Big Book Of Lesbian Horse Stories (17 page)

BOOK: Big Book Of Lesbian Horse Stories
2.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
“And you were almost out after sunset,” reproved Moishe. “You are being infected by
“Did ve raise you to turn your back on your faith?” asked Papa sadly.
“But that I would never do. Papa, I wish only to honor my faith by studying the Talmud,” Lena replied.
“Enough.” Her father held up his hand. “The Talmud teaches us:
Me shemelamed bito Tora, ke ilu melamed teeflut.
That is all you need to know.”
“But Papa—” Lena began, frustrated as usual when Papa argued in the language she was forbidden to study.
“It is not for a child to qvestion the visdom of a parent. Do you vish to end up like Shmuel?” Lena's father ended the familiar discussion as he often did.
“But what
become of Uncle Shmuel?” Lena asked curiously, as she always did when Shmuel was mentioned.
“That name is not to be spoken in my home!” her father said with finality. He continued in an exasperated tone, “Enough vith your qvestions, daughter—let us eat now.”
Although she hadn't seen him since she was a little girl in Russia, many of Lena's fondest memories were of her beloved Uncle Shmuel, who had always been ready with a joke or a trick. He was like Johnny Apple that way. Then Uncle Shmuel had disappeared and Lena's grandfather had declared that he had only one son, even going so far as to sit
for Shmuel. Since that day, all of Lena's questions about Shmuel had been met with scolding.
But now, as Lena sipped her hot soup, searching hopefully for a morsel of meat that might not have ended up in her father's or Moishe's bowl, her thoughts were busy with Lily. Poor Lily had none of Mama's good, hot soup, only some trampled chickpeas to still her hunger. “Tomorrow I will bring her a bone,” Lena decided, “so that she might have a little marrow to keep up her strength.” Caught up in her own thoughts, Lena did not notice the melancholy air that hung over the dinner table until the fresh challah bread was passed. Looking around for an explanation, she noticed something else.
“Where are Mr. Malkovitch and Mr. Kalman?” she asked. Immediately her Mama threw her apron over her head and began to wail loudly, while her father raged, “Those thieving boarders! Two weeks rent they owe, and they steal away, taking our featherbed!” His shoulders slumped down, and he raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Oh, Master of the Universe, why were we chosen to suffer so?”
Moishe offered tentatively, “Perhaps, Papa, you could get me a job at the facto—”
Papa's eyes flew down, and Mama uncovered her head. “No!” they chorused. Moishe looked relieved. “You vill be a scholar, my son,” Papa added. “But you, my daughter,” he said, turning to Lena, “ve have plans for you. You vill be an obedient daughter,

“Yes,” chimed in Mama, “there vill be no more running after horses.”
Lena sat still, thinking hard. Her parents must be planning to take her out of school to work in one of the factories sewing, like her cousin Minnie, who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Suddenly she had a brilliant idea-if Lily could get a job there as well, she could be the family's new boarder! She lifted her head and smiled at her parents. “Yes, I will help.”
Lena awoke that Saturday, filled with anticipation. She did not mind as much that left-out feeling she always had when Moishe and her father left for the synagogue. She waited until Mama had also left, carrying Golda, to visit Tante Rivka. Then Lena carefully wrapped a bone up in a rag and tucked it, along with a bar of her mother's laundry soap, under her shawl.
Lily was sitting glumly in the doorway of a shuttered shop. When Lena appeared, Lily jumped to her feet and smiled. “I knew you'd come!”
Lena quickly pulled the rag out from beneath her shawl. “Look what I brought you!” she announced, her brown eyes dancing with delight.
Lily unwrapped the napkin and gasped. “What a lovely bone! I have not had such a treat since I left my homeland!” With her strong white teeth, she cracked the bone, and in an instant she had sucked out all the marrow and licked the rag for any traces of grease it might hold.
“And look what else,” Lena said with excitement as she pulled out the bar of laundry soap.
“For me!” Lily gasped again as she licked her greasy fingers. Then she looked around in bewilderment. “But where will I wash?”
