Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Tag: Hunger

72 Canadian short stories available online!

image: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016 acrylic on paper

Kevin Hardcastle put together a list of Canadian short fiction available online; I look forward to dipping in. So many great authors! Something to take our mind off COVID-19.

Something to Read While You Isolate, by Kevin Hardcastle

My short fiction “Smiley” won the 2014 CBC Literary Awards in fiction:

Smiley by Jane Eaton Hamilton

Here is a reading of “Smiley:”

Smiley by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“The Lost Boy” won the CBC Literary Awards in fiction in 2003. It’s about the uneasy relationship between a child and her mom during the internment and is based on a family story:

The Lost Boy by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Territory” was the first prize winner in This Magazine’s short fiction contest.  It’s about a woman leaving her husband for another woman:

Territory by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Hunger” won the Paragraph Erotic Fiction Prize and was reprinted in my book “Hunger.”  It’s about a lesbian street kid who falls in love with an older woman:

Hunger by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Sperm King” won the Prism International Short Fiction Award:

Sperm King by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Easter” is short fiction, quite short.  Truth:  An old woman lit her wheelchair-bound husband on fire for eating her chocolate Easter bunny.  The rest is made up:

Easter by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“The Arrival of Horses,” a short fiction that first appeared in Seventeen Magazine, and later reprinted in my collection “July Nights,” concerns a family caught up in the on-going battle between ranchers and the BLM over wild horses:

The Arrival of Horses by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Social Discourse: 1944” was loosely based on a real fire connected with Royal Oak Dairy in Hamilton, ON, and the injuries and loss of life sustained therein. I made the arsonist the secret homosexual lover of my gay uncle Gordon, which in real life he was not (although Gordon was gay, and the first gay person I knew).

Social Discourse: 1944 by Jane Eaton Hamilton

 

Jane Eaton Hamilton writes across genres, and is the author, among other books, of two collections of short fiction, “JULY NIGHTS,” shortlisted for the BC Book Prize and the VanCity Book Prize, and “HUNGER,” shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley and longlisted for the Lambda.

 

About Hamilton’s short fiction:

 

HUNGER

BiblioWomenAuthors, Hunger

Review of Hunger by Richard Labonte

Event review of Hunger

Painting the Baby’s Room Green

Hunger, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Oberon, 2002

The woman on the cover of this book is painted in vibrant tones of orange and red. Only one eye is visible, and it stares with an intensity that you feel might never quit. The other eye is obscured by her hands, clasped together in a vulnerable and disconcerting pose. And there, captured in the proverbial nutshell, are the stories contained in this excellent little collection. From the honesty, painfully contained and restrained, in “Accusation,” the opening story, where a woman tests the boundaires of her marriage when she draws her husband into her flirtation (read connection) with a younger man at work, to the closing story, from which the collection takes it title, where a manipulative lesbian lover physically and verbally intimidates her partner into staying with her, Jane Eaton Hamilton confronts the lies we may or may not choose to live with on a day-to-day basis.

Hunger is Hamilton’s fifth book, and the most assured foray to date into the genre by this multi-talented writer (she is a noted gardener and writer of poetry also). Her short stories have been nominated for numerous awards; they are included in anthologies; they have appeared in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Anthology, and in many literary journals, including The Fiddlehead. Hamilton has also been short-listed for the Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. Hunger was a finalist in the Publishing Triangle Awards NYC 2003.

The stories in Hunger are superbly character driven; the characters we encounter are not always lovable. At times demanding and selfish, they are searching for something more than what they have, and for that we find them interesting, perhaps even admirable. Hamilton’s wry observations on the human condition are poignant, and can be quite witty when they deal with those unfortunate lovers who are about to be dumped. In the darkly tragic, therefore slightly comedic (seemingly inseparable states), take “Goombay Smash,” one half of a lesbian partnership is desperately trying to keep the relationship together, and she takes both herself and her partner off to a gay resort. On the first morning, at breakfast, she is watching the other—apparently happy and contented—couples around her and tries to identify a common element in their seemingly successful relationships. She comes up with the wild notion that matching hairdos may be the answer to true coupledom bliss:

Maybe this is how American lesbians celebrate their anniversaries, you think. Never mind paper, silver, gold: American lesbians have hair anniversaries. If they make it two years, they part on the same side, five years and they spike, ten and they bob. Twenty and they both wear buns in snoods.

