spectacular

Got exceptionally high last night.

Wasn’t even expecting to. Didn’t think it was possible to go to a store and buy gummies that could do that. But a beautiful loophole has been discovered and now it is.

I ate one and cooked dinner and everything was fine, and then one hour later, BAM. I was grinning into space, making up little songs to make myself laugh. Dizzy like my body was tripping over itself.

I laid down and listened to a livestream about the new moon in Libra, all while my body felt like it was losing its edges and dissolving into energy. It felt wonderful and intense and like something I couldn’t stop.

Everything seemed to come up in this state. At one point I woke up in the darkness with loneliness and anxiety screaming at me. I’ve never known a lonelier city than the one I live in right now. It’s hard to remember that the lonelies I feel are not necessarily my own. That doesn’t make them feel any less heavy. I guess they are looking for someone to feel them.

When they pair up with anxiety, they make a dynamic duo. Anxiety over age and not being conventional, the classic “what the hell are you doing with your life” that only seems to be backed up by the lonely feelings.

Dissolve into energy and giggles and then wake up to the cold stare of your shadow. The new moon is activating my shadow side so I guess this makes sense. Shadow, meet softness.

lucky and lonely

Didn’t think he was going to catch me being sad but he did.

He said he had been sad too.

We hugged and I knew it wasn’t right but I was lonely and his touch was nice.

I thought about being alone in my apartment and it made me cry.

A lot of things did that today.

Surprising things.

Watching Edward Scissorhands and realizing he reminded me so much of you.

The silliness and the sad eyes and the quiet.

Realizing as the music swelled that I really miss you. So much. And crying some more because of that.

What would I even do if I saw you,

Cry?

It had made you so uncomfortable whenever I did that

But I probably would anyway.

And hug you tightly and thank you for everything.

Thank you for being an incredible loving person

Even if it all freaked you out.

You said the city broke you and I understand why. It’s hard and lonely and constant. But it didn’t break you. Not really.

We just need to superglue ourselves back together somehow.

but that’s okay right?

You’re in a boat and I’m swimming out to it. But the water gets deeper quickly. Soon I am gasping with nothing to hold onto, and you have gotten no closer.

I push forward until my arm muscles burn. Waves are constantly coming at me. Sometimes I float above them, and sometimes I submit to them. I cough and flail.

Meanwhile you are teasing me with your invitations. It’s been so long. You’ve missed me so. Once I get there everything will feel so good. We will melt into each other like we did before, will go even further beyond what we did before. You didn’t actually disappear; you were just too far out on the horizon to see, but you wanted me there the whole time.

I’m so close, and when I come it will be amazing.

Water stings my eyes but I push ahead. Fueled by lust and fantasy and promise.

I open my eyes and you are pulling up your anchor. The boat is leaving. Plans have changed. You’re so sorry we keep missing each other.

Then you disappear. And the shore is so far away.

he reappeared

My last bad ex texted me yesterday.

He didn’t even say anything. Just “long time no talk” and “I’ve been on a cross-country camping trip.” And “hope you’re doing ok.”

I took a minute to respond. Well. That minute was 3 hours. He *immediately* texted back. It was all very surface level. He didn’t ask me how I was. He just told me stuff he was doing. Very typical Leo I guess.

I wanted to know why. Why are you reaching out after 4 months of being silent to each other. What do you want. But I didn’t ask.

I actually went on a first date last night too. With an Irish guy who happened to have the same name as my ex. I had a very good time, but at the end found out he was a horrible kisser.

So I walked home from what had been a delightful, fun, normal-and-free-feeling date with terrible kissing chemistry, and I thought about how I used to burn for my ex.

I thought I was going to be okay hearing from him. But being reminded of his happiness without me is painful.

Dust had settled and pain had been faced and now he has kicked up that dust back into my face and I have to go back through the pain.

I could go on social media and look him up and pour salt into my wounds and know for sure that she is still around and he is still blissful with her. I could use Instagram like a knife to kill and dismember that hopeful little voice whispering “why are you still thinking about me?” in the back of my head.

But I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to make myself hurt any more than I already do. I have to burn a little bit more. And I can do that while listening to some sad songs and quietly take care of myself while bathing in this weirdly sweet pain. And then I can move forward.

sometimes it feels like you burn for me

I wouldn’t say quarantine has fully thrown a wrench into dating.

But it is definitely forcing me to face all those same pains and fears and paranoias I’ve had before.

I have a lot of recent scarring around rejection. I’ve been talking to someone. Last weekend we talked about meeting. We have both been in our houses for a long time. I don’t even go into stores.

He had brought up meeting a lot. Said he wanted to sneak out. Then I said “okay, let’s.” And then he got kind of spooked. We used to talk on the phone and FaceTime a lot. Now we don’t. But we still text. He likes to write novel-sized texts that have wild poetry in them. I like that.

When he doesn’t call or text, all those awful rejection paranoias come back up to the surface. They are here right now. That’s why I’m writing this. I know I have to face and diffuse them but I feel like I have done that so many times before.

I want to know what they are teaching me. Sometimes I think I know but it turns out to be wrong. I have to sit with them, even though they flare up so painfully and they flare up a lot.

I see the quiet leaking of a weird kind of heartache and I want to know that other people feel it too. I think they do. Let’s sit with it together. I hurt and you hurt and together we can figure it out.

So, fist, here’s my fucking heart and stomach.

Hi yes I’m still dumped.

I have moved pretty quickly from sadness to anger. But the sadness flares up a lot on top of it.

I just posted 40 selfies on Instagram instead of texting him. It felt weird and narcissistic but honestly, it was better than breaking and sending him something sad.

He left things feeling very open ended. Even though the phone call did not start that way. In short he had lunch with his ex and realized he’s still in love with her and that he thinks she feels the same, even though he also knows that getting back with her is a bad idea.

So, fist, here’s my fucking heart and stomach.

By the end of the call he admitted that he thought I was beautiful and fun and smart and that there had been a very obvious strong connection. That he wanted to hear from me still. That he did have feelings for me. That going back to her could make him into a “fucking doormat.”

I don’t know what is going to happen or why it is happening. I don’t know how I’m going to respond to it. But that’s the only thing I’m in control of.

Him: “You can call me anytime, or we can meet and I can answer questions you have.”

Me: “I don’t have questions.”

So now I’m posting selfies. And if he doesn’t see them, then I’ll know that it really is over.

Fuck.

Baldemar Is Made of Clay: 8

Writing story fiction drama fantasy comedy girl creator filmmaker baldemar creative novel lesbian love heartache sylvie bernadette

Bern’s head fell onto her knees, not of her own volition.  Green clay, Igobert’s sludge, was all over her hands.  The film felt like a mess.  What had she been thinking when she made this strange little thing?  Was it too frightening to fit into Baldemar’s world?  What purpose was it going to serve?  When had her head started throbbing so badly?  Her body knew it was late but in the dark room it was impossible to tell how much time had passed.  There was at least pizza in the fridge.

She imagined drug users felt this way after a long binge, delirious and forgetful of who they were, with unsightly smears on their hands, from God only knew what.  The main difference, she assumed, was the satisfaction that hummed in her bones along with the fatigue, at having accomplished something, at having at least had a reason to be up so late.

