The Bitch Posse
By Martha O'Connor
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2005 Martha O'Connor
All rights reserved.
Mill Valley, California
Rennie's heart is pounding so hard her chest is going to burst in a minute. She floats her tongue over her lips as her student teacher, Bay, tosses aside the pillow. He knots his hands in her hair, dips down for a kiss, and they fall together onto the bed. Thighs aching, she spreads her legs and wraps her arms around his warm brown back. Each movement presses away her literary agent's critique of her novel chapters:
Don't open with a sex scene, Wren. Readers will lose sympathy for your heroine.
She tightens her legs around her lover, grabs his ass.
The word cunt in a novel aimed at women? Probably not a good idea.
Bay, Bayuni, Bayuni Henares, her pretty young lover, her Student Teacher from San Francisco State, her Bay. All hers, no one else's. He's working with Rennie this year at Tarn High, learning from her. Ooh boy, all kinds of things.
And he swirls his tongue into her ear, just how she likes it.
Your heroine needs a gay best friend.
She needs better shoes.
Other than the titillating little term the university uses, "Master Teacher," there's nothing illicit about her and Bay whatsoever. She grabs his head and presses his mouth to her breasts and he nibbles and sucks and everything is perfect. This is the moment when her lips fall open and she breathes out an "oh."
Don't write about the Midwest, Wren, no one cares.
She guides his hips and they've found a rhythm now, he's rocking into her, perfect, perfect.
She and Bay started like these things usually do. After a few weeks of exchanged glances, too- long planning conferences, phone calls at home about newspaper layouts, Rennie couldn't stand it. The same old pattern, it was like picking a scab, she couldn't help it.
When she's Rennie Taylor grabbing someone's ass to push him farther inside her, she's not Wren Taylor, who can't finish her second book. She doesn't have to hear Lisa's voice in her ears:
She needs to live in Manhattan.
San Francisco, can you at least do San Francisco?
When she's screwing yet another student teacher here in her Mill Valley cottage, she doesn't have to think about Lisa, doesn't have to think about her empty, nonexistent novel, doesn't have to think about anything.
Not her past.
Not the Porter Place.
That wasn't real anyway.
No more yielding but a dream ...
She washed all that away a long time ago. She has all kinds of tricks for doing that.
The best thing about sex is the way it fills the emptiness.
Before Bay, it was Jason. Before Jason, it was Lee. Before Lee, it was Seamus. Before Seamus, it was KevinBenTroyHectorJim. Then her student teachers blur into an endless string of Stanford undergrads including (if you count blow jobs as sex) that embarrassing little moment with the Stanford Tree, whose real name she never did find out. When the quake hit in October of her sophomore year, she was blasted on cheap sherry in the Maples Pavilion locker room, messing around with a certain Cardinal football player and his best friend. Eight buildings on the Stanford campus were damaged that day, which just proves that disaster follows her wherever she goes.
An addict? It's crossed her mind, but she's no addict. Addicts do it with random people in dark alleys, strangers they'll never see again, have sex partners into the hundreds.
She prefers to think of herself as a hobbyist.
Before Stanford, of course, it was Rob Schafer.
To blot away his face, the swatch of dark hair on his chin, she squeezes her eyes shut and presses against Bay, her breath quickening. A moan drifts from her lips, and she lets herself remember how it started with Bay, because that's the here and now.
That's the time and place she is fucking herself back into.
Late that night, as they were pulling student news items together, she watched him click away at layouts on the computer. Daring herself, she licked her finger, drew it across his neck. He turned, and she pressed her mouth on his. His lips parted and she dove right in, and his fingers tangled in her hair as he pulled her down on top of him. Clothes came off and they did it on the cold tiles, there at Tamalpais High School, after everyone had gone home.
Months later he's still coming to her little cottage in Mill Valley most afternoons after school. Of course, their relationship isn't just about sex. They talk about teaching philosophy, learning styles, the war about to start in Iraq that Rennie's not really paying attention to because no one can change anything. What a fucking idiot, holding up signs in downtown Holland, Illinois, U.S. OUT OF EL SALVADOR — what the hell difference did it make? Who in Holland gave a damn about El Salvador or could do anything?
If it weren't for the walls around Holland, everyone in the country would drown.
Holland makes her think of the Porter Place again, and her breath bursts out in hot waves. Just fuck it out of me, take it away.
He moves against her, faster now, and she needs to blur and blot out her memories, but at that moment a still frame flashes in front of her, a wineglass suspended in midair, shards falling to the floor, each containing a feature of his face. The scream of a barn swallow tears through the silence. Cherry's eyes plead with Rennie through the car window, her lips forming the word that sealed her fate.
I'm such a bitch, I'm such a bitch, how could I let her do that? She presses against her lover, biting her fingernails into his back. Oh, fuck me, just make it go away. ... And it sort of works, better than anything else does, anyway. Maybe she and Bay will last awhile, longer than the others. Her romances are dandelion puffs; one moment of a thrill and they're gone.
