Okay, I need to preface this by saying that I have not written much in the past three years, and it’s taken me a few days to even get into the groove of writing this. But I think I’ve finished a scene — don’t know if it’s any good, or if it’s just bullshit, so I’ll just post it and see if it reads at all.
Sally Hendrikson, the owner of Poet’s Corner Gift Shop, would never sleep peacefully again. She’d dream that she was being chased by Michael Myers from those Halloween movies, only the killer in her dreams wasn’t wearing a mask. It was the man who came into the store with that woman — the woman with the black hair and white skin, the woman who made Sally’s breath get caught in her throat with a strange mix of attraction and fear. Sally had dreams about the woman, entirely different but somehow equally frightening, where she woke up covered in sweat and unable to get back to sleep. But the man, with his concrete gaze and dark stare, was what would keep Sally up at night. There was something not quite right about him from the first moment she set eyes on him. It was like you just knew that at any moment, he might do something crazy. And not zany, good-humoured crazy. Dangerous crazy. Even Bill, the kid Sally had hired for the summer months, stopped fiddling with the crossword he’d been working on and stared at the man as they came into the shop.
“Can I,” Sally began, swallowed, and tried again. “Can I help you find anything?”
“Pens,” Jessica said, eyes ablaze with excitement. “Paper. Postcards.”
“Palindrome,” Cain said, and the young man in the Nirvana t-shirt jumped.
“Excuse me?” His voice squeaked like he was going through puberty again.
“Ten letter word meaning the same forward and backward.” Cain brought a meaty finger down on the newspaper.
“Right,” Bill said, flinching back from Cain’s hand. “Hey, thanks!”
“We’ve got all sorts of stationary,” Sally offered. “Pens, too. You want something fancy or just for writing?”
“Something special,” Jessica replied. “Something that’ll really bring the words to life, you know what I mean?”
Sally’s eyes lit up. She felt a bit like she was choosing a magic wand for Harry Potter or something.
“Well, I’ve got these very nice Kuretake Fudegokochi pens, you can do very nice lettering with those — are you an artist, hon?”
Jessica ran a hand through her hair and considered the question.
“Of a sort, I suppose. Sometimes. But not that kind; not today. Today, I need something that will glide nicely over plain yellow legal paper. A simple ballpoint will do. I assume you have plain yellow legal paper.”
“Sure we do. But are you sure that’s what you want? We’ve got lots of pretty stationary, and notebooks of all kinds — maybe something with a nice hemp binding? We have them in green, tan, or black, and–”
Jessica smiled, and Sally stopped.
“Yellow paper. Black pens. Postcards.”
“Postcards,” Cain added.
“Well sure, we got postcards,” Sally said, “We got the Golden Gate Bridge, and Coit Tower, and Lombard Street and we got a whole bunch with the Beat poets, we got some with Vonnegut quotes on them, and then we got a bunch with classical art, some Gustave Dore cards, some religious ones, some Grateful Dead ones — the Jerry Bears are my favourites, and then we got some of the Painted Ladies — they’re those houses down on Steiner Street, you know, and–”
“Shh,” Jessica said, and reached out and placed one cold finger across Sally’s lips. “You talk too much. Point me in the direction, I’ll find what I’m looking for.”
Sally laughed nervously, and pointed to a circular rack of postcards.
“Yellow paper is further down on the bottom shelf. And there’s a whole wall of ballpoints, you can buy ‘em one at a time or by the box.”
Rather than allow Jessica to browse on her own, Sally followed her to the postcard rack, and started pulling out suggestions. The man she came in with frightened her, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of the woman. She’d felt a sudden flush when she’d put her finger on her lips — her touch was electric. She licked her lips and could still taste where Jessica had touched her.
“Here’s one,” Sally said, and handed Jessica a postcard with a tombstone with the familiar Kurt Vonnegut Jr. quote on it.
“Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.” Jessica read. “What an odd epitaph.”
“It’s from the book,” Sally said, surprised. “You know, Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five.”
“Slaughterhouse-Five? Never read it. Sounds like my kind of book, though.”
