by Hyakunichisou 13 (百日草 十三)
Myra hadn’t been planning the day for years, exactly, but she had thought about it on a regular basis, the way she thought about Christmas every year in June, as an inevitability too far off to really start worrying about. People she knew had done crazy things, gone skydiving or gotten tattoos. She’d supposed she’d have some kind of party, or go out for a fancy dinner somewhere. Then, what with the last few years, it had grown on her mental horizon into something she was limping towards, hand pressed to her cramping side–just make it that far, just get there–until life had tripped her into free-fall and then, suddenly, it was here.
Christine and Gail, at work, had been threatening her with either a makeover or a strip club, both of which seemed like trying much too hard, and her sister had suggested getting together for lunch, but in the end no one had made any concrete plans. Wednesday was a weird day for a celebration anyway.
She’d taken it off, though, just as she did every year, and found herself alone and with little idea of what to do with herself. Just go out, she told herself, sitting in the kitchen with her congealing breakfast toast and margarine. Go do anything but this. It took her a full hour to get up and dressed, because she couldn’t think of where to go or what she would enjoy; it was easier, these days, to identify things she didn’t enjoy, which apparently was everything.
When she reached the bottom of the cramped stairs leading up to her second-floor apartment, she wavered for another five minutes, then set out in the direction of the Starbucks, which was a comfortingly familiar landmark that her landlord had complained about for reasons she couldn’t quite follow.
She’d found the grocery store and the laundromat and the streetcar stop, but was still feeling her way around the neighbourhood. Everything was so old and small and crammed together, except for the trees, which were massive. It all felt like a fictional city in the movies, ordinary and alien at once, like Toronto pretending to be the New York that everyone imagined but that didn’t really exist.
At the Starbucks she ordered a caramel macchiato with whipped cream, in defiance of the fact that it was only ten in the morning. The heat of the cup made her cold fingertips throb. She sat by the window with airy cream deflating to fat on her tongue, waiting to feel the spark of having a special treat, tasting only sugar syrup layered over acridity.
Outside, she looked back the way she’d come. She might as well go further. No one was waiting for her or wondering where she’d gone.
A few blocks on she found the big park that the basement neighbour with the two poodles had told her about. A path led diagonally from the corner, and she turned up it and climbed the concrete stairs.
The park was crowded too. Not with people–though she could see several individuals and couples walking their dogs just from where she stood–but with variety. Where she’d been before, a park was a vast stretch of grass with the inevitable parking lot perched at one end like a counterweight to all that green. Here was a labyrinth of wide paths that intersected and paralleled and looped back to one another as though they’d been made by someone throwing a tangle of yarn down from an airplane, ringing tennis courts and picnic tables and playground equipment and a now-damp firepit circled with logs to sit on, all of it fit between trees and more trees.
Myra followed the paths north, skirting the occasional pool on the uneven asphalt. The air still smelled of last night’s rain.
The park stretched up a long city block. At the north end of the park the path edged a rink and a baseball diamond, veered into yet more trees, and came out on a busy street.
The street was the same weird jumble of things she saw everywhere in the city: an ice cream place, a restaurant with its windows newspapered over, a house, a driving school with Portuguese signage, a guitar store, more houses. The street side of the houses was covered to the second-floor windows with graffiti. Or maybe it was a mural. It was hard for her to tell.
Sure, Myra thought sourly, passing the chalkboard sign. New you didn’t feel like a poem when you were living it. She shook her head, and colour caught her eye.
There was a line of Polaroids taped all the way across the window, a salvo of glossy colour–people smiling, vamping, sticking their tongues out at the camera. People with spiked hair, purple hair, elaborate wedding-day twists stuck with silk flowers. A man sporting heart-shaped barrettes. A black woman with a short crop of finger waves like a Twenties movie idol.
Myra’s hand went to her own flyaway brown hair. She usually kept it a blunt shoulder length, a compromise between Paul’s preference of seeing it long and her own wish to not have to fiddle with it. Recently she’d not so much let it grow out as ignored it, but it was getting long enough to tickle against her face and catch on the collar of her coat.
