ean could practically smell the freshly mowed hay. It was the last week of June now. This was always Jean's favorite time on the farm. Everything was just bursting with life then. June was when she'd ride Cracker to that little hollow below the creek and just lie back in the wildflowers that were starting to burst through and look up at the sky and think. Think about all sorts of thingsâhow the crops looked, if she'd go to college next year, if Buddy was okay over in Vietnam. She'd think about Ma and Pa. And she'd think about Cathy . . .
“Say, Jean, you planning on pouring those drinks sometime tonight?”
Jean snapped back to reality. She was holding a cocktail shaker in her hand, and the fresh-mowed hay was only the new air freshener Tony was trying in the bathroom.
“Be patient, ladies. Is there someplace else you need to be?”
There was wry laughter from the three drag queens at the bar, as Jean agitated the cocktail shaker with a practiced gesture, then poured out the three pink ladies, tossing a paper umbrella into each drink with unerring accuracy.
“So, Jean, which girl has your head in the clouds today? Dorothy? Or is it Allison now?” Carmen asked, with a wink to her friends.
“You're behind the times, Carmen. I broke up with Allison this morning. All I have is this little memento.” She dipped into her pocket and pulled out the macrame wallet she had attached to the end of her long key chain. She smiled fondly, recalling Allison, her soulful brown eyes, her bell-bottomed jeans, the strange poetry she used to read aloud in Washington Square Park. She claimed to see deep into Jean's soul, but Jean didn't want anyone looking at her soul, and so it had ended.
“What did you get from Dorothy?” Carmen asked, fluttering her false eyelashes at her companions. The friendly drag queen had taken Jean under her wing when the big farm girl had first arrived in New York a week ago, picking the hayseeds out of her hair, and Carmen took pride in showing off how far Jean had come. Jean shook her head at the thoughtâhad she really ever been that young and naive?
“Well, I guess I owe Dorothy for this.” Jean smoothed her dark hair, slicked back into a perfect D.A., with a hint of Elvis Presley pompadour. Dorothy operated a beauty salon in Queens. She was quite a bit older than Jean, and had taught her a lot more than how to style her hair. But even she couldn't teach Jean how to forget Cathyâor Cracker.
“You're quite the lady killer,” one of Carmen's friends teased. “I bet you left a trail of broken hearts back home.”
Jean's face darkened as she said with a bitter laugh, “Only if you count mine.” One of the girls started to reply, but Jean abruptly turned away and started in on the pile of dirty glasses in the bar sink. “Back home” was someplace she didn't like to think about. Behind her, she could hear snatches of Carmen's whispered explanation, “. . . homecoming queen . . . caught in the hollow . . . horse killed . . .” She knew that Carmen was trying to save her from having to answer any more questions, but each phrase she heard was like a dagger through her heart.
Jean was relieved when Tony returned from cooking the accounts in the back office. He slipped behind the bar, gesturing with his thumb toward the front door. “Back to your post, kid,” he said. It was Jean's job to keep an eye on the door. When the police showed up, she was the one to send the warning by flicking the lights. She started to head toward the front, when she heard Tony calling her back, “Wait a second, kid. Run downstairs and get a fresh keg first.”
Jean was hoisting the keg to her shoulder when she heard a sudden silence, as the jukebox stopped, and then a menacing rumble of voices. A raid! Gently she set the keg back down and peered out the tiny barred window at the parade of feet going from bar to paddy wagon. Jean knew that if everyone cooperated and the police were in a good mood that night, most folks would just have to suffer through a few hours down at Centre Street. Maybe this would be one of those good nights. She heard Tony's voice from above, “I thought you guys were coming before the evening rush! You're killing my business, you know that?” There would be no more work tonight and Jean was glad. She wanted no more reminders of home, of Cathy.
But even that brief mention of Cathy had stirred Jean up, and she had learned since coming to the city that other women could satisfy the hunger that Cathy had awakened.
