Volume 1 Number 3
Stories by Barbara Davies * Sias Bryant * Kam Caddell * Nann Dunne
Volume 1 Number 3
Publisher Claudia Wilde Managing Editor Carrie Tierney Assistant Editor C.A. Casey Story Illustrations Trish Ellis T.J. Mindancer Cover Art/Layout T.J. Mindancer
Khimairal Ink Magazine is published July, October, January, and April.
3 In This Issue KK Claudia Wilde 4 Home and Heart KK Carrie Tierney 6 The Krestyanova Genes KK Barbara Davies 14 A Normal Bedtime Conversation KK Kam Caddell 20 Sandra Deeâ€™s Lips KK Sias Bryant 27 The Broken Teddy Bear KK Nann Dunne
ÂŠ 2006 Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company
32 Contributors and Artists
s the New Year rings in, I'm “gob smacked” when thinking about the events of 2005. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be putting together a lesbian oriented e-zine and getting ready to publish our second book. What's that Chinese proverb? Be careful what you wish for . . . you might get it? Surprisingly, the e-zine has become the most challenging adventure. As an avid online reader, I have enjoyed hundreds of interesting and insightful stories by both new and established writers. With all that talent out there, I assumed the hardest job would be deciding what submissions would go into which month's issue. But, it appears that the short story format and our guidelines are proving rather daunting for many. Ironically, the stories submitted by men are meeting our criteria with greater success than most. Our editor, Carrie, has done a marvelous job with the ezine blog explaining the nuances of what we are looking for. Again, I challenge the writers out there to take that unfamiliar step into the short story venue. Taking a very familiar step, the exceedingly polished writer, Barbara Davies is back with
another wonderful Sci-fi tale. The always-creative Kam Caddell entertains us with a witty, slice-of-life play. Author Nann Dunne has put together a poignant story guaranteed to pull at the heartstrings and Sias Bryant has written a wonderful piece that will make you laugh and cry at the same time. All the stories deal with family and loved ones so this issue's theme is “Home is Where the Heart is.” The graphics are pictures of local homes and we have more great drawings from Trish Ellis and the multitalented TJ Mindancer. I’d like to thank again the many readers who have made this past year so rewarding. May this new year bring you the fulfillment of your dreams. See you next issue!
Claudia We’d love to hear from you. Send comments, suggestions, and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to check out our blog at http://khimairalink.blogspot.com/
Join us for the June 2006 issue including . . . Fade to Rose by Tyree Campbell Selected Poems by Sheela Ardrian
or this issue we chose four very different stories, each dealing in their own way with concepts of family and home. You’ll notice that one of our stories is in the form of a play. Stories can be told in many different ways and if a certain way—like the format of this play—works, it works. We try to keep an open mind because art isn't about putting everything into the same size box. We first have to enjoy a story as a story, regardless of format. And that's the bottom line. We like to see creative approaches but—and this is an important but—an author has to have a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of writing and storytelling to present a story in a creative way. On the other hand, we continue to see submissions that seem to trample over the same storytelling ground. Locations, occupations, characters’ names may be different but the path these stories take are fundamentally the same. We now have three issues of examples of the type and quality of story we want to see. These stories were written with care, revised, rewritten, and revised again. The authors obsessively checked for typos and misspellings before submitting to us. They understand the protocols and rituals of this strange business. I’m always delighted that we can offer stories that reflect the unique imaginations and voices of the authors. In this issue, Barbara Davies
takes the concept of family to the genetic level in the gripping science fiction tale, The Krestyanova Genes. Kam Caddell creatively strips an ordinary bedtime conversation to the deceptively simple format of a stage play. Sandra Dee's Lips is a moving story about a truly memorable woman who leaves a lasting impression upon the story's narrator. Nann Dunne weaves a graceful metaphorical tale in The Broken Teddy Bear. I hope you enjoy this issue as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
hile the AI recited the facts about the influenza outbreak, Natalya gazed at the details of those infected. Only two domes were involved, she saw with some relief, and one was Copernicus, so the travelling should be minimal. A name scrolling down her screen was familiar. She blinked. “My cousin’s on the list! And it looks like a party she hosted might be the common factor.” “Cousin?” Emma looked up from her own screen, shoving back the curtain of fair hair that was always flopping in her eyes. “Yes. Anya Litton.” Flu was rarely fatal, so Natalya wasn’t worried about Anya. She tapped the name with her forefinger and a photo appeared. Emma peered at it. “She looks like you!” Natalya grimaced at the unflattering mugshot. “Thanks for nothing! . . . It’s the Krestyanova genes. When we were kids, people always thought we must be sisters.” “Litton,” mused Emma. “Why is that surname
familiar?” “Reeve Litton is Anya’s husband. Or rather was. They’re divorced.” “The Reeve Litton?” “Mmm.” If the truth be told, Natalya was relieved Anya was finally rid of her industrialist
7 husband. She had never liked him. “Divorced, eh?” Emma gave her a sideways glance. “Krestyanovas don’t seem to have much luck with their love lives.” Natalya ignored the unsubtle invitation to talk about her ex-girlfriend. She knew Emma thought she was being too proud, not making the first move toward a reconciliation. Maybe she was. Her first relationship to last more than six months, and she had blown it. Milena had been gone for a month now, in charge of hydroponics irrigation, so Natalya had heard, in Kondratyuk on the Far Side. She sighed, pulled out her earpiece, and reached for the suitcase-sized kit leaning against the wall. A few moments’ checking reassured her that she’d replaced the swabs and phials used last time: a food poisoning outbreak in Russell—the potato salad had proved to be the culprit. She stretched and looked at Emma. “I’ll take those who live in Kepler, since Anya’s among them.” “Good. I’ll take those who live here.”
pproaching Kepler station,” announced the monorail pod’s computer. Natalya braced herself, then deceleration pressed her into her seat and the sunlit lunarscape visible through the clear canopy vanished as the pod flashed into a tunnel, through an airlock, and came to rest. She unbuckled the seat’s webbing, grabbed her kit, and stepped out onto the platform. Taking a moment to adjust to the scale of her surroundings—Kepler’s crater was smaller than Copernicus’s, its water-shielded dome correspondingly lower—she pulled her palmpad out of her pocket, called up a streetmap, and set off walking. Anya’s flat was in Gorky Street. When Natalya arrived, the flat’s AI was refusing all visitors. She showed it her LCDC credentials, however, and after a few seconds the front door clicked open. As she walked into the hall, the clutter reminded her of Milena’s sometimes endearing, sometimes irritating untidiness. She sighed and pushed that thought away.
Khimairal Ink “Hi, Anya. It’s Nat,” she called. “In the bedroom,” came a croak. Though they’d kept in touch by Vidlink, the last time Natalya had actually seen her cousin in person was at Anya’s wedding two years ago. Then, Anya had been expensively and fashionably dressed and made up; now, she was wearing a shabby nightdress and her face was bare. Natalya noted the feverish eyes, the sallow skin, the strands of long black hair plastered to her cousin’s face. Aware of her scrutiny, Anya pulled the bedclothes up to her chin and gave her a weak smile. “Mask and gloves, eh? Now I know I’m sick!” “Sorry,” said Natalya. “It’s just a precaution.” Anya cocked her head to one side and frowned. “There’s something different about you. Ah.” Her brow smoothed. “You’ve had your hair cut. I thought you liked it long.” Natalya shrugged, too embarrassed to admit that she had cut it in a fit of pique— Milena had liked her hair long too. “This’ll teach you to throw parties,” she joked, dragging a chair across to Anya’s bedside and sitting down. She placed her kit on the floor, then turned to her cousin and became serious. “I take it you’ve seen a doctor?” Anya nodded. “He gave me these.” She indicated the pill container on the bedside table. Natalya peered at the label; the yellow capsules were antivirals, standard treatment for flu. “So, who was at this bash of yours?” Anya pointed to a palmpad lying on top of her dressing table. “The guest list’s on that.” Natalya retrieved the palmpad, linked it to her own, and downloaded the names, crosschecking them against those that had already been notified to the LCDC. “Not everyone at the party got flu then,” she mused. “Just over fifty percent.” Anya rubbed a bleary eye. “What is it with Kepler? Last month it was a cold, now this.” “I had the cold too,” said Natalya absently. “We never did find the index case.” She selected a throat swab from her kit. “Open wide.” Anya obliged. “What’s an ‘index case’?” she asked, when Natalya had finished. “The source of the outbreak.” Natalya filed the swab away, then peeled the wrapping from
8 a small syringe. “We thought some Earther might have brought the cold up, but . . .” She released her cousin’s arm, detached the phial of blood from the syringe, and sealed it. “Now, just a few questions.” It took Natalya five minutes to complete the epidemiological questionnaire, mandatory in cases like this and very thorough. When she put away her palmpad and changed the subject, Anya’s relief was palpable. “So. How’s life after Reeve?” “Fine. He was such a pain, Nat. Always wanting things ‘just so.’” Anya let out an explosive sneeze, and Natalya handed her a clean handkerchief. “I don’t know how I stood it for so long.” “The servants, the fashionable clothes, the money,” suggested Natalya wryly. “You never liked him,” said her cousin through the hanky. “No. And I expect he’s cutting up rough over the divorce.” “Actually, he isn’t.” Anya looked bemused. “The lawyer says he wishes all divorces were as amicable.” She laughed. “He’s lying of course. The less amicable a divorce, the more the lawyers make.” “I suppose Reeve can afford to be generous,” said Natalya. Anya’s former husband had made his fortune building isolation domes— lack of an atmosphere meant the Moon was perfect for gene research. Anya shrugged. “I’m just glad we can still be friends. Talking of which, sorry to hear you and Milena broke up.” “Me too.” Natalya didn’t feel up to one of her cousin’s searching interrogations so she stood up. “I can’t stop, sorry. That’s one sample down, nineteen to go.” She reached for the kit and regarded the other woman for a moment. “Take care of yourself, Anya.” Another huge sneeze was the only reply.
