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By Doreen Perrine
Bedazzled Ink Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Bedazzled Ink Publishing
All rights reserved.
Dance With Me
READ TO ME," Helen says, perched up on the kitchen counter, her stockinged legs swinging. "Read some more of that book about the girl who faked her own death to frame her husband. I like that one."
"You would," I say. "But I can't. I'm cooking. See?" I hold up the knife I've been using to chop the courgette. It's larger than the one I'd usually use for vegetables, but it's beautifully curved and I like the way it feels in my hand. "Maybe after tea."
"You're soooo booooring," she moans, slouching in a parody of teenage ennui. Then she smiles and sits up straight again. "If you don't want to read, how about putting on some music? We could dance. You like dancing. I could teach you some more steps."
I look at the knife, its surface too dull to show my reflection. It does feel good in my hand ...
I put it down firmly. It's only for a short while. "All right. But just a few dances."
Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald fill the kitchen with swinging sounds, a little tinny from the small speakers of my iPod, and Helen shows me how to boogie forward. We did the boogie back already so now I can go both ways. Then she tries to teach me the jitterbug stroll and it's so complicated, you have to move your arms as well as your feet, and clap, and there's this bit where you have to crouch down. Helen makes it look so easy, but I'm all left feet. At the end I actually trip over myself and land on the kitchen lino and we just fall about laughing as Glenn Miller keeps on rollin' down the track to Tennessee.
I'm too tired to cook now, so I wrap the courgette up in cling film (if you don't look closely you can't even see it's been cut in two) and put it in the fridge. "Bedtime," I tell Helen firmly. "Coming?"
"What do you think?" she says, her smile wicked with promise, and we run up the stairs and fall on top of the duvet, still laughing.
I'M STIFF AND achy when I wake up. Comes of sleeping on the bed, not in it, I guess. Helen props herself on one elbow and looks at me with sultry eyes and bed hair, her silky nightie slipping off one tattooed, ivory shoulder. "Do you have to go to work?" she says with a pout so ridiculous I laugh and feel lighter than air, my aches forgotten.
"You know I do. How else are we going to feed your iTunes habit?" I haul myself up and peel off last night's clothes, all wrinkled and none too fresh. "I'm going to have a shower."
Helen's eyelashes shouldn't be real, they're so lush and dark as she looks up at me from under them. "I'll just have to find something to do by myself, then," she says, smoothing a hand down her silky front, over one breast and down, down to the junction of her legs. Her head falls back and she moans. "But I'll be soooo lonely."
I bite my lip. I can manage without a shower. It's only one more day.
I'VE ONLY BEEN in half an hour when Claire calls me into her office. She worries at a rough edge on her fingernail and looks at it, not me.
I'm glad she feels awkward.
I just want to die.
"If it was just the poor timekeeping," she says, and stops. "But it's been going on for weeks. And it's getting worse. I'm sorry, but I just can't have you serving customers in this state. People have been talking, and we have an image to maintain. Why don't you take a few days off? Come back in on Monday, and we'll have another chat."
I trudge home knowing that everyone's looking at me. Teenage girls giggle on the bus, and all I can think is me, me, they're laughing at me. I feel a bit funny when I get off the bus, and I have to sit down in the shelter for a while. A bus stops, and the driver curses me when I don't get on.
When I get in the front door, though, Helen's all smiles. "You're back early! That's wonderful. Let's dance some more. Come on, put on the music."
"I can't, sweetheart. I'm sorry. I'm just too tired." It's like a knife in my heart, to disappoint her.
"But we have to do something. I know, we'll play charades. Come into the front room."
I follow her and turn on the standard lamp by the door. The curtains are closed already. I can't remember if I opened them this morning or not.
Helen looks lovely by lamplight. Her pale skin glows, and her eyes are darker than bitter chocolate. She's all leggy grace, dressed today in tight black trousers and an off-the-shoulder top. I don't know where she gets her clothes.
She's good at charades, too. I keep thinking I can trick her, but she knows all the latest films and shows. Books, now, sometimes I can stump her with a book, although I know it isn't fair.
But then, all's fair in love, isn't it?
I'm too tired to go up to bed afterwards, so we settle down on the sofa for the night.
