“And you can support yourselves like this, living off the land?”
“Well, not quite,” Lisa Moondaughter admitted. “Perhaps in a few years we will live the dream of complete independence from the Patriarchy, but right now we earn money selling our pottery and weaving at women's music festivals and peace fairs. This we use to buy necessities we can't make, like sea salt, wheat germ, and tofu.”
“Tofu?” said Jennie wonderingly.
Lisa Moondaughter led her to a barrel by the barn and, after removing the cover, stepped aside to let Jennie peer in. Jennie gazed at the bloated white blocks that looked like rotting cheese, floating in the water. As she exclaimed at the sight, a sullen-faced woman, her hair cropped short, approached, carrying a loosely woven straw basket.
“Excuse me,” she grunted. “I'm on tofu-gathering duty.”
“Jennie, this is Heather,” Lisa Moondaughter introduced them as the woman began to scoop up the chunks of tofu.
“Heather . . . ?” Jennie questioned.
“Just Heather,” said Heather shortly. “Isn't it enough to be named after a plant? How much more natural do I have to be?”
“Heather,” said Lisa Moondaughter gently, “hadn't you better see Judy Leafdripper for some moonforce tea?”
Heather's shoulders slumped in resignation. “I guess I could try it,” she muttered as she hurried away. “What I wouldn't give for a Midol.”
“You all get along so well!” marveled Jennie. She stage-whispered, “Heather has cramps, huh?”
“It is her time of the month.” Lisa Moondaughter smiled. For a moment they stood by the tofu barrel, sharing the eternal bond of womanly experience.
The women were slowly drifting toward the house now, talking among themselves, wiping dirt from their hands, smiling and calling greetings to each other. It made Jennie feel she had returned to Girl Scout campâa woman-centered world, where nature was important. It was hard to believe that the joy she had experienced there was again hersâyet not hers. With a sigh she turned to Lisa Moondaughter.
“You have to go,” Lisa Moondaughter said, voicing Jennie's reluctant thoughts.
“I don't want to, but Jebâthat's my husbandâhe'll be waiting for me.” Lisa Moondaughter stared mutely as Jennie tried to find the words to explain why this had to be. “My place is with him . . .” Jennie began, but found herself trailing off, wondering where those words had come from. “We can't all live in this utopia!” she finally said in desperation.
“You can. Join with us.” Lisa Moondaughter moved almost imperceptibly toward Jennie. “With me.”
Jennie gasped as she gazed at Lisa Moondaughter in the growing twilight. “I've watched you,” Lisa Moondaughter continued. “I've seen the way you ride your horse, so wildly through the forest. Since my lover died . . .”
“Your lover died?” interrupted Jennie curiously.
“Yes. Of E. coli she caught at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival on a selling expedition.” Jennie watched helplessly as a dark cloud of sadness passed over Lisa Moondaughter's face, like a shadow over the sea. “Bad hummus,” she continued after a moment. “After her death I felt as though I'd turned to stone. I spent hours riding the wild horses, traveling with the herd. I thought nothing could ever stir me againâuntil I saw you.”
The magnetic force that had been building between them reached its peak at the end of Lisa Moondaughter's speech. Jennie and Lisa Moondaughter gazed at each other, each finding what she was looking for in the other's eyes. They fell to the soft green grass by the tofu barrel, their bodies intertwined in the timeless dance of woman love. The earth shifted and mountains came together. Oceans of salty nectar flowed. As one, the women were shaken by tremors, as if the herd of wild horses were thundering through them.
“You can share my straw pallet,” Lisa Moondaughter planned, as they lay curled together sometime later. “I will teach you how to weave, and we will ride with the herdâ”
“I want you to teach me everything,” said Jennie, stretching luxuriously. Even the ecstasy she had felt astride Firebird paled in comparison to the fulfillment that she and Lisa Moondaughter had just shared.
“We will grow old together,” Lisa Moondaughter whispered in her ear. “When you are sick, I will care for you. And I will never, never let you eat the hummus.”
Sick old women! Jennie sat up as if she'd heard a rifle shot. How could she have forgotten about Barb? What would Barb do without her? And what about her vows to Jeb? Did they mean nothing? The chorus of voices, which had been silenced for this blissful interlude, were back with a vengeance. All the rest of her life could not be washed away in the blink of an eye, not even by Lisa Moondaughter's womanly juices.
“I must go,” she said in a voice that trembled. “The ranch . . .” She groped for her clothes, keeping her back to Lisa Moondaughter. “Perhaps, someday . . .” Getting to her feet, she looked for a moment at Lisa Moondaughter, reclining like an odalisque in the dusky light, her body more eloquent than any words. With a resolve that cost Jennie every ounce of reserve strength in her body, she fled up the path toward the horse pasture. “I'll call you,” she flung over her shoulder. A sound tore through the night air, like the wail of a wounded mountain lionâ“We don't have a phone.”
Back at the ranch, Jennie groomed and watered Firebird in a daze, oblivious to the horse's playful attempts to get her attention. She couldn't think clearlyâanxiety over Jeb's dinner, remembrance of Lisa Moondaughter's powerful thighs, and the new things she had learned about tofu all swam together in her head. Firebird whinnied plaintively and she looked at the horse. “Yes,” she said, “I know what you're asking. You're wondering what you're doing back here in this cramped stall, instead of gamboling about a grassy meadow. You're yearning for the horsy friends you made this afternoon, longing to butt their withers and rub necks with them. Yes,” she said somberly, “I know how you feel.”