atalya’s stomach rumbled. She supposed she should get herself something to eat, but the cafe next door would be closed at this time of night. There was always the vending machine in the LCDC lobby, of course.
Khimairal Ink “Analysis complete,” came the AI’s voice in her earpiece. She had spent the afternoon gathering samples and information and the evening with Emma loading the phials and swabs into the appropriate analyzers, downloading the contents of their palmpads, and telling the AI anything they thought might be relevant. It was a tedious process, but the AI could spot connections they’d miss and it was a thousand times as fast. There was no need for them both to work overtime, though, so she’d sent Emma home. “Report,” she ordered. “Indiana Flu,” said the AI. “An outbreak of this particular strain occurred five years ago in Eratosthenes.” “Index case?” “An Earther. Gary Savage, 65, born Indiana, USA. He was visiting relatives.” “Go on.” “Since that outbreak, this strain appears to have become gender-specific.” Natalya looked at the list of names again and frowned. It was unlike the AI to make a mistake. “What about Mikhail Ivanov?” “Mikhail Ivanov,” said the AI, “was born Mikhaila Ivanova. He completed his sex change in 2061.” “Ah.” Natalya chewed her thumbnail. What had triggered the dormant flu virus? And why had it mutated? On Earth, it was common for viruses to find new ways to overcome their hosts’ acquired immunity. But on the Moon there was little infection and consequently little acquired immunity. “There appears to be no index case for the current outbreak,” continued the AI. “All sufferers developed symptoms within an hour of one another, indicating simultaneous infection.” “So something, or someone, at Anya’s party must be the carrier?” “Affirmative,” said the AI.
he Crystal Room at the Copernicus Majestic was still cordoned off. Natalya ducked under the yellow-and-black warning tape, keyed in her security code, and waited for the door locks to click open. She yawned—
9 working late last night had left her feeling bleary-eyed this morning—put on her mask, and went in. There was nothing special about the function room where Anya had held her party, and which must owe its name to the crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. At one end were stacks of molded chairs and matching tables, at the other, a bar, the security grill pulled down and padlocked. “Ms. Krestyanova?” She turned. “Yes?” A deliveryman in a red-and-black uniform stood in the doorway. Beside him on the carpet lay a small metallic trunk stenciled “Property of LCDC.” He kicked it with the toe of one boot. “Your autosampler, as requested.” “Thanks.” She removed a glove and pressed her thumb on his authorization pad. When he’d gone, she crouched, opened the catches on the trunk, and lifted out the cylindrical robot. It took only seconds for her to activate it and give it instructions, then it was trundling around the function room, photographing everything and using its toolkit of tiny nozzles, scalpels, and tweezers to take samples for later analysis. If there was anything to be found, thought Natalya, as the autosampler beeped at her and requested access to the air conditioning duct, it would find it.
take it you didn’t find anything?” Emma looked up from her screen. Natalya sagged into her chair. “Not if you discount dust and mice droppings.” “Those damned mice! Probably time we scheduled another extermination sweep.” Emma finished what she was doing then sat back and regarded Natalya. “So I suppose that’s that?” Natalya yawned. “The flu was only a very mild strain. The high ups will say it’s not ‘cost effective’ to continue the investigation. So we won’t.” “OK.” Emma twiddled her pen. “So, your cousin—what was her name, Anya?—is she any better?” “Much.” Natalya had contacted Anya half an
Khimairal Ink hour ago, and even on the tiny Vidlink display she could see that Anya’s color was more normal and the feverishness in her eyes had gone. Her appetite was returning too, and already she was bored with being cooped up. She was definitely on the mend. A mixed blessing: good news for Anya was bad news for epidemiologists. Emma read her mind. “Back to boring old statistics?” “Mm,” agreed Natalya. “That’s probably our excitement for the year.”
ut it wasn’t. The month long lunar day had given way to the month long lunar night, and Milena and Natalya still hadn’t Vidlinked one another, when Natalya learned that her cousin Anya had once again picked up a virus. And this time it wasn’t so benign. “She’s in intensive care, Nat,” said Emma, peering at the information scrolling down her screen. “They don’t think she’s going to make it.” Natalya’s heart sank. “What is it?” “A filovirus.” “Hell!” She was all too familiar with the history of the Marburg and Ebola filoviruses. But they’d found vaccines for them eventually, hadn’t they? If the lunar version was similar— Emma whistled. “Is that sinister looking or what?” Natalya followed her colleague’s gaze. On the screen was a picture of something long and thin and blue-grey, something almost snakelike, full of strange twists and loops. It made her feel nauseous just looking at it. “The bug that attacked Anya?” Emma nodded. “Any other cases?” “Not according to the AI.” Emma looked worried. “That’s the weirdest thing about it, Nat. No one except your cousin seems to have been affected.”
here was so little infectious disease on the Moon that the main hospital, situated in Copernicus, had been using its isolation units for storage. Natalya negotiated her way
10 between the pieces of equipment now relocated in the corridor and peered through the observation window of one of the units. A nurse in a full protective suit stood beside the single bed, examining readouts and updating charts. Anya was barely visible beneath all the umbilicals connecting her to the various monitors and drips. It had all happened so quickly. Anya’s first symptoms—severe headache, muscle pains, and fever—had been mistaken for flu. Even her sore throat, vomiting, and diarrhea hadn’t caused the doctors much concern. Then her blood pressure had dropped precipitously. The doctors, with LCDC guidance, were trying a treatment that had proved successful against other filoviruses, but they were up against it— the human body can only take so much. As Natalya gazed helplessly at her cousin, a man came up beside her and pressed his face to the glass. She recognized him at once, though it was two years since she had last seen him and he had lost some of his hair and gained a double chin, which he was trying to hide beneath a beard. “Hello, Reeve.” Anya’s former husband glanced at her, mumbled something unintelligible, then pressed his nose to the glass again, misting it with each exhale. “They’re doing everything they can,” said Natalya, as much for her own comfort as for his. But the industrialist didn’t reply, and she thought it best to leave him to his thoughts. There was little she could do here. She’d be more use tracking down the virus that was killing her cousin.
atalya pulled on a full protective suit and set about searching Anya’s flat. She still had no idea what she was looking for. A source of contamination, obviously. But what form would it take? She wished Emma were here to give her her opinion, but her colleague was currently in Messier B, investigating a serious outbreak of food poisoning. As the autosampler trundled round the cramped flat, she assessed the contents of the bathroom cabinet, sorted through waste bins,
Khimairal Ink and peered in drawers, her mind working. Filoviruses were most often spread by contaminated blood. On Earth, cases had occurred after eating monkey meat, but such delicacies were unavailable in lunar restaurants. A more common path was sharing needles; but as far as she was aware the only syringe Anya had encountered recently was the sterile one Natalya had used for the blood sample. Besides, if this filovirus conformed to type, infection had occurred within the past week. She turned back the sheets, looked under the pillows and mattress. Nothing. Poor Anya. First the cold, then the flu, and now this. What were the odds on one person contracting so many viruses in such a short time? It was almost as though . . . Natalya felt a sudden frisson of unease. It was almost as though the viruses were targeting her cousin.