“Psst,” you say. “Marg, look over there.”
Marg says, “What, Joyce?”
You point out the women with the waterfall hair and try and explain about hair anniversaries, and how the two of you should get matching buzz cuts, but Marg just frowns and goes back to scraping out her grapefruit with a stumpy-handled spoon.

One of the most original stories is “Lifeboat” which, with complete clarity, catalogues the less than comforting reactions of a husband whose wife has lost a breast to cancer. She refuses to do anything cosmetic to disguise this fact, a situation he finds alternately selfish and frustrating, or gutsy and admirable. His life is significantly altered by his wife’s experience with the disease and the cancer machine of support groups, alternative therapies and the ubiquitous cancer convention. The author pulls no punches in her exploration of the husband’s character, yet we can feel sympathy for this man who cries What about me? The end holds a moment of redemption; anyone who has been there, cancer wise—done that, worn the t-shirt—with any member of her family, will certainly recognize it, and anyone lucky enough not to have been there will surely recognize and appreciate the sense of loss—acutely juxtaposed with the feeling of hope—for what might yet be salvaged.

My particular favourite in this bunch of marvellous incursions into the depths and occasional heights of human experience is “Kiss Me or Something,” the story of a gay woman who falls for a straight woman, or, as I prefer to think of it, the story of a woman trying on different identities to see which one best fits her. Unfortunately, when people experiment with people, someone usually gets hurt along the way, and this story reveals just how deep that hurt can be. The betrayal of one woman is presented to the other as a gift, as something that will bring them both closer together. As the relationship heads toward disaster, it is painful to keep reading, yet read on we must, just as the two women must keep up the charade between them until the bitter end. We may wonder at the cruelty of one human being who willfully dupes another, and we further wonder at the capacity of human beings to dupe themselves:

How could I resist her? She kissed my cheek and my chin, small adorable kisses, and I folded my arms around her, pressed myself against her still taut stomach, groaned.

“Please,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”

Now I knew who it was, I wanted Dorianna in a territorial way. I wanted to mark her, claim her, leave my scent on her. Drunk and confused and overcome by instinct, I felt like an animal. I pushed Dorianna down on her bed and made love to her like a beast, without taking off my clothes, lost in a haze of insane, itchy carnality.

An instinctive response to loss and betrayal, drawn with the kind of honesty that Hamilton is able to wield, her stories chronicle lives we may find uncomfortably familiar.

–Paula Thomas, Fiddlehead autumn 2003 No 217

Absinthe Review, Hunger

Emma Donoghue, judge of the Ferro-Grumley Award: “Highly original, gripping, sharp and deepy moving”

“Most of the characters in “Hunger” – women and men, gay and straight – inhabit a world roiled by emotional turbulence. Love evades them; their relationships are disintegrating; partners betray them; their lives are defined mostly by loss, longing, confusion, uncertainty. In “Goombay Smash,” a Key West vacation meant to breathe new life into the dispirited domesticity of a lesbian couple instead disintegrates into days of wrong turns, crossed signals, long silences, and denied sex. In “Kiss Me or Something,” a lifelong lesbian disdains the cautionary fretting of friends, so sure is she that the once-straight woman who now proclaims a Sapphic love eternal will never leave her for a man. In this uniquely voiced collection, nothing about matters of the heart is easy, or obvious, or even settled. The magic of these 10 short stories, though, and of Canadian writer Jane Eaton Hamilton’s insightful, fluid – and often disarmingly witty – prose is that, in elegant, edgy fiction as in messy real life, sorrows of the soul are redeemed by a resilience of spirit.” —Richard Labonte

