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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Michelle Auerbach’s “The Third Kind of Horse”

Auerbach

 

Selection from The Third Kind of Horse

BYGONE ERA (PAGES 280-281)

Simone called me at home on a Saturday morning and said, “It’s time.” She meant it was time to take all those ball gowns up to Harlem and give them to someone who could use them. Crystal, D’s first ball friend, offered to store them in the closet D had described to me when he first started going to the balls. Crystal was in the House of Saint Laurent, and they could recycle them.

In the cab, surrounded by dry cleaners bags filled with dresses and old shopping bags of shoes, I watched the East Side transition first from Alphabet city with the projects on one side and the ball parks on the other, into midtown, into the Upper East Side with the park that extended over the highway, and then back to poverty and disintegration with Harlem. Simone was right there, right on the other side of the dresses piled between us on the seat. I wanted to reach out and touch her, but for so long, I had attributed to Kevin all the caring and the kindness, and to Simone all the excitement and the wild sex and desire, that I could not reconcile the need to be taken care of with the person next to me. I wanted to stroke her cheek, have her hold onto me, but it was me who could not do it. Not Simone, me. To give in to needing care meant taking the care from people who needed it more. It meant selling out and being a narcissist. And no one I respected did that. All up and down the avenues and across the streets of the city there were people growing a hard enough shell to endure this crisis. It was too dangerous without some kind of coating

The cab was surrounded by drag queens the moment it stopped. Crystal, who had dyed her hair platinum blonde in mourning for D was the first to open the door. She helped me out, and then picked up a dress. She looked at the beaded fringe, stroked the dress through the plastic, and she shook her head: no, no no no. She passed the dress to the mother of the House of Saint Laurent, who was wearing a black knit skirt suit with a bunch of thick gold chains at the neck and black shiny pumps. Dressed for a funeral. They took the dresses out one at a time and looked at each one. The cabbie was silent, the meter still running. Each dress was passed from hand to hand, and then taken upstairs. I stood next to the open door, tears pouring down my face, and they seemed to me like the last Jews left in a town after the Nazis had been through a few times, collecting folks to take to work camps or gas chambers. They seemed to me to be relics, like the friends of my grandparents with the numbers on their arms and the stories of what it was like to live in Bialastock, or Minsk or Vienna before the war. These queens remembered when sex was free, and the city sparkled at their feet, open to them filled with men who needed a quickie. They were the ones who survived, at least this far. But were they the lucky ones?

The buildings around us were decrepit. There was washing hanging out of the windows. There were no garbage cans, the streetlights were broken off at odd angles, you could tell they would not work at all. The street was edged with trash bags and junk. The wide avenue was almost completely empty of cars, except the parked ones. A few had broken windows, a few no tires.

When the last dress was out of the cab, Crystal hugged me and said, “Stay fierce, baby, stay fierce.”

Simone and I got back in the cab, and I tried carefully not to look at the meter, which I knew would shock me. I wanted to concentrate on D, on the empty car, the smell of his cologne, musk and citrus lingering even though the dresses were gone.

D, I hope this is enough of a funeral for you. It was finally enough for me.

This excerpt appeared in Michelle Auerbach’s book, The Third Kind of Horse, available from Beatdom Books. Purchase yours today!

Michelle Auerbach is the author of The Third Kind of Horse (2013 Beatdom Books). Her writing has appeared in (among other places) The New York Times, The London Guardian, The Denver Quarterly,Chelsea Magazine, Bombay Gin, and the literary anthologies The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained (Baksun Books), and You. An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press). She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize. Michelle is an organizational storytelling and communications consultant and lives in Colorado with her partner and her three kids.

Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirty anthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Michelle Auerbach’s “The Third Kind of Horse”

Auerbach

 

Selection from The Third Kind of Horse

THE NO-FIGHT (PAGES 196-198)

There comes a time in every relationship when the thing I loved about the person, the romance I’ve made up about her, or this time him, falls apart. The mystique – that Kevin was a dreamer and a beautiful musician and the perfect friend who would never let me down, that’s the key, he would never let me down, the mystique that I could finally be safe with this person and be myself and be accepted one hundred percent, started to dissipate. I questioned if he would bail me out of jail, sit for hours and dissect the most seemingly benign conversation with some ex so that I can get it out of my system, would want me till the end of the world. Okay, so some of it was rational and some of it reeked of little girl wants daddy, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting daddy.

