Jay was feeling disturbed. It was all over her face. Her eyebrows were pushed together into one furious line of hair. Her mouth was taut, holding in the words she really wanted to say. What she really wanted to say was, "What the fuck do you want, Anita?"
The thought hit her that Anita was trying to harass her, maybe even stalk her. The last phone message suggested that. "Jay, it's Anita. I'm a little unclear about what's going on. Could you give me a call just to clear things up? Thanks. Bye."
Angrily, Jay rewound the message and erased it. She erased the entire tape in case there were any other leftover messages from Anita lurking there. Sometimes, if she didn't erase, old phantom messages came through the new ones. Garbled half-words and strange staccato sounds. She decided to eject the cassette and put in a brand new one, just to be sure.
She thought of Anita's words as she inserted the new cassette. "What's going on." Nothing's going on. Why can't you leave me alone? Why can't you take the hint, Anita?
How long had this been dragging on? Two months? Anita had called up under the pretense of asking which film lab Jay used, then at the end of the conversation quickly asked, "Would you like to have dinner some time?"
Dinner? Jay knew all about dinner. Women who asked you to dinner really meant something else. They meant dessert. Pussy. Maybe you'd never thought about them at all that way, maybe you'd never even entertained the thought for a second, and there they were, all dewy-voiced and nervous and asking you to dinner.
Even if Jay had entertained the thought of Anita for a split-second when she was bored or missing Constance, so what? Was that any reason for Anita to harass her? Did she deserve all this pressure because of a momentary fantasy?
Granted, she'd accepted the dinner invitation. So what? She thought it might be okay to get to know someone new, another photographer, and Anita seemed bright enough, interested in Jay's work. They'd met at the opening of a group show in which they each had a photograph. Anita had a nice smile, and she touched people lightly when she talked to them. A little intrusive, maybe, but okay. It didn't necessarily mean anything.
"I like your work," Anita had said. "I've seen your stuff in other shows. Your photograph's really one of the best here."
"Yeah?" Jay had thought so, too. The other photographers in the show were more predictable, they didn't take risks the way she did. Her photograph, "Dyke," was raw and defiant and the tension was all there, at the surface and deep, deep below. It was the only way to work, with intensity.
And Anita? Her "Pamela, Sleeping" was technically good. She made intelligent use of light. It didn't do much for Jay emotionally, it was a little too vanilla, but she liked it anyway. Some gut reaction -- she had that sometimes.
She liked Anita, too, but in retrospect, she'd probably spent too much time talking to her at the opening, asking about her work, being interested. Anita seemed to like her stories, she listened well. But Jay should have worked the room more. Anita must be awfully naive. She must mistake casual interest for, well, interest.
On the phone the following week, Jay had fumbled out her acceptance to dinner, unable to come up with a fast excuse. Then she added quickly, "But this is a really bad week for me. How about in a week or so? It's just not a good time." She was busy, getting ready for her first one-woman show, which was opening in less than a month. She'd never worked so hard. So it was in a small gallery, so the New York Times would never review it. So what? It was still her show, and she was going to put all her energy into it.
"Oh, sure," Anita had replied. "Of course. Well . . . then, what? Should I call you?" Jay knew what Anita was thinking. She was thinking, yeah, but you have to eat, don't you? Why not with me?
"Yeah, good, call me," Jay had said. "Thanks." And she hung up abruptly, thinking, she'll get the message that I'm not interested in her. Putting women off always works.
But Anita wasn't that quick. She called again in a week. Left a message that Jay listened to and couldn't find time to return. A polite message. Then another. A funny, slightly irritated message. "Jay, I'm getting kind of fond of your answering machine. . . ." Okay, maybe it was okay to talk to her. Maybe Anita wasn't clear about how busy she was. She could call up Anita and leave a message of her own. Something nice and vague. "Let me call you in a little while when things get less crazy. Feel free to leave messages, but I'm just pretty unavailable now."
Okay, okay. Done.
Another message. "Thanks, I appreciate you letting me know." Kind of sweet. Definitely not threatening. Maybe this would be okay.
A few weeks of hard work and frustration. Jay couldn't get the exact print she wanted on "Tompkins Square, 7 a.m." Her Rollei broke, and she had borrow money from her friend Doug to fix it. Her boss wouldn't cut her any slack at work. She ran into Constance on the street and told her about the show, but Constance barely said anything, just a tepid "Good luck."
Then a message from Anita. Very unclear. She'd like to talk? About what? Not about this dinner! What was it with this woman?
Jay didn't return the call. She'd been clear. If she didn't call back, Anita would definitely get the picture.
But Jay sent her an invitation to the opening just the same. Why not? She'd put Anita on her mailing list. Maybe Anita had the money to buy something, if she liked Jay's work that much.
For a week, Jay agonized about what to wear to the opening, settling on all white, not black like she usually wore. She looked at herself in the mirror for a long time, wondering if Constance had gotten her invitation and if she would come. There were bad feelings between them. Constance had walked out three months earlier after two stormy years together. She wrote Jay a letter, telling her off. She used words like "emotionally debilitated" and "an ego the size of New York."
Jay invited her to the opening anyway. She wanted to see her. She still dreamed about Constance, vivid sexual dreams. The other night, Jay had come in her sleep and woke up thrashing uncontrollably in her bed. She had the urge to call Constance right then and tell her, but of course she couldn't.
When she fell asleep again, she dreamed she had a third breast and that she was opening her shirt and showing it to people at the gallery. A crowd formed to look at it, and Anita was at the back, craning her neck to see. The dream felt so real, Jay checked her breasts when she woke up. One, two. She hoped Anita didn't show for the opening.
