Friday, May 30, 2008


(Unknown women from turn of century)

I have, in the past two decades, written a few short stories, even getting some published. I found a cache of these tonight and have decided to print a few of them here. I'm beginning with "The Top Stoop", which is based on a real party, a real household, and the start of a real relationship in my life. The party in question, on April Fool's 1981, was appropriated the following year by the Lyon-Martin Women's Health Clinic (with our consent) and became an annual fundraiser for a while, the Butch-Femme Ball.

My prior writing usually focused on a character named Myra -- she's been around for a long time. But, to avoid confusion, I've changed her name in this story to Emma, as well as that of another character whom you would recognize from the Ginny Bates novel. I refuse to go through and edit this piece otherwise: It is as I wrote it in 1998, which is NOT how I write now, thank g*ddess.


“Someone’s at our back door.” Emma was washing dishes and listening to Irene go over the grocery list; she hadn’t heard the knocking until Irene stopped talking for a moment. She turned as Irene opened the door onto the back stairs.

Rhoda and Helene tumbled in with excited faces. “We’ve had an idea!”

Emma began drying her hands. These were their next-door neighbors in this all-dyke building on the edge of the Mission District. Helene went on. “We want to have a party--the whole building--for April Fool’s Day! We could open up both our flats here on the ground floor, except one bedroom for cats; we could put all the furniture from our living room and Rhoda’s room into your side, and slide back the doors between the two to create a fabulous dance floor. We’d have the bar and talk area in your living room, and crank up the music loud enough for the whole building.”

Before Irene or Emma could respond, Rhoda interrupted, “Oh, yeah, the Upstairs.” She turned and went back out the door. Emma could hear the stairs creak as Rhoda climbed to the top stoop. In a minute she returned with three more women.

Their building was two sets of identical but reversed railroad flats stacked on top of each other. Geneva lived alone over Helene and Rhoda. Jill and Lava lived over Emma and Irene. Jill worked nights and slept (lightly) during the day, so Lava spent as much time in Emma and Irene’s flat as she did her own. None of them had been or were currently lovers with each other, a rarity among lesbian living configurations in 1981.

“Let’s do it!” said Lava, dropping herself into a kitchen chair. Helene looked at Jill, who nodded in agreement. Geneva, not entirely convinced, asked “Would we have a theme? What’s the point of this do?”

Girls, I should think.” Helene licked her little finger and drew it over her eyebrow.

“Geneva’s right, April Fool--what’s the significance of that? Do we encourage playing pranks or something?” Irene was also wavering.

“You mean something besides the wonderful joke of having just elected Ronald Reagan to the Presidency?” said Rhoda dryly.

“Look, no political themes,” urged Lava. “No speeches, no fundraising, let’s just have a party. Besides,” she faced Rhoda, “It’s a fucking fluke, all right? He’ll either be gone or dead by 1984, focus your attention elsewhere.”

Rhoda and Emma both straightened, taut with rebuttal. Jill jumped in, “Okay, if it’s just a party, do we give up the idea of a theme?”

Irene said softly, “I’ve got an idea.” Her grin was wicked. Emma felt a tingle travel down both arms. Into the sudden silence, Irene offered, “A Butch-Femme Ball.”

Heat rose up Emma’s neck. Butch-femme was a forbidden zone in her circle of hothead revolutionary dykes, something feminism had neatly assassinated. S/M was just coming out of wraps, a lot of her friends were doing it: but butch-femme wasn’t just in the closet, it was out of the neighborhood. She locked her gaze with Irene’s.

“I’M in!” yelled Lava.

It was unanimous. The planning began in earnest.

“It has to be on a Saturday, everybody has meetings and stuff on weeknights,” insisted Rhoda.

“But April 1st is on a Thursday; what’s the point of having an April Fool’s party if it’s on March something?” argued Helene.

“That’s part of the trick, see. Do it the Saturday before, it doesn’t matter what date it is,” said Irene.

A general silence meant this made sense to everyone. Then Lava said, “So, don’t you think we’re going to have way more butches than femmes?”

Emma nodded. “Absolutely. I’M not going as a fembot.”

“Suck my dick, why don’t you?” asked Rhoda, pushing a long red curl out of her eyes.

Helene interjected, “But Lava’s got a point. Is there anything we can do to even up the score?”

“Well, most costume balls have a contest. Let’s have votes for best butch and best femme. That’ll bring some femmes out of the woodwork.” Everyone looked at Geneva, who went on, “We can give awards. Like a dozen red roses for the femme.”

“And what’s for the butch, a baseball glove?” Jill smacked a small fist into a small palm.

“That’s jock, not butch. How about a top hat?”

That’s a class statement. A carburetor maybe?” offered Rhoda.

“Like that’s not a class statement.”

“Hey, my dad worked on the car every weekend and we lived in the most middle class of ‘burbs, you blue-collar snot--”

“Rhoda, Emma, save it for crit/self-crit. Carburetors drip oil. What about a wrench?” said Helene.

