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by Liann Snow
Description: Overall, a comedy of errors, the prevailing themes of this collection are misunderstanding and ambivalence in intimacy between women. In the title story, our middle-aged heroine pursues her adolescent desires and learns a lesson or two on route. In other tales, down-to-earth Bernie meets a spaced-out lady, and is touched by magic in the end; Fat Betty wants to make a meal of the willful Princess Evaleen, (as the way to a woman's heart is through her stomach). Elsewhere, Wild Horses couldn't keep them apart--but what kept them together? And Maxine suffers unduly for her Unsafe Address. Throughout the 21 stories and vignettes, women relate intimately in a passionate mix of love, lust, selfishness, generosity, kindness, cowardice, confusion and dismay. Ambiguity rules the day, with even the account of pre-pubertal sex play, Kid's Stuff, having a twist in the tale; raising questions of allegiance at an early age. The longest story is Hannah in My Arms, an enthralling novella of girlhood love, lust and faithlessness in a British single sex school. (The reader may decide who betrayed whom in the end.) The briefest tale is Saturdaze: a nifty little gem, erotic, and diamond-bright with very sharp edges!
eBook Publisher: SRS Internet Publishing/Artemis Press, 2002
eBookwise Release Date: January 2005
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [264 KB]
Reading time: 169-237 min.
+ Moon Madness
I've heard of psychiatric patients trying to drive their analysts crazy, but bringing out all this lesbian business...
Bernard certainly had a way about him--a certain playboy, feckless charm. A psychopath of course, but through the years of analysis, he had given much pleasure. Indeed, it pleased me to believe his tales for minutes at a time. He wasn't getting any better, only more polished, but he appreciated the gloss that I had given him and so did I--it made our sessions so much more entertaining.
In the first year, he had sown a seed (or perhaps he had only watered it!). Then he fondly watched it grow. In due season, with the true gardener's canny eye, he judged the time to be ripe. "You are a lesbian, Miss Ambleside," he had declared, unusually forthright, one sunny afternoon.
I merely gazed at him. He had been such a patient patient, nurtured the seedling for so long that now I was laden with fruit, my branches creaked and sagged. With a triangular smile gaping on his paper-white face he dazzled me; he boggled his eyes, vibrated his wiry brows. Even his rusty hair curled and crackled. And then, having all of my attention, he turned his head and beamed our combined gaze at Miss Amelia Blondesberry, State Registered Nurse (Psychiatric) as she slowly passed, trundling a wheelchair, doting patient contained. "That," he said, "is your prey!"
I chased down my prey all right, like a good born-again carnivore, and vanquished it. The good, well-bred, house-proud, house-trained State Registered Nurse (through dilated but beautifully-fringed Piscean eyes) saw this podgy, middle-aged nascent dyke as her tall and darkly handsome Heathcliffe, no less.
"Cathy, Cathy" I crooned at Miss Amelia, playing the game with gusto and faint cinematic memories of Merle and Larry O.
"You came!" she cried, swooning on cue and smiling as we pursued our happy little play.
We were enraptured as the moon shone through the casement. The Hospital Committee was not. Thus, when the privatisation of the NHS began in earnest in the early nineteen nineties and Her Majesty's government let loose a great flood of the physically and mentally "challenged" into the heaving bosoms of their families, my reprobate self was washed up in their befuddled wake.
At first, I pursued my previous profession in a private capacity, that is, I advised and assisted and aided and abetted former patients in their new lives outside the institution, this time at the behest of their less-than-patient nearests and dearests. Then I broadened my private patient list to include those less mentally-disabled more emotionally-unabled women of grief, guilt and unconfronted grievances.
Thus, in my North London consulting room in the front of a house in Hackney, I met the modern woman. I listened to her, and so did she. I learned of Jung and Dreams and mother-love and of the Tarot and the Goddess. She learned to love herself and sometimes she loved me. I put a mirror up before these often beautiful women, in their twenties and mutinous thirties; in their linen shorts or trousers or their peasant-style skirts, and sometimes the clouds parted and they saw themselves and liked what they saw.