She looked up above the salon’s window, but the sign was weathered and wooden and read Ward’s Stationery. Stores did that here, left the old signs in place, even ones for places that had disappeared a generation ago. She had no idea how anyone ever found anything.
A breeze dashed her hair against her mouth.
In a spasm of pique, Myra pushed the door open and went inside.
The salon smelled like all salons, caustic and artificially sweet. A low guitar drone filled the air, a woman’s voice hovering over it like perfume. Halogen lights made spots of gloss on metal and glass. To Myra’s left were two Victorian chaises, upholstered in red velvet worn down to the weave on the edges and curves.
“What can I do for you, honey?”
Myra turned to the woman–woman? possibly not a woman–in the satin Chinese top and very narrow jeans who was standing behind the smoked glass counter in front of her. He or she had hair the shade of a strawberry lollipop cascading down past their shoulders in rough plumes, like the edges of birds’ wings.
The door opened behind her, and a skinny lumberjack with his beard in two braids put a tray of cardboard coffee cups on the counter, waved wordlessly at the red-haired receptionist, and withdrew.
Kids these days, Myra thought, more in helpless envy than in sarcasm. They just did whatever came to their minds–rings and studs and tattoos all over everywhere, braided facial hair, making themselves up so you couldn’t tell whether they were boys or girls. How did they know? How did they imagine their way from where they started to where they were going?
The receptionist was still looking at her. “Could I talk to someone about a haircut? Before I decide?” Myra asked.
“Sure thing.” They turned towards the back of the salon. “Hey, Leah! Do you have time to fit someone in before your eleven o’clock?”
“Yeah, no problem.” A woman came from the back of the salon. “One of those mine?” The receptionist tapped a cup. Leah lifted it, and raised her eyebrows at Myra in a feature that seemed to be part of her smile. She had a haircut that looked as though she’d been in the army a few months ago and then quit. She wore a paisley tie over a dark blue shirt and jeans that were not straight and skinny at all.
“Are you thinking of a new cut? Colour?” she asked. She sipped from the cup as though it were iced water on a humid day. The skin around her eyes crinkled above the coffee cup lid.
“I don’t know. Something” –she waved her hand dismissively at her own head– “different.”
“Okay, well, why don’t you come and sit down,” Leah said, “and we can talk.”
Leah led her towards the back of the salon, which, like the front, was an inconsistent mixture of slick and shabby, as if a boutique made of glass had been furnished out of Goodwill. She took Myra’s coat and sat her down in an ordinary-looking salon chair.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
Leah combed Myra’s hair back with her hands, gathered it at her nape and let it glide through her fingers. “You have beautiful texture. How different are you thinking of going?”
Myra watched her own unadorned face in the mirror. She hadn’t put on lipstick in days, had left the tasteful gold studs out of her ears for weeks. Maybe if she stopped doing everything she’d been doing for the last twenty-five years, she’d dissolve away altogether, fade like sugar in weak coffee. “Cut it all off,” she said on impulse.
“Really?” Leah hands pulled through her hair, lifting it, weighing it. “Is this a special occasion?”
“More the opposite.” It sounded grim, and she didn’t really care. She had no energy left to stop herself from saying what she was thinking, these days.
Leah’s eyebrow rose. “The opposite of special?”
“It’s my fiftieth birthday.”
Leah might think she understood, but she didn’t. “My husband got cancer.”
A quick intake of breath. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, he’s fine now. He just decided that whatever time he had left, he didn’t want to spend it with me.”
Leah’s hands stilled. “Oh, Myra. That really sucks.”
“We sold the house and I’m living in an apartment and my hair keeps getting in my eyes and–” Myra hadn’t realized how much her hair bothered her until just now. She made claws of her hands and clenched them in her hair.
Leah smiled slyly at her in the mirror. “Out of fucks, huh?”
What a thing to say, Myra thought–but it sounded just about right. “Get rid of it. Shave it off, I don’t care.” That wasn’t entirely true, but trepidation was buried under the thrill she felt at saying it.
Leah reached for a tablet on the shelf in front of the mirror. “You don’t have to go that far. Let me show you some options.”
