Making a Good Impression


By Lilith

Sylvia sat at her dressing table examining her image in the mirror. Her long brown hair was carefully pinned tightly to her head. She ran one hand over the nestled pins to insure they were securely fastened, then lifted the heavy molded rubber mask on the table, stretched the opening at its rear wide with both hands and slid it over her face and head. She pulled the mask’s molded features over her own with a rubbery rustle and the hiss of trapped air escaping. Smoothing the slack, doll-like features into place, she zipped the back snugly closed, taking care not to catch the pins or her hair in the fly.

Stretched tightly over Sylvia’s own nose and mouth, the latex features seemed to come to life. She opened her mouth and adjusted the mask’s lips, making sure that her own nostrils were aligned with the rubbery features of her new face. Leaning forward for a closer examination, she frowned, then showed her teeth. It was a perfect fit. The openings at the eyes met the edges of her own eyes exactly, allowing her to flutter her lids – which already had fluffy fake lashes attached – naturally. The seam was nearly undetectable. An observer would have had to study her face closely and for considerable time before he or she realized that it wasn’t the one she was born with.

She slid her hands over her now naked pate and noted that the little bumps of her pinned hair were hardly noticeable under the thick latex covering. Smiling with satisfaction, she lit a Virginia Slim ultralong and let the smoke escape through the mask’s finely molded nose. As she smoked, changing her expressions and watching her reflection in the dressing table mirror, the mask transmitted each movement exactly. The fit was simply amazing – better than she could have hoped. Her new rubber face was absolutely lifelike. Except for one very important thing: the face that looked back at her from the mirror was that of Marilyn Monroe, an actress who had been dead for more than 30 years.

The features in her reflection had been painstakingly molded and painted to match those of the movie goddess. All Sylvia lacked to be Monroe’s exact clone was her shimmering platinum blond hair.

“Well, that can be fixed,” she thought, grinning at her reflection and watching a bald Monroe grin back at her.

From a foam wigstand on the dressing table she stripped a wig styled in Monroe’s fluffy blond hairdo and slipped it over the top of the latex mask. She adjusted it at the sides and back, fluffed a few curls down to her eyes with a large comb and looked again.

“A perfect match now,” she thought, taking another puff from her cigarette and blowing a thin stream of smoke from lips pursed in the goddess’s sexy pout.

She looked at the other four wigstands lined up on the table, each fitted with another incredibly lifelike rubber mask. One had the face of Marlena Dietrich in her middle years, before her beauty started to seriously fade. Another bore the features of the mature Judy Garland. A third was an absolute match for Dolly Partin. The last was Diana Ross, only in a darker skin tone, and molded to fit over her upper body and breasts like a back zipping latex sweater that covered her upper body and breasts and concealed her own pale skin.

Each was fitted with the wig of the star’s best-known hairdo: elaborately curled black tresses for Diana, straight dark blond hair parted in the middle for Marlena, loose brunette curls for Judy and a blond stylized country-and-western Queen’s fussy do for Dolly.

Sylvia Corday was a gifted mimic who could perform, speak and sing in the styles and voices of all five stars – and nearly a dozen others. She had a remarkable gift for recreating voices with little effort, a two and a half octave singing range, and considerable skill as a physical actress. She had excelled at theatrical arts in school and college, been a soloist in every chorus she had ever joined, and performed in amateur and regional dramatic companies. Her talent had allowed her to make a living for the last two years at the Stagelight Lounge, doing a cabaret act in which she cleverly replicated the styles of more than a dozen actresses, musical comedy performers and chanteuses.

But Sylvia’s skill at mimicry did not extend to disguise. Her private attempts to replicate her subjects’ physical appearance with makeup had been so unsuccessful that she had never even tried them out in public, in part because, despite her many years of performing before the public, she remained painfully shy. She had mastered their physical movements, phrasing and voices, but she was unable to copy their appearance – even sufficiently to suggest them to an audience 20 feet away in a darkened nightclub.

With the masks and a quick costume change, however, she could slip from one star to the next seamlessly in a matter of moments during the breif breaks in her remarkable celebrity impersonation show. She hoped that the rubber disguises would allow her to finally make the breakthrough from a small nightclub act to a much bigger entertainment career.

If they did, then the cost of having the masks made would be well worth it. They had been enormously expensive, for each was hand-molded from a life-bust of Sylvia’s head and upper torso that had been made by a special effects makeup artist she had met during a tour with a summer company performing “Phantom of the Opera.” He had used a computer imaging program and scanned photos of each star to create a precise plastic form of the entertainer’s face. The forms, when fitted over Sylvia’s life-bust, enabled him to hand-dip each of the masks from a remarkably elastic liquid latex, forming a thick but remarkably flexible flesh-colored rubber “skin” that was smooth and flawless. He had used tinted liquid latex to detail the faces into exact replicas of their subjects, once again working from photos of the celebrities Sylvia performed in her act.

