It had been raining. Bernadette liked the rain. At some point during the show, it seemed that the heavens had opened, leaving Sydney and the bulk of its inhabitants wringing wet - but she couldn't say that this was necessarily a bad thing. It was four past midnight; in spite of the time of night, the streets were next-to deserted on account of the adverse weather conditions. Even in spite of the rain, this was the kind of evening that Bernadette relished. Some nights, when the streets bustled with boozed-up mongrels ready to pick fights with anyone who so much as looked at them the wrong way, she could scarcely stand to trudge her way back to her apartment; typically with her head down, and her hand in her pocket; her keys clasped in a fist, held sticking out from between her fingers like knives. But as the rain hammered against the windows - staccato and almost soothing to her, - the avenues lay empty. Emptiness meant an undisrupted walk home.
Bernadette mulled this over as she stood just outside the exit to the club, putting up her umbrella; an unlit cigarette between her teeth and lighter in one gloved hand. Rain calmed her; rain signified safety. Because no imbecile in their right mind was going to stand about getting soaked just for the sake of harassing her, or...worse.
In the past for her, that 'worse' had been a pair of fat lips, and a violet necklace of bruises that had stuck around for almost a fortnight. But she had heard horror stories from the rest of the company; stabbings and muggings; chunks of glass from smashed bottles embedded in scalps; missing teeth; out-of-joint noses; broken bones. And those tales came from the men; Bernadette fell into the exceptionally small Venn diagram cross-section involving being both transgender, and a drag queen. This merciless brutality the others spoke of...they'd all been in costume; in character.
The truth was that the Bernadette Bassenger she played on stage was a far different woman to the one who existed in real life - but they were still one in the same person; and there wasn't a costume involved when real Bernadette stepped out into the world; long hair, makeup, jewellery, high heels, and all. And she couldn't very well take off her skin to conceal what had gotten the others into trouble. Womanhood to her wasn't a performance art as it was for her colleagues - it was her state of being; and she had the debt and the surgical scars to prove it. Thanks to people's small-mindedness and thinking with their fists rather than their brains, walking around at night made her antsy; even if her flat was a hop, skip, and a jump away from the club, and the street was deserted.
She lit her cigarette as she finally braved the downpour and stepped from the stoop outside the back entrance to the club; taking a drag, and blowing a cloud of smoke out in front of her face, watching it dissipate into nothing. Walking away, the ground still felt almost foreign beneath her feet; no wonder, given that less than fifteen minutes ago, she'd been suspended some twenty feet above it.
Apparently these days, female impersonation also required one to be part acrobat, circus act, and gymnast, alongside vaudeville performer; wirework, of all the other nonsense pertaining to stunts, tightropes, and all the rest of it, was quite possibly her favourite gimmick; and it was one usually reserved for her, too; she was the only one among the troupe of around twenty that possessed the right breed of insanity to be able to pull it off.
The routine which she'd just finished performing, set to Madonna's Like a Prayer, was a personal favourite of hers; almost more burlesque than it was drag in the traditional sense - sensual, and almost sacrilegious if you were to squint. Gracing the smoke-drowned stage initially in a dress of yards of black lace, she was cast into the air via the harness at her hips as the first chorus began, staying there for the remainder of the number; upon each verse, more and more of her outfit found its way into the audience until she was clad in little else but a duplicate of the black slip Madonna had donned in the song's video. It was apparently quite something to watch; certainly quite something to perform. She adored the act; she adored the song; she adored the sensation of flying, and the astonishing feeling of sexiness that came over her whilst she performed. She hadn't wanted it to end.
But alas, it had. The song was finished; the show was over - or at least her part was; and she was left to wander home by herself. It was an astounding thing really; a grown woman of thirty-four petrified of the dark, and of what lurked in it. Oh, get a grip, Bernadette, she mentally snapped at herself; walking down the empty pavement; umbrella over her head, and fag hanging nonchalantly from the corner of her mouth. Smoking to her was less of a need for some sort of fix, and more of a fashion statement if she was being honest. She still wore a full face of makeup; her hair loose to her shoulders, flat and a touch frizzy from her wig cap - opportunistic, she'd scarpered whilst it was quiet rather than hanging around to remove the garishness of the show from her face and fix her locks, then lounge around the backstage dressing room with the other girls like overfed housecats; drinking, smoking, and bitching. That was all a part of the lifestyle, naturally, and generally she enjoyed it, but tonight was different. She didn't know why, but the immediate urge of just go home had struck her wheon she heard the rain, and her mind had been made up there and then.
