Warning: Adult-themed entertainments here-in, forthwith an' all that. Ooh-ah. You've been warned. Take appropriate actions and whatnot.
As always, I'm beholden to my beloved beta-brigand, Ume.
by Crème Brûlée
A Revelation in Several Parts
What had she been thinking about a moment before? She wasn't sure. She sighed, and looked back down at the bed of flowers stretched before her. Lobelia. Janine had loved lobelia."The only reason I come out to visit you in this godforsaken wilderness is to see what you're doing with your flowers. I sure as hell don't come out here to hear about your dismal love life."
Janine said that, or a variation very near to it, every time she'd stepped out of her car in the driveway. It was always difficult to reconcile the image of her petite, prim friend with the kind of language that came out of her mouth.
A tear rolled down Marjorie's cheek. How could Janine be gone? How could a woman with such radiant vitality have died? Just up and went?
The words crowded Marjorie's mind, "unexpected", "sudden", "so young" - "heart failure".
The services had been elegant, very formal - Janine would have been bored to tears by them. And making a nuisance of herself halfway through the first eulogy. She probably would have been making faces as Marjorie was doing the reading she'd been asked to do by Janine's mother. Marjorie had had to fight back tears during the reading as an image of Janine's impish smile had flashed unexpectedly through her mind. She'd willed herself to read on - the absurdity of the dreadful poetry Janine's mother had chosen served as a bracing irritant to focus and sustain Marjorie through the ordeal.
Marjorie pushed herself up from her kneeling position before the flowerbed and smiled weakly at a large swath of blue petals of the lobelia she'd just finished planting.
Youd have loved these, she said quietly.
Good morning Principal Humboldt! A high-pitched voice cut across Marjories musings. She looked across the yard to the fence that ran along the sidewalk in front of the house.
Good morning Henry, morning Sylvia. Marjorie greeted the mother and small boy, who was half way up the fence and had one leg thrown over the top, before his mother caught him and halted his progress.
Principal Humboldt! The boy shouted as his mother placed him back on the sidewalk. I lost my tooth, Ill be in kindergarten next fall!
Congratulations, Marjorie said, approaching them, Lets have a look.
Henry turned his head to the side, opened his mouth and stuck a finger in to point out the impressive gap.
Wow! Howd you loose it?
I yanked it out with a string, Henry said, finger still in mouth.
Marjorie glanced at Sylvia who rolled her eyes and shook her head, then mouthed silently. His brothers idea.
It bled a lot, Henry said. Is Captain Jack home?
Hes been around while Ive been gardening this morning. But hes probably up a tree out back since Rufus came out and started barking next door.
Captain Jacks too fat to get up a tree. Henry stated. Hes probably under a bush. Ill find him!
Henry, weve got to let Marjorie be, shes busy Im sure. And weve got to get home. Your grandparents are coming to visit today. Silvia gave Marjorie a beleaguered look.
Marjorie smiled in sympathy.
Your gardens looking lovely, as usual. I wish I had the time to make mine half as nice as you get yours. Sylvia reached down and picked up Henry, whod started to climb the fence again. I just cant imagine where it all gets to, all of that time.
They both smiled, then looked at Henry, who smiled back. Bye, bye! he grinned.
Bye. Marjorie waved.
She watched them walk down the sidewalk before turning back to her gardening.
Shed wrestled the last of the weeds from between her tomato plants. Her abbreviated vegetable patch was behind the house, beside a small slate patio that was rimmed on one side with hydrangea bushes that were in full bloom. Throughout the yard there were flowering bushes, trees, plants spring was well underway. Marjories garden exhibited signs of meticulous grooming. Marjorie surveyed her labors. Captain Jack sat nearby, staring intently at her for no particular reason, in his usual manner.
The sound of a car out front caused Captain Jacks ears to twitch. He wandered toward the front yard. This alerted Marjorie to the possibility of company. Who on earth could that be?
She briefly considered the state she must be in after a morning of dirt and sweat, but knew there wasnt much she could do, or really cared to do, about it on short notice.
She walked around the side of the house to the front and found Helena at her door ringing the bell. Marjorie was so surprised to see her there that she couldnt think of anything to say for a moment. That moment gave her time to focus on the second puzzlement in the scene the large birdcage Helena had placed on the stair beside her. Before Marjorie was able to motivate her tongue to make a greeting, Captain Jack shot out from the azalea bush beside the door and attached himself, bodily, to the side of the birds cage. The bird screamed. Helena screamed. Marjorie rushed forward.
