CONSUMER PRODUCT INFORMATION
The Beverage You Are About to Enjoy Is Extremely Hot. Sip Carefully.
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
Professional Driver on Closed Course. Do Not Attempt.
Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics.
You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
Warning: You Have Now Entered a Chick-Lit-Free Zone.
Pass Icy. Chains Required.
Small-Craft Advisory. Sustained Winds of 17-33 Knots.
Mind the Gap.
Want a beach book? Buy yourself some Bridget Jones.
Want to get off? Your local video store has a wide array of suitable titles. Or try the Internet.
If you want something simple, you're in the wrong place. This is about revealing secrets, not tits and ass.
Well, not just tits and ass.
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.
Danger: Riptides and Undertow. Swim at Your Own Risk.
HAUNTED FOREST, WITCHES CASTLE, 1 MILE. I'D TURN BACK IF I WERE YOU!
Do Not Leave Child Unattended.
Say it aloud: Screw fairy tales and chick lit and all forms of lying.
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
Ah, just jump in. We dare ya.
Mill Valley, California
Rennie's heart is pounding so hard her chest is going to burst in a minute. She floats her tongue over her lips as her student teacher, Bay, tosses aside the pillow. He knots his hands in her hair, dips down for a kiss, and they fall together onto the bed. Thighs aching, she spreads her legs and wraps her arms around his warm brown back. Each movement presses away her literary agent's critique of her novel chapters:
Don't open with a sex scene, Wren. Readers will lose sympathy for your heroine.
She tightens her legs around her lover, grabs his ass.
The word cunt in a novel aimed at women? Probably not a good idea.
Bay, Bayuni, Bayuni Henares, her pretty young lover, her Student Teacher from San Francisco State, her Bay. All hers, no one else's. He's working with Rennie this year at Tam High, learning from her. Ooh boy, all kinds of things.
And he swirls his tongue into her ear, just how she likes it.
Your heroine needs a gay best friend.
She needs better shoes.
Other than the titillating little term the university uses, "Master Teacher," there's nothing illicit about her and Bay whatsoever. She grabs his head and presses his mouth to her breasts and he nibbles and sucks and everything is perfect. This is the moment when her lips fall open and she breathes out an "oh."
Don't write about the Midwest, Wren, no one cares.
She guides his hips and they've found a rhythm now, he's rocking into her, perfect, perfect.
She and Bay started like these things usually do. After a few weeks of exchanged glances, too-long planning conferences, phone calls at home about newspaper layouts, Rennie couldn't stand it. The same old pattern, it was like picking a scab, she couldn't help it.
When she's Rennie Taylor grabbing someone's ass to push him farther inside her, she's not Wren Taylor, who can't finish her second book. She doesn't have to hear Lisa's voice in her ears:
She needs to live in Manhattan.
San Francisco, can you at least do San Francisco?
When she's screwing yet another student teacher here in her Mill Valley cottage, she doesn't have to think about Lisa, doesn't have to think about her empty, nonexistent novel, doesn't have to think about anything.
Not her past.
Not the Porter Place.
That wasn't real anyway.
No more yielding but a dream.. .
She washed all that away a long time ago. She has all kinds of tricks for doing that.
The best thing about sex is the way it fills the emptiness.
Before Bay, it was Jason. Before Jason, it was Lee. Before Lee, it was Seamus. Before Seamus, it was KevinBenTroyHectorJim. Then her student teachers blur into an endless string of Stanford undergrads including (if you count blow jobs as sex) that embarrassing little moment with the Stanford Tree, whose real name she never did find out. When the quake hit in October of her sophomore year, she was blasted on cheap sherry in the Maples Pavilion locker room, messing around with a certain Cardinal football player and his best friend. Eight buildings on the Stanford campus were damaged that day, which just proves that disaster follows her wherever she goes.
An addict? It's crossed her mind, but she's no addict. Addicts do it with random people in dark alleys, strangers they'll never see again, have sex partners into the hundreds.