I'M NOT SURE what day it is when the knock comes on the door.
"Don't go," Helen says, pouting at me from the armchair where she's curled up like a Siamese cat.
I nearly don't. But then the knock comes again, louder this time.
It seems familiar, somehow.
"I'll just see who it is," I say.
Helen stands up, her hands on her hips. "I don't want you to go."
I stare at her.
She's not so lovely, now. There's another knock, and I tear my gaze from her and go to the door, bruising my shoulder on the stair rail as I stumble past.
For a moment I think the door's locked, but then it opens under my hand, and I push it wide to see who's standing there.
She's in a new vintage fifties-style dress, skirt all puffed out with petticoats, and her hair up in a bun with two chopsticks. In her nose, she's wearing the ring I bought her, and told her it meant we were engaged.
Before she left me.
Her eyes are wide. "Sal?" she says. "Oh my God, look at you. What have you done to yourself?"
I look back into the hallway.
"Helen?" I say. My voice sounds funny.
Helen isn't in the hall, and when I run to the front room to look for her, she's not there either. I check the kitchen, and the downstairs loo, and then I scramble up stairs that tilt crazily, sick to my stomach.
Helen's not anywhere.
"Sal?" Helen's voice comes from downstairs. But it's not her.
"You made her go away," I shout, my voice thick. "You made her go away."
Helen-not-Helen holds me. "I'm sorry, babe. I didn't know. We'll make it better, 'kay? Come and sit down. I'll make a cup of tea, yeah?"
She opens the fridge, then shuts it again with a sound of disgust. "We can drink it black," she says, and rinses out the kettle, fills it, and sets it to boil.
HELEN SAYS SHE'S not coming back to me.
But we clean out the fridge together, throwing everything into a bin bag, even the squashy courgette in its clingfilm wrapper, and she makes me soup, bringing the kitchen to life with the aroma of parsnips, coriander, and cumin. It tastes so good, as if it's the first thing I've eaten in days.
I have a bath, not a shower, and I try to wash my hair, but it's so tangled I get fed up and crop half of it off. I think it suits me better anyway. I find some clean clothes and put them on, and throw the rest in the machine. After I've had another bowl of soup, Helen holds my hand while I call Claire at work and tell her I'm really sorry and I'll be in tomorrow.
But I still remember how good the knife felt in my hand, as if it was meant to be there, to be used by me. I don't think Helen really understands. Not this Helen.
There's a lot this Helen doesn't understand about me.
After she's gone, I dig a hole in autumn-soft earth and bury it in the garden.
Then I switch on my iPod, and let Ella Fitzgerald fill the house with warmth and sadness.CHAPTER 2
Labor Day Weekend
Bonnie J. Morris
JUST BEFORE LABOR Day, the summer's morning air changed to sharp autumn gloss. That first feeling of the coming fall was a tang and a tentacle that curled delicately around every dyke professor in town. They all felt their antennae go up: school again. Both drugstores and bars proclaimed Back to School Specials!
Awaiting Hannah on campus were notices in her faculty mailbox: "The campus bookstore regrets to report that the textbook you ordered for Women's History 001is out of print and unavailable for the fall semester." And so forth. The distance from freewheeling summer to sheer academic panic was a very fast crossing.
Should she give up asking her students to purchase real books and just go digital, with all her women's history assignments online, like other professors did nowadays? Why did it feel like such a betrayal to read Virginia Woolf on glass? Could there ever be a cyber equivalent word for bookworm?
But just below the fresh layer of anxiety, there was that glorious fire of recommitment, a feeling she recognized with gratitude and pleasure: her chosen work, examining the words of women's lives. In spite of the enormous workload, she still loved the cycle of the academic year, its curving arc of predictability ingrained since she was four and started nursery school. The weather obligingly shifted to cool; "knee sock weather," her mother used to say, meaning it was time to put away the shorts and bathing suits of summer play and pull on socks and saddle shoes for school. Hannah would beg and plead for just a few more days of running through the sprinkler, shirtless, free, unselfconscious, wearing her favorite pair of orange cutoffs, her threadbare PF Flyers tennis shoes. But school also meant books, when she was young and coming to realize how different she was from other little kids. Hannah's kickball-playing pals had hated library day, whereas Hannah found it heavenly. Now she was a grownup, and could read all day, every day, and not be considered a freak because it was her job to read. She had earned the freedom to be forever at home in history class, her mental pencilbox rattling, her heart and soul engaged.