Then, there’s a fight or simply words that no one can take back hanging there in the middle of the room. It doesn’t have to be a real fight even, just the realization that to some degree, I made up this Kevin in my head. Worst of all is the unveiling moment when I see my lover differently than I used to and I can’t keep up the story that this is the perfect woman, or in Kevin’s case, the perfect man. I wanted a perfect dream lover, friend, and human. All that I’ve got left in front of me is a bare, slippery, newborn human being, or at least my vision of him is newborn, the same person was always right there, but I had this elaborate ruse going on in which I saw curly blonde hair, a guitar, cigarettes, beautiful arms, this complete sense of competency when I acted like that my mother calls a flutterbudget. This amalgam of bits, this constellation, this way in which my mind makes a person out of only what I’m willing to notice, does everyone do this? Or, is this what if felt like to be an incurable romantic? This is it. How many times have I said that, decided that this is the person for me? This is it. Except it never was, until the last time. Sistah D said, “Things are always in the last place you look for them.”

And I always thought I finally finished looking.

I saw something that didn’t fit in. In this case it was Kevin’s stubborn insistence that I not call myself a lesbian. He was hurt And said so. “If you’re a lesbian, then where do I fit in?” Wow. I once read in a self-help book about relationships that people eventually hate each other for the same reasons they once were attracted. I can’t say Kevin liked me because I’m a dyke, but it’s not like it’s a huge surprise. He liked that I was an outsider, like him. He saw us as similar.

I couldn’t stand the word bisexual. Probably because in the lezzie world it meant something very negative, just like gentrification means something terrible to lefties and something marvelous to real estate developers. I just couldn’t do it. I mean, honor the call of the cootchie, but use the word? Not. And Kevin felt I’d basically committed to a political cause over him. No shit, Sherlock. I could no more give up being the radical lesbian activist as I could give up being a curly haired Jew from the tri- state area. I couldn’t stop being me.

A tiny voice in the back of my head that sounded surprisingly like Artemis was whispering, “You are doing this on purpose to keep him at a distance. You don’t really want to be that close. You will ruin it so it feels familiar.” I shut it out best I could, but I couldn’t forget I heard it.

Nor could I make the look of alienation and confusion smooth off Kevin’s face. I wanted to say the message here is to keep my mouth shut, stop having the conversation about where he fits in and just live, but that would have taken away all the times we’ve gotten closer through understanding. Through filling what space we maintained between our bodies with a web of attachments and knowledge that comes alive, like a new vascular system. We’re undeniably connected, and I wouldn’t take it back now, now I get to figure out how to be real.

Wake up, wake up. Sleepers awake. Now, that I’ve dropped that little fantasy I inhabited all by myself, I get to decide how to love this person, or if I think this person even merits the energy. Is a sad, difficult man, who I thought I wanted more than all the last calls in Manhattan, is that guy asleep in my bed worth it? I can sit on the couch picking out the stuffing through the hole under the pillow and staring out the windows all night and my mind will never give me an answer I like. My mind says, “Run you stupid bitch before it is too too late.” My mind says, “You’ve already given up too much, there’s nothing in the future worth this sea change in your life. Go back to the girls you know and leave the devil you don’t know asleep.”

I just believed that one day, and I thought it was today, that I would look, see the person behind all that, and this person would still be kind, warm, loving, caring, beautiful, intuitive, sweet, passionate, and I would get to say the great big yes.

This excerpt appeared in Michelle Auerbach’s book, The Third Kind of Horse, available from Beatdom Books. Purchase yours today!

Michelle Auerbach is the author of The Third Kind of Horse (2013 Beatdom Books). Her writing has appeared in (among other places) The New York Times, The London Guardian, The Denver Quarterly,Chelsea Magazine, Bombay Gin, and the literary anthologies The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained (Baksun Books), and You. An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press). She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize. Michelle is an organizational storytelling and communications consultant and lives in Colorado with her partner and her three kids.

Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirty anthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Michelle Auerbach’s “The Third Kind of Horse”

Auerbach

Selection from The Third Kind of Horse

IN WHICH JOSE DIES (133-137)

My friend José died like his lover did, not quite alone in St. Vincent’s Hospital on Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. Hooked up to a breathing machine, it helped him as he drowned in his own fluid-filled lungs.

I was in bed in Brooklyn when the police called me. It was about the time my insomnia would have kicked-in anyway, but I was scared when the phone rang and jumped to get it before it woke Lawrence of Arabia. An unfamiliar and unkind voice said,

“Do you know a José Forte?” “Yes.” “You are listed as next of kin. An ambulance brought him to the emergency room at St. Vincent’s.” I always wondered what happened to all those forms we would fill out where we list who to contact in case of an emergency. I assumed that the police would use one of them to track me one day after I’d committed a crime. Killed the president, or better yet Senator Jesse Helms, as we were always plotting at lunch.