Twice a night, five nights a week, Sylvia had been coasting on the power of her amazing voice, entertaining “Stagelight” audiences for two hours a performance by recreating stars like Cher, Liza Minelli, Eartha Kitt and the five women whose features were now modeled in latex for her wardrobe. But her act had been feeling increasingly stale. No matter who she added to her repertoire, she felt like she was falling short in her impressions. She knew it was time for a radical change in her show when she began to dread the arrival of Wednesday night, the beginning of her weekly run at the “Stagelight.” In fact, the change was overdue. With minor modifications, she had been doing the same routine for nearly two years.

She looked at Monroe’s sexy but innocent face in her mirror and took another drag on the cigarette. In a way, the masks had been a desperate move. But she had been feeling increasingly desperate. Maybe her latex disguises would let her achieve the success she felt she felt was just beyond her reach. Maybe they would finally let her move up to the big time as an entertainer and make some real money – enough to move out of her cramped apartment, buy a car and acquire something to wear besides the costumes she had purchased for her act. Maybe even some nice jewelry, for a change.

“Diamonds would be nice,” she giggled in Monroe’s breathy voice. “After all, diamonds are a girl’s best friend!”

She stubbed out her cigarette and stripped off the Monroe wig, then felt for the zipper in the back of the mask. She hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast and she wanted something in her stomach before she tried out the other faces and prepared for her new show’s debut that night.

She found the zipper’s plastic tab and pulled upward, but the zipper, to her annoyance, only moved an inch or so before it hung up. She slid it back and forth in the zipper track a couple of times in an effort to free it, but it wouldn’t open any further. Her empty stomach grumbled loudly.

“Damn,” she muttered. “Well, I guess this face is going to go public before show time. I have GOT to get something to eat! I’ll work on it later, when I have some food in my stomach.”

She started to pull the Marilyn wig back on, then thought better of it. Monroe’s twin would draw unnecessary attention, she thought. She glanced at the other star’s “heads” on her vanity and decided to go with Marlena’s wig in an effort to slightly disguise her appearance. She removed the hair from the mask of Dietrich’s face and pulled it on carefully, then combed the locks out straight, parting it in the middle the way she would wear it as the German chanteuse.

She studied her image and decided that her face obviously was still Monroe’s, but the wig made that fact a little less immediately obvious. It would have to do, she decided. The elaborately styled hairpieces for Dolly and Diana would attract nearly as many stares at her rubber Marilyn face, and the short dark brown wig she would wear as Judy simply looked out of fashion on anybody else.

She had stripped down to her bra and panties before trying on the mask and was reluctant to wear the jeans and sweater she had on when she came down to the club that afternoon. Rummaging in her wardrobe, she slipped on her own black turtleneck and a pair of pleated gray flannel slacks she had picked up in a thrift shop for her Judy Garland bit. The classic outfit looked good on her, and she slipped her feet into a pair of black flats she often wore during rehearsals.

Checking her image in the full-length mirror on her dressing room door, she decided she was unobtrusive enough to be able to have lunch without drawing undue attention. She slung her handbag over her shoulder, slipped a pair of cheap sunglasses over her eyes and went looking for food.

Frank’s Bar and Grill was a cozy little place a couple of blocks from the “Stagelight Lounge.” Sylvia was something of a regular there, stopping in for light pre-show dinners and occasionally dropping in after her final performance for a nightcap. It was dark and usually empty in the late afternoon, so she figured it would be a good spot to have a quiet, anonymous bite before returning to her dressing room.

During her stroll to the bar, she was relieved to draw no particular attention from passersby. She really didn’t want any until show time. All she needed was to gather a premature crowd of gawkers who hadn’t paid anything to see her Monroe impersonation.

She slipped into a booth at the rear of Frank’s quietly and smiled as Carmen the waitress brought her a menu. Carmen was a slim middle-aged woman with coarse, straight black hair shot through beautifully with premature silver. She wore it in the short, croppy cut that is almost a uniform for some lesbian women.

“Welcome, newcomer,” the waitress said cheerfully, not recognizing Sylvia in her new latex face.

“Uh, yes,” Sylvia said, deciding impulsively not to let Carmen in on her secret. “A … friend told me you have a good chicken Caesar salad here.”

Carmen grinned. “Best in town, honey,” she said. “We do the romaine the old-fashioned way, by tearing the leaves instead of chopping them. Makes all the difference in the world.”

Sylvia smiled, relaxing into her disguise. Carmen had given her the same pitch the first time she came in and asked for the Caesar. It was clear the waitress had no idea who Sylvia really was under her lifelike latex face. Sylvia was beginning to enjoy the deception a great deal.

She handed back the menu. “I’ll have that, then,” she said. “And a glass of white wine, please.”

Carmen jotted down the order. “House Chardonnay be okay? The salad will be just a couple of minutes. Do you want the wine right now, or with the food?”

Since the mask’s zipper had jammed, Sylvia had felt a little tense, fearing some similar disaster during her new act at the club that night. She decided she needed a drink to help steady her nerves. “I’ll take it right now, thanks,” she said after a momentary hesitation, adding, “and a glass of water, please.”

Carmen nodded with a grin. “No problem,” she said. “Be back in a second.”

