Go ahead, chum. Ask yourself. What is any lover's biggest job?
Answer: Who knows?
However, you could try this on for size: Make sure the daily grind, (especially when that grind involves the voluntary coupling of two female bipeds), seldom remains the same. When divorce is as easy as packing a suitcase, when today's enchantment already holds the larval offspring of tomorrow's ennui, beware of too much domesticity; it's an ambush.... "'Tis a pity she's a bore" even now is singing through the tandem bloodstreams of countless women. Some of them even read poetry.
Like Scheherazade, wise lovers devise 100l ways to Keep Things Going. Love, after all, should be art without regrets.
You have to work at it.
Remember how things were, back in the moon of honey?
You'd been lumbering love like a lost side of beef searching for a cozy barn, when suddenly the barn hove into view, the barn doors gaped open, the generous hay came spilling from the loft, sweet and fresh and new. You galloped, then, for shelter, slap-happy with expectations, stuffed with hope, groggy with lust.
And there She was.
Never, never was woman so funny, so fascinating, so bright, so passionate, so---dare it be said?---unabashedly deep! Antony and Cleopatra? Heloise and Abelard? Gertrude Stein and Alice B.? Chump-change, compared to this. Mere dress-rehearsals.
"I've waited all my life for you."
"I've waited all my life for you, too."
And the honeycomb flows, smoothly and more smoothly.
Ah, the long, unrushed bouts of hot, sweet, altogether raunchy physicality; what other cunnilingual couple has ever reached such shivering yet volcanic climactic heights? Mmm, the softly-lit and music-threaded meals at home, the main course of which is always long talk about those endlessly entertaining subjects, Each Other and Us. Oh, the quiet strolls together, the occasional film or play accompanied by friends green with envy at the sight of such seamless happiness. And the visits to `our' restaurant, where the staff comes to know us and (if our tipping habits be gracious) smiles benevolently as we linger long and silent, gazing into each other's eyes across the sacher torte. There may, if circumstances permit, be a bit of travel now and then; if circumstances do not afford, well then....there are always weekends to look forward to, with the shades drawn, the phone unplugged, and a tart, musky smell hanging in the air like incense.
Thus we love, bawling and lowing with joy, in the moon of honey. We have, after all, waited all our lives for us.
Meanwhile, the larva (remember the larva?) is alive and well, awake and voraciously slurping away. The larva is going Yum-yum! and munchmunchmunch. Tempus has commenced to fugit.
Of course, everybody's shit is a different shade, scatologically speaking, but a typical pileful might look something like this: one morning, somebody looks over at somebody else's sleeping head, mouth wide open and dribbling on the pillow, and suddenly it's a sight no longer cute and endearing; instead, it's just a dull view and a sodden pillow. It's possible. Maybe generous wind is broken in the bathroom, and the breaker forgets to use the Lysol or at least open the window. Again. Perhaps someone starts noticing how often her wittiest words seem to sail right over her dear one's head and out of view (while Dear One has begun to hear things that strike her as just plain stupid). It happens. Comes the night one or the other realizes that -- of reruns -- she'd prefer TV to sex.
In time, candles grow rare upon the table and then they are gone altogether. The lovemaking sheers off more and more, first in frequency, then in fire. On weekends, the shades remain open, the phone stays plugged in, the air begins to smell of Endust and laundry. Heaviness confines. Arguments flare. Resentment clabbers in the morning coffee. "What are you thinking about?" becomes a frequent question, "Oh, nothing much...." the answer of choice.
With a wistful puff of the old affection, one evening someone may say, "Honey, want to go to Christy's tonight? We haven't been there in ages!" only to hear, "Oh, I don't know....We must have eaten our way through their menu twice, by now. Why don't we call Liz and Deenie, and see if they feel like trying that dim sum place Helen told us about?" Right.
A benign endurance, a sort of affable inattention, settles like snow upon the landscape. Life grows clammy with routine.
Next, comes bewilderment; come the tears. (Oh, those water-works!) Open, if muddy, recriminations take place. Long-suffering silences are suffered, promises and denials bandied about. Guilts abound. Reproaches spar for equal time. Each hostility, each disappointment or perceived injustice, every numbing dullness of the past is belched up and nibbled apart, the aftertaste chewed over like bad fast food. Between us, tail tucked low and legs in the air, huddles the question: Who is this person and why am I here?