Sitting over take-out cannelloni in red sauce and garlic bread on the steps of the AIDS Hotline we would plan how someone already very ill and about to die anyway should kill Helms or the President. That way they would die before they had to serve a very long jail term. We had it all worked out.

We would not give the bad guys AIDS, since that’s what they 133Michelle Auerbach

thought we’d do. We would frankly take them out so that we could get someone in there, in charge, who didn’t hate faggots so much. Get the ball rolling on research, a cure, help. Anything.

It would go like this. Get a politically active cute, boy-toy looking fag to shoot Senator Helms at a public event. He can’t be too skinny yet, because cute is important. You might as well sell a lot of posters and T-shirts if you’re making a martyr. He then goes into prison and makes impassioned speeches, letters to the editor of the New York Times. His lawyer can be cute and gay, too. That would make for a good trial with lots of publicity. Maybe even a Broadway musical like “The Assassins” could be made about him. There are enough ACT-UP-ers who work on Broadway, it’s not farfetched at all. He dies before long, because he’s very, very sick, now in a martyr way. We lose a menace to society, and some pretty boy gets his fifteen minutes in jail with all the buff guys in the uniforms, and society gets educated about AIDS. It could work.

I figured that if I were tied to such a crime, they would call the next of kin listed on my apartment lease and get Artemis. Forget my parents and my brother. I never list them. Always Artemis and Sistah D.

“Do you know or have you ever known Lyssa Albert?”

I should remind them to hedge if anyone asks that until they can figure out what the call is about. That way no one will get dragged into anything they can’t handle.

Recently I’d begun to want to list Kevin. No one would know to tell my friend, who is not my lover, not my childhood best friends like Sistah D and Artemis, or my roommate, that I’m dead, incarcerated, or on the run. I would want him to know that something had happened to me. I wanted to list him somewhere as an emergency contact. Not to take care of me, but please contact him so that he will know something is going on.

That’s what happened with José. The police contacted me not because he got picked up for blowing some rich lawyer in the bathroom at Grand Central, though that happened in college once and I had to bail him out with a month’s worth of my food money, but because he called 911 and couldn’t breathe.

In the cab I pictured it from what the cops said. Hard to believe I was experiencing the New York police doing something actually helpful. He had a purple wall phone in his avocado green kitchen. “Fuck conventional wisdom,” the Fashion Institute of Technology decorating queens always say, you go for that purple phone, and you are just fierce enough to carry it off. But he was on the floor when they found him, with that phone in his hands. How did he reach the phone? Was he standing or crawling? Did he walk into the kitchen or was he too panicked? They didn’t say anything about a chair by the phone. They said he was on the floor.

So the chairs stayed around the red Formica table, the table where Kim, a male-to-female transsexual friend of ours cut her hand while slicing bagels one Sunday morning in college. We’d been out all night dancing and we went back to José’s to get something to eat and some coffee. My father often joked about the rate of bagel-related injuries in the tri-state area, and how many of them were goyim trying to be bagel, lox, and the New York Times Jews. His theory was that culturally in New York, just about everyone wanted to be an assimilated Jew. Somehow I don’t think he had a Hawaiian transsexual in a red sequined dress in mind when he said it. Though Kim was the ultimate New York transplant who absorbed the culture so well you would have thought she had an aunt stashed somewhere in a nursing home in Queens.

Kim sat there in awe as blood bloomed out of the cut, and then we all debated which towel to ruin. We had to take her to St. Vincent’s to get stitches. She cried the whole way to the hospital about filling out the forms because she didn’t know what to do. Could Kim legally put “she” in the sex blank of the Hospital intake forms when the reassignment surgery was complete but her driver’s license still said “he?” We convinced her to put “she” on the forms, that no one would notice the driver’s license, but for sure they would question her if she, looking gorgeous and very feminine, put “he” on anything. We were right. It was a triumph in Kim’s world, to pass that well, and after the stitches, everyone left the hospital for champagne at Florent.

It was different with José because he was alone and scared. No jolly band of well-wishers, just me, and I might not have been his first choice, but I was what he got.