She headed over to the Colony. As the door swung closed behind her, she let her eyes travel around the room. There was Dorothy, with Frankie; Allison wasn't here tonight, but that sad-eyed girl at the bar was the same type. And there was Marcie, the first girl she'd slept with when she got to New York. Jean shuddered as she saw the plaintive look in Marcie's eyesâa look that promised unwanted complications. But she needed someone tonight, someone to slake the desire she felt growing inside her, someone to obliterate the pastâsomeone who was nothing like Cathy, or Cracker.
Then she saw her. The woman stood up from a table in the corner, and sauntered over to the jukebox. From the long black mane of hair to the red high-heeled shoes, she was all woman. Her black sheath fit her like a glove, accentuating her full bosom. She glanced over at Jean, just once, but it was enough to let Jean know that it was for her, the seductive roll of her hips as she walked across the floor, the flash of leg through the slit in her skirt. She was nothing like Cathyâor Crackerâand she was everything Jean wantedâat least for that night.
It was many drinks later, and Jean had learned the woman's nameâLouiseâand seen in her eyes a need that matched Jean's own. “Let's go, baby,” was all she needed to say, and the woman rose instantly and put her hand on Jean's arm.
Then they were at an old factory building on the west side of town, riding a big metal cage up, up, and up. “What kind of person lives here?” Jean asked as she trailed her fingers down Louise's back.
“An artist, baby. I'm a sculptor, and I need a lot of space.”
And then they were inside the loft, and there was a lot of space, filled with huge sculptures made out of wood and scrap metal. Louise laughed suddenly and, dropping her coat, she darted through the loft and hid behind a statue. “Hide and seek!” Her voice sounded eerie in the semidarkness, amid the looming shapes and shadows of her strange sculptures. Then she stepped into a square of light from the window. She had stripped off her black sheath and was clad only in a slip. Jean took her into her arms, and kissed her for the first time, a searing kiss, which seemed to melt them together, like two different kinds of metal forming a new amalgam. The woman leaned back on one of the sculptures, and instinctively, Jean straddled her quivering body. As Jean stared, the abstract shape of this sculpture seemed to take on an almost recognizable form. “What's this supposed to be?” Jean murmured as she pulled the strap of the slip down over Louise's shoulder. Jean's mouth moved swiftly downward, until Louise's breast was in her mouth and she could feel the hard pink bud between her teeth.
“Well, the short answer is that it's a horse,” Louise said, her breath coming in panting gasps. She gave a sudden moan as Jean unintentionally bit down.
The word jangled sharply in Jean's ear. But Louise didn't notice Jean's agitation and the bite only aroused her even further. “That's right, baby,” she panted. “Ride me!”
No! No more riding! Wild-eyed, Jean dismounted the voluptuous figure. She turned away, unable to meet Louise's puzzled brown eyesâhow could she have failed to notice how like Cracker's they were? Jean ran from the loft, trying to escape the memories that had begun to surface. Like a crazy kaleidoscope, she saw in her mind's eye jagged imagesâCracker on his sideâblood on her own handsâCathy crying, her blouse unbuttoned.
When she arrived at the Colony, flushed, panting, she'd recovered some of her equilibrium. Dorothy was gone, and so was Marcie, but the sad-eyed girl at the bar was still there, nursing a beer. Jean headed right to her. “What do you know about horses?” she demanded harshly.
The girl looked bewildered. “Horses? Why nothâ” Before she could finish her sentence, Jean had covered the girl's mouth with her own.
Much later, Jean awoke in yet another darkened apartment, her head pounding. She pulled herself out of bed, remembering Dorothy's admonition, “The first hangover's always the worst. After that, you get used to 'em.” At the time Jean hadn't believed her, but that had been days ago. The slight girl sprawled on the bed began to stir, and Jean quickly slipped out of the apartment. In the chilly, predawn light Jean lit a cigarette and shivered. It was both too late and too early to go back to the little room she rented over Luigi's Ristorante.