“You must wash in the East River,” Lena decreed. “It is still September.” Lily looked somewhat daunted, but obedient to her new friend's commands, she followed her to a secluded part of the embankment, where she shed her fetid rags and gingerly climbed into the chilly gray river.
“The river is as dirty as me,” she said through chattering teeth. “Are you sure it will make me clean?”
“Yes, because you will scrub yourself all over with this,” said Lena firmly, handing her the laundry soap. While Lily scrubbed her body and clothes, Lena told Lily excitedly of her plan—how they would both get jobs in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and how Lily would board with Lena's family. Lily's eyes were already full of tears from the cold water and harsh soap, but now they overflowed with tears of joy. “The Virgin Mary has at last answered my prayers!” she cried. “I will light a candle before her icon at St. Gregory's as soon as I get my first week's wages!”
Lena felt almost dizzy with disbelief. Her head all awhirl; she tried to make sense of this shocking news. “But . . . you said you came from Russia.”
“Yes,” said Lily, somewhat bewildered. “I was born in Novgorod, but we lived in a small village in the steppes, where my father was stationed with the Tsar's army.”
“A cossack!” Lena started back in horror. Her family had fled Russia because of the cossacks and their terrible pogroms. Lena would have run away if Lily, belatedly realizing the meaning of Lena's distress, had not grasped at her arm with damp fingers, almost pulling her into the river. “Wait! It is true I am a cossack's daughter and my parents taught me to despise the godless Jews. But here in America I have learned that there are as many kind Jews as vile ones. And it is true the priests taught us that all the Jews would one day burn in hell, but I am sure that for a Jewess as beautiful as you, there must be a place in heaven.” Her blue eyes looked at Lena beseechingly.
Lena thought hard. “It is true that your people have persecuted the Jews since before the time of my ancestors' ancestors, but at the settlement house Miss Taylor has been kinder to me than my own mother, and my cousin Minnie numbers many
among her friends.”
As she looked at the shivering Christian girl, Lena felt the prejudices of the Old World falling away, and it was like setting down a heavy basket of laundry. She embraced Lily, ignoring the cold, soapy water, and Lily returned the embrace with fervor. Suddenly Lena became conscious that she was standing in the East River with her arms around a naked girl. “You must get dressed now,” she said, blushing, “or you will catch cold. Then we will go find Johnny Apple and tell him we are friends.”
Now that Lily had washed, her skin gleamed milky white, and her hair shone pale yellow, like the straw that lined Johnny Apple's stall. The two girls walked hand in hand to the livery stable, stealing shy glances at each other.
“Do I still smell?” asked the Christian girl fearfully.
“Only of carbolic soap,” Lena reassured her. Then, “Oof!” said Lena. She had tripped over the old Pretzel Woman again! Only the Pretzel Woman would be out on the street when all the other peddlers and pushcart owners were observing the Sabbath. “Excuse my carelessness, Pretzel Woman,” Lena apologized.
The Pretzel Woman only hummed a Yiddish tune, as if she had not felt the blow. Perhaps she hadn't, thought Lena, she was so well padded. Then the old woman cast a shrewd glance at the two girls and croaked, “This is your sister,

Lena wondered if the old woman was slightly crazy. No one would mistake her and Lily for sisters. “No, Pretzel Woman, we have not the same parents.” Then Lena thought for a moment and added, “But I love Lily as if she were a kind of sister.”
“And I feel the same way about Lena,” Lily said shyly.
The old woman fixed her eyes on the girls with an unblinking stare. “So, you are not sisters, yet you feel like sisters. Yes. I see it. And that, too, is a kind of sisterhood. A very powerful sisterhood.” She paused, swaying back and forth a little. “But this power is best kept hidden.”
“Yes, Pretzel Woman,” the girls chorused obediently. As soon as they were out of her sight, they looked at each other puzzled.
“The Pretzel Woman often speaks strangely,” said Lily.
“Yes,” Lena admitted, “usually I can understand her meaning, but this time I cannot.”
Lily knew where to find Johnny Apple, in a dilapidated old stable on Willett Street. No one was there to prevent the girls from creeping in to visit their friend. The horse was asleep on his feet and Lena was shocked at how gaunt Johnny looked. “Oh Lily, is he sick?” she whispered. “What happened to Mr. Karpels, who used to care for him so tenderly?”
