I follow her in and snap the door closed. She walks ahead of me, her heels making sharp tight tapping sounds on the hardwood floors. I see right away that it’s a 1950s kind of place, white blonde furniture with rounded edges. Something like a buffet in the living room catches my eye, but it’s hard to make out much in the dim nightlight of the hall. It’s not a big apartment but feels light, airy. I don’t want to but I allow my eyes to search for the bed when she’s not looking. Her dark shape takes familiar form only after she clicks on the lamp and she turns to face me, her hands behind her back; they seem to hold her out toward me as she leans against the wall. She stands there like this for far too long. I can’t look away—that would say far too much about me so I stand there, trying not to swallow or breath out loud. She runs her shimmering nails through her long hair, as though releasing some inner tension in us both, but I know I’m the one that’s nervous.
"What can I get you?" she asks, turning toward the small kitchen I see now through the archway. The refrigerator hums with an oscillating regularity. I hear a clock chime somewhere upstairs. There are stairs, I reflect, so the bed’s up there. That’s miles and miles from where we are now in the kitchen. I’ll give myself away long before making those stairs. My eyes settle on the swaying arch of her backless dress, and the back and forth movement of her thighs. From there I follow the gentle line of her stocking seams down her leg to her ankles and the long spiked heels of her feet. "Never trust a woman with thick ankles," I remember someone advising me once but I wasn’t about to trust this one, thin though as her ankles are. Anyway, not yet. Everything about her is dressed for me when I was in high school, wanting to be Rita Hayworth as Miss Sadie Thompson with Aldo Ray. But it wasn’t the Aldo Rays I wanted it for.
She pulls the Shelvador’s handle out and lets it snap back without turning around, blasting white light on the outer edges of her dress as she bends over slightly to peer inside. "Oh God," I think, "Take me soon," but I say instead, "Oh, just anything."
She turns around, says, "Just anything?" A smile's on her face, mocking me.
"Well, not really. Something strong. Anything strong," I say too loudly. I smell the perfume of my martini in my nose, the one—or was it two—I had only an half hour earlier at the bar. Does she bring everybody she meets—I stumble over my thinking word choice—to her home? Not “meets.” “Entertains”, that the word I looking for.
"Of course. I don’t serve ‘weak,’" she says, almost laughing, and turns back to the refrigerator, pulls out an ice tray, noisily jerking the handle so that ice cubes clatter onto the counter and fall to the floor. With curved fingers, she picks up several from the counter and drops them into two glasses, two heavy glasses with long beveled sides that immediately begin to bead and sweat.
I reach down to pick up the cubes on the floor, one very close to her leg and it's then that I notice the barely discernible budge, a small, hard line around the muscle of the back of her leg that throws the black seam of her silk stocking slightly off before it reaches her ankle strap.
I reflexively reach inside my trouser pocket—I’m all gussied up like Hepburn from another time and place, just like she is—and I finger the large gift condom I've taken from the basket at the door as we left the bar. I don’t know why I take them. I do, I guess, because I think they’ll come in handy sometime. Perhaps. You never know. But they sit in my chest of drawers in my bedroom, waiting. Every time I go out, I tell myself, I’ll do what I’m to be doing now, what I think I’m doing but I never admit I’ll do it as I dream I will. I sigh silently and hold out my hand to take the glass full of gin with two olives.
"Come," she says with eyes meeting mine. "Let's get to know each other."
In the living room she sits down on the couch, slipping her skirt belt off with one movement. It whips past me like a striking snake. She releases the side zipper slightly, and sighs. "You go to the bar often?" she asks with her lips on the edge of the glass.
"No, no," I lie. It was true that I didn’t go to that bar often, actually never before. "I, uh, just went tonight because..." I sit on the opposite side of the couch staring at her. She stops drinking and puts her glass down with a clank on a blue coaster on the end table. "I don't know why I went actually," I say. "I never do."
I start to go on, thinking that I will invent along the way, but she says, in a liquid, throaty voice, "That's true. I've never seen you there."
