Love In This Universe
Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2003
once in love with Cheryl, and Cheryl was once in love with Rhonda, and they felt
a certain mutuality in this even though they both knew love was, and is, too
complex to lay down clear, communal definitions.
once in love with Cheryl, and Cheryl was once in love with Rhonda, and they felt
a certain mutuality in this even though they both knew love was, and is, too
complex to lay down clear, communal definitions.
a basic sense, though, they loved each other.
also loved other women.
had been with Dawn for fifteen years, practically since they were virgins in
a long time.
had a large house. They had jet
skis. They would role play in bed.
be the little, lost girl in a forest, and I’ll be the hunter who rescues
you,” Dawn would say, and Cheryl would smile.
Dawn was strong and stable and knew how to take care of things, and
Cheryl loved her for this.
took romantic vacations to
though, love is more complex than any glance can convey.
was also in love with someone else. She
had just started dating Angela, a woman with long legs and fiery eyes and a tall
country story to tell.
and Angela would drive out to the salty lake and have sex.
They would dance the two-step at a local country bar, Angela pulling
Rhonda around the floor until she screamed.
“Darlin’,” Angela said, “I feel the need to yell,” and then she
would. To Rhonda, this was all
exotic. They would then go back to
Angela’s place and have sex. They
would kiss in parking lots and movie theaters and restaurants as if no one would
ever notice. They were new to each
other and ready for love.
other words, they each had sex on the brain.
and Cheryl also had sex on the brain, but they would not have sex because they
were moral girls from moral backgrounds living moral lives.
much pent up energy, even now it ripples across the page.
could not stop their intense, mutual staring.
They could not stop looking at each other’s skin, Rhonda’s olive
toned, Cheryl’s freckled. They
could not stop looking into each other’s eyes, Rhonda’s large and brown and
wanting everything, Cheryl’s mist blue and newly curious.
love was kind of evil in a luke-warm way. Their
love was a little adulterous in a non-committal way.
Since their culture was and is a monogamous one, the love between them
felt somewhat covert and somewhat exciting and somewhat chaste and somewhat
hurtful. They often tried to ignore
the hurtful part of it all, and this wasn’t too hard as long as they focused
on the crossing intoxication of each other’s heated gaze.
cures many diseases.
even finds a way to dispel that sense of existential ennui settling deep and
spongy into your chest between lungs, heart, and liver.
and Cheryl were no strangers to ennui.
had once been a Mormon. When she
realized she liked women and their soft and evil-fleshy selves, she became
depressed and often did not want to leave her apartment because there were lots
and lots of soft, warm females outside, some of whom returned her gaze.
ennui came from not having looked at herself in a mirror in twenty years because
her mother always told her she was plain, and she still believed this even
though women and men would often look at her, would often watch her perfect legs
walking by, would often want to smell the color of her orange hair.
had recently been dumped by her lover of four years, a woman she thought she
would be with forever, and though Rhonda wanted the newness of Angela quite
badly, she was constantly afraid Angela too would run, back to a man, back to
her trailer court country days.
so Rhonda was often needy.
often wanted to know things were ok. She
often wanted Angela to look at her with love sick eyes.
She thought if there wasn’t constant romance in the air, things must be
dying, and so she wanted to bottle it all up by moving in together.
you have me,” Angela would tell her. “But
living together is such a big step.”
was also needy. She needed Dawn.
She loved Dawn. Their life
together was envied by many, but they often fought because Dawn wasn’t used to
Cheryl having her own friends, like Rhonda, or her own ideas, like Cheryl
thinking her identity was fluid. Fluidity
was not something they had agreed upon fifteen years ago.
know who you are,” Dawn would say. “You’re
my partner. You created all this.”
She would point around the living room at the toll painting decorations,
at the matching plaid couches, at the tasteful and somewhat original framed
so, Rhonda and Cheryl had quite a few layers of difficult sadness clogging them
up, and thus they spent a lot of time together.
left work early to go for drives in the country in Cheryl’s convertible, the
leaves passing red and yellow and brown over their heads.
took long lunches and talked about their psyches and the philosophies of the
40 and I don’t know who I am,” Cheryl would say.