“Jane Eaton Hamilton is a superb writer. Those who know her deem her to be among the brightest lights on the Canadian literary landscape. Those who do not know this ought to read and judge for themselves. I wholeheartedly recommend her work.” –Joy Kogawa

“These stories will grab you by the throat and not let you go. Highly original, gripping, sharp and deeply moving, they deserve the prizes they have won, and those to come.” –Emma Donoghue

“Jane Eaton Hamilton is a fine and accomplished writer.” –Carol Shields

“Hamilton explores themes of longing and loss in the lives of lesbians, heterosexual men and women. …marvelously quirky. Hamilton successfully weaves humour with pathos in the lean, accomplished style reminiscent of short stories in the New Yorker.” —Nairne Holtz, University of Western Ontario

 

JULY NIGHTS

“These works ride the perilous ride the perilous border between prose and poetry–a place of timeless, breathless beauty.  These are stories to be read again and again.”–Vancouver Sun

“A fine new collection, one that I highly recommend.”–Monday Magazine

“Hamilton makes captivity to her word-spirits seem, at times, preferable to mere liberty.  To favour one story says more about oneself than about the writer.”–Prairie Fire

“This is a strong first collection that will leave readers eager to see Hamilton’s next.”–Quill and Quire

“A disturbing pleasure to read.”–Toronto Star

“Crisp and clean, tender and dangerous.”–Paragraph

 

 

 

Hunger–my story collection (not Roxane Gay’s memoir I’m reading now)

When I was sorting through my archives, I discovered two reviews of my 2003 short story collection Hunger, one from Event Magazine and one from The Fiddlehead. I thought folks might like to read them. I’d forgotten they existed, and I so loathed the cover the publisher gave that book that I immediately orphaned it. Don’t get me wrong. I am a sizable fan of the artist Egon Shiele, but I didn’t think the chosen image evinced hunger, and the book design was, frankly, pug ugly. I was stunned by the back cover, or lack of back cover, which wasn’t even designed. I know I could have checked the typical stylistic quirks out when the press asked me to publish with them, but I didn’t. At the time, I was on a Gulf Island, and there were none of that press’s books I could find in the library, and it was before the internet was really going. I didn’t see the mess of that book until the press had gone to print (probably on purpose … some presses respect their writers and some don’t) and when I got my author copies, a signature fell out of the first one I picked up, proving that the production values sucked. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. After that, I just–refused it. I always knew it contained great stories, since most of them had won pretty major awards, and it went on to be shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley, earning it a lovely quote from Emma Donoghue, but I hated its look, so I orphaned it.

Anyway, what a difference 14 years makes–and doesn’t make. I still loathe that cover and the production values (you’ll note the cover is not included in this blog post, and it doesn’t appear on Amazon either) but I now imagine I might like the book if I read it again, because in tearing apart litmags and anthologies to make tear sheets for the archives, I found these:

Event review of Hunger

Painting the Babys Room Green review of Hunger

Mayday Magazine

md10-cover5-2016-oct-15

photography by: Kelli Connell

So pleased to be part of a group of LGBT writers in this issue of Mayday Magazine edited by Chase Dimock and Amy King. My story “Territory” won the This Magazine Fiction Prize in Canada in 1998, and later appeared in my short fiction collection HUNGER (2002). So many wonderful literary artists to check out.

Mayday Magazine LGBT issue

Territory

National Coming Out Day

JEH nude 2016

painting Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016

It’s National Coming Out day. If you’re feel safe and protected enough in your circumstances to do so, I hope you’ll join us as out and proud people! It can be uplifting, unnerving, relieving, and thrilling to take that step.

Many, many of my short stories are queer, as are many, many of my poems and my novel WEEKEND. Here are some of my short fictions specifically about coming out:

Smiley, by Jane Eaton Hamilton, not yet collected: A young man in Cape Town works up his courage to tell his mother he’s trans.

Hunger, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A young runaway tries to escape the clutches of her older Vancouver lover.