atalya inserted her earpiece and waited for the AI to say, “Ready.” “Compare Anya Litton’s DNA with the RNA of the following viruses: Cold virus ref: 2.5; Indiana Flu virus ref: 4.6; and the unidentified filovirus ref: 8.9. Look for connections.” “Working.” Natalya chewed her thumbnail. “Analysis complete.” “Report.” “There is a partial genetic match in each case.” “Be more specific.” “Cold virus ref: 2.5 requires human hosts— Anya Litton is human. Indiana Flu virus ref: 4.6 requires human, female, Caucasian hosts. Anya Litton matches the criteria.” Natalya frowned. “Unidentified filovirus ref: 8.9,” continued the AI, “requires human, female, Caucasian hosts with the following characteristics: blood group: B; height: tall; weight: average; build: average; hair: straight, black; nose: small; eyes: blue . . .” She listened to the list of attributes with growing horror. The AI was describing her cousin in uncanny detail. (It was also describing her, but she shoved that thought aside.) Finally, she halted the recitation. “Enough.” Someone had had a virus tailored to target
11 Anya’s DNA. Someone with money, since such complex gene-splicing would cost. Someone with samples of—what?—nail clippings, hair from an old brush? Above all, someone with enough of a motive to want her cousin dead. Suddenly, Natalya knew who that someone must be. “Get me the police,” she told the AI. “Tell them I want to report an attempted murder.”
atalya eased past the equipment stacked in the hospital’s narrow corri-
dor. “That’s him.” She directed the burly policeman accompanying her toward Reeve Litton, who was still standing by the isolation unit’s observation window, his hands in his pockets. Sgt. Schwartz halted next to the plump industrialist. “Mr. Litton?” Reeve barely glanced at him before nodding. “I’m afraid I must ask you to come with me to Police HQ.” “What are you talking about?” Reeve was the very picture of bewilderment. “Why should I go anywhere with you? Especially now. That’s my wife in there.” (“Ex wife,” muttered Natalya.) He pointed at the bedridden figure on the other side of the glass then shoved his hand back in his pocket. “She’s dying. I need to be here not down at some police station answering pointless questions.” “I’m sure it’s all just a misunderstanding,” soothed Schwartz. Natalya ground her teeth. If she’d had her way, Schwarz would have simply tranked Reeve and carted him off over his shoulder, but his superiors had ordered a more cautious approach until they had the hard evidence to back up her suspicions. “The sooner you come with me and get this sorted out,” continued Schwarz, “the sooner I can get you back here with your wife.” (“Ex wife,” mouthed Natalya.) He rested a gloved hand on Reeve’s arm. “Get off me! Do you know who I am?” Reeve batted the hand away and glanced at Natalya. “She put you up to this, didn’t she?” He gave a longsuffering sigh. “My wife is her cousin, so it’s understandable she’s overwrought. We all are. But really!” He turned his attention back to
Khimairal Ink the observation window. Schwartz threw Natalya a doubtful glance. It was her word against Reeve’s, and the industrialist was a highly respected figure. “For God’s sake, Sergeant!” she protested. “He’s been trying to kill Anya.” “Delusional,” muttered Reeve, with a pitying shake of the head. Natalya balled her hands. She felt an overwhelming need to pierce his composure. “How did it feel,” she asked, “when your marriage failed so publicly? I bet it stung. The great success story, the self-made millionaire, and he can’t even make his marriage work. I bet you hated Anya for that. For making you look like a failure. Didn’t you?” He didn’t react, but Schwarz did. “This isn’t helping,” he told Natalya. “As for the method,” she continued, raising her voice, “who better than you to make a genetic weapon? . . . Oh, I don’t mean that you actually made it yourself—you don’t have the technical know-how, do you? But you’ve got the connections to get hold of a filovirus, and the money to hire a good gene-splicer. Someone willing to do your dirty work for you, no questions asked, as long as the money was good. And I bet the money was good. Very good. That’s something you have no shortage of.” “If you repeat that allegation,” said Reeve calmly, “I’ll sue.” “It was clever using different viruses for the trial runs,” continued Natalya, unable to stop now she had started. “Testing out the targeting mechanisms while at the same time obscuring the identity of the real target. Not clever enough though.” She gave her watch a pointed glance. “By now the police should have interviewed your gene-splicer and searched your home and your office.” “Ms. Krestyanova!” Schwartz’s voice was sharp. Perhaps she shouldn’t have revealed that last bit, she thought guiltily. But it was too late for Reeve to do anything about it, wasn’t it? Reeve’s head swiveled toward her. His eyes had acquired a strange glitter. It occurred to her suddenly that he didn’t look quite . . . sane. Then Schwarz’s comm unit light winked red and a man’s voice said faintly, “Schwarz?
12 Evidence retrieved. Arrest suspect at once. Acknowledge.” The policeman lifted his wrist to his mouth. “Acknowledged.” Pulling the restraints from his belt, he advanced on Reeve. The industrialist looked at Natalya, shrugged, withdrew his fist from his pocket, and opened his fingers. The gesture was so undramatic, so ordinary, it caught Natalya off guard. The hesitation cost her, and even as she dived, hands reaching, she knew she’d be too late. She landed awkwardly on the tiles, the thud of the impact almost drowning out the faint tinkle of glass shattering. Her right cheek stung and she touched it then looked at her fingers: blood. Pulse pounding, she retrieved a tiny shard. It had been a small glass phial. Natalya looked up at Reeve, who a worriedlooking Schwarz was clamping into restraints. “Too bad you won’t be around much longer than your cousin,” he said. Then he smiled. For a moment Natalya could only gape at him, then she rose, crossed to the nurses’ emergency call button, and pressed it. In the distance, an alarm began to sound. “Get on the comm, Sergeant,” she told Schwarz with a calmness she didn’t feel, “and tell them to quarantine this area. He’s just released a virus.”
atalya gazed at Emma through the glass. They had put her in the isolation unit next to Anya’s and brought her colleague back from Messier B. “It’s the same filovirus that infected your cousin,” came Emma’s voice over the speaker system. She paused then said awkwardly, “I’m sorry, Nat.” Natalya shrugged. She had expected as much. “How is Anya?” “A little better. Litton’s research notes have proved a godsend—the doctors are altering their treatment regime. Her blood pressure’s stabilized, which is a good sign, but she’s not out of the woods yet.” Emma sighed. “You know these filoviruses.” “Intimately, unfortunately.” Natalya tried to convince herself her thumping headache was a
Khimairal Ink reaction to stress and not the first symptom.
s the hours crawled past, boredom alternated with terror. At first, Natalya tried to take her mind off her predicament by reading a book, but when she realized she had read the same sentence ten times and still not taken in its meaning, she switched off her palmpad, lay back, and let her eyelids droop . . . “Wake up, Ms. Krestyanova. Good news.” She sat up with a start and blinked at the grey-haired doctor standing beside her bed. There was something different about him. It took her a moment to identify what it was—he was wearing ordinary hospital whites. “Your cousin’s much better.” He beamed at her. “She’s going to make a full recovery.” “That’s wonderful!” Hope surged through her but she fought against it. Just because Anya was recovering it didn’t mean . . . “Why aren’t you wearing a full protective suit?” “It’s no longer necessary. Your colleague at the LCDC has just sent over the results of her analysis and it seems Litton’s gene-splicer did a better job on the filovirus than even his employer realized.” The doctor chuckled. “That’s what happens when you pay for the best.” A baffled Natalya stared at him. “You say that like it’s a good thing.” “In this case, it is. The targeting mechanism is so precise it even includes Anya’s sexual preference.” “But she’s—” “Straight and you aren’t. My point exactly. Litton didn’t know his virus cared about that one way or the other. He thought all Krestyanovas were equally vulnerable. He was wrong.” The doctor talked on, his eyes bright with admiration for the skill that had gone into tailoring the genetic weapon, but Natalya was no longer listening. A feeling of intense relief was spreading through her; she was going to be all right.