I got there in time. José, the kinda pudgy queeny fag with the permanent roll of fat over his belt, who was always on the coffee ice cream diet, looked like he’d been on chemotherapy for six months. No hair, ribs showing in his hospital gown. I almost walked right by. Had to play it off like I was in a rush and just hadn’t looked down.

Luckily he couldn’t talk, because of the tubes. Saved us both the embarrassment of having to discuss how he looked, or what I was doing there. I held his hand around the IV for the antibiotics and wanted to call Sistah D, but every time I moved my chair a millimeter, he squeezed my hand tighter and I felt like I shouldn’t get up. How long was long enough before I could leave to find a phone? When was too early and therefore rude?

I never did get to call D. I sat for the rest of the night on the edge of the chair, mind wandering all over the place, my life, job, love, New York and how much I love it, but what a horrible place it is to be in the hospital, and then I got to watch José die while I held his hand and he looked into my eyes. What he found there I don’t know. All we really had together was a few years of going to clubs and staying out till all hours, and him trying to girl me up, and failing. He once insisted that I let him put make-up on me. Artemis was there, and he did her first. She looked fine. You can’t really make her look bad, even with too much eyeliner. Once José was done with me I looked in the mirror. I had smudges for eyes, green to bring out the color, and slashes of angry pink on my cheeks. He made my lips a violent shade of red, a bruise color that matched the popular nail polish of the day, which my mother called “blood-clot red.” I had nothing to say. He was just one of Sistah D’s hanger’s on. He never even made it onto the subway to visit me in Brooklyn once. We worked together but even then rarely did we work the same shifts, and he was always too busy to talk, since he had to take the Spanish speaking calls. I may have bailed him out of jail and shared an office and some kind of social circle, but were we friends?

I looked back and saw a person who was younger than I’d thought and scared, not wise like I expected. Death for José was not the experience of pure knowledge I read about. Not a voyage into bliss like yoga told me. He did not have the clarity and deep conversation I had seen with other friends, but maybe that was a function of how much we did not know about each other. In the presence of dying friends, I have learned some astute things about the world. José was scared and he was looking me right in the eye and I didn’t dare look away and he died alone, as we all do, but I held on tight and we didn’t say a word. I could feel whatever was essentially him slip out of his body and hover over us for a few minutes, taking things in, or letting things go. I put his hand down on the bed, because it was no longer him at all.

My chest expanded. Every breath felt huge and cold. There was laughter welling up in me that I suppressed lest the hospital staff think I was a cold bitch or crazy. I got the joke. There was a dead body in the bed I hardly recognized, but the José I couldn’t see, floating over me, was real and enduring. The fact that we are so attached to our bodies, these sacs of mostly water and ego, it’s a joke, it doesn’t have to be this way. José got it too. He was there, laughing with me, egging me on. Be fantastic, be more, be too much. Who cares?

When I left St. Vincent’s it was morning. I could see every car neatly outlined and definite as I walked east. I could feel each intake of breath, the temperature of the air, the stray paper bag that I kicked as I crossed the street was alive. I wanted to call Kevin, but of course I couldn’t. I wanted to do anything but be alone, not because I had found death scary, but because I wanted to celebrate. I walked over to Simone’s in the East Village and had rapturous sex. I poured all the light I could muster into her mouth as I kissed her. I touched her clit and it was an electricity conducting experiment where the current was so strong it flattened us on the bed. She went slack when she came and then looked at me with wonder. I wish I could have claimed that level of expertise, but really it was me and José, all the way.

 
This excerpt appeared in Michelle Auerbach’s book, The Third Kind of Horse, available from Beatdom Books. Purchase yours today!

Michelle Auerbach is the author of The Third Kind of Horse (2013 Beatdom Books). Her writing has appeared in (among other places) The New York Times, The London Guardian, The Denver Quarterly,Chelsea Magazine, Bombay Gin, and the literary anthologies The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained (Baksun Books), and You. An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press). She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize. Michelle is an organizational storytelling and communications consultant and lives in Colorado with her partner and her three kids.

Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirty anthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Michelle Auerbach’s “The Third Kind of Horse”

Auerbach

 

Selection from The Third Kind of Horse

LEAD A HORSE TO WATER (PAGES 65-66)

There is a Jewish proverb about horses. Actually, it may not be a Jewish proverb, but I heard it at a wedding at the Gay Jewish Synagogue and here it is: There are three kinds of horses, which are you? The first kind God leads to water and it drinks deeply from the cool stream, the second can’t be lead so gently but it goes to the water and eventually, with a lot of coaxing and some help drinks the water of life. The third, God drags towards the water and whips the shit out of and still the horse has not gotten a drink.