That animal is a demon! Helena sat, rigid with disapproval, glaring at Marjorie. She didnt look all that different than she had the day of Janines funeral. She didnt look all that different than she had all of the years Marjorie had known her. Pinched and particular was how Janine had always described her older sister.Is there anything else I can get you? Tea? Another cigarette? Marjorie asked.
No, Ive got to get going. But first Ive got to give you this. Helena opened her purse, retrieved an envelope and handed it to Marjorie. Now, Ill go.
But Marjorie stood holding the envelope, looking at the birdcage resting on the table with a small shaken parakeet sitting inside it.
Mother says hello and thank you for the reading. Ive got to get back to town.
Helena was halfway to the door, she hesitated at the sound of Marjories voice, then continued on, saying only: Ive got to go.
The door clicked shut. Marjorie stared at it from where she stood. She didnt move until the sound of Helenas car had receded into the distance of the quiet Saturday afternoon. A brief fluttering of wings caught Marjories attention; she glanced at the cage where George, Janines prize budgie, sat looking at her curiously. He made several quiet clicking sounds.
Shall we see what this is all about then? she asked George.
Shed finished her dinner, cleaned the dishes, tidied the kitchen, started a load of laundry, and still, the envelope lay unopened on the table in the dining room. Marjorie had intended to open it, but found herself in another part of the house occupied with something else, each time shed approached it.With determination, she seated herself before the envelope, looked at George, and picked it up. She considered the erratic handwriting on the front, Janines. Her stomach tightened. She brushed her fingers over the familiar scrawl that spelled out her own name. It was so very ordinary, so familiar, something shed looked at hundreds of times a note, addressed to her, from Janine. She had dozens of them tucked in drawers throughout the house; there were undoubtedly hundreds stored in boxes in the attic. Quickly, as shed remove a Band-Aid, Marjorie opened the envelope and unfolded the note.
Dont be pissed, but Im leaving you George. Besides my car, and my collection of Fabergé eggs, hes the only thing that I care about. Im leaving the accumuli to the ASPCA. But Id only leave George with someone I could trust utterly. The fact that you insist on living with that feline menace gives me pause, but knowing you as I do, Ill take my chances.
Care and instructions for my darling beast are attached. Follow them to the letter or Ill haunt you and dig up your flowerbeds.
I know youre probably wondering (if youre reading this I must be dead) why I never mentioned my little heart condition. Simply put, we both hate emotional fuss. You, because, God forbid, it might shake that ironclad grip you keep on yourself. Me, because it bores me to tears.
Take good care of George, but better care of yourself. Youre a wonderful woman, a staunch and loyal friend, and too good for those ungrateful rats at that school who are more lucky than the theyll ever know to have you in their lives. I know I am. Live well its the best revenge.
12 March 1975
Marjorie choked back a sob, the note had been written two years earlier. When, Janines mother had since told Marjorie, Janines doctor had informed her that her heart condition had worsened.
Shoo! Leave that bird alone. Marjorie brushed Captain Jack off of the coffee table where hed sat staring up at Georges cage. Shed had to move the cage several times to keep it out of his range. Shed finally suspended it from one of the ceiling hooks shed had a philodendron hanging from. The plant hadnt been on the dining room table five minutes before Captain Jack had removed half of its leaves.Captain Jack circled Marjories legs and began to purr loudly.
Your little brain may have forgotten the damage youve done around here lately, but mine hasnt. Why dont you go outside and harass Rufus?
Captain Jack plopped down on her shoes and began to lick himself.
Not subtle are you? She asked.
Shes seemed so strained lately. Rose noted. I dont think shes sleeping well.She needs a date, Jim said, while flipping through his mail. Has for years. Its probably catching up with her.
Shes married to her work. Rose defended.
Shes in the room. Marjorie stated.
Both parties stiffened uncomfortably - Marjorie didnt have to, she already was. She picked up the memos that awaited her attention in the box on Roses desk and walked passed into her office.
She knew people talked about her, but still, the reality of it was jarring. Didnt they have anything better to do? She certainly did - an entire pile of it. All of which had to be dealt with before she departed for the Healthy Pet Animal Clinic at 4:30.
