She sees Gillian loitering in the lobby just across from the ladies’ toilets, arms crossed, leaning against the wall.
“Going to the ladies’?” she says.
Gillian nods at the men’s room. “Waiting for Ryan.”
“Leaving already?” Vita asks.
“Turning into a young people’s party. Time to bugger off.” She shifts, juts her hip, rolls her neck, stares at her feet. Sometimes Gillian’s nervy intensity amuses her, and yet there are moments, like now, where it strums a deep, heavy chord within her, and she is so scared by that unerring echo within her chest that she yearns for the attenuation of this connection. For it is a connection, and one that she can no longer deny.
Gillian flicks a glance her way before locking eyes with the carpet again. “Can—can I talk to you?”
Vita regards her silently for a moment.
She imagines at this bleary point in the evening Gillian just wants to talk again about Ryan—that poor boy, having Gillian for a mother—and the girlfriend Gillian seems intent on disliking.
She turns toward the toilets, and Gillian falls into step beside her.
Given the number of females in the pub, the ladies room is miraculously empty. Gillian touches her arm and scans the room suspiciously, as if she’s checking it for secret assassins or surveillance bugs. Sarcasm is on Vita’s lips when Gillian places a hand on the small of her back, forcibly steers her into a stall despite Vita’s squawk of surprise, kicks the door shut, ignores another protesting syllable, pins her against a cold and hopefully not-too-slimy wall, and kisses the hell out of her.
It’s rough and hard, like the very first time they kissed. But this fierce, attention-grabbing flourish gradually transforms into something deeper, slower, and sensual, something that gets better and better, an ardent give-and-take that defies expectation. It’s a thousand kisses condensed into one, a book of a thousand pages fluttering to conjure the beauty of a single word, a thousand sensations distilled into one moment: the cold wall at her back, Gillian’s hands squeezing her hips—at last those beautiful hands have found a task worthwhile—and a sweetness like biting into an overripe fruit, and that thousand-page book is on fire, everything must be rewritten, reworked, retold because the fire, this fire, consumes it all.
Gillian’s head falls against her chest, and she whispers, “Is it—is it how you remember?”
Her lips brush against Gillian’s forehead and she strokes Gillian’s hair, as soft and fine as she remembers. Before she can say yes, and more, Gillian trembles against her and Vita realises she’s crying.
“Don’t,” Vita says gently. “Don’t cry.”
Then a commotion of young womanhood goes off just outside the entrance of the restroom, a fusillade of screeching and laughter like a warning shot, followed by a declaration against all mankind: God, he’s such a wanker! And Gillian’s disappeared like government funding for an arts programme before she has time to react, the door slamming behind her. Vita is too dazed to do anything more than register the splash of running water, the creak of the towel dispenser, the rush of ambient noise as the main door of the restroom opens and closes.
She stands there for what feels not an eternity, but rather more like a very long Joni Mitchell song. She slaps the wall with her hand, and her palm sings with pain. She retrieves her bag from the floor, takes out a compact. Her cheeks are red, her eyes unfocused, her lipstick smeared. The only thing she can rectify is the lipstick. She wipes it away with a tissue and, despite a shaky hand, reapplies it. In her recent life as an emotional wreck, she’s gotten rather skilled at remaking herself with a trembling hand. In every crippled stroke the art of self-deception. In every fragmented gleam the art of almost.
The girls outside finally pile into the bathroom, a garish cacophony of voices bouncing off concrete and tiles: So I said to him, do you really think I’m going to do that? I’m not stupid, you’ll put it on Snapchat…
When Vita comes out of the stall, silence thuds down like a theatre curtain abruptly dropped mid-performance; she’s more than accustomed to having that effect though. Three girls ogle at her with apprehensive fascination, which all but confirms that someone in the pub must have told them that she’s ‘the lesbian.’
Only moments after leaving the pub, a storm broke—some sort of filmic pathetic fallacy that left her fiery-cheeked and dazed on the journey home, quietly holding herself as lightning shot through the sky.
Later, alone in bed, she touched herself briefly, but found no satisfaction in doing so.
Raised simultaneously by David Bowie and Virginia Woolf, Natascha Graham is a fiction writer, artist, and screenwriter who lives with her wife in a house full of sunshine on the east coast of England. Her work has been previously published in Acumen, Litro, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Gay and Lesbian Review and The Mighty.