I tend to get deeply attached to places, and disoriented when I travel frequently from one to another of the three that feel like home. That’s a problem I’m not likely to have much longer, although those places will linger in my dreams or in my writing
I mentioned a few weeks ago that for some reason my dreams are often set in my old home, the house where I lived from ten years old to twenty-two. I’m on the very verge of selling that house for my father, who is now, at 98, in a long- term care facility near me. For all the stress and trauma of cutting my ties to that house and land, I hope my dreams will manage to cut those ties, too. Why shouldn’t my continuing home here for the last forty-odd years be the go-to site for random dreams?
Dreams aside, I don’t think I’ve ever used either the old home territory or the current one as settings for any of my stories. That honor—for lack of a better term—goes to the third home, my treasured retreat for many years on the banks of a river in the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire. That area has been the setting for…let me count…well, at least nine stories, and influenced several others. It will probably continue to influence my work even after I’ve sold that cabin and land, which will probably be within the next year.
So it’s excerpt time! But not for all nine pieces, just a few. Maybe just one, in fact, a story that’s been posted for free on my blog for years but was originally published in Ultimate Lesbian Erotica 2005 from Alyson Books. It will be hard to choose just a few excerpts, but here goes.
Sunlight filtered gently through hemlock branches where an hour ago it had blazed onto the water-smoothed granite. Radiant heat still penetrated into places I'd thought would never feel warm again. My body adjusted to the stone's contours and felt, briefly, at peace.
A rustling among the trees on the bank above made me tense. Someone stood there, watching. Move on, damnit, I thought, hating the unfamiliar sense of vulnerability, the suppressed jerk of my hand toward a gun that wasn't there. I kept my eyes closed, trying to block out everything but the ripple of water and the scent of balsam. Far below, where the stream leapt downward in the series of falls and slides known as Diana's Baths, there were swarms of vacationers, but they didn't often climb up this far. I'd hoped, foolishly, for solitude.
Maybe I was only hallucinating being watched. Maybe the Lieutenant was right. Maybe I really wasn't ready to get back into uniform. After seven years, it wasn't as though I had anything left to prove about a woman being as good a cop as any man. There might still be something to prove to myself, though.
I sat up abruptly. A hemlock branch twitched, and through its feathery needles a pair of bright eyes met my challenge. A child, I thought at first, glimpsing tousled russet curls and a face like a mischievous kitten. Then she moved into clearer view, and I got a good look at a body that could have held its own on one of those TV beach shows. So, for that matter, could her bikini.
She looked me over just as frankly. "Hi there," she said throatily. "I'm afraid I've got myself lost."
Eye candy or not, I resented the intrusion. "Well, there's upstream, and there's downstream. Take your pick."
"They both sound so good, I can't decide!" Her glance moved deliberately from my face over my body down to the long, semi-healed scar running from mid-thigh up under my cut-off jeans. The scar didn't seem to startle her a bit. I began to suspect a plot.
It's not that unusual for women to come on to me when I'm in uniform, and I've taken advantage of their fantasies a time or two, but I was in civvies, and this was way over the top. She was so blatantly acting out a scene that I was more amused than anything else. Well, maybe not anything else. It had been a long time. A definite tingle was building where it counted most, and my nipples threatened to assert themselves through my gray tank top. I pulled on the sweatshirt I'd been using as a pillow. The New Hampshire State Police logo on the front didn't seem to surprise her, either.
I looked downhill. "Hey, Dunbar," I called to the head poking around a mossy boulder, "who's your little friend?"
"How's it going, Josie?" Jimmy Dunbar emerged from concealment. "I'd've introduced you, but you cruised right on by without so much as a nod for an old friend."
"Sorry," I said. "Been a bit preoccupied lately."
"So I heard. You okay?" He looked toward my injured leg and then met my eyes with genuine concern. Aside from his taste in practical jokes, Jimmy's not a bad sort, and we'd been friends since our teens when we cleared trails and packed supplies up to the Appalachian Mountain Club huts.
"Can't complain," I said shortly. "A couple of weeks of enforced R&R and then I'll be back on the job. What are you up to these days?" I should've known better than to come where I'd be recognized. The newspapers had made the hostage case into a big deal.
"He's building sets at the playhouse," the sex kitten chimed in, clearly tired of being ignored by everything but the mosquitoes. In that outfit, she was damned lucky black fly season was over. "We open with 'Oklahoma' tomorrow night. I could get you a ticket if you'd like." She picked her way carefully down the bank, gripping bushes and gnarled, exposed tree roots. Any bits of previously covered anatomy were revealed as she bent and stretched. I was willing to bet her breasts owed nothing to silicone. It might not have been entirely gallantry that prompted me to help her down the last, steepest bit, but when she tried to cling I spun her around and set her on her feet at a safe distance.
