May 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
An excerpt from The Chronology of Water, a memoir
by Lidia Yuknavitch.
When I first met Hannah in graduate school I was a woman gone numb. I would do anything. Anytime. Anywhere.
Hannah was one of those lesbians who looks like a beautiful boy—hazel eyes, that cool short curtain of hair hanging over one eye, broad shoulders, little hips, barely there titties. More like m & m’s. Hannah played basketball and softball and soccer when she wasn’t being a Eugene lesbo and English grad student. She used to wait for me by my blue Toyota pick up truck between classes and hijack me and drive me to the coast, where we’d stay up all night getting it on in the back of my truck, drinking Heinekins and waiting for the sun to come up. Then we’d drive back and go to class. Or I would. Hannah thought grad school was kind of lame. She much preferred sex and club dancing.
So when Hannah captured me and my best friend in the hall after our 18th Century Women Writers seminar by grabbing our wrists and pulling us toward the wall, I already knew it would be something sly. She smiled her sly Hannah smile and whispered, “Wanna go to the coast? I got us a room.”
My best friend blinked so blankly her eyes looked like a doll’s, and I think I coughed academically. But I have to admit it. My crotch went messy pretty much that instant.
After my best friend said something about not having enough money or time and anyway didn’t we have seminar papers due, to which Hannah said, patting my best friend’s head like a puppy dog, “Don’t worry, I already bought us the weekend, complete with a kitchenette,” making my best friend smile like she’d just eaten chocolate, and after I said something equally lame ass like I have to see what’s up with my boyfriend—I have to see what’s up with my BOYFRIEND?—to which Hannah responded “Really? Is he your dad?” Reaching underneath the waist of my jeans with her thumbs.
Oh yeah and after she picked at something on the front of my shirt until I looked down like a twelve year old fucktard and she tweaked my nose . . . laughing a little Hannah laugh–we were mysteriously on our way to Albertson’s to load up the back with beer and wine and food. We cleaned out my monthly food stamps buying gruyere cheese and pickled herring and smoked salmon and those cool not American chocolate bars with fruit ooze in the center and baguettes, the check-out lady scowling at us like somebody’s mother. And, me being me, we also scored three great filet mignon steaks I stuffed in my pants. To try and recover some semblance of coolness.
Listen, you probably think you wouldn’t, but I’m telling you, if Hannah said get in my truck we’re going to the coast, raising her little trickster eyebrow and putting her hand right underneath your breast and against your first couple of ribs, going, I dare you, you’d go.
So there we were crammed three-way up front in a pick-up truck, beers at our ankles, Hannah at the wheel, my best friend in the middle looking a little like our kid, and me with my mane of blond out the window yelling wooooooo hooooo. My best friend kept…squirming between us. I mean she was talking like normal and laughing like normal but her eyes had little electrical sparks in the corners. I kept looking at her but she kept looking away, or into the rearview.
About my friend. We met each other in a Women’s Studies class and hit it off right away. She was smart as a whip but not kiss-assy women’s studies smart—her questions always burrowed underneath the obvious and her seminar papers were more thoughtful than mile. A lot. Not only were her eyes the deepest chocolate you’ve ever seen, but her tits were the roundest and fullest most beautiful tits I’ve ever seen. When I first met her I assumed she was a dyke, mostly because she didn’t have a boyfriend and her hair was cut in a boy haircut and she knew SO MUCH about women writers. Also after about a year we shared a graduate teaching fellow office together and sucked some quite serious face. So we were definitely headed for…something.
That’s a lie. I mean it’s not a lie—it’s just that I’m telling it like what was best about her was her hotness. I wish I could go back and tell her how intelligent and beautiful she was. I wish I had been able to understand the two best things about her—that she was loving. That she was kind. But you don’t get to go back and tap yourself on the shoulder and go Hey fucktard. There’s something big here. I was busy dramatizing my sexuality.
In the truck with Hannah we were headed for the See Vue Inn. If you’ve never been, you are missing a lez secret hideaway. It’s located on a bluff above a beach full of agates, fossils and tidepools. Whales migrate within view and sea lions play in the surf. Elk, eagles and deer are frequent visitors. But that’s not why women go.