Territory, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A woman leaves her husband for another woman.

Kiss Me or Something by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A butch partners tries to get pregnant with her sometimes-straight woman partner.

I hope you’ll help me identify more short stories by other authors which celebrate coming out by responding to this post!

Here are the responses so far:

“Angel” by Elise Levine

“This is What You Get” by Benjamin Alire Saenz

“Ashes” by Nancy Jo Cullen

“From the Gloria Stories” by Rocky Gamez

“No Bikini” by Ivan Coyote

“My Marriage to Vengeance,” by David Leavitt

“Brokeback Mountain,” by Annie Proulx

“Smiley” by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Her Thighs” by Dorothy Allison

“Fisherman” by Nalo Hopkinson

“Am I Blue” by Bruce Coville

“A Dad Called Mom” by Anne Fleming

“Skin” by Racquel Goodison

“Aye and Gomorrah” by Samuel Delaney

 

 

How cool, Amber Dawn

FullSizeRender(2)
sketch by Jane Eaton Hamilton (after Picasso)

Where the World End and My Body Begins

Reason for celebration!  Amber Dawn has a new book out this spring, and I’m excited.  Here, listen to what I cribbed from Arsenal:

The first full-length poetry book by the Lambda Literary and Vancouver Book Award Winner.

Award-winning writer Amber Dawn reveals a gutsy lyrical sensibility in her debut poetry collection: a suite of glosa poems written as an homage to and an interaction with queer poets, such as the legendary Gertrude Stein, Christina Rossetti, and Adrienne Rich, as well as up-and-comers like Leah Horlick, Rachel Rose, and Trish Salah. (Glosas, a 15th-century Spanish form, typically open with a quatrain from an existing poem by another writer, followed by four stanzas of ten lines each, and usually end with a line repeated from the opening quatrain.)

By doing so, Amber Dawn delves deeper into the themes of trauma, memory, and unblushing sexuality that define her work.

But wait a little more.  Here are the blurbs:

“Revel in the way Amber Dawn’s hard femme survivor poetics create testimony bridges between queer survivor poets then and now, mapping a cartography you can tuck in your pocket, reminding you of where we’ve been.” —Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, author of The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence In Activist Communities and Love Cake

“You’ll be sweetened, entranced and scared in equal measure by Amber Dawn’s glosas. This is a wordsmith at the height of her powers. You’ll have to read these again and again, just to be sure the gorgeous is real.” —Jane Eaton Hamilton, author of Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes and Hunger

 

Hunger

Hunger

I’ve done something wrong, I think, except I am still in bed.  I scramble up to peer out the window and there she is, in her truck, smashed against the rear of my green car.  There doesn’t seem to be any damage.  From my vantage point high above the street, things look fine.  Still, I heard glass break.  I open the window, but I catch my fingers so that the window rolls up and over them and the pain is enormous.  She drives her truck down Pender and is gone who knows where.  There are things between this woman and me and every time she leaves, those things stretch and stretch.  Or they feel like smashed fingers, how the pain swells up and is bigger than a basketball or maybe this house, just for a minute, that big and encompassing.  But there is no one to cry out to so I don’t make a sound.
In an hour, she hasn’t come back.  She hasn’t phoned either.  I wonder whether she is going to tell me or whether the first I am to know of it is when the police stop me.  I can imagine that clear as day.  -Miss, a cop would say, do you realize you have no brake lights?  I’d hold up my fingers to see if the bruises would impress him, how the nails are swollen and purple.  Officer, I hurt myself, I’d say but I’d get the ticket anyway, I’d have to come home to her, waving it and shaking my head.  I’d say, Seventy-five bucks.  That’s what I’d say.  I’d look from the ticket to her and tell her how much.  And then I’d be as good as dead.  Around and around, that woman doing circles in my brain, attached in my brain like some elastic she keeps snapping back on me.