"This is Katzi Burns. She plays the 'girl who can't say no.'" Jimmy sang the last part. Instead of grabbing the line and running with it, as I expected, she shot him a fierce look.
"I should've had the lead! But at least I can have a little fun with this role. I'm so sick of doing 'wholesome' I could puke!"
"That's what you get," Jimmy said unfeelingly, "for starting your career playing Daddy Warbuck's little 'Annie'."
She yowled and took a swipe at him, and, while I figured he deserved a good clawing, my peace-keeper instincts kicked in. "So Katzi," I said, with a hand on her elbow, "what kind of parts would you rather play?" Then it hit me. "Holy shit! 'Annie'? How long ago?"
She turned that feral kitten snarl on me. The anger in her amber eyes was a lot more attractive than the bimbo act. "Long enough! I'm legal! You wanna see my driver's license?"
I grinned and looked her scanty outfit over appreciatively. "You bet, if you've got it on you somewhere."
Her scowl cleared. "You could search me," she teased.
I just patted her cute round butt and turned to Jimmy. "I hope you two have some clothes stashed somewhere. As soon as the sun gets a little lower the mosquitoes will be fierce. I don't much care what they do to your scaly hide, but it would be a shame to let Katzi get sucked dry just before opening night. The bites would be kind of a challenge for the make-up department, too."
"What time is it, anyway?" Katzi asked, with a stricken look.
"Close to five," I told her.
"Oh damn! I'm screwed!" She slid and lurched down the hill toward where they'd left their clothes and towels. Jimmy and I followed, ready to pick up the pieces if her fashionable sandals skidded on the loose layers of leaves and needles.
"So what the hell is that all about?" I asked Jimmy. "I may be on the injured list, but I can still manage to do my own hunting."
"Hey, little Katzi takes hunting to a whole new level. She's only hanging out with me because she wants to meet you, and I said I'd heard you were back in the Valley. She clipped your picture out of the paper. Lord only knows what she does with it!"
And Lord only knows what you've told her about me, I thought, and swatted him, on general principles. Maybe I should just just go back to communing with nature. Then I watched Katzi's sleek legs keeping up with our longer ones on the trail out to the road, and reflected that nature's blessings are many and wondrous, and not limited to rocks and trees. Being back in the mountains had always healed my spirit, but surging hormones might well spur the healing process of the flesh.
Snip, snip, skipping past much of the story:
When she'd gone into the playhouse I sat there for a minute, hardly noticing the people strolling along the village sidewalk. Then I headed north, up through Pinkham Notch, needing to center myself in the mountains.
The peaks loomed dark against a backdrop of moon-gilded clouds; Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and, crowning the range, Mount Washington. I'd never needed more to be up there, on the slopes above treeline, looking down on a world made tranquil by distance. Or, even better, looking down on clouds filling the valleys with a ghostly sea while the stars above seemed closer and more real than the shrouded earth. Best of all would be to watch the dawn, when the air is cold and still, and nothing exists except stone, and space, and the coming of light over the edge of the world.
My gaze followed the contours of the mountains, my hands almost feeling their harsh ridges and swooping ravines. Then the thought of Katzi's softer curves and sweet valleys beckoned me with increasing urgency. I didn't want solitude, after all, at least not right now, I thought, as I drove back down the winding highway. Just a quick fling, I warned myself, a little summer diversion. She'll head back to New York or wherever soon enough. That's all you want. That's all she wants. Nobody gets hurt.
Snip, snip, and the final few paragraphs:
We didn't manage to see sunrise, but the morning light was still fresh and clear when I went down to the river and waded into the deepest part. The cold water rushing down from the mountains could always sweep away sweat, doubt, confusion. Then I sat in the sun on my favorite boulder and tried to clear my mind of everything but the intense blue of the sky.
"You look like one of those paintings," Katzi said, coming to stand below me. "You know, the ones with girls sitting on rocks with mountains and waterfalls and stuff."
"Maxfield Parrish?" I asked, without turning.
"That's the guy. You look like what I wish he would have painted, instead of all those cute fluffy girls."
"You'd have fit right in," I said, "but I always wondered how they got up onto those jagged mountains with bare feet." I wriggled my own river sandals, which were all I was wearing.
She looked at my feet, then my legs; I steeled myself not to clamp my naked thighs together, and let her look.
"Oh, Jo," she cried, aghast at the full extent of my wound. "Did he cut you that way on purpose?"
I couldn't bottle up the anger, the guilt, forever. "Yeah. Probably. His wife had been going to leave him for a woman, but luckily the papers didn't get hold of that tidbit. We could've charged him with a hate crime, I suppose, from the names he called me, but there wasn't any point. Even if he'd lived."
