Joyland

New York |

Partnered

by Emma Horwitz

edited by Emily Schultz

Are you Sappho, I ask the lesbian poet splayed in my sheets.


Poetess, she corrects me, I’m still young.

At ten, she rolls to the crap clock radio on my bedside table and says, Wow it’s late I should be going.

Outside, a streetlight beams through the shades I bought to beat out the screech of a neighbor’s garage door light. When she gets out of bed I can see all of her, standing in a wash of analog blue.

Stay and nap, I say, reaching out, but she can’t.

She finds her bra under my bed, where I’d kicked it an hour earlier. I don’t really need bras, she whispered when I unclasped the lace from her back, but there’s something I like the idea of delicates.

As she bends, I stare into a mole on her back I’d touched an hour ago, thinking it was a zit.

Rip my clothes off, she said when she jumped into my bed earlier, shoes on. I started unbuttoning her cardigan from the bottom up, and she clarified: Really rip, you can ruin them, I don’t care. I have a gift card to the Banana Republic my aunts gave me I have to use by the end of the year or else.

Now, she balls up the lonely bra that looks like an elastic napkin on string, and shoves the soft knot into her coat pocket.

I try and figure how I’m going to say goodbye. With a kiss or a wave or a hug. By the time I’ve weighed my options and decide to beckon her over for a handshake, she straps on her shoes and tells me she has an early class in the morning. That her professor of this elective she audits hates her but she doesn’t know why.

How does he hate you, I ask.

He gives her looks, she says, like he doesn’t want her in the room. The class is on Japan’s environmental policy in historical perspective.

But he’s not Japanese, she says, but his wife is.

Oh, I say, thinking now maybe I should have gotten out of bed.

Isn’t that weird she asks me, that he’s not Japanese, but he’s a scholar of Japan’s environment?

I don’t respond quickly enough, and she puts on her coat, which she finds on that chair in my room with the clothes all over it.

Fuck men, she says, am I right? and I’m in my bed with no shirt on, wearing my brother’s old mesh shorts with the hole in the crotch, my arms folded behind my head.

Just before she leaves, she crawls into my bed again, in full dress—high-waisted jeans and soft nylon top—and takes both of my naked breasts in her hands and her eyes look like she’s enamored by their largeness but the way she’s holding me in her hands feels tentative at best. Inside my left breast are three tumors. They are benign. I wonder if she can feel them.

After she leaves the apartment, I don’t get up out of my bed until I’m thirsty and even then I don’t go to the kitchen for water, I go to the shower. I shower and drink the shower water by opening my mouth and staring upward. My eyes sting, and I remember this town might be contaminated. We are, like all small towns, close to a gigantic and controversial pipeline.

During the beginning of my short-lived career as an activist, I picketed the office of the corporation in charge of engineering the pipeline. Though the spokespeople for the corporation agreed that the construction of a miles-long steel straw for transporting oil through the valleys and hills of our hometowns wasn’t the “greatest idea” for the environment, she wanted to maintain job security. All of these hard-working and well-intentioned people would likely lose their jobs if they picketed the corporation that employed them. If these folks didn’t have an income, she said, they wouldn’t be able to feed their families. Not just bad food, but no food.

It’s just a tube, said the main spokeswoman. Go picket other more important atrocities.

I looked up some other things to picket while the longhaired cat I was taking care of at the time stared at me from under its owner’s seven-foot long mahogany dining room table. Its eyes were neon, and seemingly lit from inside the cat, a bulb in the skull.

I learned from that mean animal how to scare other people by being very quiet.

I thought about the most influential and widespread wickedness of this world, and if I could picket it effectively with a cardboard sign.

When I asked my friends, they told me I should focus on gay things, because I was gay.

I couldn’t, and that was more or less the end of my activism career.

In the shower I get clean and think about what to eat. With a soapy paw, I text her I had fun tonight let me know when you’re—but she starts texting while I’m typing so I let her finish and she says you’re so cute.

I am? I say, but I know I am.

You are cute and a goofball.

I don’t know what to say to this, and wrap my hair in a thin yellow bathmat. Everything is serious to me, but I send her a smiling face and a dog and a small man surfing on water in the shape of a square.

Goofy li’l ole me, I text.

I ask my best friend Cyrus over a short phone call if he thinks I’m goofy.

No absolutely not , he says, if anything you take your life too seriously.

Right, I say, just making sure. After I hang up, Cyrus texts me asking why people think they can tell you who you are when you’ve just met them.