I think she may have a cold. Marjorie told the receptionist at the Healthy Pet Animal Clinic.The receptionist, a young woman, looked up from the form she was filling in. I thought you said his name was George?
Her name is George. And I think she may have a cold. Marjorie repeated.
George is a funny name for a girl parakeet.
She doesnt seem to mind it, Marjorie noted.
The receptionist took the hint and didnt pursue the subject any further. Dr. Levi will be with you in a moment.
Marjorie sat next to George. The small bird was anxious, she eyed the waiting room warily from her perch in the small cage Marjorie had gotten for the trip to the vet. Several other people and patients waited with them. There was a St. Bernard looking very uncomfortable with a splinted leg; a box or two with holes, and inhabitants of undetermined species; and George. And Marjorie - feeling very out of place in the vets office without Captain Jack. It wasnt her usual vets office, Dr. Brayburns office it was the vet that Janine had insisted (in bold underlined capitals) that Marjorie take George to see. Dr. Levi knows George inside and out. It would be impolitic of me to reveal details, but theyre very close.
Miss Humboldt? A young man in a starched white lab coat looked expectantly into the eyes of the patients and people who greeted his inquiry.
Marjorie looked up from the magazine that shed been looking at, but not reading. Yes?
Were ready for you. Why dont you and George follow me on back?
The exam rooms were clean and well lit, not unlike Dr. Brayburns. She stood next to George whose cage rested on an examination table in the middle of the room. The assistant, before exiting the room, had asked her to wait and told her that Dr. Levi would be right with them.
As Marjorie waited her mind wandered. It was doing that a lot lately and not always when she could afford it. Shed been finding it difficult to maintain focus and had been caught out several times during conversations, and in a couple of meetings. To some extent, she knew, her lack of mental stick-to-it-iveness stemmed from sleepless nights. Janines death had stunned her, left her bereft and off kilter. In as much as the world had a rhyme or a reason - and it had always seemed to have something loosely resembling one or the other to Marjorie she could find neither in Janines sudden departure. There was no remedy for the loss, no respite from the heartache.
Marjorie jumped, startled by the door swinging open. She was embarrassed to realize that shed begun to dose, while standing upright - a first. She took a breath to steady herself, looked up and was greeted by a warm smile.
Sorry to startle you, and sorry for the delay, Miss Humboldt. Im Dr. Levi.
Dr. Levi held out her hand, Marjorie shook it. She hadnt expected a female veterinarian. A Jewish vet, yes, the name Levi had led her to expect a Jewish vet, but not a Jewess vet. Which wasnt to say that Marjorie was disappointed or upset by it, she was just adjusting to the unexpected contingency, which sometimes took her longer to do than it did other people.
It so good to finally meet you. Dr. Levis eyes crinkled at the edges as her smile lit up her features again. Janine told me a great deal about you, I only wish we could have met under better circumstances.
Marjorie was uncertain as to how she could have become a topic of conversation between Janine and Georges vet, whom Janine had never once mentioned. Marjorie was also unprepared for anything other than the already distressing circumstance of being in the vets office with Janines parakeet and responded to Dr. Levis surprisingly familiar welcome as best she could, Yes, of course. Well all miss her very much. Janine was a good friend
There followed a pained and awkward silence, into which Marjorie said, I think George may have a cold.
Dr. Levi seemed about to speak, but instead turned to look at George. Since Dr. Levi had entered the room, George had perked up a little and had begun to chatter. Dr. Levi raised an eyebrow at George. George cocked her head and gave the doctor a good stare. Well, old girl lets have a look at you, shall we?
Is she old? Marjorie asked.
Relatively, shes not young for a parakeet.
The exam, brief in its brutality, ended. Marjorie was given instructions on how best to look after Georges welfare. Dr. Levi also gave her a booklet and a list of recommended reading.
If at all possible, keep Captain Jack out of Georges sight - at least until this has cleared up. Additional stress isnt good for her just now.
But how on earth do you know about my cat? Marjorie asked.
Janine mentioned him. It was one of her points of reluctance in leaving George with you.
Well I Marjorie stammered, feeling at a loss and a disadvantage. He can be a menace sometimes
Unholy Terror were the words Janine used to describe him. Dr. Levi smiled.