“Painted gold,” added Emma. Another silence meant this agenda item was settled.

“I’ll draw the flyer. How many will we need, d’ya think?” asked Rhoda.

“Oh, wow, I don’t know. I want to invite everyone at the clinic--” began Helene.

“Including Lisa of the Lips?” asked Irene with interest. Helene worked at Lyon-Martin Clinic and had an ongoing obsession with a coworker named Lisa who walked around, according to Helene, with an exuberantly luscious mouth. None of the others had yet met Lisa of the Lips.

Helene’s olive cheeks turned a little pink. “Well, I’ll ask her along with everyone else, but I can’t make it like a date or anything.”

“God forbid you should tell her you’re hot for her,” commented Rhoda dryly.

“I’ll ask the women at the co-op and the press,” said Jill.

“I can cover the Women’s Building,” offered Irene, who volunteered there.

“Whaddya mean, cover it? Let’s make sure these are personal invitations, not general flyers, okay?” said Lava.

Emma rose to Irene’s defense. “And what about you, Lava, are you going to ask every woman you’ve boinked this year or just the ones whose names you can remember?”

Lava chuckled. “Does Rat Girl count?”

One of Lava’s bar pick-ups had been a very young woman who, after coming home with Lava, revealed she carried a pet rat in her jacket pocket. Lava had woken up Irene and Emma at 2 a.m. to borrow one of their cat carriers in which to store the rat while she and its owner were otherwise occupied. The story of Rat Girl had spread instantly through the building.

“No Rat Girls,” declared Rhoda. “For the sake of my bedroom a.k.a. disco, let’s make sure a name goes on every invite we hand out. Everybody figure out approximately how many you’re gonna need and Jill, maybe?--”

Jill nodded.

“Jill can run them off for us. What kind of design do you want on it?”

“Photos!” burst out Irene. “Photos of us as butches and femmes!”

“Great idea, but where are we going to get them?”

“Those instant photo booths, black and white’ll be better anyhow.”

So it was that the next Friday, after finishing her delivery route, Emma swung by the house to pick up Irene and a bag full of cosmetics, scarves, frilly blouses, vests, a fedora and a 49ers cap. They drove out to the Musée Mechanique next to Cliff House, which had a small booth that would give them four black-and-white prints for a dollar.

“Femme last, because we’ll have on make-up,” said Irene.

“Okay. You know, in Texas we called it fluff, not femme.”

“Hilarious.” Irene was trying on the fedora, which completely hid her blond wisps. The grey of the felt exactly matched her eyes. She modeled for Emma, who fell silent, looking at her.

“That really suits you, you know it?” she said quietly.

“The baseball cap for you, then.”

Irene climbed companionably onto Emma’s lap inside the booth and they arranged their faces in the reflecting glass. Emma slid the curtain against the group of tourists already watching them. Suddenly the booth felt small and dark. Irene giggled, “Are we going to smooch for one of the shots?”

“NO,” said Emma quickly.

They had lived together for two years, Irene being a replacement for Emma’s previous roommate who had moved to San Fran with her from the land collective in Colorado. Both 25, they had become instant buddies, agreeing on what music to play and the importance of having dinner together whenever they could. A few nights a week, one would fall asleep in the other’s bed as they sat up late, talking, and they would cuddle like eight-year-olds till morning. Emma took long hot baths against the constant chill in their flat, and Irene had gotten into the habit of joining her, where they played with plastic toys and talked about strategies for the Revolution.

Irene had a new-ish girlfriend named Judy Green. Judy Green was good in bed, Irene said, but she wasn’t “it”. Emma had been left, finally, by her girlfriend Maxie just before Valentine’s Day. She was dating sporadically but kept declining offers to stay the night, preferring instead to go home where she could maybe find Irene alone to tell her all about the date.

They settled on one single shot of each of them and two shots together, smiling and not-smiling. After the butch strip slid down into the little metal cage, they took turns putting make-up on each other’s face.

“I’m no good at this,” lamented Emma as she toiled over Irene’s face close enough to smell the Chapalita burrito she’d had for lunch. “I’ve spread this red so wide around your mouth you look like something from Ringling Brothers.”

“I don’t care. It’s all drag, anyhow. I don’t get the idea of lipstick in the first place; it’s just plain icky kissing someone who’s wearing it, like licking a crayola,” replied Irene. “Here, should I go for the blouse with these ruffles or is the 1975 mod look with the big zipper better?”

“With what little hair you’ve got, you’d better do the mod thing and hope for Twiggy.”

They dropped off their photo strips to Rhoda and dumped their bags in the front hall just before sunset. “I’ll get the challah if you’ll do the candles,” said Emma.

“Just as well, you still don’t have the prayer right.”

“Well, for someone raised Southern Baptist I’m doing okay, aren’t I?”

