Alex the Dragon
Alex inspected the space between her front teeth in the bathroom mirror. Years ago a college T.A. had told her (in a graduate student's idea of a come-on) that in Chaucer's time, gap-toothed women were thought to be lecherous. Alex didn't have that gap before puberty. As she got older, her two front teeth gradually spread apart. After her marriage exploded in a ball of flame, she discovered that dental drift had given her a newly sibilant "s." Perhaps, she thought, there lay the clue to the etiology of her long-standing gender identity problem. She was actually a gay man.
That night she ran to the corner video store and rented A Star is Born and The Wizard of Oz. She plopped down in front of the VCR with a glass of Evian and tried to sing along with Judy. Halfway through "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" she got bored and switched on The L Word. After a while, she became aware of a murderous craving for chocolate warring with an impulse to masturbate wildly with the back of her electric toothbrush.
Uh oh, she thought. She was not a gay man at all. She must be a lesbian.
She scratched behind her ear. The skin back there was starting to flake. Stress from her divorce proceedings was making her eczema act up. She wandered into the bathroom and squirted some thick, creamy moisturizer into her palm. She massaged from her scaly elbows up to her itchy shoulders. She kneaded the muscles in her neck, rubbing along the prominent knobs of her vertebrae. They seemed to stick out even more than usual. Age? She sighed and grabbed the toothbrush. The chocolate could wait.
She decided she was going to be the best little lesbian in the whole wide world. She bought a leather jacket and high-topped black tennies, chopped off all her hair, and wore asymmetrical earrings with backwards baseball caps. She started smoking in dyke bars. She drank Dewar's and water, splattered her speech with expletives, and slept her way through every single lesbian in New Haven. There were only four. All the other wimmin were in lifetime, committed relationships with the ex-lover of their best friend's girlfriend's softball buddy, with whom they had been in a lifetime, committed relationship two lifetime, committed relationships ago.
She had a one-night stand with a bizarrely body-pierced, bi-curious anthropology student who never washed her hair. She flirted with and then dumped a deeply disturbed quality-control chemist with the same name as her mother. She tried to let an office manager with the alluring thighs of the Venus of Willendorf down easily and disentangled herself with difficulty from a windsurfing nymphomaniac hospital chaplain.
"You don't look well," said her straight best friend Selene on the rare occasions that she still saw her. "You need to slow down, get some exercise, pay attention to what you eat. You look, I don't know -- sallow. Like you're coming down with the flu."
Alex inspected herself in the mirror. Her eyes were a little bloodshot, and her skin had developed a greenish cast. Maybe it was the cigarettes and the drinking. She'd lighten up a little, go to the health food store, buy blackberries and broccoli. All she had wanted lately was steak, burgers, ribs. Her cholesterol must be through the roof. She had read somewhere, though, that you needed cholesterol to make sex hormones.
What made a person straight or gay? She had always appreciated Selene's beauty. The smooth bronze of Selene's eczema-free skin and the curve of her neck had attracted her even when she was married, but she had explained it away as an outgrowth of their emotional intimacy, the closeness one feels with a best friend. It was only men who could feel turned on just by the sight of a breast or thigh, without even knowing the person to whom it was attached. Men -- and maybe butch lesbians. Is that what she was?
She was starting to notice women's bodies in a different way, divorced from their personalities. She felt carnal, even predatory. When the phrase "KNOCKER ALERT!" began to sound in her head whenever well-endowed female chests passed her on the street, she realized she had reached the point where she could totally sexually objectify other women. At last, she thought, I am a real dyke.
Then the unthinkable happened. She developed a monstrous crush on George, the clerk in the video store. He was years younger than she, with the same golden hair and friendly blue eyes as her ex-husband, but without the stubble and the body odor. You could tell he was going to tend to fat as he got older, but he wasn't fat yet. Just sort of -- juicy. He saved special videos for her and knocked off late fees, but she didn't think he was just being nice to her to get into her pants. He seemed to be nice to everybody -- teenagers, kids, old ladies -- a regular knight in shining armor.
At first she hoped he was gay. Then she might still be a dyke, and her crush on him might have a weird logic of its own, like a double negative. But he turned out not to be gay, just engaged to be married. So as she lay awake all night writhing her way through erotic fantasies about George the Video Saint, she realized she must really be
Did she actually exist?
Or did she wander, like the dragon, somewhere in that realm between rumor and myth?
She got up and switched on the gas fire in her living room fireplace. She lit a mentholated Virginia Slim from the gas jet and took a few short puffs, then a long drag. Her naked toes broiled before flames that glowed more blue than orange. She had let her toenails get so long they were beginning to curve like talons. She smiled, and smoke rose curling from her nostrils.