Perhaps we sat in silence till they spoke or, if the silence weighed too heavily, I said, "Did you dream?" And they did, she did. So I would be told. And the images would flutter and glitter like butterflies in the white-walled blankness of my room, till they made a shimmering, pleasing tapestry to adorn the walls.
I enjoyed those days, but went home in the evenings restless and alone to my one-bedroomed flat atop a four-floored, late-Victorian conversion. I didn't even have a cat.
However, I did have a small garden and that turned out to be my shortest path to physical release. No, I didn't sublimate my passions digging and delving in the stubborn London clay. Instead, being short of time and less short of cash, I engaged a horny-handed gardener who, in due season, engaged me in amatory tussles in the potting shed (amongst other agreeably grimy places.)
Oh! Davinia Bulstrode! How often did I bounce around beneath your beefy thighs?
Ah, tribadism. What an effort! What an exodus! What an arid waste of time! Or so I thought, till one post-horticultural evening, I flipped her over and she liked it; consequently no longer liking me. (No, I couldn't follow the logic either. I only knew I'd lost a gardener and a fond companion. I missed the latter more--the dahlias saw it differently.) I bought myself a cat and gave the garden back to the weeds.
Davinia was the first in a fairly long line of fairly memorable women who I have known (and vice versa) in the time between the Institution and the present day. Another such was Suzee Jellycube. Of course that wasn't her real name; her parents called her Beryl, but she changed it.
Suzee was a bright, pretty south London girl who worked in a shoe shop. I loved her for her ignorance, but, unable to resist ploughing a fallow field, I told her about Jung and read books to her about the Goddess. She was impressed, she was inspired, she made us have a witches' wedding and burnt more than her fingers as we jumped the ritual fire.
Suzee changed her name again, this time in honour of our union. She became Hestia the Hearth Goddess, and wouldn't leave the house. Instead, I was required to vacate my north London flat (though I retained the tenancy, not being quite as optimistic as Hestia about our union, and wanting instead to give it an as-it-were "trial run" before making any irreversible decisions. Naturally I did not think it prudent to trouble Hestia with this detail--I would of course quietly let my tenancy lapse in the nearest future--just as soon as I felt as assured of the durability of the relationship as Hestia undoubtedly was), and to move south of the river with Mister Bates, my spiteful tom.
Our fire blazed all through that Winter then turned to ashes in the Spring. I was ashamed to leave her but secretly glad I'd kept up the payments on my flat. Out of guilt as much as anything, I declared myself still "married" to Suzee for another six months after we split. Suzee heard me say it and gazed at me in attentive silence while I spoke, but perhaps surprisingly didn't offer the same guarantee.
Celibacy was difficult at first, but got easier. Perhaps because I knew it wouldn't last forever. In fact my avowed marriage and my celibacy ended on the same night, more or less six months after breaking up with Suzee. The night I met some real old-fashioned dykes, or "gay girls" as I imagined they would call themselves.
I was way outside my usual run, up out in the country. One of my regulars, Marlene, had thrown a wobbly and was too far gone to travel to me. I motored over--all part of the service.
Afterwards, to soothe my nerves before the long drive back from that sturdy, grey-stone town, I went into the nearest pub I could find.
Fortune must have led me into the back bar, because that is where I found my Sapphic sisters, some couple of dozen of them at any rate.
They looked happy enough in the dim reddish half-light, and not too sad to see me. One couple, in particular, Dutch and Daisy, as it turned out, chatted me up in a slow, amiable way, from the minute I got there. That made me feel very welcome indeed.
I had had more to drink than I meant to by the time me and Daisy got down to our fourth boogie on the tiny dance floor. I'd been a bit chary of monopolising Daisy at first, but Dutch had good-naturedly waved us on. Could be she had other ideas anyway; there was a big blonde in a very small tee shirt sitting in a group in a dark corner. Every time she laughed, which was often, she threw back her head and her breasts lifted half an inch. I could see Dutch had noticed.