Then the last door slams for the last time, the shoe finally drops, the cookie crumbles, the jelly mercifully rolls.
Who was that masked woman, anyway?
What the hell happened here?
How did so golden a couple, beginning like God's own Big Bang, become so wretched an implosion of personalities, a great Yawn departing, with only a small x to mark the spot?
We forgot to feed the larva so it ate us all up, that's how.
We may decide, then, that this whole thing about relationships is entirely too much trouble, that it is unlikely we'll ever choose to give `love' another go. Who wants? Though bred to the bone to know that a loverless life is a very bad bargain, we may decide that really it's a bit of a toss-up. With certain pairings pared away, certain painful disconnections already hurtling into the millenium, already pilgrimming briskly toward nostalgia, who wants for Christ's sake to take a chance on going through all that again?
Kit is fifty-three, fairly successful in what she does, fairly secure in her professional future. Her car, her home, her modest bank account please her, as does her small circle of time-tested friends.
Her looks please her less; the face is acceptable, passable at least, having settled into a pattern of slightly amused interest, but the flat, hard stomach of her youth -- thanks to gravity and a growing laziness about exercise -- has turned into a soft ring of fat that girdles her expanding thighs and buttocks, thickening a bit more, drifting a little lower every year. Still, Kit is tall; in the right light and wearing a pair of her dark, tailored slacks, she is able to feel that she looks imposing rather than dowdy.
She has sharp, blue, contact-lensed eyes, and has reached a truce with her shock of graying hair; last year, ignoring the pleas of Eduardo, her longtime hairdresser, ("Bot, darrrleeng, you are making the beeg meestake! You weel look like you are wearing the leetle hat!"), Kit tried dyeing her hair back to its youthful dark brown. Eduardo was right; she'd looked like an old man in a leather helmet. When told it couldn't be changed without heavy bleaching and possible severe damage, she'd simply have to wait for it to grow out, she'd been frantic. Now she has decided to think of herself as a Silver Fox.
"A kit-fox!" she whispers into the mirror on her better days, enjoying the pun, and admiring the various shades of gray: iron and steel and silver, and the gray in an abalone's shell.
There is a small park near her home. For years she jogged its borders every day before work, coming home to shower only slightly sweaty, only lightly panting. These days, when guilt does drag her from bed and stuff her into sweats and Nikes, she feels lucky if she can push herself into jogging half her old distance, returning home wheezing like a torn balloon, her abused blood pressure waving great, black dots across her vision. She feels now that her strong and lean and healthy body, of which she'd been secretly so proud, had always been duplicitous, had waited all these years to betray her at last with fat and feebleness and odd aches in the morning. She is angry and will not admit that she is afraid.
But. Kit is having other problems, too. She wants to be in love. Early-affair love. Sweaty-palmed/heart-pounding/wet-panties love. It has not been that long since Martha, yet already Kit has trouble remembering her life with the woman she'd tried so hard to groom and nudge and burnish into bloom. Kit only knows that if she were in love this exasperation, this boredom, this lack of focus would be gone. Plus, she is horny as hell.
A little less than a year ago, when Martha moved out, Kit did not feel this way; less than a year ago, she felt a great and unexpected relief at being alone. No more cat hair to sneeze over, no more looking at insipid knick-knacks, no thinking for two and being unappreciated. Sweet freedom. Not even a year ago, Kit was dead certain she was done with `relationships', burnt out on `love'. Instead, she'd planned to opt for a selective promiscuity, planned to have a good time culling through the ranks of women who, like herself, had become aficionados of the emotionally harmless, who had had their fill of this commitment crap and were cerebral enough to admit it. Enough is enough. Kit would go hunting.
And she daydreamed a series of faceless, nameless encounters with no strings, no entanglements, and no holds barred. There were wonderful women out there, wildly sexual women who held out their arms to her from the hollows of their beds. Women to whose tossed sheets she would bring anonymity, a broad repertoire, and a vast emotional indifference. Women who would shower her with the same. Friends would be saved for talking and laughing and playing, for drinking wine and going places and intimate caring. Orgasm would be kept for more utilitarian bonds, a thing held apart from her real life, a joyous but uncluttering fillip, a simple swim through puddled cream. She would have the best of everything.
