by Mitzi Gaynor

"She's got a wand in her hand."

Thursday, fucking Thursday. Summer in Lost Vegas. Or August in Hell, same difference. The sun is baking the city into the valley floor. I've got this guy's car for the day. So I head out on Tropicana Boulevard going east. I've got a sandwich from the deli, a Diet Dr. Pepper, and I'm gonna drive till I get someplace cool.

I pass steady lines of strip malls, interrupted by patches of vacant desert. The car ain't got an air conditioner. Well, it's got one, but it only blows hot air. I gotta find someplace cool. And soon.

I see up ahead a pink and copper-colored building. It's The Liberace Museum. I never been there before.

Outside is a big sign saying that The Liberace Museum is the second most visited tourist attraction in Nevada. Don't ask me what's first. Probably the Atomic Flats.

So I pull in. I'm the only car there. No one is visiting The Liberace Museum today. I grab my sandwich and my Diet Dr. Pepper and head inside.

It's cool and dark in there. My bare feet click on the cool marble floors.

But right away I see they mean business. There's a charge of six bucks to get into The Liberace Museum. And there's a brittle lady there to collect it. She wants to know what state I'm from. The state of anxiety, I tell her. But she don't think that's funny. She ain't laughed in years. You can tell.

Then she tells me that The Liberace Foundation has funded musicians in every state of the union. And if I can tell her the name of my state, she can tell me the names of the institutions in my state they have funded. It is information she has committed to memory.

"Well, hell, with a mind like that," I say, "it's no wonder you're working at The Liberace Museum." She don't think that's too funny neither. So I try to make nice. "What a wonderful thing. You're striving to turn out a whole lot more little Liberaces. I personally have never thought there was anywhere near enough little Liberaces."

She looks sort of dog faced. I've gone and pissed her off. Now she's less likely to let me in free. Sometimes it's true - just like my old lady used to say - I ain't got the sense of a gnat in a net.

"Admission to the collections is six dollars," she says.

"Collections of what?" I say.

"His pianos, his cars, his costumes -- some of them weighing over two hundred pounds - his jewels including the world's largest rhinestone and his memorabilia. Admission is six dollars." She's got a wand in her hand.

I pull my shorts down cuz they're riding up my butt. Of course, I ain't got six bucks, and if I did, I wouldn't spend it on The Liberace Museum. I try the direct approach. "You know, I have come off without my purse. Do you think you could let me in for free?"

"Admission is six dollars," she says and points her wand at a little sign.

"I know, but I've come away without my purse."

"You've also come away without your shoes," she says. "You must wear shoes to enter the collections."

I toss my shoes on the floor and step into them. She eyes me.

"We do not allow food or beverage into the collections."

I shove my sandwich and pop under my arm. It's clear I've got to do a better job. And it's gonna be hard. I don't think good before noon. "Look," I say, "maybe you don't know who I am. My brother was Liberace's lover."

"So what else is new?" she says. She's used to people trying to sneak into The Liberace Museum for free. I flower it up.

"Liberace's the one that give my brother AIDS," I say. "Liberace's the one that give me AIDS." That zings her one. I've got her on the ropes. But I don't let up. I throw another body shot. "It would mean a lot to be in the same room with the things that belonged to my dead murderer."

She looks straight at my tits and hands me a brochure. I smile and slide on through like a snake into the garden of Eden.

It is cool and dark in The Liberace Museum. I slip out of my shoes and walk barefoot on the cool floors. Up ahead a mirrored piano twirls in a circle of light. A wax Liberace sits on the stool and rides around. He's grinning and spinning. "Moonlight Sonata" gushes through the speakers.

"Now this is more like it," I say. And I offer up a little prayer of thanks to the god of The Liberace Museum. "Thank you for your cool floors, this little bench, and the fact that they ain't no other people in The Liberace Museum today." I take out my sandwich and my Diet Dr. Pepper. This is the first time I've sat down in days.

Me and Eddie are having problems. Mostly he's in this awful mood all the time. And he can't get it up. Hasn't had it up in months. But I don't mind about that so much. Me and Eddie are together for lots of reasons besides sex. Right now, though, I can't remember what those reasons are.