Women go because of the themed rooms. The Secret Garden Suite (private garden). The Crow’s Nest (nautical). The Salish (Native American). Princess and the Pea (weirdly medieval). Mountain Shores (rustica). Far Out West (cowgirl). The Cottage (you get the “house” to yourself).
We had The Cottage.
But halfway there my best friend had to pee, so we stopped at a ratty little gas station in the coast range between Eugene and Florence. Peeing women trigger other women’s bladders, so I went into the bathroom with my best friend. Those gas station bathrooms are squalid dump holes that smell like someone shit air freshener. The floors always have weird black slime on them, the sinks are always stained with something that looks a little like a serial killing, and more often than not the toilet is backed up with either toilet paper or, well, you know. Miraculously, our toilet was not backed up. I tried to break open the crappy machine with the tiny sex toys in it like French Ticklers—no doubt installed for truckers—while my friend peed her pee.
When it was my turn, while peeing, I looked up and said, “Everything O.K?”
My friend did this thing she did when she was anxious—she scratched a mole on top of her head that only people who knew her knew was there. “Yeah,” she said.
“Then why are you scratching your mole?” I wiped up and flushed, looking back to see if it was going down or coming back up at me.
My friend went to look in the mirror—the glass made her face look kind of special Olympics. She messed with her hair, pushing her bangs one way, then the other. Her face started to go red.
“Um, are you sure you are O.K.?” I asked.
When she turned around my best friend’s eyebrows were knitting across her forehead. Then she blurted out “NO. I am NOT O.K. O.K.?” Her voice had a tinge of I’m a grown woman trying not to cry in it.
I sat back down on the toilet, which was making a high pitched water pipe screech sound. “What’s up?” I asked.
She closed her eyes. She took a breath and held it in. I hate to say it but she kind of looked like a muppet there for a second. I said her name out loud. Then she spilled it.
“I’ve never licked pussy.”
“What?” I said, as if I’d gone deaf.
I sat there staring at her.
I sat there some more. I looked at the ceiling, the floor with the black slime, then back at her. Was she nervous about having sex with women? It suddenly occurred to me that these were not things I ever thought about. And the reason I didn’t think about distinctions such as this is that I was using my body as a sexual battering ram. On any one and any thing available. In fact, you might say I sexualized my entire existence at that point. It seemed to work a lot like alcohol and drugs. If you did it enough, you didn’t have to think or feel anything but MMMMM good. I looked more playfully at my friend. “I thought that’s what graduate school was for? I thought that’s why we took Women’s Studies? I thought all women did women in grad school so they could say I did a woman in grad school?” I laughed. I was kidding but kind of not.
“Shut up!” she spurted at me from her corner of the shit hole. “It’s not funny! I feel sick to my stomach!”
This threw me. “Like you’re gonna barf? But why?”
She turned around in a circle or two scratching her mole vigorously. “I just…”
“You just what?”
“I’m just afraid I’m going to…you know, like gag or something.”
“You’re afraid you are going to gag?” I started laughing. I couldn’t help it.
“Shut the fuck up!” She stomped her foot and made fists. Swear.
“Look,” I said, “Calm the fuck down. I’m no bonafide lesbian,”—this was indeed true. In Eugene at that time anyway, if you were with women but you also, dang it, still liked the poke, you couldn’t really be a card carrying member. “But I’ve been getting it on with women since I was fourteen and, you know, there’s…there’s lots of stuff to do.”
She considered this.
Then I said, “Besides, even if you did gag, gagging could be, you know, sorta cool too, couldn’t it?” I couldn’t help myself. I started laughing again. She began to swear at me and kind of fake slap my head, so I reached over and grabbed at her pants. “I’m going to do you right now you coy little minx,” I yelled, and ubuttoned her pants and pulled them down. “Jesus. Your underwear is pink. People still wear pink underwear?”
But instead of laughing or swearing at me, she just stood there with her pants down. I looked at her. She looked at me. Then I said, “Do you want me to? I mean, for real?” She shook her head up and down. She closed her eyes.
Women all taste different. Her taste I’d say was a cross between kelp and heavy cream, plus a little hint of pee on the palate since we’d just peed. She smelled like hay and skin lotion. Partway through my lip smacking she said, “O.K. Stop. Let me try you.”
