Authors: Cheryl Klein
For my dad, Chris Klein, who taught me how to ghost-hunt
Acknowledgments This is a novel about community, and I was fortunate to discover a community of writers while I was working on it. Terry Wolverton and the Tuesday-night crew at Writers at Work in L.A. taught me how to turn a pile of scenes into a novel and supported me when such a task seemed impossible. Jen Joseph is a true believer in indie lit, and I couldn't be prouder to be on Manic D's kick-ass roster of writers. I am also forever and indescribably grateful to my mom, Valerie Klein, who read early drafts and provided even earlier encouragement; and my dad, Chris Klein, who, when the grant money didn't come, packed up the motor home and took me on a research trip through the ghost towns of my youth. My sister, Cathy Klein, gave me rave reviews but reminded me she was biased because we pretty much share a brain. Bari Bendell helped with the moths and other plot puzzles. And my girlfriend, Cecilia Ybarra, helped me survive the sometimes ego-shredding submissions process while reminding me to come up for air and enjoy the community I'm lucky enough to live in. Finally, I'm grateful to all the courageous queer women who inspired this story and sometimes suffered burn marks while blazing a trail for my generation.
The author gratefully acknowledges the following excerpted lyrics from songs recorded by Bessie Smith: p. 120: “Kitchen Man” by A. Razaf and E.B. Pinkard,
p. 124: “Haunted House Blues” by J.C.Johnson, p. 176: “Frosty Mornin' Blues” by E. Brown
Lilac Mines Â©2009 by Cheryl Klein. All rights reserved.
Published by Manic D Press. For information, contact Manic D Press,
PO Box 410804, San Francisco CA 94141Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Vintage cover photograph Â© Duncan Walker Printed in the USA
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Â Â Lilac mines : a novel / by Cheryl Klein.
Â Â p. cm.
Â Â ISBN 978-1-933149-31-8 (trade pbk. original)
1. Lesbians--Fiction. 2. California--Fiction. I. Title.
Â Â PS3611.L443L55 2009
Â Â 813'.6--dc22
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2009016004
This will become the place they broke up. Felix tries to see it in the past tense: the exposed brick, the goddess painted on the bedroom door, the stack of legal books by the couch. This was Eva's fabulous downtown sublet, above Liberty Bail Bonds and across from a hotel where you could buy your own private sushi chef. Eva moved into this place last month, and Felix had pictured many more good months spent here, in artist loft bliss.
“But you just liked that she had so many sex toys,” Felix pleads. “Remember, you said, 'She's fun to mess around with, but I could never be in a relationship with a musician.' You said the hours wouldn't work.”
Felix hopes that if she can create a precise historyâand back it up with quotes, as her professors always saidâthat Eva would reconsider. She'd renew the vows of their non-monogamy and agree that, while Kate Mendoza-Lishman might have a great drum kit and an industrial strength vibrator and sweet slim hips, Felix is the only one she calls her girlfriend.
Eva perches on the arm of the couch, angular chin resting on knees, arms wrapped around long thin legs. Normally she moves like a dancer, as if a pirouette could be spun at any minute, but upset, she pulls in and gets very still. Kate probably doesn't even know this.
“I guess accommodations are made when you really want to be with someone,” Eva shrugs. “We haven't worked out the details. I just wanted you to knowâthat's what we agreed on, right? That as long as we are honest, no one could really get hurt?”
“That's soâ¦ lawyerly of you. You're totally twisting it around,” Felix says, wishing she sounded less desperate. “Anyway, I accommodated
with this whole open relationship thing because
really wanted to be with you.”
This is partly true. It was Eva who said that monogamy was archaic and doomed to failure, that it pitted women against each other. And Felix liked the idea of infinite possibility, of trying on different women like outfits in a giant walk-in closet. Others might be the too-high heels she strutted in for a few hours; Eva would be her comfy jeans. She liked the idea of being at the forefront of something. In practice, Felix sat at home liking various ideas while Eva went out and met Kate and Vanessa and Donald, the bail bondsman. The latter has been a bit inconvenient. Donald has seen too much porn. He keeps knocking on Eva's door and asking if she and her girlfriend want to “hang out.” Felix has endured it allâbecause she is determined to be progressive; because in their year together there have only been three side-whatevers, all seemingly casual; because she loves Eva.
“Hey, isn't Kate going on tour this summer anyway? In Europe or something?” Felix asks. She realizes she's looking for a loophole.
“Actually, yes.” Eva looks at the goddess. Her blonde hair, straight and capable and chin-length, hides her face as much as possible. “That's another thing I need to tell you. I'm, um, thinking of going with her. I might take a semester off or, orâ¦.” Eva never stammers. This is big.
“Do you love her?” Felix suddenly is following the script of a movie she would never pay money to see.
Eva considers. “I like her enough that I have to figure out if I love her.”