“I am what other people tell me I am.”
the self really even exist?” Rhonda would ask. “I
think you can create whatever self you want, baby.”
don’t even know where to begin,” Cheryl would say.
like a blank slate,” Rhonda would say. “You
could write anything there. I think
it’s exciting.” Then Rhonda
would look at Cheryl until the heat of her freckled shyness made her turn away.
took long coffee breaks and talked about sex.
been wondering what sex with another woman would be like,” Cheryl would say.
“Dawn and I are kind of a little bit predictable.”
been told I’m good in bed,” Rhonda would say.
“I think girls who like toys are good in bed.
You should try one.”
girl or a toy?” Cheryl would say.
Rhonda would say, and Cheryl would giggle.
of those books you gave me said dildos were just a fad, just a part of queer
politics or something,” Cheryl would say.
way, they feel good,” Rhonda would say, and Cheryl would smile and turn red.
took walks in the foothills and sat in the sun and watched each other’s mouths
move slowly around their words.
often drank beer.
often held hands.
a number of months, they would sometimes smell the different perfumes on their
necks and wrists, and they could do this for many minutes, and even longer.
hands are so sensual,” Rhonda would say. “So
bet you are good in bed,” Cheryl would say looking out a window, her face
times, these sorts of exchanges were too frightening for Cheryl, and so she
would hit her head against a wall.
drive me crazy,” she would tell Rhonda.
Cheryl banged her head against her own wall at home, and, naturally, her lover
became alarmed. She called Rhonda
because Rhonda was Cheryl’s best friend.
scaring me,” Dawn said.
hung up and looked at Angela.
an emergency,” she said.
looked concerned and helped Rhonda put her jacket on.
love you,” Rhonda said, and then she drove very quickly, and when she arrived,
Cheryl was indeed hitting her head against a wall.
and Dawn stood there watching for a moment, then they moved forward.
touch me,” Cheryl said.
a while, the two women weren’t sure if they should look at Cheryl or away from
Cheryl, but eventually she stopped the pounding, and the wall wasn’t damaged,
and after a natural sort of awkwardness, and after Cheryl’s forehead regained
its normal color, they all drank Chianti in front of the fire.
year and many car rides and many lunches and many coffee breaks later, Rhonda
and Cheryl were in a park late at night after listening to live music at a bar.
music can be intoxicating.
can stars, and that night they were especially clear even above the city’s
thick layers of pollution.
warmth filled the trees.
and Cheryl were sitting very, very close. They
could feel each other’s breath. Warm.
Humid. They could feel the
pull of each other’s cells. For
the last year, they had imagined kissing each other and the smell of each
other’s lips and the way they might move their tongues, and they had wondered
if it might prove something.
they finally did it. They kissed.
might think it odd that two healthy women would take so long to get around to
this. A year is a long time to wait,
and for only a single kiss no less. But
Rhonda and Cheryl were, and are, odd girls.
They were, and are, girls from conservative backgrounds.
They were once religious girls who believed in the sanctity of singular
their time together was changing them. Their
love meant everything they had learned about love being naturally monogamous was
false. Years ago, they had learned
that love being naturally heterosexual was false.
But they didn’t think the basic idea of eternal feelings for only one
person had changed.
they were wrong.
they knew this.
loved each other and they loved other women.
enjoyed kissing Dawn, and relied on her ability to know things.
enjoyed kissing Angela, and relied on her ability to spit at the world’s
Cheryl and Rhonda enjoyed kissing each other.
that kind of thing was, and is, just not possible in this culture.
so, the fabric of their known universes slowly began to unravel.
Threads of uncertainty were pulling in all directions leaving large,
breezy, woolen holes all around them.
began to squint more.
vision began to change.
sky was no longer a predictable egg-shell blue.