She prefers to think of herself as a hobbyist.
Before Stanford, of course, it was Rob Schafer.
To blot away his face, the swatch of dark hair on his chin, she squeezes her eyes shut and presses against Bay, her breath quickening. A moan drifts from her lips, and she lets herself remember how it started with Bay, because that's the here and now.
That's the time and place she is fucking herself back into.
Late that night, as they were pulling student news items together, she watched him click away at layouts on the computer. Daring herself, she licked her finger, drew it across his neck. He turned, and she pressed her mouth on his. His lips parted and she dove right in, and his fingers tangled in her hair as he pulled her down on top of him. Clothes came off and they did it on the cold tiles, there at Tamalpais High School, after everyone had gone home.
Months later he's still coming to her little cottage in Mill Valley most afternoons after school. Of course, their relationship isn't just about sex. They talk about teaching philosophy, learning styles, the war about to start in Iraq that Rennie's not really paying attention to because no one can change anything. What a fucking idiot, holding up signs in downtown Holland, Illinois. U.S. OUT OF EL SALVADOR-what the hell difference did it make? Who in Holland gave a damn about El Salvador or could do anything?
If it weren't for the walls around Holland, everyone in the country would drown.
Holland makes her think of the Porter Place again, and her breath bursts out in hot waves. Just fuck it out of me, take it away.
He moves against her, faster now, and she needs to blur and blot out her memories, but at that moment a still frame flashes in front of her, a wineglass suspended in midair, shards falling to the floor, each containing a feature of his face. The scream of a barn swallow tears through the silence. Cherry's eyes plead with Rennie through the car window, her lips forming the word that sealed her fate.
I'm such a bitch, I'm such a bitch, how could I let her do that? She presses against her lover, biting her fingernails into his back. Oh, fuck me, just make it go away... . And it sort of works, better than anything else does, anyway. Maybe she and Bay will last awhile, longer than the others. Her romances are dandelion puffs; one moment of a thrill and they're gone.
His fingers press her hair back from her face. But she aches for more, it's not enough, just sex is never enough, and despite her promises to herself she whispers, "Bay...Get it...."
Bay rolls off her. Rennie's fingers slip between her legs, and her gaze falls on her memory shelf. The red-stained jar holds the light like a garnet, reflected from the lamp on the bedside table. Bay's never asked about it. He respects her privacy, or maybe there are things about her he doesn't want to know.
She keeps it because she can't get rid of it, but sometimes her glance flits in its direction, like tonight in the swell of sex in her room, in the womb of passion that still, somehow, contains this. A sinking spin flies through her stomach. Fifteen years ago, wasn't it? When the Bitch Posse girls took a straight razor blade, slashed it across their forearms, trickled the blood into three glass jars. That was before they'd pushed things too far, before that night in the middle of nowhere, before that night of blood for blood.
"Forever..." Cherry whispered in her ear, her breath blowing at Rennie's hair, then dyed pure black to match her crocheted see-through sweater, her shorter-than-short miniskirt, her Doc Martens. The jars had been Cherry's idea.
Oh, God, her girls, her lost, sad girls...
That's the past, Rennie, you can't change it.
She presses her hands to her breasts, and now Bay's holding the knife just how she likes it. What she loves about Bay is that there's no hesitation; he wants only to please her, and he has never asked questions or judged. And she moves her fingers from her breasts to her eyes and lets the crish, crash rock her, not to sleep, but to that unworldly feeling, the one at the top of the roller coaster, the jumping-out-the-window feeling, the second before gravity catches her and pulls her unabashedly toward Earth. The moment wraps her up and spins her, and her body heats up, scalding, as he gets into bed with her, his skin smooth and sweaty against her belly.
That night fifteen years ago, things made sense. Amy held her hand over her eyes as the blood washed into the jars, but Rennie watched the whole thing. Cherry's fingers tangled around Amy's waist, her red hair whispering around her chin as Rennie clasped her arms around Cherry, in love with her friends, forever.
