And now, the exciting conclusion of my summer foray into literary “erotica.”
“I was beginning to think you were avoiding me,” Birdie said as she opened her front door. “Come in.”
“Not avoiding, just busy. My cousins were in town visiting from the Tri-Cities.”
Birdie motioned Rosie to keep walking, through the kitchen and living room and into her bedroom. “Coco is in a mood. She’s been locked in her bedroom all day. Let’s avoid the drama in case she comes out.”
“What’s wrong?” Rosie asked.
Birdie climbed onto her bed and sat cross-legged on it. “She just gets this way sometimes. The doctors said she’s bi-polar. She’s takes a lot of meds, but mostly she pretends her mood swings are part of her artistic temperament.”
“‘Artistic temperament,’” Rosie repeated and laughed.
“I can’t fault her for it, though. I’ve got it too.”
Rosie leaned against Birdie’s desk. “An artistic temperament?”
“No, bi-polar disorder.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to treat it like a joke,” Rosie said to her feet.
“Don’t worry. It’s mostly under control. I take as many pills as mommy dearest, doctor’s orders, of course. Besides, I figure every good artist was either an alcoholic or depressed, so I had to fall into one of those categories,” Birdie said with a laugh, but Rosie couldn’t tell if it was sincere or not.
Rosie had never met someone diagnosed with a disorder. Most of the girls she knew in school worried about periods, prom, and pregnancy scares, or any combination of the three. She didn’t know what else to say to Birdie because she wasn’t used to such forthright honesty from people. Instead she looked at Birdie’s walls, which were adorned with dozens of framed paintings, arranged meticulously, like they were hanging on the wall of any big city gallery. Her eyes skimmed past landscapes and impressionistic paintings of nature, until they stopped on a clump of paintings above Birdie’s bed of a nude woman. Some were of her laying down, some of her sitting up, and one of her staring at her reflection in a mirror.
When she noticed Birdie had caught her staring, Rosie said, “Those are pretty.”
Birdie looked over her shoulder and at the paintings. “Yeah, she is beautiful. That’s my ex.”
“What does your mother think about that?”
“She thinks I have promise as a painter, but says I need to go to art school first and study it more.”
“No, I mean, what does she think about you painting nude women?”
“What do you mean, like is she offended?”
Rosie shrugged her shoulders as an answer.
“No, God no. When I was fourteen I told Coco I had kissed someone for the first time and that it was a girl. She asked me how it made me feel and I said confused, but happy. She told me to hold onto that feeling for as long as I could because feelings like that don’t last forever. From then on, she knew whom I preferred to date.”
Rosie sat down on the floor near Birdie’s bed. “You’re so lucky to have a mother like her. I don’t know what my mom thinks about anything because all she does is agree with my father, and mostly all my father does is say no.”
“Coco is great, but she’s not perfect. No parent is. Most of the time I feel like an accessory in her life, like another one of her pretty things. Coco lets me do what I want because most of the time she’s too busy doing her own thing. I don’t think she’s as much open-minded as she is indifferent.”
Rosie stared at her fingernails, as if they were a safe place for her to rest her eyes. Birdie scooted to the edge of the bed. “You don’t have to be afraid to be close to me, Rosie.”
“I’m not afraid,” Rosie said, defensively.
“I mean to sit close to me. You don’t have to sit on the floor like that. You can sit in my desk chair or on the bed. I’m not going to do anything to you. Look, I’m sorry I kissed you the first time we met.” She paused as Rosie stood up and sat on the bed beside her. “Actually, I’m not sorry I kissed you. I wanted to do it, so I did. What I am sorry about is that it offended you.”
“You didn’t offend me, Birdie. You just caught me off guard. I’ve never kissed anyone before.” Rosie said the last part quietly.
“Shit. I didn’t realize that. How old are you?”
“Sixteen,” Rosie answered, her eyes back on the ground.
“I guess I just assumed because we are close in age that you would have had some experiences by now. I’m sorry your first kiss had to be like that.”
“Don’t be sorry. It wasn’t bad. It was just different.”