Sylvia watched the waitress move away with admiration. She was a very good-looking woman and had the catlike grace of a dancer. She wondered if Carmen had ever taken ballet. The waitress returned in a moment with a stemmed glass of wine and a flatware place-setting wrapped in a cloth napkin. She arranged the items in front of Sylvia and moved away again. In a few seconds she returned with a glass of ice-water. “Your salad will be right out,” she announced before returning to the bar area.

Sylvia sipped at the wine and lit a cigarette. She removed her sunglasses and took out her compact to study her latex face. The mask fit perfectly and was amazingly comfortable.

As she slipped the compact back into her purse, Carmen returned with her salad. She placed it before Sylvia with a quizzical look. “Excuse me,” she said a little hesitantly. “I’m probably insulting you for not recognizing you, but are you on TV or something? You look so familiar, like somebody famous.”

Sylvia smiled. “Gosh, don’t I wish,” she said shaking her head. “No, I’m afraid not. But you are very kind to say so. A lot of people tell me I remind them of Marilyn Monroe, though I can’t see the resemblance myself.”

Carmen grinned and snapped her fingers. “Damn! That’s it, Marilyn Monroe,’’ she said excitedly. She looked more carefully at Sylvia’s face and for a moment Sylvia feared that she would realize it was artificial. Instead, the waitress made a low whistle and shook her head in amazement. “Honey, you better get your eyes examined. You are an absolute dead ringer for her, except for your hair. You could be her sister. Needless to say, you are VERY pretty.”

Under the mask, Sylvia blushed, even though she knew the compliment was directed at her latex features and not her own. “Thanks,” she murmured, lowering her eyes in embarrassment.

Carmen frowned thoughtfully. “Gee, you should come hear Sylvia Corday, the girl who performs as Monroe down at the ‘Stagelight Lounge,’” she said. “She sounds as much like Marilyn as you look like her. Of course, Sylvia doesn’t look anything like Monroe, but she does a fabulous impersonation of her in her act. She sings ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ and if you close your eyes, you would swear it was Marilyn up on the stage singing.”

Sylvia took a drag from her cigarette. “Really?” she said mildly. “I’ll have to check her out. Must be a rather limited act, though. I don’t recall Marilyn Monroe having much of a repertoire.”

Carmen laughed. “No, that may be, but it doesn’t matter.” She glanced around the dining room before adding, “Say, you’re the only customer in the place right now. Mind if I join you long enough to have a cigarette? I really should have gone on break about ten minutes ago.”

Sylvia waved a hand. “Be my guest,” she said with an inviting smile. “I’d enjoy your company.”

Carmen slid into the opposite side of the booth and pulled a cigarette from her apron pocket. Sylvia used her lighter to ignite it, and the waitress sat back, exhaling smoke with a smile.

“Thanks, I needed that,” she said. “What I was saying about Sylvia is, she’s really something. She doesn’t just do Monroe. Far from it. She does a whole bunch of people in her show. Cher, Bette Davis, Reba McIntyre. She sounds exactly like all of them. She does a dead-on Barbra Streisand, even a couple of black singers like what’s-her-name? The older gal that sang ‘Santa Baby?’”

Sylvia picked up a forkful of salad. “You mean Eartha Kitt?” she asked innocently before she placed it in her mouth.

“That’s the one,” Carmen said with a laugh. “Sylvia is just incredible. She is so talented. She comes in here from time to time. She is a very sweet gal, too. Really nice. She’s so quiet you’d never know she is in show business. I kind of think she hides her candle under a bushel.”

Sylvia blinked. “What do you mean?” she asked, taking another bite and listening carefully.

“She is really very sexy, I think,” Carmen said, “but she doesn’t really project it. Her looks are kind of plain Jane, maybe even a little boyish, but there is something about her that is hard to explain. I don’t know, she just looks hot — well, at least she is to this middle-aged lesbian,” she added with a laugh.

Sylvia was surprised at Carmen’s description. She had no idea the waitress found her attractive. The idea was enormously pleasing to her.

“You don’t look so old to me,” Sylvia said with a warm smile. “What are you, in your late 20s or 30s?”

Carmen laughed. “Oh, God, honey, I have to take you home with me,” she said with delight. “Nope – I will be 47 in two months. Getting close to the half century mark.”

Sylvia marveled at Carmen’s youthful appearance. She was very beautiful, with delicate, finely-chiseled features and wide brown eyes that sparkled under brows that seemed perpetually arched in irony, as if she was enjoying some private joke on the entire world. Sylvia had always thought Carmen was her own age, 30, or a year or two older at most. The silver in the waitress’s hair must not really be premature, she realized. It was no exaggeration to say Carmen looked at least ten years younger than she really was.

“Gosh, really?” Sylvia said. “I don’t believe it! You don’t look a day over 35!”

Carmen grinned and took another puff on her cigarette, letting the smoke escape through her nostrils. “Believe it, honey,” she said through a thin plume of gray. “Hell, I’ll show you my driver’s license if you want. In another few years I’ll start getting junk mail from AARP!”

Sylvia shook her head with a slight smile. “So you said this girl – uh, Sylvia – hides her candle,” she asked cautiously. “What exactly do you mean.”