Wait a minute, Marjories head was beginning to ache. She discussed leaving George with me? With you?
Well yes - as you know George meant a lot to her, it was an important decision for her.
You dont understand. I didnt know she was leaving George with me. I didnt know she was leaving at all!
In the silence that followed her statement, Georges quiet chirping filled the room.
I should be going. Her emotions in tumult, Marjorie struggled to regain her equilibrium as she lifted Georges cage and turned to leave. Ill do my best for George, thank you for your help.
I understand, Dr. Levi said. Im sorry if I upset you, its difficult to lose someone so suddenly. Let me know if theres any change in Georges condition. I think shell pull through just fine.
Marjorie didnt like unsolved puzzles; she liked loose ends even less. So when Dr. Levi made a follow-up phone call the next week and asked Marjorie if shed like to meet for coffee, Marjorie agreed without hesitation. The visit to the vets office had preyed on her mind even after Georges condition had improved.
Please, call me Adele, Dr. Levi smiled.And me, Marjorie, she said, slipping her napkin onto her lap.
Theyd met at a diner near the clinic the afternoon following their conversation on the phone. Except for the waitress and a cook, they had the place to themselves. After serving them coffee, the waitress appeared content to ignore them as she watched a small television tucked behind a counter.
I must admit, Adele said. Ive been curious since your visit to the office well, Id just assumed that you knew
Marjorie shook her head, No. She never said a word. Not so much as a peep. Which, if you knew Janine well, is somewhat uncharacteristic. Getting Janine not to say something was more of a challenge. Shed make a gargantuan fuss over a bent nail, but she somehow failed to mention a life-threatening heart condition. So this whole thing has been something of a shock.
Oh Adeles voice trailed off as her gaze shifted away from Marjories. After a quiet moment she looked back, giving Marjorie a searching look. Adele sighed, then said: I meant that I thought you knew about Janine, Janine and me - that we were lovers.
Marjorie had been lifting a spoon to stir some milk into her coffee. She dropped it. After blinking at Adele several times and blushing a furious red, she managed to stammer, I I ah no. No, I didnt.
Marjorie lifted the spoon again then set it back on the table. She looked at Adele, then quickly away, finally resting her eyes on her coffee.
I didnt mean to make you uncomfortable, Adele said. You really didnt know?
It appears theres a good deal that I didnt know.
Im sorry. Adele shifted in her seat. Its just that I thought Well, theres been no one I could talk to about her. We didnt have mutual acquaintances. For obvious reasons, Im not in touch with her family. Ive been going slightly mad. One day shes there - a joy and a pain, the next
Marjorie nodded, folded her napkin several times, and picked up the spoon. Yes, the next
I thought maybe we could talk, you two having once been lovers as well.
The spoon dropped again. Excuse me?
In college Id assumed from the way Janine talked about you Well, I assumed you were an ex.
Marjories mind reeled. An ex? Ex what?
Oh dear, Adele fretted.
Im not Janine and I we were friends. Good friends. For many years But not No. Marjorie shook her head.
Im sorry, Adelee said. I didnt mean to upset you.
Upset me? Why should I be upset? My closest and dearest friend of 25 years has died suddenly of an ailment I didnt know she had, left me her parakeet, and insisted that I bring it to her veterinarian, who turns out to have been her lover, who I also knew nothing about. Why on earth should I be upset? Im sure this sort of thing happens all the time. Marjorie lifted the spoon and began to stir her coffee furiously. Ill tell you this though, if she werent dead, Id wring her neck.
Adele stared at Marjorie wide-eyed.
She was always pulling this sort of thing, Marjorie continued stirring her coffee with an agitation that bordered on violence. When we were in college, we took Early European History together. She kindly volunteered to drop off my final paper with hers, so that I could keep studying for another final. She retyped the cover sheets, swapping my paper with hers, effectively stealing my final paper. She couldnt stop laughing when we got them back. I was furious. Whats the difference? We both got an A-,she insisted. Dont be so dour; youre always such a dour puss. Lighten up Marjorie. If I had a nickel for every time she said that, Id be as rich as she was.
But you had your revenge when you sewed her into that ball gown. What I never understood about that story is how she never noticed that youd done it.
Marjorie shrugged. I was reinforcing a button on the back while she was wearing it. She was talking.
Adele smiled, That explains it.