The streetlamps bathed the path in a dull orange glow; the lights that adorned the sign outside of the club reflecting garishly pink and blue in the rainwater on the ground. Walking past, in the small, quick strides of wearing heels, she took a quick glance at the exterior of the building; seeing herself on posters was still weird. But nonetheless, there she was; in the centre of a throng of queens, gazing off to one side with her hand on her hip, in a dress of black sequins with evening gloves up to her elbows; 'Les Girls', the spread proclaimed. 'World-renowned cabaret. Starring Miss Bernadette Bassenger'.
She didn't linger. She was by now cold and wet, her cig smoked down to the filter; and besides, the bottle of rosé in her fridge was calling to her. The sooner she got home, the better. She had once again adopted her usual stance; head bowed, chin virtually on her chest, with one hand in the pocket of her trench coat, clenched in a white-knuckled fist around her keys - set to weaponise them if she so needed. Doubtful, but by now it was a force of habit.
At best, she was a block away from her complex when she encountered the first - and only - individual of her entire commute. If there was one thing she had never understood about men - besides the issue that they inexplicably all had with stepping out of the way if someone was coming towards them - it was catcalling. What on earth was that intended to achieve? He was around six paces behind her; drunk as a skunk - that wasn't even up for debate. He was probably equivalent to three and a half of her sellotaped together; slight though she was, she was almost dead on six feet tall, and he had a good head on her. The comments had been juvenile - remarking about her ass, asking her to go home with him; the usual prattle. She continued to walk, unfazed - not even willing to dignify his crap with a response, or even turn her head. That was when the abuse kicked off - frigid bitch who can't take a complement, so on and so forth. She rolled her eyes; her grip tightening on the keys regardless.
"Oi! I'm talking to you, you stupid cunt," he grabbed her by the shoulder, and she whipped round, her sodden hair smacking her across the face. His grip on her arm was like a vice; horrifyingly tight, and unwavering even as she tried to break herself away from him. She let go of the keys, her legs turning almost to jelly; grasping hold of his hand and pulling his fingers back; digging her false nails as hard as he could into his meaty fingers.
"Please get off of me," she drawled, deadpan as he scowled at her. She smiled as she took note of his bulldog-chewing-a-wasp expression, pert and pretty as she could muster; even in spite of the fact she was shitting her pants. It took her a while to notice how his expression was convulsing into something of disgust; taking note of her makeup, and most probably her other insecurities that she knew for a fact made her look more masculine than she really cared for; her height, for one; jawline; hands; voice...she wasn't sure what did it, but she watched something within him snap as he glared at her, drinking in her details. His eyes widened in a strange sort of horror, and his grip loosened; she flinched away, her heart thumping in her chest. She was a deer in headlights; too afraid to run, but completely aware that there would be consequences if she were to just stand there. She tried to move, but some useless, subconscious part of her brain refused to allow her; she could only watch with mounting fear as he clenched a fist, practically foaming at the mouth.
"You fuckin' freak!" The punch landed square between her eyes; knocking her flying and stunning her somewhat. She tried to bring herself up from the collapsed heap on the sodden ground where she lay; her head swimming and vision hazy. He grabbed her by the front of the jacket; her legs still refusing to cooperate, she was limp in his grip - the pain in her forehead white-hot, and her face ominously warm and wet.
"Well, I suppose that fuck's now out of the question?" She stumbled her way through the sentence, chewing her words and stammering. The wind was knocked from her as he slammed her body against the wall to their left; she doubled over, spluttering.
"You wanna fuck with me, Little Miss Showgirl?" He spoke through gritted teeth; his face ruddy. He must've been around forty; dark brown hair slightly receding, plastered to his head with the rain. "What the fuck are you?" She knew exactly what he had meant in spite of the vagueness, and his blunt cruelty made her feel sick to her stomach. "Tranny," he spat at her viciously; literally spat - she cringed as his saliva smattered her face. Another punch came; this one hitting her in the side of the nose as she flinched away from him. She heard the crunch - felt it, as scarlet sprayed from her nostrils in a foam. He dropped her to the floor, and she crumpled against the bricks; head lolling like a ragdoll's as she dripped blood, snot, and cartilage into her lap; legs akimbo, her stiletto-clad feet angled inwards. She could barely think; lest of all call for help, or get up and start running. "You disgusting bitch...you fuckin tricked me!"
"I didn't ask you to pass comment on my arse, sir," her voice was gravelly; only just audible. "You started it."
"She-male," he howled at her, enraged that she was still daring to defy him; in all honesty, her mouth had just started talking without her thinking about what was coming out of it. Before she'd even managed to acknowledge what was happening, his boot had collided with her chest; a sharp burst of agony erupted at the base of her sternum, doubling her over as she lay on the ground. Her breath was coming in hollow, sporadic bursts; irregular, and intensely painful. Each inhalation hurt, if at all possible, more than the last.