atalya finished showing her temporary replacement how the system worked,
13 then wandered over to her colleague’s desk. “You’d better not stay away too long,” hissed Emma, shoving back her hair and grimacing at the sheep-faced young man now blinking at Natalya’s screen. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I have to be back for Reeve’s trial—Anya and I are witnesses for the prosecution.” She wondered whether she was making a fool of herself, travelling all that way with no guarantee things would turn out the way she wanted them to. “If it’s any help,” said Emma, divining her thoughts, “I think you’re doing the right thing. Asking Milena in person rather than over the Vidlink will show her you really mean it.” “What if she doesn’t want to make up and come home?” “If she wasn’t still interested, she wouldn’t have kept calling me to find out how you are, now would she?” Emma’s expression was smug. While Natalya was in isolation, she had taken it upon herself to contact Milena and tell her what Natalya was facing. At first, Natalya had been annoyed with Emma, but now . . . Her recent brush with death had revised her priorities. “Maybe,” she said. “Anyway,” continued Emma, “even if things don’t work out, at least you’ll have tried, Nat. ‘Fortune favors the brave’ and all that.” Natalya rolled her eyes. “Since you’ve moved on to platitudes, I’m leaving. Got a train to Kondratyuk to catch.” She checked her watch. The journey by monorail was long and complicated, but if the two of them ended up back together it would be worth it. “Wish me luck.” “With the train schedule or with Milena?” asked Emma, grinning. “Both.”
urtain opens on bedroom set. Comfortable double bed with cat lazing on it dominates stage left; stage center there is a wardrobe; right is occupied by a computer work station, seated at which is a woman, SAM, in dressing gown. SAM: <Reading from the screen to an unseen KAREN> Apparently GW’s latest nominee defined what was normal while in college. KAREN: <Offstage> No doubt with God’s help. What did he decide it is? SAM: I don’t think it’s us.
KAREN: No. I have to be up early. SAM: Presumably without the gourmet “show” loaf you promised to take to the party at work?
KAREN: <Offstage> Damn! Sam hits save on the screen and turns in swivel chair to face the door. SAM: I know. I’m disappointed too. KAREN: <enters> NO! Not that. This bloody bread maker is still too hot from the last lovely loaf I made. I’ve fed it all the ingredients and now it won’t let me set the program to start baking! SAM: Give it a few minutes to cool and try again.
KAREN: I’ll make it when the cat gets us up at six o’clock. SAM: Us? You must mean you and the cat. If you have to get up at six for bread, then you’re doing it without me. KAREN stands beside SAM. She leans over in what soon becomes an embrace. KAREN: If you’re not happy here, I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of your happiness. Off you go! Pack your bag!
15 SAM: Hugging me while you’re saying this is a bit of a mixed message.
Khimairal Ink drooling. Turn around. SAM: I defy you to find any drool anywhere.
KAREN: If you chose to take it that way. SAM: But you already mixed the ingredients and the yeast, right? So what happens if it sits there all night? KAREN: I’m going to bed. I am not going to be ruled by a bread maker.
KAREN: It’s all over. Drooling down all horrible and nasty. Horrible Person. I’m getting in bed. KAREN lifts blankets and slides under the covers. She looks up to see SAM has shut off the computer and moved to the side of the bed. SAM: Move over.
SAM: But this is your lovely cheese and herb bread to impress your lowly peons!
KAREN: I thought you were going to take care of my lovely bread?
KAREN: I am going to bed. SAM: <sighs> What program are you using . . . KAREN: You press menu twice, then press start, but you see, it WON’T!
SAM: I will. But in exchange I demand cuddling time. KAREN moves aside and Sam drops dressing gown and slides in. Cat grudgingly moves as well.
SAM: It will when it cools down. KAREN: You’re disturbing the cat. KAREN: <with a kiss> Thank you. Then I’m going to bed. KAREN shuts off light and begins to undress. She pauses. Sam is sitting in the chair, arms crossed, looking expectant.
SAM: The cat is already disturbed. KAREN: Years of living with you. I know how that can happen. SAM: The cuddling makes it worthwhile.
KAREN: Why are you still sitting there? KAREN: True. SAM: Floor show. KAREN: Don’t you . . . do that.
Their heads are now close together and they speak quietly.
SAM: You mean, watch you?
SAM: Only because I love you.
KAREN: Silly old moo.
SAM: Being a sex object after five years is a good thing.
SAM: I object to each of those words.
KAREN: No, it isn’t.
KAREN: You denying that you’re old? Silly? A Moo?
But KAREN continues to strip off her clothes. SAM: Absolutely lovely.
SAM: You’re a silly old bear. KAREN: <Growls>
KAREN: Look. I won’t have you leering and
KAREN rests her head on SAM’s shoulder and
16 both close eyes. Then Sam lifts her head. SAM: I need to make excelsior for tomorrow. Can I have your shredder?
Khimairal Ink KAREN: Not if I don’t know what you’re blathering on about. SAM: I thought you’d know. You’re the one with the English Lit degree.
KAREN: What . . . are you talking about? SAM: I want to shred that paper I bought for the egg baskets I’m making for the Easter party at the home. KAREN: Then why not say that?
KAREN: Yes, and it’s about useful subjects. Not what you blather on about. SAM: I am not blathering!
SAM: It was a perfectly logical sentence.
KAREN: And how am I going to get to sleep if you keep moving around and yapping away about shredded paper?
KAREN: It was not.
SAM: I agree. Less talk, more cuddling.
SAM: The shredded stuff you put the eggs in is called excelsior.
Again they settle in together. This time it is Karen who lifts her head.
KAREN: Maybe on your planet.
KAREN: Is the back door locked?
There is a pause.
KAREN: Yes, dear.
SAM: A banner with a strange device.
KAREN: Is it locked?
KAREN: Now you’re completely logical.
SAM: I’ll see when I check the bread maker.
SAM: It’s a poem by Longfellow.
KAREN: I don’t want anyone breaking in.
KAREN: Suddenly normal is becoming very attractive.
SAM: Maybe they’ll steal the bread maker and solve all my problems.
SAM: Normal would have you alone in this bed.
KAREN: If someone breaks in and steals the bread maker, you’ll have many more problems, believe me.
KAREN: And the bad part of that would be . . . ? SAM: You’re arguing a lot for someone who wanted to go to sleep and get up early. KAREN: Why couldn’t you just say, “I’d like to have your shredder to make some paper shreds for some Easter baskets for my old people.” Instead of blathering on. SAM: My sentence had less words and was more precise.
SAM: The insurance will cover it. KAREN: If you leave the door unlocked, the insurance won’t cover it. SAM: Nonsense. Even if a door is open, to walk in without permission is unlawful entry and to take something is theft. Got to be covered by theft insurance. KAREN: It isn’t.
17 SAM: We’re in the house, we have a right to have the door unlocked. KAREN: It isn’t covered. SAM: Is in Canada.
Khimairal Ink paper. We have pressed it through the finest screens, sifted it excruciatingly carefully and removed every nugget that could be gleaned. KAREN: So you say. Now you’ve upset the cat. <to cat which is standing on their bodies and glowering down at them both> Do you want to go out?
KAREN: If you hadn’t noticed, this isn’t Canada. SAM: I know I do. SAM: So, in Britain, if some guy comes to some old ladies’ door and says he’s the meter reader, shows some card, and while she’s making tea for him, robs her of everything, the insurance company will say, “we won’t pay because you’re stupid?” KAREN: It’s negligence on the part of the policy holder. SAM: The insurance companies would be in court all the time trying to prove or disprove stupidity on the part of policy holders.
KAREN: I was just getting comfortable and you have to move. SAM: I am not a mattress. KAREN: Of course you are. Let the cat out if you must get up. SAM extracts herself from under KAREN and swings legs over the side of the bed. SAM leaves room with cat sulkily following behind.
KAREN: Just lock the door. KAREN: Did the poor little mite go out? SAM: Why are we talking about theft? I’d have thought you’d be more worried about somebody sneaking in and coming into the room and going (makes PSYCHO’ stabbing noises.) KAREN: That too. Actually about now, I might welcome it. SAM: I will repeat this again, aren’t you trying to go to sleep? KAREN: Yes, but you keep going on about shredded paper.