Women glided past, lit from within, untouchable. They were all younger than she was–generations younger, centuries younger, it felt like, with their dewy cheeks and smoky eyes and tousled seductiveness. The more images she looked at, the more theoretical, not less, the idea got. She kept stealing glances at Leah, at the crisp edge of hair that just brushed her ears; then at herself in the mirror, at her own beige and brown plaid blouse, the navy crew neck blue sweater over it. The bedrock of her anger started to tilt under her feet, unreliable just when she needed it. Women like her didn’t get haircuts like this, in places like this. Women like her got chin-length bobs that went with their sensible shoes…
“See anything you like?” Leah asked.
“I don’t know. Short,” Myra said.
“Short, okay…” Leah spun pictures by with a finger. “How about this?”
Myra was already nodding. It didn’t matter so much what it looked like, really, just that that by the time she walk out of here it be irrevocably done.
“And if you don’t like it,” Leah said, “you can always grow it back.”
At the first touch of scissors on her newly damp head, Myra clamped her hands between her knees. Locks of hair brushed her shoulders for the last time on the way down. Her face loomed in the mirror, stark and pale.
“Wait,” Myra burst out, stomach clenching.
Leah paused. “We’re kind of committed at this point, to be honest.”
“Is there still…can you leave a little bit of it longer?”
Leah undid the plastic clip she’d bundled the top layer of Myra’s hair into. It tumbled thinly down, long over short. “How about a long bang? You can comb it forward or backwards, depending on what look you’re after.”
“All right.” Myra took a ridiculously unsteady breath. “Please do that.”
When it was done, Leah proffered a hand mirror and spun Myra around. Myra looked at herself from all angles, the sides, the alien back of her own head. She felt cold and light.
“What do you think?” Leah asked.
“I…don’t not like it,” Myra said.
“That’s a start.” Leah combed the fall of hair over Myra’s right eye. “It won’t really look the way it’s going to look until you’ve worn it for a few days. Go home and wash it with your usual shampoo and see what it does.”
Later, Myra did, after a walk back through the park with the wind raising goosebumps on the naked back of her neck. After her shower she put on a pair of yoga pants and an old, soft sweatshirt with most of the silkscreening gone, and flinched away from the sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. Her hand kept creeping up to the fuzz on the back of her head, testing the feel of what was no longer there.
Mid-afternoon, her sister emailed her birthday greetings, accompanied by animated dancing cats. No one else did. Myra cultivated a perverse comfort in that, slouching on the couch in what might as well be her pyjamas in the middle of the afternoon, watching TV and eating ice cream out of the tub. Fifty, newly single, out of sight and out of mind to family and friends alike. Out of fucks, indeed.
She ordered pizza for dinner, and fell asleep on the couch with the television on.
Blue Pearl tomorrow 1:00, her sister sent her on Friday.
Myra put on an ivory silk blouse she wore at work for especially businesslike occasions. She stared at herself in the mirror. Her haircut seemed to belong to an entirely different kind of person than her taupe trousers and beige pumps. Her thoughts wandered to Leah, to her jewel-blue shirt and the purple and green raindrops curled on her tie, and the satisfaction with which she’d gulped hot coffee.
Angelie was already seated, which allowed Myra to evade the hostess and lead herself through the white linen tables and muted clink of glasses and cutlery. As she approached, she watched her sister’s gaze slide off her and then, blinking, return.
“Oh my god, I didn’t recognize you!” Angelie put down her phone and reached out to touch the curving lock over Myra’s forehead. Myra shook it back, so she couldn’t feel its tickle on her skin. “You look so…I don’t know. You don’t even look like yourself. But it suits you! Is that what you did on your birthday? I’m sorry I couldn’t swing lunch on the day.” Angelie handed Myra the menu, thick, cream-coloured paper printed on both sides. “Now we are going to eat high on the food chain, and then we are going shopping.”
Afterwards, Angelie dragged her down Bloor Street, past the windows of bony and headless mannequins wearing clothing that seemed to get uglier the more expensive it was. “I’m going to buy you something you need.”
Myra thought about her eccentrically laid-out apartment, the back half of the second storey of a rambling old house, and its one closet and three narrow kitchen cabinets. “I don’t really need anything. Well…maybe if you wanted to chip in for a blender…”
“I am not buying you a blender.” Angelie pulled her into a gleaming store and up an elevator. They were greeted at the top by shimmering silver figures wearing very little, most of it made of hot pink and black ruffles.