Carmen shrugged. “She just doesn’t put herself out there as herself,” she said, struggling to find the words. “It’s kind of hard to explain it, but she has so much talent. She seems introverted and sort of shy, but when she does her impressions, she is all full of fire and vitality.”

She frowned thoughtfully. “It’s sort of like she lets her impersonations substitute for her own emotions, in a way,” she said finally. “I don’t know, I’m not expressing myself very well…”

Sylvia smiled. “I think you are doing just fine,” she said as she pondered what the waitress had said about her. There was a lot of truth in Carmen’s words. Sylvia was painfully shy and uncomfortable around other people when she wasn’t on stage, performing for them. She had always found singing and acting a big outlet for elements of her personality that she was reluctant to expose when she was just being herself.

Was it possible that her gift for mimicry was some sort of protective mechanism – a way of compensating for her own reclusive nature, she wondered.

“Maybe this girl is just afraid to be herself,” Sylvia thought aloud. “Maybe she feels more comfortable being somebody else, even if it is just a temporary act.”

Carmen nodded. “I think that’s it, “ she said. “It’s really a shame, too. She is such a lovely woman.”

The waitress leaned across the table confidentially and added, “To be perfectly honest, I have sort of had a crush on her ever since she started coming in here, although I have never come on to her or anything. I don’t know. She doesn’t seem to be the kind of girl who is interested in other women – or men, either for that matter. It’s too bad. She is so appealing.”

Carmen’s words surprised and delighted Sylvia. She had suffered from a mild fear of men since puberty but never had the confidence to approach other women as possible lovers. In fact, she was clueless about how she would begin to connect with one.

Now she found she not only had an unexpected fan, but also a secret admirer. Even better, her fan and admirer was someone Sylvia had always found strikingly physically attractive. She had admired Carmen from the first time they met, but had always felt too inhibited and inexperienced to say anything about it when they happened to be together. After a while, she suppressed her attraction to Carmen, feeling there was no point in fantasizing about the woman because it would never come to anything. Besides, she rationalized, her life was complicated enough without becoming involved in a lesbian love affair.

She knew the argument was fraudulent, and simply an excuse for failing to take action. Sylvia’s retiring and unassertive nature had always been her downfall. For years it had prevented her from developing anything but the most superficial relationships — or having any kind of sex life beyond servicing herself with an electric vibrator. She was simply too shy to flirt or to respond when others did.

Somehow, she found it easier to assert herself now, when she was wearing the mask. It was almost like a cloak of invisibility or some sort of shield. Oddly, she felt as though she could not embarrass herself in her rubber disguise because nobody knew who she really was, anyway. Amazingly, wearing another person’s face allowed Sylvia to be herself in a way she had never experienced.

Her reverie was broken by the waitress’s self-conscious laugh. “Well, enough for hearts and flowers,” Carmen said. “Here I am spelling my guts to you and we don’t even know each other’s names.”

Sylvia coughed. “Ohmigosh, where are my manners?” she stammered, struggling to think of a pseudonym. “I’m sorry. My name is . . . Connie.”

Carmen extended her hand, “Glad to meet you Connie,” she said. “I’m Carmen. Anyway, I shouldn’t be talking about Sylvia behind her back. Pardon my French, but I’m probably full of bullshit, anyway. After all, I hardly know the girl — much as I would like to.

“I think you would really enjoy her act, though,” she continued with a wry grin. “She is amazingly good, and sings so beautifully as any of those women it would break your heart to hear her. If she looked as much like Marilyn Monroe as you do, she could probably make a fortune in New York instead of playing small time clubs like the ‘Stagelight.’”

“I will have to go see her,” Sylvia said, blushing again under her latex face at Carmen’s effusive praise. “When does she perform?”

Carmen glanced at the clock above the bar. “She goes on tonight in about three hours at 8:30 p.m.,” she said. “She is going to be starting a new act tonight. She has been terribly mysterious about it, and none of us are really sure exactly what she is planning to do. All she says is that it will be radically different from her old show. I’m planning to catch the debut, myself. I got the night off specially so I could go. I’m dying to find out what she has up her sleeve.”

Only three hours, Sylvia thought with concern. She had to get back to the nightclub. “Tell you what,” she said as she pulled out her wallet and pulled out a $10 bill. “I will look for you there, how’s that?”

Carmen tore a receipt check from her pad and handed it to her. “I’ll buy you your first cocktail, then,” she replied with a smile.

“No way, honey,” said Sylvia, patting Carmen’s hand as she stood and paid her tab with the tenspot. “Drinks will be on me. If she is half as good as you say, I will owe you that much for telling me about her.”

Carmen smiled and surprised Sylvia by giving her a sudden hug. “It’s a date, then,” the waitress said. “A real date, I mean. That is, if you aren’t already hooked up with somebody.” She let her last remark hang in the air as a question.

Sylvia shook her head. “Nope –no boyfriends OR girlfriends, if that’s what you are asking,” she said, adding with a boldness that surprised her: “ I would enjoy spending the evening with you very much, Carmen. I find you enormously attractive.”