Jennie heard Barb's hacking cough, and went into her room. The old woman was awake. With a pang, Jennie noted the spots of blood on Barb's handkerchief. “I'll go fix your broth,” she murmured, turning away. Barb smiled weakly, and patted the straight-backed chair by the bed. “You're very good to me, Jennie,” Barb croaked. “I know it's hard taking care of an old woman like me, especially when you're still a newlywed.”
Jennie dropped into the chair and took Barb's hand. “You know I love having you here.” For the first time she struggled to explain how things really were between her and Jeb. “It's different than I thought it would be,” she said finally. “Sometimes I wonder if maybe my marriage was a mistake, if maybe I could have stayed single and kept workingâmaybe lived with some other single girls.”
A look of pain and weariness crossed Barb's face. “That's what I thought, when I was your age,” she said, and then paused for a fit of coughing. “But women friends get married. Horses die. Eventually, even your own body fails you. No, Jennie, be grateful you've got some securityâ
won't end up an old broken-down woman, living on charity.”
Wordlessly, Jennie pressed the older woman's hand.
While the broth was on, she wandered into the living room and examined the wedding pictures on the mantelâthere were her parents, glowing with pride, her with her bridesmaids. She picked up the portrait of herself and Jeb. The radiant bride in the picture was a stranger to her.
She was still lost in her reverie when she heard a creak behind her. “Hon, you in there?” called Jeb.
She turned to face her husband, the man she'd vowed her life to. He crossed the room in two big strides, and pulled her into his arms with a whoop. “Well, we finally got 'em!”
“The mustangs?” Jennie gasped.
Jeb mistook her horror for delight. “Yep! We had to wait a long time, in that little clearing you told us about, but we finally got âem!” His rough kiss bruised Jennie's lips. “And guess what else! I found a spot in the County Rest Home for old Barb. It's the best thing for her, really. This way, you won't have to play nurse anymore . . . until you're nursin' my son!” Laughing loudly at his joke, Jeb scooped Jennie's unresisting body in his arms and carried her into the bedroom.
As soon as Jeb had rolled off her and was snoring, Jennie got out of bed and crept outside to look at the captured mustangs. The full moon bathed the corral in its timeless radiance. All was still, except for a lonely dog barking in the distance. The horses were quiet. Some of them, blessedly ignorant of their fate, were asleep where they stood. Others looked at Jennie, their brown eyes full of an ancient animal wisdom. From inside the house came the sound of Jeb snoring.
Jennie knew what she must do. Entering the little room off the stables, she gently shook Barb awake. “Jeb wants to put you in the County Home,” she said briefly. Fear leapt into Barb's eyes. “But we have one chanceâsome friends I'm sure will take us inâif you can ride a little waysâ”
Barb pulled herself out of bed with game determination. “I was straddling a horse before you were born. They'll have to pry my cold, dead fingers from the reins before I'll let Jeb or anyone else send me to the County Home! Go saddle up!”
Jennie led Firebird and another horse out of their stalls, then stood for a moment in the shadow of the barn, looking at the mustangs. “Can I turn my back on everything I know,” she thought, “from the Bible to
? Can I ignore the precepts I've been taught by my parents, my teachers, my troop leader?”
But Jennie knew that the old voices no longer held sway over her. She would listen to her own strong woman's voice now. As Jennie moved toward the corral gate, she noticed that a strange hush had fallen over the farm. The horses were all awake, their nostrils flared as they searched the wind for a certain scentâand yes, now Jennie, too, breathed in the pungent odor! Lisa Moondaughter was coming!
She stepped out of the forest with the grace of a mountain lion. Her flimsy, tunic-like garment was transparent in the moonlight, and Jennie bit her lip at the sight of the body she had caressed only a few hours before. Lisa Moondaughter slid across the yard like a liquid brown shadow and fumbled with the latch of the corral. Like a gazelle, Jennie bounded lightly to her side. Placing her hand gently on Lisa Moondaughter's shoulder, she said, “Lisa Moondaughter, I . . .”
Lisa Moondaughter whirled, and her hand gripped Jennie's arm. “Jennie,” she breathed, “don't try to stop me!”
“I don't want to stop you, I want to come with you!” Jennie cried.
With an inarticulate strangling sound, like some primeval beast choking, Lisa Moondaughter seemed to cough up a great chunk of pain and sorrow. “I hoped,” she said softly when she had caught her breath, “even when I did not dare hope.”
And now Jennie saw more women, two of whom were helping Barb mount her horse. “Half a lung?” one was saying. “Western medicine can do nothing. But I have some tea . . .”
The mustangs poured out of the opened corral gate and galloped for the hills. Lisa Moondaughter swung astride the coal-black horse, flashing Jennie a blinding white smile. “Let's ride!”
Jennie ran to Firebird and mounted the waiting horse. “Let's ride,” she echoed Lisa Moondaughter. “Ride to freedom!” With a snort, Firebird joined the herd in their race toward the forest.