I could have covered the dress in embroidery and she wouldnt have noticed. She would simply have chatted away. Despite her vehement protests to the contrary, I dont think she was especially disappointed that Bobby Maitlin wasnt able to get it off. Or the stockings Id sewn to the sash. She did go on and on about her humiliation though. Before dissolving into laughter when she described Bobbys humbled and baffled retreat. She swore up and down that she wouldnt talk to me ever again after that. She insisted she was moving out of our dorm room and getting one at the sorority, which, she argued, was where she belonged. Only we both knew she didnt. Marjorie sighed, Good times.
You never knew that she was in love with you? Adele asked.
If Marjorie had still been holding the spoon, she would have dropped it again.
Silence stretched out between them as Marjorie stared blankly at Adele.
Im sorry, Adele said, I shouldnt butt in. Its just Ive often wondered about you. And I assumed that you knew about Janine. About me too, though thats obviously not the case.
Marjorie stared on.
I shouldnt pry. I should go. She wouldnt want me poking in. Bothering you. I suppose its a trespass. Im really sorry. Ive been stupid, Ill go.
Marjorie blinked. Go?
Yes, Adele had gathered her things and moved to stand. This was a mistake.
Wait, Marjorie insisted. You cant simply go.
But I should.
But why? Marjorie asked.
Ive just told you. Adele said.
But Im Are you telling me that Janine was a lesbian?
It was Adeles turn to stare.
Please sit, Marjorie pleaded. This is a lot for me to take in at once. Its not making a lot of sense, but its making as much sense as just about everything else Ive experienced recently. Ive not been sleeping well. Ive barely been sleeping at all.
Adele sat. The waitress wandered over and refilled their cups.
I never knew she was Marjorie trailed off. She dated all of those men!
Adele looked uncomfortable.
Adele said: She felt she had to date men. To please her parents. And to avoid the rumors she was terrified someone would find out and it would reflect poorly on her family. She may have complained about her family constantly, but she was fiercely loyal to them always. It drove me mad, how she let them run her life.
But they never ran her life! Marjorie said.
Adele rolled her eyes. She wouldnt even move out of that town house, that she hated, because her parents had bought it for her and she didnt want to hurt their feelings. She never pursued her interests seriously, because her mother frowned upon a lady doing anything but sitting on a pointless committee. Adele lowered her voice. She never spent a full night in any womans bed for fear someone would notice her car parked outside or someone would call and she wouldnt be home.
But Janine had no sustained interests other than buying shoes, Marjorie said. And she enjoyed the committees, they gave her something to complain about for days on end. Like her parents did. As much as she was a very dear friend, she wasnt a very deep friend.
Adele closed her eyes and shook her head in defeat. No, she wasnt.
It must be very difficult for you to have lost her. Im very sorry. Marjorie sympathized.
Adele, her eyes suddenly glistening, nodded her acknowledgement.
When did you meet?
Adele sniffed back tears. The ASPCAs annual planning committee. Six years ago. I fell head over heels for her on first glance. She was a bit more reserved in her response. We didnt start seeing one another regularly until a year later.
You were together five years? Marjorie asked.
Adele nodded. Off and on. She had issues with commitment. And truthfully, Im often so busy at the clinic I sometimes wasnt sure if we were off again, or Id just been working for months straight without seeing her. I suppose we kept it casual, because it could never be anything else. But I loved her. I loved her a great deal.
Im sure. Marjorie said, feebly. What else could she say?
Its a funny thing, finally meeting you. Youre not what Id been expecting. Ive been jealous of you for years.
Of me? Marjorie was stunned.
Besides her family and the many other excuses I became familiar with I often thought you were the real reason shed never committed to our relationship.
I I cant see why youd think that.
No one else ever measured up, Adele said. You were her first love.
But No! Thats not right at all. She had so many loves in college. Reams. She had a different infatuation every other week. It was all I could do to keep her boyfriends names straight. And she talked about them endlessly well, she complained about them endlessly. Late into the night often - when she was supposed to be out with them. Instead, shed end up parked next to me in the library, discussing a newfound flaw in the male of the moment. And then, of course, shed insist that we go back to our rooms so that I could make her something to eat on the hot plate. We often stayed up til dawn, talking about the future, making plans
Marjorie felt something akin to a light being turned on in a dark place. Oh god, I never realized.
But werent you Janine was so beautiful. Werent you attracted?
