'How do I love (thee)? Let me count the ways'

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)



a meditation by Emily Duncan (Emily@cfsg.net)






I'm sitting at my desk, trying not to think about you.


There are noises upstairs, spooky ones, like in the films, just before the heroine goes to find out what's going on, and gets sliced into little pieces by a man without a face. I turn around in my chair to try to see where the banging is coming from, and my belt cuts into my flesh. I know I've put on a few pounds, mainly through proper eating and regular exercise, but I still hear my mother's voice screeching reprimands in my head.


'You're not going to get fat, are you?'


Even though I've never spoken to you, I know that you would never tell me I was fat. You'd think I was gorgeous no matter how I looked.


I have a scratch on my belly ... the scabs have formed a broken line, like one of those 'cut here' markings but without the little cartoon scissors. I don't know where it came from ... perhaps I got it when I was moving heavy boxes by myself, because there was nobody here to help me.


I have an itch right in the middle of my back ... I wish you would scratch it for me. I wish you'd put your hands on me, like the man in my dream the other night, who was so big and strong. He lived under water ... and he took me in his arms and jumped into a deep lake. I learned to breathe at the bottom by just looking into his eyes.


I almost cried in the morning when I couldn't remember what colour they were.


Your eyes are blue. I've never spoken to you, but I remember them exactly.





It looks like the smallest shell on the beach.


I pick it up and notice there's a fragment missing, and when I hold it tightly in my hand it cuts into my flesh, but not enough to draw blood.


I start walking, the waves lapping at my toes, and the sand gets under my toenails until they start to look really, really dirty.


Filthy, in fact.


That's when I notice the two women walking slightly ahead ... and to my eyes, it seems as though they want to hold hands. They might even want to kiss, if they weren't holidaying in this city of 'Jesus loves all men, but it's alright to kill all queers/blacks/Hispanics/beggars' (delete as appropriate). I imagine them kissing anyway ... it's tender, not sexual ... perhaps the taller one cups the smaller one's chin with her fingers


until the cold stares become overt hostility, and the shouts of 'fuckin' lesbians!' and 'dirty dykes!' can be heard.


But in my mind, the women don't care ... they look over their shoulders with disdain, and continue to walk, hand in hand, in the sand.


I wonder what would happen if the reaction on the beach wasn't quite so overt. Perhaps, instead of homophobic shouts, people would just screw up their faces and refuse to look. Perhaps a young mother would call her two children away, or cover her toddler's eyes.


I try, but in this scene I can't imagine the two women unaffected. In my mind, they look at one another sadly.





I'm scared to go to bed in case I can't sleep. I shouldn't eat cheese before bed ... it always gives me bad dreams.


It gives her bad dreams, too.


Like that one where she woke up in the middle of the night, so shocked she started laughing, and I started to cry at the fearful absurdness of it all. Tears were pouring down my cheeks, and she still couldn't stop her hilarity.


Sometimes I think my tears come too easily. Do I cry the same tears at soap operas that I cry when I watch the news and see children terrorised by war?


Are those the same drops that trickle down my cheeks?





The first time Denise saw Anna was at a meeting ... Anna had the most adorable chubby knees. She was wearing a skirt that wasn't supposed to show them, but it had ridden up, and as Denise's eyes wandered downwards, she noticed that Anna's ankles were a bit chubby, too.


She was fascinated.


Anna had strong hands ... she was an avid gardener, she revealed later on, in a conversation by the coffee machine. She did other people's gardens, for a bit of extra cash ... she spent her weekends pulling up weeds and planting shrubs, and sitting on one of those motorised lawnmowers. She probably even knew how to mow a lawn into stripes.


Denise wondered what it would feel like to have Anna's hands touching her hair, her face, her body ... although of course, first she would have to clean under those nails. She'd have to scrub them, in fact.


Denise had a bit of a thing about soil and grit. When her first husband was still around, she'd never let him touch her after he'd been working outdoors (not that she'd let him touch her much, anyway).


And in fact, when she looked at Anna's hands a bit more closely, it almost put her off.