Myra stopped. “Angelie…”
“I don’t mean those things,” Angelie said. “Although I know you’re wearing cotton panties with little rosebuds or something on them. Admit it.”
“They’re comfortable.” Paul used to like to buy her stretchy lace briefs and colourful bikini bottoms, and sneak them into her underwear drawer. She had let them drift to the back of the drawer once he’d stopped touching her.
“I’m not saying comfortable is wrong.” Angelie took Myra’s elbow and led her past form-fitting satin and lace in eye-searing colours, into a section of the store where everything suddenly became draped and flowing. “How about this?”
Myra eyed the sleeveless, knee-length shift printed with lilies. “It looks like it’s in a tampon commercial.”
Angelie hooted. “I guess that’s a no. That?”
A floor-length white cascade. Her thirteen-year-old self would have been enchanted. “You were the one obsessed with Phantom of the Opera.”
Angelie sighed nostalgically. “Totally. The first time I put my romantic nightgown on when Dylan was over, he nearly fell off the bed laughing. Oh, these are nice.”
The pyjamas were generously cut, emerald green piped with grey. Myra let the silk slide over the backs of her fingers, cool at first, quickly warming on her skin.
“Very Nick and Nora,” Angelie said. “I am getting those for you.”
Myra peeked at the price tag and winced. “I don’t really need them.”
“Yes, you do. Every divorced woman needs gorgeous pyjamas.”
She flinched at the description. “It’s not like there’s anyone around to see them.”
“That’s the point. It’s something just for you.” Angelie paused in sorting through the sizes. “Living with someone is hard. You compromise, you give in, you…shape yourself around them. And then when they’re not there any more, you think, It’s just me, so why bother? Listen to me, I’ve been there. Twice.”
Yes, Myra thought. She and Paul had grown into one another like trees planted too close, so close that she’d stopped being able to feel him there until he was gone.
Angelie reached out and smoothed the lock of hair off of Myra’s forehead. “Let your big sister buy you something luxurious for your birthday, sweetie.”
“…All right,” Myra said, and blinked away the blur of Angelie’s bright coat buttons in front of her eyes.
Carol arrived with a clop of platform heels and a faint waft of lily of the valley eau de toilette. Her beaded clutch clicked against the wooden table as she dropped it there. “Aah! Your hair’s so cute!”
Myra combed her fingers through her bangs, pulling them off her face. She was having second thoughts about this last remnant of length. “I did it last week.”
“I know, it was your birthday, I missed it, I am so sorry, I am going to make it up to you.” Carol let her capelet slide off her arms, and settled it over the back of the chair. Underneath she was wearing a nineteen-forties-style dress printed in yellow roses large enough to be upholstering a couch. “Have you seen the menu? Their mac and cheese is stellar. Leave room for the mud pie. My treat.”
Paul’s sister was six years younger than Myra, though she might as well have been twenty, with her social media job and her dress-up-and-play approach to just about everything. This place had been her recommendation; it advertised vegan food, and something called Punk Brunch, and weekly build-your-own-computer labs in the basement.
Carol snapped open her purse and fished something out of it. She slid the small packet, a folded piece of blue-and-gold Japanese paper, across the table. “Happy birthday.”
Myra unfolded the paper to reveal a sweep of gold spirals. A Christmas tree ornament? Some kind of high-end sex toy? Carol was equally capable of giving her either. But it was beautiful, filagreed vines and tiny leaves shaped into a gentle crescent.
“It’s for your ear. My friend makes them.” Carol swept back a Veronica Lake wave to display something similar, tendrils of silver and drops of ruby twining from the top of her ear to her lobe. “Like this.” Carol took it from her and leaned across the table to slide it down over the curve of Myra’s ear. Its weight settled into place, the metal warming against her skin.
“It looks fantastic with your new hair,” Carol said.
Myra put a hand up to touch it. She’d never liked dangling earrings, but this felt as comfortable and secure as it did unfamiliar.
Later, as they licked mud pie off their forks, Carol said, “Paul wanted to send you a birthday card. I told him it was too soon and not to be a creepy stalker. I hope that was all right?”