It had varying shades depending on where they looked and when they
looked. It could be baby blue one
place, then azure off to the sides, and later cerulean, then almost purple over
by the mountains.
knew this was beauty. They knew this
was complexity, and it frightened them because in their society complexity is
not something to be admired.
people walking by them were also suddenly less benign.
Rhonda and Cheryl knew that if they were thinking about kissing and sex
and identity, others would be thinking about all this too.
That man there in the coffee shop reading Chomsky while they ate bagels
was really obsessing over his boyfriend not calling.
The woman eating soup a few booths away from them was wishing her husband
wanted sex more often. The cashier
counting change into the register was wondering if she should kill herself after
work, or on the weekend when her roommates would be gone.
and Cheryl could hear the thoughts of the world now.
Their hands began to shake a little more than usual.
people’s thoughts can be hard to take.
saw television differently too. The
sitcoms they would watch at night with their lovers suddenly seemed full of
plastic lies about happiness and perfect endings.
As they both sat on their own couches picking at loose upholstery
threads, Rhonda and Cheryl knew this meant they were beginning to understand the
impossibility of perfection.
did not tell their lovers about their new vision of themselves or of the
even with all the mix and pulse of their feelings, even with all their
redefinitions of the world, they were still very slow girls, and never really
did anything with each other, not really. Their
love was never consummated, and consummation was, and is, in their culture, a
you don’t have sex it’s not really an affair.
the time, this made Cheryl and Rhonda feel a little less dirty and a little more
noble all at once.
at the benefits, after all:
The excitement of the slightly
A change from the norm.
A lack of sexually transmitted
The ability to tell most of the
And no upset lovers.
later after they stopped driving and talking and holding hands, Rhonda groaned
at the almostness of her love for Cheryl. Rhonda’s
whole life had been filled with almosts, with denial, with Christian morality.
She would later sit wide-eyed and alone in coffee houses, the “only
if’s” eating at her daily. Would
Cheryl’s back have been soft under her fingers?
What would Cheryl have sounded like when she came?
Would Cheryl have held her after sex?
sometimes Cheryl would lie in her bed after Dawn went to work early, and she
would stare at the ceiling and think about Rhonda’s juicy lips kissing her
neck, about Rhonda’s rich, fat body laying next to her, and Cheryl would want
Rhonda there in her bed, warm and large against her, but her mind was shy, so
instead of imagining more, she would get up and drink coffee, cup after cup.
She would look out the window at the neighbor’s wall and wish she
hadn’t given up smoking.
Rhonda wished she had been more pro-active.
Cheryl wished she had been more pro-active.
the park that night under the stars, under the warm, summer leaves, Rhonda
should have continued kissing Cheryl even when Cheryl began to cry.
isn’t what they wanted.
was crying. She loved Dawn and was
afraid of losing her.
couldn’t continue. She loved
Cheryl, and she loved Angela, and didn’t want to hurt either of them.
And so she stopped.
loved Rhonda and didn’t want to hurt her.
breathed under the park trees for a while.
breathed until the stars shifted a few inches.
thought they were afraid of vengeful lovers and messy break ups.
really, they both knew that if they continued to push the boundaries of their
love, the fabric of their universes would become unrecognizable.
It’s about fear, really, a fear of change in a world that doesn’t
want to believe in impermanence. They
simply knew that going further would have expanded their lungs until there was
no longer room for any more fresh oxygen.
a breathing rest in the park, and a week without contact, they ran into each
other in the bathroom at work.
looked into each other’s eyes.
hugged slow and hard and kissed each other’s necks.
so, their love continued for a while longer.
really, the sex drive, the universe issue, it was all too much.
their lovers were getting suspicious.
spend a lot of time with Rhonda,” Dawn would say.
“Is she in love with you?”
and Cheryl are sure damn close,” Angela would say.
“Are you in love with her?”
so, eventually they broke it off.
Cheryl forced herself to become merely friendly.
She didn’t want to hurt Dawn or Angela.
She didn’t want to tempt Rhonda any more.
