After his thirteenth birthday, Alexander Jackson begged to be called anything but Alex. Al. Lex. George. Fartweasel. Anything. Before that day, he had been indifferent. After that day, Alex he would not be called.
Mother brushed his concerns away and said that if Alex had been a suitable moniker for his great-grandfather, Alexander Patterson, the renowned late senator of New York for whom he had been named, then certainly it was good enough for him.
Alexander’s mother was descended from Money, and for that reason, he was able to attend the finest prep school in the Bronx. His father mopped the school floors, and for that reason he was able to attend for free. He wasn’t well liked there. No one told him that he didn’t belong. Mostly they ignored him. He was chubby and poor at sports; he assumed this was why he was left alone. On those rare sunny days when someone talked with him at recess, they were kindly treated to one of his stories and one of his homemade snacks (Mother made irresistible German chocolate cupcakes with thick coconut icing), regardless of age or gender or athletic ability.
So when the girl a few grades down from him with a dozen braids sprouting all over her head started to follow him around, he was well pleased, even when she bossed into his stories and made him change all the endings to reflect equal treatment of women and minority creatures. Each of those bewitching braids was secured at the end with a gaudy pink barrette which she would swing into Alex’s face to punish him when he was wrong about something. He was wrong at least once a day. Once, one of the barrettes had worked itself free from her braid and stabbed him right through the eye. She didn’t speak to him for two days after – that, too, was his own wrongdoing – but he kept the little weapon of death as a souvenir.
Those pink plastic daggers were against the strict dress code, but no one dared tell the Girl that she didn’t belong, either. She was attending the school on a diversity scholarship, and a portion of the school’s federal funding relied on her regular attendance and admirably superior grades. She wore them with flair and spent her recesses eating sweets with the janitor’s son.
All of this was good for Alex. The bad? She was called Alex, too.
On his thirteenth birthday, they had a disagreement. Alex the Boy was wrong about something. Alex the Girl had recently suffered a haircut, and was mourning the loss of her pink barrettes. Having nothing to fling at him to remind him how wrong he was, she narrowed her eyes and said the words that would change him forever.
“Alex is a girl’s name.”
It was the end of his world.
Concurrently with this devastating revelation, Alexander’s father was interviewing for a job as junior maintenance crew at a new super-retro dance club called The Electrolux Palace. He brought his son to see the place and boy and man both fell in love with the four-story 20th century Beaux Arts architecture. Neither knew those highfalutin words yet, but they would learn them in the near future, poring together over dusty books of art history and manuals of plumbing and mason repair. Equally, they loved the wires and the lights and the sound and the smells of the dance club. They sat together in the wings while the wild patrons danced and the hypnotic beats moved their hearts.
For the first time, Clive Jackson saw a bright future for his son in the promising world of general building maintenance. He clapped the boy on the back and called him by a new diminutive of his forename, one that paid homage to the building they had both fallen so soundly in love with. He called his son Lux. The name might not have stuck, but his mother was horrified and said her son would never-never-ever be called after a filthy, wicked den of sex and loud music. That sealed it. From that day forward, Alexander Jackson would respond to nothing else, no matter how Mother begged and pleaded. Eventually, even she came around.
The maintenance job at the club paid double what the prep school had, but it wasn’t enough to make tuition. Lux left for public school. He said goodbye to lonely lunches, too-tight uniforms, and Alex the Girl. On his first day at P.S. 173, where he was well-liked, he told the other children that his name was Lux. And from that day forward it was.
“So, to make a long story short, your legal name is Mrs. Alexander Jackson. Mrs. Lina Jackson. But no one will ever call you that, I’m afraid. They’ve already started to called you Mrs. Lux. Now if you’re thinking of monogrammed towels, the correct monogram for you would be lower case L uppercase J lowercase N. But that’s boring. I say skip the traditional and we’ll just get double-Ls. Lux and Lina. Lina and Lux. I like the ring of it.” He groaned and kissed the side of her neck. “What do you think?”
Lina laughed and wrapped her arms around him, shuffling down so that her head was laying on his chest. Not comfortable for him but it was nice and just inviting enough to get him a little revved up again. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Lux,” she said into his skin.
“Before the fall,” he said, “when people got married, they would have their initials embroidered onto towels. Oh, you know. Like my robe. The one that has an R sewn on the breastpocket.”
“But you aren’t called anything that starts with R.”
“No,” he laughed. “But the hotel I liberated the robes from was.”
Later, when Lina was all the way asleep on her stomach and snoring lightly, he disentangled himself from her. He had been so happy this week that he thought talking about the old days couldn’t pierce his mood. But somehow it had. He pulled the robe around his waist without bothering to close it – the drawstring didn’t fit around his middle, anyway – and paced over to the tall dresser. He slid open the top drawer and shuffled through thirty pair of wrinkled briefs and a hundred mismatched black business socks. There it was – the little pink barrette, unfaded by the dust of three decades. He touched it to his lips and wondered – what had happened to the little girl with the dozen deadly braids?