American Royalty
Katie Jean Shinkle


Mercy Forrester crosses and uncrosses her legs so many times she feels a rash developing.

“Mercy, you can go on back,” the administrative assistant says.

This is the office of her probation officer. “Are you ready?” he asks. She bites her left thumbnail until it bleeds. She thinks it is one thousand miles to the east coast. He reviews her exit paperwork. There is an official looking lady also present who does not introduce herself.

“Do you have any questions?” Mercy’s probation officer asks. Mercy nods no.

“Do you want to do the honors?” He hands Mercy safety edge scissors, like in elementary school.

Mercy cuts the electronic ankle monitor off. The device leaves an impression on her skin. She throws it to the floor.

“Give,” the lady scolds. She imagines snatching the back of the lady’s head and bashing her face into the desk.

“Sign here and here,” her probation officer says. “Be sure to make your last payment on the way out,” the lady says.

Mercy smiles for the first time since she has been in the building.


Mercy cannot stop thinking about the final episode of the final season of The House of Foxxx, slated to air the next night. In this series and season finale, Mercy’s father, Ezra Forrester, otherwise known as Lady Ezra Foxxx, will reveal that he is dying. Lady Ezra Foxxx is a famous drag queen, owner of the Clamshell Cocktail Lounge, house mother of House of Foxxx, and the reality television star of two shows: The Queens of Oakwood County and the self-titled spinoff focusing on Lady Ezra and his queens, The House of Foxxx.

The family of House of Foxxx and stars of the spinoff are Anita Hard Cock (who also starred on The Queens of Oakwood County), Sarah Tonin, J’adele Dior, Portia St. Germaine, and Ms. Ezra himself.

One is a pageant queen (Anita), one an art house queen (Portia), one a club queen (Sarah), and one is a full-time celebrity impersonator (J’adele). All of them have at least one endorsement and they are all sought after for performances and modeling, but Lady Ezra is the most famous, America’s drag queen sweetheart.

The series finale was taped six months ago. Today, six months later, Lady Ezra Foxxx is deteriorating. He is at the end of his life. He continues to work as much as he can. No one has given up hope.

For twenty years Lady Ezra Foxxx has been a drag queen, actor, producer, director, model, singer, entertainer, and club owner. Her list of accomplishments is long. Her most recent, and highest, wave of fame is twofold: starring on two high ranking reality television shows and having a relationship with rapper Uno Doe from the rap group Juno Doe. Uno has been widely criticized for his hateful, violent lyrics, as well as his self-aggrandizing, delusional God complex, where he compares himself often to God and claims he is a God. (He refers to his fans as “Disciples.”)

Uno Doe is also known for his criminal record. He brutally beat a man almost to death outside of a club in Atlanta ten years ago. Five years later, he was charged with two counts of domestic assault against a girlfriend, supermodel Dominque Neplume.

Season One of The House of Foxxx was to begin taping and Lady Ezra moved herself and Mercy in with Uno. The first season of The House of Foxxx documented their tumultuous relationship and the infidelity on Uno’s part. The second season documented their break up and Uno going to prison, where he remains to this day.

“I thought being in a relationship with Uno was the best chance I had at being who I have always wanted to be,” Lady Ezra told Vanity Fair.


Here they are after her getting-off-probation meeting. “Get me a pack of cigarettes,” she says to their friends. Mercy and Caleb stay outside and lean against the brick building. Mercy plays with a lighter in her pocket. “Want to hear about the glory hole again?” Caleb asks. “C’mon Mercy, don’t be a prude.” Mercy laughs. Their friends return with root beer candies, a bottle of Crown Royal, two tubs of cheap black eye shadow, and a pack of menthol Pall Malls, all stolen. “Where is Patrick #2?” someone asks. Mercy does not answer.