Baldemar stared in frozen terror from his desk chair.  Often Bernadette worried that she had made him look too cute.  Even with the sad black caverns for eyes, he verged on looking more fitting in a children’s cartoon.  But it was too late to make a new one.  If she could do it again she would probably have picked a color besides blue.  Pud crouched in a ball beside him.  She worried he looked too much like Gumby.

“Berrrrrrnie Bernie Bernie you need to go to bed.”

But first there would be pizza.  She would save the Coke for tomorrow, when she needed the caffeine.  It was now time to reward hard work with an obscene calorie intake.

Outside was black and the kitchen clock read 4 AM.  Loneliness slammed into her unexpectedly.  She went to the window and the glass was cold.  Were it not for the brilliant stars outside and the little world lying in wait downstairs, this would have been a spectacularly ordinary evening.  But she had been productive.

Loneliness was not caused by Sylvia necessarily, though her presence sans children or husband would have been nice.  They would end up bickering about something, but it would have been an improvement from staring through frosted glass at the crack of dawn by one’s self.  If she closed her eyes and stood there for a few more hours the nagging mental pain would become too much sensation to bear.

But the pizza.  Yes.  Where did you put the pizza.  Rationality unexpectedly took reign when she was not thinking and directed her to putting the food in the refrigerator.  Sometimes she felt it would be better to turn her consciousness off completely and give subconscious full control.  Only with that did she ever end up in her bed after a night of drinking, or not kiss an inappropriate human after a night of loneliness.

The pizza looked significantly less impressive after eight hours in a dark studio.  She was sure the meat had had a more appetizing color while the sun was still up.  Now it looked like human flesh left out in open air too long.  But she still took a piece, still felt the hot cheese and sauce and the wet heat on her tongue and incisors.  Momentarily forgot that for most people daylight was starting imminently.

In times when the world was at its quietest, her mind seemed to prattle louder than ever.  Did she do her laundry today?  Put money into her Roth IRA today?  Because God knew she wasn’t going to be a claymation animator forever.  Did she clean the apartment before that fateful horrible phone call with Sylvia?  Did Sylvie actually enjoy picking up the phone and talking to her?  Was her mother all that surprised that her daughter became lonely in that little black room and had to talk to someone?   Was it true that all mothers, no matter how much time had passed, secretly loved hearing from their somewhat estranged children?  

The single slice of pizza was not satisfying enough, so Bern began devouring a second.  Fed up with thinking about Baldemar and co., she allowed her mind to venture to Sylvia, futile though it was.  It had not always been bad, but became unbearable when it was.  Sylvia, even with a polyamorous husband, never believed she could truly have Bernadette, and of course, Bernadette, in love with a married woman, never believed she could truly have her either.  So they pined away and lied to each about it, and the cycle continued until Sylvia moved to middle of nowhere California, popped out two children and made herself even less attainable than ever before.

Bern pulled the crust off the pizza. Had it really been so simple?  Was that really an abridged version of the last eleven years of her life?  Not five, not ten, eleven.  Oh my husband’s away, but he knows what I’m doing and he knows who you are, so this is okay.  Derek is on a business trip but he told me to say hi, even though you haven’t met him.  Derek saw a picture and said he loves your hair that length, especially with the color and thickness you already have.  False hope and flattery until one day Derek wasn’t so keen on you anymore after all, and suddenly the couple was a family, and not only that, but shipping itself across the country.

“You must understand Bernie, Derek thinks it will be a better place to raise a family.  No one ever seems to suffer from stress in San Francisco.  Ultimately it should be better for them there.”

She had listened nicely, done all the things she thought a supportive “girlfriend” should do in the situation.  But in the end it did not matter.  In the end, even if she had flipped a table over, Sylvia still would have left, still would have been pulled to the sunshine state and started a supposedly “open” family, which probably only meant Sylvie took care of the kids while Derek wandered off to a company event and flirted his way into the bed of someone else.  But even then, Sylvia and Derek would still have each other and all Bernadette would have was her figures.  Her sweet, at times all too unrealistic figures.  Well at least you have some friends.

Before completely aware what was happening, Bernadette was on the roof of her house with a beer and a piece of pizza.  Her taste in alcoholic refreshment was dreadful and always had been.  After producing a wildly successful independent claymation film, in an era where claymation was practically irrelevant, she had her pick of the India Pale Ales and all the other generic fruity concoctions.  But she stuck to what was true, cheap, and foul.  Miller Light, always Miller Light, even though she was sure licking the rim of her toilet seat would have been tastier.

The night was colder outdoors and the stars more briskly bright.  Bern drank the bottled urine.  She liked the roof because there was always the chance that she could move an inch the wrong way and go tumbling into a twisted demise.  Then she felt dreadful for liking this.  Sane people never thought things like this.  Then again sane people did not spend days in a dark room with a group of handmade people.  She was now  commended for creating her only friends.

“What do you ultimately want to do with this skill?” Sylvia had said once.

“What do you mean?”

“You have to know what I mean.  Or else you wouldn’t have gotten into this thing in the first place.  What do you hope to accomplish with specializing in claymation?”

It had seemed like a ridiculously obvious question at the time, but Bernadette could not think of a good explanation to save her life.  She pretended to ponder, but just grappled in her head for words, when really the only reason she could think of was, “because I wanted to create a group of people who would understand me unquestioningly.”

What came out instead was, “I am a part of this craft because I want to show how I see things, or how I feel things should be, without them being tainted by anything else.”

Sylvia, bless her heart, had bought this bull shit excuse.  Had smiled her sweet, blonde smile, and taken all her nonsense for legitimate reason.  And Bernadette had momentarily forgotten her loneliness, kissed a soft neck and buried a face in soft hair and heard soft moans again, knowing it would end all too soon.  Would lose herself in the awful dream moment.

Sylvia asked her only once if she wanted to try for a ménage a trois.  It had seemed like such a bizarre question that Bernadette almost laughed in her doe eyed face.  To be with a man felt completely unnatural, especially with a woman she loved in the same room.   

“No,” Bernadette had said, “Unlike some I am a full on lesbian,” and the subject was never brought up again.  Sylvie was sweet enough that she had probably become embarrassed.  Bernadette had never met or even seen Derek Smith.

In her delirious roof dweller state she wondered what it would be like to have dinner with the man who married her girlfriend.  Wondered if the topic of conversation would inevitably return, time and again, to Sylvie’s nether regions, as that was all they had in common in terms of conversation topics.  She even let herself imagine what he looked like, and stuck the results in the backgrounds of many a short clay film.  Buff, bronzed, blonde.  A beach-colored blonde to match Sylvia’s soft, vintage hue.  The children were inevitably blonde.  Bernadette had never even looked at pictures, though a copious amount were emailed to her over the years.  Every time a paperclip was attached to an e-note from Sylvia, Bernadette deleted it.