Vibes, I text back, and a lot of people are spiritual now, and feel the right to access other levels of existence in their free time.

Cyrus says something about his concern for our country’s moral code in the face of our increasing areligiosity, and how this relates to the Sunday farmer’s market in his neighborhood. I ignore him, and text her back I enjoyed having you over tonight I hope we can do this again sometime soon.

For two weeks I don’t receive a response to this message.

During this time, Cyrus and I finish work on a piece of conceptual art, which we present in a mall in Minnesota that is not the Mall of America, but which is close by. The mistaken address was a slip on Cyrus’ part, not one he would ever admit. This accident becomes integral to the philosophy of our performance, which is, like all contemporary art I see with Cyrus at the university, about tenable connection.

For the trip, I borrow my friend Jonathan’s Civic to take our folding set and Cyrus to Minnesota. If Cyrus ever met Jonathan, he would like me less than he does now. Cyrus would say that to my face, and ask if I wanted to walk him to get a coffee.

Every few months or so, Jonathan and I take ecstasy and lie on his living room floor until we’ve become the carpet. The last time, six months ago, Jonathan made me vacuum his body while he sat in a wooden chair. There were accidents made, and my asking to borrow the car was the first time we’d spoken since after I’d inadvertently suctioned his balls up into the nozzle.

***

Around the time I signed the lease on my last apartment, I told my mother I wanted to get married and have children so she wouldn’t be afraid of me.

Oh good, she said, and she smiled, you want to have children, oh good.

She sent a housewarming box, filled with all the baby clothes she’d kept from my infancy. She told me I should save the nappies for my own children. Along with the small outfits, she sent three quarts of chicken stock, and an umbrella.

After the housewarming party where I made risotto with the chicken stock, I used the nappies as dishrags.

I didn’t feel bad about it.

***

On the map, the drive doesn’t look as long. We have to stop in an extra state because Cyrus doesn’t have his license, and I can’t go on without sleep.

Have an energy drink, Cyrus tells me.

I need a nap, not a thing to buy, I say.

In rebellion, Cyrus steals a cherry turnover at the next gas station’s mini mart. While he eats it, he tells me how he hates himself for eating sugar, when he knows it’s bad for his metabolism. Or you really just hate yourself for enjoying it, I wonder, because you always do love pastries like that. Cyrus looks out the window at another person pumping gas, crumples up the sticky plastic and puts it under the car seat, and turns on classical music he pretends to be moved by.

We don’t get permission from the mall to perform. We didn’t know who at the mall to ask. The guard who stands in our sector tells us our performance is not illegal, and that he actually prefers it to the woman wearing plastic flower wreathes who sings opera on Saturday evenings at the people eating early dinner in the food court.

We don’t know her, he asks, do we?

Cyrus says we don’t know her but he does know a pretty famous operatic soprano performer, a tall girl named Claire he went to his performing arts high school with back in Texas. She won an award at graduation for her commitment to craft, which was presented to her at a fancy ceremony where they served short ribs and sparkling cider. Cyrus thought he should have won the award, and if not him than his best friend Tyler who used to make experimental documentary shorts but who now works as a receptionist at a well-known movie studio in LA. Cyrus tells the security guard that maybe Claire did deserve the award, considering how well she’s doing right now with her craft, and her commitment to it. Or, Cyrus thinks, if the school had awarded Tyler the trophy maybe he wouldn’t be working as a receptionist right now.

Cyrus doesn’t stay to see the guard’s reaction to his story, and trots away to get a pretzel with tiny pepperoni circles dotted on its crust without asking either of us if we’d like something to eat.

He’s stressed, I tell the guard, who shrugs at me.

I’m going to get an orange juice, do you want anything? I offer.

The guard tells me I’m not allowed to give him gifts, and turns to protect the other people.

At the motel we stay in, Cyrus and I learn that our personal nighttime routines are deeply troubling to each other. He takes two showers a day. I wear the same outfit the entire time we are away. I lose the card key to the room upon entering it. He puts his computer in the safe.

The motel is nicer than the bedroom I’m currently renting from the girl who took over my lease, a college student whose parents agreed to a deal I’d drafted in ornate legalese learned from the internet. Cyrus tells me not to lie on the duvet cover sheen or to put my head on any of the long pillows without putting towels down first.

That evening, I barely brush my teeth, and drink a mini-bar beer in bed while I watch a rerun on the gardening network.

