The name Krystall Nacht had been a wry joke at first, but never had she been malicious.
The feeling of synthetic hair against her shoulders in wisps of surreal plastic echoes back to different times; not harder, not easier, but separated distinctly from his current experiences. A darkly lit basement doubling as a show space in Zagreb's red light district was no place to find a fairy godmother or transform into Cinderella at the ball. Yelena had been better to that skinny, death metal and showtune-loving slip of a girly boy, with his scraped knuckles and patched up leather jacket, than perhaps he deserved at the time. He was all piss and vinegar then, spiteful and frustrated like every other queer teenager at that hormonal age of fifteen.
The blond and purple mess sitting on her head now, as she stares into the face she hadn't expected to miss so deeply, is one of Hedwig’s. The first wig had been one of Daria’s, a black Cher cut that sat over his eyebrows and framed his cheeks. The image of his tiny, unimpressive form reflected in a mirror with a crack running down the middle, lit from the side by an unflattering lamp clipped to the table serving as a makeshift vanity. Cyril and Daria’s laughs echoes in their tiny bubble of personal space, shared voluntarily with a teenage Yitzhak. He looked so unfamiliar then, with his face made up and pimples, scrapes and shaving disasters hidden from view. For the very first time, he felt beautiful.
"You should work with your eyebrows, honey. You have a rare opportunity."
"What?" asked the fifteen year old boy, eyes suddenly brighter than disappointment and frustration had allowed them to be before this moment of self-discovery. Yelena leaned forward and brushed those wisps of wig hair forward over pin-and-ink tattoos. She smelled of honey and opportunity.
"A Jewish drag queen; I haven't seen one around here in years. You can make them love you with their guilt."
Malicious, Krystall's intentions had never been; the same could not be said of her fairy godmother’s.
In their Motel 8 room, the mirror isn't cracked. All the vices of this sort of place are under the surface, in poorly washed sheets and the lining wallpaper in repetition. The wig comes off of her head with care, and down onto the foam head labelled Cyndi. Near-black hair sticks to her head from a combination of sweat, pressure, and product. She can see her face clearly in the glass as she wipes Krystall from her skin to become Yitzhak again, glitter and foundation smeared and stuck in her pores. She looks behind without turning, through the looking glass at Hedwig in reverse, sitting listlessly at the edge of the bed. The blankets were tucked in by the cleaning staff that morning and they had barely shifted at all from Hedwig's weight.
She looks so small there, barely pressing her exposed form into the mattress.
The first time he saw Hedwig perform, the crowd from the 9PM drag show had petered out into the street. All who remained were drunk married men, the saddest old queers who survived the war in their youth by selling out their friends and hiding, and the talent. Some of them came out to the remains of the day in half-hazard glamour, with glitter clinging to the corners of their eyes and cocaine rimming their nostrils. Others left their vivacity in garment bags to creep in near invisibility towards the bar. So often Krystall made the rounds but that night, depleted and wary of someone barely worth calling an ex, she melted back into Yitzhak wrapped in leather, guarded by the wall of his own shoulders and the bartenders’ favor.
He met Hedwig's eyes then, he was sure of it, though she wouldn't remember his face the next time.
As the last minute talent for a midnight show on a Tuesday, Hedwig shined and shimmered with the strength of a laugh and unadulterated German strength of will. She barely echoes herself now, on the other side of the mirror, still as the album cover of a full emotional shutdown. She looks so small in those leather shorts and with what was left of that silver cross smeared across her forehead; like a skin Tommy Gnosis had shed and discarded. It was as if Hedwig were a product of his work and not the reverse, as if Tommy hadn't sucked the life out of her, leaving her only a hard, crystalline shell.
Yitzhak looks at himself in the mirror again, and his hair falls down upon his forehead like an apostrophe. That wig that sits discarded on its rightful head must mock Hedwig, but for him it shimmers with wings of opportunity.
He sighs through his nose, delicate as that clean, chemical smell of makeup remover left over from two swipes but not three; not enough for the evidence of Krystal to disappear again. He stands and he glimmers like a beetle in that bodysuit that was meant for Hedwig and not himself. The cars driving by at random intervals catch sequins, like broken glass twinkling in the night, like the remains of a crystal night. Yizhak exists, under fluorescence and the occasional glare of headlights, as Hedwig had never allowed him to be; both man where the wig had once been and woman with princess pink lips, clad in fishnets with his penis tucked under and down between his thighs. That rediscovered, delicate bird padded shoelessly to the corner of the bed where Hedwig sat, unmoving in her morose emptiness. He got to his knees before her, this hunching, skinny thing he almost didn’t recognize - had she always been so thin?
She doesn't look at him, until she does. He sees her there, his Hedwig, with that spark of defiance attempting to conceal deeper fears.
As far as bites from Hedwig Schmidt went, it was far from the most viciously sharp one pointed in her husband's direction. Her attempt at roughness barely stings, and a hand wraps around one of hers. Their hands have always been about the same size; she yanks hers away weakly like a rubber band stretched too thin.
She doesn't need to shout at him or push him away. He knows from just a single look what she expects. She expects for him to leave of his own volition, to “search for his artistic independence”. Tommy had, and Hedwig had done far more to deserve it this time around. Her lips are tight, her cheeks sucked hollow. How very fucking German.
"You're very good, you know. You're a shit writer but we can’t all have everything."
Hedwig deflects, she always does, as she tries to pull herself further into her male shell that persistently defies her. Nothing could hurt her if she was inside. The shell had hardened to protect her from all manner of nuclear fallout, she told herself. Life is an absolute bitch like that.
He takes Hedwig’s hand again, firmer and more demanding of attention. She lacks the energy to pull away a second time.
"Why are you still here, Krystall?"
There's power in a name, isn’t there? There always has been, in every religion and culture on their vast, lonely planet floating through space. To name a thing is to give it identity, and so rarely do we name ourselves. Others place names upon us like they place their expectations. They attempt to give us our place in the world by their own design; our mothers, our lovers, our fairy godmothers. Krystall had been his name for himself once upon a long time ago, chosen out of a combination of raw Slavic dark humor and spite. She called herself Krystall Nacht because her Slavic blood craved the irony of a good laugh, the truth it held to her blood and body. Krystall was the belle of the ball, her choice, her identity. What was she without her identity?
Well, she was Hedwig's. She was happy, for a time.
Their hands are the same size. She's taller than him, thinner in build and has lived so long as a woman, but their hands fit into one another perfectly. He promised when they married that he would be there for her, to choose to name himself for her comfort, for her survival. He could be Yitzhak again of his own volition, on his own terms, if he wanted to be. He took her hand down to rest against his crotch, covered in a layer of sequins with the bits Hedwig lacked and longed for tucked away; a familiar motion of ownership, for Hedwig; an echo of the dynamic she claimed without question. He leans forward on his haunches and lets both of his hands be free again. They cradle Hedwig's face, smearing black and pink into a muddled mess, a combination of shimmer and cake. Their identity, together, unconforming.
"I am not going anywhere."