Strange Sisters [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Fletcher Flora
eBook Category: Gay Fiction
eBook Description: She knew it was dangerous, but she knew it had to be this way. No other way was normal--to her. From the moment she fell in love as a teenager with Stella, Kathy knew her life would take a difficult path. She tried to resist her feelings--tried to be the person her family wanted her to be--but the lure of another woman's love was too powerful. And so Kathy strayed the dark and hidden path among the twilight women, doing things her body urged her to do, until one night she made a choice that would change her life forever and set a devastating series of events in motion. Here is the story of a lesbian, and of the actions she would attempt to undertake, when trying to disavow her body's urgings.
About Lesbian Pulp Fiction
In the early 1950s new sub-genres of the vintage paperback pulp novel industry emerged--science fiction, juvenile delinquent, sleaze, and lesbian fiction, for instance--that would tantalize readers with gritty, realistic and lurid stories never seen before. Mysteries, thrillers and hardboiled detective pulps were already selling quite well. Publishers had come to realize, however, that sex would sell even more copies. In a competitive frenzy for readers, they tossed away their staid and straightforward cover images for alluring covers that frequently featured a sexy woman in some form of undress, along with a suggestive tag line that promised stories of sex and violence within the covers. Before long, books with these sensational covers had completely taken over the paperback racks and cash registers. To this day, the "good girl art" (GGA) cover art of these vintage paperback books are just as sought after as the books themselves were sixty years ago.
With the birth of the lesbian-themed pulp novel, women who loved women would finally see themselves--their experiences and their lives--represented within the pages of a book. They finally had a literature they could call their own. For lesbians across the country, especially those living in small towns, these books provided a sense of community they never knew existed, a connection to women who experienced the same longings, feelings and fears as they did--the powerful knowledge that they were not alone. We are excited to make these lesbian pulp novels available in ebook format to new generations of readers.
eBook Publisher: SRS Internet Publishing/Digital Vintage Pulps, Published: 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2011
From the start, she knew it was a bad thing she was doing. Of all the things she had ever done that were bad for her, which were far greater in number than she could remember or wanted to remember, this was probably the worst and would bring her after a while to the worst end.
The irony was that it was something she wanted to turn out good, and she had only started it in the first place because of her sudden conviction that there had to be a break, and that once the early and really bad part of it was over with, everything would get better. Not immediately, of course, not all at once, but slowly and surely over a period of time, the way she'd seen daylight come after one of the long nights when she hadn't slept.
But she had understood, once it was begun, that the bad part of it was all of it, the beginning and the end of it, and that nothing would ever get better. She thought a thousand times that she would stop, would go no farther with it, but she went ahead in spite of knowing very well that it was coming to a bad end, because after she had gone so far, she was obsessed with the belief that any kind of end was better than no end at all.
It was so simple, really, and involved nothing more than a man. An ordinary man. Well, maybe not such an ordinary man, at that, as anyone might have felt after seeing his lean, gray, hawk's face. Not that she had chosen him because he was either ordinary or extraordinary. She had not really chosen him at all. She was merely using him, and she was doing it because he had presented himself at the right time under the right circumstances when she just happened to be ripe for him. She had gone into a bar. She had gone there, not to pick up a man, but to get a drink. She had just ridden downtown on a crowded bus, caught in a jam at the] rear between a fat man sour with yesterday's sweat and a younger, thinner man who made the most of the congestion, and she needed the drink badly. She went into the bar and ordered a Sidecar, which was what she usually drank, except when she drank straight rye in order to get quickly and mercifully drunk. She drank the Sidecar greedily, feeling a partial interior recovery and a little warmer in the flesh as the chill drained out.
The man on the stool beside her said, "May I buy you another?"
She had hardly noticed the man when she sat down, and now she looked at him swiftly, her eyes dilating and her viscera reacting with the familiar exorbitant violence that was like a physical shock. She averted her eyes, looking back down into her empty glass, and said with a kind of prim abruptness, "No, thanks.'*
The man lifted a hand in a gesture to the bartender. "The lady will have another of the same," he said.