She turned and walked downtown, hands stuffed deep in her jeans pockets. Her thoughts turned to her arrival in New York, fresh from the farm and filled with pain. All she'd known about girls like her was from a paperback she'd gotten at the Doylestown drugstore. In that book, the lesbians had lived in Greenwich Village, so as soon as Jean got off the Greyhound, that was where she'd headed. Jean tried not to think about last night in Louise's apartment as she recalled how the girl in the story had gone crazy at the end. After all, Jean consoled herself, the book had been wrong about other things. The girls in the story had all worn Bermuda shorts and knee socks. What a shock it had been to arrive in New York and find the Village bars filled with chinos and blue jeans!
There had been a lot to learn those first few days and it had been hard for Jean. Growing up, she couldn't remember a year when she didn't win at least three blue ribbons at the county fair, but in the Village nobody cared about the quickest way to fatten a pig, or the best crop to rotate with corn. Suddenly Jean had found herself on the asking side of all the questions. How her new friends would laugh when she asked, “What's reefer?” or “What's a daisy chain?” Then there'd been that little problem she had telling the difference between femmes and drag queensâthough at least she'd gotten to know Carmen and the rest of the gang that way. And she'd learned fastâreal fast. Soon
was warning the new butch to watch out she didn't get flipped by that pretty “femme” who was actually kiki.
While her thoughts roamed, Jean had wandered far downtown, to a part of Manhattan she'd never visited before. Dawn was breaking, and as it grew lighter, her nose twitched suspiciously. Freshly mowed hay, again! Was her mind playing tricks on her? She was in the middle of Manhattan, wasn't she? Then there came a shrill whinny, and Jean felt a rush of fear and longing. The nickering came again, the unmistakable sound of a horse in distress.
Instinctively Jean followed the sound, around the corner to a big stable on a dead-end street. As she peered down a passageway between two rows of stalls, she saw a horse on cross-ties, ears pinned back, trying to rear up. Jean stood for a moment, watching in horror as the groom grabbed one of the cross-ties and tried to haul the horse's head down.
“Chopper!” he snarled. “Settle downâsettle down, damn you!”
Jean wanted desperately to help, but her feet were frozen to the ground by the bitter voice inside her that asked how she could hope to help this horse when she had been powerless to help Cracker?
Muttering to himself, the groom bent, picked up a riding crop and began striking Chopper across his poll. Jean's hesitation vanished as she watched this horse straining against his ties to avoid the blows, eyes rolling in terror. Cracker was gone, but this horse was alive and Jean had to stop his pain. Pushing the groom aside, she snatched up a cloth, and dipping it in the bucket of cold water, she laid it on the horse's scarred pasterns.
“Can't you see this horse has had bone spavins?” she spat at the groom. “Someone must have blistered his pasterns!”
“This horse's got a bad attitude, just like you, ya nosy little squirtâget the hell out of here!”
Jean clenched her fists and stood her ground. Just being near a horse opened the wound she was trying to heal, but she couldn't walk away. The groom moved toward her, brandishing the riding crop, and Jean raised her arm to fend off the impending blows. Suddenly a voice commanded, “Stop it! Stop it right now!”
Turning, Jean saw a woman limping toward them as fast as she could. She had a face Jean trusted instantly, full of freckles and framed by crinkly red hair, cut short. She might have been Jean's age, except for the lines around her bright blue eyes that betrayed her years. As soon as she reached them, she turned to the scowling groom.
“Tommy, you're paid to groom these horses, not beat them! That's it! You're fired!”
“I'm a city employee,” the man said smugly. “This has to go through the union!”
“It will,” the woman responded. “You can sit at home collecting your pay for the next year so far as I care, but you're not stepping a foot on these premises again!”
Tommy stared at the woman, then wheeled angrily and walked away. The woman watched Tommy's retreating back, and then turned to Jean, scratched her brow for a moment, and said with a grin, “Want a job?”