How logical, how competent, she proudly thought.
Two weekends after Martha left, Kit discussed this idea over lunch with her best friend, but Sandy only smiled, listening as though Kit spoke in symbols instead of good, hard common sense. Leaning back in her chair, Kit finally said, "So that's the plan, San. I've re-entered my swinging bachelor days. Permanently."
Over the rim of her wineglass, Sandy cocked an eyebrow at Kit. "Uh-huh," she said. "Sure you have."
Kit was annoyed. "You don't believe me?"
"I didn't say that. You probably believe you. I know you. You are the last of the great romantics. A classic butch." Sandy grinned. "All you ever really wanted was a horse and a sword and some dragons to slay and a fair damsel to rescue. God knows you've tried to rescue enough of 'em...."
"Come on, what does all that mean?"
"It means, my dear, you think you're St. George. Joan of Arc, anyway. You want to come thundering in, righting wrongs and saving maidens. Pretty phallic, all those swords and horses, huh?"
"No, listen." Sandy ticked names off on her fingers. "Mona. Jan. Lindy. What an airhead she was! Dee. Even Martha. Kit, you like 'em wounded. Makes you feel useful."
Laughing, shaking her head, Kit said, "Look at you! My own armchair analyst." Then, serious: "No, I'm done with it. No more waking up to the same face, day after year. No more what-do-we-talk-about-now evenings. No routine sex at routine times: Oops, it's Friday! Break out the satin sheets...." She grimaced. "I'm not good with relationships. After the first couple of years I can't sustain them. Or they can't sustain me. Take your pick...."
"That bad, huh?"
Sandy said, "Maybe you miss the dragons."
"I don't get you."
"Think about it. Maybe once you've slain the dragon and saved the maiden, what's to keep you intrigued?" Sandy shook her head. "Forget it, that has to be too out of bounds. But y'know, out of all of them, I always liked Martha best. I thought you were good together."
"We were, for a while. Isn't everybody? Don't get me wrong, I cared about Martha. Don't you see? That's the problem! There wasn't any passion left. By the time she moved out, her leaving me didn't mean that much. I'd gotten....weary of her." Kit slid a thumbnail around the rim of her glass. "Who knows? Maybe she felt the same. Maybe that's really why she left. Boom. Surprise, surprise! She did say a lot of things that boiled down to the fact that I was so good to her, hovered so much it drove her bonkers."
"And you mean to tell me you couldn't talk that out?"
"Didn't try," Kit said.
Now Sandy asked, "Can Maya and I help? Shoulders to cry on? Dirty pictures? Whatever?" Repartee, but her stare was worried.
Kit smiled. "You're a trouper, San. I'm fine, honest. You could stay together, just so I have a few illusions left."
Proudly, Sandy hooked her thumbs in the lapels of her jacket. "Don't worry, we're bonded for life. Like wolves or geese."
"Then you've got the secret."
"God, after all this time, I hope so!"
Kit sighed, and pointed at the half empty carafe on the table between them. "Why do you suppose women order white wine so much? It's always such bad stuff, out, but we still keep ordering it."
"I don't know. Calories? Economy?" Sandy laughed. "That elegant look?"
As Kit leaned forward to fill their glasses again, the thought of Martha, alone with her quirks and foibles, lingered with a smug pang. Martha would miss her. Oh, yes. And be sorry. Martha would come to know just what she had lost, while Kit, on the other hand, would be wading in new waters, grazing in new grass. "You know," she said, "when we first met, Martha was very wary. Gun-shy. I could tell she'd been hurt, mauled pretty badly. Later on, I found out I was right."
"Everybody's had it rough somehow."
"Hush! I'm telling this. Anyway, I took my time courting her and courting is exactly what I did. Nice and slow and so patient. She was like something lost and wild, and Christ I didn't want her to run on me. It was like I was trying to capture a leopard.
"One night about two months after we met -- we hadn't even been to bed yet, that's how careful I was being about letting her know I wanted her -- she came to my place for dinner, for the first time. Oh, I was crazy about her then; I thought if I could just get her to love me we'd last forever. I forget what I made, but whatever it was I was knocking myself out. And I had candles going, and the music low...." Kit lit a cigarette and went on: "It was the whole bit, you know? Like you said, very romantic.