The Clamshell Cocktail Lounge is an old cannery turned nightclub. The factory floor of the building was transformed into a ballroom theatre with limited seating and a raised stage. There is red velvet and gold trim covering the walls and the floors. “Wherever you walk, you are walking on red carpet,” says Lady Ezra. The main hallway between the theatre and the front bar has gold, ornately framed paintings of half-naked men. A few of Mercy’s favorites: the one with three white, blonde, petite men with their genitals covered by translucent leaves, picking fruit from a tree. Another featuring a dark skinned man with his shirt ripped open, holding an American flag in one hand, a firefighter’s hat covering his penis. A man in ass-less chaps sitting on the face of another man dressed in a three piece suit. The front bar is a fat, round room with hi-top tables scattered throughout. Mostly it is standing room only. Behind the bar is a ten foot tall rainbow flag painting with muted rainbow lights underneath the top shelf liquor. There are cherry oak platforms on either side of the bar for go-go dancers.

The regulars show up in the late afternoon, as soon as the Clamshell opens. They never speak to anyone except each other and Lady Ezra. Their only demand is that they are allowed to watch the news on the television above them. They are here without fail. They are admitted to any performance, free of charge. Lady Ezra absolutely loves them. “They are my people,” he says. Most nights are quiet at the Clamshell until 10 p.m.

Sunday is the largest and most exclusive night. It is the night when important people come to see Lady Ezra. It is the only night he performs. “This is when politicians, Hollywood royalty, Broadway dolls, musicians make the pilgrimage to the altar of Lady Ezra Foxxx,” Rolling Stone Magazine says.


Mercy feels empty. The cameras are no longer rolling. It takes a little while to readjust to life without cameras in the weeks after filming. This time filming is finished for good, forever. She feels like she is missing something essential.

“I’m glad they are gone,” says Anita Hard Cock. “I like being able to take a piss without a producer up my ass, you know? I mean, normally that’d be fine, but not this time.”


In the walk-in cooler in the back of the Clamshell Cocktail Lounge, Mercy is in her daily routine. She smokes a cigarette and is on her phone. She looks at online maps, reads news about her father. This is how she accesses Lady Ezra Foxxx, through blogs and websites. This is how, for years, she has learned everything about him.

J’adele Dior is the first to arrive, hours before her set. She needs time to prepare and have a whiskey sour. Walk around in her breast plate, sans wig. Mercy comes out of the cooler to Cary Grant and J’adele’s faces melding while J’adele leans over the bar to grab a bottle. The ceiling projector is uneven. On Tuesday nights Mercy’s father likes films played on the west brick wall of the front bar. Her father insists on old classics and films he has been in, exclusively. Sometimes people recognize him. “Oh, I thought you weren’t here,” J’adele says without lifting her head, concentrating on pouring.

There is a knock at the front door. Mercy hears J’adele saying, “Well, well, well.” They are not expecting anyone and they are not open yet.

Here is Patrick #2 with a bouquet of inflated, black, Over the Hill balloons. “Let’s go in back? You have time?” he says. “You certainly do,” Mercy says and wipes her hands on a bar towel.

In the Manager’s office, Mercy sits in the chair behind the desk. Patrick #2 remains standing and lets go of the balloons. They float to the ceiling and bop two, three times before settling. He pulls out a box of whipped cream nitrous oxide cartridges, a cartridge cracker dispenser, and a handful of not yet inflated balloons from his sweatshirt pocket. He slips a cartridge in the cracker and puts a balloon over the end. Crack hiss whiz hissssssss. He hands it to her. “Happy end-of-probation day,” he says.


Mercy and Patrick #2 huff the nitrous oxide filled balloons until they cannot anymore. Nitrous oxide makes time wobbly.

“I have to get back to work,” she says, “and you gotta go.”

Patrick #2 laughs. “Give me a bottle of booze,” he says. Before Mercy can respond, he gets up and throws the nitrous oxide cartridge shells into the box they came in, flipping some to the floor. “Clean this up,” he says pointing to the shells, the used balloons. The Over the Hill bunch bounces lightly in the opposite corner of the room.