But what is to become of you, she thought desolately.  Delusions of grandeur swamped her thought.  Too good to simply roll off the roof and into oblivion, but too strange to adapt.  She would not be having children.  She did not want them.  This disappointed the parents.  What happened when the film was over?  When ideas ran dry?  When all you were left with was your own odd self and irrepressible loneliness?  Kill yourself or die trying?

The sun was starting to come up and in the low light there were silhouettes on tree branches.  Birds sleeping in a perfect line, but soon one would wake up and begin to chirp, rouse the others into bickering back.  The day would begin with chaos, like it always did, like it always would.

Bern drank more beer.  “This is getting ridiculous.” She murmured.  “You are sitting on a roof.  How did you even get up here?  Why didn’t you just go to bed when you were done working?  Why are you talking to yourself?  What is the point of any of this?”

She would get down from the roof.  She would wake up tomorrow and the day would be the same.  Always the same.  There was pain in the mundane but there was even more in death.  Or was there?  Monotony went on endlessly, while death only needed a second.  Which of the two hurt more? How could anyone really tell?

At five fifteen Bernadette crawled back into the house through her bedroom window.  The bed looked like a cloud and the moment of falling onto the softness was the most beautiful of the day.  She moved her hand across the pillow and imagined it was Sylvia’s body.  Only gave herself permission to fantasize about lips and eyes and yellow hair in the final seconds of her day.  

Her weary mind still hummed with worry.  Why had she called her today?  Had the state of lonely really been so terrible?  Was there no other number she could have dialed instead?  But even then it did not ruin the fantasies.  She still fell asleep dreaming about soft fingers on her body.

 

Six hours later she awoke with no headache, surrounded by white sheets.  Sunlight and sleep erased much of the loneliness.   Today would be better.  There would be no more wallowing.  Nothing productive ever came of that, at least in her process.  

Something buzzed on the night stand.  The sound was unfamiliar.  This was the noise phones made now?  When had this happened?  Before rationality took hold her heart pounded at thinking it might be her.  

It was a reminder of a lunch date with her agent in an hour.

“Well shit a brick.”bernie.gif

Baldemar Is Made of Clay: 6

Bernadette met Sylvia at a networking cocktail party for soon-to-be graduates of the art school, when she was 21.  

Bern had looked the same, except her hair was twice as long and half as kempt.  She had picked out the most ridiculous suit she could find, black with a corset-cinched waist and immense shoulder pads even though it was 1997.  That night she had thought to make herself stand out even more with a robin’s egg blue cravat, which had given the whole outfit an aura of possessed rodeo clown.  But Bern had pulled her frizzy cloud of hair into a tight knot that allowed view of her face, and that was all she believed people needed to see.  A face to put with a body of work.

Having never been to a mixer such as this, and having never been given instruction on etiquette at this kind of event, Bernadette planted herself squarely by the snack table for the bulk of the night.  She had brought a monocle but was unsure whether it was appropriate to put on in the middle of the event.  It was an accessory that worked best if the wearer arrived with it, not if they deftly snuck it on after they’d met everyone there.  People already had a first impression of her, and if she had thrown that at them they could think her pretentious.

Before she was Sylvia she was just a girl with very pretty hair in a silver dress.  She smiled at Bernadette first.     

“Figured I would come by and get some nourishment.” She said, slipping vegetables into a napkin.  “Someone told me there would be dinner, but obviously they were lying.”

“If it’s any consolation they have probably starved to death by now.”

The girl in silver laughed.  “That is quite a get up you have there, Miss! It’s certainly an eye catcher.”

“Thank you.  Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Is a monocle missing from this outfit?”

She guffawed until she realized it was a serious question.  “Oh, I don’t think so.  A monocle might turn it into a Halloween costume. It’s quite perfect the way it is now.”

“Thank you!  It’s really nice to hear an honest opinion.”

“I love your accent!  Are you English?”

“Oh, ha, yes.  I am.”

“It’s lovely.  Are you an illustrator or a sculptor or what?”

“Animator.”

“Ah, I was hoping you would say that!  That’s my favorite to sponsor!”

The S word was not lost on Bernadette.  “Yeah, and it’s clay-mation, so people are always asking if I want to do something like Wallace and Gromit.”

“Oh God that’s terrible.  I hope you tell them to screw themselves and that you’re not about to sell out just yet.”  

“Well I usually say it more politely.  But yes the general message is the same.”

“That’s very good to hear.  So what’s your name Miss Claymator?”

The quiet thrill that connection was being made, even if it led to nothing in the long run.  It was all new to her.  

“Bernadette Gibbons.”

The silver girl smiled.  “That is so English.”

“Is it?  Thanks I suppose.  And you?”

“Sylvia Smith.”  She extended a hand.  “I’m one of the crazy people here who tries to get new art recognized.”

“Well you won’t hear anyone here complain about that.”

“I know.  It’s a great ego boost to go to one of these.  But yes Miss Bernadette, give me your phone number and we can have dinner sometime this week.  And not of the sneaking-veggies-into-napkins variety.”

Bern blinked.  “Are you- are you really going to call me?”

“Well yeah!  Is that so unheard of?  I want to see some of your work.”  She pulled out an address book and wrote Bernadette’s name.  “Two T’s?”

“Yes.”

“Good.  I was right then.  I didn’t know if you Brits had a special secret way of spelling it.”

“Well it’s a sort of French name isn’t it?”

“I know I know.  What is your phone number Bernadette?”

Sylvia wrote with nimble little movements, and her head bobbed with her hand’s rhythm.  

“How does Friday work for you?  I know it’s date night, I’m sorry, but it looks like my calendar is sort of jam packed except for that night.”

“Friday is fine.  I don’t have anything planned for that yet.”

“Oh okay!  Perfect!  It’s a date then!”

“Heh.. Okay, yeah.  Great!”

“I’ll give you a call about it later.  I’ve got a PA area code, so don’t screen your caller ID when you see a strange local number.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Of course not.”

“Lovely meeting you. Have a great night!”

“You too!”

Whatever intoxication the free wine had caused was stopped dead while she watched Sylvia walk away.  Most of the next week was spent in her studio, which was also her dorm.  She needed to study for the finals in practical artistic theory and every other class she had fallen asleep through all during the semester.  For a quarter of each day she focused on books.  For the rest she sculpted figures.  They were not all blonde females but many were.  None got her nose right, but with no photos to base the design off of, the work was difficult.

Having her in a silver dress would be too obvious, so Bernadette attempted a rendition of what her potential sponsor would likely wear on a day where she could put on anything.  What transpired was a tiny blonde woman in a pair of blue jeans and a red plaid button down, with a unfitting nose.

On Thursday she left her apartment and it felt like the first sunny day the state had seen all year.  Staying inside much longer was the fast track to cabin fever insanity.  She should have brought her books, on closer inspection it would have been more productive, but she needed to relax, even with dozens of lectures left to review and countless unread chapters.  But outside she felt completely pointless, sitting limp on a bench, staring at a tree, accomplishing nothing.  Even the overzealous sunbathers several feet away were at least actively changing themselves.  She was only converting oxygen into carbon dioxide.