Most of us are the third kind of horse.

There I was, a lesbian, scared to death of women. I found myself in the middle of a crisis and I fell for this woman. How rosy. Then, in order to hang out with her I had to spend time with a bunch of really cool women and guess what? I felt inadequate. Could I enjoy it? Could I revel in it? It just made me feel like a loser. I would say that the Goddess was whipping the shit out of my horse ass.

I knew this was my own fault. I asked Simone to come to Sistah Double Happiness’ drag show when I ran into her with Artemis. She said yes and came. Artemis didn’t think I would do it. She had to dare me. I did a little prayer in my head and mumbled something. I worked with the woman. I carried on conversations with her all the time. I spent most of my life acting as if I wasn’t scared so that I could have a chance of getting what I want. Then I got it. Why should this night be different from all other nights?

With Simone all there was was contingencies. She was a trapeze of contingencies. The woman was a flying fucking circus of exes and breasts and shoes and minor fame and God only knows what. She was gorgeous, wrote articles for the gay press. Everyone below Fourteenth Street knew she was writing a novel, some lesbian murder mystery that takes place in the East Village and included everyone we knew. I simply followed in her wake as we entered the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and melted into the crowd.

I would not have come to the Women’s Committee. I would not have. I would not have. Enough men are dying. Demos are demos. Zaps are zaps, I’ve been arrested. I hate it. I do it, anyhow. I march in Gay Pride. I muff dive, okay, really happily and with vigor and some praise. I worked at the New York City Department of Health AIDS Hotline as my job all day all week, forty hours a week. I really felt I did not need to go. And yet there it was again in front of me, the lesbian world I wanted to join and never felt good enough to be a member. This was the Goddess and the whip thing. I was the third kind of horse.

 

This excerpt appeared in Michelle Auerbach’s book, The Third Kind of Horse, available from Beatdom Books. Purchase yours today!

Michelle Auerbach is the author of The Third Kind of Horse (2013 Beatdom Books). Her writing has appeared in (among other places) The New York Times, The London Guardian, The Denver Quarterly,Chelsea Magazine, Bombay Gin, and the literary anthologies The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained (Baksun Books), and You. An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press). She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize. Michelle is an organizational storytelling and communications consultant and lives in Colorado with her partner and her three kids.

Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirty anthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Michelle Auerbach’s “The Third Kind of Horse”

Image

Selection from The Third Kind of Horse

CHAPTER ONE, OR INTRODUCING LYSSA (PAGES 2-5)

I wanted to tell a romantic story, but this isn’t it. This was and is a dirty story. It’s pornography – or real life – or if I’m lucky, both. Romance might have happened to nice Jewish girls who lived in Brooklyn, but I wasn’t that kind of girl, not that kind of lucky, and I didn’t want that kind of romance. I wanted to find a girl walking around the corner when I was carrying my groceries home in the rain, the pink plastic Korean store bag winding around my fingers, banging against my leg. I’d have to stop every ten steps to unwind it. All that was in there was a package of tortellini, a head of broccoli, two carrots, a zucchini, a container of heavy whipping cream for my coffee, a cauliflower, and a jar of tomato sauce. I wanted so badly to encounter someone in the rain in Brooklyn who would come home with me and make some noise on my futon.

I’ve got nothing to do on that particular night; no AIDS Hotline staff meeting, no Thursday Nite Girls Nite at Boy Bar, no yoga, no coffee with a friend. Just Tuesday night on Eighth Avenue in Dyke Slope, Brooklyn. The wind was blowing rain in my face. My hair was the right length for every piece to whip into my eyeballs or my teeth.

The whole day was dingy. Twelfth Street was skanky dingy and every time I turned that corner, every time, I’m not kidding, I wondered if I’d make it to my door without getting gangbanged, robbed, murdered, or at least hassled by the guys who work in the auto repair shop under my place. What happened was that I got depressed wanting to live in the East Village. I’d been told too many times, “I don’t date girls from Brooklyn.”

Is this porn? Nah, not unless you count the fact that I used one carrot for steamed vegetables to go with my torts and sauce, and I used the other to masturbate. Those big fat carrots are cheap as hell and taste like nothing, but if the end didn’t taper so much they’d be perfect. Once, a woman took one of those out of the fridge and used it on me, still at thirty-eight degrees. That was a first date and a last date at the same time, but everything’s a turn-on for someone; you just have to find the right person to appreciate it. That was not my lucky night.