But Rhonda couldn’t handle the distant cool of Cheryl’s retreat, and
so, she stopped talking altogether.
and Cheryl’s vision began to soften again.
would look at Angela in her kitchen all tall and winking, a study in clean
beiges, and she would smile and feel lust and even love, but always she would
think at least a little bit about Cheryl.
Cheryl would look at Dawn as she aged, her skin still smooth, her hair streaking
white, her reading glasses thicker, and they would drink wine and smile, and it
was comfortable, and Cheryl would know they were meant to be, but always she too
would think at least a little bit about Rhonda.
and Rhonda tried to tell themselves this was normal.
blooms eternal again, or something like that.
it wasn’t really an affair, so what were they pining over?
it must have been the altitude. This
is the high desert, you know, and people often get nose bleeds.
liked to think things were getting calmer, but she kept noticing Cheryl at work.
Of course Rhonda still had feelings, lots of feelings, and they would
especially surge when she stopped for long enough to notice Cheryl’s orange
hair or lipless mouth across a room during meetings, or passing in the hallways.
Such a passionless little slit Cheryl’s mouth was, at least on the
surface, but quite powerful to kiss and bend to.
Cheryl too thought things were calmer, but she also kept noticing Rhonda and her
fat, frowning body at work. After
the occasional encounter where Cheryl would try to ask about Angela or the
latest book Rhonda was reading, Rhonda would scowl a little, and give only
quick, half answers, never looking right at her, and it was awkward, but Cheryl
was skilled at hiding her feelings. She
would smile somewhat blankly, but politely, then go back to her office and close
her eyes. Losing Rhonda’s
attentiveness, losing the way she could see into Cheryl’s red, frightened
soul, was almost too much. Her hands
wanted to move, wanted to do something, but there was nothing for them to do.
wasn’t it better this way?
what people like to think.
you would probably agree because you are from a similar, singular-thinking
society for which you cannot be faulted.
talking to Cheryl, Rhonda would go back to her office and shake.
She hoped Cheryl’s cool was a lie.
She thought she could still feel Cheryl’s need, her curiosity, her
sadness, entering in from each of her cells.
At night, Rhonda would lie close to the new shininess of Angela with her
sexy, long, warm torso, but Rhonda would still have dreams about Cheryl, dreams
where Cheryl would hug her and slowly say, “I love you, Rhonda,” into her
ear. Humid, warm breath.
In the morning, Rhonda would wake up wide-eyed sensing Cheryl’s
closeness, but knowing she was far away.
so, in order to get rid of their demons, they enrolled in community education
enrolled in a pottery class.
enrolled in a painting class.
arts and crafts can often stabilize the sadness of a broken heart.
and Cheryl knew this because they had been taught all their lives that making
things with their hands was the best way for a woman to give of her gifts, and
giving meant feeling better. Don’t
hide your talent under a bushel, they had always been told.
Besides, if a girl can make pretty things, she’s sure to find love.
Rhonda and Cheryl gave a lot of handmade gifts to pretty girls when they
were growing up. The girls never
knew what to do with the doilies and lacy bible covers and toll-painted jewelry
boxes because they already had many of their own.
it was all in the act and the thought.
knowing this, and that something new would calm her mind, Cheryl went to the
college and sat at an easel and painted many pictures of cacti and mountains and
water running in streams. Cheryl
needed the calming vistas, the sound of the water in her paint, and it did help
her think less about Rhonda’s cheekbones, and it did almost help her forget
the way Rhonda would reach up into the air when they drove under the colors of
the world in her convertible. Besides,
no one would ever look at one of her paintings and see Rhonda.
Safety was important for Cheryl. She
liked stability. She never wanted
anyone to find out about the possibility of her more colorful feelings for a
woman who wasn’t her wife.
if you were observant, you would see rich and needy hues in Cheryl’s paint, a
higher level of midnight blue, a more piercing quality to her
Dawn had lived with Cheryl for so long, she simply couldn’t see these things
any more. When couples live together
that long, they begin to blend into the wallpaper.