Afterward they flopped across Cherry's bed, watched the blood trickle up and down the sides of the jars they turned this way and that, before falling asleep.
She leans to the bedside table and turns off the light.
"Now?" Bay slides the blade along her belly, gently, not cutting.
She can smell Cherry's incense, patchouli, or is it Bay's sweat, so sweet, so bitter? But she squeezes her eyes closed. Metal presses against flesh. "Harder."
He draws the knife across her belly again. This time the skin separates and she blinks her way back into the universe, watches the valley fold open, the blood seaming up along the cut and pressing out, blue to red in the air of this world, and as usual the pain springs her into the here and now.
But some blood will never wash away.
How could they have known it would end the way it did? She's never talked about it, terrified, stricken, unable to comprehend that she did such a thing, that it actually happened, that it materialized in the real world.
But the story plays itself over and over in her head, when she's alone in bed at night, when guilt tugs her insides out and flings them into her face, when tears roll down her cheeks for no reason at all.
That's why being alone is so terrifying.
She lifts her body toward the knife, and Bay understands, slices again. She wonders sometimes if he likes this too much, because the cut is really deep, and she cries out, spreading her legs. He sets the knife aside and now, now, he presses into her again. They move together, the blood sticky between them. He's drawn her so close to the edge, so close, and she comes quickly, hard, heart beating in her ears as she scrapes her nails down his back.
When it's over embarrassment floods her, and they speak little as they attend to the business of daubing her belly, covering up with a bandage. The stage prop cigarettes are lit; smoke curls in the air. Shiny eyes blink in darkness, and Bay says comforting words (You're so sexy, Rennie....My wild one....Did I do it right? ). But of course that's not what she wants; she doesn't know what she wants. She felt good for a minute, but now, it's all she can do to keep from pulling the stained knife from the bedside table, slashing it across her wrists. Why is she so unhappy, with her pretty Bay, her great teaching job? She has only two preps this year, she lives near San Francisco just like she'd planned, out of Holland, Illinois, for-fucking-ever. She's a published writer, an award winner even. (Never mind that pesky second book that doesn't exist and maybe never will.) She and her younger lover are smoking in bed after terrific sex, and he'll stay over tonight, cook her pancakes, and they'll drive to school separately, surreptitiously. It's just naughty enough to be fun but not so naughty it could get her into trouble. Her life is all she's ever wanted.
Some wounds will never heal.
From across the room the memory jar stares back at her.
It got too awkward to write to Cherry, after a while. The letters pouring back in Cherry's rounded script, telling her way more than she wanted to know about where she was and why and how it felt. And Amy, of course, Amy pushed her away right after it happened.
Those girls are gone forever.
The Girl Genius is dead.
The tears that sting her eyes are easy to explain.
In case you were wondering, my mom's a total fuck-up. Thank God for Rennie and Amy, the best friends I've ever had. If Marian-she wants me to call her Marian-were my only female role model, I'd have shot myself three years ago, when I couldn't see far enough into the future to know there was a sliver of hope in the distance, that I could transcend Marian and become Cherry Diana Winters, Somebody.
Tonight's the perfect example. Here I stand in the kitchen, dirty dishes scattered over the countertops. Do you think Marian is helping wash, dry, stack, with some crappy unrealistic yet vaguely reassuring family sitcom on in the background? Uh-uh. Marian's doing a couple lines in the bathroom, all secretive like I don't know what she's up to. Just a few seconds ago she was in here bitching about the dishes; then she snarled at me about homework, like she forgot what she was yelling about between the time her sentence ended and the next one started. Maybe she was just trying to do the responsible mom act, because when I said I was starting the dishes, she forgot about the homework and took off to snort her coke.
If I didn't have Princess Di to look up to, I'd probably kill myself. I have her name, and part of me hopes that connects me to her, that I could even be her, someday. That I don't have to turn into Marian.