SAM: <from offstage> The poor little mite slunk out with that charming air of “I despise you and I am going to a bigger house with nicer people and better food.” KAREN: Are you going to start my lovely bread? SAM: <enters and puts on dressing gown>No. I’m only heading toward the kitchen now to see if an inter-dimensional portal has opened up in the living room. SAM exits.
SAM: I am not going on. You keep dredging it up. KAREN: You can’t seem to say things clearly. SAM: Then I will be very clear. May I borrow the paper shredder tomorrow? KAREN: Of course. SAM: We have now dealt with the shredded
KAREN: Did it work? SAM enters bedroom and takes off dressing gown. KAREN: Did it Work? SAM: You mean that grinding mechanical bread machine type noise you hear? No, that’s just my teeth.
Khimairal Ink you know that?
SAM stands beside bed, which is now completely covered by sprawling KAREN. SAM waits.
KAREN: I love you too.
SAM ruefully shakes her head. They kiss, long and lovingly.
SAM: Is there any room in there for me?
SAM: Goodnight, Love.
KAREN: No, I’ve decided I need all of the bed.
SAM: Interesting decision. It will not stand up to reality.
Lights dim. There is silence until . . . KAREN: The door is locked, right?
KAREN: I am not fond of this reality. Curtain closes. KAREN moves over and SAM gets back into the bed. SAM: So you say. Often. KAREN: Lie flat, and stop moving about. KAREN prods and pushes SAM about until KAREN’s head is resting on SAM’s shoulders in the right position. SAM: Comfy? KAREN: If you’d stay still. SAM: My mother didn’t raise me to be a mattress. KAREN: Poor thing. SAM: My mother? KAREN: Her too. I feel her pain. Now be quiet and don’t talk about shredded paper. SAM makes strangled noise. KAREN: And the door is locked, right? SAM lifts her head to stare at her resting partner. KAREN: What? SAM: You! You’re enough to drive me normal,
hen you’re going to tell a story, for instance, it’s better to understand from the beginning that it will become a part of you. If you know that right off the bat, then there is a good chance that you won’t fight the particulars when they seep into your memory and bones; you won’t be embarrassed by the tenderness it can bring. After a certain age, stories become the solid part of living, taking up space where there was once schedules and heartache. A well-told story has a skin about it that will hold you upright against a lonely night or a raging betrayal. It will bleed for you and, in some stories, bring you just the right amount of love for the day, not to mention an interesting point or two. Story telling, like the one I am about to tell you, is sometimes meant for the faint of heart; the romantic who will sacrifice a few spare moments for a sweetness that can only be found in the words of a stranger.
y aunt, Lillian Sly, was a woman without
the borders of convention. In 1952, when she was twelve years old, she announced to her family and friends—including the minister at the First Presbyterian Church—that she would no longer answer to her given name, Lillian. If those who knew her would not call her “Lil” then she could not be held responsible to answer them. Oh, at first, her mother and father thought little of it, perhaps even found it a bit endearing. However, her older sister, Margaret, had a somewhat sordid theory. She believed, or at
21 least she told everyone, that Lillian had slipped from the doctor’s grasp and onto the floor during birth and that was the true malady from which her sister suffered. Although it was not true, Margaret felt relieved when her friends shined sympathy rather than disgust upon her for having such an odd and boisterous sister. Well, the family spent weeks humoring my aunt. Then it turned into an irritating attempt to remember what to call her and ended with an exasperating outburst on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon. “Lillian,” my grandmother bellowed, “I am your mother and I will not call you by any name other than your full name, which is a beautiful name; one that I picked out, although your father wanted to name you Ruth. Calling you Lil makes me think you should be wearing a feather boa and belting out bar songs in a saloon and I will not let that thought keep me awake every night for the rest of my life. There is no Lil, my child, only ‘Lillian,’ and you are her.” Well, my aunt promptly ignored my grandmother and, consequently, spent the next six nights during dinner in her room. My grandfather, the voice of reason, gently spoke to his wife at the end of a very long and disturbing week of evening meals. “Mary, honey, we cannot continue to keep the child from dinner, can we? Don’t you think we need to be concerned about starvation at some point? She looks a little skinnier to me and . . .” So it was, that Lil came to dinner the next night. And for every day and night thereafter, she would be known, and called, Lil Sly. Aunt Lil was a square girl who would grow up to be a big, strong, and agile woman. She wore what she wanted, despite the cajoling of her mother and embarrassment of her sister, and she drank heavily at any early age. In high school, her friends were college women and people with jobs in odd places. Her best friend, incidentally mistaken as her boyfriend for years, was Simon, a lanky mortician with a persistent rash on the bridge of his nose from thick black glasses. They would talk for hours about mathematics or Europe while playing chess at the dining room table. Lil could make me hysterical when I was a
Khimairal Ink girl by imitating my mother; nose in the air with a look that always suggested there was dogshit somewhere within stepping distance of her shoe. She was a loyal friend and companion, a smart and worthy opponent, and a woman steeped in esteem, although God only knows why. It is like that sometimes. Out of an ordinary seed, some act of mystification will collide with a natural kind of fate to form something precious yet, unbreakable. She had no looks to speak of and could not have cared less what others thought of her. She never raised her voice that I can remember and was more honest than any other living soul. That is why it was no surprise when the nineteen year old Lil decided to tell her family what it was that she had discovered about herself in 1959. It was on a Friday in May and, just like every other day, Lil had walked home from her factory job at the Staley plant. Her heart, however, was weary on this particular afternoon from trying to get out of her chest and onto her sleeve. Like sleeping on the unused side of a well-worn bed, she couldn’t quite get comfortable in the covers of her skin and finally she knew why. For years, she had known that she was not like other women and it had taken her the better part of that time to figure it out. Despite her mother’s pleadings, she had never had a boyfriend and had never wanted one. That part was simple enough and she rarely thought about her future and whether or not she would be lonely. Still, Lil yearned for a life that was not yet defined and she had no words for it, at least until that Friday. Earlier on that day, Lil sat in the break room drinking the remnants of a cup of coffee she had nursed for most of the morning. The hangover and late night she had was making it hard for her to give a damn one way or another about much of anything. Co-workers, Toni and Lana, walked in the door, followed by a few of the other women coming in for morning break as well. Whether it was fate or God or stars colliding is still a mystery but, in the shortest blink of an eye, Lil glanced up in time to see her future in the shape of one Patsy McGuire. Now, that may sound like a dime store novel but most of life, when told properly, has a lot of dime store qualities to it so bear with me.
22 Patsy was a gum-chewing, lipstick-laced beauty with an easy gait that caused most people to stop and take notice. She wore bright scarves and tight sweaters with men’s pants and red fingernail polish. Rumor had it that she was a war-bride-turned-widow but the truth of the matter was that Patsy had never been married and, believe me, it wasn’t in her plans. Lil felt her stomach stir and, for a moment, considered that it might’ve been last night’s highballs. But, as she watched Patsy saunter across the room and throw a knowing glance right back at her, she knew it wasn’t the booze at all. Sometimes, when some thing so small occurs, you might wonder if your life would’ve come out the same if that moment—that event—had not happened. Thankfully, you never know the answers to such questions. The full feeling of a heart finally set into motion is an enlightening experience. Lil stared at Patsy and every other woman in the room until she came to understand what she had somehow always known. Life had finally righted itself for my aunt and now she had to go about making that life, not with the man of her mother’s dreams, but with the woman of her own. First, however, she had to set the record straight. When Lil walked in the front door of her childhood home that afternoon, she bellowed for anyone who could hear within a city block. “I need a family meeting after dinner.” Then she picked up the phone and called Simon first, and then my mother, Margaret, telling them that she had an announcement and wanted them to come over right after dinner. My mother had married my father nine months before and was now very pregnant with yours truly, due any day, but she agreed to be there at six-thirty. After all, it wasn’t every day that Lillian Sly was going to speak to her family and hardly any of them could contain their curiosity. Precisely on the half-hour, everyone gathered with their coffee in the living room and my Aunt Lil delivered this speech. “It’s a simple thing I am about to tell you and you may not understand it. I have come to know something about myself that you should all know as well so you will never have to won-
Khimairal Ink der about me. I do not like men—no offense, Simon—at least, in the ways that most women do but I have discovered that I do like women— in that way. Therefore, I will not be looking for a husband, no small surprise there, but will choose a mate that pleases me from my own sex. There is no one in particular that I am ready to discuss with you at present but, now that I know my true nature, I would expect that I will find my . . . woman . . . in the near future.” Lil sat down after speaking what was on her mind and, to this day, my mother still swears that you could hear a hummingbird suckling two houses down. It is safe to say after that fateful day, the discussions about Lil went on for years but she was not usually in the room at the time. Oh, there was the initial uprising of drama but that’s the dime store stuff I spoke of earlier. Mostly, our family was in shock to the point of being stupefied and by the time they were thawed, Lil was in earnest pursuit of Patsy. Besides, someone actually living an honest life in the Sly household was a novelty and there was much to learn from it. I would venture to guess that Aunt Lil’s frank revelation brought a whole new closeness to my nuclear family and, if they would’ve had the presence of mind to say it, might’ve thanked her for the fodder. As it was, they just holed up in their houses at the end of the day and whispered aloud what they were truly thinking. “How do they . . . ?” “Where does she . . . ?” “Can you imagine . . . ?” But how can anyone truly imagine another person’s unbridled joy? And, oh, how joyous they were. Eighteen years, almost to the day, it was that Lil and Patsy were together till 1977 when another act of fate split the pair like ripened halves of a Christmas walnut. It was a day when the particulars of an event would bring my Aunt Lil into a moment of pain that would last her lifetime. Early on a Saturday when they were supposed to go to breakfast with my mother and father, Patsy woke up before sunrise, complaining of stomach pains. She got up to find Tums and Aunt Lil rolled over to sleep. Two hours later, at six o’clock, Lil found Patsy dead on the bathroom floor from a massive heart attack.