"So there we were, sitting around talking, waiting for dinner to finish cooking, and the candles were making her hair and her eyes glow and even the goddamn air between us was crackling....And I suddenly realized she was so pretty, I'd been so busy looking at her, I hadn't even offered her anything. And I asked her what she'd like to drink. So of course she said white wine. Well, I've always got a couple of bottles around, reds and whites, so I told her fine, it would just be a minute for me to put some on ice.
"I get the bucket out and I'm filling it with ice and I'm thinking Chablis? Chardonnay? What? I mean, I knew she wouldn't know the difference between Barzac or Vouvray or Puligny-Montrachet but-"
"Neither do I."
"-but I figured she'd know the basic basics and I didn't want to pour something she didn't like. So I said, `What kind?' You know what she said? She said, `Have you got any Gallo?' I guess it was the only one she knew offhand. She's come a long way since then." Kit smiled ruefully. "I don't know why I told you that."
("Now I'm coming by to pick up the rest of my plants and leave the key, so please, Kit, pleasepleaseplease don't be there?")
Sandy shook her head, then raised her glass. "Well, here's to selective promiscuity, kiddo. Long may it brave!"
They clinked and swallowed, and Kit asked, "How's Maya?"
"Doing fine, and sends her love. Guess what? She got promoted finally! Sosh worker II. A little more money, a lot more hassle."
"That's great! Tell her I said congratulations."
"Here's a better idea: you tell her. Come for dinner Tuesday, okay? Just leftovers and conversation." Sandy's broad, tanned face showed concern. "We care about you, ya know."
Kit felt a deep wave of affection for her old friend. "Don't worry," she answered lightly. "I'm fine. Sure, I'll be there. I'll even bring some white wine!" She leered at Sandy and twirled an imaginary mustache. "If I pick up a dissolute female, can I bring her, too?"
Sandy grinned. "Love it!"
But there are no women, dissolute or otherwise.
Though Kit faithfully haunts all the lesbian bookshops and coffeehouses, stalks the feminist art exhibits, soaks up the film festivals, she has no success; the women that cruise her fail to intrigue her, while those who set her own loins to itching are not receptive. Kit will not compromise. She wants to be stunned, wants her breath taken away by a raw, erotic heat; those women who do notice her, who smile slowly and linger, look too established, too competent, too assured. The aesthetics are wrong. She cannot imagine them barefoot, vulnerable in a field of daisies; strolling through butterflies and sunlight, their hair would not hang down.
It is the same at the parties she occasionally attends.
Morosely, she considers -- but cannot bring herself to join -- a lesbian singles group; for women her age she views such groups, like the bars, as one of the last bastions of the desperate. Not for a moment does it occur to her that she is being narrow. In time, she stops making her rounds except for the private parties. She feels that everyone in town must know her by now, must know she is alone and hunting and unsuccessful. It's awkward.
She is bored, she is restless, she is unfocussed, and she is very, very horny. The image of Martha's strong, young body, in its stainless flesh downed like a young peach, torments her.
One day the thought strikes her that various sex partners -- should she ever find any -- can only alleviate her horniness; the rest might well remain. She is amazed at this insight, which she applies only to herself: In living a clear, uncomplicated life there are no surprises, no challenges. Nothing much happens.
Small problems -- a broken garbage disposal, a meeting to which she is late, a sluggish transmission -- are a comfort. They give her something to do. Weekends, she sleeps in. She gains twelve pounds.
And having at last decided that all this is a high price to pay for clarity and simplicity, she does not know how to force things to change.
Then Sandy and Maya tell her of an acquaintance of theirs, a woman named Angela, whom Maya knows from work. Angela, it seems, has also gone through a long-term relationship which failed. She is, Maya says, very nice. Intelligent, reasonably attractive, no apparent problems, why doesn't Kit meet her and see what happens?
"I. Am. Not. Ready for another relationship," Kit grumbles, knowing she's lying in her teeth, knowing she'd give anything for the right woman to breeze into her life.
Sandy and Maya stare at each other, then at Kit. "You know," Maya laughs, "we're not exactly talking immediate marriage, here. Just dinner and a few drinks."