"Well, it's my first time," I say, and watch the gray glitter of her eyes flicker. "I mean, at the bar. The first time at the bar." I take a long swallow that burns my throat. Then, "This bar," I add with false courage.
"How come you’ve never been to this bar?" she asks easily, her hands open, palms down by her sides. The thought crosses my mind that she just might push herself up and ask me to leave.
"It's hard...for me...to go alone. I don't know anybody....who goes ..who’s there." I stumble along.
"Uh huh. It's difficult coming out where you’ve gone regularly, you mean."
My heart is pounding and my breathing is not flowing in and out like I want it to. “I'm not coming out. I said going out alone, that’s what’s hard.” I rush on, “I go other places but not often. I really don’t know anybody, anywhere… not really.” I place both my hands by my sides, now ready to push myself up and out of what I think I might be sinking into.
She toys with a strand of hair that gives her suddenly a youthful air. Then she stops abruptly, flips her hair back with her hand and finally clasps both hands together with great flourish around her knees. Her fingers are heavy with rings. "That's all right," she says, her voice deepening. "We can do it, of course," she pauses, then laughs, "whenever you like, as you like." and her laugh tumbles easily out toward me. “But I do have a question. Why this bar, luv? I mean, it’s an openly gay bar. Surely you knew this?”
She’s trying to find out if I’ll keep lying so I tell her the truth. “I knew but usually I’ve found…well, I thought there would be some lesbians in those bars…gay bars…some times. I mean, you were there.”
Her laugh is breathy, open. “Diesel dikes are what you were looking for? I’m hardly that.”
“I know, hell, I don’t know. I’m just looking.”
“Shopping. Like trying to find that something you’re hungry for at the grocery store but you don’t know quite what you want.”
“Maybe,” I say again. “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
“All that’s thunder in your head, honey. You know.” She reaches out and touches my leg. “Look, it doesn’t matter. Try on as many coats as you need to in order to find the right fit. I did.”
“Are you happy?” I ask stupidly. Where this comes from I’ll never know. I’ve drunk a lot. But perhaps better this stupid than the one I’m terrified of showing.
I think she isn’t going to regain her composure. She is laughing so hard she’s bent over and back again until I think she’ll break into. I don’t feel upset with this. I’m mesmerized by her gorgeous demeanor. I can’t help but smile, laughing a little myself. Finally, she takes a tissue from the end table nearby and wipes her eyes. “Oh Lord, girl. You are refreshing as a summer shower.” Her accent is deep and slightly southern, which I hadn’t noticed before. She searches my face a bit and says, “You mean, how can I be happy given all the camouflage?” I start to protest but she holds up her hand and actually lets her wrist flop down. “It’s the purchase I’ve made. I’ve worn this coat for a long time and I’m comfortable with it. Everybody I know and even some I like and love aren’t comfortable with me in it, but that’s true regardless of what you wear out there. I’m not living anymore for anybody else.” She taps her finger in the air around the room. “All this and this and that are things I enjoy. They aren’t props for show, though in a way they are, but then that’s how I see all of it. A stage we design and the actors we pick to play with us on it. What I want to tell you since you’ve asked—and by the way nobody asks because I think they assume I’m not happy, gotta be conflicted if you’re like I am, you know—but I’ll tell you this, I like to play and so many people don’t.” She pauses a moment. “You know something,” she says scooting over closer to me on the couch, taking my drink, leaning over and putting it on the coffee table in front of us. “I used to be a sales clerk at a clothing store for men. I was good at it because I was…good at sales. But I wasn’t happy. Now,” she holds both arms up in the air for a moment before taking her hands and running them through her hair, “I’m much, much better at selling this than I was at selling clothes.” She leans over and kisses me long and full on the mouth.
"Never trust a hair flinger," I hear that same someone in my head advising me, but what I say to her is, "I’m buying” And then I ask, “Could I try on my coat now?"
The walk upstairs was easier than I thought. Maybe all those drinks helped but I didn’t just dream it this time. And I didn’t have to bother with my condom. She was prepared. So my first lesbian experience was with a guy. Go figure.