You do know I was born a Princess, and the King and Queen just left me on Marian's doorstep, don't you? They'll come back for me someday.
Should clue you in that she named me Cherry. Why do hippies saddle their children with wacko names like Peace, Rainbow, Moonchild? My best friend got stuck with Wren. Only she cuts it to Rennie. What am I supposed to be, Chair? You know how many guys have made snappy remarks about my name, thinking they're oh-so-original? Want me to pop you? I'll break you... . Ha ha ha. Someday I'll go by Diana, but not while I'm playing the bad girl. When I'm grown up, when I'm good enough to be a Princess.
The moments after the first couple lines Marian's usually okay, happy. Then her thoughts spin out of control, and her energy goes all over the room, and she says, If I had a piano I'd play it till kingdom come... . But she doesn't, so she takes out her cards and shuffles them, plays a game of solitaire, shuffles again, and plays faster and faster, and if it's a bad time she'll get depressed and nasty. And she cries.
I pull cat hair from the disposal, dreading her return. Did I mention we have fourteen cats in this tiny house? But I love them all, Pongo, Posey, Belinda, Baby, Bradbury, Bitch, Jezebel, Jaws, Jazzy, Juniper, Jelly, and the newest babies, Skinny, Scream, and Shelley. Marian decided all of them were mine except Pongo and Posey, who she never got fixed. Why else would someone own fourteen cats?
I flood the lasagna pan from two nights ago with soapy water and start scraping with a knife. Want to guess which one of the Winters women made the lasagna?
The abrasive, gentle rhythm of blade against glass is somehow comforting, and I flick on the radio with a soapy finger as Jelly or, no, I think it's Jezebel-they both have gray spots and both look exactly alike, but Jezebel's getting fatter, pregnant maybe?-jumps off the stove onto the floor and darts across the kitchen. When some asinine Bon Jovi song floats over the airwaves-what did I expect in Holland?-I pop in the Sisters of Mercy tape I shoplifted from the mall a few weeks ago. I felt bad ripping it off, but it wasn't like I had a choice, since I have no money, and I live in Holland, Illinois, where we vote Republican and till the fields, where Homecoming's big news, where practically the whole school's white and middle class and so fucking predictable, where noble farmers struggle their whole lives so the CEO of Archer Daniels Midland can buy his tenth Mercedes. Welcome to my hometown, Holland, Illinois, where cutting-edge radio is "Livin' on a Prayer."
I turn "This Corrosion" up loud, way loud, to blast Jon Bon-Fucking-Jovi out of my brain. Andrew Eldritch slashes thick and angry words into the air, words about bleeding until you can't bleed anymore, words that break my heart and words that make me hate and words that make me want to dance.
The lasagna pan needs more soaking, and I let it fall into the water, brushing my hair away from my face with the back of one hand. Marian appears out of nowhere, running her knuckles across her red, pasty nostrils. "You're not going out in that."
"That" is a super-tight black V neck sweater, black miniskirt, fishnets, and combat boots. Sam likes it, but that's not why I wear it. My clothes are part of who I am. The outfit's practically identical to what I wear whenever I go out, so I don't see what her problem is. But this is part of her show. She'll let me wear the outfit. The only question will be how big a deal she makes of it. She dresses slutty herself, but that's not why she'll drop the subject. In a minute, if I'm lucky, her thought train will jump the track.
"Listen, Cherry." She turns down my music, pulls a cigarette from the pack on the counter, and lights it. "When I was your age, I dressed that way too. Do you see where it got me?" She offers me the pack. I shake my head-I've got a sinkful of dishes to do and I might have to make a quick getaway. "With a baby, no husband, and a fucking waitress job. Seventeen years later what do I have?"
"A seventeen-year-old, no husband, and a fucking waitress job."
She blows out a thick stream of smoke. "Do you want to be like me?"
"Like me" has nothing to do with her job or the fact that she was a teenage mom or that my father's not part of our lives or even that she's a fucking cokehead. It has to do with who she is. I will never, ever, ever be like her.
