Not An Earring
The pale sunlight of late afternoon streamed through the Venetian blinds; dust motes were caught in it for long moments and then lazily moved on. Any minute now, Joyce would really have to stand up and wipe down the corn-dollies and fertility fetishes that the gallery's current show consisted of, but she was just sleepy from the Sunnydale afternoon.
She really should not have had a second scotch with her lunch - but the bank manager had insisted. Such a nice man, she thought, suppressing a yawn, but married, and we are not going there! Business and pleasure just do not mix. It would be wrong.
Sometimes, though, morals were a burden. That and having a disturbed teenage daughter.
I deserve better than this, Joyce thought, stuck in this small town doing commercial folk-art shows when I could be in the big city curating something serious.
I do love my daughter, of course I do, but I wish she would tell me what's up in her life. She wanders around looking pretty and grim and as if she had all the troubles of the world on her shoulder. I want to say to her, lighten up; I'm the adult - I get to do all the worrying.
Or, and this would be better, you're the adolescent - stop whining show me how to find the fun again. I remember fun, before your father, before you. You owe me some fun. But I don't even like the music she and her friends dance to.
She picked up some wipes and stretched out of her chair, feeling like some lazy strong cat. I'm not old, she thought, just experienced.
How do you wipe down a fertility god, she belatedly thought, without looking as if you are doing something risqué? And what if he actually were there, how would he feel about being wiped, being wiped there?
What would offending a fertility god do to you? Joyce couldn't take more children - one was quite enough, thank you. And not having any more was just fine. Maybe he'd be happy, to be clean. Maybe, Joyce thought dreamily, because I wiped him, someone will walk right through that door in a moment. Some dreamy guy with no commitments, and shiny black hair, and huge brown eyes, and a cute ass, and impeccable taste in traditional arts.
She waited for a moment, and nothing happened; she caught herself waiting and laughed - there is no such thing as wishing and having it come true, she said to herself. And went into the room at the back of the gallery to set the coffee-maker going, even though it was late afternoon. This sort of dreaminess gets a girl in trouble.
She put the filter in the machine, and the coffee in the filter, quick mechanical actions that she didn't have to think about all that much, and she put the machine on and left it.
When she went back into the body of the gallery, her first impression was of huge brown eyes staring at her with avid darkness, of cascading hair as dark as ravens' hearts. Then she noticed a sensual passionate mouth with lips dark with the red of crushed berries. Joyce felt her gaze like a sudden blow inside her chest, as a tightness in her that threatened to spring free and send her flying across the room. It was only in passing and as an afterthought that she realised that the tall sleek figure in leather pants and a biker's jacket was a woman about ten years younger than herself.
'Can I help you?' Joyce said, conscious that it had come out all breathy and husky and punched lightly in the stomach sounding.
The woman looked at her with an intrigued amused tender stare.
'I'm just so impressed,' she said, 'that you've got all this together. Normally Sunnydale is such a cultural desert. I have got so used to having to go to LA for everything, or out into the desert.'
She was so enthusiastic, Joyce wished she was still that keen about anything.
'There are some wonderful artists working out in the desert, ' the woman said, 'doing huge conceptual things with junk iron and sand and rock. If you love traditional art, you've got to let me drive you out there sometime to look at it all. You'd just love it.'
Joyce felt like she was being driven at by a fast car and wanted it to hit her and send her flying somewhere she had never been.
'And oh, ' the woman said, 'I'm Jenny.'
'I've just made some coffee, ' Joyce said. ' I'm Joyce.'
' Normally, ' Jenny said, ' I just drink a herb tea I mix myself - so good for the intellect, I find.'
'But I'd just love some coffee, ' she added before Joyce could offer to put the kettle. 'It's the sort of afternoon when nothing happens unless you live dangerously.'
Standing close to the personal space of this disturbing young woman was about as much danger as Joyce could bear; she smelled of something hauntingly familiar, like the memory of autumn bonfires and the smoke of candles in some ancient basilica and like the crustiest new white bread you ever ate when it was hot.
She went through and poured them both a coffee and brought them through - Jenny was sitting in her chair going through the catalogue for the show.
'This is really very good, ' Jenny said. 'I can disagree with some of your interpretations, but there is nothing here that is actually unsound, except...'
Joyce started to feel irritable and bulldozed by the brunette's slightly patronising charm; who does she think she...
'Is there anything specific I can help you with? ' she suddenly decided to say.
'Well, actually, ' Jenny said, ' I was thinking of that Yoruba mask over there, but it's a little outside my means; what I actually came in for was some of the silver jewellery you had in the window - the big spiral piece almost like a corkscrew and the little spiral one that makes up the pair.'
'Yes, ' Joyce said, keen to get this disturbing young woman out of her gallery and her life. 'I could sell you those earrings. They are handmade - an artist I know in Seattle; that'll be seventy-five dollars plus tax.'
Jenny sipped the last of her coffee, reached into the pocket of her leather jacket and produced a billfold.
'I won't, ' she said, 'expect a discount for cash.'
Joyce said, ' But oh! you must.'
'No, ' Jenny said, ' but if you like, you can help me fit them.'
'Are you sure? ' said Joyce, fascinated against her better judgement. 'There's a mirror in the washroom. Wouldn't it be easier for you to...'
Jenny looked at her with an amused smile.
'I wasn't intending, ' she said, 'to wear them as earrings.'
'Oh', Joyce said.