I said “O.K., but did that feel O.K.?” She laughed. I took that as a yes. Secretly I was glad she wanted to switch because my knees on that nasty floor grossed me out. I dropped my pants. She stared at me. I wasn’t wearing underwear at all. “What?” I said. When she got down there and began her mouth to mouth I had to lean up against the wall to take the force of her. I said, “Well jeez, for someone who has ever done this you are a natural,” and laughed.
From within her wet suction she said, “Shalty. Ish O.K. Ish mmrowlrm good.” Then she looked up and said “Um, you kind of smell like filet mignon.”
“Yeah,” I said. “There’s lots of other stuff to do, too, you know.” I didn’t think I was going to hit the high note on this one so I treated the whole incident as a teaching opportunity.
Then I heard a weird noise like the wall was being rammed. My friend shot up and I turned around and yep, there was Hannah’s head up at the shitty little prison window above our heads on the wall. She was grinning and her fingers were curled over the railing—no doubt she’d hoisted herself up boy style.
“Whatcha doing?” she said. And laughed her Hannah laugh.
By the time we got to The See Vue, there were three of us who had licked pussy in the car. Tragedy averted. Minimal gagging.
The little cottage we had sported a fireplace, so I said don’t do anything without me and drove off to get firewood. When I got back, the door was open. I went in. The two of them were in bed with the covers pulled up just underneath their tits—Hannah’s m & m’s and my best friend’s glorious pendulous globes, smiling like Cheshire cats. Cheshire cats who had licked pussy. And in the middle of the bed was a little suitcase that Hannah brought—filled with toys.
I immediately dropped the wood on the floor, shut the door, and stripped, launching myself onto the bed like superwoman.
Whoever was staying in the Princess and the Pea or the Salish or the Far East, they must’ve gotten an earful. Hours of woman on woman on woman whose regular lives didn’t allow for such wild abandon. Sometimes Hannah’s fist up my cunt my best friend’s mouth on mine or me sucking her epic tits. Sometimes Hannah on her stomach me up her ass with a strap on my best friend behind me giving me a reach around—a skill she intuited. Sometimes my best friend on all fours me and Hannah filling every hole licking every mouth rubbing her clit making her scream making her entire corpus shiver her head rock back her woman wail let loose gone primal cum and shit stains and spit and tears. I came in Hannah’s mouth, her face between my legs like some goddess in a new myth. My best friend came with Hannah’s fingers in her ass and pussy, her body convulsing and falling off the bed, me wrapped around her and laughing and hitting my head on the wall. Hannah came jamming a dildo up herself while I buried my face in the clit of her. She pulled my hair. She pushed my head. My best friend curled under me licking and gagging but not not not stopping. I don’t know how many times we came…it seemed unending.
We ate each other we ate pickled herring we ate gruyere cheese. We ate the animal out of each other’s bodies we ate steak we ate chocolate two women my chocolate. We drank each other we drank all the beer we drank all the wine we peed outside. We got high on skin and cum and sweat we got high on pot. We came in waves we ran out and into the waves.
I wanted to stay like that forever—outside of any “relationship” I had ever had and inside the wet of an unnamed sexuality. The moon a grand spectator. As full of alive as the ocean outside the door. All the night it was difficult to tell whose body was whose. The woman of it drowned me. It nearly cleaved my mind. And again. Again. Waves.
In the morning we wrapped ourselves in blankets and drank coffee and perched ourselves about. Hannah on the porch railing outside and my best friend in a big overstuffed chair in the main room and me back in the bed curled up like a lion who’d just eaten a baby. It would have made a nice photo, three women contented like that, three women waking from their own pleasure without any one or anything to put them back in their clean and proper places. But life is life.
On the beach later that day Hannah grabbed my best friend’s hands and swung her around ring around the rosey style harder and harder. My best friend was laughing and then the wind and rain kicked up and then Hannah swung her too hard and let go and my friend went tumbling over sand and rock and scraped the shit out of her face and shoulder. Also she wrenched her back.
Back in the cottage I smoked a great deal of please don’t let this all go to hell pot and got so high I passed out at 8:00 P.M. When I awoke my best friend was sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace crying and Hannah was nowhere to be seen. When she came back to the cottage we were just three women again, living women lives, me with a boyfriend and my best friend with a seminar paper due and Hanna just standing there with her idea that had gone to shit. On the solemn heavy drive home I got pulled over and given a ticket buy some man cop—as if the little piece of paper read: not so fast, ladies.