And so she stared at the tree and visualized it into something else, twisted and darker, burning its image in her head for sculpting later.  The branches extended and blackened and the trunk grew speckled veins.  The tiny dots grew closer together as the branches stretched and stretched and soon it seemed like a great molding hand with gnarled fingers growing to the sky.  The sap oozed from all of it, like black blood in tiny rivulets, while the speckles expanded into giant canker sores and the tips of the tree branches grew long needlepoint nails.  

Bernadette hated this image but she held it in her mind for as long as she could; maintained a nightmare in her mind’s eye until it was etched there.   Then she stood and went back to the studio and constructed a ¼” scale of the horrible dripping tree, and it was vile activity but somehow it was healthy.  Turn your horrors into something real and see that there is nothing to them.  

The phone rang a local Pennsylvania number.

“Hello?”  Her voice sounded like a croak from somewhere else in the room.  

“Hi, Bernadette?”

“…Yes.”

“Hi!  It’s Sylvia Smith how are you!”

She knew she was speaking but the words were detached from conscious thought.  Thankfully they were good ones.  “Hi Sylvia good to hear from you!  I’m doing well how are you?”

“Oh good good, just wanted to see if you were still up for grabbing a little bite tomorrow night?”

“I.. of course I am.”  She ran her thumb down the blonde puppet’s nose.  I’ve been looking forward to it all week.”  

“Me too!  Can you bring me some of your work?  Sketches?  Photos of figures?  I’d really love to see them.”

“Certainly can.  As long as I don’t have to pick where we eat.”

“Oh you leave that up to me.  There are some good, sort of fancy haunts around here, believe it or not.  I’ll take care of that.  But can I just get your address so I know where to pick you up?”

The nose seemed even more off than before.

 

The restaurant had dark cherry oak walls and Sylvia wore a red dress to match.  Bernadette had decided to wear one as well, though significantly plainer.  Sylvia waved with such force that she looked like a doll about to snap itself in half.  She stood with open arms and pulled Bernadette into a bear hug.

“Hello there.”  

“It’s so good to see you, miss!” Sylvia said.  “How have you been?”

“Fine.  Just studying a lot.  And you?”

“Disgustingly busy!  Work events like crazy this week.  I need to sleep this weekend.”

“That would be perfect.  I can’t even rest for two minutes without feeling like I need to do something else.”

“That’s just how it is right before you graduate though.  You go and go and things are a blur and it seems like it will never end.  And then it’s all just, over.  And you know what to do with yourself.”

“I’m not looking forward to it.”

“I didn’t either.  And it was definitely tough at first.  But you realize eventually that now you have all this time and you can spend it doing what you want.  Besides the hours when you’re at work I guess.”

That word was sour to hear.  “I’m hoping those hours will be spent doing something I like.  Like working for an animation crew or something crazy like a Tim Burton movie.”

Sylvia smiled, sweet and sad.  “Uhm huhm.  Well.  You certainly have all the necessary tools to do that.”

“You don’t think I can?”

“I didn’t say that at all.  I’m sure you can.  It just, I wouldn’t hope for it right away.”

“You invited me to a dinner to discuss sponsoring me, and then you don’t even think I can get a job relevant to my studies?”

“Oh my. Sponsor you?  We are in stage one of that.  The pre-stage.  The stage before we even talk about my potentially spending money on your work.  I haven’t even seen a single piece from you.  Or even part of a piece!  I just wanted to get to know you first and get a gauge on your personality.  Which, I will say, up until now has been very sweet.”

“I’m sorry.”

“And if you want the truth, no, I don’t think you could get a job doing that.  Not just out of art school.  Maybe intern for them, unpaid, if anything.  But no, with just an art degree, you are not anything distinguishable.  That’s why you need people like me.  Or a job in an office.”

“Okay, I’m sorry I snapped.  But if I work in a cube and make clay shapes as a hobby I will be dead.”

“Well that’s why I’m here dear.  To steer you away from that.  Care to show your sketches?  You do storyboard, right?”

“I do.”  Bernadette rooted through a leather messenger bag.  She wanted to ask more about her new potential benefactress, like if she knew anyone friendly enough to sponsor Bernadette’s friends.  But even without etiquette classes she could tell that this was a tacky move.  The folder she had placed the storyboards in was badly bent from the bus ride over.  “..There you are.”

Sylvia frowned thoughtfully.  “Oh… how interesting.”

“I came upon the idea yesterday, so the storyline may seem disjointed.  I haven’t had the time yet to smooth it out.  Maybe that will come after I graduate.”

“It will.” Sylvia turned a page.  “Trust me.  So the action all centers around this tree?”

“Yes.  It’s going to be a very short film, I’m thinking.  Without a protagonist that can talk it can’t really go that far.”

“Can you fill me in on the plot?  I think I have an idea of it but I want to hear it in your words.”

“Of course.”  Bernadette turned all the pages until the first storyboard.  A perfect tree with green leaves.  “This is, clearly, the first shot.”

“Clearly.”

“A lovely tree, right?  A perfect almost summer day with blue sky and birds chirping and all that shi… stuff.”

“Shistuff.  Got it.”

“Okay so one of the birds hops over-” She turned the page.  Small sparrow in front of the tree.  “And thinks oh my, what a perfect place to build my nest.  So he begins his jaunt up to the top. Hopping, flapping wings, et cetera, until he finds the perfect branch, and-”

“One question.”

“Yes?”

“You said he’s trying to build a nest.  Do male birds do that?”

“…Whether they do or not it doesn’t make much of a difference to the plot.”

“Well sure it does.  It gives your protagonist a motivation.”

“Okay scratch that then, his motivation is ‘wow, what a nice looking tree.  I bet it’s got some great bird-friendly berries to eat.’”

“More plausible.  But only slightly.”

“Okay.” She turned the page.  A little cloud passing.  “But just as he lands on the branch,” another page turn, this time the tree beginning to stretch and blacken, “the tree starts to change.  Starts to get sick.  Become evil, or maybe just get infected with something evil.  And thus begins the transformation.”

Bernadette continued to flip pages but she did not care to look at them, instead watched Sylvia’s face.  The dark of the walls and her dress made her look paler than healthy, but somehow lovelier.  

“Oh my.”   She said.  “Where did you get that idea?”

“Just thought it up.  I went outside and that’s what I came up with.”

“I really.. It’s good Miss Bernadette.  Can I call you something friendlier?  Like Bern or something like it?”

“Sure.  You can call me anything you like.”

“It will be Bern then.  I like the sound of it.”

“Me too.”

The waiter arrived with an all-too elegant bottle of pinot noir.  Sylvia scrunched her shoulders.  “I hope you don’t mind that I ordered our drinks before you arrived.  Do you like red wine?”

“I will drink anything short of lighter fluid.”

She laughed.  The garcon put forth his best non-disgusted smile.  “Have you ladies decided on an entrée yet?”

“Oh dearie,” Sylvia said, “We haven’t even looked at the menu yet.”

 

They finished the first bottle of pinot by the time the salmon and prime rib arrived.  Bern was not close to drunk, but already felt like she was in a different person’s body.  Sylvia was, not surprisingly, a giggly drunk, who demanded she be called Sylvie, but after a few bites of the rib her silliness subsided.  With another drink of wine Bern wondered how bold she was allowed to be.

