The Night Papa Was a Woman

by Lawrence Kessenich

The Benevento wine shops had hung bunches of bay leaves in their windows on Carnivale, calling the men of our village to taste the new vintage. Papa went, as he always did, and this time was chosen by his friends as the one they’d get drunk. And drunk he got, staggering home an hour before the Carnivale parade that always passed in front of our house.

“I want to be a woman!” he bellowed the moment he got in the door. He shouted for my mother and told her, “I will dress up like a woman and walk in the parade! You are a woman—you will help me be one!” Trying to stifle her laughter, she escorted him to their bedroom, where she pulled out dress after dress, until she found a red one that satisfied him. He stripped to his underclothes and she fitted him with one of her bras, stuffing the cups with stockings and underwear.

Next was makeup—mascara and rouge and lipstick to match the red dress—then nylon stockings, wig and precarious high heels. He emerged, my somber Papa, looking like a whore in the town square, but he was happy— happier than I’d ever seen him.

My mother’s parents, her sister and cousin had gotten wind of what was going on and gathered in front of the house, awaiting the exit that would be his entrance. And then the parade arrived, led by an accordion and tuba and drum, with people dressed as clowns and animals and mythological beings, all shouting and dancing and singing.

And then my Papa emerged, standing as tall as a short man unsure on his heels could stand, red lips parted in drunken song. He melted into the throng, Nana and Grandpa and Mama and Auntie laughing so hard they had to lean against the house.

I laughed, too—not because I thought Papa a fool, but because it was a joy to see him wobbling down the street in nylons and heels, for this one night a happy woman.