She didn't look at him again directly, but she lifted her eyes to probe the smoky depths of the mirror behind the bar and found his face beyond and a little above a row of Pilsener glasses. He was looking at her and smiling, and she noticed this time the strong, hooked nose, the hard, gray planes of the cheeks, the thin, predatory mouth above a narrow, jutting chin. It was not a handsome face, was actually ugly; but it was possessed of a cruel strength, and, rather paradoxically, she found the strength soothing, a kind of depressant to her furious adrenals.
"I said, no thanks," she said.
His smile spread in glass. "I heard you. Now that you've made a gesture for propriety, you can enjoy your Sidecar."
The bartender placed it in front of her, and after a moment she picked it up and cupped her hands around the small, cold bulb of the glass, letting her eyes slip down from the reflected hawk's face to the suggestion of her own in amber. She wet her lips with the mixture, permitting a little to slip past and down her throat, and it was then that she got the idea. It just came into her mind. At first it made her slightly sick, and she tried to repel it, but then she accepted it and considered it coldly, looking down into her glass as if the idea had materialized and was there in suspension. She couldn't have said why she was so suddenly capable of doing it. Yesterday she wouldn't have been, and tomorrow she probably wouldn't be. And maybe that was the reason. Because it was time, high time, and it had to be done now, at this moment, in this bar, with this man, or it would never be done at all, because all other times for the rest of her life would be too late. She didn't actually think it all through like that. It was just a feeling. Maybe it was insight.
"My name is Brunn," he said. "Angus Brunn." And even his name was a precipitant. She liked the chopped quality of it. Especially the rugged Angus. It was conservative and agrarian, and it would go with a man who adhered to restrained and traditional forms. All of which was, in this case, a monstrous deception that she practiced on herself deliberately in a kind of inverted hatred.
"Mine is Kathryn Gait," she said. And then, with the first concession to familiarity that was a sign of fatal commitment, she added, "My friends call me Kathy."
That's the way it started, the bad thing. She allowed Angus Brunn to buy her two more Sidecars, and the brandy helped her to do what was necessary. Once when her left hand was lying on the bar beside her glass, he reached out and covered it with his own. His hand was square and hard, with black hair growing in thick clusters between the second and third joints of the blunt fingers, and she felt a sudden shock of sickness in her stomach, a shriveling of the flesh on her bones. She thought then that it was no use, that she would never be able to go through with it, but somehow she managed to leave her hand lying limp beneath his, and after a while, with more help from the brandy, she recovered.
It had gone slowly from there. That afternoon she left him in the bar, but she also left her address and telephone number. She had intended going to Jacqueline's, maybe to spend the night with her, but instead she killed a couple of hours in a movie and returned to her own place uptown to spend the night alone. Ready for bed, she stood for a moment to examine herself in the full-length mirror on the back of her closet door, leaning forward to trace with her eyes the lines of the face that was almost as lovely as Stella's had been, the longer lines of the body that even Stella's had not surpassed. Crossing her arms beneath her breasts, she hugged herself in a fierce, protective gesture of love. She always loved herself in a mirror. Then she wanted to be only what she was, never anything else, and she was able to discount her recurring depression, the suicidal despair and inverted hate.
The next day, Angus Brunn called her, and the first moment was a critical one. Hearing his voice and knowing that the idea she had examined in a Sidecar was gaining shape and dimension, she felt a terrible compulsion to cradle the instrument without answering. But in the end she talked, she let him come, and the idea grew materially over a period of time that seemed ages to her but was actually no more than a week. And now, tonight, in the night club, in the taxi, in the ascending elevator, she understood that it had grown to its ultimate monstrous proportion, and that it was, in spite of her desperate good intention, a bad thing, the worst thing for herself that she had ever done.
In the hall, he unlocked the door to his apartment and pushed it inward. "Welcome to my sanctuary, baby," he said. "I warn you, you won't find an etching in the place."