“You never did tell me whether you wanted to become my sponsor.”

Sylvie raised an eyebrow.  “Well I’ll let you answer that.  Do you think I should sponsor you?”

“Yes.”

“Hah!  And why is that?”

“Because you know that I’m good and on some level my stuff has connected with you.”

“Your stuff was just a few drawings of a tree and a bird.  How was I going to connect with that?”

“But you did.  You had sadness on your face.  You said it was wonderful.  You.. you squinted at it.”

“I just said it was good.  And what was I going to do, look you in the eye and tell you it sucked?”

“No.  No because.. because you didn’t think it did.”

“You’re very sure of yourself Bern.  I’m sure that will come across as very appealing to whoever decides to be your patron.”

The drinks’ haze newly lost, Bern’s stomach dropped.  “Alright.  I’m sorry.  They really should teach a course on knowing when not to speak.  Even if it was the only one on their whole roster that had a real world use, it should be a general education requirement.”

“Yes it should.”

“I’m sorry to assume.  But what would we possibly have been doing here if you didn’t want to talk about being my sponsor?”

“I did.”

“Okay.  You just decided not to?”

“No.”

“But you said my work sucked.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Well what- oh I see.  You’re trying to be coy so the art girl will freak out and embarrass herself.”

“Not at all..”  She touched Bern’s hand.  “I just wanted to see how much more you would talk.”

“I.. I had something else I was going to say, I’m sure, but I’m a little distracted at the moment.”

“Very sorry to hear that..” she brushed her lips against Bern’s and her train of thought began to resemble white noise on television.

“Oh my gosh.  Sylvia, are you sure-”

“It’s Sylvie, Miss Bern.  And you should get more of that lip gloss.  It is very nice.”

“You’re drunk.”

“Of course not.  I’m a grown woman and you just happen to be lovely..”

Sylvie bent in for another kiss and it was warm and wet.  The restaurant was too quiet and sparsely populated for anyone to see.  Bern’s pulse reached a hummingbird rate.  The sliver of a tongue slipped past her lips.  In a few minutes this would go completely out of control.  

“Sylvie, I really think you’re drunk, I’m sorry, we don’t have to do this just because you have been-”

She groaned.  “I haven’t just been drinking.  I am attracted to you.  And I will be your sponsor, benefactress, patroness, organ donor, whatever, because you are actually talented.  Now please just shut up and come here.”

Even without etiquette classes, Bernadette knew never to leave a woman waiting.

Upon closer inspection it really had been a shallow inebriate kiss.  Not that this had any effect on whether or not it was enjoyable.  When she did not hear from Sylvia for days she became certain that this was the reason.  Drunken school girl experimentation.  Bern had been the recipient of this quite a few times, but then again she was an actual school girl.  Sylvia, significantly older, should presumably have known better.

Bern went about business as usual.  There was no other alternative.  Her friends were as swamped in work as she, only available for brief lunches in between.  She put the little blonde doll in the same closet that housed the twisted tree figure, and immersed herself in the binge of work.

One mid afternoon one day while Bern was poring over a textbook, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi Bern.”

“Hello stranger.”

“How have you been?”

“Alright.  Utterly swamped.”

“Aren’t those two very different things?”

“You’d be surprised how similar they are.”

“Not really.  My schedule’s been pretty hectic as well.  But it’s always been like that.”

Bern remembered having no idea what she did for a living.  “That’s too bad.”

“No, not really.  But your studies are going well?”

“I mean, they’re going.  Am sort of at the midway point.  I’ve only got a few finals left but they’re big ones.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah… uh… did you want something?  I mean uh do you need anything?”

“Well I did have one thing I wanted to address.  Are you busy right now?”

Bern looked at the textbook.  “No.”

“Well uh-” Sylvia laughed abruptly, too shrill, “I just wanted to talk about what happened the last time we saw each other.”

“Nothing happened.”

She could hear Sylvie’s smile over the phone.  “Yes.  Of course.  Nothing happened.  And I wanted to apologize to you, and tell you something that I should have said long before I did anything.”

She had convinced herself not to care about this but still her stomach tightened. “Tell me.”

“Well, I really want to be your sponsor.  Truly.”

“…Okay?”

“And….and also, I’m married.”

Bernadette nearly dropped the phone.  “Okay.  What?”

Sylvia laughed, weakly.  “I’m married.  And I should have told you sooner.  But I became, um, preoccupied, so to speak.”

“You should have told me immediately before or after you tried to kiss me.”  Her voice rang angrily through her ears but Bern was still too stunned to feel anything just yet.

“I know.  You’re right.  I should have.  But I was drunk and you were very persuasive.”

“It’s not like I told you to stick your tongue in my mouth.”  Bern would have remembered.  She had done that before.  “Actually, believe it or not, you were the one who told me to shut up and be kissed.”

“Be kissed.  You act like you were passive in this.”

“So do you.  We were both enormous predators and we should own up to it.”

“Bernie it was just a couple little kisses.”

“Why are you calling then?  I was very ready to dismiss it all as a drunk whim.”

Sylvia chuckled softly.  “I’m sure you were.  But you see, my husband and I are basically open.  We don’t date other people, but we do allow each other a flirt or a kiss if the feeling is right.  I know that sounds really bizarre.”

“Wha- No shit it does.  Who behaves like that in suburban Pennsylvania?”

“And what about you?  Who behaves like a lesbian in suburban Pennsylvania?”

“Well what else is there to do, really.  Anyway this is all very cute but it’s not going to make me forget that what you just told me isn’t completely strange and some would even say fucked up.”

“You have every right to feel it’s fucked up.  And I wanted to tell you that even though my relationship with my husband is like this, it does not mean I am going to force it on you.  If anything I’m afraid that you’re too young to handle it.”

“Am I?”

“Well yes Bernie.  You’re very young and you’re at a place right now where you’re barely thinking about what’s good for you.  After I had graduated I gave myself a good two years to just freak the hell out.  And it was great.  But I don’t think we would be a good experience for you while you’re freaking out.”

“I won’t freak out.  And you’re not that much older than me.”

“Do you even know how old I am?”

“No.  30?”

Her laugh was long and far away.  “No sweetie.  I’m not 30.”

“Well how old are you?”

“32.”

“Oh please.  So you’re a whole ten years older.  It’s really not an issue.”

“You’re not making this easy sweetie.  I’m saying that I’m going to put the brakes on this as far as anything physical goes.  But I do really like the work I’ve seen from you.  I hope you will still consider working with me in a professional sense.”

“You’re serious.  You’re not just saying this to spare my fragile young feelings.”

“I am very serious about this.  I would love to be a sponsor for you, and if you don’t mind I’d like to meet up at some point and discuss some of the technical matters surrounding it.”

“Okay.”

“Can I maybe drop by your apartment later on in the week?”

“Sure.  But it’s a dorm, not an apartment.”

“A dorm?” Sneer in her voice.

“Well, a nice dorm.  One for the senior kids.  It’s good since I don’t really have funds for an actual place.”

“And you keep your work there?”