She could barely hear his name without that astringent feeling rising up in her, white and flat; fury or virulent apathy, she could never decide.
“Shit, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned it,” Carol said. “Ah, I’m a dumbass. Forget him, forget I said anything. How do you like your new apartment?”
That night when she went to bed, she took the ornament off with some reluctance, as though she were putting aside a good luck charm. It would probably raise eyebrows at work, but she’d wear it all weekend, she decided. Even if the only place she, unwanted and fifty, was going was the laundromat.
“You,” Christine said, stabbing in her direction with a plastic fork, “are coming out with us on Saturday night.”
“We’re picking you up at seven,” Gail said. “Oh, what did you have planned? Netflix? Please.”
They arrived in a cloud of anticipation and the scent of expensive cosmetics, a shopping bag swinging from Christine’s arm, and filled her pocket-sized living room with sound and colour.
“Welcome to the other side,” Gail said, and presented her with a flat white box with hearts and stars drawn on it in Sharpie and lipstick.
“Oh, you didn’t have to,” Myra said, and lifted the lid while they were rolling their eyes at one another. What was inside was bright purple and glossy. She held it up and shook it out: a shirt, embroidery in red and gold and green vining down the sleeves and across the body, beads and mirrors held in place by lustrous webs of thread. Even in her underlit apartment, it flashed and caught the light.
“It’s your old lady shirt,” Christine said.
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,” Gail quoted. “Go try it on.”
In her bathroom, Myra pulled her navy blue crewneck sweater over her head and slid the shirt on in its place. Purple was a colour she’d never thought suited her, but the riot of hue and texture seemed to warm her skin. Left untucked, the tails of the shirt brushed her thighs, covering up the unfashionable waist of her jeans. She looked…like a woman who didn’t know how it felt to be left behind. Myra flushed at that thought, and opened the bathroom door.
Christine hooted and applauded. “Awesome,” Gail said. “I love your ear cuff, by the way. Okay, ladies! The night awaits!”
They took a taxi up to Leaside, to an industrial area that had gone through its factory outlet and paintball arena stage and was now edging into an uneasy partnership between nightclubs and condo sales trailers. The unit Christine led them into was lively and cavernous, the shadowy high ceilings echoing back the din, the two-tiered floor busy with banquettes and tables, a stage and catwalk dominating the far wall.
“Hush,” Christine said, at Myra’s expression. “If one of the dancers tries to hump your chair, I’ll leap in front and sacrifice myself.”
They found a table halfway back, and Gail ordered a platter of deep-fried things and drinks that, when they came, were as festooned as the crowd. Myra would have felt overdressed, except that Christine was wearing a crimson halter top that made her cleavage into something spectacular, and Gail’s dress seemed to be made entirely out of acid-blue sequins. Some of the women around them made Myra’s flamboyant purple satin look positively bashful.
After two drinks, Myra switched to soda water and fruit juice, and her buzz had worn off by the time the music started to pound, but she surprised herself by not hating the show. The men, uniformly broad and beefy, weren’t really to her taste, but the choreography was flashy and the general excitement in the room was infectious, as though everyone were gathered to root for the same winning team.
At intermission, in the washroom, she looked from her soapy hands to the mirror, and her attention was riveted by a streak of electric blue in short brown hair beside her. She blinked, and Leah smiled at her reflection.
“Hey. How’s the haircut?”
“I like it. Mostly.” Myra shook water off her hands. “I like yours, too.”
“Thanks. It was time for a change.” The new, broad blue line above her right ear raced back to a point at the nape of her neck. “Are you enjoying the show?”
“My friends brought me. It’s…not really my type of thing. I like the dancing, but I don’t need the…” She made a vague motion across her body.
“Yeah, no kidding. I’m just here for a bachelorette party.”
“It’s sort of for my birthday.”
“Right, how’s the being fifty treating you?”
“It’s…” Myra took a breath. “I’m still getting used to it.”
“Do you know that poem about old ladies wearing purple? Not that you look old. That shirt looks great on you.” Leah briskly dusted her wet hands on the thighs of her jeans. “If you want to stay with short, maybe I’ll see you when you need a trim?”