I went back to boogying.
Daisy was a sweet girl and did not seem to mind when I laid my chubby hand on the narrow part of her back, just above her bum. She smiled a honeyed smile and snuggled against me when I moved that hand slowly up and down. I was very aware of the sliver of shiny black lycra that served as her skirt.
By the time we sat down again, I was thinking enough was enough. Even the tolerant Dutch surely would not put up with much more.
The deejay seemed to agree because then the music stopped and the lights came on. A lot of glamour left the room at that and so did Dutch.
Daisy reached across the table and gripped my hands till her knuckles went white. I stared into her pretty blue eyes, trying to focus. I'd certainly put a lot away, now I came to think of it. Dutch came back. Daisy dropped my hand.
"Do you want to stay over?" she said in her strong, frank voice.
"Could do, if you don't mind. Both of you." In truth, I was so drunk that if they hadn't taken me home that night, I'd have had to sleep in the car in the pub car park.
On the drive to their place through darkened streets and then through darkened lanes, I sat in the back with Daisy who appeared to be asleep. I say "appeared" because five minutes into the journey, she took my hand and placed it between her legs. Her slippery skirt had risen high on her thighs and she was naked underneath it. I felt the wetness and withdrew. I hoped to hell Dutch hadn't seen anything incriminating in the mirror.
The little terraced house was in darkness in the under-illuminated street. Dutch let us in.
Daisy seemed to be sleepwalking. She went straight upstairs without a backward glance. Dutch was more hospitable. She took me into their neat front room and treated me to some more Scotch and a lecture on the breeding and showing of Boxer dogs. They had rosettes and much-polished cups in display cabinets on one of the walls.
"Profitable line of business?" I enquired.
"Yes. Okay." She seemed distracted. I hoped she wasn't mad at me. I hoped she hadn't looked in the mirror. I hoped she wasn't working herself up into a jealous rage. I began to formulate in my head some sort of explanation, if not excuse, for my bad manners.
Abruptly she said, "I'm going to bed. Have another drink if you like. Oh yes, and your room is through here."
Surprised, I followed her stocky, strong figure out of the front room and along a short passage. I had not expected my own room, more likely a couple of blankets and a sofa would have been it. I was forgetting, of course, people can often afford bigger living spaces outside of London and the big cities.
The room she showed me was small and square, with a high window and no curtain. There were DIY tools in one corner, including an electric hammer drill. On a shelf, by a heap of magazines, was a sewing machine.
"Excuse the untidiness," she said. "Goodnight."
I stood in the room for a minute, flicking through the magazines. "Sewing World." Instalments of a part-work. Seemed to be a complete set.
The moon shone nearly full through the small, high window. I wasn't drunk anymore. I didn't want any more to drink either. But I did want to urinate.
I made my way through to the stairs and up. The house was completely silent, apart from my own footsteps. I kept it as quiet as I could.
In the bright silver light of the moon, I found what I took to be the bathroom. Helpfully, there was a laminated sticker of a pretty little mermaid on the door. She was smiling.
I was cleaning my teeth with toothpaste and my fingers, when the bathroom door suddenly opened. Slowly and as quietly as could be.
Daisy! Sleepwalking in with a blank look in her shiny blue eyes, and a tender half-smile on her lips. She was wearing a short pink chiffon nightie and fluffy, furry slippers. She pressed up against me without a moment's hesitation, and of course, she wasn't sleepwalking really because she looked me in the eyes then, and giggled up into my face.
"You smell of toothpaste," she said.
She smelt warm and sweet and soft and rich and tasty. And she was. This time I didn't back off, and she came into my hands like warm milk.
I woke up at five in the morning. The grey light easing through the square high window showed me the time on my watch. I was in the room Dutch had given me; Daisy snuggled beside me. She breathed quick and quiet like a cat. I wanted to leave. I wanted her to leave. I wanted it all to have been a dream. But most of all I wanted Daisy; wanted some more of that warm flowing milk.