BY SUNDAY OF Labor Day weekend Hannah was giddy with preparedness and back-to-school nostalgia, scuffing new loafers through a few early-turned and scattered leaves. She was on her way to Sappho's Bar for a last, lazy afternoon of watching baseball on the big screen Isabel had just installed, looking forward to sipping a brew with some of the big gals who were knowledgeable sports fanatics. Too soon, Labor Day weekend would be over and Hannah would be possessed by the demands of new students, by lectures to prepare, by hours spent with her nose in a textbook, deciphering the great women of history. Hannah took a long and winding route, walking to Sappho's instead of driving.
"Watch out, jerkface! You're going to hit that lady!"
Hannah jumped off the curb as a worn baseball banged her ankle. It rolled off her shoe, downhill into a side street; and two sheepish-looking little girls who had erred in a game of catch stood mortified but giggling in their front yard, awaiting Hannah's reaction. The bigger of the two girls, twisting her finger around beaded braids, ventured, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. You missed my soft parts." They doubled over with hilarity at that. Hannah approached the barefoot pair, hand extended to show she wasn't mad. "I'm actually on my way to watch a baseball game myself. I love to see girls practicing; keep it up! Either of you know how to pitch a curve ball?"
The bigger girl glanced at her companion, who was white and red-headed and wearing a backward-turned ball cap. "She thinks I can. My dad says I can't and never will. See, all we got at my school is slow-pitch softball. No baseball because there's no one to coach the girls."
"Well, there ought to be!" Hannah snarled, her feminist avatar uncoiling and rising like a cobra; and the girls involuntarily took a step back. "You know, there's a law that says girls can do any sport boys do. It's called —"
"Title IX," the redhead volunteered. "My mom's a lawyer."
Hannah looked at the sharp-featured little face, recognizing the dimples. "Your mom wouldn't be Elaine Grady, would she?"
"Ha, Susie's got two moms," the first girl said. "Now, how fair is that? I don't even have one. My mama died."
Susie frowned. "Shut up, Cubby. Yes, Elaine is my mom, but so is —"
"— Denise," finished Hannah. "Guess what: I know both of them. Okay. Susie, tell your mom Elaine to talk with Cubby's school principal, and I bet you can get a girls' baseball team started over there. It's been done before, you know? Grownup women played hard ball once. They were really good, too. In this league during World War II —"
"Yeah, A League of Their Own," Susie interrupted. "We watched that movie at my ninth birthday party in May."
"But it had just white girls," Cubby pointed out. "There was that one lady who could throw a curve and they wouldn't even let her into that ballpark."
The three of them stood there awkwardly, until Susie broke the silence. "Can you please go get our baseball for us? I think it rolled downhill behind you. We're not supposed to leave Cubby's front yard while her daddy's napping."
"Oh. Right." Hannah hurried after the lost ball, thinking: these kids know more than my own students. They don't need me to pitch lectures on women's history; they need female coaches who can pitch them curve balls. I'll have to get our athletic director at the university to shift money around and bring in a personal trainer for Cubby, ideally someone who knows the history of women in the Negro Leagues — but then she stopped cold, feeling her bruised ankle throb as her heart sped up. The ball had rolled all the way down the block and vanished into Willow Street. And Hannah had not turned the corner into that street in fourteen years.
She drove past it all the time, mentally chanting, Don't look. Keep going. Everyone had a street, she supposed, where the perfect love affair had played out, the architecture of a house and a street number containing the entire world of a finished relationship. In her own imagination it had never changed, that narrow townhouse, its yellow door opening right onto the old stone street, with a carriage lamp and a window box heavy with zinnias. Hannah had once loved a woman on Willow Street. She had loved the visiting scholar named Maud Nora.