One day when she came home and I wasn’t expecting her, I hid behind the couch.  This was in January, when the days are short and cold.  Because she was trying to conserve electricity, the house was hardly heated; she didn’t care, it wasn’t her who was home all day.
-Stupid Bettina, she called, come out, come out.  Oh little thick-as-a-brick, where have you gotten to?  Where is my supper?
Peeking out as much as I dared, I saw she was in different clothes than she’d left in that morning.  But she was early.  It wasn’t dinnertime.  It was two hours away from dinnertime.
-Here I am! I cried.  Catch me if you can!  I leaped out and began to run around the living room, up over the couch and coffee tables, into the kitchen and bathroom, then outside even though I was wearing threadbare slippers and there was ice and snow on the steps.
When she caught me, she kissed me.  I was right beside a rhododendron bush in the side yard and for a minute it could have been May because I felt like a bloom, hot pink and florid.  She kissed me until my lips were broken.  I was so grateful.  She lifted me light as a memory and carried me back inside the house.  -How fast can you cook? she asked me, setting me down beside the stove.  Make Spanish omelettes.

I walk out onto our porch, which is now a summer porch, and I look at all our potted flowers.  My car is still out there, smashed, but I don’t care.  She has blue Andirondack chairs and I sit down.  Last summer someone stole one, one chair and two footstools and a beach blanket, but the next night she woke me up at three to say the thief had brought them back.  There was a note: I’m sorry I stole your stuff.  She’d believed I’d hidden things so she could paddle me.  -Bettina, she’d said, you dickens, you bad girl.  Come over here now.  Then when the thief returned them, everything was ruined.  One slap at a time, she took my spanking back.  This year, though, it’s the flowers.  One too many compliments from strangers passing by, is how I see it, because every day there is one geranium gone, one mallow, one lupin, and one expensive clay pot.  I am the one who grows things.  It is something I do for her.  There are no new plants missing.  I look around.  She isn’t motoring up the street.  I take a plant, a big hanging basket full with seedy fuchsia bells, and carry it around the side of the house and under the other porch where she has old, big furniture stored.  I hide it inside a cabinet.

Once, early on between us, she sat between my legs, smoking a cigarette.  She was wrapped in a white towel fresh from the laundry.  Her friend, the friend she’d brought home for me, was lying on my left, but my eyes didn’t leave her eyes where all the instructions for my life were written.
-Kiss each other, she said behind her fog of smoke.  Thick stick, soupbone, darling, kiss Kirsten while I watch.
Kirsten was a girl like I was a girl.  I kissed her but I was shy and slow, I barely brushed her lips with my lips, the merest hint of kisses, kisses that were hardly kisses, insubordinate kisses, really, because it was not what my lover wanted from me.  Kirsten was too stoned to know.  Kirsten was a girl who would do anything.  Kirsten’s lips opened and closed while I thought of my lover above us and how I lived in her blue, east end house and how every night she opened my thighs and whispered love into the girl parts of me, words that etched on my tender pink skin so I was scarred, was branded, was tattooed.
-I will never leave you, I told her.  Mommy, I said, I will never go.
She moved her fingers hard into me.
-Never! I cried.

She believes it is necessary for me to have a car.  It is a car like a preacher would drive, a family car that is boxy and big.  I use it to move out onto the streets while she is not at home, to move past the neon signs and over the viaduct.  She wants me to stay in Strathcona and Chinatown; she wants me to park in front of downtown churches, seek salvation-to-go, and while God is watching, finger myself.  But I cruise further to where men wear suits and soft leather shoes, where women and girls move smooth in heels, briefcases banging at their nylons.  I tell her I like the efficiency, when she asks, that I like the idea of becoming an international financier.  I cruise to UBC and SFU and bring home undergraduate application forms which I spread under her hands for her touch.

-My adorable moron, she says.  Do you love me, do you love me more than life itself?
-Yes, I whisper, oh yes oh forever.
-Don’t go to school, she says.
-Mommy, I won’t, I say.  I smell her lips, the yellow toxins of her cigarettes, and move underneath her, promising everything.
-Sweetheart, she says.  Darling girl.  I will take care of you always.
-Always, I breathe.