I stayed for breakfast. Daisy persuaded me. In fact, at six-thirty in the misty morning she ran out of the front door and hid my car keys somewhere or other amongst the rhododendrons. Just making it back over the front doorstep seconds ahead of the milkman. Daisy was stark naked.
I could have found the keys or tickled her till she told me, but I took it as a compliment and put a brave face on for my morning-after meeting with Dutch.
However, all we had for breakfast was cornflakes, tea, kippers and toast. No Dutch. No confrontation.
I wanted to ask my little, pretty Daisy where her partner was, but suddenly words failed me. Daisy did not seem nearly so approachable now and I couldn't think how to put it. She seemed locked up in private thoughts, though she managed to munch her way through more than her fair share of breakfast. In fact, it was me who lost my appetite. How long had Dutch been gone? All the time I had been with Daisy, maybe she had been somewhere else, not tucked up in her own bed, nice and cosy.
All my feelings of euphoria drained away. It was the blonde from the bar, that was it! Suddenly I saw the whole picture. I'd been set up. Far from Daisy being my conquest, I'd been picked by the pair of them to keep Daisy company while Dutch went to her lover.
I remembered that Dutch hadn't left the pub right away. She had gone somewhere for a few minutes while me and Daisy giggled our way to the car. The car! Their car! I'd been too drunk to drive. I'd left the Citroen in the pub car park. They'd probably got me drunk deliberately.
I looked across the kitchen table at dear Daisy. Her mouth didn't look so soft nor her eyes so bright as before. I felt sorry for Daisy for a moment. Then I felt sorry for myself.
"Will you drive me back to the pub?"
"I can't drive," she said.
I didn't see Dutch's car when I left for the long walk to the bus stop. It wasn't in the pub car park either, though, thankfully the Citroen was.
I got in, started the engine, and went off down the motorway back to north London with the taste of milk sour in my mouth.
* * * *
The cat was in and so was Sammie by the time I arrived. Naturally Sammie wanted to know where I had been so long. (A day and a night was a long time to Sammie when she wanted to see me, and a month wasn't when she didn't.) It wasn't the first time I regretted giving her a key.
Sammie is a girl who has made much of herself--a pale-skinned Black woman with a broad, slow smile and painted-on eyebrows. At the age of twelve Sammie bashed and battered her native Manchester vowels until she spoke the Queen's English more clearly and with as much deliberation as the Queen herself. At the age of seventeen, the eldest of thirteen children, Sammie quit her mother's home, bussed down the motorway and talked her way into the smartest job she could: sitting in a neat, pretty uniform behind the reception desk in a medium-sized London hotel. From there Sammie, with clarity, deliberation and near-perfect diction, smoothed the path of eager, harassed foreign visitors, who scarcely spoke any English at all.
I hope she was never as hard on them as she sometimes was on me.
I met Sammie Dash through an ad in a contact magazine, in the days when I didn't know how else to meet women. She said "You are beautiful" as I fucked her slowly, and put an extra syllable on the end of my name as I fucked her fast.
She was a Capricorn and, despite being an often-ravenous lover, once she had put on her impeccably washed and ironed uniform, I was not allowed to touch her pretty body. I could never get the hang of her work rota schedules and happily fixed appointments for when (it turned out) she couldn't see me and, alternatively, was sometimes found in old slippers and an unflattering towelling dressing gown when her key turned in my door.
Yes, I'd given Sammie a key. In fact we almost lived together. I say "almost" because I never knew for sure when she would be with me and only guessed right half the time.
The first days of most relationships are spent in a blissed-out daze, at least by one of the protagonists, and I did not wholly realise that I was at Sammie's beck and call and she was not at mine. I smoothed any doubts that arose in the scented satin hollows of her body, which is why it was six months before I knew she was having an affair, and nine before I knew she'd left me.