"For a swinging bachelor, I don't see you swinging much," Sandy points out.
"Have you told her about me? Tell me you haven't told her about me!"
"Well, yeah, I have," Maya admits. "A little."
"God, I hate this!" Kit thinks a moment, then: "How old?"
"Forty-three, forty-four. I'm not really sure."
Now Kit groans and drops her head in her hands.
Sandy says, "It's about time you gave up robbing cradles."
Maya shoots Sandy a quick look, and moves to soothe: "There's nothing wrong with liking your partners young sometimes, Kit, but there are great women of all ages around. I mean, look at the three of us! Why limit yourself, hon?"
Kit glares, but inwardly she shudders; they're right, she's had a stubborn lifelong weakness for the young and fair; Martha'd been well over twenty years her junior. Forty-anything is no age to set Kit's libido clanging like a runaway trolley. Still, maybe because of Maya and Sandy, or maybe because she is tired and knows she must soon drive home alone, she decides to break down and give this a try and so she says, her voice grumpy, "What the hell. Set it up. Only we all go out the first time! After that, if there is an after that, we'll see.... Oh, please wipe those grins off!"
For Kit, the evening does not start out as a success. While Angela seems all the nice things Maya described, she is also (Kit decides as soon as they are introduced) too obviously interested, too obviously available, too eager to do something about both.
Kit has made reservations at a place on the beach in Santa Monica, and the two couples dine on a balcony overlooking the water. Durimg dinner, Angela tells an elaborate story about her college days; when she leans past Kit to emphasize a point to Maya, her breast nestles in the crook of Kit's arm for many seconds. Sitting back again, Angela turns her bright face to Kit's with a Giaconda smile. Kit can feel her own glands shutting down like dead oil rigs.
At about 10 o'clock, they leave the restaurant for a woman's bar fifteen minutes away, in Westwood; a new place that Angela has heard about, called Patty Cake's. They are in Maya's wagon; Angela has parked at Kit's so that they may all ride together. The streets are shining now, polished with a fine, soft drizzle. Their tires hiss. In the back seat, Angela reaches out and takes Kit's hand. There is nothing to pursue here, nothing to court, nothing to lay snares for.
At the bar, the women pay a ridiculous cover-charge to a young man whose shaven head sports four different earrings dangling from its left ear. He stamps a red star in ink on their right palms: "So we know you paid if you leave and come back in," he giggles.
Once inside, they find seats near the window, at one of the many small tables crammed along the wall.
Patty Cake's is half empty, but it is already filling up, and has the tense sexual atmosphere of a place that will be roaringly cruisy by midnight. The music, thundering from speakers mounted near the ceiling, is new New Wave, and the women gyrating on the small dance-floor look, to Kit, like technicolored vibrators. By accident, she makes eye contact with a young, leather-clad butch posing at the near end of the bar; they stare at one another for a moment and then the butch grins and slowly turns her back. The gesture is insolently dismissive, reminding Kit of days when she, too, looked at any woman around her present age as a doddering undesirable. Shamed and angry, Kit feels the slow heat mount to her face. She is glad when the smoky air is suddenly splintered by strobe lights.
Sandy shouts, "What are you drinking?"
"I say, what are you drinking?"
"Oh," Kit yells. "Chivas up and a beer back!" This is not what she usually has; it is the drink of her romping, stomping days, and Kit knows she has only ordered it because of the young butch who has made her feel so bulky and old.
Sandy widens her eyes. "You sure?"
"O-kay. How about you, Angela?"
"I'll stay with white wine."
The music stops for a moment. Kit takes a quick, relieved breath and says, "What are we doing here?"
Angela laughs. "I think we're slumming! Don't you like to go slumming now and then?"
Maya jumps in, saying, "Would you rather go someplace else, Kit?" and three sets of eyes focus on her.
"No," Kit says, wishing they'd stop being so careful of her, so accomodating, so nice. "This is fine. The music's a little loud, that's all."
"You're probably a very good dancer," Angela comments.
"You don't like to dance?"
"Not to this stuff!" she yells as the speakers on the ceiling blare into frenzy. "I used to go a lot, but I'm old-fashioned; I like to touch my partner when I dance!" Then she mentally kicks herself as Angela gives her yet another long, slow smile. Kit looks away, rolling her eyes at Sandy. Instead of laughing, Sandy frowns and says something to Maya, who glances over and shrugs.