To Janine? Heavens no! Marjorie blushed.
But arent you I thought Youre a lesbian arent you? Adele asked.
No! Lord no! Im not married I dont have a but Im not Im very busy. Marjorie protested.
I didnt mean to pry. Adele appeared genuinely contrite, if not also terribly confused.
Im not used to such frank discussions. To be honest, this is all rather unsettling. Marjorie admitted, gesturing vaguely with her hands.
I can only imagine, Adele said.
Janine was always churning things up - such a terrible little imp. Insisting that I bring George to you thats her to a capital t.
It is? Adele asked.
Well, of course. She knew this would happen. Its her way of pulling one last prank. I can hear her now, Oh, lighten up Marjorie! Only I fail to see the humor in it I usually did though.
Im not sure that it is, Adele said.
Humorous? Marjorie asked.
No, I suppose not. Marjorie sighed.
Marjorie and Adele met intermittently after that afternoon. Their schedules were full, but they managed coffee, sometimes a walk, and dinner occasionally. They alternately mourned then cursed Janine, but loving her as they did, they never condemned her. As much tumult as she brought with her, she also brought a unique sparkle and a genuine warmth. Her absence had left an immeasurable gap in both womens lives, and the memories they exchanged were a balm to the numbness and shock they felt in the wake of her death.
Theres something different about her lately, Jim said as he thumbed through the pile of mail hed pulled from his mailbox.Shes been getting some sleep, Rose noted.
Shes probably been getting laid, he retorted.
Shes been in her office, but is coming out for a cup of coffee, Marjorie said as the two of them jumped.
Marjorie didnt understand gossip. She understood, even less, herself as the focus of it. But people notice change, and changed she was.
She was happy - for the first time in a long time. She hadnt felt unhappy previously, except after Janine had died, shed felt usual, normal. Now she felt a lightness, or a spaciousness, she wasnt exactly sure which. One day, while gardening, shed sat back from weeding and said. Im happy. Then shed laughed.
People notice that kind of thing. Or so it seemed. Shed been asked if shed colored her hair, or changed something, because something about her seemed different. Peoples open curiosity wasnt something shed ever entertained well. Shed shrugged, said no and changed the subject which was something at which she excelled.
The truth of it was, there wasnt much to be curious about. Her life had resumed its usual pace. George had become a fixture in her daily routine. Captain Jack had adjusted and was spending even less time noticing the bird. Theyd settled, with fits and starts, into a quiet companionship.
Marjorie looked forward to her visits with Adele. They were less frequent than she would have liked, because their schedules were incompatible. Or at least Adeles was. Marjorie had never realized how busy a vet could be a vet with a business partner, and assistants Marjorie wondered, occasionally, if Adele didnt use her work as an excuse not to meet. Something Marjorie couldnt understand if you didnt want to see someone, then dont. But Adele appeared interested in maintaining an acquaintance, shed even initiated a few of their meetings, and Marjorie had come to enjoy her company a great deal.
She and Adele talked about Janine less, having found several shared interests. Gardens chief among them. Though Adeles interest was more aesthetic than practical, meaning she enjoyed looking at them more than creating them.
It had been ages since Marjorie had pursued a new friendship. She hadnt felt the need - she had her friends from the gardening club, from the library where she did volunteer work, her co-workers at the school, her family, Captain Jack and now George. What more could a person ask for?
Hi Marjorie, Ive called to say Im sorry, but I cant make it tonight.Adele, what is it? You sound awful, are you sick?
So it would seem its the flu, I think. Started coming on this morning. Its going gang busters now.
Is there anything I can do? Marjorie asked. I could bring you some soup, or juice, or both.
Youre sweet, but Ill be fine. Id just rather be dead right now. Im such a whiner when Im sick. Im going to let you get about your business. And Im sorry about tonight, I was looking forward to dinner.
Thats all right, well do it another time. Are you sure theres nothing I can do? Marjorie asked.
Dont worry about it. Im going to rest thats probably the best thing for me.
Im sure it is, you do that. And take good care of yourself.
Marjorie was restless, hadnt a clue what to do with herself. Shed fed Captain Jack and George, weeded her vegetables, watered her garden, talked to her mother on the phone and stopped in to talk to her friend Timothy down at the flower shop. And it was only 7:30 PM. Shed tried to read, but that was useless. Nothing on the radio interested her. It was the first time shed thought that she might have use for a television. What was wrong, she wondered? How did all of these ants get in her pants? In frustration she picked up her keys and drove to the local movie theater.