Sammie was still "with" the woman she'd left me for, as much as Sammie could be "with" anyone. But when Kate thought Sammie was somewhere else, sometimes Sammie was with me. And I mean with.
I felt no guilt about bedding Sam (or was it vice versa?). I had developed a philosophy out of the pain and when Sam was in my hands (and vice versa!) she was mine and when she was not she was not. Further than that I could not and would not see.
"Oh why do I keep myself away from this?" said Sammie as she eased herself onto me.
That was the kind of remark that would have eaten into me over a span of months in the recent past, but now I figured she was speaking rhetorically and concentrated on the job at hand.
But Sam was not to be deflected. Later, sitting opposite me, drinking her customary sweet black coffee, she said, "Sometimes I am putty in your hands."
I didn't doubt it, but, "What's your point?"
"Don't you ever want me back?"
I've just had you, (I thought), but said more politely, "No."
She pursed her pretty lips and swung the cat up on her lap. Then two pairs of green, almond-shaped eyes stared at me, with something approaching contempt.
I sat it out. She would leave soon. Maybe one day she would leave for good, and take Mister Bates with her and I'd be rid of his ingratitude too. (But perhaps not yet.)
You might wonder where Sammie Dash fits into the chronology of this story, and I have to say that I don't suppose she does. But the truth is that I met her before Suzee Jellycube and after and, I blush to say, during. I was not a faithful spouse.
Sammy was even a witness to my celibacy during my separation from Suzee; though she was not impressed. Sammie is and was and probably always will be, as far as I'm concerned; though at the same time, she never was and never can be. In short, inconstant Sammie is a constant in my life. It's a metaphysical puzzle and that's how I like to leave it. Saves worrying too much about things that can't be changed.
Most of the women that I have known have never heard of Sammie, never seen her, never had to compete with her. Not knowingly anyway. Sometimes I almost think she doesn't exist, but at other times I believe that I live and breathe only for her, only because of her. (Don't ever let her know.)
Some other fairly memorable women I have known:
Valerie with the sea-green eyes--one look in their depths and I was lost. She fished me out two weeks later, bedraggled, disoriented and decidedly damp.
Jeanie, from Aberdeen, who picked me up at a bus stop with as little forethought (none!) and as much enthusiasm (a lot!) as if I'd been a twenty-pound note. Six weeks later she gave me a slap on the rump and the fare home. She was only sixteen, but in more ways than one, she'd been like a mother to me.
Ross, the big bad butch who made me go with her to see a re-release of Batman, out in the sticks in the middle of the day, even though she had seen it a dozen times before. We came out of the movie-house into broad daylight, but big Ross was quaking and shaking from the terror of dark Gotham City. This, she mumbled, was her usual reaction. I myself was more disturbed by Kim Basinger.
How many memorable women? Too many perhaps. They have loved but they have not stayed, perhaps because of Sammie-unperceived; perhaps because of me, sensing the adolescent unrepentant in this middle-aged body.
It is as if I was born that day fourteen years ago in the manicured grounds of the Institution. Bernard O' Dare was the midwife. In an important sense, I am only fourteen years old. I am not mature and cannot yet be. Though I am at a chronological age when others settle down and sit out the dance of life, I am not ready to do that. Though I know that when I am, it might be too late. They will all have passed me by. Except for Sammie? We shall see.
Ah but, enough of introspection! Let me introduce you to Edie! Edie is married. (To a man!) He does nightwork. So I do nightwork, too!
Now you see me, a forty-four year old woman in the front seat of a car in a darkish street with a younger woman in my arms and my knickers round my knees. She kneels up onto the seat and over the back so her bum is in my face. She raises her skirt so that that lovely, lemony, melony shape moons at me. I pin her down with my tongue, lather her crack with crazy foam; dizzy myself with dabbing into that slit--sliding, slavering, dipping, darting and sucking long then sharp then slow and full that little meaty knoll, so that she cries out and slaps her hams against my nose: lunatic under a bum-shaped moon!