Dawn was just happy Cheryl was doing something.
are lovely, bunny,” Dawn would say. “I’m
so glad you’re pursuing your talents.”
framed a few, and put them next to the other pleasant paintings in their house.
also knew she had to create, and she knew that creating had to involve her hands
because it was in her fingers that she most missed Cheryl.
So she went to the dusty room on the west side of town, and sat there in
front of a spinning wheel making pots, strange pots.
She didn’t seem to want calming creations.
The clay’s oddness helped her offset the deep haunting she felt from
the absence of Cheryl’s thin wrists and slow-moving voice.
The clay helped her notice less and less the long, empty expanses she
felt when she was sleeping. The
violence in her pottery helped her push her passion somewhere else, or at least
to remember that she still had passion that needed pushing because it was no
longer being expressed in Cheryl’s mouth or inside the fantasy of Cheryl’s
had such nice thighs too.
this isn’t that kind of story.
so Rhonda cut into clay, and pulled it, and pinched it thin, and let it crack
and cave, and the clay cut back at her, scraping her fingers’ cells into the
other people were making tea cups and cereal bowls, Rhonda was making clay look
like ripped skin.
work, she looked at Cheryl less and less.
began to feel a little better.
Cheryl began to feel Rhonda’s increasing calm.
Rhonda’s lightness floated to her over the conference table during
meetings. It made Cheryl feel a
little invisible. It made Cheryl
feel a little more longing. But the
more she painted calm
landscapes and pungent sagebrush, the less she
knew how to speak, and so she couldn’t, and so she didn’t.
it was Christmas.
and Dawn had a party, and they invited everyone over.
listened to Cheryl’s voice on the machine.
having a party at 7. Please come.”
Cheryl’s intonation move a litter harder, a little more desperately, over the
didn’t think so, or she tried not to make it sound desperate.
But she knew it might have sounded a little more hopeful than she wanted.
But not too hopeful. Just
replayed the message many times. She
heard the softness of Cheryl’s lipless mouth, and so began to feel bad for
their mutual silence. She looked at
her pots that night, newly fired, and decided she would give Cheryl a vase she
was already planning to give Rhonda a painting of a cactus because Rhonda liked
cacti, and because cacti were plain and thorny and dry, and this is how Cheryl
saw herself sometimes. She didn’t
want Rhonda to forget her.
both tried to think the desire for gift giving was a mere token of congenial
affection, of holiday cheer.
Cheryl knew her gift would really be an apology for pulling away.
She hoped the painting would bring them a little closer again.
not too close because that’s too hard. But
a little closer.
at least she thought they could become less awkward, though she still sometimes
wanted to touch Rhonda’s beautiful lips with her fingers.
But that’s not what this gift would be about.
It was all above board. It
was all sanitized. Cheryl moved her
palms over the dry paint, moved her face in close to the canvas so she could
smell it. Wood and oil and dusty
air. Sometimes Rhonda smelled like
that, only lighter, more soapy and fleshy and mitochondrial.
closed her eyes.
was just a desert scene, for God’s sake.
there was that feeling of tapering lust in the sharp, oily, olive greens of her
cacti. And Cheryl did want Rhonda to
see this. But she didn’t want
Rhonda to act on it. She wanted
Rhonda to appreciate her time, her vivid colors, and feel a little loved.
But not too loved.
Cheryl’s search for ambivalence was rather complex.
though, was still angry, and that’s why her pots were angry.
Though she too didn’t want Cheryl to forget her, Rhonda’s gift would
be more an act of purging. In spite
of her Christian background, Rhonda was having voodoo thoughts. After
all, Rhonda should be completely over it all by now, and since she wasn’t,
even with all the sitting and crafting and coffee drinking, it must be because
Cheryl gave off juju love energy. Only
something supernatural could erase this. The
scraping of Rhonda’s skin as she pushed into the clay, the fire of the kiln,
the smell of burned flesh and earth, all this seemed to give a supernatural
quality to Rhonda’s pots, or so she liked to think.
pots did emanate a certain energy.
picked up a vase. It was heavy.