“I always figured my first kiss would be with a boy. I had never really thought it would happen with a girl.”
“And you never really know if you’ll like something unless you try it,” Birdie said with that smile of hers that tended to drive people crazy.
“Do you want to have a sleepover sometime, Birdie? I don’t know if that’s something kids in Seattle still do or if you think it’s dorky or something. We could watch a movie, make some popcorn, you know, stuff like that.”
“Sure. Just don’t expect me to talk about boys.”
Birdie came over that weekend. Rosie had lied to her father and said that Birdie couldn’t come early for dinner. Rosie knew that at some point her father would want to sit down with Birdie, but Rosie wanted to keep that from happening for as long as she could.
“Dad this is Birdie, Birdie this is my dad.”
Birdie extended her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you sir.”
“You too,” he said and gripped her hand firmly. He scanned her up and down—the loose waves of her hair, her floor-length summer dress, and her sandaled feet, free of any nail polish.
“Well, we’re just going to hang out in my room,” Rosie said and pulled Birdie upstairs before either she or Rosie’s father could say another word. Rosie let out a sigh once she had closed her bedroom door. Now was Birdie’s turn to scan Rosie’s room—a bookshelf stacked with books in every direction, posters of bands Birdie didn’t listen to, and a big white bed, the kind with a canopy and netting draped down. Rosie followed Birdie’s eyes. “I know, it looks like a bed for a little girl. When I was twelve I wanted a bed to make me feel like a princess. My parents haven’t bought me a new once since.”
“It’s sweet, close to what I would have expected you to sleep in.” Birdie set her bag on the ground near the bed and sat on its edge. “Is your brother around tonight?”
“No, he’s avoiding you since I let him down gently.”
Rosie sat beside her. “I see. Sorry that you had to be in the middle of that.”
“No, I’m sorry you did. We don’t have to worry about it, though. It’s done. Hey, did you hear Mayor Hall suffered a stroke?”
“No. Is he alright?”
“He will be. They have him over in Yakima Memorial. I heard he’ll be out in a few days. I thought it was funny that the man who banned death is now the closest one to it.”
“Yeah, I wonder if the police could arrest him in the hospital for attempted death.”
“Oh, that’s terrible, Birdie. But you’re right, the whole thing is ridiculous. I wonder who will be the first person around here to die. I guess that will set the tone for how the government reacts, or if they really will. Can you imagine some poor widow opening her door and some government official slaps her with a big fine because her husband had a heart attack?”
“I can’t imagine it, but this little town seems full of surprises,” Birdie said with a smile that seemed to imply more than Rosie was ready to acknowledge. “I guess the whole town will be on death watch until someone finally bites it.”
“My parents kept the letter, you know the one everyone got in the mail telling us officially that we can’t die. My mom put it up next to her statue of the Virgin Mary. “
“I guess that’s reasonable. At least it makes her feel better.” Birdie scooted back on the bed until she reached the pillows. “So what should we do tonight?”
They lay side by side on top of Rosie’s covers and watched videos online. After a while, they picked out a movie to watch, which Birdie watched in hospitable houseguest silence. When a sex scene came on the screen, Birdie noticed that Rosie averted her eyes.
“Alright, stop,” Birdie said and sat up. “What is your deal?”
Rosie paused the movie. “What do you mean?”
“Are you that genuinely freaked out by sex that you turn away like we’re watching a horror film?”
Rosie sat up. “We were raised very differently, Birdie. My family doesn’t talk about sex. If my dad had it his way, I would join a convent.”
“But what about what you want?”
“I don’t know what I want because I’ve never been allowed to have it. I don’t really think about sex that often.”
“Bullshit,” Birdie said and fished through her purse. She pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
“You can’t smoke in here. My dad will smell it.”
“Not if we open a window,” she said and reached for the one nearest the bed. “You’ve got to push back a little, Rosie. Here try smoking; live a little.”
Rosie took the cigarette awkwardly in her hand and put it to her mouth. She inhaled, more than she should have for her first time, and started coughing. “That’s terrible. It makes my throat burn.”
