Excerpt from “The Butch Across the Hall”
I counted to ten and raised my hand a third time to knock. Yet again I couldn’t do it. Beyond the door I could hear a ballgame and the infrequent scrape of a spoon against a bowl. I was assuming it was soup again tonight. I’d seen the empty cans more than once in her recycling bin. Miki’s diet was a lot like mine.
When I’d realized I had accidentally received her mail, I had changed into a clinging black sweater and tidied my curly hair as best I could. I was a long way from her ex-girlfriend in the looks department but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make an effort.
My husband—seven years my ex—and my girlfriend—six months my ex—had both called me “cute.” They had said it mostly to annoy me.
I sighed, my knuckles a long way from making contact. I was in a sweater that clung to my breasts, because, well, just because. Because Miki and I had both been single for a while. That’s all. Because we could at least watch a ballgame and share a beer. It beat being alone every night. That’s all.
Because I couldn’t look at the faint smear of make-up on her doorjamb without breaking into a sweat.
I doubt she knows it’s there. Maybe she does. Maybe it’s some kind of trophy. Her ex had left it last Halloween, hurriedly hiding her face when Jilly and I interrupted the two of them against the wall outside their apartment.
I’d had a bit too much to drink at the party, but I could still recall, with shivering clarity, Miki’s voice. Just as we came around the corner she said, “You didn’t know I was ready to go, did you?”
Her girlfriend had groaned out, “Do me, baby,” and we were abruptly all looking at each other, perfectly recognizable in spite of our costumes. I forget now what Jilly and I had worn. But I remember well that Miki was dressed like James Dean, right down to a pack of cigarettes rolled into her T-shirt sleeve. Her thick black hair was slicked back, with a greaser’s curl dipped across her forehead. A leather jacket was on the floor. Her girlfriend was queen of the sock hop, including the heavy artillery bra underneath her unbuttoned blouse.
After the averting of eyes on all parts, Jilly had dragged me into our apartment. I did not forget how Miki’s blue jeans were loose in the back, or how her hips disappeared into the flounces of her girlfriend’s red poodle skirt.