She accepted this as a bald statement of intention, and she felt her flesh crawl, sucking in her breath in brief anguish at the sharp contraction of her stomach. She had no reason to take offense, certainly, and even less to be alarmed. The intention had been implicit in their relationship from the start, was indeed the whole reason for her allowing the relationship to exist, and she had accepted the essential with a cold, sacrificial despair that now threatened to disintegrate in terror.
It wasn't too late. There was still time. She was still free to turn and walk back down the hall to the elevator, to descend in the whispering car to the half-life, the dim, precarious way beyond a translucent barrier. She stood without moving outside the open door until her inner disintegration had arrested itself, and then she moved past him into the room and waited rigidly for him to come up behind her and take the wrap from her shoulders. His fingers brushed her skin, and she shivered, the response traveling in a kind of peristaltic action over the whole surface of her body.
"What a nice place you have," she said.
He laughed. "It serves. Relax a minute, baby, I'll fix you a Sidecar."
He went into a bedroom with her wrap and reappeared almost immediately to cross the end of the living room and enter a tiny kitchen. She heard in order the small click of the light switch, the slightly larger sound of the refrigerator door opening and closing, the faint, confused tinkling of ice and glass. Standing there in the middle of the room, she turned her head stiffly, taking in the heavy furniture, a bright hunting print on I the wall, a scattering of masculine trivia. Against the wall below the hunting print, flanked by narrow windows, was a desk. On its surface was a variety of items, but all she saw was the desk set, a silver-colored pen extending at an angle from a black base. Terror came washing back, mounting on a tide to the level of hysteria. Turning, walking like an automaton, she went over to the sofa and sat down, bending sectionally at knees and hips.
After all, she thought, it's such a simple thing. You need only to be passive. That's it. You let every thing happen in its own time, in its own order, and at first it's very bad, but then it gets better, it gets better and easier each time after the first time, and after a while' it's perfectly right and normal and perhaps even enjoyable, because the way things are now is nothing more, than a twist, something you learned wrong a long time ago, and it's only the very simple matter of learning it all over again now the right way.
Then Angus Brunn came back in from the kitchen with her Sidecar in one hand and a Scotch-and-soda for himself in the other. He handed her the Sidecar and said, "What's the matter, baby? You look stiff."
Reaching up for her drink, she managed a laugh, a sound as thin and brittle as the stem she took between her fingers. "Maybe I'm a little scared," she said. "It could be the first time I've been in a man's apartment."
He sat down beside her and grinned, the twist of his tight mouth above the narrow, jutting chin giving to his gray face a Satanic expression that was without humor. "Oh, sure. It could be the first time I've ever had a woman here, too."
"You don't believe it's possible? My never having been in a situation like this before?"
"You, baby? A looker like you? Let's just say it isn't likely. The ones without experience are the ones who haven't had opportunities."
"That could probably be taken as a compliment. I suppose I should thank you."
"No. Just drink your Sidecar."
She lifted the glass and tilted some of the tart liquid into her mouth, and at that moment he deposited his own glass on the arm of the sofa at his side and let the emptied hand fall onto her knee. It lay there like a branding iron, burning through a triple intervention of silk and nylon, but the heat did not diffuse itself. It remained localized in the small area of the violated knee, while all the remainder of her was cold and clammy, and her flesh was filthy with crawling things. It occurred to her that the delusions of delirium tremens might be something like this, and that that, too, was an experience she might someday accomplish. Deliberately, functioning under a total exertion of her will, she drained her glass and let it fall and leaned forward into him with her head back and her lids lowered against the awful encroachment of his face.