I’ve seen this one before, I tell Cyrus, who is still in the shower, their front lawn has an invasive species of beetle, and the wife wants to move, and the husband seems like he really wants to be on television, he keeps smiling into the camera like we are all casting agents.

For a lesbian, he says, you love watching profoundly heterosexual television.

Cyrus uses green clay masks for the acne I’ve never seen, and tells me to eat charcoal before I continue drinking so I won’t be hung-over the next morning. I tell Cyrus the only reason I am not an alcoholic is by the effects of old rum in my body as it manifests itself in hangovers.

Cyrus still needs mixers. Juice, mostly. Soda when we go dancing.

In the mall near the Mall of America, we perform a piece of theater that Cyrus has conceived of for his PhD degree, and which I am performing in because I am a lesbian. He has received a grant for the performance from an institution that promotes and supports the artistic work of the LGBTQ community. Cyrus is not necessarily a member of the LGBTQ community, unless you count the one time in college he made out with my housemate Matt on a dare. He wiped his lips with his sleeve afterward, and took a shot of tequila while laughing across the room to his friend Ishmael.

When Cyrus filled out the form to receive the grant, he asked my permission to call me co-creator, or collaborator. During rehearsals, I tried to contribute my thoughts. He smiled at me, nodded, and implemented nothing I’d suggested. I stopped coming, and didn’t attend the performance. On the playbill was my name.

Cyrus’ partner is a blonde girl from California named Uma who makes Cyrus call her his partner.

When neither Cyrus nor Uma are around, I call them boyfriend and girlfriend.

The art Cyrus and I make with one another earns Cyrus credit at the university, and professional prestige. I am not enrolled, nor have I ever been, nor have I ever wished to be. I write about my involvement in the art we make on my blog, where you can find my email address and send me an inquiry, if you are taken by the work I make. On my website, I call myself a co-collaborator.

A month ago Cyrus told me Uma is attracted to me, and I told him of course she is. Once you call yourself a lesbian, women come out from the woodwork to tell you how interested they are in you. Other lesbians will corroborate this phenomenon. Your friends’ girlfriends want to fall in love with you, and have an affair that will lead nowhere, but which will give them much needed respite from their sex lives.

For the record: I’m not having a threesome with you, says Cyrus when we are in the last motel on the route back East from Minnesota, even though Uma keeps saying she wants to.

Why, I ask, not?

To assume I would want to. Cyrus tells me I use the computer wrong, I boil water wrong, I listen to the wrong music, I like the wrong authors, I am wrong at theory, bad at theory, wrong in theory.

Because your pussy, Jesus, Cyrus tells me, I can’t think about that shit, you are my best friend.

While we get ready to go to bed, I illuminate to Cyrus that he wouldn’t have to insist on telling me these things—Uma’s dangerous crush, or his disdain for my vagina aka pussy—if he didn’t fear his strange desire to be physically intimate with me. If he didn’t find the thoughts somehow threatening: to our friendship, his relationships. When he scoffs, I tell him to come into my full sized bed.

Not the sheets, he says, you didn’t lay towels down.

He takes all the towels from the bathroom, and wraps us in their terrycloth nibs.

She hasn’t texted me, I whisper to him as we hold each other in the itchy sheets, it’s driving me out of control.

I know, he says you’ve been eating a lot of bread.

His breath is hot in my ear and I can smell the metallic tang of his clay mask. How long has it been?

Two weeks,I say, I don’t remember what she looks like anymore.

Did she have good eyes?

I have to think about it.

Cyrus’ legs are so thick, and I wrap mine inside of them. I understand why Uma likes to touch Cyrus, I understand why Cyrus enjoys being Cyrus.

She will, he says, text back and he nuzzles his arm into the crook of my shoulder.

She does, an hour later, while Cyrus is in the bathroom washing the mask off.

Are you awake, she says.

I want to respond right away, but a streak faced Cyrus tells me I’m being weak. I tell him were were just talking about her absence, isn’t this a sign? Her apparition? He tells me the only meaning is the meaning we assert, especially so in fucking, and I tell him to stop his psychobabble, and to stop calling all the sex I have fucking.

It’s not psycho-anything, Cyrus says, it’s just the scientific truth.

We get into a huge fight about Cyrus’ obsession with science, and how in my opinion he worships the process of experimentation and hypothesis with a similar fervor to the kind some people manifest in their worshipping of Jesus.

You drink whiskey out of beakers, I tell him, beakers!

