A friend told me Saturday night that my story “Itch” had won 2nd place (along with a welcome $300) in the annual Radical Arts for Women (RAW) short story contest. I missed the award announcement myself because I wasn’t feeling well; it was made at RAW’s annual Celebration of Change show.
Congratulations to Emily Sousa, whose story “Mail Plane” took first place (and $500). Her story will be published on RAW’s website. (I’ll link when it becomes available. Update: Here it is.) Mine is published here.
- 3rd place ($100): “The Remaking of Audrey Lang” by CN McLaughlin
- Honorable mention: “Gone, Fishing” by Audrey Fearnside
- Honorable mention: “219s” by Amy Whinston
“Itch” is an excerpt from yet another of my works-in-progress (how many of ‘em do I have, anyway?) called Finer, which is a lesbian love story set in 1980 in a northwest Montana town that bears an amazing similarity to the one I grew up in. “Itch” is from about the second or third chapter in. But that’s all the set-up I’m gonna provide: in media res.
The photo above has nothing to do with “Itch”, except to further establish the theme: Lesbian. Love. Story. If you like that theme, I hope you enjoy the story. If you’d rather read other stuff, please do.
by Melissa S. Green
She thought they might talk a little after the lights were out, but they didn’t. She said good night, and Rue murmured agreeably, and then it was silent except for their breathing.
But Kater couldn’t get to sleep. She used to think, when she was a kid and shared a double bed with Tabitha, that she was allergic to other people, because she’d itch, sometimes all night — itch and scratch and itch and scratch, until sometimes she’d get down on the hard floor with only a blanket and pillow, just so she could sleep. Mom would yell at her when she caught her at it. But maybe she was only allergic to Tabitha. She’d never itched with the few other people she’d shared a bed with.
Tonight she did. One itch down there on the arch of her foot, another behind her right knee, a little one on her neck. She tried to ignore them and let them pass, but the one on her foot became unbearable, and scratching that one she had to scratch the others too, all of them in one carefully parsed burst of activity, slow and careful so as not to disturb Rue. But no sooner had she killed the itches and relaxed and gotten herself comfortable again, and even begun to doze off, than another itch came, and another. And another.
Time crawled, and so did the itches, all over her body. Eventually, with each itch, she had to scratch again, and each time no matter how carefully she moved, the mattress shifted under her, or her shoulder accidentally tugged at the blankets, and she was sure she had to be disturbing Rue. She didn’t think she was allergic to her. It had to be because she was so conscious of Rue lying that near to her, conscious in a way she’d never been of Tab who, after all, was just her sister, not in hell someone she was — well, maybe was — falling in love with. Or something. Shit. She shouldn’t have taken Rue’s offer to crash here tonight. She should have had Po drop her off at Matt’s house, even if she hadn’t been able to call ahead. She should even have gone back to her own house, no matter how much her parents didn’t want her.
She bent her right knee slowly and carefully and scratched her left calf with her toenails, then slowly and carefully straightened her leg out again. Then the ache in the small of her back became intolerable. To ease it she rolled, carefully as she could, onto her left side.
A quiet sigh. Shit. She’d woken her. Rue turned over, and the whole bed moved. Then Rue’s hand darted out from under the blanket, a pale blur in the darkness, to rub at her forehead. Another audible exhale, then quiet again.
Kater dozed now and then, but more often she was wide awake, attempting to will her itches away so she wouldn’t have to move. But there were always at least the little itches, at least the little moves, subtle but not subtle enough, her toes accidentally brushing up against Rue’s ankle, or the blankets sliding off her shoulder to expose it to the room’s winter chill, and her effort to cover herself again without tugging at them. Once there was just enough of a drift — her’s or Rue’s, she wasn’t sure —that their entire legs were touching, her left and Rue’s right. Was Rue asleep? No, her breath was quiet, but it was uneven. There was a little jump in Rue’s leg, and her knee knocked against Kater’s.
Yes, she was awake. What was going through her head? Anything like what was in Kater’s? Kater began to think so — a quiet, unspoken awareness of each other, and the occasional brushing of their limbs as they shifted or scratched. Touching occasionally, touching lightly, but touching. Changing slightly where and how much they touched with each shift of position.
She dozed off, woke again feeling sore in the shoulder where she lay on her side. She rolled slowly onto her back, and then she noticed how much distance there was between her and the edge of the mattress. She thought, Am I crowding her? but she raised her head slightly to look and saw there was just as much space between Rue and the other edge of the bed. She lay where she was and did her best to quell her fear at how close they lay — not just she but both of them drawn to the center, to the place where they met and touched so sparingly. She became conscious of how tense her muscles were. She tried to relax them.
It might have been two hours after they’d turned out the lights that Rue suddenly got up and left the room. No doubt to piss out some of that pitcher of beer she’d shared with Po. Kater took advantage of her absence to give herself a good, thorough scratch, then settled down again against Rue’s return, on her stomach this time. But Rue’s absence lengthened. Five minutes, six…? how long did it take her to pee, anyway? An itch in on her left buttock. She reached back to scratch it, and just as she moved her hand back to her side, she heard Rue come back in, the door close. Kater pretended to be asleep.