She gagged. A thin, bitter fluid rose up into her throat and nostrils, and she couldn't breathe. She was drowning, drowning in a stagnant sea, and she lifted one arm above her head, as a drowning person does, to grasp the receding sky. The hand was held there for a second, hanging downward from the wrist like a claw, and then it descended in an attack of talons. Her long, pointed nails slashed into his cheek below the bone and plowed four parallel furrows to the jaw. With a harsh cry that was mixed pain and fury and surprise, he pushed her away and lashed out violently. The back of his hand caught her across the eyes and knocked her sprawling onto the floor. She lay there, cowering away from him, looking up at him with hate and revulsion. Blood welled slowly from his gashed cheek, making of it a shining, scarlet half-mask, and he began to curse her softly, an inflectionless recital of invective more terrifying than violence. Getting to her feet, she turned and ran through the door behind her into the kitchen.
It was so small. And it kept getting smaller. The walls closed in on her, compressing the air, threatening to crush her. She stood with her back to the cabinet, her hands spread behind her on the working surface. Her breasts rose and fell and rose again in labored gasps. She watched the door through which she had come, and pretty soon she heard him following, in no hurry, his steps light and measured on the carpet. He was still cursing, quietly and fluently, his voice never rising above a conversational level.
She looked around frantically for an exit that wasn't there, and it was then she saw the final deadly essential of the bad end. An old-fashioned ice-pick with a rough wooden handle, stuck half the length of its spike between the back of the cabinet and the wall. Reaching over, she pulled it loose with a jerk and held it in her right hand behind her back.
Angus Brunn appeared in the doorway and stopped. The entire side of his face was now a scarlet sheen, and his eyes glittered with cold, controlled fury. Looking at her down the negligible length of the tiny room, a distance he could almost have spanned by stepping forward and reaching out with one arm, he said with a queer, incongruous dullness, "So that's the kind of little slut you are. A just-so-far girl. A non-producing harlot. Maybe you think I'm a snotty kid to be led by my glands until you're ready to call the turn. That's your mistake, baby. That's your big mistake."
But it wasn't. It was his. He took two steps and grasped her by the hair, jerking her head back above the strained arch of her throat, and she brought the ice-pick around and up, and the slim spike slipped into him smoothly at an angle just below the apex of the inverted V of his ribs. His breath sucked through his lips with a shrill, ragged sound that was like a reversed whinny, and he wrapped both hands around the protruding handle of the pick and looked down at it in an attitude of stunned, incredulous wonder. Then, without looking at her again, he released his held breath in a long sigh and folded slowly in the middle.
Lifting her skirt, she stepped over the body and went back into the living room. She stood in the middle of the room, almost in the identical position in which she had waited a little while ago for him to return from the kitchen with her Sidecar. Now he was in the kitchen again, and she was waiting again, but this time he would not come out even though she waited forever. The thought struck her as very funny, and she began to laugh silently, her body shaking with a swelling inner storm that .she felt must surely rock the room. After a while, the swelling of laughter began to diminish, and she tried to think, to think clearly, to decide what would now be best for her to do. She had no real faith in any course of action, no hope that anything on earth could save her now, but she still fought with a sort of instinctive tenacity to gather and secure the remnants of whatever might be left.
The glass. She had touched the glass, and it would have her prints on it. If it were discovered that she'd been here, or had even known Angus Brunn, the police would take her fingerprints and compare them with those they would have lifted from the glass, and that would be the end of her. She saw the glass lying on its side on the carpet by the sofa, and she went over and picked it up. After wiping it on the skirt of her dress, she let it drop onto the sofa and left it lying there.
Next, she thought of the ice-pick, but she couldn't bear the thought of returning to the kitchen, and she decided, anyhow, that the handle was too rough to take fingerprints. She had heard that they could be lifted only from smooth surfaces. She couldn't recall having touched anything else, except possibly the working surface of the kitchen cabinet, and she was certain that those would be blurred. Yes, she remembered distinctly drawing her fingers off the surface in a way that would have left them blurred.
Nothing remained, then, but to get her wrap and leave. Moving with a jerk, she went into the bedroom and found the wrap lying across the bed. Putting it on, she went back through the living room and out into the hall, using the skirt of her dress again to handle the knob. She felt rather clever, thinking of things like that, taking precautions, but all the time she knew that it was just chopping wood and that nothing would come of them but the same disaster that would have come without them, though maybe at a different time in a little different way.