A few weeks ago, there was a knock on the door.  When I answered it I found a girl who told me her name was Sue; she’d just moved in next door.  The house next door is pink but otherwise exactly the same as this one.
-Well, she said and smiled over straight teeth, I just wanted to say hello.  To be neighbourly and all.
-Hello, I managed finally.
-Five of us just moved in, she said.  We’re film students.  Cinematographers.
-Students? I said, perking up.
-At BCIT.
The British Columbia Institute of Technology: I’ve driven past it many times.
-Three guys and two of us women, she said.
-Students? I repeated.
-Sure, she said.  I just came over to say hi.
-Hi, I said.  And then I grinned wide and said, Hi, Sue.

Sometimes I believe she’s a mirage and I am grown, and I have a husband and son.  Sometimes I understand she is not my mother and that I have a mother tucked in a dark corner of my brain, a mother who hums as she does dishes, who misses me and jolts alert each time the telephone rings.  This mother is everything a mother should be and she has hopes for me, hopes as real and true as a vacuum cleaner, hopes as simple as wanting to know I’m alive.  She is in Winnipeg, this mother, waiting.  I do not make my lover wait.  I torture her with my plans to take a business degree at the university, but I never make her wait.  She says she’s been waiting all her life for me and now her wait is over.
-Buttercup, she says, holding me like an infant in her arms, rocking me.
I nuzzle close and lose my education.  She pulls my education out of me strand by strand until I am a younger girl, a much younger, stupider girl.

-My little snail, she says, bending over me.  Tell me what you want.  Tell me what to do.  Is it that you want a man?  Am I not enough?
-I want to go back to school, I tell her.
Her hand is between my thighs.  -Turn over on your stomach.
-No! I cry, clamping my legs closed.
She pulls free, falls away and lies on her back.  She averts her eyes.
-I won’t leave you, I say, relenting.
-School is for smart girls, Bettina, she tells me.
-I won’t leave you, I repeat.
-I know about school, she says.  School would only fill your brain with thoughts of dead poets.  With numbers.  With geography.  School can’t give you a thing.
She is right.  I have everything here, with her.  There is nothing I need.  School could not give me what she’s given me, what she gives me effortlessly, what she’s filled me with.

But at Simon Fraser University I walk the halls carrying books from her shelves.  The university walls are plain and there is a faint smell, a mixture of sweat and fear students have left behind.  This is what I want, what she doesn’t understand.  When clusters of students pass me, I pretend to be looking at the walls, at display cases, but really I am watching them.  When they vanish, I scurry towards the bookstore.  If it’s closed I press my face against the glass to see the books perfectly aligned on their shelves; sometimes I kiss the glass to make a grey imprint of my lips.

She owns this house.  She tells me she has always owned it but I know there was a time when she could not have, a time before she was a woman.  I also know she has lived here for twenty years or more, since before I was born, and that other girls have lived here with her.  I make them up.  I give them names like Pepper and Godiva and stand them, chewing their fingernails, in front of the dishwasher.  Once I tried to find a spare key to my lover’s office, a place off-bounds to me, so I could understand these girls and how they came here and how they left.  I imagined photograph albums and diaries.  I thought of mementos.  I turned the house upside down and still, there was no key.  But I could not stop imagining my lover bending over these girls, these Pennys and Dots.  I saw her face, intent, its crows lines and full mouth.  She is mysteriously wealthy, my lover, yet she lives here, on this bad street, with girls.