His fingers press her hair back from her face. But she aches for more, it's not enough, just sex is never enough, and despite her promises to herself she whispers, "Bay ... Get it. ..."
Bay rolls off her. Rennie's fingers slip between her legs, and her gaze falls on her memory shelf. The red-stained jar holds the light like a garnet, reflected from the lamp on the bedside table. Bay's never asked about it. He respects her privacy, or maybe there are things about her he doesn't want to know.
She keeps it because she can't get rid of it, but sometimes her glance flits in its direction, like tonight in the swell of sex in her room, in the womb of passion that still, somehow, contains this. A sinking spin flies through her stomach. Fifteen years ago, wasn't it? When the Bitch Posse girls took a straight razor blade, slashed it across their forearms, trickled the blood into three glass jars. That was before they'd pushed things too far, before that night in the middle of nowhere, before that night of blood for blood.
"Forever ..." Cherry whispered in her ear, her breath blowing at Rennie's hair, then dyed pure black to match her crocheted see-through sweater, her shorter-than-short miniskirt, her Doc Martens. The jars had been Cherry's idea.
Oh, God, her girls, her lost, sad girls ...
That's the past, Rennie, you can't change it.
She presses her hands to her breasts, and now Bay's holding the knife just how she likes it. What she loves about Bay is that there's no hesitation; he wants only to please her, and he has never asked questions or judged. And she moves her fingers from her breasts to her eyes and lets the crish, crash rock her, not to sleep, but to that unworldly feeling, the one at the top of the roller coaster, the jumping-out-the-window feeling, the second before gravity catches her and pulls her unabashedly toward Earth. The moment wraps her up and spins her, and her body heats up, scalding, as he gets into bed with her, his skin smooth and sweaty against her belly.
That night fifteen years ago, things made sense. Amy held her hand over her eyes as the blood washed into the jars, but Rennie watched the whole thing. Cherry's fingers tangled around Amy's waist, her red hair whispering around her chin as Rennie clasped her arms around Cherry, in love with her friends, forever.
Afterward they flopped across Cherry's bed, watched the blood trickle up and down the sides of the jars they turned this way and that, before falling asleep.
She leans to the bedside table and turns off the light.
"Now?" Bay slides the blade along her belly, gently, not cutting. She can smell Cherry's incense, patchouli, or is it Bay's sweat, so sweet, so bitter? But she squeezes her eyes closed. Metal presses against flesh. "Harder."
He draws the knife across her belly again. This time the skin separates and she blinks her way back into the universe, watches the valley fold open, the blood seaming up along the cut and pressing out, blue to red in the air of this world, and as usual the pain springs her into the here and now.
But some blood will never wash away.
How could they have known it would end the way it did? She's never talked about it, terrified, stricken, unable to comprehend that she did such a thing, that it actually happened, that it materialized in the real world.
But the story plays itself over and over in her head, when she's alone in bed at night, when guilt tugs her insides out and flings them into her face, when tears roll down her cheeks for no reason at all.
That's why being alone is so terrifying.
She lifts her body toward the knife, and Bay understands, slices again. She wonders sometimes if he likes this too much, because the cut is really deep, and she cries out, spreading her legs. He sets the knife aside and now, now, he presses into her again. They move together, the blood sticky between them. He's drawn her so close to the edge, so close, and she comes quickly, hard, heart beating in her ears as she scrapes her nails down his back.
When it's over embarrassment floods her, and they speak little as they attend to the business of daubing her belly, covering up with a bandage. The stage prop cigarettes are lit; smoke curls in the air. Shiny eyes blink in darkness, and Bay says comforting words (You're so sexy, Rennie. ... My wild one. ... Did I do it right?). But of course that's not what she wants; she doesn't know what she wants. She felt good for a minute, but now, it's all she can do to keep from pulling the stained knife from the bedside table, slashing it across her wrists. Why is she so unhappy, with her pretty Bay, her great teaching job? She has only two preps this year, she lives near San Francisco just like she'd planned, out of Holland, Illinois, for-fucking-ever. She's a published writer, an award winner even. (Never mind that pesky second book that doesn't exist and maybe never will.) She and her younger lover are smoking in bed after terrific sex, and he'll stay over tonight, cook her pancakes, and they'll drive to school separately, surreptitiously. It's just naughty enough to be fun but not so naughty it could get her into trouble. Her life is all she's ever wanted.
Some wounds will never heal.
From across the room the memory jar stares back at her.
It got too awkward to write to Cherry, after a while. The letters pouring back in Cherry's rounded script, telling her way more than she wanted to know about where she was and why and how it felt. And Amy, of course, Amy pushed her away right after it happened.
Those girls are gone forever.
The Girl Genius is dead.
The tears that sting her eyes are easy to explain.
In case you were wondering, my mom's a total fuck-up. Thank God for Rennie and Amy, the best friends I've ever had. If Marian — she wants me to call her Marian — were my only female role model, I'd have shot myself three years ago, when I couldn't see far enough into the future to know there was a sliver of hope in the distance, that I could transcend Marian and become Cherry Diana Winters, Somebody.