I can't say that, though. I'm too cautious to stoke her fire, because I've seen her angry on coke, and it's worse than any other kind of angry I've ever seen. "Yeah, Marian, you're right." I don't mention the clothes again because she probably won't remember that the clothes were what got her started on the speech.
"I'm right?" Her eyes harden into pebbles. "What's that supposed to mean?"
God, I can't say anything. "Sorry." I lift Bitch off the refrigerator and deposit her onto the floor. My heart beats in my ears as I dip my hands back into the sink. Please, let her keep control.
But she pulls a clean plate from the drain board and hurls it at the wall, where it shatters. "What do I have to do to get your attention? You're not going to be like me." A shine of snot appears at the corner of her nostril, but she doesn't bother to wipe it away, just lets it glisten there. She yanks my arm out of the dishwater and squeezes it, hard. "You don't want my life. Hell, I don't want my life. How the fuck did I end up here?"
I shake my arm away, just wanting to get the hell out.
"Don't pull away from your mother." As if in slow motion, the open palm smacks across my face, and in spite of my prayers to stay strong I cry out, hands fluttering to my cheek. I back away from her, slowly; I don't want to upset her more. "Someone needs to get your attention! Who do you think you are, going out dressed like a hooker?"
So she hasn't forgotten the clothes after all, or maybe it's just an excuse to blow up. Her eyes have that glassy look, the glazed-over TV set look, and I whisper, "I'm sorry," and hightail it toward the door before she hits me again.
Her face crumples. "Cherry, I don't want you to end up like me. That's all." Tears streak down her face, running her makeup so she looks like a clown in the rain. My cheek still smarts, but more than that my stomach burns, whirls. I just want out of here, forever.
"I'm sorry if I hurt you, honey. I love you," she pleads, and now the sobs start, the wheedling voice, the gulps, the chokes, the cocaine-laced promises. I don't want to hear them. "Wouldn't want to stay home tonight with your mom, would you?"
She's angling for something, probably wants a little company, someone to smoke some dope with when she gets too paranoid. Count me out. "Me and Amy and Rennie are going to hang around the college for a while," I say coldly. I'd far rather get drunk or stoned in the basement of the Psych Building with my two best friends in the world than toke up with Marian, who gets disgustingly chatty when high, and unpredictable when wired on coke. She's up for a bigger whaling tonight; I know she has it in her, and I'm sure as hell not going to be around when it happens.
I grab the keys from her purse-better that I have the truck tonight than Marian-and pull my leather jacket off the sofa. Before she can notice what I've done, I'm out the door.
What's on her agenda tonight? Is she going to space out in front of stupid sitcoms and mope about a life she'll never have? Or will I come home later to find her tangled on the sofa with a man I don't know, some bar pickup? Who gives a fuck, anyway?
Not me. I don't need a mom. I can take care of myself.
I pull my mittens on and walk toward the truck, and now's when the real fun's going to start, now's when the Bitch Posse's going out to raise some hell.
Oh, I'm the luckiest girl in the world to have the friends I do. They've freed me from Marian, made me into somebody. Rennie, who's way too beautiful to be a virgin, always acts like I'm doing her a huge favor by hanging around her, when really I was the one who ached for her attention and couldn't believe the smartest girl in class actually thought I was worth her time, said I was creative, told me she liked my poems, that I could be somebody. Cherry Diana Winters-Somebody. Of course, I'll never tell her how desperate I am for her friendship. It would totally shatter her image of me. Part of why Rennie likes me is that I'm off the wall, wild, different, strong.
Maybe I am.
And Amy-well, Amy's looking for fun, wherever it's to be had. She ditched the popular crowd to be with us because we accept her for who she is. Took a pair of scissors to her fucking cheerleader uniform and threw it in the too-gorgeous face of her former best friend, Pammie McFadden. That was when we decided Amy was the Über-Bitch-Goddess.