A draft of cold air flowed under the blankets as Rue lifted them to climb back into bed — not to settle herself this time on the bed’s edge, as Kater feared she would, but near the center again, where she had been before. The cold air warmed again, the heat of Rue’s body. Rue’s breathing slowed, and Kater thought she’d dozed off. But then Rue turned on her side, facing Kater, and laid her left forearm gently over her.
Kater’s heart sped. She lay there, feeling that warm pressure, and she wanted, oh how she wanted. And now the small of her back ached from lying on her stomach, so she rolled off her stomach and onto her left side again to face Rue, and she moved just the tiniest bit closer to her, and then Rue’s arm was fully over her, not just lying there, it seemed, nor really holding her either. But Rue’s arm was over her, and Rue was quite aware, she had to be — even in the dark Kater could see her eyes were open — of what, who her arm covered, it wasn’t Mannie here in bed with her, and her arm was warm, like the corner of a soft blanket. Somehow then they drifted that much closer, piece by piece, until their whole bodies touched, until Kater’s head was encircled by Rue’s shoulder and arm, by Rue’s very presence. She could smell the slight sour of beer on her breath, mixed with the mint of toothpaste.
She remembered the first time she’d gone to bed with a woman. Vina, her name had been, just someone she’d met once in a bar in Missoula and never seen again, though she’d gone to the same bar a couple of times on other trips looking for her. In bed with her that one time, You’re beautiful, she’d whispered, and Vina had answered, a touch sarcastic, Aren’t we all. Rue was more beautiful than Vina, Kater thought, but she’d better not say so, better not ruin it, better not jinx it. Better to let their bodies say what needed to be said, if only they would say so much as she wanted them to say. It seemed just as she had imagined it might be when two people met seeking to become friends, maybe even lovers, and they’d talk of this and that, feel across the walls gradually, slowly reaching subjects deeper and deeper in each other’s souls — it was that way now, here, in this bed, the graduation of their bodies in increments from distance to lesser distance to closeness, to skin in contact with skin. Or almost skin: just those thin layers of Rue’s t-shirt, of Kater’s borrowed t-shirt, between them. Their breasts, just touching. Their warm bellies. It was not at all as it had been those other times, with Tim Rollinger in high school, or with Vina — even the slowest time, with that woman from Polson whose name she never learned, who was so slow as to bore her, seemed rushed in comparison with this. This time she found she liked the slowness, found herself savoring each moment, each interval of waiting, each tiny step to a more intimate level, even fearing it might not go so far as her body wanted — her body, which was thrilling in the guts, thrilling all up and down her, and the wetness that was gathering, then pouring out between her legs. Her heart beating hard. God, how she wanted.
Then it was as if Rue were pulling Kater to her like a blanket, inviting her, helping her move her limbs, her body, their legs crosshatched, Kater’s arm around Rue the same way she would hold a pillow in her own bed, but Rue’s breasts so much softer, and alive. She could feel Rue’s heartbeat against her arm. She felt her own pumping heart, heard her own quickened breath. Again she felt the tension of her muscles, and she went through them, one by one, from toes to head, and made them relax. But they sprang back into tension, she wanted so badly, and she had to go back through them again, and again her want hardened them. She couldn’t keep her breath steady or quiet.
She raised herself up, wanting to kiss her, but Rue murmured something.
It was nothing so harsh as a no, but it wasn’t a yes, either. Kater settled back down again, and tried to content herself with brushing her fingers against Rue’s left cheek — the area next to her ear, with the soft and tender skin, soft hairs that she knew would be a towheaded white-gold in the light. Soft, alive. And as she stroked so lightly with her fingers, she could feel in her arm the pulse of Rue’s heart, pulsing, it seemed, just a little faster than would be normal.
Then Rue whispered, barely audible, “Get some sleep now.”
Kater closed her eyes, trying to still her yearning, her disappointment. Mannie, she thought. She rested her hand on Rue’s shoulder and lay still, feeling Rue’s rapid heartbeat against her arm, and if she could imagine what the heartbeat gave away of Rue’s thoughts, or what her slightly harsh breathing meant, it had to be that same want, held back by that same thought, Mannie. It was Kater here with Rue, it was Kater who felt Rue’s thigh against her crotch — surely Rue could feel the heat there, the dampness of Kater’s underwear, surely she heard the need Kater couldn’t remove from her own breath, matched by Rue’s rough breath, matched by the dampness of Rue’s panties against Kater’s own thigh — Mannie was at her college in Massachusetts thousands of miles away. But still, here Mannie was, where she belonged and Kater didn’t. So Kater forced back her desire and quieted her breath and stilled herself, no longer itching.
She woke some time later from a doze, Rue whispering about her arm fallen asleep under Kater’s body, and they shifted, and later Rue shifted again, until she was spooned in Kater’s arms, her smaller body a neat fit to Kater’s larger, as though to take solace for what they both wanted but couldn’t have. Rue drifted back into sleep, and Kater could feel her even breath in the rise and fall of her belly under Kater’s hand. But Kater lay awake for a long time, unable to hold back her yearning. Unable to do a damn thing about it.
© Copyright 2010 by Melissa S. Green.