But she did. Late. It was almost over, Jay had schmoozed with everyone, she'd had a lot of wine, she'd taken in the rave comments. "Powerful." "Raw." "Moving." "Alive." Constance didn't show up at all. Jay was helping herself to another glass of Chardonnay when she felt an unobtrusive tap on her shoulder. She was going to ignore it, but she felt it twice.
"Jay, congratulations." It was Anita with a big bunch of flowers. For her? Jay couldn't look at them.
"Thanks for coming." Jay stood there smiling, then not smiling, trying to hold the smile in place but nervously letting it slip every few seconds.
Anita offered her the flowers, touching her arm lightly. "You must be really excited."
"Yeah," Jay said, ignoring the flowers.
"These are for you," Anita said. Was that irritation in her voice? The flowers were suddenly in Jay's hands. What were they? Something that smelled great. Big purple and white things that smelled great.
This was out of control.
"Thanks," Jay said. "Let me find some water for them."
Okay, okay, that was over. A bad moment with nothing to say. Funny, Jay had had lots to say to Anita at the opening where they met. Why did Anita have to ruin everything by pursuing her? Why did she have to push so hard? And what was Jay going to do with these fucking flowers?
Constance gave her flowers once, too, on their first date. Tulips from the Korean market on the corner. Jay had been surprised, since she was the one who went after Constance. The roles were somehow mixed up. She'd let the tulips die without water on the kitchen counter. On their second date, Jay was very aggressive. She took the lead. She was a little drunk, okay. She pushed Constance up against a building on 7th Street and said, "I really want to fuck you." Constance liked it. It got her to Jay's apartment. They'd had delirious, nonstop sex for two days, moved in together just two weeks later. Started fighting right after that. They'd fight and make up, leave each other and come back. There was something that drew them together, a chemistry that Jay had never experienced before. She kept thinking Constance would come back. Or at least come to the opening. She just had to.
But Constance didn't show up.
Jay didn't want to hurt Anita's feelings. The flowers were nice, just inappropriate. She had Doug find a vase for them, then walked up behind Anita, who was pondering "Tompskins Square, 7 a.m.," and said, "What do you think?"
"It's great," Anita said. "I think it's my favorite. The face of the homeless woman is incredible. You captured something really intense."
Jay grinned. Yeah, it was good. Anita had taste. It was one of Jay's favorites, too. Well, Anita wasn't so bad. She was smart, sweet even, kind of cute, though her clothes were weird. Who wore lavender, anyway? Well, maybe they could just have dinner. Maybe even be friends. Maybe she could tell her about Constance.
"I'm glad you came," Jay said warmly and without thinking. She was instantly sorry. Anita blushed, dropped her eyes, looked like she didn't know what to do with her drink. She smiled finally and didn't say anything. Another awkward moment. Another bad mistake.
"Well," Anita said at last, "any buyers yet?"
Jay shifted from one foot to the other. "Yeah, a few," she answered, looking anxiously over Anita's head for an out. "Hey, I see someone over there I have to say hi to. A reviewer. Well, thanks for coming, and take it easy."
She left Anita and didn't look back. Jay was sure that would end it. Anita hadn't pressed her about dinner, so she'd probably given up.
But she was wrong. Anita just didn't get it.
A week after the opening, Anita sent Jay a postcard, a vaguely interesting photograph of some shoes abandoned in the street. On the back it said, "I really enjoyed your show. In fact, I went a second time. Would love to talk to you more about it. Can we have dinner soon? A girl could get hungry waiting to have dinner with you. Anita."
Went a second time? This was really out of control. Why would she go twice? Constance hadn't gone at all.
Jay ignored the postcard. In fact, she took it to work with her and shredded it.
On her lunch break, she wrote a letter to Constance, but she shredded that, too. She wanted something more. She wanted to push Constance against a building. Then she wanted to hold her and cry.
Two weeks later, when Jay's show closed, Anita left another message. The one that Jay decided bordered on stalking. Anita was trying to psych her out. "Jay, it's Anita. I'm a little unclear about what's going on. Could you give me a call just to clear things up? Thanks. Bye."
After she erased Anita's voice and replaced the tape, Jay sat down at her desk. She pulled out a blank piece of paper first, then decided instead on one of the postcard announcements for her show. She thought for a minute, then scrawled out the note in a fury. "Dear Anita, I'm not interested in 'dating' you. I haven't led you on. You started the whole thing. There's nothing 'going on' between us. Let's not have dinner."
Okay, okay, it was rude. But Anita was sort of asking for it. Still, she'd soften it a little. After all, they might see each other at openings. "Best wishes, Jude."
She mailed it immediately. She wished it could get there that day so it would be over. She wouldn't have this woman with a crush on her hoping against hope that they would be lovers. If Anita couldn't take a hint, she deserved to be put in her place.
But Jay was surprised that she didn't feel better. She went to the movies with Doug and her heart started pounding when she saw the back of an auburn head that resembled Anita's. She was ready to say to Doug, I don't feel well, I gotta go, but then the redhead turned and it was someone else.
In a few days, a postcard came. It was a print of "Pamela, Sleeping." The card had gotten badly wrinkled in the mail, and there was a streak of postage meter ink across the reclining figure.
It read, "Dear Jay, Got your postcard. Get over yourself. Best wishes, Anita."
Jay read the card twice at her mailbox, then balled it up in her hand.
"Fuck that," she muttered and went upstairs to call her gallery. She needed to talk business. She wanted to discuss her next show. She had in mind something even more political, more disturbing than the last.
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