It was rather strange with odd asymmetrical cuts on top, and some
accidental iridescence for its glaze. The
pot felt warm in her hands. Its lips
seemed to be speaking. Its lips were
her lips, she though, speaking always her love for Cheryl.
blue eyes,” the pot said.
put the pot down.
she momentarily a victim of the gothic romance novels she read as a child?
looked around the room at the other potters.
No one was looking at her. No
one seemed to hear anything strange from anyone’s lips.
She felt a measure of relief. She
felt a little insane.
she sighed and so do we because everyone knows it’s not strange to feel insane
when it comes to love.
few weeks later it was Christmas. Santas
and elves and sweating mothers were everywhere spreading joy.
earth moved on its axis.
fell in the upper hemisphere.
surfed in the lower hemisphere.
and Dawn’s party started.
took a while to get ready. She had
the perfect holiday hors d’oeu-vres, and the perfect holiday decorations, but
she couldn’t decide what to wear. The
black jeans that made her look sexy? The
blue jeans that let everyone know how comfortable she was?
She wore the black jeans, but with a sweatshirt so no one would think
something was up because nothing was up, everything was on the up and up, no one
had had an affair, and so the world was still normal.
came from all over the city, and they drank wine, and they ate red and green
cake, and they talked and laughed. They
commented on Cheryl’s decorating tastes. They
asked how life and love were knowing they would hear the calming details of
little bunny’s been painting,” Dawn told them, showing everyone her
smiled, but also kept trying not to glance at the door.
Rhonda was late. Rhonda
wasn’t coming. Rhonda was still
angry. Cheryl suddenly wanted to
kiss Rhonda, if only she would arrive.
Rhonda and Angela did arrive, a little later than fashionable because of all the
anticipated awkwardnesses, and because Rhonda also couldn’t decide what to
look beautiful, darlin’,” Angela kept saying, but Rhonda kept changing her
mind. Should she wear the black
turtleneck that made her look a little thinner and mysterious?
Should she wear the button shirt to show off her cleavage? Eventually
she chose the button shirt, but didn’t unbutton it very low, and a pair of
black pants for at least a little mystery.
and Angela arrived holding hands.
who knew Rhonda hugged her. They
squeezed Angela’s long arm. They
were all happy Rhonda had found her own true monogamous love.
It made the world feel just a little bit safer. It
made the world seem just a little bit more reasonable.
Dawn handed them both a piece of cake.
Her smile at Rhonda was somewhat stilted, but Rhonda was used to that.
Angela barely gave Cheryl a glance, but Cheryl was used to that.
that wasn’t what Rhonda and Cheryl were really concerned about.
wondered when she should give Cheryl her pot.
wondered when she should give Rhonda her painting.
don’t seem to be rules for these things.
do you give a gift of reconciliation and purging to someone you’ve almost had
an affair with after years of awkwardness, when everyone’s watching, when no
one else is giving gifts?
quite the etiquette dilemma.
walked by, trying not to look at Rhonda, trying not to think about her momentary
desire to kiss.
coughed a little, and Cheryl turned. She
kissed Rhonda lightly on the lips, and, for once, it was Rhonda who turned red.
It was Rhonda who got flustered.
have this, it’s for you,” Rhonda said quickly.
Immediately, she knew she had made a mistake.
The impossible decorum of the whole situation really would only allow a
discrete exchange in a back room, but Rhonda couldn’t wait.
She had always had a certain impatience about her.
She always enjoyed flouting the manners her mother tried to teach her.
And she had always been a nerd. So
she held the pot out oddly, and everyone was drinking spiked eggnog, and
everyone kind of looked up, and everyone began to wonder in ways they hadn’t
in a million years.”
took the pot even though there were implications in doing so, even though people
were wondering, and she knew they were wondering, and so she laughed and was
gracious, very gracious, and almost manically offered everyone olives and
pickles and Christmas cookies, all the little treats that get left until the end
of a party. Cheryl put the pot on
the food table and forced herself not to look at it, but she wanted to, she
wanted to take it back into her bedroom and touch it.