Jenny reached over and pecked her on the lips. It was almost a chaste kiss, with just a hint of teeth and a flick of tongue to make it otherwise.
'I really could do with your help, ' she said. 'I want to attach them to the hoops that are already there, and I don't want to have to take those out. It will just take five minutes with a bit of silver wire and a pair of tweezers, and I have both of those with me.'
'All we need, ' she went on, 'is a few minutes of privacy.'
Joyce got up and went to the door, and turned the sign so that it said closed, and locked the door. It felt strange, letting another woman control her in this way, not bullying her like Hank always had, just asking her to do things in a voice of sweet reasonableness, like her daughter asking to go to the ice-rink but with less implication of tears if they didn't.
By the time she got back, Jenny had taken off the leather jacket and hung it from the back of Joyce's chair and was shucking off her T-shirt. Her body was so much smoother than Joyce's; untouched by time and motherhood. Everything there was on Jenny's body was there because Jenny had put it there - she had a scar on her left shoulder that was enough like a raised star of flesh that it looked like a brand, and there were pentacles in the fold of both her collarbones.
Jenny reached round and unhooked her bra and then turned to face Joyce.
You never look, really look, at another woman's breasts, Joyce realised. She'd showered at the gym, but you always look away; you see, but you don't look. You have a daughter and you walk round the house trying to notice each other as bodies as little as possible; it's a privacy thing. You see naked women in pictures, but that's art, and you look at their breasts as pieces of significant form, or as an ironic homage to popular culture, not as something you get offered you, as a treat, on a lazy afternoon.
Jenny's breasts were full and tanned and o god! so neat in the way they curved out from her body in simple lines as if gravity were not even the slightest of issues. Jenny stood, her arms by her sides and her legs slightly apart and Joyce found herself looking at her breasts as if she had never seen anything properly in her life before.
'I bet, ' Jenny said, ' that I would like looking at your breasts at least as much as you like looking at mine.'
Joyce felt sudden heat in her cheeks that had nothing to do with the weather.
'I thought, ' she said, ' that I was supposed to be helping you with your jewellery.'
Jenny smiled a toothy confident smile with her eyes lowered in mischief.
'I want the long one, ' she said, ' attached to the ring here.'
She pointed to her left breast; Joyce was amazed that a nipple with such a heavy ring through it could be sensitive enough to stand up quite so perkily. She pulled her chair over, conscious of the hardness of Jenny's leather jacket touching her back through the thin silk of her blouse; she would keep control, she would.
Jenny picked up her bag and unfolded it into what looked like twenty neat compartments, reaching in with a quick precise movement and handing Joyce a short length of silver wire and a delicate pair of pliers.
'There's a hole through the ring just there, ' she said. ' All you need to do is thread the wire through it and then through the hole at the top of the spiral, and then twist them together. It really is very simple - it's just a bit at an awkward angle to do it for myself.'
Joyce found herself biting down on her lower lip and concentrating as she threaded the wire through first the nipple ring and then, after removing the stud to which it had been attached, the hole in the top of the long silver spiral. She had to concentrate on the task in hand so much that there was no way she could avoid touching the skin that lay behind the dangling metal, being conscious of its softness and its tautness, as if Jenny were whispering seductions to her through her skin.
Her face was still burning, but she was going to stay in control whatever it took, however much she wanted to do things she could not precisely name but which called to her with sweet voices.
At last, she twisted the wire one last time and touched the spiral which hung securely in place. Then she realised, there was no ring in the other erect nipple, nor in the navel that offered itself further down.
'Where does the other one go? ', she said, nervously.
'Ah yes, ' Jenny said, reaching for the button at the top of her leather trousers. 'I didn't mention that, did I? '
This was the point at which Joyce looking back at it all on dark nights regarded as the moment at which she had lost all control, at which she had stood up, yanked the other woman against her with that convenient nipple ring and pulled that raven hair back and crushed her mouth against her. Followed by moments of passion so intense as to have become vague in memory - the point at which they were both naked, the point at which she really did fix the second spiral in place and got to find out precisely how it could be used to make Jenny's body strum like a guitar string, the point at which they paused and had another coffee, the point at which Jenny showed her how interesting it could be to just lie and stroke and kiss and touch and then pounce into violent action again.
And then, suddenly, it was all over and they were putting their clothes on again and looking at each other in mild confusion.
'That was um, interesting, ' Jenny said. 'I mean, I knew in theory, but...'
'Yes, ' Joyce said.
'You are here, most afternoons, aren't you? ' Jenny said. 'Because I could look in sometimes. When I am finished at Sunnydale High.'
'You teach at Sunnydale High,' Joyce said. 'Um, my daughter goes there.'
'I'm sorry, ' Jenny said, 'I don't think I ever caught your surname, Joyce. I suppose things moved a little fast for that.'
'Summers, ' Joyce said. 'I'm Joyce Summers.'
'Heavens, ' Jenny said. 'Mother of the notorious Buffy. Fancy that.'
And then she walked over and grabbed Joyce again and held her tight and pressed her mouth against Joyce's unresisting neck.
'That really doesn't change anything, ' she said. 'We can see each other as often as you like. And I will take you. Out into the desert.'
'That would be nice, ' Joyce said, still slightly stunned.
Jenny walked to the door, then turned.
'By the way, ' she said. 'Your catalogue. I said there was a mistake.'
She pointed to the god Joyce had been cleaning.
'He isn't a fertility god at all. He's a god of love.'