Last night he had a big fight with Eddie Jay. Him and Eddie Jay do not get along. Last night was the worst. Eddie Jay come home with this friend of his, this dancer from the Follies Bergere. At first Eddie was impressed. But then her and Eddie Jay started talking about sequins and head dresses. Eddie pitched a fit. "It sounds like two girls in there," he says.

I told him to lay off the kid, so he waited for the dancer from the Follies Bergere left, then he beat the shit out of Eddie Jay. "Fight back," he'd yell and punch him again. Eddie Jay just stood there bleeding. I had to go get the shovel to stop it.

So that's how come I borrowed this guy's car today and just took off. When I get in one of these moods, I just wanna pack up my dogs and my kid and move someplace...

All of a sudden a voice comes over the speakers. "Attention patrons of The Liberace Museum, your tour guide will be conducting a tour of the museum and its collections beginning immediately."

I hide my Diet Dr. P and look around. There ain't a frigging soul in the place but me. I'm gonna have to go on this goddamn tour. I'm gonna have to look interested!

The voice comes back. "Today's tour will be conducted by a special guest of the museum." The brittle woman with the wand strides over to me. "I think our patrons are ready for your tour."

Just then, in comes a couple of ladies from Indiana. They got scarves on their hair, and they're wearing pastel polyester pants suits and matching blouses with ruffles. One of them saw Liberace live in three cities: Las Vegas, Nevada, Hammond, Indiana and Radio City Music Hall. She claims his best show by far was in Hammond, Indiana. "You remember how Miss America looks right after she's been crowned and takes her first walk down the ramp? Liberace looked just like her. Except his cape was made out of solid white fur. And it weighed over two hundred pounds."

The brittle lady with a wand points at me. "This is our personal guest of The Liberace Museum, brought here especially to give you her own personalized tour of the collections."

I stand up and pull down my shorts while I think up something to say. The woman has thrown a good punch. I'm on the ropes. "You been here before," I say to them. Turns out they come to The Liberace Museum every time they come to Las Vegas, and they come to Las Vegas every Labor Day with their husbands.

"Oh look," says the woman who saw him live in three cities, "they have a new exhibit." The two of them rush over to the glass case containing a white costume with a big collar made out of white feathers and a big circular cape with an eighteen yard train. "This is his second costume from Radio City Music Hall," she says. "he wore it when he rode out on stage in the white rhinestone limousine."

The other lady sighs. But she don't believe you could get a car onto a stage.

"It's Radio City Music Hall," says the woman who saw him live in three cities. "That's how big it is."

Her friend tries to imagine how big that would be, but it's really beyond imagination. She shakes her head like a kid transfixed by the size of the universe.

"He was radiant," says the woman who saw him live in three cities. "It was his last show....And only he knew it. He sacrificed so much to make his last appearance at Radio City Music Hall. It was a dream come true for him. And so he was radiant."

Then like synchronized swimmers, the two of them bow their heads and hum while they remember what they were doing on the day they heard the news of Liberace's death. When they finish, they look up at me. They're ready for my personalized tour of the collection.

"Yes, it was a dream come true," I say. "He come from a poor background, so it was a dream come true. His last performance at Radio City Music Hall."

"Did you see his last performance?" says the woman who saw him live in three cities.

"Yes. Did you see his last performance?" says the brittle woman with the wand.

"No. I knew Liberace before," I say. "Before he was famous. I knew him in childhood."

The ladies from Indiana sigh with pleasure. "Where did he grow up?" they want to know.

"Have you ever been to Winnemucca, Nevada?" Of course, they ain't been to Winnemucca, Nevada. Ain't even heard of Winnemucca, Nevada. "Well, that's where he grew up," I say, "in a trailer park in Winnemucca, Nevada."

The brittle lady with the wand is watching me like a matador. But I go on. "As a child he had no toys. He lived in a one-room trailer with his father who smoked cigarettes and watched t.v. for a living and his mother who dealt blackjack at a casino. As a poor boy, without toys, he used to dress up in his mother's curtains and parade around the trailer park. Everyone thought he was nuts."