To this, he chucks my cellphone into a trash bin across the room, and misses.

Sorry I never played softball, he says, shrugging.

I’ve never played softball before. When I tell Cyrus so, he shrugs again and says, so what: if you played field hockey or basketball, the joke still works.

I want to be home in a cold bed with the blinds drawn and the pressure of many duvets on my small and shrinking body.

In bed, Cyrus lets go of me, and crawls back into his own itchy sheet. I pick up my phone from the floor and see that it’s cracked.

What the fuck, I say, how the fuck am I supposed to respond to her now.

Cyrus looks through his contacts, but he doesn’t have her number.

Of course you don’t, I tell him, she was a stranger.

Cyrus plays music I don’t like and makes a mess of the car. When I ask him to throw away the Danish wrapper before we get to Jonathan’s, he says he can’t find it. That it probably blew out the window. At the next gas station, I find the wrapper and start crunching it in his face.

Other than this noise, we drive in silence back home. I pull up in front of his and Uma’s apartment. There is space to speak, but we don’t. Uma flies out the front door with an apron on, smiling. She’s having a dinner party at six and it’s only four—she’s roasting a chicken. It’s in the oven, she says. Uma is always telling us things we can infer.

She asks if we want to have a drink while she cooks. Lasagna, too, she says. Seeing as Cyrus has to set the table, he says yes, of course he’ll have a drink. They have an entire apartment to themselves. Their kitchen is how I imagined my kitchen would be, at this age. Their spice rack is full, and they have sponges without shady odor.

Cyrus and Uma the couple are always assuming I have no other plans besides being with them. It’s true, but I don’t like that they assume, so I tell them I have a meeting to attend that evening.

Thanks for the offer, I say at Uma. Cyrus sees me direct my attention, and tries to pull Uma into the house.

Hold on, she says, I haven’t seen you both in so long.

Uma asks me with who, while balancing her elbow on her hips, holding the pair of tongs she’d come out of the house at my face, who do you have a meeting with on a Sunday at six?

Somehow, she knows her holding of the tongs turns me on, so I tell Cyrus I had good fun with him at the almost Mall of America, and goodbye.

While I drive away, Uma calls after me and Cyrus storms in the house. He and I are in a fight now, which is okay with me. I leave Jonathan’s car in his drive, and put the keys in a flowerpot. I don’t check to see if he’s home, and write a note to myself to send an edible arrangement in thanks.

I go to the bar next door to my house, with the pink neon sign and the copper tables. The art on the walls is dog themed, and overpriced. Eighty dollars for a greyhound etched in primary colors. The bartender still doesn’t know who I am.

I order a vodka. Another. Listen to other people’s conversations, pretend they're gossiping about me. As I go to order my third, the bartender answers the ringing phone tucked near the cash register.

Are you Cyrus’ Friend, he asks, and I make prolonged eye contact while I nod yes, trying to become memorable.

He's calling for you, the bartender says, and I know Cyrus must be drunk.

He is. Very drunk. When I ask Cyrus how he knew I went to the bar, and he says to stop speaking so loudly.

I think I’ve agreed to the threesome, he slurs into the phone.

I walk to Cyrus’ house, and when he comes out wrapped in a blue sheet, I demand he give me an old cellphone of his, so I can figure out how to contact her. He goes inside to retrieve an old Nokia flip, and from the front lawn I feel Uma’s eyes on me, staring at through the bedroom window of the house.

When Cyrus returns, he’s wearing jeans and a button down.

On second thought, we—

Stop, I tell Cyrus, I don’t need to be rejected from something I didn’t want.

As I step off their lawn and turn toward home, I swap Cyrus’ SIM card into Cyrus’ old phone, and text her.

New number, sorry. Back in town, you?

She hadn’t left. Was unaware I had.

What were you doing?

Queer performance art in Minnesota. You?

At the gym, for like, days in a row. Treadmilling my body to death.

Are you dead, I ask?

She comes over at eleven.

How’ve you been, she says when I open the door, and I know she hasn’t been thinking about me like I’ve been thinking about her.

She asks me if I want to sit on her face. She tries to stick a strong tongue inside of me. My bed sheets are a mess. I try pulling the quilt over my shins while the air through the window tickles cold, but she pushes them off again.

What are you doing, she asks when I try and move her off of me, and start pulling the fitted sheets around the corners of the mattress where they’ve come undone.

Making the bed, I say.

Did you come?

I tell her I did.

