That Woman’s Problem
Copyright © 2014 by Michael Litzky
Sally, happily in the passenger seat, leaned against Lavinia as she drove the old camper through the pre-dawn city streets. In a few hours they might have an answer to one of the many unexplained mysteries.
The vampires on the streets, menacing but forlorn, had never been invited into a home and still looked like pallid Draculas, though Sally could catch glimpses, as through a thick forest, of the individuals they had been. (The three they currently had in the back of the camper were in their happy “home” trance.)
They crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, the purple water breathless against the shadowy East Bay hills where the last lights were going out. The bridge was empty of undead or living. Other cars appeared as they reached the other side. Sally reminded herself that the sun had actually been “up” for half an hour; these people must have pulled out of their driveways the instant their mobile apps told them it was dawn.
For the moment they were not talking about Lavinia’s flight demo yesterday, the big public attention it had brought them, the moan of horror which Sally had heard but Lavinia had not or the fury in Jeremy’s face. They were just talking , one of the wide-ranging, soul-satisfying “Four Dick” dialogs which Sally treasured so much.
“Tenderness is tendresse in French,” Lavinia was saying. “You were still a baby when women’s music was big but one time Lucie Blue Trembley, she was such a sweetheart, she had an album with that title. ‘Tendresse.’ She was French Canadian, I think. Well, she did a concert where she joked, made us laugh, that someone told her the album shoulda been called ‘T’undress or not t’undress, that’s the question.’”
Sally laughed, thinking how Lavinia had grown more and more tender as the weeks passed. She sometimes missed being Lavinia’s love slave and never daring anything that Lavinia did not command or permit. Her heart still raced thinking about those old sessions. But she herself had set the new tone and during sex with Lavinia she could feel the sunlight which Lavinia had gathered during the day pouring into her and heating the knot out of her belly.
The freeway plunged through twin tunnels with rainbows painted on them and then rolled down a steep hill. As they exited onto Highway 1 and started the winding drive over the coastal hills Sally, who seldom got carsick, stayed leaning against Lavinia, slender arms wrapped around Lavinia’s waist. Lavinia occasionally took a hand off the wheel to stroke her hair, her cheek.
“I think I read about the women’s music movement,” Sally laughed. “You mean you were actually there for it?” Lavinia saying “you’re too young to remember” used to annoy her; now Lavinia said things like that as a joke and she joked back by exaggerating her desire to be instructed by the master.
Charla Thorpe was Lavinia’s age, she remembered, with renewed tightening inside. She found her mind cycling through another round of fretting about that exasperating person.
Charla had gained worldwide notoriety after filming herself telling the vampires who thronged her doors and windows (as they did everybody’s) “You’re invading my home with your noise.” She had single-handedly changed the lives of the entire human race and found herself thrust into the role of vampire expert. Fortunately, she was a natural organizer and happily took on that role. When she saw Sally and Lavinia’s first TV interview, she contacted them and said she was flying from her small town in Indiana to San Francisco to work with them.
Sally had been nervous as hell when they knocked on the door of Charla’s hotel room; she’d idolized Charla since seeing the viral video. When they shook hands, she was daunted by Charla’s flat snare-drum face, hard wide-set eyes and helmet hair. She quickly classified Charla’s quiet husband Tomas as a pleasant nonentity, all too much like her mother.
Sally found herself pouring out the tale of saving Lavinia, waiting for the praise Jesse had lavished on her, and not getting it. Though naturally modest, she’d gotten spoiled by how heartfully impressed Jesse was by what she’d done. Was it just that Charla refused to be impressed by anything she hadn’t done herself?
Or maybe she didn’t approve of Sally and Lavinia as a couple? When Sally held Lavinia’s hand, Charla wrinkled her nose. Sally had known they would face homophobia but it hurt coming from someone she admired. But when she held Lavinia’s hand more firmly and looked Charla defiantly in the eye, Charla just widened her eyes and flared her nose as if to ask, “What’re you on about?”