She convulsed with utter disgust as he straddled her waist on his knees; panicking as she was uncertain of what he intended to do, she clenched her legs as hard together as they'd go. Her face hurt like hell; blood dripping off it from unknown places - her torso worse. The only bone she had ever broken in her life had been a finger at the tender age of four and a half; thirty years ago, so evidently she couldn't remember the specifics of the pain, but in spite of this, she was willing to bet her bottom dollar that at least one of her ribs was fractured. Her nose too - that concerned her more. Broken ribs could be hidden with ease beneath clothing; but makeup and clever lighting could only do so much for a beak.
Her worrying about her battered exterior had culminated in nothing besides her dropping her guard; another punch, square in the jaw; swiftly followed by a fourth to the mouth. Tears streamed involuntarily from her eyes as her lips were slammed into her incisors; she turned her head, spitting out a mouthful of claret - yet more fucking blood - and what both looked and felt ominously like fragments of her teeth. He was spewing puce curses still, but they were going straight over her head - sounds, not articulate words. If they were, she couldn't make them out. Maybe she was concussed - who knew? Her jaw was probably broken too now. Another hit connected with her temple - that pain was phenomenal; her head felt almost as though it was about to burst, as the force slammed her face against the tarmac, grazing her cheek. He had a ring on; some dirty great chunk of ostentatious rock that was taking chunks of her face with it as he collided with her. His hands were bright red; he looked as though he had been gutting an animal.
She wasn't fighting back any more; she had no words, and no fight left to put up. Only meek whimpers and involuntary flinches. She didn't feel like herself any more - it was almost as though she was watching it happen; aware of what was going on, but not reacting to it. She was zoning out; probably verging on unconsciousness. Another hit had come on her décolletage, jarring into her collarbone; she cried out a little as she felt that snap too - a little had been all she was able to manage.
Her nameless attacker finally stood up; the words still flying in a vicious babble. She found herself sighing heavily although it hurt her ribs; it was over. At last it was over; she could drag herself home; clean her face, and ice her injuries - though she doubted there were enough bags of frozen peas in the world to sufficiently accomplish this - and get herself checked out by a professional in the morning. Of course there was the issue of work, but that bridge was to be crossed when it was reached. She scrambled frantically, trying to stand up or even drag herself forward...but her new friend had entirely other plans for her.
It was a kick to the head that put her out; one collision between her cranium and the steel toecap of his boot had been what it eventually took. She felt that gut-wrenching burst once again...and then black. Endless, noiseless black.
The backstage dressing room of Les Girls was utter chaos. Feathery, glitzy, obnoxiously loud chaos. Once a show was done for the night, the bunch of them were prone to laying around until all hours of the morning doing fuck all - talking conquests and costumes whilst the daiquiris flowed. It was a good atmosphere; safe and homey as total disarray could possibly feel. And as Bernadette came to in the gutter, the first thing she did was query why on earth she had chosen to leave that safety net in favour of getting home without encountering any people. If she had only hung around for another twenty minutes, perhaps - maybe even ten; maybe if she had admired the poster for a little longer, or smoked her cigarette under the covered exit (or better yet, inside) - she wouldn't be where she was.
Her hair was soaked; clinging to her face and neck in tiny snakes - tendrils stained red in places up to the roots with blood. The majority of her makeup had been washed away; raccoon rings of mascara beneath her eyes being all that really remained. Her lashes were stuck together in clumps with blood - the stuff was drying at the corners of her mouth; still dripping steadily from her nose; staining her fawn coat unpleasant shades of red and brown - it was fucking everywhere. She felt as though somebody had dropped an anvil onto her head; her chest was tight, as though somebody was sitting on it - and each and every breath she took pained her. She could scarcely stand to move her left arm thanks to her injured clavicle. Her entire body felt like a bruise - aching beyond belief, and almost unable to function.
Alone. She was totally and utterly alone; and the aloneness was inescapable; between the chill of the August night air, and the drenched clothes clinging to her trembling form - she looked as though she had taken a shower whilst fully dressed - she could well die where she was lying. She couldn't stand; she could barely speak - she could barely even breathe, in fact. Crying was at this point about all that she physically could do. Curled in on herself - umbrella gone - fuck knows where that had ended up; one shoe missing - about a metre away from her right foot; and her face a bloodied mess, - she couldn't even resist the silent sobs which wracked her body she had so little energy. It was pathetic, but then again she was pathetic. She'd let some shithead beat her senseless with no attempt at retort or escape besides a few bitchy remarks and the odd screech - how very useful of your, Bernice. She cursed herself internally; if only she'd waited. If only she'd ran. If only she had kicked him, or spat at him, or fought back. There were so many 'if onlys' and 'what ifs' that her head spun; all she knew was her regret, and her anger at everything she had done, or rather hadn't done. She just lay in the centre of this mess that she had made of herself; unable to move, shedding her tears of self-pity on the ground as the sky continued to rain on her.
It was still raining. Bernadette hated the fucking rain.