23 She was forty-three years old. Now, when the heart resigns itself to sorrow, its veins and arteries are filled with a dense and lugubrious grief that changes the very sound of its beating. It is that solemn change in the beating of life that keeps you in mourning long after someone is dead. As you might’ve guessed, this thick-blooded presence became my Aunt Lil. She walked the streets at night and stood knee-deep in the lake on the west end of town; she sat in the last row of any place she went and did not return phone calls to anyone. She listened for Patsy and forgot to eat; she drank until she fell asleep sitting at the kitchen table and didn’t shower before going to work. She lived without being present until the darkness passed and she finally stopped struggling to see Patsy in everything around her. Life was different but it slowly began to crawl back into its rightful speed. Aunt Lil grew past Patsy’s passing but not her memory. She put away her intimacies, trading them for a careful and thorough stance in my eighteen year old life; a life that was, well, that’s the next part of the story.
here are times when the first thing that happens is the last thing you expect. Then there are other times when the things you thought could never happen, do. Both of these truisms applied to my parents, Douglas and Margaret Atwood, or Dusty and Mitts, as they affectionately referred to each other. In 1958, the first time these two recent college graduates had sex—after marriage, of course—they got pregnant with me. Then in the late 70s, when all of my friends were getting married, I sat down with Dusty and Mitts to inform them that I was a lesbian. My mother commented that she did not know how such a thing could happen again in one family and wondered if it was in our genes or the result of some vitamin that she had taken while pregnant. My father asked me to go fishing. “Uh, Dad, I said, I’m a lessssbiiiiiaannnn. I like women, not fish.” Thankfully, that was the end of that discussion. After the initial quaking wore off, my family settled into a generic acceptance that there were two lesbians in the family; one at full gal-
Khimairal Ink lop and the other at the starting gate. My grandmother was sure that having Aunt Lil as one of my role models had somehow affected my ability to be straight but I knew the truth. I knew back in 1971, when I was twelve years old, that the sound and feel of women would define me and draw me into a place of sensual refuge. The alternative was just too awkward and unnatural to consider. My parents named me Shirley Delores Atwood after the actress Shirley Temple but, like Aunt Lil, I would forever be called Leedee because anything else would, well, just be too awkward and unnatural to consider. People call me a “beauty,” like my mother, and I could sense her uneasiness with the close resemblance ever since she found out that I was girl-crazy. It doesn’t fit to her that a beautiful woman, especially one who looks like her, would only have eyes for another woman. Me, on the other hand, I live for that. I was—and am—an admittedly hopeless romantic. Back then, I was frequently in love again for the last time, and my Aunt Lil was always there with a word of encouragement when I needed it. As far back as my memory stretches, she and Patsy were my mentors, role models and surrogate parents. After I had identified myself as a lesbian and Patsy had died, Lil and I became even closer. I knew that I somehow reminded Lil of Patsy in those first fresh days of grief and, while it might have been a painful awareness for her, she ultimately took comfort in that fact. She looked so intently at me sometimes, like she was catching a glimpse of a familiar ghost, and then she’d fall into a distant stare, shaking it off after a moment or so. Lil never told me what she was thinking at those times. I guess I mostly believed that Patsy was sending her grief-stricken lover a message that there is memory and connection after death, that she is never far away, and that life is worth living because of those very facts. After all, most of the things that we truly know we learned from those who are already gone. As the grief of Patsy spread through me, I came face-to-face with greatest loss of my young life, my apparent inability to love. Never truly loving is a cruel and square thing. It is hard-edged and razor sharp. Even thinking of it
24 caused me to stumble inward without direction and lose balance. My greatest fear is that I would never know the kind of love that I saw between my aunts and how I ached to have the kind of love that they had experienced. I wanted someone to caress my fingers and bring me spring flowers for no reason at all; someone I would long for until she filled the void that no one else could touch. It seemed, however, that I was just slightly off the mark when it came to finding a mate, especially after Patsy died. The women that I had chosen were strong enough—beautiful in ways that I liked—but when it came right down to it, each one of them had that “something” about her, something that I could not put my finger on, that did not make for a lasting relationship. Then again, maybe it was not the women I had chosen at all. Maybe it was me who placed each relationship under a microscope until I could label it “broken” and shelve it with the rest of the experiments. It’s a sure-fire way to stay away from people if you think about it. Anyhow, ten years and three broken relationships later, I was twenty-nine years old and sure that I was putting out signals of desperation or some other dysfunction but Lil didn’t believe that was the case. “You’re just not ready to see it yet, Leedee.” She told me this one rainy afternoon while we were having a late lunch at Swannies’ bar beside the plant where Lil worked. “What ‘it,’ Lil?” I asked. “Ah, well now, there’s the question, isn’t it, Doll?” “Okay, what’s the answer?” Lil thought for a good long while before she finally spoke. “Sandra Dee’s lips.” Pause. “What?” “Sandra Dee’s lips.” Well, she had said it again and it made no more sense to me than the first time that she said it. “I don’t real . . .” “I had looked at Patsy for months before I truly noticed her, you know? And, when I finally did really see her, the first thing that I noticed was that she had lips like Sandra Dee. Now I
Khimairal Ink can’t tell you why that affected me the way it did but I can tell you that, once I saw her lips, all I thought about was kissing her. After that, the rest was easy.” Easy? We obviously didn’t know the same women. Just as I was about to speak, Lil raised her hand to stop me. “Just hang on, Leedee, and see if you can make sense of this. I don’t mean that the relationship was easy. Lord knows, in eighteen years, Patsy and I had our ups and downs. But even when things were tough, we managed. That’s because we had found something in each other when we first met that was unlike anything else we could’ve found in anyone else. We hung on to what we’d found, knowing that it could never be replaced. That’s what kept us—or any other couple for that matter— together. Take your Mom and Dad, for instance. Who but Dusty could put up with Mitts, right? When you or I look at your mom, we see a prissy woman with a wide board up her butt but your dad? He sees a young and winsome prom queen with gorgeous eyes. When he remembers what he loves about her, then he remembers to honor her and makes room for her odd and quirky ways. Now, there’s a love that lasts, Leedee; an unconditional love that has a long memory about the best of who we are. I got to know the woman behind the Sandra Dee lips and, as a result, fell in love with so much more.” As my aunt spoke, I remembered the number of times I had seen my father softly touch the tiny lines beside my mother’s eyes with his forefingers and whisper, “Beautiful,” as he passed her in the kitchen or hallway. I felt relieved and embarrassed about realizing the intimacies that I had witnessed for years and wanted to say so but Lil began to hone in on what her point truly was—me. “I’ve watched you move in and out of relationships with some pretty fine women, Honey, but never one that you truly saw for who she was. It always looked as if you were working so hard at having the ‘relationship’ that you forgot that you were supposed to be loving somebody. Before you choose another woman, you may want to know her well enough to see what it is that attracts you. Be ready to accept her as she is, not how you want her to be. That way, when