“You can be my shabbas goy any day.”

“I thought I was your shiksa.”

“Shiksa is not so good, Emma. You need to learn, it’s one thing to use these terms jokingly among dykes, like putz and shtup and drek, but if you’re hanging out with people like my parents, you ought to know you’ll offend them if say you nearly plotzed.”


“Come on, I’m not mad at you. Is anyone else coming tonight?”

“Haven’t heard. Why is it that I’m the only gentile in the building, d’ya think?”


"What time did we say that Butch-Femme Ball is going to start?”

“8, I think. And yes, we’ll be able to do havdallah that night. Turn off the overhead, will you, Emma?”

That night Emma went to bed early, tired from the week. She had a rally at noon the next day. The sliding doors between her room and Irene’s were open, and she could still smell wax from the candles on Irene’s mantle. Irene asked if she could play her hammer dulcimer a while. Emma said, “How many times have I told you, I adore listening to you play as I drop off?”

“I know, but good roommates always ask.”

“We are good roommates, aren’t we?”

“The best. This is the kind of home I always wanted, Emma.”

“What are you going to play?”

“Any requests?”

“You read my mind.”

Irene began the tinkling notes of Mahnavu. This was a tune she and Emma danced to at the Israeli folk-dancing classes Irene taught at the Women’s Building on Tuesday nights. Emma closed her eyes and remembered the steps, a kind of leisurely grapevine weave that doubled back in the other direction. The dykes in the class danced this in a circle with their arms around each other. The record that Irene had of Mahnavu was sung by a woman in a dark, throbbing voice. Before Irene the dancer entered her life, Emma had never thought she was coordinated enough to move in step across a floor. Irene had taught her patiently, humorously, and now when she did Mahnavu Emma was confident and at times exultant. She would look across the circle at Irene and catch her eye as they spiraled around.

On nights when Judy stayed over, the sliding doors were closed, but Emma could still hear clearly what went on in Irene’s room. She liked the sounds of their lovemaking, especially Irene’s sweet moans that grew closer and closer together until she was sobbing with every quick breath. Judy complained that she and Irene didn’t have sex often enough, but Emma thought quality rather than quantity ought to count for something. Probably the real issue was that Irene wasn’t in love with Judy and Judy could tell.

Geneva showed up at their back door the following Sunday as Emma and Irene were eating pancakes. “I bought the roses,” she announced.

“What? The party’s not for another week,” protested Irene.

“I was in Chinatown and saw these incredible silk roses, looking so real I could smell ‘em. This way she’ll have something for a keepsake, our Femme. Wanna see ‘em?”

“Might as well. Rhoda bought the wrench, and Jill says she’s got gold spray paint left over from some graffiti action. Let’s do the props.”

Everyone assembled at the miniscule square of concrete out back called their “courtyard”.

“Shouldn’t we spread a dropcloth or something?” asked Jill, a furrow dividing her high forehead all the way up to her chestnut hair.

“Why?” drawled Rhoda. “So we don’t damage the rat droppings?”

“Hey, where’s Helene?” asked Emma.


“With Lisa of the Lips?” asked Irene.

“She wishes. Nah, some old friend.”

“Why doesn’t she just tell Lisa? I can’t believe anyone, even the Lips, would turn down an offer from Helene.”

Emma eyed Irene. “Sounds like you have a thing for Helene, my dear.”

“More like a little crush. My God, that jet-black hair of hers,” Irene confessed.

“And the way her smile illuminates her entire face,” added Jill shyly.

“For me it’s all about those big hazel eyes, and how she can never hide her mood, her eyes give her away,” said Lava.

Emma joined in, “I love watching her work on that piece o’ crap VW she’s got, an idiot book open at her feet, her lips pursed in thought. Her forearms have serious muscles in them, and when she lifts up a filthy finger to push back her little glasses, I think about those same hands doing pelvics at the clinic.”

Geneva, their elder at 32 and usually reserved, said laconically “Well, I’d do her.” They looked around at each other speculatively, until everyone’s eyes settled on Rhoda. She burst out with, “You think YOU have crushes? You ought to see her come all rosy and moist from the shower every morning!” They cracked up.

“My god, do you think she has any idea?” asked Emma.

“Not a clue,” said Rhoda. “Now, let’s get this wrench painted. Give me the can, I’m doing it, I’m the artist here, fuck consensus.”

“In that case, I’m outta here. I have to call my Mama,” said Emma. “And after that, I’m heading to Purple Heart to shop for party duds.” Irene pretended to block Emma’s way every time Emma tried to get around her. Finally Emma said, “Pretty please?” and Irene gave her a quick hug, then let her go, calling after her “Say hi to Mom for me.”

When Emma got home that night, Irene was dipping slices of tofu into beaten egg, then brewer’s yeast, then sesame seeds before lowering them delicately with her long fingers into sizzling butter. Emma stood behind her and linked her hands over Irene’s solid belly. Irene leaned back into her and turned her head sideways to say, “There’s rice already steamed, and some broccoli from last night if you want it.”