Tonight's the perfect example. Here I stand in the kitchen, dirty dishes scattered over the countertops. Do you think Marian is helping wash, dry, stack, with some crappy unrealistic yet vaguely reassuring family sitcom on in the background? Uh-uh. Marian's doing a couple lines in the bathroom, all secretive like I don't know what she's up to. Just a few seconds ago she was in here bitching about the dishes; then she snarled at me about homework, like she forgot what she was yelling about between the time her sentence ended and the next one started. Maybe she was just trying to do the responsible mom act, because when I said I was starting the dishes, she forgot about the homework and took off to snort her coke.
If I didn't have Princess Di to look up to, I'd probably kill myself. I have her name, and part of me hopes that connects me to her, that I could even be her, someday. That I don't have to turn into Marian.
You do know I was born a Princess, and the King and Queen just left me on Marian's doorstep, don't you? They'll come back for me someday.
Should clue you in that she named me Cherry. Why do hippies saddle their children with wacko names like Peace, Rainbow, Moonchild? My best friend got stuck with Wren. Only she cuts it to Rennie. What am I supposed to be, Chair? You know how many guys have made snappy remarks about my name, thinking they're oh-so-original? Want me to pop you? I'll break you. ... Ha ha ha. Someday I'll go by Diana, but not while I'm playing the bad girl. When I'm grown up, when I'm good enough to be a Princess.
The moments after the first couple lines Marian's usually okay, happy. Then her thoughts spin out of control, and her energy goes all over the room, and she says, If I had a piano I'd play it till kingdom come. ... But she doesn't, so she takes out her cards and shuffles them, plays a game of solitaire, shuffles again, and plays faster and faster, and if it's a bad time she'll get depressed and nasty. And she cries.
I pull cat hair from the disposal, dreading her return. Did I mention we have fourteen cats in this tiny house? But I love them all, Pongo, Posey, Belinda, Baby, Bradbury, Bitch, Jezebel, Jaws, Jazzy, Juniper, Jelly, and the newest babies, Skinny, Scream, and Shelley. Marian decided all of them were mine except Pongo and Posey, who she never got fixed. Why else would someone own fourteen cats?
I flood the lasagna pan from two nights ago with soapy water and start scraping with a knife. Want to guess which one of the Winters women made the lasagna?
The abrasive, gentle rhythm of blade against glass is somehow comforting, and I flick on the radio with a soapy finger as Jelly or, no, I think it's Jezebel — they both have gray spots and both look exactly alike, but Jezebel's getting fatter, pregnant maybe? — jumps off the stove onto the floor and darts across the kitchen. When some asinine Bon Jovi song floats over the airwaves — what did I expect in Holland? — I pop in the Sisters of Mercy tape I shoplifted from the mall a few weeks ago. I felt bad ripping it off, but it wasn't like I had a choice, since I have no money, and I live in Holland, Illinois, where we vote Republican and till the fields, where Homecoming's big news, where practically the whole school's white and middle class and so fucking predictable, where noble farmers struggle their whole lives so the CEO of Archer Daniels Midland can buy his tenth Mercedes. Welcome to my hometown, Holland, Illinois, where cutting-edge radio is "Livin' on a Prayer."
I turn "This Corrosion" up loud, way loud, to blast Jon Bon-Fucking-Jovi out of my brain. Andrew Eldritch slashes thick and angry words into the air, words about bleeding until you can't bleed anymore, words that break my heart and words that make me hate and words that make me want to dance.
The lasagna pan needs more soaking, and I let it fall into the water, brushing my hair away from my face with the back of one hand. Marian appears out of nowhere, running her knuckles across her red, pasty nostrils. "You're not going out in that."
"That" is a super-tight black V-neck sweater, black miniskirt, fishnets, and combat boots. Sam likes it, but that's not why I wear it. My clothes are part of who I am. The outfit's practically identical to what I wear whenever I go out, so I don't see what her problem is. But this is part of her show. She'll let me wear the outfit. The only question will be how big a deal she makes of it. She dresses slutty herself, but that's not why she'll drop the subject. In a minute, if I'm lucky, her thought train will jump the track.
"Listen, Cherry." She turns down my music, pulls a cigarette from the pack on the counter, and lights it. "When I was your age, I dressed that way too. Do you see where it got me?" She offers me the pack. I shake my head — I've got a sinkful of dishes to do and I might have to make a quick getaway. "With a baby, no husband, and a fucking waitress job. Seventeen years later what do I have?"
"A seventeen-year-old, no husband, and a fucking waitress job."
She blows out a thick stream of smoke. "Do you want to be like me?"
"Like me" has nothing to do with her job or the fact that she was a teenage mom or that my father's not part of our lives or even that she's a fucking cokehead. It has to do with who she is. I will never, ever, ever be like her. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Bitch Posse by Martha O'Connor. Copyright © 2005 Martha O'Connor. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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