25 things are tough, you will think the best of her by remembering what you love about her. The relationship will take care of itself.” She was right, of course. Born a romantic, I also knew that I was lessthan-stellar in the romance department; always getting hung up on the details without truly enjoying the ride. But what if I stopped weighing and measuring every last ounce of each relationship? Wouldn’t I have to be vulnerable without knowing that things were going to work out? That’s like trusting God or somebody to make sure that the “right” thing is happening to me. And why in the world would I do that? Lil read my mind as I was sorting through my possible changes and simply said, “You can’t control anything, Leedee. You can only busy yourself thinking that you can. Love somebody, child. Find somebody who makes you forget that you ever wanted any control. That’s the woman with Sandra Dee’ lips.” Right again. “What if she dies?” I blurted. If this question startled Lil, she never let on. She was quiet for a long time before looking me squarely in the eyes. When she spoke, it was quiet and sure. “We all die, Leedee, that’s a fact. Not one of us will take one more breath than God intended. It’s what we do while we are here that makes the difference. And it’s how we love those we love that matters. The rest is just icing on the cake.” My aunt’s words hung with me for the better part of a week as I weighed and examined my carefully measured life. Lil had seemed awfully sure about what I needed but I felt mostly confused and preoccupied which is about how I was one Tuesday afternoon, standing in an uncommonly long line at the corner drug. Holding an armful of necessities, I shuffled through the line as if I were in a concentration camp, staring at the tabloid headlines for signs of my life. “Excuse me?” I heard a voice surface into my thoughts and furrowed my brow with agitation. Mustering my best intimidation, I slowly turned to level my gaze at the intruder and let her know that I had placed her at end of my “I
Khimairal Ink don’t give -a shit” list. You may have guessed by now that that is not what happened at all. She was the kind of drop-dead gorgeous that only a true lesbian can understand; arms meant to hold someone and enough legs to wrap a body around with a smile that answered every question I had. She was unflappable and my most feeble attempt to give her the “glare” was met with the sweetest dimpled smirk I had ever encountered. “I . . . uh . . . well, you shou . . . er . . . can I . . . hmmm . . .” I seemed to have lost my ability to speak and she, standing there grinning, was quite content to let me flounder. That is a trait that I can honestly say she still has to this day, twenty-six years later. Now, sometimes, the particulars about a story aren’t always important; it’s more the outcome that’s likely to stand out. I could tell you about our first kiss or give you the details of our lengthy and sometimes turbulent courtship. I could spin you a yarn about our many fights or fill you with information about how Mitts and Dusty loved Kit as their own. All of it, however, would pale in comparison to telling you what we created and accomplished in our life together; that together we somehow became lovely and invincible; we defied the laws of emotional gravity and wound up asleep in our own wellworn bed. From the moment that I knew Kit, I never lost sight of my aunt Lil’s words to love and cherish what I loved about her. Years later, watching her in the garden or seeing her doze in her favorite chair, I am struck by her profile, her hands, and the comforting memory of her breath in my hair. My “Sandra Dee lips” are the soft lines around her ever-twinkling eyes and the softness of her cheek. Those particulars of hers have been my mainstay for all these many years, I am a better woman for it, and I owe that bit of insight and wisdom to my aunt Lil.
ust like any other ending that catches people somewhere between the head and heart, this one is just what you’d expect. Six months ago, Lil called Kit and me to
26 come to dinner at her home. It was the middle of the week and, as anyone from around here knows, there must be something brewing if it’s a “weekday” meal you’ve been invited to. After dinner, Lil sat in her rocking chair and, with a distant light in her eyes, she told us that it was almost time for her to become reacquainted with Patsy. The wistful happiness on her face was undeniable as she explained the diagnosis and just how much time she might have left. When she finished speaking, she pulled me into her arms—a gesture that she had become famous for—and whispered into my ear as she held me ever so close. “I am not worried about you, Leedee, and I don’t want you to worry about me either, ok? I am going exactly where I want to go, you understand? And when I do, I promise to take a small piece of your heart with me to share with Patsy until you join us in a hundred years or so.” My tears spilled onto Lil’s shirt sleeve as I hugged her tight around the neck. “How do I do this, Lil? Let you go, I mean? I’ll be so scared without you and who will keep me alive and strong?” Lil shook loose from me enough to hold my face in between her big, warm hands. “Listen to me, Doll, it’s you that’s kept me alive and strong for so long. If not for you, I would’ve ended my life years ago from sheer grief alone. You have never stood in my shadow, girl. You blazed your own trail. I am just the
Khimairal Ink woman who helped you find the path. I promise, you’ll be fine.” Well, it was just two Saturdays ago that I sat by Lil’s bed, reading one of her favorite stories to her. As I paused to turn a page, I glanced toward the now-small figure propped up between the pillows and instinctively took her hand in mine. Lil stared straight into my eyes and whispered, “I wish you could see her, Leedee. She’s still got those lips . . .” After those words, she barely uttered a sound as she slipped into the next world where Patsy, my grandparents, and my father were waiting to greet her. The room was strangely still and I realized that my life would sound forever different now that Lillian Sly had left it. And the same is true about a good story as well. Once it’s spoken, it permanently alters the way we listen to the next thing we hear or maybe it changes the way we love. However we are affected, it is in the telling of such things that will make us who we are for all to see. And, if we’re lucky, it may also make someone fall in love with the shape of our lips or cause us to remember a beloved aunt who taught us the meaning of life.
al Zeeran clasped the Bronco's steering wheel with one hand while she swiped at the tears on her cheeks with the other. Moisture overflowed her gray eyes faster than she could clear them. A highway rest stop, set in a thicket of trees, came into her blurred view, and the danger of driving while crying urged her into the exit lane. She pulled into the parking lot and turned off the motor. Propping her elbows on the steering wheel and splaying her fingers through short, dark curls, she bowed her head and let the sorrow wash over her. Eventually, she fumbled blindly for the overhead visor, flipped it down, and yanked tissues from the attached holder. Get a grip, woman, she thought. You're thirty-five years old and acting like a baby. When her tears ended, she dried her face and peered at her surroundings through swollen eyes. Weathered wooden picnic benches squatted among the trees in a loose semicircle that looped around a bright yellow cement-block building. Squares of tan, crisscrossed slats
enclosed the restroom entrances on opposite sides of the building, with oval signs identifying “Ladies” on the left and “Men” on the right. Val appeared to be the only visitor to the rest
28 stop. She trudged toward the Ladies sign, passed the slatted wood, and entered the green door. Overhead fluorescent tubes lit the plain white interior, illuminating three stalls opposite the door and two sinks against the left wall, with a mirror above them. Val used a toilet, then washed her hands at a sink. She looked into the mirror with a grimace at her mournful appearance, then her anger flared. Dammit, Marti, you should be here with me. We were supposed to be on this vacation together. She flung cold water on her face, dried it roughly with paper towels ripped from their holder, and went back outside. Fidgety with nervous energy, she angled through the tables and stomped along the perimeter of the treecovered area. Near the highway's edge, a patch of fuzzy brown material dangled from a cable that stretched between the I-beams. She was too wrought up to be curious, but her trek took her closer to the material. She gazed down at it, taken aback for a moment by its childlike shape. A lump formed in her throat when she recognized it as a teddy bear. Marti collects teddy bears . . . Forget about Marti! The bear's covering had retained most of its brown coloring and fuzzy texture, but a clump of cotton stuffing, gray and lumpy, spilled from a burst seam. Val surprised herself by untangling the bear from the cable and pulling it close to her body. She walked to the nearest picnic table and laid the bedraggled bear on its top. Then she swung her legs over the attached bench and sat down. Poor Teddy. Where's the child who cared about you? Did she get angry and throw you away? Like Marti did to me? Val's gut wrenched. She was as much to blame for their separation as Marti, maybe more so. But that didn't stop the hurtful thought. She settled her forearms on the table and stared at her clasped hands. Marti would want to take the bear in and heal its wounds. Like she healed me. Old memories reeled slowly across the screen of her mind-taking her back five years . . .