“When will you ever learn?” Emma took three hot dogs from the freezer and set them in the toaster oven to broil.

“I can see the little hooves and snouts on the package of that shit.”

“I may be treyf, but my politics are pure.”

“Judy’s coming over later.”


“Would you be willing to talk to her?”

“What do you mean?--I do talk to her.”

“About us.”

“Which us -- you and me us, or you and her?”

“Both, I guess. She’s starting to get jealous ‘cause you and I are so close. She just doesn’t get it. Maybe you could reassure her.”


Emma pulled her favorite blue plate out of the cupboard. “Want your bowl?” Irene always ate with chopsticks from a shallow wooden bowl.

As Emma spread mustard on her buns, Irene said, “Let’s eat outside.” Although their tiny back area faced only rear walls of flats along 14th Street, if they climbed the stairs to Lava’s stoop, there was a sliver of view -- Bernal Hill, sometimes a moonrise.

Emma sat on the top step, her plate on her knees. Karen stood down two steps, facing her, her bowl balanced on one broad hand. Swallowing a bite, Emma said, “Hhmm--I ran into Chaya at the Haight St. Co-op.”

My Chaya?” Irene had been part of an infamous Vermont living collective known as Blue Jay. She’d been the first to move to the Bay Area, but in the last two years almost everyone else in Blue Jay had followed her example, including Chaya.

“Well, I don’t know as how she’d call herself yours....She says she’s coming to the party. She’s dressing as a 50’s style hoodlum.”

“A greaser?”

“Rebel without a cock. I could really go for her, you know? Those broad shoulders, and that way she keeps looking steady at you.”

“It’s all looks. She’s not that good,” said Irene nonchalantly.

“Jesus, Irene, did everybody in Blue Jay fuck each other?”

“Pretty much.”

“You’ve slept with all your friends, haven’t you? How can you do that?”

“What do you mean? It’s just, like, sooner or later it comes up, you say ‘Ya wanna?’, and if they say yes, you have a good time.”

“Well, duh. What I don’t get is how you can be attracted to every friend you’ve got. Is it real attraction?”


“Oh, never mind. It’s just takes something in particular to turn me on.”

“Like broad shoulders?”

“Ouch.” They were both laughing.

“Emma, there’s falling in love and then there’s being hot. You know the difference. I just act more often on the hot end of things.”

“More often is an understatement.”


A thought suddenly appeared and hung like a single jolting note in Emma’s brain. She gave it voice before thinking.

“Irene -- Have you ever been attracted to me?”

Irene was lifting the last of her rice toward her mouth. She stopped still, chopsticks frozen in mid air, and settled her grey eyes on Emma’s brown ones.

“Oh, yeah,” she whispered.

Emma felt herself drench instantly. She knew her face was raw, but she couldn’t look away.

“Irene,” she breathed.

They sat motionless for a few seconds. Then the door behind Emma swung open abruptly, and Emma’s heart lost a beat as Lava yelled “FUCK, you scared me, I didn’t know anyone was out here....What are you two up to?”

Irene’s rice completed its path to her mouth, and as she chewed she said evenly, “Eating dinner.”

Emma stood up. “I’ve gotta scram, got a meeting. Can I leave my dishes till later?”

“I’ll do ‘em.” Irene stepped completely aside as Emma walked downstairs.

Emma got home just before midnight. Irene’s room was dark, and the sliding doors into Emma’s room were closed. Emma pulled off her overalls and boots, picked up the orange cat, and climbed under the quilts on her own bed.

Ten minutes later she was knocking gently at Irene’s door. “'Rene? Are you alone?”

Irene’s groggy voice replied, “Come in.”

Emma lifted Irene’s comforter and curled into her warm side. “It’s too noisy to sleep in my room. Okay if I’m in here?”

“Um-hm. Hand me the water?”

Irene was often thirsty at night. She kept a fresh jar of water by her bed. After a couple of gulps, she asked a little less drowsily, “Is it Lava?”

“Yeah, and that new girl of hers, Rach. She’s a BIG girl, that Rach.”

“Um-hmm.....But Lava’s a size queen.....Was Lava begging her to stop?”

“In spades. But somehow I could tell she didn’t mean it.”

There was a long spell of quiet. Emma could feel Irene’s breathing extend itself out into the room and spool around her like a mist.

“G’night, Irene.”

“Stay close, okay?”


But that night and the next, Emma hardly slept. On her way to work Tuesday she saw Lava walking to Valencia. Impulsively she stopped and motioned Lava over.

“Listen, could we have dinner together tonight? I need to talk something over with you.”

“Six-ish? My place or yours?”

“Actually, neither. I need to talk about Irene, and I’d feel more comfortable if we met elsewhere.”

