Selection from The Third Kind of Horse
CHAPTER ONE, OR INTRODUCING LYSSA (PAGES 2-5)
I wanted to tell a romantic story, but this isn’t it. This was and is a dirty story. It’s pornography – or real life – or if I’m lucky, both. Romance might have happened to nice Jewish girls who lived in Brooklyn, but I wasn’t that kind of girl, not that kind of lucky, and I didn’t want that kind of romance. I wanted to find a girl walking around the corner when I was carrying my groceries home in the rain, the pink plastic Korean store bag winding around my fingers, banging against my leg. I’d have to stop every ten steps to unwind it. All that was in there was a package of tortellini, a head of broccoli, two carrots, a zucchini, a container of heavy whipping cream for my coffee, a cauliflower, and a jar of tomato sauce. I wanted so badly to encounter someone in the rain in Brooklyn who would come home with me and make some noise on my futon.
I’ve got nothing to do on that particular night; no AIDS Hotline staff meeting, no Thursday Nite Girls Nite at Boy Bar, no yoga, no coffee with a friend. Just Tuesday night on Eighth Avenue in Dyke Slope, Brooklyn. The wind was blowing rain in my face. My hair was the right length for every piece to whip into my eyeballs or my teeth.
The whole day was dingy. Twelfth Street was skanky dingy and every time I turned that corner, every time, I’m not kidding, I wondered if I’d make it to my door without getting gangbanged, robbed, murdered, or at least hassled by the guys who work in the auto repair shop under my place. What happened was that I got depressed wanting to live in the East Village. I’d been told too many times, “I don’t date girls from Brooklyn.”
Is this porn? Nah, not unless you count the fact that I used one carrot for steamed vegetables to go with my torts and sauce, and I used the other to masturbate. Those big fat carrots are cheap as hell and taste like nothing, but if the end didn’t taper so much they’d be perfect. Once, a woman took one of those out of the fridge and used it on me, still at thirty-eight degrees. That was a first date and a last date at the same time, but everything’s a turn-on for someone; you just have to find the right person to appreciate it. That was not my lucky night.
On the other hand, I was born with three trines in my chart and supposedly even one makes you lucky, extremely lucky. I have three, and Pluto passes my mid-haven in this lifetime, which means I will be important, or famous, or at least really lucky. This is all according to Sistah Double Happiness, who cares about things like fame and luck. And taught me everything I know, not much I admit, about being lucky.
I decamped to New York when I was eighteen, tender and smooth. I have a picture of my childhood friend, Artemis, and me standing at the top of the subway stairs at 116th and Broadway the day we moved to New York to go to college. We share a look of sly triumph; we’ve escaped from the suburbs and become importantly urban. We’re wearing matching sweaters, mine mauve and hers forest green – those were our anthem colors. We’re round, breasts and arms, young and succulent as cactuses after a rain; strange and lush. We shared a vision of ourselves as inherently urban, sophisticated beyond what Connecticut was ready for. Experience has allowed that vision to dissipate, leaving me an insider, and Artemis too, but maybe not insiders in the same New York as each other or the same New York we thought we were moving to when we left. At twenty-three I felt the need for another rain to plump the cactus, but I was a lucky New Yorker. I was making it.
I wanted to encounter this woman around the corner on Twelfth Street, take her home, and tell her my story. I imagine the perfect girlfriend: she would listen to me with Mother Teresa’s patience and then fuck like a high school field hockey player. She would smooth my hair back and tell me I was brave, not stupid, and she would kiss me. But I would know better.
Instead, I got home soaked and cold to make the tortellini, steam the veggies, heat up the sauce, and put it all in my grandmother’s big Blue Willow bowl. The bowl embodied the beautiful objects of my childhood in a drafty loft above a car repair shop. My grandmother told me there was a story on the bottom of the bowl; that if I finished my food she would show it to me. On the bottom was a willow tree with a stream running past. In the tree, two birds perch on a branch. My grandmother said they were sweethearts, turned into birds so they could stay together forever. “Somewhere out there,” she would say, “is your bashert, your intended, just like the birds in the tree, and you will be together always.” Easy thing to say when you had a marriage arranged for you by an old meddling matchmaker who found you a good boy who would take you to America and open a furniture store so that you could raise your children on the Lower East Side and eventually move to Long Island when they started building mass produced suburbs where you two could live together until he died and your now assimilated son moved you into the maid’s room in his house in the goyische suburbs.
As a kid, I lived in a house full of nice things I was not supposed to touch: vases and rugs and even rooms where my mother never opened the shades during the day because it would damage the fabric on the couches or the art on the walls. My grandma let me use her old Blue Willow bowl. After she died, it moved with me to college and to Brooklyn where we have no TV and no money for one, and not much heat either. This was all a source of pride. I was surviving in New York, after all, without asking my father for a stick of furniture. Then, wet from the rain in my cold apartment with its tar-covered patio – really the roof of the car repair shop, it was all okay because on a July afternoon when that roof has a few dykes sunbathing topless, it could be San Tropez. The bowl and the patio made up for the fact that we only had one window. We did have skylights, because it’s an artist’s loft, and I lived with an artist.
My roommate was cranky and she had issues. She worked my last available nerve, but she was not home, so I could eat alone and be cold and lonely with my bowl and my hair in a towel, relishing the fact that I saved a carrot for later.
Here’s the point – I knew my luck would eventually change. I knew because my chart said so, and Sistah Double Happiness said I have that kind of luck. I chose to believe Sistah D, because I always have. Even my grandmother, who could only imagine monogamous heterosexual partnership for life, who filled me with romantic notions, would say it couldn’t stay like this forever. Sistah D said I was lucky and my disasters would work out for the best. D did my chart over and over ever since high school and he always said the same thing: “You one lucky little dyke.” I didn’t see it that way. What I saw was me in Brooklyn, where I’d rather not be, in cold, wet New York’s late winter twilight, when the sun set at four and the exhaust from the cars covered my lone windowsill in soot.
At least I had the carrot to look forward to.
Michelle Auerbach is the author of The Third Kind of Horse (2013 Beatdom Books). Her writing has appeared in (among other places) The New York Times, The London Guardian, The Denver Quarterly,Chelsea Magazine, Bombay Gin, and the literary anthologies The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained (Baksun Books), and You. An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press). She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize. Michelle is an organizational storytelling and communications consultant and lives in Colorado with her partner and her three kids.
Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirty anthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.