oneliness drove Val to the poetry club meeting. Her partner, Erin, had often dragged her to the monthly meetings where a few professional, but mostly amateur, poets met. The members discussed poetic form and function, read their original works to each other, and tried to be supportive while honestly critiquing each other's efforts. Following the meetings, they socialized over coffee and donuts. But six months ago a drunken driver had ripped Erin and her poetry from this earth, and Val had struggled ever since to cope with a world dimmed by her partner's loss. Now here she sat at the Poetry Club, thoroughly engrossed. A woman about her own age, with long, blonde hair and sensitive brown eyes, was reciting a poem that dove directly into Val's soul. The world turns dim and cheerless When the sun begins to set; Predicting nightfall, with its dreams Of sorrow and regret. You brought your light to my life, And spread sunshine from above; You led me from destructive paths And helped me learn to love. Then left me, heart forsaken-Oh! How could you e'er forget? How desperately I need you, when The sun begins to set. Achingly touched by the poem, Val almost forgot to applaud and barely heard the critique that followed. Afterward, the club members and guests moved toward the back of the room where a few tables held refreshments. Val remained hunched over in her chair, staring at the floor, yearning for her lost lover. “Would you like some coffee?” The unexpected voice startled Val, and her body jerked as her gaze leaped upward. She knew the stark loneliness she was feeling must be etched on her face, for she saw the blonde poetess hesitate. Then the woman spoke again. “Sorry, if I'm disturbing you . . .” “No,” Val replied. “I mean yes.” She felt her
29 face flush, and she stood up so abruptly that the smaller woman took a step back. “I mean, no, you're not disturbing me, and yes, I would like some coffee.” She recovered enough grace to extend her hand. “My name's Val Zeeran, and I really liked your poem, Ms . . .” “Forget the 'Ms.' Just call me Marti. Marti Redmond.” Val shook hand and then moved with her toward the refreshment area. “Thank you for the compliment.” Marti's smile warmed Val as they got their coffee and settled at one of the tables. “I just joined the club last month. Are you a member?” Val cleared her throat and stared down at her styrofoam coffee cup. “No. I came here often with a friend. She used to write poetry.” “Used to?” “She was killed six months ago in a car accident.” Val took a deep breath. It was still so hard to say out loud. Beautiful, loving Erin. Center of my life. Dead. Gone. Forever. “I'm so sorry.” Marti patted Val's forearm then squeezed it gently. “Did my poetry remind you of hers?” “Not really. But your poem expresses exactly the way her loss has affected me. I feel abandoned, bereft. Strangely, though, the poem also makes me feel better; as if I've finally taken the first step toward acceptance.” Marti nodded. “I tried to imagine what it would be like to lose someone you love. I'm glad I've helped you.”
'm glad I've helped you. A stiff breeze rustled the tree leaves, rousing Val from her reverie, but a smile lingered from her recollection of their first meeting. Marti had walked right into the void left by Erin's passing. She hadn't replaced Erin; she had formed a place uniquely her own, and with loving patience, she had healed Val's lonely heart. They discovered that they were alike enough to get along well together and different enough to keep their love fresh and interesting. For five years, they had done almost everything together. They were inseparable. Then, on Monday, they had a rare argument, and each said terribly nasty things to the other.
Khimairal Ink Marti calmed down first and wanted to discuss it; but Val, the volatile one, refused. Too hurt to talk, she avoided Marti during the day and slept in the guest room at night. All week long, neither had talked to the other, and Val vacillated between wanting to patch things up and getting angry all over again. This morning, Saturday, the anger had won, and here she was, heading alone for the vacation they had planned together. If Marti wants to come, she can get there on her own. Val squirmed at the uncharacteristic meanness of her thought. She and Marti had never been mean to each other . . . until Monday. Maybe everything could be settled once she agreed to discuss it with Marti. If I can get the guts to do that, Val thought. But how do I know whether she still wants to? Val only knew for sure that the hum of joy she usually felt from their love had turned into dead silence. And that scared her. She heard some chattering and saw a family opening a picnic basket several tables away: mother, father, and three children. The smallest, a boy who looked about five years old, noticed her gaze. While his parents were occupied with putting out food, he darted over to Val's table. She smiled at him as he turned a frowning look toward the table. “Your teddy bear's broken,” he said. “Yes, it is,” she agreed. He climbed up on the opposite bench and began to shove the stuffing back through the burst seam. “What's your name?” Val asked. “Tony,” he replied, intent on his repairs. Val watched him work awkwardly. After his fourth attempt, he looked up and pushed the bear toward her. “Will you help me?” “Sure, let's give it a try.” She directed Tony's hands as they pushed the stuffing back into the bear's body, bringing fullness to the arms and legs as they worked. From the corner of her eye, Val saw the boy's mother point toward her, and the father came over. Val looked up at him, and the man nodded and smiled, which she took as permission for her and his son to continue their project. Finally, although the open seam still gaped, all the stuffing had been
30 replaced. The bear actually looked halfway decent. She debated whether to give Tony the bear, and then decided he shouldn't be offered a gift from a stranger. “Thanks for your help,” she said. Tony looked at her with obvious delight that the bear was in better shape. He touched the split seam with a careful finger. “He needs something to heal his hurt.” Val sucked in a quick breath, then nodded. “You're right. He needs sewed back together. I'll have to get a needle and thread somewhere.” The boy smiled, climbed down from the table, and slipped his hand into his father's. Val met the man's eyes. “Your son's a very caring boy.” “Thank you,” the man said, then he and Tony waved and walked away. Val sat at the table for about ten more minutes, musing over Tony's last remark. How many little kids ever say “heal”? It mirrored her own thoughts when she first saw the torn and battered teddy bear. Was it some kind of omen that he happened to blurt out that specific word? Or just a coincidence? For Pete's sake, woman. You could sit here for eternity mulling over this. Get off your duff and get going. Clasping her fingers across the bear's burst seam, she picked it up. She returned to her car, laid the teddy gently on the front passenger seat, and drove away.
Khimairal Ink Two hours later, Val stood in front of her and Marti's apartment door, with the teddy bear propped in one arm. Uneasy about entering, she pushed the buzzer instead. She heard a noise and knew Marti was looking through the security peephole. She held her breath, wondering if the door would even be opened. A click relieved that part of her apprehension, but when the door swung in and a sober-faced Marti appeared, Val had to force her voice through a tightened throat. She pointed a finger toward the broken teddy bear. “Here's someone who's hurting and needs help to get healed.” Then she aimed the finger toward herself. “Two someones.” Marti’s brown eyes gazed at the forlorn teddy bear then back at Val. One corner of her mouth twitched, whether from amusement or nervousness, Val couldn’t tell. But Marti opened the door wider. Val, her heart thudding so hard she thought it must be visible, stepped through and held out the teddy bear. She nearly moaned when Marti moved forward and embraced them both.
Barbara Davies Barbara Davies lives in the English Cotswolds. Her fiction has appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradleyâ€™s Fantasy Magazine, nanobison, Neometropolis, Spaceways Weekly, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Shred of Evidence, and HandHeldCrime, among others, and in the anthologies F/SF Vol 1, Crossings, and Ideomancer Unbound.
Sias Bryant Sias Bryant is quite possibly the busiest writer in her own head that you would ever want to meet. In her writing, she is wild about quirky romantics, odd women of questionable repute, and otherwise industrious, wise o' dames. Look closely and you will see her just about everywhere you go. Sias is the one in comfortable shoes who most likely gave your lesbian aunt her first real kiss.
Kam Caddell Kam Caddell is an ex-pat Canadian, living very happily in England with a partner who bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to any character in any short story. At all. Kam creates activity and exercise programs for nursing homes and prefers editing other people's work to writing.
Nann Dunne Nann Dunne, an editor for 28 years, turned to fiction writing eight years ago and considers herself a constant student of the craft of fiction writing and editing. Her published works include several short stories and the novels, True Colours, Many Roads to Travel, and Staying in the Game; her most recent novel is the historical romance, The War Between the Hearts. Nann is Editor-in-Chief and publisher of the online newsletter, Just About Write (http://www.justaboutwrite.com), which promotes lesbian writers, books, and publishers and offers articles aimed at improving the writing craft.
Trish Ellis Trish Ellis is a Canadian girl who has lots of passion for her art. She started drawing at a very young age, learning new tips and techniques throughout the years making her a stronger artist today. Her stubborness not to accept failure helps her strive to be the best that she can be.
T.J. Mindancer Mindancer sharpens her pencil and puts it to paper for relaxation and for the occasional illustration emergency.