“Sure, I’ll probably do that.”
Leah gave her another smile, and edged away from the sink through the press of sheen and glitter. Myra pushed the cowlick back from her forehead with a damp hand, so it would stay out of the way, and went back to the table.
Gail threw an arm around her shoulders. “Are you having fun?”
Myra wasn’t positive that the fizzy uncertainty she had felt at Leah’s smile was fun, but she nodded. She let Christine order her one last drink, a fuchsia concoction that came in a short-stemmed hourglass with sugar-frosted fruit on a stick across the top, and drank it fast enough to make her head swim.
She woke late on Sunday, slightly hung over not from alcohol but from the late night, and muzzily drank two cups of coffee while staring out the window at the side of her neighbour’s garage. Her fatigue was almost relaxing, a soft and fuzzy disinclination to make any effort.
Eventually the wind parted the fitful clouds, and colour saturated the alleyway, the spiky orange and blue graffiti murals, the peeling red of the garage siding and the pocked green of its asphalt shingle roof. The couch and television beckoned; what got her out of the apartment was the recognition that if she stayed in, she’d probably fall asleep again, and regret it profoundly when she was staring at the crack of streetlight glow at the top of the bedroom curtains at three-thirty the next morning.
Everyone in the city was out on the warming streets, everyone and their friends and their kids and their dogs in the park. Groups clustered at picnic baskets and passed around long-necked beverages in suspicious paper bags; along the sidewalk, people had spread out jewellery and paintings and paperback books on blankets for sale. Idly curious about the direction so many people were heading, Myra followed the path to humming food trucks parked by the community centre, their menus offering delicious crimes against nutrition.
“Deep-fried things cure hangovers,” said someone beside her. She turned, and Leah grinned at her. “It’s a scientific fact.”
“I’m not hung over,” Myra said. “I just slept too long.”
Leah was dressed in baggy khakis and a purple-and-blue striped sweater. Here in the daylight, Myra could see fine smile lines around Leah’s mouth, starbursts of incipient wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. Leah might be, she thought, closer to her own age than Myra had first supposed.
“I’m not either,” Leah said. “Much. I may need deep-fried macaroni and cheese balls anyway.”
“Or ice cream in a doughnut cone,” Myra said, as someone with a tower of soft-serve walked by.
“Or Nutella funnel cakes.”
“Or pulled pork poutine.”
“That. Yes. That is what I need.”
Myra sighed. It was all ridiculous, over-wrought food with too much fat and salt and sugar, and she probably wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. “I don’t know what I want.”
She felt Leah considering her. “I know what you want.” When Myra looked up, flushing slightly for reasons she couldn’t put her finger on, Leah said, “You want to eat french fries with cheese and gravy on them, and then you want to come to my friend’s axe-throwing league Sunday Morning Special with me.”
Was that a hipster euphemism for something? Myra couldn’t imagine what. “You mean…actual axes?”
“More like hatchets. It’s a blast.”
It turned out that Leah was right. Axe-throwing, Myra discovered, was something she was terrible at, but it hardly mattered; hurling something heavy and sharp was its own therapy, and on the rare occasions when the blade thunked into the wooden bull’s-eye, she felt a rush of accomplishment that tingled along her nerves like the adrenaline jolt of an alarm clock going off.
“What did I say?” Leah asked, as they walked out of the concrete-block building into the afternoon sunlight.
Myra’s T-shirt was humid from exertion; her bangs hung damply over her forehead. “You’re right, that was great.” Her arms were already starting to ache. She wondered what Christine and Gail would say if she suggested a Saturday night outing here.
“Which way are you headed?”
They had walked north from the park. “South? And east? I think?” She told Leah the name of her street, and Leah waved a hand.
“You’re right near the salon, then.”
Was there another street with the same name? “No, it’s a bit of a walk. I have to go through the park.”
Leah shook her head. “The top of your street is, like, three blocks from it.”
“I’ll show you. Turn here.”
They walked through an alley uneven with crumbling asphalt and speed bumps, past leaning fences and weed trees and people with their garage doors open and music playing inside. They crossed residential streets and followed the alley again, until Leah stopped at a wider back lane leading north.
