During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.
by Lori Ubell
(Trigger Warning: Mentions of rape, abuse.) A writing professor in college told my short story class that flash fictions and short stories need to be an inch long and a mile deep. Blaise may be only a thousand words, but those thousand words do a lot of work to paint a very vivid picture of a very troubled person in a horribly realistic situation. 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQ, and they face greater risks of mental health issues, unsafe sexual practices, and victimization [True Colors Fund]. Ubell's writing is gritty and unflinching in its telling of Blaise's life experiences. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor
She looked like a stone butch, but it wasn’t that simple. She was a twisted girl who could only come with her clients, none of whom were female.
Not that her lovers minded. She could certainly make them come. And she was so handsome, with eyes the color of a ripe bruise, and a smile that made you hot from your neck down to the tips of your toes.
And strong. So strong she could split a log with one blow. So strong that if she held you down, you couldn’t get up, no matter how fit you thought you were.
She preferred girls from the upper middle class, and she never let them whore.
“You couldn’t stand it, not for one day,” she’d say, as she packed that little bag with the red silk underwear she never wore at home. Then she’d be gone, for a night or a week, coming back exhausted and more silent than usual.
After a long bath, she’d emerge and dig a wad of cash out of the bag.
“Here, darlin’,” she’d say, tossing it on the bed, “for you.” She wouldn’t talk about what she’d done for it, but the girl always knew.
And sometimes, in bed, she’d imitate the men, and they’d both laugh so hard that life seemed good, at least in that moment.
But the rages came without warning, and they were terrifying.
At first, you’d just hear about them.
Late one night, she threw her bicycle through a plate glass window downtown. No one saw, but it made the 11 o’clock news. It was in the days of the Weather Underground and Baader-Meinhof, and the newscaster speculated about what it could mean.
What it meant was that Blaise’s bike had a flat, and she was walking it home when a guy started hassling her.
“Hey, what are you, a boy or a girl? Hey, bull dyke, wanna fight? Hey, chickie, wanna play?”
He was young and not especially big. Blaise knew she could take him, but she didn’t want to fight, not downtown at 2 am, so she kept walking.
When he said, “Just give me the bike, and I’ll leave you alone,” she turned around and spat in his face.
“You bitch!” he screamed, and grabbed the back wheel. Blaise was quick in those days, and she yanked it away, heaving it through the window of a men’s haberdashery.
Alarms went off, and she and the guy ran in opposite directions.
“But now you have no bike,” said the girlfriend, looking up at her with big brown eyes. “How will you get around?”
“You can buy me one, can’t you?”
The girl could, and did. Not with Blaise’s money, because that money always disappeared, spent on dinners out, and pounds of pot, and the occasional rock concert. But the girl, a student, had a large allowance from parents far away. So Blaise got a new bike, and no one ever knew what happened to the window downtown.
That girl didn’t last, and neither did the next. It got colder, and Blaise got more desperate. By the time I met her, her smile almost never showed.
I was in a reckless mood, wearing dress and heels to the bar in a time when the normal garb, both butch and femme, was jeans and a flannel shirt. I was tired of that, and tired of going home alone.
“I’ve heard about you,” I whispered in her ear as I linked my arm through hers.
She looked down at me, eyes glittering with lust and narcotics.
“What have you heard?”
“That you’re the best fuck in town.”
And plenty more, but it seemed irrelevant.
“What do you want to do about it?”
I dragged her home and she stayed.
For weeks all we did was laugh and fuck, eating Popeye’s chicken when we got hungry. I didn’t answer the phone, and the only mail I opened was the unemployment check.
One day she said, “I have to work tonight.”
I knew what she meant, but I made her tell me. I could always get her to tell me things.
So she went to work, coming home the next day at noon, with swollen lips and a dark scowl.
When she’d cleaned herself, she said,
“Let’s go out to eat.”
And over dinner, she told me the story of her life. How her step-father had raped her, and her mother had thrown her out, saying, “Why don’t you tie a bed to your back?”
It sounded grim, but it was the sixties, and Venice Beach was filled with runaways and throwaways. She learned to steal. She learned to whore. She bought herself some roller-skates, and skated up and down the boardwalk, plying her trade. Some bad things happened, but she shrugged them off and went on. What else could she do?
“Why didn’t you stay down there?” I asked.
“My mom’s up here,” she said. I blinked. I couldn’t believe she wanted to be anywhere near that woman.
None of her friends knew her real name, or that she had a mother who lived on skid row in an SRO, or a sister in foster care somewhere in California, but I did. I even met the mother, who said to me, “Better keep Sherine around at least 'til spring, so she can keep chopping your wood.”
When the bill for this knowledge came due, I nearly couldn’t pay it.
It was 3 am, and Blaise had been gone two days. I woke up to a knife at my throat. She wore a stocking over her face, and I didn’t know it was her until after she’d bound me and made me cry out against my will.
I forgave her, but for her it was over, and she moved on. The next girl got beaten so badly she ended up in the hospital. I lost track of her after that.
Years later, when that Dire Straits song came out, you could almost believe it was about her. The only movie she ever made, though, wasn’t on location, but in a crappy motel at the edge of town. If that 8mm still exists, it shows, in grainy black and white, a girl being gang-raped. And if the cameraman happened to zoom in on her face, he captured the last time tears ever fell from those long dead eyes.
An out lesbian since adolescence, Lori Ubell's own experiences inform this story. She studied writing with James Frey (How to Write a Damn Good Novel), Dorothy Allison and Emily Whitman. She belongs to a critique group which meets twice a month and has been on-going for about two years. She's am an active member of SCBWI, Willamette Writers, and the Historical Novel Society. She's published poetry, short stories and non-fiction in both regional and national publications, including Parade, Hadassah, Lilith, The Oregonian and Calyx.