She wanted to take Rhonda back into her bedroom and touch her or at least
look into her eyes again. Cheryl
suddenly wanted to feel something, anything, that had even a little cerulean in
she took Dawn’s hand, and Dawn let her, but only for a moment, for the
requisite instant it takes to make everyone know everything is Ok.
Cheryl slowly put the pot on the table, Rhonda could feel something warm against
her shoulder, a burning sensation even, a little prickling voodoo perhaps, as if
Cheryl’s juju fingers were brushing against her, but the feeling went away
quickly, and the pot sat cooling next to the paper plates.
the night, in the midst of conversations about vacations and jobs and politics,
Rhonda kept looking around the house in an attempt at nonchalance.
She looked at the other guest’s shoes.
She looked at the books on the shelves.
She noticed that some of the paintings on the walls were new, were more
than merely tasteful, especially the ones with water scenes and cacti.
She could see rich olive tones and dusty purple in both rivers and
could see again.
she was distracted by her own vase. She
kept looking at it. It was an
interesting pot. Would Cheryl
appreciate it sufficiently? But how
could she? Surely the pot was now a
symbol of something having happened that wasn’t exactly above board.
The pot would probably go into a back room wedged somewhere behind family
photos. Or maybe Cheryl’s lover
would smash it later that night in the kind of jealous rage Rhonda kept hearing
about but had never experienced. Maybe
Cheryl would look at it when Dawn was away at work.
Maybe she would touch it and know there was something too sensual in its
dips and curves. Cheryl might even
hear it speaking, and this would frighten her as it might frighten anyone, but
it would frighten her even more to know that Rhonda still wanted her, and that
just couldn’t be. So Cheryl would
and Cheryl’s imaginations must have run off by themselves for a moment
distracting us from our chronology.
at the party some of the guests were leaving, and others sat on couches. The
faux pas of the gift was fading, though Dawn laughed at jokes a little louder
than usual, and Angela was a little more quiet, her eyes looking almost fierce,
and Rhonda and Cheryl were doubly concerned that they not look at each other
except accidentally. Cheryl drank
wine. Rhonda drank eggnog and wine
and bourbon straight up. They both
laughed at the right moments. They
said, “Oh,” and “Wow,” and “God,” in sync with the narratives being
told. But of course they were really
cataloguing every line around each other’s mouths, every little smiling
movement of the lips, every darting word that came out of their uncertain
throats. They hadn’t seen each
other this closely for so long. They
both seemed suddenly new and strange. Their
cheeks were red and suddenly beautiful.
still wanted to give Rhonda the painting, but even taking Rhonda into a back
room would look suspicious now, would look too in need of privacy, and she knew
Dawn would notice. She knew Dawn was
watching everything closely in her casual-but-highly-observant way.
She knew Dawn would later complain about Rhonda’s idiocy, and wonder
aloud how Cheryl could have ever been her friend.
And Cheryl would reassure her, and agree with her, and kiss her lightly
before bed, but here and there through the night, she would dream of Rhonda.
for now, Cheryl just sat and listened and talked and stared at Rhonda from the
edges of her eyesight.
the minutes passed, Rhonda began to feel stupid for her gift as if she were
still a teenager giving doilies to straight girls. And
Cheryl had nothing for her, which made Rhonda seem doubly desperate, and she
began to think everyone saw her desperation, and so she began to want the pot
back. Her cells were baked into the
clay and throbbing. But she knew it
would look quite strange to try and remove the vase now after everyone had seen,
and so she gulped her wine.
only she had worn a large sweater in anticipation of the need to take her gift
she had been smarter, she could have just walked to the table, chewed on a few
olives, then casually put the pot under her large, large sweater and left
through the garage.
could have said, “I need some water or air or something important, like a
life,” as an excuse to go outside and put the pot in her car.
looked at the pot.
was in a tight shirt, but she still squeezed Angela’s fingers and said, “I
think you need some olives.” Angela
did not like parties much, and did not like all the unspoken energies in the
room, and so she glared at Rhonda as she walked toward the hors d’oeu-vres.