It was right after Hannah finished her Ph.D., when she joined the university as a freshly minted young professor. They met over the wine and cheese at a reception for new faculty, talking about their heavy teaching loads and how to tackle it all, at different ages, different professional stages; Hannah with her new place in the world of women's history and Maud, older, better known, brought in for two years of special seminars on women's sports and culture. It was the busy, expert Maud who introduced Hannah to the history of the All American Girls' Baseball League. Maud even had an Aunt Marlene, nicknamed "Lumpy" for the bump on her head from a particularly rough game, who briefly played second base for the Grand Rapids Chicks.
And Maud — that had been a romance so all-consuming, Hannah barely remembered anything else about her first year of real employment. Yes, it was thrilling to stand at a lectern and watch students take notes, thrilling to take home a paycheck that soon turned into a leather jacket, a mountain bike, a complete set of Fiestaware, but most of that year was lost to kissing and waiting, kissing and waiting to kiss. With their equally demanding schedules, on some days they didn't see one another at all. On others — magic days, thought Hannah now — she was allowed to spend the night, leaving her grubby first apartment for the luxury of Maud's rented townhouse. They'd meet in that gold doorway, their leather satchels bumping. With a jingle of her keys, Maud would jab the door open and pour herself a glass of wine and settle on the couch with her half-glasses so charmingly askew, pretending to grade a few more student papers until the sexual tension wound up between them like a spring. Then Hannah had to pounce, to throw herself beseechingly into that waiting lap and bury her lips in Maud's cableknit sweater, the Celtic wool a fuzzbite in her teeth as Maud's own breathing quickened. On the sofa they made love while dusk began to gather, kids coming in from street games of baseball then, too, and cats yowling for their evening meal, and the train that rumbled every night at five. Eventually, on those special nights, Hannah would sigh and pull away and start a sauce for pasta in the narrow old kitchen with the butcher block island somehow fitting in between them, and Maud would watch the news while chopping vegetables or stripping husks off corn, and then by eight they'd eat their meal with jazz or blues or Bach — or women's music. Maud had every album ever made by any feminist musician, crates she'd brought with her from Ann Arbor along with a real stereo turntable and diamond-tipped needle; on such nights she'd raise her glass and say, "To my young scholar," toasting Hannah with one foot beneath the table stroking hers. That narrow house creaked and listed, groaned in autumn wind and froze them in the winter, so that Maud was often sick and Hannah always steaming her with pots of tea, with herbal decongestants, though Maud drew the line at "being vaporized," saying it sounded like a World War I attack. One night they both were bundled up in flannel, grading tests, and Hannah had her hair down and her bathrobe loosely tied, and looked up with the feeling Maud was watching, and she was. "Jesus Christ," said Maud, "you certainly are a beauty," and then laid her glasses down. They went to bed. But it didn't last. It never does, thought Hannah bitterly.
Excerpted from Haunting Muses by Doreen Perrine. Copyright © 2016 Bedazzled Ink Publishing. Excerpted by permission of Bedazzled Ink Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsFOREWORD ~~ Deborah Walker,
INTRODUCTION~~ Doreen Perrine,
DANCE WITH ME~~ JL Merrow,
LABOR DAY WEEKEND~~ Bonnie J. Morris,
IN THE AGE OF RESURRECTION~~ Deborah Walker,
THE SUN RISES DIFFERENTLY * HER GORGEOUS EYES * LAST NIGHT I WAS VISITED BY THE ANCESTORS~~ Giovanna Capone,
NEW HOPE~~ Pascal Scott,
MY WIFE'S GHOST~~ Andrea Lambert,
SPIRIT HORSE RANCH~~ Sacchi Green,
MINGHUN~~ Amy Sisson,
WINE AND MAGNOLIAS~~ Lela E. Buis,
SCRATCH OF THE SPECTRE~~ Lee Altomaro,
ENDURANCE~~ Elaine Burnes,
LUCKY STRIKE~~ L.K. Early,
BLACK HOLE~~ Halee Kirkwood,
MEMORIES WICKED LITTLE GARDEN~~ Jamie Sage Cotton,
THEY COME IN THROUGH THE WALLS~~ Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam,
ANGEL OF LIGHT~~ Doreen Perrine,
THE HAINT ON CRYIN BABY BRIDGE~~ Xequina Ma. Berber,