Carmen gave her another hug and a peck on the cheek. “Me, too, honey,” she said huskily. “I can’t understand why men AND women aren’t breaking down your door. You are really incredibly sexy.”

Sylvia smiled and impulsively leaned forward and kissed Carmen fully on the mouth, holding it for a moment. The waitress looked at her with surprise then kissed her back.

When they broke, Carmen looked at Sylvia curiously. “You know, you remind me of Sylvia for some reason,” she said slowly, as if trying to figure out what the similarity was. “You don’t look anything alike, but there is just something about you that makes me think of her.”

Sylvia laughed and picked up her purse to leave. “Just the thing to say to a woman right after you have kissed her – that she makes you think of somebody else,” she said lightly. “I will take that as a compliment instead of an insult. See you tonight, Carmen.”

As Sylvia walked back to the “Stagelight Lounge,” her lips tingled from the impulsive kiss. She entered the club through the side stage door, made her way to her dressing room and soon was stripped and sitting in front of her vanity in her bra and panties.

She looked at her latex face and sighed, then carefully removed the Marlena hairdo and placed it on the wigstand that wore Dietrich’s face. She found the zipper behind her head and gave it a tentative tug. To her surprise, this time it pulled open smoothly and she felt cool air on the back of her neck. She pulled Marilyn’s elastic face free with a soft plopping sound like a rubber glove being removed and laid the mask on the dressing table.

Under the layer of latex, her face had become damp from perspiration. She blotted herself with a soft hand towel and looked at her own features in the mirror. Although her body was very feminine, with a slender waist, well-proportioned legs and round, firm breasts, she had always felt sexually rather ambiguous. Partly it was her face. She wasn’t surprised that Carmen had described her as “plain Jane.” She had always thought of herself in exactly those terms.

Her cheekbones were not particularly pronounced and her nose, with its slight crook and moderately wide nostrils, would have been handsome on a man. Her lips, though nicely shaped, were not very full, and her chin was rather large for a woman. Without makeup and with her hair pinned up, she appeared somewhat androgynous. If her eyebrows were fuller and she wore a false mustache, she might have been able to pass as a man – at least from the neck up.

She realized that her rather masculine features were one of the reasons her attempts to make herself over as the women she performed in her act had been so unsuccessful. Under a heavy coating of theatrical paint, she looked a little like a drag queen. Which would have been fine for a male female impersonator, but wasn’t so good for a woman who impersonated other women. Rather than presenting an appearance that might distract people from her material, for the last 18 months she had performed in a sleek floor-length gold lame gown, matching opera-length gloves and a pair of metallic gold heels, using her voice and acting skills to put over the personalities she mimicked.

As she studied her boyish looks in the mirror, she recognized that a woman like Carmen might find her more attractive than a man would — at least, one that was heterosexual.

“Well, we’ll find out for sure tonight,” she said as she began to prepare for the show.

Carmen knocked off at 6:30 p.m. and took a quick shower in her apartment upstairs from Frank’s. As she had worked the last part of her shift, she had found herself thinking about her new friend, Connie, and comparing her with Sylvia Corday. Somehow, the two women – outward appearances notwithstanding – seemed a lot alike to her. Connie even had a voice something like Sylvia’s when Sylvia wasn’t performing one of her female stars.

As she sat brushing her hair in her black panties, bra, garter belt and a pair of smoke colored nylons, Carmen found herself wondering idly if Connie could be trained to speak and sing like Marilyn Monroe. She laughed at the notion. Nobody would ever be able to do Monroe like Sylvia Corday, she thought, no matter how much they might look like her.

She was a little surprised to realize that her conversation with Connie, the new girl, had lasted far longer than any she had had with Sylvia in nearly two years. Connie was much more outgoing and gregarious, than the performer. Carmen had noticed in the past that Sylvia seemed to hang back and rarely spoke to new people unless they started the conversation. It wasn’t that she was stuck up – far from it. She just seemed a little tongue-tied around strangers.

Connie also seemed more physically assertive, Carmen thought, recalling the sudden kiss she had received from her that afternoon. That was certainly something Sylvia would never have done!

“Unfortunately,” she sighed with a trace of regret.

She dabbed “White Diamonds” perfume on her neck and wrists and thought about the kiss. It had seemed a little stiff. Despite the softness of her lips, Connie had seemed to press them against Carmen’s mouth slightly more firmly than necessary — almost as if her mouth was numb and she couldn’t quite feel it.

“Well, maybe she has never kissed another woman before,” Carmen thought out loud as she selected a black cocktail dress in silk charmeuse from her closet and slipped into it, stretching to zip the back closed. “Maybe she will loosen up a little bit after we have spent more time together.”

She looked at her reflection in the full-length mirror on her bathroom door critically. The dress had a soft gathering of material around the neckline that came close to being a shawl collar. The deep V at the neck showed off the tops of Carmen’s breasts alluringly. It clung to her trim tummy before falling in a slight flare over her ample hips and ending six inches above her knee.

Carmen loved feminine clothing and always had. Her trim body and youthful face let her get away with outfits that were designed for women at least two decades younger than her 46-plus years.