“This is my stop,” she said, and pointed. “Turn right when you reach the street, then left at the light. In five minutes you’ll pass the salon. Keep going and you’ll get to your street in another couple of blocks.”
Leah had the sleeves of her sweater pushed up. There were faint freckles on the bridge of her nose. Myra felt overheated and peeled raw, and the sun and the breeze and the cobalt blue in Leah’s hair kindled thoughts of all the things she hadn’t done or taken pleasure in in a long, long time.
“Thanks for asking me,” she said. “That was a lot of fun.”
“Yeah, I’m glad I ran into you.” Leah raised her hand in a good-bye wave, and took a step backwards.
“Could we do it again?” Myra asked.
“Doing something together. Maybe dinner. Like a date.”
Leah half-smiled, her eyebrows drawing together. “A date?”
“Is that something people still do, ask each other out on dates? I don’t know the rules any more. It’s been more than twenty-five years since I went out with anyone.”
“But Myra,” Leah said gently, “how long has it been since you went out with a woman?”
Myra did the math. “Twenty…seven years?”
Leah’s eyebrows went up. “Are you serious?”
“I was married.” That’s what marriage meant; you chose someone, you committed, you gave up other choices. That was how it worked. How it had worked. Things were different now.
Years ago, as a young woman, Myra would have blushed and stammered. This rock-bottom out-of-fucks situation had its advantages. “I understand if you don’t want to. I’m probably a mess.” She pushed breeze-tousled hair off her forehead. “But I enjoyed today and think you’re cute and I’d really like a chance to kiss you, if you’re interested.”
“Well.” Leah considered her. “How about we call this a date, and you can try out that kiss and see how you feel.”
Myra nodded and stepped closer, there in the alleyway with the sound of a circular saw whining from someone’s open window and faded sheets flapping on a line over a fence ten feet away. She put her hands on Leah’s shoulders, tilted her head, leaned in.
A few seconds of tentative warmth, and then, dizzyingly, everything surged and whirled together; cotton knit under her fingers, Leah’s hand on her back, Leah’s hair tickling the side of her hand, a stab of heat, a sound she might have made, a sound Leah might have made.
They pulled back and looked at one another, lips parted, breathing audible.
“Okay, wow, let’s do that again,” Leah said, and Myra was already leaning back in, magnetically drawn, and they were pressed together now from breasts to hips. Electricity thrummed through Myra, a tingle on her skin, a buzz in her weakening knees; she felt turned on in all ways, as if a sudden switch had been flicked and a connection made, lighting her up…
“Do you, um,” Leah said, drawing back a second time and swallowing, “want to come see my apartment or something?”
Leah kept a hand on Myra’s arm as she led her down the alleyway and through a gate, along a path past winter-limp lawn, down some stairs. There was fumbling with keys, and then they were inside a basement apartment. Leah turned on some lamps on end tables, everything went from shadowy to warmly lit, and Myra had a vague impression of red couch and round orange rug before Leah was taking Myra’s face in her hands and they were kissing again, and she didn’t care where they were or what it looked like.
Before long they were lying down, legs tangled, and it was like being in university again, making out on friends’ couches, not quite daring to take the next step, stretching out the tantalus of arousal until pleasure fizzed through her whole body. Then Leah’s knee inched between her thighs. Myra whimpered, and Leah’s hips jolted against hers.
“I want to touch you. Is this okay if I do this?” Leah thumbed open one of Myra’s shirt buttons; Myra nodded, and Leah popped them one by one, her warm knuckles making Myra flinch with sensation every time they brushed her skin. Leah parted her shirt as if opening a gift. She slid her hand around Myra’s left breast, thumb circling over the nipple, and even through the cloth of her bra, all those nerve endings sent sparks rocketing down between Myra’s legs. Then Leah kissed Myra’s shoulder, worked down along her bra strap as her nimble fingers unclipped the front fastening of her bra, and her lips went lower, lower, until wet heat surrounded her nipple, and Myra arched her back and made a shocked, desperate sound that Leah echoed against her skin.