“Yes.  It’s my studio.  It’s nicer than a college dorm room too, I promise.  I’m very neat except for the clays.”

But that’s all, do you understand miss?  Strictly professional.”

“Strictly professional.”

“Okay. Do you mind if I come by on Wednesday?”

“Sure.”

They hung up and soon it was Wednesday.  Sylvia came into the room, made a comment about the interior in an attempt to spare Bern’s feelings, and nodded with great enthusiasm at the figures and storyboards that Bernadette showed her.  

But then she suggested watching one of her short films and Sylvia said yes, and before the movie had even started Bernadette had pushed her against the bedroom wall and spread her legs and pushed up the satiny folds of her blouse, and Sylvia did not say no.   Bernadette pulled her hair and smeared her lipstick and made tiny bite marks on her neck and moved her from wall to desk to bed.  Even in the moment, Bernadette tried to remember how this softness felt, because she knew she may never feel it again.

The next morning she carved at the blonde doll with a tiny knife and the nose still looked hideous.  It probably always would.

 

Baldemar Is Made of Clay: 6

Bernadette met Sylvia at a networking cocktail party for soon-to-be graduates of the art school, when she was 21.  

Bern had looked the same, except her hair was twice as long and half as kempt.  She had picked out the most ridiculous suit she could find, black with a corset-cinched waist and immense shoulder pads even though it was 1997.  That night she had thought to make herself stand out even more with a robin’s egg blue cravat, which had given the whole outfit an aura of possessed rodeo clown.  But Bern had pulled her frizzy cloud of hair into a tight knot that allowed view of her face, and that was all she believed people needed to see.  A face to put with a body of work.

Having never been to a mixer such as this, and having never been given instruction on etiquette at this kind of event, Bernadette planted herself squarely by the snack table for the bulk of the night.  She had brought a monocle but was unsure whether it was appropriate to put on in the middle of the event.  It was an accessory that worked best if the wearer arrived with it, not if they deftly snuck it on after they’d met everyone there.  People already had a first impression of her, and if she had thrown that at them they could think her pretentious.

Before she was Sylvia she was just a girl with very pretty hair in a silver dress.  She smiled at Bernadette first.     

“Figured I would come by and get some nourishment.” She said, slipping vegetables into a napkin.  “Someone told me there would be dinner, but obviously they were lying.”

“If it’s any consolation they have probably starved to death by now.”

The girl in silver laughed.  “That is quite a get up you have there, Miss! It’s certainly an eye catcher.”

“Thank you.  Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Is a monocle missing from this outfit?”

She guffawed until she realized it was a serious question.  “Oh, I don’t think so.  A monocle might turn it into a Halloween costume. It’s quite perfect the way it is now.”

“Thank you!  It’s really nice to hear an honest opinion.”

“I love your accent!  Are you English?”

“Oh, ha, yes.  I am.”

“It’s lovely.  Are you an illustrator or a sculptor or what?”

“Animator.”

“Ah, I was hoping you would say that!  That’s my favorite to sponsor!”

The S word was not lost on Bernadette.  “Yeah, and it’s clay-mation, so people are always asking if I want to do something like Wallace and Gromit.”

“Oh God that’s terrible.  I hope you tell them to screw themselves and that you’re not about to sell out just yet.”  

“Well I usually say it more politely.  But yes the general message is the same.”

“That’s very good to hear.  So what’s your name Miss Claymator?”

The quiet thrill that connection was being made, even if it led to nothing in the long run.  It was all new to her.  

“Bernadette Gibbons.”

The silver girl smiled.  “That is so English.”

“Is it?  Thanks I suppose.  And you?”

“Sylvia Smith.”  She extended a hand.  “I’m one of the crazy people here who tries to get new art recognized.”

“Well you won’t hear anyone here complain about that.”

“I know.  It’s a great ego boost to go to one of these.  But yes Miss Bernadette, give me your phone number and we can have dinner sometime this week.  And not of the sneaking-veggies-into-napkins variety.”

Bern blinked.  “Are you- are you really going to call me?”

“Well yeah!  Is that so unheard of?  I want to see some of your work.”  She pulled out an address book and wrote Bernadette’s name.  “Two T’s?”

“Yes.”

“Good.  I was right then.  I didn’t know if you Brits had a special secret way of spelling it.”

“Well it’s a sort of French name isn’t it?”

“I know I know.  What is your phone number Bernadette?”

Sylvia wrote with nimble little movements, and her head bobbed with her hand’s rhythm.  

“How does Friday work for you?  I know it’s date night, I’m sorry, but it looks like my calendar is sort of jam packed except for that night.”

“Friday is fine.  I don’t have anything planned for that yet.”

“Oh okay!  Perfect!  It’s a date then!”

“Heh.. Okay, yeah.  Great!”

“I’ll give you a call about it later.  I’ve got a PA area code, so don’t screen your caller ID when you see a strange local number.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Of course not.”

“Lovely meeting you. Have a great night!”

“You too!”

Whatever intoxication the free wine had caused was stopped dead while she watched Sylvia walk away.  Most of the next week was spent in her studio, which was also her dorm.  She needed to study for the finals in practical artistic theory and every other class she had fallen asleep through all during the semester.  For a quarter of each day she focused on books.  For the rest she sculpted figures.  They were not all blonde females but many were.  None got her nose right, but with no photos to base the design off of, the work was difficult.

Having her in a silver dress would be too obvious, so Bernadette attempted a rendition of what her potential sponsor would likely wear on a day where she could put on anything.  What transpired was a tiny blonde woman in a pair of blue jeans and a red plaid button down, with a unfitting nose.

On Thursday she left her apartment and it felt like the first sunny day the state had seen all year.  Staying inside much longer was the fast track to cabin fever insanity.  She should have brought her books, on closer inspection it would have been more productive, but she needed to relax, even with dozens of lectures left to review and countless unread chapters.  But outside she felt completely pointless, sitting limp on a bench, staring at a tree, accomplishing nothing.  Even the overzealous sunbathers several feet away were at least actively changing themselves.  She was only converting oxygen into carbon dioxide.

And so she stared at the tree and visualized it into something else, twisted and darker, burning its image in her head for sculpting later.  The branches extended and blackened and the trunk grew speckled veins.  The tiny dots grew closer together as the branches stretched and stretched and soon it seemed like a great molding hand with gnarled fingers growing to the sky.  The sap oozed from all of it, like black blood in tiny rivulets, while the speckles expanded into giant canker sores and the tips of the tree branches grew long needlepoint nails.  

Bernadette hated this image but she held it in her mind for as long as she could; maintained a nightmare in her mind’s eye until it was etched there.   Then she stood and went back to the studio and constructed a ¼” scale of the horrible dripping tree, and it was vile activity but somehow it was healthy.  Turn your horrors into something real and see that there is nothing to them.  

The phone rang a local Pennsylvania number.

“Hello?”  Her voice sounded like a croak from somewhere else in the room.  

“Hi, Bernadette?”

“…Yes.”

“Hi!  It’s Sylvia Smith how are you!”

She knew she was speaking but the words were detached from conscious thought.  Thankfully they were good ones.  “Hi Sylvia good to hear from you!  I’m doing well how are you?”