"Especially his father," says the lady that saw him live in three cities.

"Yeah," I say, "especially his father who thought he was nuts. But what else could he do? He had no toys."

"Except for the toys his father gave him," she says. "The guns and trucks, baseball bats and cross bows. The toys his father gave him."

"Yeah. Except the toys his father gave him. Which he hated. Because he hated his father."

"He was expected to shoot the rabbits of childhood," she says, "stand up to the plate and hit like a man. He was expected to crash his little trucks into one another the way of children in childhood. He was expected to go fishing every Sunday with his father who woke him up at 4:30 in the morning with the same old tired tune. 'Rise and shine, the sun is already on your behind.'"

"Yes," I say. "That's what happened to him in Winnemucca. In Winnemucca, Nevada."

The brittle woman with the wand steps up, looks straight at me. "Liberace grew up in Milwaukee," she says. "In Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We have photographs and memorabilia."

"Yes," I say. "That's what he always said. But it was an invention. The story he told to the newspapers. In order to hide the bitter memories of his life in Winnemucca, Nevada."

"We have unnumbered photos," says the woman with the wand. "Countless items of documentation. Several pounds of memorabilia."

"Sure you do," I say. "Unnumbered lies. Countless items of inventions. Several pounds of pure crap!" I'm done with the woman and her wand. I'm dealing with the ladies from Indiana now. They want to know when he learned how to play the piano.

"He didn't have to learn how to play the piano," I say. "The first time he sat down at a piano, he could play."

"It was a gift from God," says the woman who saw him live in three cities. "My son is like that."

Her friend is tugging at the ruffles on the woman's sleeve. She don't want her friend to get carried away.

"Yes. It was a gift he was born with," I say, "like a flair he had from birth, this interest in feathers and beauty, in sequins and head dresses."

"From an early age, he was rare," she says. "He could sing his own songs and play the piano backwards. He could dress in his sister's scarves. Most young men are not so fortunate. They are the common boys, the ordinary boys who play their boyhood games. They are not the boys who will one day become extraordinary stars."

Her friend has a permanent hold on her sleeve now, trying to keep her from floating off. But there's no pulling her back. "If your son was to grow up to be an accountant or the manager of a franchise," she says, "you would not know from an early age what he would be. Those are the common boys, the ordinary boys who play their boyhood games. They are not the boys who will one day become extraordinary stars."

"That's right," I say.

"It is not right," says the woman with the wand. "This is not right at all."

I spin on her. "This is right," I yell. "This is exactly right!"

But the woman who saw him live in three cities does not take note of us. She calmly and proudly announces the facts. "My own son," she says. "He was born rare. He remains rare."

Her friend lets loose of her sleeve. She backs away and whispers to the woman with the wand. "Her son is not living. She speaks of him as if he were. But her son is not living." She tries to change the subject. "Do you know anything about his mother?" she says. "The mother of the man? Mrs. Liberace?"

The woman with the wand looks at me. She's quiet now. She's waiting for me to answer, but I don't say nothing. Finally she looks down at her wand and then back up. Very quietly she says, "The young Liberace learned everything he knew from his mother who cared for him and nourished his dream. She taught him how to play, how to dress. How to make his dream come true. He was her little man."

With that, the woman who saw him live in three cities moves up onto the twirling platform. She touches the face of the wax Liberace, then sits down at the piano next to him.

"Excuse me," says her friend, sidling up to the woman with the wand. "But are you Mrs. Liberace? Are you the mother of the man?"

"Mrs. Liberace is dead," she says.

"Mrs. Liberace is dead," says the friend, calling out. "The mother of the man is dead."

"So is her son," says the woman who saw him live in three cities. "Liberace is dead! Long live Liberace!" And she begins to play. She rides around in the circle playing and twirling. The wax Liberace rides with her, waving and spinning.

I head over to the glass case and take out the white robe. I put it on the shoulders of the woman with the wand. "Liberace is dead," I say. And I begin to waltz with her. "Long liveLiberace," she says. And we dance in the circle of light around the twirling piano. To the music of "The Moonlight Sonata."