On the street, she began to walk without conscious direction or purpose. She walked three blocks, and then, still without any conscious purpose, turned ninety degrees and walked until she saw a cab cruising toward the downtown area. This made her think of Jacqueline, and she wondered why she hadn't thought of Jacqueline before, and now she left a sudden terrible need to get to her as quickly as she could, as if a second lost might be the difference between security and destruction. She waved at the cab, but by that time it had gone too far past her for the driver to see her frantic gesture. She quickened her step until she was almost running, and several blocks farther on she found another available cab stopped for a red light. Getting into the cab before the light changed, she gave the cabbie Jacqueline's address and leaned back in the seat. Only then, suddenly aware of her burning lungs, did she realize the desperate pace she had maintained for the long blocks.
On both sides of her, beyond glass, the dappled city passed. Dappled. She liked the echoes of the word in her mind. Every once in a while, there would be a word like that, one that she immediately liked, and then she would pause, as she did now, to take a new direction from it, on whatever tangent of thought it suggested. Dappled with light and darkness, the splashes of intermittent light from street lamps and signs and unshaded windows, the deep cast shadows of buildings that seemed to crowd in upon the street in fear of the night and the aberrations of the night. People in the dappled city, moving from darkness to light to darkness. She watched them as she passed, finding and losing them in half a dozen ticks of the meter, and she began to wonder which of them were living, as she was, behind a personal translucent barrier through which light filtered dimly when there was any light at all. She thought of them in stock terms, the brutal little classifications that focused on a particular and left everything else out. Winos, dipsos, nymphos, homos. Felons, vagrants, whores and hoods. Then there were those with no barriers. The normal people. The non-aberrant, the undeviated, the good, clean partisans of orthodox sin. These, she thought, were the ones with the mentionable neuroses, the ones who had tuberculosis as opposed to leprosy, and she was suddenly rocked again by the silent, hysterical laughter. Sinking teeth into her lower hp, she laid her head back and closed her eyes, but she immediately saw Angus Brunn wrap both hands around the handle of the ice-pick and fold over slowly in the middle, so she opened her eyes again and sat staring blankly ahead past the right ear of the cabbie until he stopped at the curb in front of Jacqueline's apartment house.
She paid the fare and crossed over and through the heavy glass door into the small lobby. The single elevator was up, and she didn't wait, walking back to the stairs and ascending quickly. The stairs seemed interminable, stretching up forever, as if, now that she was so near Jacqueline, there were a kind of inanimate conspiracy to prevent her ever arriving. She had a heady feeling, a sense of treading air, and unconsciously she took hold of the bannister, moving the hand forward with every step to pull herself upward against the resistance of intangibles.
On the right floor at last, before the right door, she pressed a button and listened to the faint, measured strokes of chimes. There was no response, and she pressed again, leaning forward in a posture of intense concentration to follow the repetition of ordered tones. But it was no use. She rang again and again, but Jacqueline didn't come. The blond door, the final impediment in the conspiracy that had permitted her to advance against odds to defeat, remained closed.
She wondered where Jacqueline could be, and she could think of a number of possible places. Obviously, she couldn't tour the city, or even the likely restricted area, searching for her, and besides, now that the conspiracy against her was manifest, she was inclined to accept the futility of struggling against it any longer. She was tired. She was more tired than she could remember ever being before, and there was nothing to be done but to make the long uptown trip to her own small apartment.
On the street again, she found another cab and returned through the dappled city. In her own apartment, she undressed and stood for a moment before the mirror on the back of her closet door, but now she saw herself distorted by her relationship with Angus Brunn, an ugly corruption of what she had been. She turned off the light and got into bed and lay there on her back in the darkness trying to make her mind adhere to the unmenacing present, detached from everything that had approached this moment or would develop from it, and therefore powerless to foretell consequences.