“I always thought that if you left me for someone, it would be a guy,” Felix admits. “Not Donald, but some guy.”
Before Eva, Felix never dated a bi chick. She had no particular bias, had never been ditched for a man, but the possibility worried her. And bisexuality trumped Felix's mere gayness in terms of sheer postmodern cool. To slip one's sexual identity on and off like a sleek coatâit was a little intimidating. Eva referred to herself as queer, or sometimes pomosexual (she had dated transsexuals of the male-to-female
the female-to-male varieties, so Felix supposed she'd earned the title), but rarely bi. Eva was post-bi.
“You said that like I was going to run away to the suburbs and pop out 2.5 kids,” Eva says, gaining confidence. Her sentences flow. Her eyes flash.
“It's a moot point now,” Felix snaps. She stands up feebly and grabs the backpack she brought because she thought she was spending the night. She figured they would drink wine on the metal staircase outside, have sex, walk down the street for post-coital udon. Felix struggles with the backpack straps, and Eva, with the instinctive movement of someone who's still her girlfriend, untwists them.
“Fuck you. Don't touch me,” Felix growls.
Eva's blue eyes widen behind her glasses. Now she looks hurt. Felix wants to comfort her and hates Eva for making that impossible. “Stop making it all sound like some fated
You decided to fuck her and now you're
to go be, like, her Eurotrash groupie.”
Felix is not sure she's using “Eurotrash” correctly, but Eva's too tearful to call her on it. Standing there with her backpack, almost a head shorter than Eva, Felix feels childish, the naive butt of a joke she doesn't even get.
Eva protests. “We always said, if it's meant to be, it's meant to be, and if not we should find out and not waste our time.”
“I'm a waste of fucking time? I'm
sorry, Eva. Don't worryâI won't waste any more of your precious time.” She has to unlock three heavy locks before she can leave and the door slams behind her, but what is lacking in dramatic timing, is made up for in strength. The old building shudders. She pounds down the stairs. Donald is standing at the bottom with a tray of lemon bars.
“Aw, you're leaving? I was just gonna see if you and Eva wanted to hang out.”
“I've gotta run, but I'm sure Eva would love to see you. Go on up.”
Felix wants to run, for real. She wants to sprint through the streets of downtown like one of its after-hours residents, give herself over to the world of addicts and schizophrenics and cautionary tales. She wants to run until her bones shake apart and collapse in pieces. But her blue Bug beeps politely when she instinctively presses the keychain button. She drives away, glaring at Donald's hand-lettered sign,
No Free Parking Any Time!!
as she rounds the corner.
After two weeks, Felix gives in and calls. But a voice on the machine says, “Hello, you've reached Tim and Crystal.” The owners of the loft are back. Eva's cell number yields a disheartening three notes followed by, “We're sorry, the number you have dialedâ” Felix hangs up. She tries to think what people did in the days before phones. Probably what they still do in moviesârun after trains carrying their true loves away, fall on their knees outside bedroom windows. All gestures that, in real life, would result in restraining orders.
She begins to hear rumors. At clubs. At the park where they walked Eva's brother's border collie mix. From the friends of their mutual friends:
They went to Europe. They flew into Berlin. Or maybe it was Prague.
“They” makes Felix cringe. No one knows exactly where they went, exactly how long they'll be gone.
After three weeks, Felix starts to see Eva everywhere. Eva is getting her hair cut at a retro barbershop in Silver Lake. Eating at the sandwich shop across the street from Felix's office. Walking a big yellow dog. Getting on the bus. The longer she's gone, the more she pops up in Felix's peripheral vision.
Unnerved, Felix stops going out. She goes to work in West L.A. and drives straight home to her gray shoebox building in Koreatown. Her roommates worry. Usually they spend their free time in Silver Lake, where they would live if the commute were endurable. Usually they are all about ditching here-and-now for somewhere better-and-next. But once Felix hunkers down in her apartmentâwith the white walls their landlord won't permit them to paint, the vintage movie posters and inflatable easy chairâshe decides home isn't so bad. She watches decorating shows on cable and rearranges her closet three times. She will live in a neat and stylish shoebox. Her roommates will report from the outside world so that she can remain cutting edge without having to spend any time on the edge.
Now it's late Friday afternoon, and Felix is cross-legged on the couch, flipping channels and eating Arctic Kiss ice cream. It's basically chocolate mint.
“Oh my God, you are so chick lit right now!” her roommate admonishes, barging through the front door.
Crane Mitsubishi is a small girl with a big pink walking cast and big hair. Currently her dark, laboriously achieved dreadlocks are corralled into a thick ponytail on top her head. The cast followed a seemingly minor fall from the elevator into the hallway of the building where she and Felix work for separate Time Inc. magazines. She was carrying a cake to celebrate her magazine's Summer Movie Preview issue; she never made it to the party.
Crane limps over and snatches the ice cream from Felix's hands. “Are you going to drink a bottle of wine and singâ¦ what's that Bridget Jones song?”