“You’ll get better at it. You’ll start to like the taste more too, start to crave it. You just have to give it another try.” Birdie held the cigarette up to Rosie’s lips, in instruction. After Rosie inhaled, Birdie pulled it away and put it back between her own lips. Rosie closed her eyes and breathed deeply, leaning back against her pillow. Birdie blew smoke circles. “I’ve only been smoking since I was fifteen, barely two years. I stole one of Coco’s packs after another one of her and father’s royal arguments. I’ve been a bit hooked ever since. Of course Coco knows but doesn’t know. It’s another one of those things she’s good at seeing only out of the corner of her eyes.”
“Like with you and girls?” Rosie asked, her eyes still closed.
“Sure. She knows whom I’m dating, asks me questions about them, but doesn’t exactly go out of her way to invite them over for dinner. Maybe she’d invite you over, though. I think she likes you because you bake pies and grew up in a small town, real salt of the earth stuff. She finds that kind of thing, hmm, quaint.” Birdie put her cigarette out on the windowsill.
“Yeah, maybe,” Rosie said and nodded.
Rosie’s eyes were still closed and Birdie could tell Rosie probably felt a slight buzz from the nicotine. She sat up, rolled onto her knees, and leaned in to kiss Rosie. Rosie didn’t pull away this time, kissed back even. Her lips were firmly shut, the position of novice kissers. Birdie grew bolder, straddled Rosie’s thighs and parted Rosie’s lips with her tongue. She could hear the “hmms” from Rosie’s throat, felt her squirm between her legs. She remembered this feeling, the first time she kissed a girl like this—not like the first time, as a dare at a party, but after, on their walk home when they had joked about how “weird” that was and then found themselves pressed against the side of Birdie’s house. She remembered how confusing it had felt, wrong at first, but then not wrong at all, so quickly any feelings of guilt melted away as the other girl’s hands moved across her skin.
Birdie slipped her hand under Rosie’s shirt and slid it up her stomach and under her bra. Rosie didn’t stop kissing; her tongue replied to Birdie’s tongue’s circular motions. Birdie cupped Rosie’s breast and took the nipple between two fingers. Birdie wanted to laugh. She wanted to laugh because it had been six months since she had last done this and she was beginning to think she’d forget how it felt. She wanted to laugh because downstairs at that very moment Rosie’s father was probably watching ESPN and naively thinking his daughter and her friend were whispering secrets about the boys they had crushes on. She wanted to laugh because she felt ecstatic.
“Can we stop?” Rosie asked and pulled Birdie from her thoughts. Birdie pulled her hand out from under Rosie’s shirt. “This is too much. It’s too much for me. And I’m really tired. Can we just go to sleep?” She looked embarrassed, by the situation, by her response to it.
“Rosie, you don’t have to make excuses. It’s okay. I’ll stop. And sure, let’s go to sleep. I’m tired too.”
The girls got ready for bed separately, changed into their pajamas in separate rooms, didn’t talk about the kiss. Rosie slept on her side, close to the wall. Birdie turned on her side, facing Rosie’s back. She watched the movement of Rosie’s body as she breathed, felt the heat generating from Rosie’s skin. Birdie did not sleep well.
A few days later, Birdie’s mother returned to Seattle for the weekend. Birdie did not accompany her. Instead she joined Rosie at her house while her parents were at work.
“Come on, I want to show you something,” Rosie said and grabbed Birdie’s hand. She pulled her outside before Birdie had the chance to try and kiss her.
“Where are we going?” Birdie asked, clutching her sunhat to her head as they ran around the back of the house.
Rosie and her family lived in the outer part of Tieton, away from the new developments and the new wealth. The crowning achievement of their one-storey, three-bedroom, one-bath house was the garden. It was the one thing Rosie’s mother seemed to take real pleasure in. When she wasn’t at the bakery working or in the kitchen cooking for her family or at her Wednesday night Bible study, she sat with her knees in the dirt, shovel in hand, and created the only art she knew how. It’s the one thing Rosie truly respected her mother for accomplishing.
