The 70s? Wait—you’re telling me the 70s are long gone? I suppose they must be. That decade seems like a blur to me now, without even the benefit of recreational drugs as an excuse.
Well, let’s see what I can dredge out of the recesses of my mind, what there is left of it. In 1970 I was the mother of a four-year-old. In 1980 I was the mother of a four-year-old, and also of a fourteen-year old. Okay, that computes.
Hmm. In 1970 I participated in my first and only sit-in, at Westover Air Force Base, protesting Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia. I spent my first and only couple of hours in jail, went to my first arraignment, pleaded nolo contendere along with about a hundred other protesters, and went home. I had swapped babysitting duty with a neighbor in married student housing at UMass so that she could go the sit-in one day and I could go the next. We were wild and crazy hippies at heart, but had to cope with the more-or-less conventional roles we’d been dealt.
Also in 1970 I volunteered to help with the Save the Earth ecological movement at UMass, working on their newsletter, flyers, etc. I got so fed up with the casual misogyny of the movement—“We have to educate the common housewife yada yada yada”—that I wrote a nasty piece about the tendency to regard women in the home as about on the level of the common housefly, posted it on the office bulletin board, and was startled when the editor ran it as the lead story in the next issue and thanked me for it. A small victory, but it does stick in my mind.
In 1973 my 39-year career as co-owner of an eclectic, idiosyncratic retail business began. I had to be aware of cultural and political events and trends in order to appeal to an ever-changing population of college-town customers, but I don’t recall many of the particulars, except that the first bumper sticker we sold in the store was in 1974 during the lead-up to Nixon’s resignation, and said, “Don’t Blame Me, I’m from Massachusetts.” If you don’t know what that signifies, you can look it up. Somewhere I still have my McGovern button, in fact the rare McGovern/Eagleton button rather than the McGovern/Shriver one. If you’re a political history wonk you can look that up, too, but I’m sure you already know.
As far as erotica goes, though, in the 70s I was stuck with reading what later came to be called “bodice rippers,” but those were getting pretty damned hot. Ah, Kathleen Woodiwiss! Roberta Gellis! I’d read the classics like Fanny Hill and Tropic of Cancer and Lady Chatterley’s Lover in my student days in the 60s, but this new breed of woman-centered mostly-historical romances were more fun, more fun even than the older Peyton Place. Potboilers like The Valley of the Dolls never interested me at all.
When I finally got around to writing erotica, twenty years later, it never occurred to me to set stories in the 70s. WWII in the 40s, sure. The Vietnam era in the 60s, yes. But nothing between those war periods and the 90s.
Except…there’s this sequel to a WWII story, set thirty five years later. It’s the only threesome I’ve ever attempted, and will probably stay that way.
In that wartime English summer Cleo had made me soar, even though I never left the ground.
Thirty-five years later, in 1978, her plane rose, and banked, leaving Anchorage dwindling in the distance. As the clouds lifted in the east, the towering glory of Denali blazed suddenly white in the sun.
"The mountain's out!" someone shouted behind me
"Sure is," Cleo said, above the hum of the engine. "Takes your breath away, doesn't it?"
But it was Cleo Remington herself who took my breath away.
I watched her strong hands on the controls, remembering the way she had touched the Spitfire fighter plane that last night in England. Remembering, across the years, the way she had touched me.
The man behind me leaned forward in a genial attempt at conversation. "Cleo says you were in the service together, Kay. Were you an Air Transport pilot too?"
"No, I was a nurse," I said. "But for the last few years I've been a physical therapist." I turned slightly toward him, which gave me a good view of Cleo's profile. Her once-black hair was silver now, thick, just long enough to ruffle---if only I dared. Her tanned face was leaner, weathered by life, tiny lines radiating from the corners of eyes and mouth; my fingers would still recognize her in the dark, my mouth would know the contours of her throat, her jaw, her expressive lips--if I had the right to touch her.
"Ah, a therapist," he said, nodding. "You've come to help poor Yelena. [Cleo’s partner, a former Russian “Night Witch” bomber pilot whose old back injuries have flared up.] But you were a nurse back then? Cleo's never mentioned being wounded."
There are wounds no medicine can heal.
"No," I said. "We met in London, on leave, just before she flew back to the States and I was reassigned to the South Pacific. You know how it is in wartime; friendship isn't measured in weeks, or months."
Much later in the story, after many things have happened:
"Cleo, what is it? Yelena asked.
"A hot tub," Cleo said proudly.
The young man [from a hippie commune down the coast] coming to meet us blushed behind his curly beard as he said, "All set, but look out for splinters on the benches." I knew just what he was envisioning.