“I don't know,” worried Lily. “For a week I saw not hide nor hair of Mr. Karpels or Johnny Apple. Then yesterday this new man appeared. Perhaps,” she added hopefully, “Mr. Karpels has run off to join the circus, for you know he worked in the carnival as a youth.”
Lily tried to imagine Mr. Karpels in a circus, but she had a foreboding that this happy fate was not his. “He would never leave Johnny Apple to be mistreated,” she said. “Look at this old hay! Mr. Karpels would give him oats and bran mashes!”
“When we work at the factory, we will buy him oats and the other things he needs,” exclaimed Lily, who looked forward to working in the sweatshop as the solution to all their problems.
Their conversation had woken the horse, who nickered his welcome to the two girls. “See, Johnny Apple, we are friends now,” said Lena. The horse whinnied approval.
“Like two sisters,” added Lily, putting her arm around Lena. Again Lena felt that electric jolt. Was this the power the Pretzel Woman had meant, this electricity that lit her up inside?
Johnny Apple snorted indignantly. The girls looked at each other puzzled, and then Lena understood.
“Like two sisters
and a brother,
is that better, Johnny?”
Johnny Apple shook his head up and down and neighed enthusiastically. Unable to contain himself, he balanced the laundry soap, the remains of the bone, and a clump of hay in a tower on his nose. As she and Lily applauded the horse's trick, Lena realized that, although neither Lily nor Johnny were of The Chosen People, they were for her a kind of family—a chosen family.
When she hurried home that afternoon, leaving Johnny Apple chewing his old hay, and Lily curled up in the stairwell of a condemned building, Lena was full of happy plans. Of course, she would not tell her family about Lily just yet. Lily needed to look more presentable before Lena could introduce her as a prospective boarder. And she wasn't sure how the family would react to her friendship with a
Monday she'd see Minnie about getting those jobs at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Lena realized she had a busy week ahead.
But on Monday, Lena despaired at first of escaping the tenement apartment, for Mama told her she would no longer go to school. There were no laundry deliveries to make, but piles of dirty linens to wash. Lena and Mama labored over tubs of wet sheets, until suddenly Mama exclaimed:

Oy vey,
woe is me! The laundry soap, it is gone already. Here, Lena, take a penny and buy a new bar.”
Lena danced away, and once the laundry soap was purchased and tucked under her arm, she hurried to the Shirtwaist Factory. Fortune was indeed smiling on her today, for Minnie was outside, eating her lunch with a crowd of cheerful girls. Lena quickly explained her plan and Minnie smiled.
“You're in luck! Frieda Friedman has consumption and Gussie Shashefsky cut her finger off with a pair of pinking shears! I will tell the boss this afternoon, and he will keep those places for you.”
A whistle blew. “Come, girls, back to work,” called Minnie, smiling. “Our ten minutes are up.” Lena's eyes widened enviously as the girls wrapped up their lunch things and shook out their skirts in a leisurely fashion. A whole ten minutes, just to eat! The future looked rosy indeed. Lena didn't even mind the scolding Mama gave her for being so slow fetching the soap.
That night, Lena bubbled over with excitement when she saw Lily waiting at the cozy spot beneath the Williamsburg Bridge where they had arranged to meet. Lena breathlessly shared her news about the jobs that now awaited them.
“Oh, Lena,” Lily said rapturously, “now we will be together all the time and we shall have money to buy good food for our Johnny Apple. Is there no end to the happiness you bring me?”
She pulled Lena to her in a joyful embrace, and in so doing, her lips brushed against Lena's. Again Lena felt an electric jolt, this time stronger than ever. If this was what it felt like to grab hold of the trolley car wires, Lena wondered, what would it feel like to follow those wires all the way to the end of the line?
was a question to which she
find the answer. Shyly, she leaned toward Lily until their lips met again, and Lena did not pull away until the trolley had circled the city many times. Then she paused only long enough to declare joyfully, “Now I know that it is you, darling Lily, who is my
the one who is meant for me.”
BOOK: Big Book Of Lesbian Horse Stories
2.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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