He walks past Mercy and slams the office door. It makes Mercy jump. She closes her eyes. She, in turn, throws the box of cartridges deep into the shredded paper of the recycle bin.


In Mercy’s head:

INTERVIEWER: Who do you love more than anyone else in the world?

Mercy: In my head, I peel my father’s face off and wear it. I am on a stage and when I turn to the crowd wearing my father’s face, there is no audience, only cameras and spotlights. My retinas burn. I am blinded. My father’s face melts onto mine and I cannot remove him.


Anita says to Mercy, “Look, you know it’s none of my business but… Patrick needs to stay away from here. Mercy, he is trouble.”

Mercy says, “Yes, ma’am.”

Mercy methodically washes glasses. She has closed the Clamshell Cocktail Lounge every night this week. She has been instructed by her father to close early tonight because they need to continue decorating. The annual Xmas Xtravaganza is coming up soon, their biggest show of the year. This year’s theme is Winter Wonderland. Mercy’s father ordered giant statues of pieces of candy: lollipops, round peppermint discs, candy canes, which are already set up around the front bar.


J’adele finishes her four song medley set. She is the last performer of the evening. She comes over to the bar sweating and the sweat is ruining the makeup of her right eye only. “Baby girl, gimme a water,” and Mercy uncaps a bottle of water. “Love the dicks. Happy Birthday to Jesus,” J’adele says and winks. Mercy realizes then that every Winter Wonderland display so far is an erect candy cane with round peppermint discs on each side of its base.


Driving home from the Clamshell tonight like every night, a small caravan of black SUV’s circle the block. Mercy circles with them. They want a picture. They slow and she slows. They speed up and she speeds up. A man hanging out of a passenger side window with a camera as big as his head, click click. She slams the brakes and takes a hard turn left onto a dirt backstreet that will take her through the woods to the other side of her father’s house.

Mercy pulls into the long driveway behind her father’s Mercedes SUV and medical van, used to transport him to the hospital. In the early morning light, the yard looks like it goes on for miles. The woods rustle. Flash and flash and Mercy, over here!


When Mercy gets quiet, she knows there are at least two things in the entire world she cares about and that is her father and disappearing from Oakwood County, never to return. The map of the United States is above her headboard. She is treated more like Lady Ezra’s employee than anything else. Mercy’s bedroom walls are covered in maps. She is caught in her father’s teeth. She is trapped in her life. She feels like she hasn’t slept in years. With the cameras no longer rolling, she can sleep once more. The greatest feeling in the world for Mercy is being able to have complete control over her privacy and how to protect said privacy. She ceaselessly wants an exit strategy. Mercy loves cartography and mapping. She loves possessing the knowledge of distance, how far everything is away from her, how long it takes to get from here to there. How fast she can leave Oakwood County.


She comes home from the Clamshell and there is a pile of paperwork on her bed. She moves the papers to the side, haphazardly scattering them to the floor. She already knows what they are. She is the executor of most of her father’s estate. At least one paper will legally ensure that she will take over running the Clamshell. These pieces of paper lock Mercy into Oakwood County for the rest of her life. She doesn’t want to sign them. She wants to tear each page into little pieces and eat them. Let them rot in her guts. Instead, she picks up the pages and gently places them in a desk drawer. She will not sign until she absolutely has to.


Mercy dozes off. Anita enters Mercy’s room. She picks up Mercy’s clothes off of the floor and sets them in a reading chair. She closes the computer on her bed and sets it on the desk. She watches Mercy sleeping, then clicks off her bedside lamp. Anita bends over Mercy and kisses her forehead. She whispers, “Sleep tight, sweet princess.” Mercy is pretending to be asleep. Her throat chokes up as Anita shuts the door.


Katie Jean Shinkle is the author of The Arson People (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015) and three chapbooks, most recently Baby-Doll Under Ice (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2014). Other work can be found in or is forthcoming from Ninth Letter, Day One, The Feminist Wire, The Collagist, Booth, and elsewhere. This piece is an excerpt from Katie Jean’s novel, American Royalty.