I was envisioning the same thing.
Yelena gave a long, sensuous sigh as she eased down into the steaming water. "Come in before you get cold," she said over her shoulder. With her hair coiled high on her head, the slim elegance of her neck suggested a ballet dancer, not a bomber pilot.
Cleo and I stood naked, openly surveying each other. Her body hadn't changed much; more sinewy now than slim, maybe; a few interesting scars. I had never been quite slim, and was even farther from it now, but Jack, I thought fleetingly, didn't mind. The achingly familiar look in Cleo's storm-gray eyes told me that she didn't mind either.
We submerged our bodies in the hot tub. Three pairs of legs intermingled. I flexed my toes, imagining a no-hands orgy scene in some risqué comedy. Cleo lay back with her eyes closed. I wondered whether she had realized before this exactly what she was getting herself into.
Yelena's eyes gleamed under half-closed lids. She watched us, keeping us guessing, and quite clearly enjoying herself. Under the swirling bubbles her toe stroked my calf; from the tension of Cleo's body I could guess where the other foot must be.
"There is no harm in looking," Yelena said at last, in a husky purr. "I too can see her, after all." She leaned forward, wincing slightly. "And there is no harm in touching."
Cleo's eyes flashed open. "Lenochka! Tell me this isn't some kind of test!"
"No, Love," Yelena said gently, "it is a blessing."
She reached for our hands and brought each of them to the other's tiny, tattooed wings. My fingers crept upward to Cleo's lips; hers moved down to cup my breast. I looked into her dark eyes. The weight of memory and longing pressed on us. I couldn't seem to breathe.
"It's so hot," I said faintly.
Yelena leaned her head back. "The moon is full tonight," she said musingly. "A sight not to be missed."
Cleo's mouth curved into a smile under my fingers. "Come with me, Kay, to see the moonlight on the cove." Though her words were for me, her eyes were on Yelena's face.
"Come back before the water cools," Yelena said with apparent tranquillity.
It was a gift I had no will to refuse.
And a bit later:
At last we lay peacefully, cocooned in blankets, Cleo's head on my breast, my mind drifting. Surely we had been like this always, through the lingering violet twilight of summer, and the long, white nights of winter.
"Kay," she said suddenly, "I did try to find you. But it was too late."
"Yes," I said, stroking her vibrant silver hair. "And if it hadn't been too late..." What of Jack, I thought, and my children? But all I said was, "Yelena would have been alone on the ice."
"Yes," Cleo said. We clung together a little longer, in perfect understanding of how much, after all, we had.
Then I struggled to my feet and tugged her with me. "Yelena needs us," I said. "She thinks I can give you what she can't any longer, but she's wrong. We have to convince her that she can."
"Are you sure?" Cleo stumbled on the path that I knew she could have traveled with sure-footed ease in her sleep.
"Just let me run the show." I forged ahead to where Raksha waited, whimpering softly. With an effort I switched modes from lover to therapist, with only partial success.
Yelena lay back in the tub, eyes tightly closed, though she must have heard us coming. Or even smelled us. I knelt behind her with my cheek against her soft hair. "Thank you, Lenochka," I murmured.
I beckoned to Cleo to join me in the still warm water. "Therapy time," I said with authority. "You, on your knees! And you," to Yelena, whose eyes flashed open wide at my stern tone, "on my knees!" I sat close beside her and urged her onto my lap, then gripped her hips firmly. "Now," I said over her wet shoulder, "since I haven't convinced you any other way, I'm going to hold you so steady that no matter what you do, even if you beg, I won't let you move in any way that might hurt. And Cleo is going to fuck you, not gently, but with everything she's got. If you say harder, she's going to believe you mean harder. No holding back, while I'm holding you."
Yelena had been crying, I was sure, but now she giggled--an interesting sensation in a naked body on one's lap. Then she inhaled sharply when Cleo touched her, and the sensations got far more interesting.
It was the most erotic, strangest, hardest thing I've ever done. Yelena squirmed against my belly, reviving the need Cleo had so recently filled. But now Cleo was separated from me, her mouth on Yelena's mouth, her hands filled with Yelena's breasts. I wanted desperately, savagely, to reach past the lost years, past Yelena, to thrust my own body through hers and take all that her lover could give, all that might have been mine.
There’s more, of course, but I've gone on too long.
None of this story says anything specific about the 70s, except maybe the hippie commune in Alaska, so I guess it still leaves that era as the Stealth Decade. Still, without those years we couldn’t have got from wherever we were to wherever we are, so “Thanks, 70s, we couldn’t do without you.”