“Look at this,” Rosie said and swept her arm out, making sure Birdie took in everything from the raspberries to the cherry tomatoes to the plum tree.
“This is beautiful,” Birdie said and began to cry.
“Yeah, it’s my Eden,” Rosie said as she stared over the rows of produce. She turned and saw Birdie crying. “Birdie, what’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry, it’s just so beautiful.”
“Yes, but why are you crying? Are you okay?”
Birdie sat down in the dirt. She looked back up at Rosie who seemed to be considering whether to sit in the dirt beside her in her white sundress. “This isn’t me, I promise. Or, at least it isn’t the me I usually am. Coco went back to Seattle today and after she left I went to take my medicine. Only I realized they were all gone. I can’t fill the prescription without her. That’s why I’m like this.”
“When will your mother be back? Did you call her?”
“Yes, I did. But she’s not coming back until Monday. Coco didn’t even drive. I guess Thumper had to go over for the weekend for an art opening of his at a gallery in Pioneer Square, and he offered to give her a ride. She went because she has to ‘tie up some loose ends.’ That’s just code for her having to finish signing the divorce papers with my dad. I begged her yesterday to let me come, but she didn’t think it was a good idea for me to be in town when that happened. She didn’t want there to be a scene.”
“Will you be okay going the whole weekend without your medicine?” Rosie sat down and put her arm around Birdie’s shoulder, like a friend.
“I’m sure I will. I just haven’t been off my prescription since I first started taking these pills, and that was a year ago.” She remembered the day they took her to the doctor, after she and her first girlfriend had broken up, after her father had found out she had been dating a girl, after her parents found her in her bathroom with a razor in her hand. It wasn’t that she wanted to do it, she just found herself drawn to the act, the poetry of dying out of love.
Rosie looked around her garden, searching for something distracting to say. Her eyes settled on the watermelon patch her mother had planted two summers ago. “Did you know there is a type of watermelon called the Moon and Stars? The rind of the watermelon is a deep purple with yellow dots.”
Birdie looked up, laughing. “No, I didn’t know that.”
“They’re really beautiful, really strange looking, but beautiful. I asked my mother once if we could plant those instead of the regular watermelons, but she said they looked too ‘unusual.’ I didn’t think so. I would have liked a little bit of the heavens here on earth.”
Birdie palmed the tear streaks from her face and stood up. “Thanks, Rosie. I feel better now. Do you want to stay at my place tonight? I could use the company.”
“Sure, I could probably do that. I have to spend the rest of the day at the bakery with my mom. Do you want to come with us? I feel bad leaving you alone all day.”
“No, I’ll be fine. I promise. Besides, I have some things I want to do this afternoon. Just call me when you want to get together.”
When Rosie returned to her house that night, she found Birdie sitting on her front steps.
“Hey, what are you doing here? I was going to call you as soon as I came home.”
Birdie stood up. “Waiting for you. Where are your parents?”
“Out on their weekly date. They drove into Yakima for a movie. Let me grab some stuff from inside and I’ll be ready to go.”
“Wait, I want to show you something.” Birdie took Rosie’s hand and walked her around the house.
“What did you do, Birdie? Is that a paintbrush in your hand?”
Birdie smiled like a child bringing home her first art project. “I painted the watermelons for you. I’m giving you the moon and the stars.” They stopped at the garden gate and looked at the watermelon patch. The sun had lowered behind the hills, not quite set, but low enough to leave only the warm yellow glow of summer nights. The watermelons, now a deep shade of purple, looked black in the low light.
“My dad will kill you if he finds out.”
“So don’t tell him. Let him think Pedro’s friends did it, or some other kids. It will be our little secret.” She dropped the paintbrush and grabbed Rosie by the waist. “You don’t have to say thank you. Just kiss me.” She pulled Rosie to her and slid her hands onto her back as she kissed her. Their heads found complementary angles and Rosie opened her mouth to Birdie’s tongue. Birdie moved her mouth down Rosie’s neck and sucked at her skin.
