- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Ships from: Bethesda, MD
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
Ships from: Fort Worth, TX
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
Ships from: West Allis, WI
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
by Carol Guess
For several years I lived with a small olive-skinned woman named Jo, who passed as a man at the brake factory where she worked. The factory was six blocks from our house; very often I'd walk with her in the mornings, carrying her lunch in a wide gray box, holding an umbrella (for it rained more often in those days), and stopping once or twice on the way to kiss. The men who worked Jo's shift knew my name, and when they saw us saying good-bye at the corner, they'd heckle Jo good-naturedly. It amazes me now to think it, but we were never found out, and after the first year or so, we began to take the men's comments for granted, to believe in them ourselves, to believe that we were assured a place in their particular order.
We fought often, Jo and I, often and hard; but our fights were always contained within our walls. On the street, in the diner where I worked, and in front of the factory we were unified, not because we felt the need to perform but because our fights were always relative: Outside it was still us against them. And always, always our fights ended with the same threat: with Jo running her hands through my long hair, saying, "Don't you cut this, Caddie. Don't you change this." What there was between us — electricity and patience — traveled the bridge of my reddish black hair. My feminine exterior made her invisible as a woman even as it thrilled her. Wrapping her fingers around the nape of my skull, she'd say "Don't you change this, Caddie. Caddie, don't you change."
She left me the night of our third winter's first real frost. She must've takenher things and burdened them on her shoulders; when I woke, the frost was settled in for four good months, and she was gone.
I watched at the factory door for her small self, but she never appeared, and after a week I dared enter the office: the first time I'd ever been inside the factory. The narrow woman behind the battered desk put down the phone long enough to tell me Jo had quit — not the day she'd left me but two weeks before. I tried counting the ways we'd made love those fourteen days and felt sick and foreign inside myself, as if I were pregnant.
The frost stayed and stayed, and each night I imagined her soft half smile and her harsh laugh, and the cold got beneath my skin and lodged, past the help of any fire.
With spring I grew restless and moved into an apartment closer to town. The two small rooms felt alternately cramped and vacant; the walls were crosshatched with other people's scratches. I hung a photo of Jo on the wall of the second room, but her face loomed like some terrible Jesus and spoke to me like the Goose Girl's Falada. So I took it down and played music so loudly and consistently that I was evicted.
I moved across the street to a second-floor apartment, whose sunny windows meant nothing to me. In between my shifts at the diner I slept, never dreaming but always wanting to, sometimes waking up with the taste of Jo's skin on my lips, as if my mouth had a memory.
Because Jo was the first person to say that she loved me, I did not know who I was now. I tried talking to other people, but all I wanted to discuss was passion, so I stayed quiet. I had nothing to help me decipher the world around me or to understand what it meant that I wanted no part of it.
I did not know where to go.
I had met Jo by accident, known her for a woman and wondered. We had met by chance, but now I couldn't rely on chance. I knew there were others like us because Jo had told stories. She'd been in love and had been loved before. So, yes, there were others, and I knew in my blood that there were others. But where — I didn't know that. I kept my eyes open, that was all.
After Jo for a while there was David. The first day he appeared in the diner, I stood over him to take his order, and he hung his head like some shy horse. I liked the way his black hair lay ragged just above his collar, and I somehow knew even before he showed his face that he would look like Jo; the surprise was only that he looked more like Jo than himself. He courted me hard, and he might have taken me far away from Martinsville, Indiana, to one of the cold Northern states he talked about often. I could've had fat babies and a house with a garage.
But kissing David wasn't like kissing Jo. He would press me against his pickup, fumble with my shirt, grab my nipples with hands curled almost into fists. I liked the feel of his hip against mine, but my breasts hurt, and his tongue moved too fast. Kissing David wasn't like kissing Jo. The difference can be easily explained, but not here or now. Let me say simply that he lacked some things and had an overabundance of others, by which I don't mean what you think but something altogether different. Let me say simply that he moved on, taking a young girl with him, and that I stayed, to serve coffee and the $1.99 special to the regulars, six days a week, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Maybe eight months went by after David. Some things inside me closed; at first I worried that they'd never open back up, but after a time I stopped worrying and began to accept the shut-down feeling. I looked at neither women nor men, neither left nor right as I walked to work. When I ate my dinner, I sat by myself in front of my window or in the corner of the diner after I finished my shift, reading magazines full of recipes, full of pictures of England's princess and hints on how to please a husband once you had one. I sat alone, and the regulars knew me well enough to know I wanted it that way. I felt myself going gradually to ice, but I couldn't stop it and wasn't sure I wanted to. It seemed necessary. Most folks knew about Jo, so I had sympathy: They'd say, "Her man left her." So I was safe and cold and well-fed in Martinsville, Indiana, and I did not imagine my life switching gears.
The owners of the diner, Marv and Helen, hired their girls carefully, knowing that a good waitress keeps customers better than good food. Selena was the pretty one: flirty and sassy, still single, serving up hope with each order. Bet was the steady one, calm and attentive; the regulars chose Bet's tables when they were tired or needed their food done quick. Picky eaters chose Bet. And me? I was the listener. I got the religious fanatics and the hard-up and the angry young men who planned to leave someday for Indy. We balanced out, but Marv and Helen thought there was room for another. So one day they hung up a sign, and for over a week we had girls streaming in and out, a regular pageant, almost as good for business as the spring tractor pull.
Me and Selena and Bet watched the parade skeptically. We wanted to be sure there was no duplication. She had to be different, not competition but complement, someone we could rely on but shove around a little at first, someone who wouldn't break but not a tough girl.