What was your queer performance art, she asks, lighting a cigarette and offering me one.

I’ve quit smoking for long enough that I will occasionally have a nightmare where this happens: a tall woman with dark hair offers me a cigarette, and instead of nodding no, I put the nineteen other cigarettes in my mouth, squash the cardboard underfoot, and light the tobacco with a pocket torch until I’ve consumed them down to the filter, and after, I eat every burnt crisp.

I don’t smoke, I say, but she should, and blow in my face.

Her eyes are brown. I’ll remember to remember this, in case she leaves my apartment.

I go to the kitchen, and chug a beer while standing in front of my refrigerator without clothing on. To my fruit and a rotisserie chicken, I bare myself so easily.

Back in bed, I crawl in between her legs, and she puts her hands on my shoulders, pulling me to her face.

I want to talk to you, she says, I feel like we don’t know each other.

I tell her about my best friend Cyrus.

I think he might not believe in lesbians.

She asks what I mean, but I can’t remember all of the snide remarks. When I start collecting their memories, I realize how many there are. I can’t remember not because they didn’t happen, but because they happen with such frequency.

You should make art about that, she says.

I don’t make art, really, I tell her, not like you at least.

Being a poet is being a philosopher, she says, which I understand only insofar that she sounds well versed in theory, and perfectly comfortable speaking in the discourse of big ideas. I’m totally joking, poetry is just being about being precise. I’ve basically said I’ve been writing about my self, non-fictionally. People love it, but it’s not true. They think they know me. Buying a book of my work is buying the ability to know me, but it’s not. You get it. I speak about my interest in the New Fame Culture we live in, and celebrities, which I’m allowed to be interested in, given my upbringing.

When I ask her about childhood, she tells me it’s like a dream, and uninteresting to the person who hadn’t lived through it.

I tell her when I read books, I collect scabs, nails, and dead skin in the fold of the pages. I pick and pick, but I do read fast. If you shook all the novels I have on my shelf, out would come little parts of my body. She scurries over to the shelf in my room, and shakes the pages side to side.

So many nails fall out. Dead skin turns yellow.

Wow! She says, that’s so rare, to have evidence of that kind of habit.

You know I don’t attend the university, I clarify.

You don’t? she asks, which is understandable, as most people in these towns have some affiliation. It’s the largest employer besides the pipeline corporation, which has been built, and is in active use, regardless of all the protesters.

Is that a problem? I say. It’s more of a problem than you’d think.

She is turned on, which concerns me, but I let it happen. I tell her about the performance in the Minnesota mall. I, on pedestal, reading from my teenage diary.

The section where I write: Dear Diary, I asked my friends at school to practice kissing with me, and they did. How do I figure out a way to turn practice into the real thing?

That’s brave, she says, and a really applicable turn of phrase. Can I hear more?

I tell her part of the performance I did in Minnesota was that it was a one time deal. That was my agreement with Cyrus, my best friend, that I only read it one time in the middle of the country far away from my home and the people that I knew.

I ask her if she wants water.

Sappho was the first lesbian I knew, she says, who was yours?

I tell her about Cyrus’ aunt, with the short hair.

I have lesbian aunts, she says, who send me so much money during the holidays and ask me when I’m bringing my girlfriend home to visit.

I don’t know whether or not to ask her if this girlfriend is current, or not. I’ve been the lover of many girls who have girlfriends, and many more girls who have boyfriends. An advice column tells me I’m putting out a kind of subversive energy that is well suited to being The Other Woman.

Uma, obviously, has shown up at my door during this conversation, in tears. She barges in. The college student I live with says whoa whoa whoa, and drops the cup of berry tea she’s tending to.

It’s okay, I say, this is Uma, say hi Uma.

Uma waves and barrels into my room, where she shuts the door behind her, knowing this is the only privacy I have.

The poetess doesn't move from her position on the bed. Uma can’t help but to stare right into her vagina. I hide myself under a pillow, and throw on a shirt.

What are you doing here, I ask, though I know.

I’m in love with you, she says. In love or otherwise, I do not like to be entered.