Sandy picks up the tab for the first round. When it's Kit's turn to buy, she is astonished at the amount the server charges; she has not been in a gay bar for a long, long time.
By their third round, all the tables in the bar are full. Kit is carrying a pleasant, heavy buzz. She begins to look more kindly upon Angela, telling a few of her better stories, lighting Angela's cigarettes with a gallant little flourish; in spite of herself, Kit is having a good time. When a slow song finally starts to play, she answers Angela's raised eyebrows by standing and making a low bow. In her best Errol Flynn manner, she says "May I?"
Angela laughs, stands, drops a curtsey, and lets Kit guide her through the milling waves of women and out onto the dancefloor. As she moves easily into Kit's arms, to Kit's bleary eyes she looks like a young girl, and for that moment Kit is enchanted.
Then, her vision clearing, she sees again the loose skin at Angela's jawline, the lines scoring her throat, the ruthless strobe lights punching them into and out of view. But they dance well together, and Kit is sorry when the song ends and something about suicide being a matter of pride begins blasting from the speakers.
It is then, leading Angela back to their table, that Kit sees the woman now standing at the end of the bar with the leather-clad butch. This woman is very young, in her mid twenties at most, and dressed like a Madonna clone, but she is absolutely beautiful. Long of hair and long of leg, she stands like a young racehorse; as if, Kit thinks, she could bolt at any moment, just for the fun of it. One pale arm, the sheer sleeve of her blouse fallen back, is slung loosely across the butch's shoulders, her hip leans into the butch's leg, while she gazes idly around the bar, seeming to pay little attention to the urgent words the butch pours into her ear. She has a smile of battering beauty and she is using it often and indiscriminately, smiling alike at the young butch, the women who dance by, the harried bartenders, and Kit and Angela as they pass. Beneath the force of this smile, Kit almost stumbles, almost veers toward her. It is like ice-water. It is like being a moth caught in headlights.
When Sandy and Maya get up to dance Kit quickly orders another round of drinks, positioning her chair so that she can more easily watch the young woman (much too beautiful for a place like Patty Cake's) across Angela's shoulder. Watching, what she sees is a kind of wanton willingness that, while it arouses her, wrings her with pity that this girl should hold herself so cheap. She doesn't know what she has, Kit thinks. She doesn't know what she is, what she could be. She needs somebody to show her, to take her out of herself. I could do that for her.
Angela waves a cigarette and Kit leans dutifully forward with a light. Cupping her hands around Kit's lighter, drawing the flame in slowly, Angela tries to stare up into Kit's eyes, but Kit is still looking over at the bar. Craning her neck to follow Kit's gaze, Angela gives a sly, irritated smile.
Kit gulps down her drink and quickly orders another. She is one ahead, now. And it feels good. Good.
By the time Kit finishes her fifth boilermaker, the place is bursting with women of all shapes and sizes and colors, most of them young. The leather butch and the beauty still occupy the near end of the bar. The butch, with her lean, wolfish face, still talks urgently into the other woman's ear. Sandy and Maya are obviously ready to go, Angela is drumming on the table with her fingernails, but Kit sits as if mesmerized; her head hanging forward, she peers through the stale, strobe-slashed air at her new love. She weaves gently in her seat; a headache scratches at the base of her skull, and her stomach is not quite right.
Sandy pats her arm. "Kit, we should get going!"
"In a minute."
Sandy, who has not heard her answer, pleads, "Come on, Kit, it's late. We could all use some coffee. Okay?"
"Goddammit, in a minute, I said!" And Kit stands suddenly, ponderously, upsetting her chair, and she staggers toward the bar, shoving startled women out of her way.
"Oh, Christ!" Sandy groans, leaping up to follow. Angela is close behind.
"`Scuse me! `Scuse me, I need t'get a napkin, I jus' need a napkin!" Kit booms, wedging herself between the leather butch and the young woman.
"Hey!" the butch cries, indignant. "Watch it!"
Sandy lays her hand on the butch's black jacketsleeve. "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, my friend's had a few too many, okay? I'm sorry. C'mon, Kit, let's go home...."