One night Sue and the other film students set up their equipment in front of this house.  While my lover watched TV, I stood at the window barely cracking the drapes.  There were vans from which were hauled huge cameras and studio lights; there were many people, much urgent milling about.  Finally Sue stood with a blackboard of sorts, clacking it.  A girl rushed up the sidewalk, conferred quickly with another, lit a cigarette and rushed away.  I couldn’t hear the dialogue, not from indoors, but over and over the scene, which looked intense, was repeated.  Over and over.  This is what students are like, I thought, full of command and importance, heavy with expensive gear.
-They’re shooting a movie, I said to my lover.
She made a noise from the couch.  Lackadaisically she said, Bettina, bean sprout, come over here.
-They moved in next door, I said.
-Honey, she said, lifting her head, I can’t tell you how many people have come and gone from that house.  Come away from the window.
She blew smoke rings that flattened in the light from the TV.
I  pulled myself away from the window and slumped beside her.
-You’re leaving me, she said sullenly, her eyes on Morley Safer.
I’d met Sue and I’d seen students.  Upstairs, under her mattress, I had university application forms filled out and ready to mail.
-After all I’ve done for you.
She turned to look at me, hard and grey.  She stubbed out her cigarette and kissed me.  She moved so her hands were covering my breasts then lowered her mouth to tongue my nipple through my shirt.
-Stupid Bettina, she murmured and nipped me.
I was certain the students outside could see her.  -Oh! I said and grabbed the back of her head.
-If we only have each other, she said huskily.  If we stand together, Bettina.  All my life I spent looking for you, all my life.  Do you love me?  Oh little moron, do you love only me?
She eased my jeans from my hips.  I thought of the students, the slight rain, the spotlights.

Today, without being stopped for my tail lights, I drive to Shaughnessy.  There are no universities in Shaughnessy, but this is an area of town with educated people.  In my preacher’s car I have been to all of the good areas, to Kits, to West Vancouver, to the university endowment lands where houses cannot be bought but only leased.  I recognize education in the way women and men move.  I see algebra in the tilt of women’s creamy necks and architecture in men’s firm backs.  In Shaughnessy, though, not many people are evident.  But I understand this means the women and men are at work in their beautiful offices before coming home to their beautiful houses, houses bigger, some of them, than universities.
I stop for stamps.

On television I watch Days of Our Lives.  I watch in spandex in case Michael Easton, the actor who plays Tanner, can see me.  I wouldn’t know what to do with a boy, what to do with Tanner, but I like to look my best for him weekday afternoons at three.

She sleeps with girls when she is gone from the house.  She thinks I don’t understand this, she thinks I don’t know.  But I can smell girls on her fingers; I can tell who’s a junkie, who’s an alcoholic.  She leaves substance traces on my skin.
-Don’t get cocky, she told me once.  Nothing lasts forever.
I sat at the table copying out recipes she’d brought home.  I said, This Alfredo sauce has cream in it.
-I could tell you to leave.
-I thought you were watching your cholesterol.
-Boom, she said.  You’d be gone.

I want her.  She knows I want her.  I want her so badly it starts as an ache in my stomach and moves up and down me, up to the crown of my head and down to my toes.  I dream she will let me go to school, that I will go to school and nothing here will change, that after years of school we’ll sell this house and move to West Vancouver.  She will have her money.  I will have my education.  I dream we’ll be happy.
The first time she touched me I thought I gave birth.  I thought her fingers were the head of the baby I once was and I was coming out of myself into the shimmery blue of our bedroom like innocence.
Still, I realize it’s as she said, nothing lasts forever.  She will grow old.  Already when I pinch the skin on the rear of her hand it doesn’t sink back into place.  Already she’s a woman with enough skin for two women.

Sometimes I think the bad streets just past her windows belong to me.  Across the way, behind a low-slung group of row houses, a pink condominium grows and grows taller.  When I hold my lover mornings, her night-shirted back against my breasts, her smell salty, the big machines start up growling.  My lover swears and pulls a pillow over her head, but I am not angry.  This condominium, which will block our sunset, will be expensive enough to bring educated people to the neighbourhood.  All day I watch from our windows, watch the despairing women and scruffy men who live along our street carrying sacks of groceries, weighted down, and they are mine, as if borne of me, as if walking not on the broken sidewalk but inside her house and my body.  They are sad or violent.  They steal plants as if my nasturtiums will give them what they do not have.