When Gwen walked in, Bet nudged me, and Selena pointed: They knew. And when I saw her, I knew too. Gwen would be the sweet one, the one to giggle, nod shyly, and occasionally fumble, serving Tom Jensen the cherry instead of the blueberry-walnut pie. We all three conferred, and I walked in back to tell Marv we'd spotted her, that she was Gwen, and that she was to be the girleen among us.
She started working that week. At twenty-one she was pretty in a childish way, round face pale and cheerful, gold hair to her waist, brown eyes set slightly too far apart for beauty. When she laughed she covered her mouth with her right hand: She had buck teeth and hated her own smiles. Her dresses were handmade, pinks and blues, small flowers pulled around her waist in simple stitches. "Gwennie," the factory men called her, and the name stuck. She looked young and simple, but she wasn't stupid. She earned her tips, flirting in her own shy and awkward way, acting the part of someone slightly more naive and cheerful than she really was. She could've been a threat to all of us, but instead she deferred; used to older sisters, she gave us the better tables, pressed her back against the counter when we needed to pass with trays of food, and waited to use the register.
Some weeks after Gwen first started working, there was an odd morning rush: Suddenly there was a line to sit, and everyone was short-tempered and hurried. Even Arthur Parks, a calm, decent man who tipped well and never asked for refills, sounded impatient. Things didn't calm down until 10:30, when the place cleared out as suddenly as it had filled. As the last of the factory men filed through the back exit, the front door jangled, and Cory Flint walked in, just off from the 2-to-10 shift at the bank where he worked as a watchman. As I served Cory his hash browns, he motioned toward Gwen.
"New girl?" he asked, and I nodded. "She looks too young to be feeding strangers."
"Better than feeding a strange man of her own," I sassed back, and he grinned for the first time that morning. Then he looked down at the blue-rimmed plate I'd set before him.
"She sure is a pretty one," he said as he unrolled his fork and spoon and knife from inside a paper napkin. "Sure has some pretty dress on, with flowers scattered all unusual like, up around her waist." I watched as he cut his fried ham into little triangles. "Sure has some pretty field of flowers on, that's right."
I turned his coffee cup upright and filled it silently, then walked back behind the counter, where Gwen and Bobby, the day cook, were looking over a newspaper someone had left behind. "I'm going back to catch a smoke," I said to neither one of them in particular. "Call me if someone hits one of my tables."
Out back on the stoop, I held a cigarette between my fingers, wanting only the feel of it, not the taste or the heat. The sky was cloudy with factory smoke, but for once it didn't bother me; I watched the blackish coils go gray, then fade into the dirty expanse of sky. To my left a huge cross rose up from the Baptist church; to my right cars drove steadily through the drive-up automatic banking machine. I thought for a second about Jo, how she'd loved cars, her fascination with anything that meant easy motion.
I stood up and dusted off my skirt, but as I pulled the belt straight around my waist, I felt something close over me, and without wanting to I shut my eyes and put my hand to my lips, imagining that I was standing in our old orange kitchen while Jo knelt down in front of me, her hands on my hips, my hands on her head, her eyes buried inside me. When Gwen put her hand on my shoulder, I jumped.
"You've got a man," she said, "table five. Not like a regular."
I tossed my unlit cigarette into the grass and followed her inside.
That night I dreamed about Gwen. I woke long before my alarm and sat up in bed awhile, my arms wrapped around my knees, listening to the clock as it toyed with its minutes. The sky outside was black, cut with stars that looked close but that I knew to be unreachable. Then I got up, slipped on my robe, and pulled a book from the nightstand. In the kitchen I cut myself a piece of pie and put on water for tea. Opening the book, I read: "In the beginning..."
I read for two hours, until it was time to dress for work. I made myself read out loud, without stopping, because I felt dirty and dizzy with what I'd seen myself do. Gwen wasn't Jo; I knew that much. Gwen had long hair like me; she wore dresses and heels and flirted with the men from the factory. Gwen had a beau; I'd seen them kiss in the lot mornings before work. Gwen was a woman. I didn't know what wanting her would make me.
All day at work I broke things: plates empty and full, coffee cups, saucers gray with the ash of men's stubbed cigarettes.
At around 3 Bobby came up behind me and tugged on the knot of my apron.
"Yo, honey pie. Marv's got a note out for ya," he said, but I brushed him off and stomped into the kitchen, where Marv was flipping burgers on the grill.
"Caddie, seems like something might be bothering you. Seems like you probably aren't running up our china bill just because. You gonna tell me what that something is? Or you gonna tell me, maybe, that it's none of Marv's business but that you'll handle those plates a ways better next time, huh?" Marv didn't look at me while he spoke but watched the meat carefully, tilting his head, scraping at the grill with a spatula.
I rubbed my nose. I liked Marv; he'd been kind to me all the five years I'd worked at the diner. I knew he wanted me to tell him something he could understand and fix. But what to say?
"Marv," I imagined myself saying to the tiny man bent over a row of frozen burgers, "Marv, my man Jo was really someone's Josephine. And now this Gwen we've got, well, I've taken to dreaming about kissing her. I think I'm in love with her. And I've been saying my Bible to scare it out of me, but I'm afraid that hasn't done anything but make me more curious about her little flowered dress."
Thinking this way, I laughed, and even with Marv's surprised face turned toward me, I just couldn't stop laughing. My mouth stayed open and sound came out, sound like something tangled unwinding, sweet and jagged at once, out of place, unstoppable.
Excerpted from Love Shook My Heart by Irene Zahava. Copyright © 1998 by Irene Zahava. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted December 30, 2002
Posted July 3, 2002
Love is love no matter how you slice it and this book captures the many facets (some good and some bad) of love between women. There should be more books like this.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 21, 2000
Posted January 31, 2010
No text was provided for this review.