Marjorie sat in the dimly lit theater before the film began, she was trying to calm her mind. The room was mostly full; it was a large crowd for a Thursday night. She glanced at her neighbors, one was a young man in his late teens who was seated next to a young woman she assumed was a date. The other was a man, in his early sixties who Marjorie vaguely recognized did he work for the fire department in Greensville, the next town over? She couldnt recall. The image of the flag flashed onscreen and most of the audience stood for the national anthem. Before the war in Vietnam, Marjorie couldnt remember anyone not standing for the anthem. So many changes, such upheaval, violent upheaval and it was nowhere more evident that in the school system. Marjorie sighed. It wasnt all bad, at least that damn war was over. The film started.
Marjorie watched, but lost track of the storyline after the second car chase. She kept wondering how Adele was doing. And she also kept feeling the leg of the man sitting next to her rub up against her own. Shed moved hers away several times, only to feel his again a moment later.
She nearly jumped out of her seat and skin when during a loud scene in the film the man had reached over and squeezed her leg. She sat, in shock, as he groped her thigh. He then leaned into her, and with breath stinking of alcohol said, Wanna fuck?
No, I do not! Marjorie hissed, pushing him away.
Bitch. He hissed back. Ugly bitch!
He stood, unsteadily, and weaved down the aisle, upsetting people as he went. A man behind her snickered. Someone tapped her shoulder, she jumped, then turned.
Miss Humboldt, are you okay? It was Cynthia Rogers, an alum of Richmond Elementary. She was sitting next to Adam Reed, also an alum.
Marjorie nodded. Im fine, thank you.
Shhh!!! Several people hissed.
Cynthia ignored them. Do you want to go report him? Well go with you.
No, thats alright. Im just going to watch the film.
Okay, Cynthia nodded gravely.
Marjorie wanted to disappear. But she couldnt. She sat and watched the rest of the film. It wasnt the distraction shed bargained for.
Cynthia insisted that she and Adam walk her to her car.
Men are such pigs! Cynthia exclaimed as they walked across the street to where Marjorie was parked.
Present company excepted, Im sure. Marjorie chided.
Well, of course, Adam would never do anything like that.
Adam said nothing, just looked off into the distance as if only partially engaged. Marjorie wondered if he was high.
As an administrator in the school system, Marjorie had less day-to-day contact with the children than the teachers. Still, she knew a lot about them and their families. Especially ones like Adams, where domestic dysfunction and violence spilled over into his, and his two sisters school day. Marjorie had been an assistant vice principal when Adam had attended Richmond Elementary and shed had a good deal of interaction with Adams parents over belligerent behavior in school. Adam hadnt been one of her easier students to deal with, but by the time hed left for middle school, theyd reached an understanding and Adams grades had even shown some improvement.
Things will be different when the Equal Rights Amendment passes. Cynthia insisted. Then theyll have to treat us with more respect.
Marjorie doubted that was anywhere near the case, but neglected to mention it. Despite being the first female principal in the school district, feminism was not her strong suit. She understood and agreed with the basic ideas, but found the activism daunting even though she was sure that shed benefited from it.
Marjorie decided to change tack and ask them how they were enjoying Franklin Pierce, the district high school. It wasnt long before they reached her car.
Thank you for the escort, I appreciate it. You two have a great night.
We will. You too Miss Humboldt! Cynthia gave her a big grin and a wave, Adam gave a nod, and they walked off hand in hand.
In her car, Marjorie was about to turn the key in the ignition when Adam appeared at the passenger side window. Marjorie leaned over and rolled it down. Yes, Adam?
Adam looked uncomfortable, he shifted from foot to foot, didnt make eye contact, wiped his hand under his nose and said: Miss Humboldt, I know that guy. If you want, a few friends and I, we could mess him
Marjorie sat bolt upright. Absolutely not! Thats the very last thing I want. Good grief! I think weve had enough ugliness for one evening.