“Not too shabby for an old broad,” she smiled, recalling Connie’s surprise at learning her age. Slipping her feet into a pair of black patent pumps and doing a modeling pirouette in front of the mirror, she added, “that’s what comes of spending serious money on clothes. Nothing looks better on a woman than quality.”

She fastened a trim gold Seiko watch around her left wrist and balanced it with a simple gold chain on her right. She put her onyx ring on the finger where a wedding band would go and slipped a trio of gold bands onto the corresponding digit on her other hand. She wore no polish on her nails, but they were long and handsomely manicured and she had buffed them to a high natural shine.

She held several different earrings beside her face before settling on a pair of heavy outsized gold hoops.

“Stick with simple and elegant, girl,” she said to herself as she pinned the bands through her earlobes. “Simplicity and understatement always carry the day.”

With a final appraising glance at her reflection, Carmen gathered up her Coach shoulder bag, dumped in a compact and applied a coat of dark red MAC lipstick from the characteristic black tube. Pressing her lips together, she dropped the lipstick into her purse and glanced at her watch.

It was only a few minutes past 7 p.m. She would have time for a drink at the bar before Sylvia went on. Maybe Connie would get there early, too. She hoped so. Despite her beautiful Monroesque face – or perhaps because of it — Connie didn’t turn Carmen on as much as Sylvia did. But she came close. Very damned close.

The Stagelight Lounge was already beginning to fill up when Carmen walked in about 7:20 p.m. She made her way to the bar and ordered a scotch and soda, leaving a ten spot on the bar and looking around for her date.

As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she spotted Connie coming toward her with a smile from the rear of the room. The Monroe double’s straight dark blond hair was split precisely and tucked behind one of her ears, and she wore a lime green knit sleeveless sheath and matching green pumps with four-inch heels.

“Hi, honey!” Connie said, kissing Carmen lightly on the cheek. “This should be fun.” Turning to the bartender, she said, “Len, this lady is on my tab tonight. Her money isn’t any good here.”

The barman grinned. “Sure thing, babe,” he said, pushing the bill back toward Carmen. “You heard the lady, Carmen. She has you covered.”

Connie ordered a white wine spritzer and the two women drank and chatted at the bar until a few moments after eight. With a glance at the clock, Connie took Carmen by the arm and led her to a table directly in front of the stage with a small cardboard sign on it that read: RESERVED.

Carmen was impressed. “Wow, girl, you work fast,” she said sipping her cocktail and looking at Connie with a smile. “This afternoon you had never heard of this place. A few hours later, you have your own open tab, order the bartender around like you’ve known him all your life and have the best seats in the house reserved for the show – in a nightclub that doesn’t take any reservations. I had no idea what a powerhouse you were.”

Connie laughed and lit a cigarette with a wooden bar match, blowing it out with a thin stream of smoke. “Honey, there are lots of things about me you don’t know,” she said grinning. “I am full of surprises, you’ll see.”

Carmen sipped her drink. “I can hardly wait,” she said, cocking an eyebrow. “I just love surprises.”

Squeezing her arm affectionately, Connie said, “Good. I will try not to disappoint you.” She glanced at her wrist again and said, “excuse me, will you honey. I will be back before you know it – literally.”

Before Carmen could say a word, Connie rose and strode quickly to the back of the nightclub, disappearing into a door at the side of the stage. The waitress looked at her own watch and saw that it was 8:20 p.m. The show would start in only ten minutes. What on earth could Connie be up to?

The minutes seemed to flash by, as Carmen waited a little nervously for her date to return. At precisely half past the hour, the house lights dimmed and the trio that accompanied Sylvia took their seats at stage right. The bandleader gave a quick signal and the band began playing an uptempo instrumental version of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.”

Carmen peered through the dark, but Connie was nowhere to be seen. She was clearly going to miss Sylvia’s opening number, the waitress thought with disappointment as she wondered where in hell the woman had gone..

“Ladies and gentlemen,” a recorded male voice boomed through the sound system, “Stagelight Lounge is proud to present its brand new review, ‘An Evening of Stars,” an extraordinary collection of celebrity impressions by the absolute, undisputed Mistress of Illusion, Miss Sylvia Corday!”

With that, the band stopped dead and went directly into a deliberately paced intro to “Hey, Big Spender,” from “Sweet Charity.” But, instead of Gwen Verdon or Shirley MacLaine, the lyrics were delivered in the breathy, babylike voice of Marilyn Monroe. About halfway through the first measure, the heavy purple curtain that shrouded the stage opened, and there, delivering the song with a sultry, flirtatious pout, was Marilyn Monroe herself – or her identical twin sister.

The Monroe clone was wearing the same outfit that Sylvia always wore: gold lame gloves and gown, and metallic gold shoes. But that is where the similarity ended. The performer looked nothing like Sylvia Corday. Her hair was platinum blond, in the puffy, slightly tousled style Marilyn had worn in “The Seven Year Itch.” Her face was made up exactly as Marilyn’s had been for the “Life Magazine” cover portrait taken by Richard Avedon. The only way she deviated from classic photographs of Monroe was the tiny wireless headset and microphone she used to channel her voice through the club’s sound system. But the anachronistic piece of equipment was hardly visible, and the singer’s physical and vocal resemblance to the long-dead star was so astonishing that audience members hardly noticed it.