Lava look wary. “Hey, I don’t like to get into that roomie power struggle scene.”

“That’s not it.” Emma couldn’t think of how to say what it was. “Will you just meet me at Happy Boy?”

Gag me.”

“Irene never goes there and--

“Neither do I.”

“Oh, Lava, please.”

“Well, all right. But pick me up at the corner, I don’t want anyone to see me walking to Happy Boy.”

Once settled in a green plastic booth, Emma lay her cheek down on the cool formica and sighed. Lava was looked at her menu in disbelief. One of the three young sisters who worked as waitresses came to them with glasses of water and sets. She beamed at Emma.

“The usual?”

“Sure,” said Emma.

“And what, dare I ask, is the usual?” demanded Lava.

“A cheeseburger, extra mayo, onion rings and a vanilla coke.”

“Where does their beef come from?”

“Lava, just order.”

Lava asked the waitress, “Do you have chamomile tea?”

She looked blank. Emma stepped in. “She’ll have a grilled cheese sandwich on rye, a small salad with oil and vinegar, and a chocolate shake.” As the waitress left, Lava commented, “Emma, can you say mucus?”

Emma cut to the chase. “I think I’m falling in love with Irene.....Shut your mouth, there’s a lot of flies in here.”

“Whh--when did this happen?”

“Three days ago?”

“Does she know?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, have you told her?”

“No. She told me she was attracted to me, and in that instant I realized I was attracted to her, who knows for how long, and since then I’ve been on fire. We’ve started keeping the length of the house between us. I don’t know what to do.”

“On fire?”

“Like I’ve never felt before.”

“Well, that kinda makes sense -- nothing like the forbidden to fan one’s flames.”

“I know, Lava. Messing around with roommates always spells disaster. Good households are a lot hard to find than sex.”

“Well, actually, I was referring to her having a lover,” pointed out Lava.

“Oh, Judy.” Emma made a raspberry sound.

“Shit, you are in trouble.”

Their food arrived. Lava took a big drag on her shake. Emma asked, “Should I talk to her?”

“What were you thinking of saying?”

“Confessing, I guess. Explain why I’ve been acting so weird. Tell her I know becoming involved is out of the question for us. Maybe we could get counseling.”

“Isn’t Judy trying to get her to go to couples’ therapy?”

“Why do you keep bringing up Judy? I’m talking about me and Irene!” cried Emma.

Lava shook her head. “This condition is too far advanced for Dr. Lava to treat with a round of pills. Radical surgery is called for.” She pointed her fork for emphasis. “Don’t talk to her, it will only create an illusion of legitimacy for a relationship that can’t exist. Don’t let yourself fantasize about her; just keep changing the channel whenever the Irene show comes on. Keep to your normal routine with her. Speaking of which, aren’t you supposed to be at folk-dancing right now?”

“Yes,” said Emma miserably.

“Well, don’t skip it again. Girl, as the immortal Runt said, ‘We gotta get you a woman.’ Is it definitely over between you and that nose ring dyke, Maxie?”

“Fuck yes.”

“Any other twinkles in your eyes?”

Emma suddenly thought of Chaya. “Maybe.”

Distract yourself. This too shall pass. Now, can I have one of your onion rings? D’ya suppose they use canola oil here?”

The next afternoon, the gate buzzer sounded as Emma was cleaning out the refrigerator. She released it without checking to see who it was first. Judy strolled into the kitchen and plopped down in a chair behind the open fridge door. Her voice drifted over the top of the door to Emma.

“Where’s Irene?”

“I don’t know.” Emma picked up a screwdriver and began chipping at the ice on the freezer wall.

“You shouldn’t do it that way, you know.”

“I know.” Her lips were pressed together so hard they hurt. She tried to relax her jaw. She could see Judy’s shoes under the edge of the door.

“Does Irene ever talk to you about me?”

“If she did, Judy, I couldn’t tell you about it.” God, does she whine all the time and I’ve just never noticed it?

“I hope she’s talking to somebody. She just keeps walls up between us, you know? I’d do anything for her, but she keep me at arm’s length.”

These fucking slumlords, filling their flats with appliances that were old when I was born. This freezer produces more ice than Minnesota.

“I mean, she says she wants to settle down and get serious. And that means a lover, right? I mean, I know you guys are tight and all, but roommates aren’t who you go off into the sunset with, right?”

The door on this thing probably weighs 100 lbs. Just opening it requires a clean and jerk.

“And I know she loves how I make love to her, she comes like the Fourth of July, usually more than once.”

If I lift upward, maybe I could slide the door completely off the hinges. It would topple backwards and crush anyone behind it.

Footsteps sounded in the hall. “Judy? That you?”

Judy’s shoes scuttled backward. “Irene! I came early, I thought we could have a romantic evening.”

Irene’s face peered over the refrigerator at Emma. “Wow, look at what you’re doing.”