I don’t know why women can’t make the story do what they want.
I don’t know why the story of a woman’s sexuality can’t be the next Great American Novel. Form coming from content.
When we got back to our ordinary lives, my best friend told me she was in love with me. A sentiment I couldn’t find in myself to return, hard as I tried. I wish I could go back and try. It was real, what she offered. But kindness wasn’t something I even recognized. Hannah’s girlfriend tried to commit suicide, feeling betrayed and alone. Though I had an episode or two left with Hannah, I was seduced away from her wild abandon eventually by a man with a fifth of whiskey, and like Faye Dunaway in Barfly, I followed him toward the meated smell and taste of poke.
May 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
The Beast of Waste and Desolation by Douglas Payne
Barrett Busto headed down the road towards home with two buckets full of salmon in the back of his truck as noon washed over the quiet valley of Wasilla. He had been fishing since he was a boy. Now, as an old man, he owned a bait and tackle shop in Anchorage. He was the widow of a content but childless marriage, his wife now ten years dead. Busto was nearing seventy and word had somehow reached him that the neighbors, and even his customers at the shop, thought he was losing his mind. Damn them to hell, he thought. What did they know?
He flicked through the radio channels as he drove on; the receiver gave him nothing but fuzz. Over the dissonant static, he heard a clear and heavy sound ring out like thunder. Moments later he heard the whir of a plane overhead. When he looked up and saw the plane cutting through the sky, he identified it as belonging to a prominent local politician named Stella Peyton. Hunting wolves is a hobby of hers. The revised law stated that aerial hunters had to chase down the wolf with the plane to the point of exhaustion, before shooting it from the ground. Not Stella Peyton though. As a state employee she was granted special provisions that allowed her to shoot it from the plane. She never even had to look it in the eye.
Barrett Busto never saw the sense in hunting wolves. When the wolf population was at its peak a century ago and a possible threat to other wildlife as well as dogs or livestock, the practice might have been justified in some eyes. Now though, with the creature just rising up from near extinction because of such killing, what point was there? Now that the animal had been forced into small isolated populations on the part of human expansion into their territories?
A pelt to hang by a mantle piece.
A righteous extermination of some symbolic evil. Something that is primitive and heathen and ungodly.
Maybe Stella Peyton being a steadfast fundamentalist played into her justification of this supposed sport.
As the stream of thoughts reached its end in Busto’s mind, a definite impulse rose from him to turn the truck around and go off the road, looking to see a sign of her kill. Why he would have such a desire he did not know. There may be just a splatter of blood, or a bullet shell. There was little point in it, but still something drew him there.
Knowing the plane would be gone by now, he turned the truck around in search of where it might have landed to collect the carcasses.
Bits of brush continued to gather on the bottom of Barrett Busto’s shoes and he knew he was close. He could smell the blood. He had already spotted a few paw prints, and they were becoming more numerous as he went out through the other side of the small grove and into the open.
In the distance he saw a small black lump. He approached it with caution, but scoffed when he realized that it was discarded jacket. It was altogether wearable and so he put the bundle under his arm to keep for himself.
He saw the limp body in the corner of his eye, off a little ways to the east. He easily could have missed it and went on. The wolf was still and dead in the cold autumn air. He walked over to examine the inanimate corpse. Its eyes were open and they looked as you suppose dead eyes would. Not those of a peaceful death, but of a death that was resisted and struggled against with great resolve. The pelt was the color of rust and night and maple syrup. it was all of that except for the dark stains of red on this impeccable coat, a pattern interrupted by the gaping hole in the side of the body. Looking close, Busto could see the shell lodged in the animal’s flesh. He didn’t know why Peyton had discarded the body instead of collecting the kill. In her eyes the wolf was no creature to be exalted and this particular one was not even fit for a trophy, but only fit to die and lay rotting in the fields. Busto would salvage this creature from Peyton’s already forgotten memories and bring him to eternity.