Swinging her hips in time with the burlesque beat of the music, the Monroe twin, a look of sexual ecstasy on her face, did an exaggerated grind at the song’s bridge. Shimmying, the smiling blonde moved to the apron of the nightclub’s small stage and leaned down to wink at Carmen and crook her finger invitingly as she sang in a breathy near-whisper, “spend a little time with me.”

Carmen was stunned. The blonde had Connie’s face, but with different hair. Impossibly, she also somehow had Sylvia’s – rather, Monroe’s — voice. The waitress sat in confusion as she watched the star’s clone sashay sexily across the stage in time with the music while she flirted with the audience and delivered the Broadway song in an absolutely perfect imitation of the long-dead star.

When the number came to a conclusion, the entire audience came to its feet applauding, and Carmen found herself up with them, clapping wildly and shouting her praise as the Monroe clone smiled, waved and blew kisses to her admirers. She moved to the front of the stage and leaned down to Carmen, who was standing and clapping wildly, beckoning her closer.

The waitress moved forward, a look of bewilderment on her face. The performer gave her a gentle smile and touched her cheek. “Carmen, it’s me, Sylvia – or Connie, whichever you prefer,” she said. “I’ll explain how I look later, although I think you may figure it out by the time the show is over tonight anyway.

“I’m sorry for deceiving you in Frank’s this afternoon. I just guess I got carried away trying out my new face. It wasn’t fair but I swear that I didn’t start out intending to fool you – it just sort of happened. Can you forgive me?”

With an affectionate smile, the waitress put her arms around Sylvia’s neck and gave her a hug and a quick kiss. “I can forgive you if you can forgive me for running my mouth off about you to someone I really thought was a perfect stranger,” she said. “I had no business doing that. Of course, you are partly to blame,” she added with a grin. “Somehow you seemed so easy to talk to.”

Sylvia hugged her back and pulled away, holding her hands. “I want you to enjoy the rest of the show and I promise to explain everything to you during the break between my sets,” she said, adding very seriously, “Please don’t leave, Carmen. What you said about me today touched and thrilled me. I have been attracted to you since we first met, but I didn’t know how to tell you. I guess I was just afraid to say anything. I really would like to be your . . . your girlfriend.”

Carmen smiled and nodded. “Don’t worry, honey,” she said tenderly.

“I’ll stay right here. After all, you’re my date. I always dance with them that brung me. Now go on: get back up there and do your act,” she said, waving her off and resuming her applause. “Break a leg, girl!”

As the applause died down, Sylvia signaled to the trio and they struck up the intro to “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.” It was a total showstopper. She did three more songs as Monroe, linking the musical numbers with a clever monologue about “her” career as a film Goddess that ended with a heartbreaking description of Monroe’s tragic suicide. Then she concluded the act with a slow and melancholy version of “I Want To Be Loved By You,” the Betty Boop number Marilyn had performed in the movie, “Some Like It Hot.”

The stage lights went black and the curtain drew closed on the number’s final note, and Sylvia rushed backstage for a two-minute costume and face change. When she returned, the trio struck up a driving version of “Nine to Five,” and the curtain reopened to reveal her as Dolly Partin, dressed in her new latex face, “Big Hair” wig and a skintight sky blue leather cowgirl outfit with thigh high boots. She launched into the song in a duplicate of Dolly’s peppy, down-home drawl, and the audience once more came to its feet.

At a furious pace, she whipped through “Here Comes That Rainbow Again,” “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” “Born to Love Me,” and “Save the Last Dance for Me,” again linking each tune with clever repartee that gave a capsule history of the star’s life.

And so it went through the rest of her 90-minute set. She appeared perched on a tall stool as Marlene Dietrich in the third act, wearing a sleek black bustier, panties, gartered dark nylons and heels, with a silk hat tilted at a jaunty angle atop her latex covered head. Showing off her well-proportioned legs as she sang, Sylvia held the crowd riveted with “Lili Marleen,” “They Call Me Naughty Lola” from Dietrich’s film, “The Blue Angel,” and an obscure tune, “The Boys in the Back Room,” that Dietrich had recorded in 1954. She ended her performance as the German chanteuse with a heartbreaking version of “Falling in Love Again,” the star’s best-known number.

She returned as Garland in the fourth, wearing a black, open throated blouse and her gray slacks, and performed a touching “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” a rousing “Trolley Car Song,” and a heart-rendingly sad “The Man Who Got Away.”

Her final act was a stunning Diana Ross routine she performed while wearing Diana’s latex face and torso, the elaborate black hairpiece and a low-cut, floor-length emerald sheath with long sleeves. To cover her own pale hands she wore black leather gauntlets, and to disguise her legs, dark brown tights.

Her Diana Ross turn was as remarkable as the other stars had been. She sang two vintage Supremes tunes, “Baby Love,” and “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the singer’s solo smash, and “Do You Know Where You’re Going To,” the love theme from her movie, “Mahogany.” She announced “Someday We’ll Be Together Again” as her final song, but a standing ovation brought her back for an encore number, a virtual duplicate of Ross’s 1995 cover of the Gloria Gaynor tune, “I Will Survive.”