Kit swats an arm at Sandy, who ducks. "Need a goddam napkin," she repeats, mulish. "An' a pen! I wanna get this gorgeous lady's phone nummer, okay?" Elbows on the bar, her shirt riding up in back, she leans far forward, grinning into the young woman's face.
The woman winks at the butch, shrugs and laughs. From a fan-shaped stack on the bar she hands Kit a napkin, which Kit promptly drops. Bending to retrieve the napkin, Kit feels her stomach roil and suddenly she gags, and from her throat and open mouth a thick sheet of vomit spews down the front of the woman's lacy skirt.
"MOTHerFUCKer!" the young butch yells, lunging for Kit, who stands frozen, her smeared mouth open and her arms hanging limply at her sides. The girl's skirt steams.
Then Sandy and Angela are between them, pleading with the butch to have a heart, forget it, let it go. Angela says, "Come on, sweetie, she's so drunk she's out on her feet!"
A ring of women has gathered to watch the trouble with cool, observant eyes. The beautiful young woman whose skirt is raddled with vomit jumps up and down uttering little squeals of disgust and calling, "Somebody get me a goddam rag!" One of the bartenders comes pounding fast down the bar, her hands full of towels. "Here!" she cries, tossing them to the woman; then, pointing a finger at the young butch, she says, "No trouble in here, Lucky! I mean it!"
"You see what that old dyke did?" Lucky cries, shaking, as if the bartender has no notion of what offense has been committed here.
The bartender leans over the bar, her long, ill-tempered face just inches away from Lucky's own. "Nah. Didn't see a thing. I always run around the bar carrying bar towels. Keeps me in shape. Now, chill out. Let it lay, or I swear I'll 86 you!" To Sandy and Angela, she says, "Get your friend out of here, ladies. Now!"
"Right," Sandy says. "Right. Listen, thank you! I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. Come on, Kit. Let's go home."
Still wiping at her skirt, her shoes, her legs, the young woman continues to utter small, birdlike cries of distress: "Ewh! Ewh! Ewh!"
Slowly, Kit raises her head. "Who's an old dyke? I'll pay the cleaning," she mutters, fumbling for her pockets. "Buy y'new dress. Buy the whole house a drink! Lemme fin' my money, here...."
But the woman keeps making her noise, and the bartender says, "Look, friend, go home."
In the car, Kit sprawls across the back seat, Angela's arms cradling her, her head lolling and bouncing on Angela's breasts. The rain has stopped, the windows are rolled down for the fresh air, and when she opens her eyes now and then, Kit can see a double moon keeping pace as they drive. Her mouth is sour, her throat burns, and she is uncomfortably, stickily warm. From time to time, Angela tightens her arms and gives Kit a soft squeeze.
Maya is silent as a stone, but Sandy keeps saying things like
"Am I driving slow enough?" and "Is she okay?" and "Honest to god, Angela, Kit's not like this. It's not her style."
"Don't worry about it."
"She's a great person. She's just got problems, right now."
"Don't worry about it."
"It was all those boilermakers...."
"Really, it's fine."
"Well, I just don't want you to get the wrong idea about her."
At last, Maya says "Shut up, Sandy. Okay?"
Angela laughs softly. "I think I'd better spend the night. What if she gets sick again, or passes out in the bathroom?"
"Y'don' hafta do that," Kit mumbles, trying to sit up. Gripping her firmly, Angela kisses the top of Kit's head.
There is a long silence. Then Sandy says, "Look, why don't we just put her up at our place?"
Angela's voice is crisp. "No, this is better. You won't have to worry about bringing her home. And my car's already there."
"Angela. Are you sure?" Maya turns around in the front seat and she and Angela stare at one another. Angela smiles.
"It's fine." The fingers of one hand toy in Kit's hair. "Just help me get her inside." She begins to hum softly; then, bending her head, her breath warm and wet on Kit's ear, she whispers, "You have pretty hair, y'know that? You do, baby. Don't worry, Angie's gonna take care of you. Angie'll fix everything." She licks Kit's ear with the sharp point of her tongue. "I'm here, Kit. Right here...."
Feebly, shaking her head, Kit twists and squirms against the arms that surround her, the arms that are clinging like honey.