Copyright © 2013 by Michael Litzky
When the climbing sun finally left her face completely, Lavinia sighed a long sigh and moisture pooled at the edges of her eyes.
“Darling?” Sally said, and was reminded with a sudden guilty pang of KerriAnne. She’d never called Lavinia “darling” before because of that stupid game (how had it started?) where she and her sister called each other “Boss” and “Darling.”
“Mmmm, yeah tiger?” Lavinia was half asleep, her face luminous. Shaking off the sudden, irrational dread that came with the thought of her sister, Sally said to Lavinia, “It seems like you’re better again, love. How do you feel?”
“Really really really-really-really good…” she answered in a voice of golden honey.
Sally stroked Lavinia’s neck. “I was thinking, if you want, of trying to take you outside.” She frowned slightly as she said “outside.” “Into the full sunshine,” she clarified. But Lavinia said nothing. She was asleep.
She’d been so afraid of going to sleep that Sally just let her sleep. Her face was free of suffering and of defensive tough wit. The scars from the splitting skin had healed over and even her nose looked less flattened. As she gazed tenderly, Sally let herself hope again that enough sunlight might eventually cure her.
Over the ocean waves Sally heard happy kid noises. She smiled and played a sweet fantasy: the little girl would see her and Lavinia kissing in the sun and point and say “Dust wike Mommy Daddy.”
She thought about kids she’d grown up with. She and KerriAnne (who was just Carrie then) hadn’t played much with other kids because they’d been doing homework for parents who demanded perfect grades in every class. At the thought of her sister, she felt again a vague dread.
Reluctantly, not really expecting any signal, she pulled out her phone and turned it on for the first time in over a week (it had been a blessing to ignore it completely). She was surprised to see one bar.
She was not surprised to see that she had seven messages and twenty four texts. She knew without checking that they’d be from her sister. She felt the usual affection and irritation, mixed with weary guilt. She had not the faintest desire to return the calls, though she knew she would have to.
She put away the phone, suddenly tired and near tears. She’d been wounded in love many times but it was her sister who truly broke her heart.
Lavinia had tried to talk about KerriAnne once. “What is it with you and that sister of yours? She sounds like a real piece of work.” But she’d warned Lavinia off, even though part of her cried with relief to hear someone else say it. In fact, one of their few really fierce arguments had been over her damn sister. But now she wanted to hear Lavinia’s thoughts. If I’m going to lead, I have to know when to ask for help.
She wanted to wake Lavinia up but she had made a promise: Next time you sleep, I’ll stay by your side, loving you and knowing who you are. Of course what she really wanted now was to talk to Lavinia or go walk on the beach while she slept. Also she was tired and her back had a sore spot. As she piled pillows behind her, she wondered how she actually should go about keeping her promise. How do you “know who someone is” while they sleep?
She suddenly noticed something in the tangled blankets on the bed beside Lavinia’s chest, not far from the unzipped breast pocket on her jacket. A rectangle of paper, a business card. It must have fallen out while she was undulating. She was about to tuck it back in, gently, when the artwork caught her eye.
A closed glass door, with the outline of a heart surrounded by flames visible through it, outside. And inside, a little fairy woman, about the size of a cat, saying, “Welcome. Come in.”
Her breath went out in a puff. Her dream, made visible, on a card printed to look like parchment, in Lavinia’s jacket pocket.
Small letters were printed across the bottom. For an instant she was sure they would say “Fliegt heim ihr Raben.” But it was just an address. In San Francisco, not in Germany.
She stopped herself from waking Lavinia to ask her about it. Gently, she slipped it back into Lavinia’s pocket. She wondered if Lavinia had even known it was there. If she had, why hadn’t she mentioned it?
But I never told her about either dream.
Looking at the sleeping face, she summoned up memories of who Lavinia was. This was the woman who looked into her eyes as they made love, who shared her love of opera and physics and walking in the sun and old movies. This was the brainy woman who liked poking around in odd corners of human knowledge, who read the New York Times and listened to the BBC News when she could (but claimed it was only because she had a crush on the voice of Razia Iqbal). This was the woman who had turned her on to bagels and lox, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Persepolis. This was the woman who had been open to learning about huitlacoche, Nine Inch Nails, Tee Corrinne and Barbara Sukowa chanting “Mitternacht” (“Fuck, she also worked with Fassbinder!” “Really? Did that old hippie who sold you the jacket date her too?”)