“Oh good good, just wanted to see if you were still up for grabbing a little bite tomorrow night?”

“I.. of course I am.”  She ran her thumb down the blonde puppet’s nose.  I’ve been looking forward to it all week.”  

“Me too!  Can you bring me some of your work?  Sketches?  Photos of figures?  I’d really love to see them.”

“Certainly can.  As long as I don’t have to pick where we eat.”

“Oh you leave that up to me.  There are some good, sort of fancy haunts around here, believe it or not.  I’ll take care of that.  But can I just get your address so I know where to pick you up?”

The nose seemed even more off than before.

The restaurant had dark cherry oak walls and Sylvia wore a red dress to match.  Bernadette had decided to wear one as well, though significantly plainer.  Sylvia waved with such force that she looked like a doll about to snap itself in half.  She stood with open arms and pulled Bernadette into a bear hug.

“Hello there.”  

“It’s so good to see you, miss!” Sylvia said.  “How have you been?”

“Fine.  Just studying a lot.  And you?”

“Disgustingly busy!  Work events like crazy this week.  I need to sleep this weekend.”

“That would be perfect.  I can’t even rest for two minutes without feeling like I need to do something else.”

“That’s just how it is right before you graduate though.  You go and go and things are a blur and it seems like it will never end.  And then it’s all just, over.  And you know what to do with yourself.”

“I’m not looking forward to it.”

“I didn’t either.  And it was definitely tough at first.  But you realize eventually that now you have all this time and you can spend it doing what you want.  Besides the hours when you’re at work I guess.”

That word was sour to hear.  “I’m hoping those hours will be spent doing something I like.  Like working for an animation crew or something crazy like a Tim Burton movie.”

Sylvia smiled, sweet and sad.  “Uhm huhm.  Well.  You certainly have all the necessary tools to do that.”

“You don’t think I can?”

“I didn’t say that at all.  I’m sure you can.  It just, I wouldn’t hope for it right away.”

“You invited me to a dinner to discuss sponsoring me, and then you don’t even think I can get a job relevant to my studies?”

“Oh my. Sponsor you?  We are in stage one of that.  The pre-stage.  The stage before we even talk about my potentially spending money on your work.  I haven’t even seen a single piece from you.  Or even part of a piece!  I just wanted to get to know you first and get a gauge on your personality.  Which, I will say, up until now has been very sweet.”

“I’m sorry.”

“And if you want the truth, no, I don’t think you could get a job doing that.  Not just out of art school.  Maybe intern for them, unpaid, if anything.  But no, with just an art degree, you are not anything distinguishable.  That’s why you need people like me.  Or a job in an office.”

“Okay, I’m sorry I snapped.  But if I work in a cube and make clay shapes as a hobby I will be dead.”

“Well that’s why I’m here dear.  To steer you away from that.  Care to show your sketches?  You do storyboard, right?”

“I do.”  Bernadette rooted through a leather messenger bag.  She wanted to ask more about her new potential benefactress, like if she knew anyone friendly enough to sponsor Bernadette’s friends.  But even without etiquette classes she could tell that this was a tacky move.  The folder she had placed the storyboards in was badly bent from the bus ride over.  “..There you are.”

Sylvia frowned thoughtfully.  “Oh… how interesting.”

“I came upon the idea yesterday, so the storyline may seem disjointed.  I haven’t had the time yet to smooth it out.  Maybe that will come after I graduate.”

“It will.” Sylvia turned a page.  “Trust me.  So the action all centers around this tree?”

“Yes.  It’s going to be a very short film, I’m thinking.  Without a protagonist that can talk it can’t really go that far.”

“Can you fill me in on the plot?  I think I have an idea of it but I want to hear it in your words.”

“Of course.”  Bernadette turned all the pages until the first storyboard.  A perfect tree with green leaves.  “This is, clearly, the first shot.”

“Clearly.”

“A lovely tree, right?  A perfect almost summer day with blue sky and birds chirping and all that shi… stuff.”

“Shistuff.  Got it.”

“Okay so one of the birds hops over-” She turned the page.  Small sparrow in front of the tree.  “And thinks oh my, what a perfect place to build my nest.  So he begins his jaunt up to the top. Hopping, flapping wings, et cetera, until he finds the perfect branch, and-”

“One question.”

“Yes?”

“You said he’s trying to build a nest.  Do male birds do that?”

“…Whether they do or not it doesn’t make much of a difference to the plot.”

“Well sure it does.  It gives your protagonist a motivation.”

“Okay scratch that then, his motivation is ‘wow, what a nice looking tree.  I bet it’s got some great bird-friendly berries to eat.’”

“More plausible.  But only slightly.”

“Okay.” She turned the page.  A little cloud passing.  “But just as he lands on the branch,” another page turn, this time the tree beginning to stretch and blacken, “the tree starts to change.  Starts to get sick.  Become evil, or maybe just get infected with something evil.  And thus begins the transformation.”

Bernadette continued to flip pages but she did not care to look at them, instead watched Sylvia’s face.  The dark of the walls and her dress made her look paler than healthy, but somehow lovelier.  

“Oh my.”   She said.  “Where did you get that idea?”

“Just thought it up.  I went outside and that’s what I came up with.”

“I really.. It’s good Miss Bernadette.  Can I call you something friendlier?  Like Bern or something like it?”

“Sure.  You can call me anything you like.”

“It will be Bern then.  I like the sound of it.”

“Me too.”

The waiter arrived with an all-too elegant bottle of pinot noir.  Sylvia scrunched her shoulders.  “I hope you don’t mind that I ordered our drinks before you arrived.  Do you like red wine?”

“I will drink anything short of lighter fluid.”

She laughed.  The garcon put forth his best non-disgusted smile.  “Have you ladies decided on an entrée yet?”

“Oh dearie,” Sylvia said, “We haven’t even looked at the menu yet.”

They finished the first bottle of pinot by the time the salmon and prime rib arrived.  Bern was not close to drunk, but already felt like she was in a different person’s body.  Sylvia was, not surprisingly, a giggly drunk, who demanded she be called Sylvie, but after a few bites of the rib her silliness subsided.  With another drink of wine Bern wondered how bold she was allowed to be.

“You never did tell me whether you wanted to become my sponsor.”

Sylvie raised an eyebrow.  “Well I’ll let you answer that.  Do you think I should sponsor you?”

“Yes.”

“Hah!  And why is that?”

“Because you know that I’m good and on some level my stuff has connected with you.”

“Your stuff was just a few drawings of a tree and a bird.  How was I going to connect with that?”

“But you did.  You had sadness on your face.  You said it was wonderful.  You.. you squinted at it.”

“I just said it was good.  And what was I going to do, look you in the eye and tell you it sucked?”

“No.  No because.. because you didn’t think it did.”

“You’re very sure of yourself Bern.  I’m sure that will come across as very appealing to whoever decides to be your patron.”

The drinks’ haze newly lost, Bern’s stomach dropped.  “Alright.  I’m sorry.  They really should teach a course on knowing when not to speak.  Even if it was the only one on their whole roster that had a real world use, it should be a general education requirement.”

