Complementary Colors

Complementary Colors

Kate Evans

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Gwen Sullivan is agitated. Married and divorced and now, living with her scientist boyfriend. She hopes taking a night class in poetry might help. In the class, the allure of two lesbians takes her by surprise. She can't get them out of her mind. This prompts her to question who she is—and who she wants to be.

 

 
PUBLISHED BY: Vanilla Heart Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-935407-86-7
PUBLICATION DATE: 2009
WORD COUNT:
SEXUAL CONTENT RATING: 2 2
EBOOK READER RATING:
CATEGORIES: Romantic Fiction, Contemporary, WomanLove
KEYWORDS: romance, lesbian, bisexual, novel, Kate Evans, poetry class, Vanilla Heart Publishing
 

EBOOKS BY Vanilla Heart Publishing

EBOOKS BY Kate Evans

 
EXCERPT
COPYRIGHT Kate Evans/2009

Chapter One
Beautiful

I was craving something, but I wasn’t exactly sure what. I wanted something new. I wanted something beautiful. My life was at a strange stand-still, stagnant as the smoggy San Jose air. So I’d signed up for a poetry class. I’d been looking forward to it all week, but now as I sat in a university classroom, waiting for class to begin, I thought maybe I’d made a mistake. The students leaned on their desktops, talking to each other in the circle of desks, casual and comfortable in their jeans, while I sat stiffly in my work clothes: black blazer, pink blouse, dark nylons and black heels, my long brown hair pulled back in a clip.


Sitting in the circle with us was Professor Alameida. I knew her name because it was printed on my class schedule. She had long gray hair and a craggy face, and the sleeves of her denim jacket were rolled up to reveal silver and turquoise bracelets. When she opened a folder, silence descended on the group.


Just then, the classroom door creaked open. In walked two people, two women. They were unlike any two women I’d ever seen. They both had short dark hair, gelled into spikes, and they wore black leather jackets, baggy jeans, and black boots. It’s hard to explain now why I didn’t think “lesbians” right away. Or “dykes.” But I didn’t. It was 1992; why would I have known any gay people? Or I should say lesbians. I did have an old college friend, Manny, who was gay, or so I assumed. He now lived in Massachusetts; he’d moved there with a guy I thought was his lover. But my life, not unlike many people’s lives, was mostly filled with people like me. In my case that meant straight people, in their twenties and thirties, who were dating, or engaged, or divorced. The lesbian world might as well have been taking place in Massachusetts, while I lived my straight life in California. Until that moment, of course.

I wasn’t the only one staring at them. It seemed everyone did. The two women had made a rather dramatic entrance, coming in late on the first day, walking in like they were one person split in two. For women, they took up a lot of space, with their spiky hair and bulky leather jackets and big boots shining with silver buckles. They sat in the two empty seats right next to the professor. The desks seemed too small for their bodies, their energy. They leaned back, knees apart, feet planted like men.

“Sorry,” said the taller one, three silver earrings glimmering in one ear, and a smear of a tattoo on the back of her hand.

Professor Alameida looked over at them, half-smiled, and placed her hand on the desk of the woman closest to her. She handed them each a syllabus with a certain ease, a sense of familiarity.

“It’s okay, we just started,” she said, leaning forward in her desk and crossing her feet at the ankles. “I’m Vanessa Alameida. Please call me Vanessa. Not professor. I don’t like that stuff.” Her voice was so low and gravelly I had to strain to hear her. “This class is about poetry, poetry, poetry. You will write a poem most weeks, beginning next week, as it says here.” She tapped her finger on the syllabus. “You will bring copies for everyone. I don’t want you to write a poem at the last minute. You should be writing it and thinking about it all week. A poem is a living thing. If you dash it off and bring it in dead, we’ll know.” She put her fist over her mouth and coughed a deep cough, her silver bracelets jangling.

Anxiety grew in me. I’d have to write poems and bring them in fresh and vulnerable as kittens with their eyes sealed shut. I looked at the blank piece of paper in my notebook in front of me. If I put my pen to it, thinking “poem,” would a bunch of words emerge, words put together in such a way as to create something new, something that at this moment didn’t exist? I used to think about that sometimes when I’d begin to write a journal entry—that in a few minutes, I’d be to the bottom of the page even though I didn’t know what would propel me, what would get me there, and what it would be like to finish. My living time wouldn’t have passed unnoticed. I’d have created something. Could I do this with poetry?