“Yeah, well, the party’s in three days and this place is a pit. But fuck it, we can just buy ice, I’ve had it with this fucker. I’m going for a fucking drive.”

She slammed the refrigerator shut. Irene moved silently out of her way. When she reached the front door, she realized she still had the screwdriver clenched in her fist. She set it gingerly down on the phone table, grabbed her keys, and decided watching the lights on Market from Twin Peaks was a really good idea.

At 7:00 on Saturday, Emma was concentrating on ironing a crease into her dickies, but she could sense Irene standing in her doorway.

“Can I borrow your car to go get Judy? She doesn’t want to ride MUNI in her outfit.”

“Sure,” said Emma, not looking up. She had hoped against hope Judy would decide not to come.

“Well--aren’t you going to tell me how I am?”

Emma cleared her expression and faced Irene. Irene had on a pale blue muscle shirt tucked into button-up Levi’s. Over this she wore a crimson silk vest.

“Way cute -- cute more than butch. No fedora?”

“Nah, I plan to dance, gets sweaty wearing a hat. See ya soon.”

Emma wished she had time for another bath but opted instead to watch her face and pits. Back in her room, she stepped into her dickies and began stuffing a crisp white T-shirt into it. Then, with a sigh, she pulled off the shirt and rolled the short sleeves up to the shoulder seam before putting it back on. Over this she slid her black leather vest, sniffing of the lapel as she always did. She pondered between her hiking boots and her Justin ropers, then rejected both in favor of her black Converse high-tops. As she was pulling out her collection of cock rings, Irene and Judy arrived.

Judy whirled into her room in a pink, flounce-skirt housedress like her mother had worn during the Kennedy administration. She had on opalescent pearl lipstick and too much blush. She struck a coy pose as Emma noticed a pearly lip mark on Irene’s neck. Unable to push down her sudden rage, she distracted herself with picking out a bracelet to wear. Judy stood still, then looped an arm around Irene’s waist.

“Hey!” said Irene. Emma stopped breathing. “What’s that one, I’ve never seen that one.”

She pointed to a black leather cock ring studded with long silver spikes.

“Yeah, I never wear it because these suckers are really sharp, I cut my skin whenever I wear it.”

“Let me see.”

She handed Irene the ring before she snapped a selection of bracelets onto her right arm.

“Can I borrow this for tonight?”

“Sure. Just don’t damage yourself.”

Judy snickered. Emma swallowed hard and said, in a perfectly friendly voice, “Nice dress, Judy.”


“What about you, do you want the fedora?” asked Irene.

“Not with this outfit. I need to grease my hair back, but I don’t know what to use.”

“Oh. You’re going as a greaser, too.” Irene’s voice was suddenly distant.

Judy chopped into the small silence with, “Don’t you have oil in the kitchen?”

“Hell, Judy, I’m not going to put Wesson on my hair! What I really need is butchwax, but I don’t know if they even make it any more.”

“You could ask Lava for some of her lubricant.”

“You’re a sick puppy. I think I’ll go see our neighbors for help.”

The front rooms next door were bare except for stereo speakers in the corners. Helene answered the door in a black lace bra and cuffed linen trousers. She said Rhoda was shut up in Helene’s bedroom with the cats, messing about with garter belts. “Do you know how to tie a bowtie?”

“Nope. I can do a four-in-hand, though.”

“Never mind, I’ll use the clip-on.” She took Emma’s arm and led her to the bathroom. “Let’s see what kind of schmaltz we’ve got in our medicine cabinet.”

“This’ll work,” she announced, pulling a tube off the shelf.

“What is it?”

“You separatist you. It’s K-Y.”

“Absolutely NOT.”

“Oh, for pete’s sake, it’s doesn’t have boy cooties on it. It’s just a clean, water-soluble gel. No one will know.”

I’ll know. It’s gross.”

“Have you ever even seen it?” Helene squeezed a dab onto her finger. “Look at this, is this going to make you heterosexual?”

It looked a lot like the Brylcreem Emma’s dad once used. “Will it shampoo out?”

“I said, water soluble.”

A new suspicion dawned on Emma. “What are YOU doing with this stuff?”

“I work at a women’s clinic, bonehead. Self-help exams, plastic speculums? Now what do you say, are you going to give it a try?”

Emma wavered.

“I’ll do your hair for you, how about that?”

Emma thought about Helene’s arms raised up over her, with Emma’s head bowed down, her gaze directly in line with that black lace barely holding in voluptuous breasts. “Okay. But this better work.”

It took the whole tube of K-Y to get the right look. Helene remarked, “It’s a good thing you buzzed it recently. But this forelock of yours, it’s simply gorgeous, all brunette menace. And it’s not falling out of place when you move your head, either. Now all you need is a ‘57 Chevy.”

When Emma came back home, Lava was standing in the living room wearing pinstripe trousers, her black leather jacket, and nothing else.

“Wow, Emma, you’re scary.”