The cleaned pelt had been placed carefully over the back of a kitchen chair as Busto began to salvage the meat, slicing it from the bone. he threw it in a large pot with onions, carrots, and chicken broth and allowed it to simmer for an hour. In that hour he burned candles and incense and offered lamentations to the wolf’s spirit, expressing his deeply felt regret.
When the meat was done cooking, he secured the lid tightly over the pot and wore the pelt of the departed wolf on his back, going out to his truck.
Stella Peyton’s residence was a twenty minute drive from Busto’s own house, and so the pot of meat and vegetables was still warm when he pulled up. The sizable driveway was already filled by five cars. He heard bantering voices and short fits of laughter seeping through the walls and out into the street.
He went to the door, the pot cradled in his arms and pelt covering his back, and knocked three times. The lady herself answered.
“Hello,” said Stella with a toothy smile, poking her head through the door. His face did not register.
“Oh, you brought food,” she interrupted, eyeing the pot and opening the door wider.
“Yes, it’s a stew.”
“Well come in,” she said, and then motioned with her hand as she stepped to the side allowing Barrett Busto to enter her home.
He followed her to the kitchen.
“It’s so nice of you to bring a dish, Ted and I made plenty of food, but this is such a treat. Thanks,” she said to Busto. She took the pot from him and set it on the counter.
She led him into the next room, where a group was gathered at a large dining table. They all looked up at Busto as he entered.
“I don’t know where Ted is, but this is his sister Annette,” said Stella pointing to a thin and pallid blonde who was seated at the side of the table, her eyes on Busto.
“Hi there,” Annette said.
“And this is my older brother Keith,” said Stella pointing to a stoutly built man with salt and pepper hair who sat next to Annette, with one seat between them.
“How are you,” said Keith, standing to shake the hand of Barrett Busto.
“I’m fine, thank you,” said Busto, accepting the handshake. The other man’s grip was spongy and cool like the raw flesh of a chicken.
“And I’d like you to meet Carol,” continued Stella, “she’s a volunteer at our church.”
Busto could only see the backside of Carol, clad in a long black dress. Shed strands of white hair clung to the fabric. She turned around to reveal a pudgy face, The upturned corners of mouth forever damned to always convey an insincere smile.
“Afternoon, how are you?” she said. She was without her top set of dentures.
Busto saw Stella glancing around the room.
“Holly and Tex are here somewhere. You know kids, they like to run around.”
“Have a seat,” said Stella, quickly pulling out a chair for Busto to sit down, as if it had slipped from her mind and returned all of a sudden.
“Thank you,” said Busto. He then pulled out the chair at the end of the table and took the pelt form his back, setting it upright in the chair before sitting adjacent to it. Busto now sat across from Annette, an empty seat flanking the both of them on either side.
He looked to the wolf pelt.
“This is the chief,” said Busto, “he has come.”
A sliver of uncertain silence hung over the room and then dissipated.
“Hey there, chief,” said Keith, waving to the pelt, this caused all at the table to laugh, save for Busto.
“I think we should eat,” said Stella, “I’m going to have a rib, a little macaroni salad, and some of that stew. How does that sound for everybody?”
All at the table agreed.
“Kids, it’s time to eat,” Stella hollered, and the children came running down the stairs.
Tex took the seat next to Busto, his eyes immediately attracted to the wolf pelt sitting upright at the end of the table, as though it still lived. Tex, a boy around eleven, had a strong face and short brown hair, with a nose both smooth and sharp like a precious stone. He held a strong resemblance to his mother.
Holly wedged herself in the unoccupied chair between Annette and Keith, wiggling around with impatience. She had light colored hair, almost blonde. Busto could tell from pictures that she looked very much like her father. She must have been about nine.
Stella made up plates for them all. Each with a rib, a few spoonfuls of macaroni salad, and a small bowl of the stew. The broth had been eliminated from the servings with a straining spoon, leaving only vegetables and the meat that had been taken from the very animal she had killed, though this remained unknown to her.
She passed the food to all that were present, and set another plate in front of an open seat for her still absent husband.
“I’m sorry, I forgot your name,” said Carol to Busto after taking a bite of the stew.
“It’s Barrett, Barrett Busto.”
“Well Barrett,” said Carol as she gathered another bite of the stew on her fork. “This is very good. Did you make it?”
