her excitement grows as Peter slowly lowers his drink, appreciation glowing in his eyes.
“Well,” Peter rises, settling a bottle of champagne in its bucket to chill for their return while turning to the beautifully gowned woman. “My darling, the opera awaits.”
He hears the command boots demand marching up a street. Sharp, crisp, their echoes becoming a symphonic vibrato with each footstep, so stark against the usual daily muffle of shuffle and step. He turns on the teakettle but it will not boil quickly enough to mask what he hears.
June 28, 1969
There are sirens. The businessmen, husbands, bull dykes and daggers go silent, words replaced by fear, choking, paralyzing, fear. They furtively peer about, trying not to look at the others, desperate to discover options for their own safe passage out.
Trixie glances to the group, then out the door, “It’s the Stonewall.”
No one moves. No one breathes.
June 28, 1935
They stroll along the magnificent tree-lined Unter den Linden, crossing in front of the statue of Frederick the Great, under a sky of a thousand stars.
The SS come down the boulevard. As wide and glorious as the Unter den Linden is, the SS dwarf its expanse, mock its width, claim ownership of it all for themselves.
Peter grabs her, using the shadows cast by the branches to hide.
“Well, what have we here?” The voice comes from the squat man in the center, holding his hand up to signal the rest to stop. Peter moves instinctively, a furtive, desperate, gallant heroic step forward. “Two enemies of the state. How quaint. I don’t suppose flyboy, you have ever heard of Paragraph 175?”
Peter attempts to move further away, trying to pull the pack with him.
“Tonight you are like an anniversary present to us. We are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Night of the Long Knives. Herr Himmler doesn’t like you queers you know. It was a year ago tonight we slaughtered that fucking pansy Roehm and today, today in honor of such an important event we have a brand new extension of Paragraph 175 granted to ensure we get rid of fucking scum like you.”
The fat man looks from Peter, back to her, “But then again, looking at you two, I don’t think we really need extra powers. I think the Luftwaffe might even thank us. We can ask for a commendation for clipping the wings off their fucking fairy.” His laughter at his own joke seems almost genuine until you realize his eyes never leave his target.
Peter screams he loves her and she should run. But she can’t. She watches the black boots kick him. And kick him. And kick him. And she watches as Peter lies on the ground and the SS officer turns to her and laughs, taking that boot and bringing it down on Peter’s head, pulverizing him as he lies in the street.
The boots. He can’t understand how they didn’t hear the boots. He hears them always now. They are his cadence of hell, counting time as he lives out his death.
And then they are on her, beating her with their fists, ripping her dress and then these same men who would call her not fit to live, rape her. She can’t understand why they won’t just let her die; what she doesn’t know is, she already has.
June 28, 1969
“A toast!” Trixie makes her way past the frozen figures to the bar, “Billy, pour this lady a scotch and don’t be watering it down.” As she speaks, she climbs upon the bar, settling herself so the crowd will have a great view of her rather fabulous legs.
“Did you see all the queers today? The NY Times says there were twenty thousand people lined up, And we were right there. Claiming our place in that line. We did her proud today.” Trixie lifts the glass Billy delivers right on cue, “To Judy, may somewhere over the rainbow bring her the peace this fucked-up world did not.”
And as the glasses raise up, the door bursts open. “Hurry! They’re fighting back. It’s crazy man.”
June 28, 1935
He clings to that date. It is all that is left of him.
His mother came to visit once. She made the trip to tell Hans he was dead to them. He didn’t bother to tell her she was being redundant.
One day they loaded him into a train car. When the doors opened he learned dying doesn’t always come with death. Hell has a name, Sachsenhausen. It is, he is told, a camp. It is incomprehensible to him how a word which once provoked such joy, could be so hideously monstrously, irrevocably, twisted.
His scarred arms now have a number—11231. Hans likes the number. It makes his death more real. Names belong to the living. 628. June 28. He remembers that number. He wishes they’d asked him what to tattoo on his arm. Then he could be his own gravestone.
Roll calls. No food. The cement works. Station Z. Build your own ovens for baking each other. More trains. Welcome to Dora-Mittelbau, an even lower level of hell. That’s just what hell is, a place for the dead to keep going.
He hears the howls in the night. He doesn’t want to look but he has no choice. They deserve a witness.
June 28, 1969
They all follow Trixie, piling out the door, up the steps and down the street.
“Oh my God,” Trixie slows as she sees the pandemonium directly in front of her. Paddy wagon doors are thrown wide open, nightsticks fly. Coins, rocks, and bottles are hurled right back. The cops are beaten back by a bunch of fairies, drag queens, and leather boys, retreating into the Stonewall Inn for cover.
Surging forward, Trixie catches sight of a different gang coming from the opposite end of the street. With their arms linked, men in riot gear slowly, deliberately, threateningly make their way down Christopher Street. The Tactical Patrol Force has been called in.
He rises from his perch on the side of his bed, and with equal amounts of dread and determination, he parts the curtain. He sees the boots, their spit-shine glistening in the streetlights. And he freezes, transported to then. But then he remembers. This is now. And now is his moment to revise his history.
The drag queens come up the block en masse. As they approach, Trixie spots her. “Holy shit.” She watches the old queen teeter on wobbly legs nearly, but not quite, out the door, into the night.
Trixie makes her way toward the door frame surrounding, clutching the woman. As she nears, Trixie sees hands too afraid to let go, and too determined to turn around. A face haunted by a thousand ghosts, even more ghastly for lipstick that misses the lips as though drawn by a four-year old who can’t stay inside the lines. She could be forty or ninety, Trixie can’t tell. She would be laughable if you didn’t feel her incredible pain and terror, held together by sheer dignity beneath her trash bin remnants.
“Trixie LaShay.” With no answer forthcoming, Trixie flashes her signature grin, “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”
The woman looks at her savior but hears an echo from a lifetime ago. She hears herself, so young and cavalier, and filled with possibility. She has been relegated to the graveyard for so long, yet now, here she is, asking herself, willing herself, to live once again.
“He called me Helga.”
Trixie nods gently and offers up her arm, “Well Helga, grab on. It’s going to be a wild ride.”
We are the Stonewall girls
We wear our hair in curls
We wear no underwear
We show our pubic hair…
We wear our dungarees
Above our nelly knees!
They fiercely link arms, chanting as they start down the street. Arm in arm, they form a kick line as long and as strong as any that ever played Radio City Music Hall.
She is here, and she is now, and she is alive.
And this time, an army of heels high-kicking their way up the block, can—will—must—drown out the sound of boots.
June 28, 1970
6th Avenue. The atmosphere is both festive and defiant. Helga looks at the boys in blue—here today to protect her.
She still tries not to look down at their feet.
She hoists her sign. It’s a big pink triangle with the numbers 11231 and the words “still here, still queer.”
Trixie is there too, admiring the placard.
Today is June 28th. A day to be proud. A day to march. ▼
Stefani Deoul is a television producer and author of the award-winning YA mystery On a LARP. Contact Stefani.