Marjorie noted Adams scolded expression and the defiant, set jaw. It was a look she knew well from their earlier acquaintance. She sighed. I appreciate your looking after me, Adam, I do. Perhaps Cynthia was right, I should have reported him to the management. Lord knows Mrs. Pollacheck brooks no nonsense in her theater. But what Id really like right now is for you and Cynthia to enjoy the rest of your evening together. Now that would please me, very much.
Adam looked off in the direction where Cynthia waited, talking with some friends by a car. He nodded, wiping his hand beneath his nose again. Okay.
Good, thats fine. You have a nice night then.
Adam hesitated at the window. Miss Humbolt, he said, shaking his head. Youre not ugly.
Before she could reply, hed turned and walked away.
It wasnt that she didnt like men, she thought. It was that she was set in her ways and couldnt ever imagine giving up her routine for one. She enjoyed her work a great deal. She didnt think all men were like her drunken assailant in the movie theater. No, he was very much a subcategory of the species.She was fortunate to know several exemplary males, also in a subcategory she thought the princely one. There was Simon, her brother-in-law, the real estate broker, who was also a fair mechanic. And there was Fred, her co-worker and assistant vice principal at Richmond Elementary. Rarely had she met anyone, male or female, with Freds gift of connection and understanding. Shed once wondered that if Fred was single, if she wouldnt have been interested in a relationship with him. But Fred would never be single, because he was married to Bess. Bess, who was stunning. She had that brilliant smile, that quietly wicked wit, and the most lovely hair - full bodied, chestnut colored that fell just below her shoulders.
It wasnt that she didnt like men, no; there were just other things that cropped up in her life that drew her interest more keenly. Which was how shed reached the age of 45, having never, not once, been kissed. And as peculiar as it would have seemed to most - she wasnt bothered by her rare condition. Or at least she didnt think she was.
It happened somewhere between the soup and the wine-braised quail. It wasnt subtle, just about anyone would have noticed it. But what had caused it, Marjorie couldnt say. Whatever it was, Adele had withdrawn. Was it something she said, Marjorie wondered. Had Captain Jack scratched Adele under the table? Please, Marjorie thought, please dont let it be the food. Shed worked all afternoon trying to make it just right. The haricot vertes, it was true, were a little on the soft side, but people didnt generally mind that. Adele had said that she liked quail, hadnt she? She was sure she hadMarjorie, I cant do this. Adele placed her napkin on the table.
Marjorie spoke apologetically. I was sure that youd said that you liked quail. You dont have to eat it. Its perfectly alright, its a particular taste, which is why Id asked, but not to worry, Ive got some
Its not the food. The food is wonderful. The evening is lovely. But Im not Janine, I cant be Janine for you. I cant do this.
Marjorie stammered, You you cant eat? I dont understand.
Im a lesbian, Marjorie, Adele said.
Marjorie suppressed the wave of discomfort she felt whenever Adele broached this challenging topic. Well, I know, but I assumed that like most people you still needed to eat.
Adele made a quiet sound, something like a stifled groan. This isnt eating.
Marjorie was now nonplussed. She looked down at her plate, then over at Adeles. Its not?
Adele sighed. Its a date.
Marjorie had no reply. The suggestion was flung so far afield that she was still catching up with it.
I cant replace Janine. I cant have this kind of relationship.
A friendship? Marjorie had no idea what Adele was talking about. What she did know was that shed begun to sweat. She attributed this to the fact that she was experiencing the hostess worst nightmare; the total breakdown of table conversation.
No Adele looked Marjorie directly, but gently, in the eyes. A relationship in name, but without the deed.
Adele, I have absolutely no idea what youre talking about. Are you feeling alright? Marjorie asked, her stomach in knots.
No, Im not feeling alright. Ive spent the last few months trying not to get to know you too well. You dont make that very easy. And you dont seem to be at all aware that most people, most people dont express this level of interest in a platonic relationship. Adele gestured at the handsomely set table and the luxurious meal.
Adele had struck a nerve - Marjorie couldnt restrain herself. Most people are lazy. I value my friends, theyre special to me I treat them accordingly. Had I thought youd prefer McDonalds, I would have gone out and gotten that instead. Its perfectly dreadful, but I would have done it. The notion that I shouldnt cook something nice for you, because youre a lesbian, thats simply absurd!
Oh, god, Adele groaned and shook her head.
A notion caught up with Marjorie. Do you think Im a lesbian?
Adele looked at Marjorie and said, The question is, do you?
You like? Lemme know!