On the other hand, I was born with three trines in my chart and supposedly even one makes you lucky, extremely lucky. I have three, and Pluto passes my mid-haven in this lifetime, which means I will be important, or famous, or at least really lucky. This is all according to Sistah Double Happiness, who cares about things like fame and luck. And taught me everything I know, not much I admit, about being lucky.

I decamped to New York when I was eighteen, tender and smooth. I have a picture of my childhood friend, Artemis, and me standing at the top of the subway stairs at 116th and Broadway the day we moved to New York to go to college. We share a look of sly triumph; we’ve escaped from the suburbs and become importantly urban. We’re wearing matching sweaters, mine mauve and hers forest green – those were our anthem colors. We’re round, breasts and arms, young and succulent as cactuses after a rain; strange and lush. We shared a vision of ourselves as inherently urban, sophisticated beyond what Connecticut was ready for. Experience has allowed that vision to dissipate, leaving me an insider, and Artemis too, but maybe not insiders in the same New York as each other or the same New York we thought we were moving to when we left. At twenty-three I felt the need for another rain to plump the cactus, but I was a lucky New Yorker. I was making it.

I wanted to encounter this woman around the corner on Twelfth Street, take her home, and tell her my story. I imagine the perfect girlfriend: she would listen to me with Mother Teresa’s patience and then fuck like a high school field hockey player. She would smooth my hair back and tell me I was brave, not stupid, and she would kiss me. But I would know better.

Instead, I got home soaked and cold to make the tortellini, steam the veggies, heat up the sauce, and put it all in my grandmother’s big Blue Willow bowl. The bowl embodied the beautiful objects of my childhood in a drafty loft above a car repair shop. My grandmother told me there was a story on the bottom of the bowl; that if I finished my food she would show it to me. On the bottom was a willow tree with a stream running past. In the tree, two birds perch on a branch. My grandmother said they were sweethearts, turned into birds so they could stay together forever. “Somewhere out there,” she would say, “is your bashert, your intended, just like the birds in the tree, and you will be together always.” Easy thing to say when you had a marriage arranged for you by an old meddling matchmaker who found you a good boy who would take you to America and open a furniture store so that you could raise your children on the Lower East Side and eventually move to Long Island when they started building mass produced suburbs where you two could live together until he died and your now assimilated son moved you into the maid’s room in his house in the goyische suburbs.

As a kid, I lived in a house full of nice things I was not supposed to touch: vases and rugs and even rooms where my mother never opened the shades during the day because it would damage the fabric on the couches or the art on the walls. My grandma let me use her old Blue Willow bowl. After she died, it moved with me to college and to Brooklyn where we have no TV and no money for one, and not much heat either. This was all a source of pride. I was surviving in New York, after all, without asking my father for a stick of furniture. Then, wet from the rain in my cold apartment with its tar-covered patio – really the roof of the car repair shop, it was all okay because on a July afternoon when that roof has a few dykes sunbathing topless, it could be San Tropez. The bowl and the patio made up for the fact that we only had one window. We did have skylights, because it’s an artist’s loft, and I lived with an artist.

My roommate was cranky and she had issues. She worked my last available nerve, but she was not home, so I could eat alone and be cold and lonely with my bowl and my hair in a towel, relishing the fact that I saved a carrot for later.

Here’s the point – I knew my luck would eventually change. I knew because my chart said so, and Sistah Double Happiness said I have that kind of luck. I chose to believe Sistah D, because I always have. Even my grandmother, who could only imagine monogamous heterosexual partnership for life, who filled me with romantic notions, would say it couldn’t stay like this forever. Sistah D said I was lucky and my disasters would work out for the best. D did my chart over and over ever since high school and he always said the same thing: “You one lucky little dyke.” I didn’t see it that way. What I saw was me in Brooklyn, where I’d rather not be, in cold, wet New York’s late winter twilight, when the sun set at four and the exhaust from the cars covered my lone windowsill in soot.

At least I had the carrot to look forward to.

This excerpt appeared in Michelle Auerbach’s book, The Third Kind of Horse, available from Beatdom Books. Purchase yours today!

Michelle Auerbach is the author of The Third Kind of Horse (2013 Beatdom Books). Her writing has appeared in (among other places) The New York Times, The London Guardian, The Denver Quarterly,Chelsea Magazine, Bombay Gin, and the literary anthologies The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained (Baksun Books), and You. An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press). She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize. Michelle is an organizational storytelling and communications consultant and lives in Colorado with her partner and her three kids.

Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirty anthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.

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