It doesn't sound like the worst way to spend an evening, but Felix just snaps, “I don't know. I never read it.”
“Well, me neither, I just saw the movie,” Crane admits. “It had its charms.” She stops before launching into full pop critic persona. “You're better than this. There are other fish in the sea and all that bullshit. There are other Evelyns and Avas and
Let's find you an Evangeline.”
Crane is referring to Felix's first and only other girlfriend, Evie, also known as Jia Li. When she and Felix met, during their politically outraged college senior year, she'd just returned to her Chinese name after years of going by Evie. Sometimes she forgot to answer to Jia Li.
better than this,” Felix challenges. “Maybe I'm meant to eat ice cream and spend the rest of my life missing Eva. When we were together, I imagined us as this sort of power-couple-in-training. But she was the one on her way to a real career. She was the one who introduced me to all the good bands.”
“And introduced herself to them,” Crane interjects.
Felix ignores her. “I'm just some wannabe who writes about Nadia Sellars dyeing her hair back to its natural color and how that's such a brave move.”
“Who's Nadia Sellars?”
“Some chick on the WB. See? Who cares, right? Maybe I should quit my job. Today sucked. Renee kept harassing me about this stupid lipstick chart I finished weeks ago. She said, 'Felix, you used the word 'fun'
She always uses people's names when she's pissy.” Felix adopts a high, chirpy voice that sounds nothing like Renee's. “She was like, 'The reds are 'fun.' The glosses are 'fun.' And here you say that the Revlon product is 'perfect for a long night of fun.' I'm pro-fun,
but this suggests a lack of creativity.' ” She sighs. “I spent so much time thinking about different words for red, you know: scarlet, crimson, carmineâ¦ (whatever the fuck that is) that I didn't realize. I don't know, I guess I believed in the power of fun.” She smiles weakly.
“You're insulting my job too, dude,” says Crane.
“At least you write about actual movies that movie stars are in. I just cover, like, the ephemera. Maybe Eva saw how lame I really am.”
Crane sits down next to her. Her voice shifts from its normal semi-shout to a gentle tone. “She wasn't with you because you have a cool job. Eva's not that shallow. I mean, she's a moron for dumping you, but she's not stupid.”
Felix closes her eyes. Eva is here, too, behind her eyelids. Pink-cheeked, a quizzical look on her face. Eva dreamed of working for Amnesty International. She would have loved if Felix had extended her activism beyond a long list of product boycotts, but mostly, she just loved Felix. She called Felix's brown eyes hazel; she adored the awful poem Felix wrote her for their six-month anniversary; she glowed when Felix praised her term paper on “Last of the Famous International Playboys: Decision-Making Institutions and International Human Rights Law.” Felix had struggled through it with a legal dictionary in one hand and a very strong cup of coffee in the other.
is the one who's shallow. While she was striving toward some hipster ideal, Eva was losing herself in the dark wet beats of Kate's band, the Manly Cupcakes. Really feeling it.
Felix wants something equally loud. Something distracting and real.
“We're going out,” Crane announces. “Tonight. This is the part where the fun girlfriends take the sad, dumped girl out and get her smashed. I'll see if Robbie can come, too.”
It's a good night to go out. The building where Felix, Crane and Robbie live has been invaded by a film crew. The roommates sidestep cameras, wires and Teamsters in the hallway.
“Why would they want to film anything here anyway?” Robbie asks. He pulls a brown plaid flannel over his white T-shirt. “We live in a pit.”
“Our landlord makes more money renting that apartment out to film crews for a couple of days than he would from renting it out to some poor Section 8 family with, like, three kids,” says Crane. She crosses her arms and look like an angry elf. She's 4'11” and wearing an Anpanman T-shirt. Anpanman is an anime superhero with sweet bean bun for a head; when people are hungry, he gives them a bite. Then his friend the baker toasts him up a new head. Felix appreciates the simplicity of his heroism.
“Besides, I think they're making a movie about the 'hood,” Crane adds.
“Come on, you guys,” Felix says impatiently. “We have to hurry if we want to find parking.”
They're off to West Hollywood, where you go when your girlfriend disappears from the continent. Where you go when you've had a terrible day at work. Where you go if you can't stay home.
The first stop is Sourpuss. There's no sign exactly, just a neon lemon over the entrance, so they suspect it's a good club. Better than that sweaty, shirtless boy club (what was it called?) that occupied the same space until a few months ago. Sourpuss is a girl club so Felix, Crane, and honorary lesbian Robbie feel duty-bound to check it out. Otherwise they'd be in Silver Lake, where no one even bothers with distinctions like gay and straight. Silver Lake is gritty and funky and underground whereas shiny WeHo nearly pulses with its ache to be mainstream. So they also feel duty-bound to make a few comments to reassure themselves that while they are
West Hollywood, they are also beyond it.