Rhonda ate a piece of cheese. She
ate another piece of cheese. She
touched the rim of her pot.
came up to Rhonda, offered her a red cookie.
seems like an interesting hobby,” Dawn said.
a good way to pass the time,” Rhonda said.
likes her hobbies too,” Dawn said.
important to have hobbies,” Rhonda said.
decorated our home. She’s very
talented,” Dawn said.
it’s a very nice home,” Rhonda said. “Full
of talent and pictures and other nice things.”
looked at each other thinking, “She knows everything,” as they both smiled
half way, never the two to give each other much energy because, of course, they
were both crazy in love with a woman who could hardly move through a world of
blacks and whites.
and Rhonda looked at each other.
something dramatic happened right then, it would be a signal that Cheryl and
Rhonda had been real.
thought about all the teenage movies they had seen when they were young.
All the cat fights. The girls
pulling earrings off other girls. The
biting. The nails scratching.
The ripping of shirts and pulling of bras.
The high-pitched screaming. The
boys watching with erections.
Dawn and Rhonda were middle aged.
looked at each other.
noticed the lines around each other’s eyes.
noticed each other’s smooth cheeks and wavy hair and large breasts and strong
hands, Dawn’s more tapered, Rhonda’s more muscular.
noticed the warmth coming off each other’s skin, their bodies radiating wine
and uncertainty and a little bit of, well, can we say, eroticism.
eyes got a little big.
need to smoke,” Rhonda said, though she never smoked, couldn’t even inhale,
and everyone knew this, and though she didn’t have cigarettes to smoke, she
still said, “I’m jonesin’ for one,” and everyone was drunk enough that
they didn’t really notice except Angela, who was a smoker, and who looked at
little hard at Rhonda.
looked a little hard at Rhonda. She
knew Cheryl loved Rhonda for the mess of her emotions, for her color and
awkwardness, for things Dawn would never want to be.
Sometimes she wanted to tell Cheryl it was ok to have feelings for other
women, but Dawn understood the rules of her culture better than anyone, and her
role was to be jealous and guarding, and so, she did her duty.
also looked a little hard at Rhonda. She
wanted to follow her outside to smoke because Cheryl had been a smoker, and she
desperately wanted a hit of nicotine, and she almost as desperately wanted to
feel Rhonda’s warmth close to her. Cheryl
wanted to stand next to Rhonda so Rhonda would know she cared.
But it might not look right. Besides,
Angela was getting up to follow Rhonda outside.
touched Angela’s arm. “I hope
you’re having a nice time,” she said.
looked at her and thought about the things she could say, like “If you fuck
with my girlfriend, I’m going to two-step all over your freckled, farmer’s
face.” But Angela could be a girl
with manners, and so she said, “Yes, you have a very nice home.
Thank you for inviting me.”
opened the door to the night air. It
was cold. Her tits froze.
She began to feel a little better. Angela
came out and stood next to her, took out her cigarettes, lit two and passed one
you, honey,” Rhonda said. She
inhaled, and then coughed and coughed.
know you’re in love,” Angela said. “I
understand, though. I do.
You’ve known Cheryl longer than me.
You can’t really stop your feelings.
I know that.”
swallowed. “I love you,” she
said, and she meant it because Angela was tall and sexy and relatively wise.
went back inside. Angela went to the
bathroom. Rhonda went into the
kitchen to get a glass of water.
know what you want to do,” Cheryl said behind her.
“Please don’t take your pot back.”
feel embarrassed,” Rhonda said.
love your pot,” Cheryl said. She
moved close to Rhonda’s ear. She
wanted to speak, and so she did. “I
can feel you in it.”
turned to look at Cheryl.
looked at each other for a moment like they once used to.
Cheryl walked away.
ear burned for a while.
water ran in the sink.
all the guests left.
and Angela left and smoked in the car on the way home.
and Dawn cleaned without talking.
for a little while longer, the universe stayed unchanged.
Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2003