She’s not in love with me, anyway. I know she thinks about me while she and Cyrus sleep together. Cyrus says she asks about me all the time. She wants to know how I’m doing, if I like my job, where I’m from, why I haven’t enrolled in the writing program at the university yet, if I have new work I’ve sent him to read, and if she can read it. She has me over to every one of her dinner parties and sends me home with food. Every dog she encounters she takes a picture of, and sends to me with a caption in the voice of the dog. When we are out at a bar, and there is dancing, she asks to dance, which she does closely, her stomach pressing into mine so hard I can feel the indent of her bellybutton suctioning into mine. She begins dancing like: this doesn’t mean a thing but fun. When we are out at a bar, and I am speaking with a cute looking someone besides her, she puts an arm around me and shuffles my earlobe between two soft fingers. I can feel her wanting me so hard, it’s scary. I am not me to her, I am a life she could live.

The lesbian poetess, knowing best, doesn’t move, and lies back down on the neat bed to look at her phone.

Did you hear me, Uma says, drenched in tears, I’m in love with you.

Your boyfriend, I tell Uma, said he’d agreed to the threesome.

That’s when I realized I didn’t want him there.

My own Sappho on the bed turns on the clock radio, and listens to music while Uma and I have a conversation near my bathroom about boundaries, and acceptable behavior between friends. The only way I can get Uma to leave my apartment is to tell her that platonic relationships are more important than romantic ones, and doesn’t she want me in her life forever. Friendship endures, I say. Romance must end.

The weird thing is: if we kiss, I say, you will stop loving me.

So we kiss, because she feels she must, and she opens the door.

Your lips, she says, are better than I could have imagined.

I won’t tell Cyrus, I say.

I don’t care, says Uma , I don’t know why you spend any time with him. He tells everyone about the queer performance art he makes, about the work you two do together as a collective, but I’ve seen where the grant money goes and can I ask you a question and then I’ll leave ?

Yes.

Has he ever given you any of the stipend? Of any of the grants? Even to cover your travel expenses?

I didn’t know there was money in the grants. I was under the impression a grant was a recognition, a way to legitimize work using the umbrella of a more well known institution. For application to even larger institutions.

It’s that, the poet says from my bed sheets, but sometimes there’s money, too.

After Uma leaves, I apologize to the poet.

It’s okay, she says, I didn’t expect any less from you.

I tell her I’m not tired. Would she like toast? I put a loaf of olive bread I’ve been keeping frozen into the oven and while we wait for it to defrost and toast, the poetess tells me in a past life she was a queen.

Why didn’t you text me back for two weeks, I ask.

I was writing, she says, about how you picked me up at the bar and put your glasses on my face and how I couldn’t fathom where you’d come from like it defies the physics of this small town and what I desire, which are two concepts that very, very rarely overlap. She goes to the bag she’d brought. She puts on silk shorts, and sits in a linoleum chair. The college student comes out of her bedroom to make more tea. She recognizes the poetess, and gasps.

Yes, I say, is there something wrong? Do you need me to get a bug again?

Aren’t you—wow! How do you two?

Did I have you in one of my classes, the poet asks, crossing her legs and exposing herself.

Yeah, says my roommate looking away, I had you for freshman writing seminar.

They have a conversation about the class, what the poet could have done better in terms of creating a space of free speech, and the frustration of having a female body in academia, the frustration of having gotten into a program of your choosing only to find that instead of experiencing the world’s anger at you and your body, you are tasked with talking about it for years on end. What sense can you make of its sexuality. What words can you put to the feeling, that haven’t already been more succinctly articulated in the secret chatter of women on the front lawn of a house in a nearby town, far from the university, while their husbands turn hamburgers over and over on an old grill.

My roommate heads into her room without her tea.

What will you do with the money Cyrus owes you, she asks me.

I’ll publish a novel, I say.

She asks me if I’ve written one.

I ask the lesbian poetess if she’s going to come back, after she leaves tonight. We crunch into buttered olive bread, and I bring out some sardines, put them on the table. My legs are short in the shins.

If this offends you, I start.

No, and down the sardine slips into her throat.

We eat the can, eat the loaf, and get back into bed.

No one, I tell her, in my family is gay. I am the only one. That in realizing this, I felt more alone than I had when I was thirteen on the edge of my bed sobbing into my diary, the one I’d read aloud in Minnesota—if I don’t make a change now, I wrote, and the rest of the page dabbed with tears, warped in dimples still so many years after.

She has that lesbian aunt, she reminds me, and come to think of it, her younger cousin and her other younger cousin, too.

What’s that about , I ask her, why do you think I’m alone in my family like that.

She says it’s late. Should we sleep?

I think, I tell her, there is a woman in my heritage that I am making very proud.

You should make art about that, she says, into a dream.

So I do.


Illustration by Carolyn Tripp