“Yes it should.”

“I’m sorry to assume.  But what would we possibly have been doing here if you didn’t want to talk about being my sponsor?”

“I did.”

“Okay.  You just decided not to?”

“No.”

“But you said my work sucked.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Well what- oh I see.  You’re trying to be coy so the art girl will freak out and embarrass herself.”

“Not at all..”  She touched Bern’s hand.  “I just wanted to see how much more you would talk.”

“I.. I had something else I was going to say, I’m sure, but I’m a little distracted at the moment.”

“Very sorry to hear that..” she brushed her lips against Bern’s and her train of thought began to resemble white noise on television.

“Oh my gosh.  Sylvia, are you sure-”

“It’s Sylvie, Miss Bern.  And you should get more of that lip gloss.  It is very nice.”

“You’re drunk.”

“Of course not.  I’m a grown woman and you just happen to be lovely..”

Sylvie bent in for another kiss and it was warm and wet.  The restaurant was too quiet and sparsely populated for anyone to see.  Bern’s pulse reached a hummingbird rate.  The sliver of a tongue slipped past her lips.  In a few minutes this would go completely out of control.  

“Sylvie, I really think you’re drunk, I’m sorry, we don’t have to do this just because you have been-”

She groaned.  “I haven’t just been drinking.  I am attracted to you.  And I will be your sponsor, benefactress, patroness, organ donor, whatever, because you are actually talented.  Now please just shut up and come here.”

Even without etiquette classes, Bernadette knew never to leave a woman waiting.

Upon closer inspection it really had been a shallow inebriate kiss.  Not that this had any effect on whether or not it was enjoyable.  When she did not hear from Sylvia for days she became certain that this was the reason.  Drunken school girl experimentation.  Bern had been the recipient of this quite a few times, but then again she was an actual school girl.  Sylvia, significantly older, should presumably have known better.

Bern went about business as usual.  There was no other alternative.  Her friends were as swamped in work as she, only available for brief lunches in between.  She put the little blonde doll in the same closet that housed the twisted tree figure, and immersed herself in the binge of work.

One mid afternoon one day while Bern was poring over a textbook, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi Bern.”

“Hello stranger.”

“How have you been?”

“Alright.  Utterly swamped.”

“Aren’t those two very different things?”

“You’d be surprised how similar they are.”

“Not really.  My schedule’s been pretty hectic as well.  But it’s always been like that.”

Bern remembered having no idea what she did for a living.  “That’s too bad.”

“No, not really.  But your studies are going well?”

“I mean, they’re going.  Am sort of at the midway point.  I’ve only got a few finals left but they’re big ones.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah… uh… did you want something?  I mean uh do you need anything?”

“Well I did have one thing I wanted to address.  Are you busy right now?”

Bern looked at the textbook.  “No.”

“Well uh-” Sylvia laughed abruptly, too shrill, “I just wanted to talk about what happened the last time we saw each other.”

“Nothing happened.”

She could hear Sylvie’s smile over the phone.  “Yes.  Of course.  Nothing happened.  And I wanted to apologize to you, and tell you something that I should have said long before I did anything.”

She had convinced herself not to care about this but still her stomach tightened. “Tell me.”

“Well, I really want to be your sponsor.  Truly.”

“…Okay?”

“And….and also, I’m married.”

Bernadette nearly dropped the phone.  “Okay.  What?”

Sylvia laughed, weakly.  “I’m married.  And I should have told you sooner.  But I became, um, preoccupied, so to speak.”

“You should have told me immediately before or after you tried to kiss me.”  Her voice rang angrily through her ears but Bern was still too stunned to feel anything just yet.

“I know.  You’re right.  I should have.  But I was drunk and you were very persuasive.”

“It’s not like I told you to stick your tongue in my mouth.”  Bern would have remembered.  She had done that before.  “Actually, believe it or not, you were the one who told me to shut up and be kissed.”

“Be kissed.  You act like you were passive in this.”

“So do you.  We were both enormous predators and we should own up to it.”

“Bernie it was just a couple little kisses.”

“Why are you calling then?  I was very ready to dismiss it all as a drunk whim.”

Sylvia chuckled softly.  “I’m sure you were.  But you see, my husband and I are basically open.  We don’t date other people, but we do allow each other a flirt or a kiss if the feeling is right.  I know that sounds really bizarre.”

“Wha- No shit it does.  Who behaves like that in suburban Pennsylvania?”

“And what about you?  Who behaves like a lesbian in suburban Pennsylvania?”

“Well what else is there to do, really.  Anyway this is all very cute but it’s not going to make me forget that what you just told me isn’t completely strange and some would even say fucked up.”

“You have every right to feel it’s fucked up.  And I wanted to tell you that even though my relationship with my husband is like this, it does not mean I am going to force it on you.  If anything I’m afraid that you’re too young to handle it.”

“Am I?”

“Well yes Bernie.  You’re very young and you’re at a place right now where you’re barely thinking about what’s good for you.  After I had graduated I gave myself a good two years to just freak the hell out.  And it was great.  But I don’t think we would be a good experience for you while you’re freaking out.”

“I won’t freak out.  And you’re not that much older than me.”

“Do you even know how old I am?”

“No.  30?”

Her laugh was long and far away.  “No sweetie.  I’m not 30.”

“Well how old are you?”

“32.”

“Oh please.  So you’re a whole ten years older.  It’s really not an issue.”

“You’re not making this easy sweetie.  I’m saying that I’m going to put the brakes on this as far as anything physical goes.  But I do really like the work I’ve seen from you.  I hope you will still consider working with me in a professional sense.”

“You’re serious.  You’re not just saying this to spare my fragile young feelings.”

“I am very serious about this.  I would love to be a sponsor for you, and if you don’t mind I’d like to meet up at some point and discuss some of the technical matters surrounding it.”

“Okay.”

“Can I maybe drop by your apartment later on in the week?”

“Sure.  But it’s a dorm, not an apartment.”

“A dorm?” Sneer in her voice.

“Well, a nice dorm.  One for the senior kids.  It’s good since I don’t really have funds for an actual place.”

“And you keep your work there?”

“Yes.  It’s my studio.  It’s nicer than a college dorm room too, I promise.  I’m very neat except for the clays.”

But that’s all, do you understand miss?  Strictly professional.”

“Strictly professional.”

“Okay. Do you mind if I come by on Wednesday?”

“Sure.”

They hung up and soon it was Wednesday.  Sylvia came into the room, made a comment about the interior in an attempt to spare Bern’s feelings, and nodded with great enthusiasm at the figures and storyboards that Bernadette showed her.  

But then she suggested watching one of her short films and Sylvia said yes, and before the movie had even started Bernadette had pushed her against the bedroom wall and spread her legs and pushed up the satiny folds of her blouse, and Sylvia did not say no.   Bernadette pulled her hair and smeared her lipstick and made tiny bite marks on her neck and moved her from wall to desk to bed.  Even in the moment, Bernadette tried to remember how this softness felt, because she knew she may never feel it again.

The next morning she carved at the blonde doll with a tiny knife and the nose still looked hideous.  It probably always would.