by Susan Scheid
You pull the door open. It slams shut behind you. Faces turn to examine you. Why do they stare at you? Have you worn something foolish?
The bartender has orange hair, a look of mischief. She pours hot water into a mug. The water turns red. Red Zinger. The one with the crew cut and tattoo behind her earlobe, she's the one with the Red Zinger.
You walk past, with an air of purpose you don't feel; what you feel is eyes boring into your back. You haul yourself upstairs to the airless room where the library ladies come for lunch. Tahini dressing, bean sprouts, carrot soup with bits of dill, seven-grain bread. The library ladies like that sort of thing. You're not one of the library ladies, though. You're something else, not sure what.
You've come to meet O'Malley for lunch, but she's not here. You walk past the table with the books on it. You can't avoid it—Spitzer's laid out her books on a table in the middle of the room.
Spitzer is big—big rolls of flesh at the waist, big breasts, big face and hands. She nods as you pass. "Take a look. They don't bite. They're only books."
You look at the books. They're mostly by writers you've never heard of. You pick one up. "Good pick," she says. "Not in the closet like Virginia Woolf. Good place to start."
She stares straight into you. "You've never read any lezzie books before, right?" You shrug. "Thought so. I can always tell." You open your mouth; no words come out. "Look, take your time. I'll be here." She's looking at you, grinning.
You sit down, wait for O'Malley. You pick up strands of conversation from the library ladies. "They make the best bread here." "At first, I wasn't sure about the tahini dressing, but it's wonderful, isn't it?" Bean sprouts drift down from their sandwiches onto the table. They sweep them into their palms, set at the edge of the table like dustpans, and brush them off onto their plates.
"Hey Spitzer, what's doing?" O'Malley bursts into the room. She doesn't look for you. She's in no hurry to find you. "Sold any hot books today?" She gives Spitzer a look charged with implication.
"No way I'm telling you, O'Malley. Just keep your dirty mind off my books," Spitzer laughs. She doesn't mean it. She'll tell O'Malley you were at the book table. You picture her and O'Malley, huddled downstairs with the bartender, sizing you up.
"Sure, Spitz," O'Malley says. "Thank God for Spitzer, who keeps us literate." She leans toward Spitzer, over the table of books. "And in ladies." Her whisper resounds across the room. The library ladies don't seem to notice. They continue collecting their bean sprouts, sipping their tea.
"Later, Spitzer. Got a lunch date. Eat your heart out." O'Malley tilts her head in your direction. She's known you were there all along. She just didn't choose to notice. She's establishing parameters. You're the one who has to wait; she's the one who makes you wait.
You bounce down on your waterbed and stare straight up. Nothing much to stare at—cracks in the ceiling, a square glass fixture with dead bugs in it. You listen to the slosh of water as you move against the bed. You feel the chill of the water pull the heat right out of your body. You'd bought the bed and filled it before you discovered you needed a heating pad.
"The trouble with you," O'Malley said at lunch, "is you look like a lezzie, but you aren't. There's nothing worse than a fake lezzie." You didn't try to defend yourself. It wasn't true, at least you didn't think so, but maybe she knew more about you than you did.
After lunch, you'd gone to the library. You'd picked out some books, like the ones on Spitzer's table. The library lady could see what you had, but she didn't comment. She took the cards out of the books and stamped them, tucked them back inside the books, and said, "These are due back in two weeks."
O'Malley had said, "You can do better than him. Take my advice. Ditch him." She was talking about her brother, the guy you'd started seeing because he'd been interested, even though you weren't. That's how O'Malley knew about you, because of her brother. You'd said, "But I don't know if I want to ditch him." That's when she said you were a fake lezzie, the worst thing anyone could be, from O'Malley's point of view.
You pick up one of the library books. It has a picture of two girls on the cover, in a clench, like Parisian lovers by the Seine. The title is strewn along a ribbon flying over their heads. It looks more like a comic book than anything. You drop the book over the side of the bed and stare at the ceiling, at the light full of bugs.
The bugs start to annoy you, and you hoist yourself off the bed to find a ladder. The telephone rings. "Hey." It's Spitzer. "You didn't buy any books. Listen, I could bring some over."
"Don't really want any."
"Look, you don't have to buy any. I just thought, maybe you'd feel more comfortable looking at them in private. That's all."
You sigh into the telephone. "Whatever."
"So, where do you live?"
You tell her where. You shove the library books into the back of the closet.
Spitzer displaces half the water in the bed when she sits on it. That's where you let her sit. You really had no choice. You'd offered her the living room sofa, but she said, "I need room to spread out the books." She homed in on the bedroom before you even pointed the way.
"Sit over here," she says. Now it's her room, her bed. You do what she says. The water shifts, and you're leaning into her arm. She's big and warm. You like it. You don't move.
She starts to lay the books out on the bed. The bed rocks behind her. "This won't work. What's with the waterbed? Didn't figure you for the waterbed type."
"It's nice. Rocks you to sleep. A little cold in the winter, though."
"How do you have sex on a thing like this? God, every move and you'd be making waves. It'd throw everything off." She pulls books out of her book bag, sets them on the floor in front of you. She looks up at you, her eyes lined up with yours, and says, "Particularly when things get going." You don't answer.
She says if you buy a book, it doesn't mean anything, just that you're looking into things. Privately. She emphasizes that. "This is between you and me," she says. "Nobody else's business, including O'Malley's."
You lean across her to pick up a book; you brush against her breasts. You don't mean to, but it feels good, so you keep your arm there as long as you can. You point to a book with a plain blue cover, black lettering, picture of a cat. No clenched girls, no cartoony drawings.
Spitzer flops back on the waterbed, her breasts flattened sideways, her arms stretched out on either side of her. She pushes against the waterbed, first with her hands, then with her hips. You feel the rhythm of her from the edge of the bed, where you're still sitting.
She pushes against the bed hard, and you fall into her. "Not bad, huh?" She grins at you. Her face is close; you can feel her breath. "Lean back." You lean back. She rocks the bed beneath you. "I still don't see how this would work when you really got going."
She climbs up over you, plants her knees at either side of your hips, her hands at your shoulders. Her breasts fall onto yours, pendular, swinging. She pushes against you, lifts away, pushes against you again. It feels good. She lifts away again, but this time you raise your hips to meet her. You lift and fall with her, lift and fall.
She pushes herself upright. "Nah," she says. "It would never work."
She packs up her books, except the one you bought, and leaves. You stay on the bed, stare up at the bugs.
Susan Scheid lives and works in New York City. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Cottonwood, Oasis, Prairie Schooner, and Willow Review. Her story, "The Order of Things" (Oasis, October–December 2000), has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and another story, "The Woman Who Felt Things," has received the 2001 Willow Review award for fiction.