I let the truck run while I scrape the windows. Scoring Amy-Homecoming Queen Amy, Head Cheerleader Amy-gave me and Rennie credibility. We got together as best friends just before Christmas. First me and Rennie, then Amy. We christened ourselves the Bitch Posse. Figured that way, we had license to do whatever the hell we wanted, since we were bitches anyway-we said so ourselves.
Tonight the Bitch Posse's going to find some trouble. I don't know what it is yet, but if you don't find trouble, trouble finds you. It's better to choose your own.
Besides, it's a hell of a lot more fun.
Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan
Amy presses her palm to her swelling belly and stares at the birthday cake on the gray granite countertop. Night blankets the four-bedroom Craftsman on the Saint Marys River as a cold wind whistles outside, hard enough to blow her across the river to Ontario. Where the hell is Scotty? He promised he'd be home early tonight, that he'd cut short his trip to Hancock, where he's scoping out a second Toyota dealership he might buy.
Amy considers herself lucky. Most residents of the Soo aren't doing so well, so she has the best of both worlds: a painter's paradise of Lake Superior beaches, sunsets sparkling over the water, tall white pines, blueberry bushes, scrubby jack pines, the ground a blanket of needles; and of course, enough money to surround herself with the things that make her feel successful, hardwood floors, granite countertops, Viking appliances, Pottery Barn crockery, Martha Stewart copper cookware, embroidered dish towels, all bought online, stuff most of the permanent residents of the Soo could never afford.
But why, when she's alone at night, does she feel like a small ghost of a girl, about to blow away in the wind, disintegrate into ash? Didn't she do everything right, leave her old life behind her, change?
After all this time, why does it hurt so much to think of her old friends?
And why, after fifteen fucking years, do those four red letters still burn against her eyelids?
No. That girl at the Porter Place isn't a part of Amy anymore. She was very careful to put that behind her, right after it happened. No letters to Cherry, not a word to Rennie, ever. The old Amy's dead. The new Amy's pregnant and well-to-do and happy.
This afternoon, she bundled up and walked to the Sault Harbor, just to pass the time. A tug and barge crunched their way through fairly thin ice past Mission Point at around one o'clock, bound for Detroit amid clouds of diesel smoke. Tonight, she heard on the late local news, they'll heave to in the ice off Nine Mile Point, passing the hours till daylight, when the Coast Guard icebreaker will help them the rest of the way along the lower Saint Marys River. She feels a sense of kinship with the little tug, pulling Scotty along, hardly noticeable.
God, she hasn't painted in so long.
Her heart's not in it anymore.
The wind outside sings a familiar song, whose haunting notes she transposes in her mind to hopeful ones. Despite her anxiety, her annoyance at Scotty, and the cold loneliness that winter storms bring her, tonight's birthday is going to be special. No matter how late Scotty gets here, they'll have cake and milk (Amy wishes it was champagne, but she knows better than to drink while she's pregnant) and sing "Happy Birthday." Later, much later in bed, they'll have that warm, wonderful sex that somehow seems so much better now that she's pregnant, his flat belly pressing against her rounded one, the skin over the baby so tight, so firm. For once she feels perfect. "Your last birthday before you're a daddy," she told him this morning, before he left. In three months they'll be joined by a little girl. Her baby was exquisite on the sonogram, each finger fully formed, the thumb of her left hand popped firmly in her mouth. Amy doesn't deserve this, does she, could she?
Scotty doesn't want to know if the baby's a boy or a girl. He covered his eyes during the sonogram, made a little joke of it even. But Amy's already bought some frilly outfits and folded them away in the dresser in the nursery that Scotty's painted yellow. She hasn't come up with a name yet. Bad luck, or superstition. After all this time, her life is coming together. But she can't quite believe it.
Oh, there are the small disturbances-tonight, for instance. Scotty promised he'd be home early to celebrate his thirty-fifth birthday with her. "Can't promise I'll be back for dinner," he said before grabbing his coffee and kissing her good-bye, "but I'll be back for cake." Now she glances at the clock above the stove. Ten forty-five.