The most I had ever written was when I’d recently lived in Japan for a year. But aside from some journal-writing, most of the writing had been letters. Writing helped alleviate my dizzying culture shock. Could I now write something artful, something that would surprise me and take me to new places? This seemed like a hopeful act. Could I be hopeful like that? The idea of hope seemed to feed something elusive in me that was hungry.

“Now here, let’s read this,” the professor said, handing the person to her left a stack of papers. The stack continued person to person around the circle. The leather-jacketed woman with the tattoo on her hand leaned over to the other one and whispered something in her ear. They quietly laughed. I found myself curious about what she said, and oddly a little embarrassed, as though maybe they were making fun of me. I knew that was crazy—they hadn’t even looked at me. They were probably oblivious of my presence. Yet something about having them in the room, dressed alike and sharing secrets, made me feel a little inept and eager, like I used to around the popular girls in middle school.

When the paper came to me, I saw that on it was a poem by Louise Glück. I’d heard the name before, but I didn’t know her work.

Maybe I’d read something of hers ten years before when I’d been working on my undergraduate degree in English. That was the thing that always surprised me about having a degree in English: how much literature there was in the world, and how little of it I really knew.

Vanessa read the poem aloud, slowly, as though chewing each word. Its title was “Messengers.” Vanessa’s voice crackled like electricity through line after line of the long, haunting poem. In the poem, geese and deer waited “as though their bodies do not impede them.” Images of animals and nature, imbued with life and death, inhabited the poem’s rich language.

When she finished reading, we sat, quiet. A chill snaked through my body. I didn’t really understand the poem. But I felt it. I felt it inside me, like it was a fish swimming around in my veins. The poem, it seemed to me, used words to get at something beyond words. The deer, the geese. Beauty. Mortality. I may not have understood the poem, but I thought I knew exactly what the poet felt.

Vanessa uncrossed then re-crossed her legs. A guy with dreadlocks and ripped overalls sniffed. A young woman with short blond hair shifted in her seat. She wore baggy shorts with sandals, and one of those olive green sweaters that looks like the most comfortable sweater in the world, the kind that pretty actresses with tousled hair wear in beach movies. She looked like she’d stepped out of the “casual wear” pages of a high-end catalogue.

The sun was getting low out the window. I could see the dark edges of a tree and the corner of a dirty white concrete building across the way.

“Well,” said Vanessa. “What do you think?”

I felt myself flush, as I often did when students don’t answer a teacher’s question. It seemed to be my fault, that I should have an answer for her. I wanted to say something, but I worried I’d sound like a fool. I wanted to say, “I feel this poem in my veins.” But that would sound completely idiotic. As a student with a degree in English, I thought I should instead say something about the images, the metaphor, the use of rhythmic repetition.

Out the window, the tree was completely still. It was a warm, summer–becoming–fall evening. The florescent lights overhead asserted themselves as the light outside dimmed.

“I think it’s beautiful,” said the tall, leather jacketed woman with the tattoo on her hand. She had dark eyes and thick eyelashes, almost as thick as my boyfriend Daniel’s. And a delicate chin that curved up, just slightly, and a small scar on her forehead. She had taken off her leather jacket to reveal a black tee-shirt and a necklace on a long silver chain.

Her words had given me permission to speak. “Me too,” I said. “I think it’s beautiful, too.” I could feel the eyes of the class on me. I swallowed and looked down at the poem, seeing if I could find a line I especially liked, but then a guy who I thought might be Vietnamese was talking, saying, “What does she mean, wounded and dominant?”

“What do you think she means?” asked Vanessa.

I lost his answer because as soon as I looked up from the poem, I glanced over at the tattooed woman and saw that she was looking at me. When my eye caught hers, she didn’t look away, just smiled. The girlishness of her smile surprised me. She had a mouth full of movie star teeth: large, straight and bright white. I smiled back, trying to say with my smile that I liked her comment on the poem, that I appreciated the way she had spoken up and given me room to do the same.

Then she said something to me, silently exaggerating her mouth movements so that I might be able to read her lips. I couldn’t figure out what she was saying. I tilted my head and looked at her quizzically, shrugging my shoulders so she’d try again. She held up the poem and pointed to it.

Then, slowly, she mouthed two words, pausing between. She mouthed the words one more time, very slowly. A surprising tingle scuttled up my spine.

I saw that she was saying, “Yes, beautiful.”
 

 
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