“Are you kidding?” Sally exclaimed, sounding both disappointed and excited at the same time., Jessica imagined that there was a German word that encapsulates that complicated feeling, but she didn’t know what it is. Instead she smiled curiously at Sally.
“Never been much of a kidder. Why start now?”
“Oh Em Gee, I’ve got a copy around here somewhere, it’s my favourite book, I’ll totally give you a copy. I–” Sally stammered, and was hardly able to look away from Jessica.
“Why are you so flustered? Do I frighten you?”
Sally blushed, and then cast a sideways glance at Cain, who was still standing at the counter, occasionally blurting out crossword puzzle answers.
“IMPOTENT — 16 down. Eight letter word meaning powerless. SANGUINE — 4 across. A blood-red color.”
Jessica thought she understood.
“Are you afraid of him, then?”
Sally nodded, and blushed further, until she looked like a flower in bloom.
“But you–” Sally began, and without thinking, reached her hand up to her lips where Jessica had touched her. Suddenly, Jessica’s eyes went wide with understanding.
“Are you a lesbian? Do you find me attractive?”
“I, that is, wow, you don’t pull any punches do you?” Sally laughed,
“I’m sorry, I’m very new at all of this. I’ve never met a lesbian before, not really. I would very much like to know what it feels like to kiss a woman.”
“Oh, my god, you’re serious, aren’t you?” Sally asked, and then looked over her shoulder at Billy to see if he was listening to their conversation, which of course, he was.
“EAVESDROPPING — 23 across. Listening in. CUNNILINGUS — 69 down.”
“Bullshit,” Bill said, cracking into a bout of laughter. “I call bullshit, man.”
Cain’s lips curled into the thinnest of grins, and Jessica mused that she didn’t remember writing The Man with a sense of humour. This was something new.
Jessica stared at Sally, who was pulling out more postcards to show her.
“What about something unique?” She suggested. “We have this local artist who takes famous paintings and adds his own touch to them. Here’s this Dore where Adam and Eve are leaving the Garden of Eden, but it looks like they’ve killed the angel with his own flaming sword — see here, here’s the angel’s severed head.”
“Ah, now that’s just the sort of thing I’m looking for..”
“Well, if you like that, then you’re going to love–”
And then Jessica grabbed Sally by the front of her shirt, pulled her close, and planted a slow, firm kiss on Sally’s lips. Rather than pull away, Jessica felt Sally’s arm wrap around her and pull her closer, moaning as their bodies pressed together. Jessica could feel her heartbeat– her real heartbeat race in tandem against Sally’s breast. The entire exchange lasted maybe fifteen seconds, but the sensation lasted the rest of the day for Sally, and later that night, she couldn’t quite explain to her girlfriend Ruth why she was so fucking horny, but Ruth didn’t seem to mind.
“Why don’t I,” Sally stammered, flustered and flushed, “get you that book while you pick out some postcards.”
Jessica returned to the counter with several yellow legal pads and two boxes of black ballpoints, as well as a dozen or so postcards. Cain hadn’t moved, and Bill was looking nervously at him.
“Do you need stamps?” Sally asked, handing Jessica a well-loved, dog-eared copy of Slaughterhouse-Five.
Jessica nodded. “How much for the book?”
“It’s a gift,” Sally said, and blushed when she added, “or you could bring it back the next time you’re in.”
“That’s very sweet,” Jessica said. “I’ve no use for sweet I’m afraid. But thank you for the gift. And the kiss, of course,”
Sally’s hands put Jessica’s paper, pens, postcards and stamps in a brown paper bag, but here eyes were fixed on Jessica’s. She sucked her bottom lip and thought of the kiss. She would catch herself doing this the rest of the day and by the time she got home, her lips were sore from doing it.
“Besides,” Jessica added. “I’ve got so much writing to do, and so many promises to keep.”
“And miles to go before you sleep, I suppose,” Sally said, and then smirked. “Sorry, I’m a huge poetry nerd. Hence the shop, right?”
“Oh, so many miles,” Jessica agreed. “You have no idea.”