This was the woman who had given Sally her most cherished compliment. “Jeez, kid, how’d you get so wise? I was an emotional dunce at your age. There’s stuff I’ve only figured out in the last five years and you just get it without trying. What makes you tick?”
Sally had tried to look modest as she hungrily she lapped up the praise. “I don’t know. But maybe that’s why I’ve always been drawn to older … lovers.”
Lavinia knew by then that Sally was a lesbian-leaning bisexual who was essentially monogamous but who kept getting dumped, just as Sally knew that Lavinia had slept with a man exactly once, had had torrid affairs with lots of different women, had even co-founded a women-only play party called Sapphisticated and had given up on love and sex about two years ago. Lavinia had smiled. “You look for guys or girls who are as smart and emotionally developed as you and they’re twenty years older?” Sally nodded, glad that Lavinia had been the one to say it.
“And then they dump you.” Lavinia had added, “Probably ‘cause they can’t stand a lover who’s so damn smart and emotionally developed.”
Sally nodded now in rueful affection. “But you didn’t run,” she whispered to the sleeping Lavinia. “You’re my Lavinia and you’ll stay Lavinia. I’m your Sally, your tiger and I’ll fight for you.”
Sexual yearning ached in her middle. She was giving herself body and soul to the service of another, just like in her fantasies and the love-games she and Lavinia had played. But she was giving herself to someone worthy of her, someone who truly needed her. The fact that she wanted to walk on the beach but was here keeping her promise only fed that new fire. This is what devotion is. This is keeping your commitments. Not easy, but deeply satisfying.
Then she saw that Lavinia looked troubled, as if she were wrestling with something in her dreams. No, that was too strong. It was more like she saw something in the distance which disturbed her. But Sally didn’t like it. This was exactly what they’d both feared.
“You’re still welcome in my home, babe,” she said softly. “You’re always welcome. I want you in my life, ‘till I’m old and gray. You’re my wife. I’ll find a way to marry you. You’re Lavinia Starr. Your parents are…” Oh, shit, what had Lavinia said her parents were named? “Sorry babe, I forgot, but your dad is dead and your mom is living in Florida.”
Was this helping at all? She looked searchingly at Lavinia’s face. Maybe it was nothing but she thought she saw it again: the sense that the dreamer saw something far off that frightened her. She touched Lavinia’s face. Lavinia moaned, very faintly. The world seemed to go pale, chillingly void, the hissing of the ocean only a hollow echo.
That does it, Sally thought. She firmed herself to wake Lavinia up, ready to fire off the words of welcome.
She put her hand on Lavinia’s shoulder, shook it firmly. “Wake up, my Lavinia, my welcome Lavinia, my wife.” Then, moved by impulse, she added, “I’m Sally Yan, your tiger, your wife, and I call you back to me. Your home is here with me.”
Lavinia shivered from head to toe and under her closed lids her eyes flickered wildly, like she couldn’t find her way.
Suddenly terrified, Sally couldn’t find Lavinia. Darkness seemed to vomit from her own belly and cover her. As in a dream, she felt Lavinia under her hand but couldn’t see her. Instead Sally stood in a forest thick with conifers and saw at the center of everything a dead hiker in tall weeds by an ancient stone wall. At the center of everything…
What did it mean? But now she stood in a great empty room with an ancient, scratched dark wood floor. There was another room beneath, she knew. There, something moved and planned, something which would kill her if it knew she was there.
Her hands still touched a warm body. She brought her seemingly empty hands closer. For an instant she saw Lavinia’s face emerge from the other images like a drowned body from a reflecting pond. With sudden dread, she thought, this is the moment when I lose her, now, after all we’ve been through. Lavinia, lost and hollow, faded from her sight.
“No-o-o-o!!” she screamed. She had screamed like this the night before when Lavinia was ripped from her arms. Just as then, without thought, she plunged into the darkness.