Or maybe (her thoughts continued cycling) the trouble had started because Lavinia had met a gummy barrier when she made to follow Sally into Charla’s hotel room and Sally had called casually, “C’mon, babe, you know you’re welcome wherever I am.” When Lavinia had then walked in, Tomas had seemed nervous. Maybe she should have waited for Charla to invite Lavinia in, maybe that was why she was so pissy?
They could just tell Charla to fuck off, but Charla had given them a boost they needed. She’d posted their videos on her website, set Lavinia up with a site where people could ask her questions (which Lavinia answered with humor and flair). But Charla seemed angry at almost anything Sally did. And not at things Lavinia did, which was just totally –
Lavinia was teasing her about being a fledgling seeker of knowledge and calling her Grasshopper (a reference which Sally got) but Sally burst in, unable to bear her well-worn thoughts any longer. “Do you know why that woman is always such an asshole to me?” They’d commiserated about Charla’s personality but Sally had avoided asking that particular question; it sounded so childish.
Lavinia knew she wasn’t talking about the French Canadian. “You’re kidding me, right? I thought you got it from day one.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Seen enough repressed dykes in my time,” Lavinia said, grinning. “Hell, it used to give me a kick to bring ‘em out. Man, did I used to fuck with their heads, making them do stuff…” She shook her head, looking unrepentant. “Now I just feel sorry for ‘em.”
Sally wasn’t sure Lavinia wasn’t kidding. “Come on, baby. Every strong woman isn’t a dyke.”
“Nope, but she is. I stake my formidable reputation on it.”
Sally remembered from yesterday a flash of what she now identified as jealousy when Charla took the place beside Lavinia that she felt was hers by right. Still leaning against Lavinia, she looked up into her face as she concentrated on navigating the twisty road down a wet green valley. “You’re saying, what, that she wants you, even though she knows you’re with –”
“No, you dewy-eyed dope, she wants you. You’re the young gorgeous one.” Lavinia darted a glance down at Sally and winked.
Sally blushed. “You’re crazy. I only seem to piss her off.” But her voice was weak; she was starting to see it.
“Face it, tiger. You’re the first young gorgeous babe she’s seen in that hick town of hers that she knows is a lesbian, she wants you. Course she don’t know she wants you, so she glares whenever we’re making out, she watches you with a hypercritical eye, she wants you to shine, she winces when you don’t do what she thinks you should. And since she don’t know any of this shit, she’s picking at you like a sore spot.”
Weakly, Sally said, “And you, you aren’t mad at her?”
Without answering, Lavinia pulled over where the road elbowed deeply into a fold of hill and took both of Sally’s hands. “I got no reason to be. Not one in the world. Mmm?”
“You’re my mate. I don’t want anyone else.” She said it with simple, unquestioning honesty, though she was also aware of how good she sounded. Then it hit her: she’s taken it in. I’m here to stay and she trusts that now. She gets me! She was suddenly so happy that she felt her eyes tear up. Lavinia saw this and squeezed her hands.
When they drove on, passing an old-fashioned inn and a horse ranch and continuing straight at an L turn in the highway onto what the signs called Frank Valley Road, a blissful Sally rolled down both windows. From Lavinia’s side a scent of honey, berries and rain came from a closely wooded stream. From Sally’s side a smell of salt, herbs, dried flowers and dust drifted down the grey-green hillside.
They pulled into the Muir Woods parking lot. Amazingly, there were already seven cars, tourists who must have left their hotels exactly at sunrise or visitors who lived in nearby communities. As always when they turned off the noisy motor, Sally was amazed at how the silence rang in her ears.
“Well,” she said happily, “let’s go hug a few trees!” They had come for just that reason, to be in the presence of ancient trees and see if they could identify the mysterious power Lavinia sensed in living wood. She still remembered Lavinia hugging the redwood in Jesse and Walter’s yard and saying if she were pierced with it she would die of ecstasy.
As they climbed out, both were eager in different ways: Sally hoped to see Lavinia be superhuman in yet another way and Lavinia looked like she was about to open a birthday present.
The sun cleared the hills and a ray fell on Lavinia’s face. She stopped and closed her eyes. “Man, that still feels fuckin’ good.”
And I can join her in that soon, Sally thought, exultant. At the moment, it seemed that nothing could possibly go wrong.
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