Where we live, there are rats.  Though laundry is my responsibility, I am scared to descend into the basement where I hear, and sometimes see, rats skitter along the ceiling pipes.  In another house, in another life, in the life my lover took me from, a cat killed rats and I had to lift their warm, inert bodies in paper towels and carry them to the incinerator.  I saw their teeth.  But laundry is my responsibility, so after my television show I creep down to the basement, a place of darkness and webs.  I feel scared she’ll arrive home and catch me, I don’t know why.  I have the hamper in my shaking hands.  On top of the pile, her soiled underwear is vibrating.  I put the basket down and start to separate whites and colours.  I put her panties in the washing machine.  I put towels and sheets in the washing machine.  I do not see a rat.  There are droppings near the dryer, but for today, no rats.

In her fridge are mushrooms, a bag of swollen caps as fresh as I could want.  I know she intends me to make a meatless spaghetti sauce, but I decide on mushroom burgers.  Sometimes I am reckless with menus; sometimes curious dishes dance behind my eyes and it is all I can do to rid myself of Green Turtle Soup, so vivid does it become.  I pull hamburg buns from the freezer.  They are plump and covered in sesame seeds.  I set them to thaw.  While I chop mushrooms and celery I think of education.  Education is a drug in my brain, looping through it, startling my synapses.
At seven, I have everything ready.  The burgers are in the frying pan ready to cook.  The condiments are in the center of the set table.  I’ve even been downstairs; the laundry is dried and folded and put away.
But my lover doesn’t come home until a few minutes before midnight and when she arrives she brings a boy, a man, inside with her.  She introduces him as Pete.
-It’s time, she whispers to me.  High time.  She slips her arms around me.  Take off your clothes, she says.
The boy, the man, is pretty, a young blonde boy with long hair.
-Bettina, sugar, put on some candles.  Fill the bathtub.
Her voice is hoarse.

After it is over, when we have done it, when my lover and Pete are sprawled on the bedsheets sleeping, I pull free.  My body aches.  I have done things I never believed I would do and I have watched my lover do these same things.  I dress and stand looking at them.  The room is steamy.  Luckily the application is at the end of the bed; carefully I slide my hand between the mattresses and pull it free.  They don’t stir.  I take stamps from my jean pocket and adhere them.
I don’t clean myself.  I know I am messy but I don’t use the bathroom, just dress and leave the house with my car keys.

I use the mailbox at Postal Station K, the closest to her house.  I am still not stopped by police – I don’t know if I have brake lights or not – and when I come home I retrieve the fuchsia, none the worse for wear, from the cabinet.
As I carry it onto the porch she says, I noticed that was missing.
I startle.  She is sitting in a corner on one of her blue chairs, her legs curled under her, smoking.
-Bettina, she says, staring right at me.  You clod.  I know what you’ve done.
-Is Pete upstairs?
-Don’t think you fool me.
-I love you.
For a minute we’re both quiet.  Then softly she says, I hit your car this morning, you know.  My brakes must be going.
Standing on tiptoe I hook the plant on a nail where it sways wildly for a second.
-Nothing matters, she says.  She lights a cigarette from the butt of the one she’s smoking.
-Some things matter, I say.  We matter.
-I tried everything.
-I didn’t want Pete, I say, or Kirsten.  I wanted you.
-Kiss me, she says.
-I’m not leaving you, I say, it’s just school.  Maybe they won’t even take me.  I go across and sit on her lap as I have sat on her lap for months.  Her hand smooths the hair from my temples so gently and sweetly I almost cry.
-Bettina, she says.  Little puppy, little pussy.
She surrounds me like a bubble; each of my breaths is the stale air from her mouth.  She is everything to me.  She is my lungs, my heart, every bone in my body.
-Aren’t you hungry? I whisper at last.  Aren’t you starved?

–Hunger, from the story collection Hunger, Oberon Press; first appeared in Paragraph Magazine, winner of the Erotic Fiction Contest

 

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