“Thank yew, thank yew verra much.”

“I don’t know what kind of shoes to wear with this. And can I borrow the fedora?”

“Yeah, it’s on my bed. Nice pants--is that part of the tux you stole at your brother’s wedding?”

Someone knocked at their front door. Emma looked alarmed. “We’re not ready yet!”

Lava moved toward the door. “I think it’s just Rach, she was still dressing in my room when I came down.”

Rach glided slowly into the hall. She had on a sweeping ball gown of silver brocade that rustled when she walked. Its deep décolletage almost allowed her generous coffee-colored breasts to spill over. Long dreads dangled onto her bare shoulders. Glittering platinum pumps added three inches to her 5’10” frame, making her taller than Lava for once. A pair of sequined red sling-back heels dangled from her hand.

Emma gaped. She heard Irene down the hall say “Take me now, lord.” Rach smiled shyly at them, then asked, “Do you think the silver ones are right, or should I wear the ruby slippers?”

“Don’t change a thing,” breathed Emma.

“I’ll take those slippers!” crowed Lava. She quickly unbuttoned her trousers and peeled them off, revealing no underwear. She sat down on the floor to put on the heels. She had a little trouble with the buckles, and stood up cautiously as if on stilts.

“That’s it? That’s all you’re wearing?” asked Judy.

“What? Should I zip up the jacket?” leered Lava.

“I gotta admit, the heels do something for your calves and thighs. Might as well show it, right? Just don’t leave the building like that,” advised Emma.

“I don’t plan to be more than six feet away from Rach the whole night,” replied Lava.

Emma heard Irene mutter, “Now that’s a femme.” Emma almost glanced at Judy in commiseration, but instead went into the kitchen to set out ice.

By 10:00, both sides of the building were pulsating. They propped the grilled gate open out front because the buzzer was driving them nuts. Emma was amazed at how many of her friends had dredged up suits from somewhere. Rhoda emerged in an emerald green sheath that, she confessed, was really just bolts of silk she’d tucked under and safety-pinned on. Emma thought it suited her rather better than the flannel shirts she usually wore.

Chaya was an early arrival. She gave a whoop when she saw Emma and threw a powerful arm around her shoulders. Emma could smell Chaya’s armpit, and resisted the urge to bury her nose in it.

“Let’s go somewhere so’s we can talk a bit, shall we?” asked Chaya. Emma led her into their flat, grabbing a Calistoga along the way. As she opened the door to her bedroom, she saw Irene trailing her down the hall. A few feet behind Irene was Judy.

She and Chaya settled down on her rug and began talking. Irene appeared in the doorway briefly, then went on toward the living room. Judy echoed her passage. After ten minutes, Irene went by in the other direction, giving only a glance into her room. Emma had scooted over closer to Chaya so she could hear her better. And there went Judy. After another five minutes, Helene came into Emma’s room with a Polaroid.

“I’m taking pictures for the contest later. Care to pose together?”

“Sure,” said Chaya, standing up and pulling Emma to her feet. “We belong to the same gang, don’t we, Ponyboy?”

They postured and blinked as the flash went off. “Nice work, you two. Irene said it would make a good picture.” Helene began fanning the print in the air. “Listen, Emma, would you mind coming over and making an announcement about the contest? You’re not shy about public speaking, and we need people to come get their picture taken if they want to compete.”

Bowing to the inevitable, Emma followed Helene back to her side. They turned off the stereo for her to speak, and she went blank momentarily as she saw Irene standing at the edge of the dance floor, arms crossed, one hip stuck out defiantly. A little cluster of very blonde women came in the front door wearing leather chaps and hobnail boots but no shirts. Some of them had on leashes. Uh-oh, the Aryan Nation is here. She collected her thoughts and did her spiel.

After the music went back on, she looked around for Chaya. A hand grabbed her arm just above the elbow: it was Irene. “Can I have this dance?” she asked.

“Irene, you know I can’t dance.”


“Not this kind of dancing.” She felt sweat trickle out from under her breasts.

“Hey, I’m your teacher, right? Leave it to me.” Irene pulled her out into the middle of the room.

“Now, put your head up close so you can hear me as I tell you what to do. Put one hand here and just hold me lightly. We’re going to do a slow version to this fast music, ‘cause that’s a lot easier for a beginner, yes? Don’t worry about looking at my feet. I’m going to slide one knee in between yours and all you have to do is let my knee guide yours. That’s right. Put your face on my shoulder and just feel the motion. It’s not that different from Mahnavu, except we’re touching.”

“We’re touching all over, Irene.”

“Yeah, I noticed that.”

“Irene, Judy’s watching.”

“This floor is really crowded, she can’t see us that clearly.”

“Chaya’s watching too, I just saw her.”

“Good. Relax, Emma. You’re a wonderful dancer, and it’s just old Irene, remember?”

“I can’t think of anything else.”

“Welcome to my world.”