But the time, like all Amy's problems, seems small, unfair, compared to what most people have to deal with. Still, there's something not quite right; it's like that moment in the horror movie just before something awful bursts from behind the heroine. Inside her head lingers a niggling suspicion that life won't work out for her, because it shouldn't.
All this time she's thought her past was buried deep under layers of experiences and thoughts and her and Scotty's courtship, but somehow it keeps wearing away the wall she's built. She does a little patchwork now, mortaring over the crumbling bits with the good memories.
Oh, think of the U of M, think of the Angell Hall psych lecture where we stared at each other week after week. His name, she knew, was Scotty. But neither exchanged a word until the last day of class, when he handed her a skinny paperback by a poet named Pablo Neruda. She read from it, not listening at all to lecture, dipping at his phrases, Ah los vasos del pecho! Oh the goblets of the breast! Ah los ojos de ausencia! Oh the eyes ofabsence! Her breath quickened, and she stared at Scotty, her cheeks flushed, his eyes shining. He ido marcando con cruces de fuego el atlas blanco de tu cuerpo. I have gone marking the atlas of your body with crosses of fire. Dizzy, half-drunk, her eyes scanned across Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos. I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.
After class, he ducked out, but she said, "Wait, wait," and the "wait" turned into a kiss, one that, in its lips and tongues and passions, reminded Amy of another gorgeous kiss, so long ago. The kiss turned frantic, and wordlessly they snuck to Harlan Hatcher Library for a tangle of giggles that turned into naughtiness in the deserted third-floor stacks. He leaned her against the wall, driving into her, kissing her neck. God, she'd no idea poetry could be so seductive. The best most exciting alive awake sex she's ever had, surrounded by books, words, thoughts, and ideas folded up into themselves, undiscovered. As he cried out and she shivered into his arms and blinked him into focus, the first words he said to her were "I love you."
She drowns herself in that memory for a while, letting the moments wash over her, anything to blur away the present, where Scotty's never home when he says he'll be, where all there is to do late at night is go online and drop a couple hundred on the latest Internet sale at J. Jill or Williams-Sonoma or the Gap or wherever, where she's alone in this cold house in this cold place, with memories that will never go away no matter how much money she spends.
She runs her nails across the perfect countertop.
Of course, she wasn't stupid enough to think sex would turn into love. When it happens this way most often the guy is a bastard; but odd, she and Scotty broke her own rule, in love already, must've been for a long time before the Neruda book. They stayed up night after night at his apartment talking, conversations turning into sex that was a poem itself, spinning tantalizing and seductive; Scotty always took his time with her. For the rest of the term they walked around holding hands, and by the end of summer she was wearing an engagement ring and her fairy tale had begun.
After their wedding came the move to the Upper Peninsula, where Sarah and Ken Dionne welcomed her with open arms and a So glad you're in the Soo, we promise not to call you a troll, eh? Her in-laws, the parents she never had, initiated her into all the charming ways of the UP. Soon she too craved the strange meat and rutabaga pasties (which Amy quickly learned to call "pass-ties" instead of "pace-ties") and believed the best thing that could happen to "Yooperland" would be if the Mackinac Bridge blew up. She too called the Michiganders from "below the Bridge" the "trolls"; she too screamed her heart out at the I 500 snowmobile race. She even catches herself ending sentences with "eh?" once in a while. The Soo's not like the Midwest that she hates, it's more akin to Canada. Better yet, the UP should become its own country, secede from Michigan.
Deer hunting is the one Yooper tradition she still can't stomach, for obvious reasons.
Reasons she won't let herself think about.
Reasons she can never explain to Scotty.
She blurs that thought away with the struggle to have a baby, the Pergonal injections and the second move and the wonderful day she heard she was pregnant.
That was a long time ago, those beautiful moments that threw warm earth on the boxed-up secrets of her past. But the past isn't gone at all. Yesterday, in one of the cartons she'd never unpacked from their move to the bigger house, she found it.