“Take this off,” Myra said, trying to make it a question, tugging at the hem of Leah’s sweater. Leah reared up enough to pull it over her head. She was wearing a T-shirt underneath; no bra, Myra found, as she put both hands up to cup Leah’s breasts and Leah caught her breath. Oh, Myra remembered this, soft warmth filling her hands, firm nipples against her palms. The hem of the T-shirt gaped towards her, revealing a slice of skin. Myra traced one thumb along it; Leah shivered and grinned and pulled the shirt over her head. Myra took the opportunity to slip out of her bra entirely, and then Leah was on top of her, bare skin to hers, mouth opening over Myra’s.
They fell into a rhythm for a time, hips rocking against one another. Myra spread her fingers over warm flesh, clutched at khaki. Leah moaned in the back of her throat, and broke away, panting, to kiss Myra’s neck, between her breasts, the softness of her belly…
“Wait,” Myra said.
Leah looked up. “Too fast?”
“Come back.” She wanted Leah’s mouth here, kissing her. And it wasn’t an innocent or romantic wish, it wasn’t that she objected to where Leah had been heading, she thought as Leah obligingly settled over her; she also wanted to hear that sound again, she wanted to put her hand between Leah’s legs and– No, Myra thought. She was done with bland euphemisms. She wanted to slide her fingers into Leah’s slick, hot pussy and feel her tighten in need, she wanted to bring that slipperiness to her swelling clit and rub hot circles until Leah was panting, she wanted to watch Leah gasp and moan and come.
Myra took hold of Leah’s waistband. “Can I take these off?”
“You sure can,” Leah said fervently, and together they got the fly down and Leah’s pants kicked off. Myra put her hand on Leah’s hip, and Leah drew in a breath. Myra watched Leah’s face as she ran her fingertips down the front of Leah’s boy-cut cotton underpants, down to where the cloth was damp.
“Hang on,” Leah said hoarsely, and she put her hand on Myra’s thigh and slid it upwards, giving Myra time to object if she needed to. It took an agonizing few seconds for Leah to slide Myra’s zipper down, and Myra didn’t bother wasting time trying to get her jeans off, just took hold of Leah’s wrist and put her hand where she wanted it. When Leah’s fingers settled on her clit, Myra jolted and almost came right then.
Then Myra smoothed her hand along Leah’s hips, pushing the cotton down, and put her hand back where it had been. Leah parted her legs, and Myra slid her fingers along her wet warmth, circling and–at Leah’s quick, breathless nod–entering her, her thumb moving forward to the spot that made Leah grind down against her, and just like that they were back in the rhythm, rolling their hips against one another, Leah’s gasps getting louder with each breath until she was crying out with every movement of her hips, until she said, “Oh, Myra, I’m coming, I’m going to come, just–that, do that, don’t stop, just–ohhhhh–” and Myra kept her rhythm even as Leah’s desperately frayed, and then followed her over the edge, heat and movement and need all pulsing together, hitting the target at last.
The streets were quieter as Myra walked home, overcast and subdued, everyone worn out and a little sore from the afternoon’s overexertions. Myra felt as heavy-lidded and lax as if she’d just woken up. She could feel every seam and wrinkle in her clothing on her hypersensitive skin.
She stood for a long time under the shower head with her eyes closed, white noise cascading over her body, and then stretched until her joints creaked and towelled herself off. She wiped the condensation from the age-spotted mirror and combed her wet hair. The long bangs flopped onto her forehead. She shoved them back in frustration. While she was brushing her teeth they sagged forward again, dragging a cold, wet line across her skin, and she spat out foam and dropped the toothbrush in the sink. She stalked into the kitchen and found the dollar store scissors in the cannister with the wooden spoons and the spatulas. Back in front of the mirror, she seized the hank of hair and held it vertically above her head, and sliced it an inch from her scalp with one decisive snick.
She dropped the hair into the waste basket, and ran her hand back across her hairline. Her head felt airy, cool, free of the itch that had been scratching at her for days.
She looked exactly as though she had cut her hair herself with dollar store scissors. She looked like a woman ready to get on with things.
She slid the ear cuff into place, and it glinted in the fluorescent light as if caught by the sun.
It would take a while, Myra thought, but she’d get there. She nodded at herself in the mirror, and went to put on her green silk pyjamas.