After the dance, Emma broke free and elbowed her way down Rhoda and Helene’s hall. She had no idea who most of these women were; where had they come from? She stopped in the bathroom to rinse her face. As she was leaving, she came face to face with Helene.

“Emma, isn’t this unreal? I’ve run out of film, we’re just going to have to judge in person.”

“Well, I’ve still not seen anyone to beat Rach.”

“Hear, hear. And speaking of which, that was some steamy dancing you were doing with Irene. I didn’t realize you were so talented. Is your dance card full?”

Emma muttered, “I don’t really dance” and fled toward the back.

In her own kitchen she ran into Lava who said, “Rach and I just did a count. I stood at your front door and kept a running total of who came in there while Rach worked her way down your hall and up the other side, tallying away, and we added the two, and guess how many women there are here right now?” Before Emma could try to wrap her feverish brain around this math problem, Lava burst out, “327!”

No wonder we ran out of ice. “That’s not possible. We don’t know that many lesbians.”

“Well, it is possible, but you’re right about the second thing. One of the women who just showed up? she’s in town visiting from San Diego -- she went to Amelia’s Bar and saw one of our flyers posted there on the back wall.”

“Shit fire and save the matches.”

“That’s not all. Another woman nearby spoke up and said yeah, she’d come because of a flyer that was up at Scott’s Saloon.”

“Oh, jesus, we’re drawing women from Scott’s?” Emma’s blood turned to slush. “We’re gonna get hurt.”

“Or laid. Or, if we’re very very good, both.” Lava winked and bustled off down the hall. At the far end of the hall, just inside their front door, Emma saw Irene’s towhead headed in her direction. She pushed her way out the back door and climbed the stairs to the top stoop. For the first time in hours, she was free from humanity pressing close around her. A fine drizzle was coming down, but she didn’t care, she filled her lungs with big gulps of moist air and leaned on the railing, her eyes closed.

The last step at the top squeaked slightly behind her. She didn’t startle or even look around. Irene’s voice said in her ear, “I thought you’d be up here.”

Emma let out her breath and turned into Irene’s arms.

Never in her life had kissing felt this good. Irene was slow but thorough, starting at the corners of her mouth. She tasted like she’d smelled all these years. Emma slid her hands under Irene’s muscle shirt, and Irene gasped, laughing, at the cold. Emma didn’t wait to warm up her hands; she cupped them lightly over Irene’s small breasts, feeling the nipples pucker into her palms. She moved her head so she could whisper in Irene’s ear. “I want your milk in my mouth.”

Irene moaned and began sucking gently on Emma’s lobe. After a while she explored the folds of Emma’s ear with the tip of her tongue, going deepest not into the canal but into the cleft just above it, exhaling rhythmically onto Emma’s pounding eardrum. Emma parted her fingers and caught Irene’s nipples between the first two fingers on each hand. She squeezed her fingers together, and Irene arced against her. They found each other’s mouths again.

Irene slid both arms around Emma and pulled her in tight, her hands clasped at Emma’s waist. Emma spread Irene’s legs with her thigh and opened her eyes to watch Irene’s face as she began a subtle rocking. Irene looked back at her and, with a grin, slid her hands under Emma’s leather vest. She walked her fingers up Emma’s spine like a ladder, keeping time to Emma’s motion. At the base of Emma’s neck, she turned her right hand so its wrist was in line with Emma’s vertebrae. Emma felt the spikes dig into her as Irene pulled them down her back. She cried out into Irene’s mouth. Irene didn’t stop. Emma felt small tears start in her T-shirt. She wasn’t sure if the moisture was from the rain dribbling down her neck as Irene held the vest away from her back.

Above the clamor of the party, a voice in perhaps Helene’s kitchen asked plaintively, “Has anybody here seen Irene? She’s just disappeared.” They didn’t hear anyone answer Judy. Emma began laughing, and Irene covered her mouth with her hand but laughed just as hard. They clung to each other in weak-kneed delirium. Finally Irene whispered, “What are we going to do?” Emma leaned back to meet her eyes and said, “Get rid of her.”


The flats finally cleared just before dawn. Rach had gone upstairs with Lava to celebrate her prize for Best Femme. Jill had disappeared with one of the leash women. Lisa of the Lips had never arrived, and Helene was despondent. Rhoda was in their kitchen furiously scrubbing out one of her raku pots that had been appropriated as an ashtray. Geneva climbed onto a Harley with someone named Ronnie and they roared away into the gathering light. Emma spent the last half hour of the party sitting on the front steps, saying goodbye to women she didn’t know and listening to Irene have a low-level fight with Judy. At last Judy said, “I think I should go home,” and Irene replied, “I could use a little space. I’ll call you on Monday.”

I doubt that. Emma scooted over to let Judy leave, and felt the cuts on her back sting. She stood up, walked in her front door, and locked it.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild; written November 6-8, 1998

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