She felt the black cover, smelled the leather, ran her fingers along the crisp, unopened pages. The Bitch Goddess Notebook. Amy guessed she'd had it when it had all come down, when the Bitch Posse had been pulled apart, the girls separated, forever as it turned out.
There's nothing else she has of those days, not her blue-beaded necklace, not her bloodstained glass jar, which she'd smashed soon after-well, never mind. As for the notebook, she didn't look at it yesterday, didn't dare. Why open the pages and send the past flying into the perfect present? Why let the voices and ghosts join her in her happiness? Instead she stashed it high on the kitchen cabinets, out of sight.
But something about Scotty being late tonight forces an ancient, visceral, female anger through her, one she hasn't felt for a long, long time. She pulls the notebook down from its place above the cupboard where she keeps spices and flour.
Biting her lip, she opens it.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMY!!! You are the Über-Bitch-Goddess! We are girls wrapped up in women, women bursting out of girls, eggs that came before chickens, bitches now and forever. We do what we want and God help anyone in our way. Fuck teachers, fuck the system, fuck everyone! We will make it till June and graduate, then goodbye Holland, for-fucking-ever. We don't even have to write this Credo because it's all in our heads. The Bitch Posse girls. Cherry Winters, Rennie Taylor, Amy Linnet.
Amy traces her finger across the giant heart she drew fifteen years ago, skates over the pictures she sketched of the girls. Cherry, her red hair in a fuck-me bob. Just looking at her forces guilt and pain and love and heartbreak down Amy's throat. And Rennie, dyed black hair buzz-cut all over except for a crown of bangs and a few stray locks, here and there. Amy's own eyes are wide open, revealing mysteries, wispy blond hair curving in tendrils around her face. Somehow, Amy looks the saddest of all. But pictures don't tell the future. Or do they?
She closes the notebook on the past and draws her fingers across the slick granite countertop of the present, then rests them on her swollen belly again. It feels fuller somehow. The pizza she ate after watching the boats was too spicy, or she ate too fast. That's what happens when you eat alone, you eat too fast.
Where the hell is Scotty?
You should be happy, Amy. Tears prick her eyes. You have everything that everyone your age wants. The voice in her head doesn't comfort her, though. It sounds accusing, and her stomachache is getting worse.
She pours herself a glass of milk and sits at the counter, staring at the cake, the white icing cresting in little snow peaks over the center, thirty-five candles crammed into the pendulum. This afternoon she thought it'd be cute to make Scotty's cake in the shape of a clock. Then she'd have him unwrap the watch. It feels stupid now, a lame joke. As she gulps down the milk, each swallow makes her thirstier until she reaches the bottom. Droplets cling to her upper lip, a cold film over her warm skin, and she wipes them away, presses her chin in her hands, and stares at the cake, eye level, so closely she can see cracks in the icing, valleys and canyons in the mountainous snow country, places for climbers and skiers to fall into, to be buried by an avalanche. If she was there, she'd ski across that ridge-no, that one-and...
Pain shoots though her belly, stabbing, knives everywhere, and suddenly she's sitting in something wet and...Did she spill the milk? She glances down. Blood blooms through her skirt, blood's dripping over the edge of the stool, blood all over the place. Fear rips through her. There's something wrong with the baby, oh, God, there's something wrong with the baby....
"Scotty!" She claws through the air, clutches at the phone. But a second name, stronger, firmer than Scotty's, pounds through her head. Callie.. . Even as blood trickles down her leg, puddles across the white-tiled floor, and her abdomen cramps so much she doubles over in pain, she feels this all makes sense to her, that it's what she's anticipated all along.
That nothing good should happen to her.
She presses in the phone number of the auto dealer in Hancock, even though Scotty's surely on the roads by now.
That she should pay.
Excerpted from THE BITCH POSSE © Copyright 2005 by Martha O'Connor. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved.
The Bitch Posse