In the city by the lake

By Taylor Saracen
Special to

When Viktor met—and subsequently fell in love with -— his client Abraham’s Georgia Peach of a boyfriend Calvin Connolly, the mobster didn’t imagine he would forge a relationship with Cal’s queer friend, Rosie. Rosie was unlike anyone Viktor had met before. Vik was used to drag queens who put on an act and removed their makeup after a show, but Rosie was much more committed to being a female than a performer, though, at his core, he was both.

JULY 1932

For the remainder of spring, I went to The Studio once a week to be with Cal, always during The Gallery on State’s busiest hours. I didn’t want to visit too frequently, or when I knew Abraham had down time. Though Cal had assured me there was nothing to worry about regarding Abe, I didn’t want to wreck my relationship with the bar owner. It was too lucrative to decimate, and times were too uncertain to test Cal’s confidence in the matter. While I wasn’t sure if Abraham knew what was going on between his Peach and me, if he did, I didn’t want to rub his face in whatever it was we had. What did we have? Sex, longer conversations than I’d ever had with anyone in my life, something comfortable that wasn’t supposed to be, something … we had something. I wasn’t certain what the hell it was, but I liked it, and that was significant, because I found it difficult to like a lot of things, but I liked a lot of him.
By the time summer came, we had started to carve out more opportunities to be together. While I still didn’t risk lying in his bed too often, I did meet him for mornings at Oak Street beach, where we tucked our toes in the sand, and afternoons of lounging in the grass at Bughouse Square, listening to soapbox orators spout their thoughts and watching people who liked to be watched. Sometimes, Rosie would join us. I had grown less suspect of the skittish sissy the more I’d gotten to know him. It wasn’t as though I craved his company, but it didn’t offend me to have him around. Though I had never asked Rosie his story, Cal had shared it and the boy chimed in with his soft, sad voice when he found it necessary. It hadn’t shocked me that it was a pathetic tale. Unfortunately, it made perfect sense that it would be.
Rosie was born Roberto to Italian parents who had long names I didn’t care to remember. He was the youngest of six and the only boy, a child his father had waited for, but Roberto hadn’t waited long enough. He was born three months early, scrawny and gray. His dad called him a failed miscarriage, which was nearly as shitty as what my dad had said about me. I’m sure if they had been Russian and not Italian, Rosie’s parents would have sung him death lullabies too. I guess Rosie always felt like he should’ve been born a girl or not born at all. He was mostly ignored, but his parents paid enough attention to catch him wearing his sisters’ clothes as a teen. When he couldn’t stop sneaking their garments, his folks had kicked him out on the street, and somehow the gamin had found his way to Chicago, to Abraham, to Cal, the latter of whom was incredibly protective of him.

It was endearing, the way Cal cared for Rosie. Maybe that’s why I didn’t make a big deal about the chorus moll spending time with us. I wouldn’t have had the capacity to be as tender toward Rosie as Cal was. After all, I liked Cal immensely, and I often found it difficult to be as expressive as I wished I could and was glad I could not be.

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