“Yes I did,” answered Busto as he sampled his own work. He was satisfied.
“It’s real good meat,” added Keith. “What is that? Veal?”
“It’s the wolf,” said Busto with a smug look, pointing to the ghost like inhabitant of the end chair. It’s head was now resting on the table as if in a state of dejection.
“The wolf?” asked Keith.
“Yes, I skinned it for the pelt and used the meat for the stew.”
“Wow, I’ve never had wolf before,” said Annette, diverting course from the Macaroni salad to sample the wolf meat. She chewed slowly to savor the taste.
Up to that point, Stella Peyton had been consuming the stew with eagerness. Now she set her fork down on the plate, staring forward at nothing.
“If you’ll excuse me,” she said, standing quickly and taking leave from the table. Soon after, the sound of her dry heaves could be heard emanating from the nearby bathroom.
“Sorry I missed out on the start of the meal, I was next door at Al’s,” said Ted Peyton as he walked into the room where his guests and children were dining. He noticed his wife was not present.
“Where’s Stella?’ he asked.
“She had to excuse herself for a moment,” answered Carol.
“Oh, well then,” said Ted noticing the seated wolf pelt before taking the last available chair at the other end of the table. Though a bear pelt lain over the back of his couch in the other room, This honorific display of the wolf was just too unnerving for him. The dead thing looked regal and full of knowing, like it were judging him from up on high. He kept his eyes downcast, gnawing on a rib.
Stella returned to the table, seeming to have gathered her composure. As soon as she was seated she took the bowl of stew from her plate and set it aside.
“Hi honey,” said Stella to her husband.
“Hey there, you feeling alright?” asked Ted.
“Yes, I’m fine,” said Stella, trying to shake off some unseeable thing from her bones.
“Mom, can I go?” spoke the quiet Tex. For most of the time that had passed he had been silently chewing his food, gazing at the wolf beside him with fascination.
“Sure dear, you go ahead.”
Tex pushed out his seat and went scampering about the house, his sister Holly decided to join him.
“So your friend Barrett skinned and cooked this wolf all by himself,” spoke Stella to Ted. “How long did it take you to catch it?”
“Didn’t catch it. Found it. It was your kill,” said Busto.
“My friend Barrett?” questioned Ted in reply, “I’ve never met him.”
“What, you–” she stuttered glancing at Ted, then at Busto, “You–”
She was ensnared in a web of confusion.
“What do you mean my kill?” Stella asked Busto.
“You killed this wolf this morning. Don’t you remember? I saw your plane go by when I was driving home and then I found him. You left him there.”
“What?” she said, her breath catching in her throat. “What? Why would you do that?”
She stared at Busto, and again looked to her husband.
“You don’t know him?” she asked.
“I’ve never seen him before. Never,” said Ted.
“None of you know him?” Stella asked.
All at the table shook their head.
“Oh my God,” said Stella as she pushed her chair out, trying to stand and not being able.
“I think you need to leave,” said Ted to Barrett Busto, “Please, just take your things and leave.”
Busto rose from the table that was lined on all sides with men and women who looked as lifeless as the wolf itself, which was now absent from the table.
“Where is that damn thing? Where’d it go?” said Ted.
It was in that moment draped over the body of their son Tex, who was prowling through the grass in their expansive back yard, weaving through the small patches of trees there and growling at birds.
On shaky legs, Stella handed Barrett Busto his half empty pot of stew and Ted almost pushed him out of their front door before calling the police.
It was in the night that Stella Peyton had a dream. She was standing naked in a snow covered glade staring into the wrathful eyes of the beast. There was no sky between them and she had no gun. She knew that in that moment the beast was stronger than she and that it could kill her. She saw the sharp edges of its gleaming teeth and in its eyes all of the power and mystery of the world, before she fell to her knees in fear. For a moment the beast stared into her face, wrought with terror and the agony of weakness, before turning away and going back to that from whence he came. Stella Peyton sat up in a cold sweat, unable to believe the force of such a dream.
At the very same time, her daughter Holly lay asleep in bed, half covered by the sheets and clutching the wolf tight to her small body. As she squirmed in some unknowable vision of sleep, the pelt rubbed against her and pushed up her nightdress, holding the warmth between her legs.