The audience reaction was incredible. The ovation was so sustained that she had to come out on stage again in her Diana costume for a curtain call. Her next show was only an hour and a half away, so instead of singing a second encore, she moved out into the audience to shake hands with her delighted fans and bring the first show to a real conclusion.

She saved Carmen for last and the beaming waitress stared at her in utter amazement. “My God,” she said with a baffled smile, touching Sylvia’s face gently with the tips of her fingers. “How on earth do you manage to look so much like each one of these women in your act? It is just astonishing!”

Sylvia laughed and took her hand. “Come back with me and I’ll show you,” she said as she led the waitress backstage.

Inside her dressing room, Sylvia gave Carmen a shy kiss and hug and stripped off her black leather gloves to light a cigarette. Exhaling a stream of smoke, she gestured at the heads lined up on her vanity table, each wearing its slack latex celebrity face and wig.

Carmen picked up the Marilyn Monroe head on its foam stand with a smile. “Where did you get these?” she asked, shaking her head in amazement. “They are incredibly lifelike!”

Sylvia sank onto the small sofa at the side of the room with a sigh, crossed her legs and took a drag from her cigarette. “I had them made specially for me by somebody I once worked with in a theatrical tour,” she said, exhaling a thin stream of smoke from Diana Ross’s lips. “He has gone solo as a consultant here in town, doing special effects makeup for movies and TV. He is doing really well with his commercial contracts. I didn’t figure he would be interested in doing a small job like this for me, but it turned out that he really liked the challenge and was happy to do an old friend a favor.

She took another puff before adding, “Of course, I had to pay an arm and a leg for the materials and his labor. There was a lot of work involved in doing them, part of which involved coming up with moldable latex that was durable, lifelike and very flexible. He could have just made me Halloween type masks, but I wanted something that I could wear like my own face. After all, I couldn’t very well sing and do my monolog in those faces from a costume shop, even it they did resemble the stars I do in my show.”

Carmen put the mask back down and looked at Sylvia with a puzzled frown. “But as Diana, you show your cleavage,” she said. “These masks only cover your head . . .”

“Diana” extinguished her cigarette with a kittenish grin. She stripped the wig from her latex-covered head and dropped it on her dresser, then turned her back toward Carmen. “Unzip me, girl,” she said, still smiling.

Carmen complied, “I was hoping we’d get to this point,” she laughed, “But I figured we’d wait at least wait until we got back to my apartment, first.”

Sylvia gave her a smirk and a playful push then let the dress slip off her shoulders and slide to the floor, revealing that her entire upper body was covered with the light brown latex skin of the mask, which actually ended a few inches below her navel, not at the base of her neck. The torso disguise had armholes like a sleeveless sheath. So long as her costume covered the very top of her shoulders and arms, the latex body suit was undetectable. With the torso overlapping the waistband of her brown tights, Sylvia appeared to have the bronze skin of an African American woman – except for her pale arms and hands.

The performer turned her back to the waitress to show the full-length zipper down the center of the torso. The seam was very good, and hardly noticeable from a distance of a few feet. “This is why I do Diana last – she is the hardest to get into,” Sylvia explained. “I have to use a sort of leash with a heavy blunt hook on it to pull the zipper down. I can’t quite reach it otherwise – every time I stretch to pull the zipper, the rubber bunches in back making it impossible to close. Here – save me the trouble, honey. Unzip me, will you? All these masks are hot to wear, particularly under stage lighting, but this one is the warmest of all, since it covers so much more of me.”

Carmen helped her undo her rubber costume, a mild look of amazement on her face. “I wondered why your lips felt so stiff when you kissed me this afternoon,” the waitress said as she watched Sylvia peeled the damp rubber suit upward off her body, freeing her breasts and perspiration dampened face. “They seemed kind of unresponsive.”

Sylvia toweled herself off and stepped closer to Carmen. “Why don’t you try them now?” she smiled, putting her arms around the waitress and pressing their upper bodies together.

The two women brushed lips, lightly, and then Carmen kissed Sylvia harder, parting her lips slightly to use her tongue. Sylvia moaned deep in her throat and returned the pressure, darting the tip of her own into the waitress’s mouth. They held the kiss for more than a minute, exploring each other’s tongues passionately before breaking, looking into each other’s eyes tenderly and kissing again more softly.

Sylvia gently laid her head on Carmen’s shoulder, enjoying the delicate smell of her “White Diamonds perfume.”

“Oh, God,” she whispered softly. “I’ve been thinking of this moment all day long. I wanted to be kissed by you so terribly much, Carmen.”

Carmen smiled and stroked the performer’s tightly pinned hair tenderly. “And I wanted to kiss you, too,” she murmured, enjoying the pressure of Sylvia’s breasts against her own before seeking out her lips again.

“I just didn’t know it would be this particular lovely version of your face that I’d be kissing,” she added huskily as their lips finally parted. “Frankly, darling, I like it the best of all.”