Her hand was on my thigh, and she could feel me trembling. "You had to do it, Jo, it was self defense, and who knows what else he'd have done to them?"
I remembered the woman's screams, and the child's terrified cries. I remembered climbing the back of the building, finding foot and finger holds on ledges and chinks in the bricks, while my partner watched the front. Then came the shatter of glass as I dove through the window, and the flash of the knife as I wrestled with him. I hadn't been able to climb with my gun drawn, and then it was too late. What I remembered most vividly was the crumpling of his larynx under my hand.
"There had to be another way," I muttered. "If...maybe if I had been different, gentler, softer somehow, I could've talked him around. That poor little kid had been through enough, without having to see all that."
"But the mother lived, didn't she? My God, Jo, how can you kick yourself? I know it must have been awful, but..." She stood on tiptoe and laid her head against my side, and I bent to hide my face in her soft curls. Then she worked her lips gently downward toward the scar. "Let me, please..."
I began to tremble in a different way. I wasn't sure I could bear to be touched. She looked up at me with such tenderness in her eyes that suddenly I couldn't bear not to be touched, by her hands and mouth and even more by her indefinable flame of life that warmed something in me deeper than the flesh.
I leaned back with my arms braced against the rock and let my thighs spread farther apart, let Katzi's mouth move up, and up, toward where I needed it most. She reached her arms around my waist and pressed her lips and tongue against me so softly, gently, that I felt no pain, only a tantalizing stimulation I thought would drive me crazy. I tried to pull her head closer, harder--maybe I was healed enough!-- but she resisted. "Trust me," she murmured against my flesh, and I had to, even had to let her hear me whimper and moan. She kept on and on, driving me closer and closer to the brink, like hurtling on skis toward the headwall of Tuckerman's Ravine--and then I plunged over in an avalanche of fierce joy.
Much later in the day I kissed her, told her when I'd pick her up, and watched her hurry into the playhouse. I really was healed enough, I realized, to go back on duty. Why rush it, though? I could still taste her, still feel her body against mine, still smell her scent clinging to me. Maybe something of her would always cling to me. I couldn't handle thinking about the future yet, but I was going to savor every moment of the present, and the healing force of nature that was Katzi.
That should be all, too long already, so just consider this next snippet a postscript. It appear in my story “Meltdown,” first published in Don’t Be Shy from Ylva Press, and will be in my upcoming collection from Dirt Road Books. The setting of the flashback is a secluded, maybe even secret pool along a river that means a lot to me.
Sigri was shaking her head by the end of my revelations. I picked up my drinking horn and took a sip of mead. “As you said, that’s enough about that. Too much, in fact.” Another sip. “Hey, this is really fine stuff! Smooth and intense. Wish we’d had something this good back in the day.”
“Nah, we’d’ve been too dumb to appreciate it.” She sank down on the couch by my side, took a longer sip than I had, licked her lips, and looked slantwise at me. “We were too dumb to appreciate a hell of a lot.”
“No kidding.” I raised my horn. Hers met it halfway. “Here’s to our wasted youth.”
A few more sips of mead later, I was on the verge of blurting out a maudlin confession, but Sig beat me to it.
“That pool.” She looked into the fireplace, not at me. “That day…”
I finished for her. “We bushwhacked off the Slippery Brook trail, discovered that huge gorgeous pool, and went skinny-dipping. The goddess place, I called it, and you told me not to go all woo-woo.”
“But you did. And you scrambled naked back up that rock to where we’d left our stuff before we jumped off, got your camera, and yammered on about how the rocks on each side of the little waterfall looked like spread thighs, and the knobby stone in between with moss on it was the pussy, and the—the water of life, I think you said, was pouring into the sacred pool.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s what I said. And you dived into the deepest part and came up with handfuls of pebbles that you kept throwing at me while I tried to get pictures from just the right angle.”
“Well, maybe I was as bad as your Maura at foreplay when it came to somebody like you. Girly types, no problem, but you? I figured you’d either laugh in my face or punch it if I made a move.”
I shook my head in self-disgust. “And I just kept on yammering to keep from jumping you and getting slammed for it. Talk about dumb kids! When you got fed up and left, I was desperate for the chance to jerk off, fantasizing about what it would feel like to be in a clinch with you.”
“Hah! I only made it to that other stream coming out of the beaver pond before my hand was in my pants. If you’d caught up with me then…”
I reached for the decanter of mead, poured us each a little more, and raised my horn again. “Well, here’s to the years of steamy dreams inspired by the sight of you naked in that pool.” Just as well not to reveal that I’d snapped a picture of her from behind that day, right when her muscular body arched, butt high, into the dive that got her those pebbles to throw at me. I’d carried a print of the photo around with me until I literally wore it out.