One day at lunch as I walked back to my makeshift plywood office with arms full of taco truck food and Brainwash soda, she stopped me at the door. You eat that sort of thing? And live? I laughed a bit, she asked me to lunch, and we got to know one another.
I'd heard from my stoned hacker co-worker that Abbey was gay, and our first lunch together she introduced me to her girlfriend, a black girl with very short hair and very muscular arms. A part owner of and cook at a tiny pizza joint between San Rafael and Novato, she seemed mostly sinew and burn scars, darkened tattoos on glossy skin, hard features that looked well earned. Abbey and I talked to her for a bit and she jumped between cooking and ringing the order-up bell. After a half hour she sat with us and we talked. And talked. The lunch hour turned into two hours, and by the time we left we'd made plans to go out drinking that night.
I'd never been drinking with a group of lesbians. I'd never been to a lesbian bar. The group's numbers shifted constantly from the moment we walked in; Abbey and her girlfriend were pretty popular, and the room seemed to stop and say hi. We drank like we meant it, and moved to a corner booth. The bar, a small place with muted red velvet and dark brown tones, wasn't loud but it wasn't quiet; it was like a roomfull of family yelling and talking and having a good time.
Abbey slid over the tuck-and-roll red vinyl booth and snuggled up right next to me, her hip next to mine.
What do you think? She studied my face, had been looking after me most of the night. The bar was the loudest it had been, and at least ten people were sitting around our corner table.
I like it, I said. Nice place, decent pours, and the women...my goodness, Abbey, the women. She laughed. Yeah, she said. The women. Her eyes rolling a bit as I laughed.
Later, after going outside and smoking a clove or three with a twenty-something Vietnamese boi (she in a black suit and skinny tie, expertly tailored and well matched to her small frame) I sat next to Michelle, Abbey's girlfriend.
I told her, look, this isn't going to sound right. She said, yeah, probably not. You're pretty drunk. I said, yeah. Yeah, I am. But. Here's the thing. I've been trying to sort out why I like that girl over there so darn much. You know why?
Because you're a guy infected by the Penthouse forums version of lesbian identity? Because you want to save her from herself?
Nope. No. Because she is this romantic thousand mile view of a man, some T.E. Lawrence rugged ideal. Because she has every tiny detail of being a man down to the point where it isn't a costume, it isn't adoration, it is a worship of everything that makes a guy a Man. She's rocking that goddamn suit, and it isn't just the fit. It's the way she moves in it, every single movement studied in a mirror and perfected. And it isn't just that. Her nails...her hands are a guy's hands. She told me she works on a printing press part time, and is a Xerox repairman part time, and she has a late 60s Oldsmobile in a garage in Sonoma and an 850 Norton that she rebuilt in her goddamn studio apartment. She's got the swagger. She knows how to be a Man. And she's better at it, ya know, than most guys. It's a beautiful thing. While we were outside she picked up some of my behaviors and wanted to learn how I lit my Zippo, why I didn't have a watch, and where I got my boots. She's some perfectly filtered form of love of being a man.
Michelle staring at her. Yeah, I see that. There's some German word for it, I think. Like the guys who want to be women, they always have this feminine ideal that has brighter lips and bigger hips, more woman per square inch than most women. Great fakes. Michelle sipped her beer, still staring at the girl, who returned her look.
I tell her, the thing is, I'm certain it isn't fake. It's not even an homage. It's a whole life she's put on.
Michelle stood up slowly, stared at the girl. What's the difference, then? She turned to me, a glance. Says it casually: What's the difference between her and you? She set down the half empty Corona. Walked across the room, and invited the Vietnamese boi outside for a smoke.
Abbey next to me, smiling. I asked, she's like Superman, no? I sipped my whiskey and watched the room, fidgeting now. Explanations are so boring, she said. We watched the crowd mingle, costumes and archetypes, cast and crew.
I stood up, patted my pockets for cigarettes. You want one? I asked her, motioning with the pack of Djarum.
Nah, she said. They aren't my thing.
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