Thinking about it, she couldn't remember the last time she'd wanted anybody. Not properly, anyway. Of course, she'd had the odd flight of fancy (normally while looking at an airbrushed model in a magazine), but nothing even remotely motivating. Lately, it almost seemed as though her body had gone to sleep ... too much thinking, she supposed.


But she was captivated by those chubby knees.





You'll always remember that relationship you had at college, won't you? There were three of you in it ... and the two of you knew that he was just a convenient distraction, but he thought he was the centre of both your worlds.


Did he ever find out how you used to sneak away to just hold each other, while he watched football with the lads?


Did he ever know how your eyes used to burn into one another's across the bedroom, while he was wondering how he could satisfy you both?


Did he ever figure out that the two of you were in love?


Ego is a fragile thing. I remember when he told me about his 'special relationship,' looking proud and slightly smug, feeling that there was enough of him for two women to love. I saw it then, that fragility ... the house of cards that was becoming so lofty, just a breath could knock it down.


He could have knocked it down himself, if he'd given it a minute's thought. In fact, I think on some level he knew he'd never been enough. Deep in his heart he was well aware of the fact that although he was useful as an escort and a plaything, secretly he bored you both stupid. How could he not? He was essentially vacuous, underneath his false depths ... dive into them for little more than a second, and they turned out to be not so much the deep blue sea as a muddy puddle.


You never told him, did you? And I respect you for that. I never told him either. That would have just been cruel.





It was a meeting of minds, really, ours, wasn't it? I remember it well ... the way you used to visit me during our student days - we'd sit in my tiny room with the tie-dye on the walls, listening to trip-hop and smoking joints while we talked about philosophy. I was attracted to the nihilism of your intellect ... you could discuss anything without prejudgement, and it made me feel wild inside.


And when the air got heady and our tongues were loosened, the conversation would inevitably turn to sex. I was on a steep curve of self-discovery back then, and you were fascinated. Your artistic (and your grubbier) instincts were aroused by the image of two women together. For a few weeks, I occupied centre stage in your fantasies.


And I loved it.


I had never been given any attention at school ... I was quiet and homely, and as if these two characteristics weren't criminal enough, I was also clever. I sat at the back of the class, ensuring that I would never be asked out on a date by openly knowing all the answers. But at university, where there was no longer a sharply defined boundary between smart and sexy, I reinvented myself as a sexual dynamo. It was a fragile construction, considering my inexperience - but it was convincing enough.


You seemed convinced, anyway.


Thinking about it now, I think the thought of me being able to objectify another woman (something that despite your open mind, you perhaps still viewed as a man's prerogative) was absolutely captivating for you. And unlike other men, you were happy to be on the outside, looking in.


Perhaps that was to do with your politeness. You were a sweet public school boy, after all ... your cultivated love for urban music couldn't disguise the fact that you were, in fact, cultivated. Looking back on it, I think I was probably your 'bit of rough,' because although I could converse over a glass of port with the best of them, working class culture still seethed beneath my skin, speaking to your baser impulses in a language you probably couldn't even consciously understand.


One night, we talked in your room instead of mine ... and ever the gentleman, you offered to walk me home. But in a dark alleyway behind a curry house, suddenly you weren't a gentleman any more. You grabbed me, impatiently, and sought out my lips with your own. It was passionate, but certainly not romantic - a heavy, desperate groping that we both needed by then, to relieve the tension that had been building up between us.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tension left you unable to perform. But maybe that was for the best ... I think after all that build-up, we would have almost certainly been disappointed.

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Copyright Emily Duncan 2001-2004. All rights reserved. The original fiction and non-fiction works contained herein are the property of the author and are subject to copyright laws, as well as other laws, including, but not limited to, other applicable state, federal, territorial and international laws and treaties. You are granted permission to print these pages or save to a file on your computer for personal use only. No other use is permissible, except where otherwise specified in writing or where the author's prior express written consent has been obtained. Any other use of the materials, including, but not limited to, distribution, modification, reproduction, publication, transmission, participation in the transfer of or sale of, performance, creation of derivative works, or in any other way, the use of which results in the exploitation of any of the materials, in whole or in part, for uses other than those expressly permitted herein, is strictly forbidden.



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