“Birdie,” Rosie said, laughing, “You smell like sunscreen.”
Birdie stopped. “Is that okay?”
“Yes, I like it.”
Birdie buried her face into the space between Rosie’s neck and shoulder and took in her smell—sweat and cinnamon. Rosie put her hands on Birdie’s cheeks and pulled her face back to hers, initiating the kiss for the first time. “Will you take me somewhere tonight, somewhere away from here? Can we take your mother’s car?”
“Don’t you want to go back to my house?”
“No, it’s too nice a night to stay indoors. I know a place we can go.”
They drove to the nearby cherry orchard and parked the car off the road, partially hidden in a row of trees. Birdie laid down the blanket she had pulled from her bed and the two curled up on top of it.
Rosie lay on her back and looked at the star-hung sky. She could make out a few constellations through the branches of the cherry trees. Birdie pushed Rosie’s bent knees flat and climbed on top of her. She kissed her lips and then her neck and then her chest.
She kneaded Rosie’s thighs with a baker’s precision. Cherry empanadas, cinnamon-covered pan, galletas—Rosie’s family’s panaderia was filled with so many delicacies. Birdie’s mind wandered. So did her hands. Stray fingertips trespassed across lace-edged borders, momentarily connected with unkempt hair.
“Wait, Birdie, wait,” Rosie whispered desperately.
“Wait for what?” Birdie asked. She was met with nothing but a sigh.
Birdie pulled off Rosie’s underwear. Rosie tasted like watermelon juice dripping down chins. Like skinny-dipping. Like nights that are warm even after the sun goes down. Like playgrounds at night. Like swing sets. Like when your feet hit the ground after jumping off the swing.
Birdie thought she was very good at this, at moving her tongue around Rosie’s body, at sliding her fingers into her. She thought she was as good at this as she was at painting. She knew Rosie’s body like she knew her own, touched the same spots her first girlfriend had shown her. Rosie curled her toes and arched her back, opened and closed her eyes, stared through Birdie, bit her bottom lip. Rosie would understand her own body like this someday too, Birdie knew. She would understand the warm, wet feeling between her legs, what it meant to be different. Birdie would help her understand that she was beautiful just like this, naked in the grass, covering her mouth with both hands as she came.
They slept there, in the mostly warm night. It wasn’t until the early morning came and the dew forming on top of their blanket woke them. Their mouths felt warm and mossy. They did not speak.
Rosie stood first, still naked. She stretched her arms skyward; as they lengthened, the skin of her chest tightened and her breasts perked as if in greeting to the morning. Birdie said hello with her mouth, with her chapped lips, her chattering teeth. She wanted to put her fingers inside of Rosie again, to eat the cherries from the orchard and spit the pits out in competition. She wanted this spot to be paradise.
They dressed eventually, begrudgingly, and sat up on their blanket.
“I guess I always thought I was different,” Rosie admitted to Birdie.
“Of course you’re different, Rosie. This town, well this town is dead, but you, you glow.” Birdie spoke in a haze. She hadn’t felt this happy in a long time, probably before her parents made her take her pills. She felt cleansed.
They were kissing when Rosie’s father’s truck pulled into the orchard. They stopped when they heard the door slam.
“What the hell are you doing here, Rosie? Your brother and I have been driving around town looking for you all morning. Your mother is at home worried sick.” Pedro sat in the passenger seat.
Rosie jumped to her feet. Birdie stayed on the ground. “We decided to camp out.”
“In the Fosters’ orchard? That’s trespassing. You should be thankful I saw the car from the road before someone else did.”
“I’m sorry,” Rosie said. She didn’t look back at Birdie.
“What were you doing out here?” Her father asked without knowing, or maybe knowing, but not wanting to.
It was at that moment that Rosie realized she had not put back on her underwear. She felt them near her feet and stupidly tried to step on them to hide them. This movement drew her father’s eyes to the ground.
“Were you here with a boy? Where is he? You’re only sixteen.”
“She was here with me, sir. We spent the night together last night. The two of us.” Birdie stood as she spoke, grabbed Rosie’s hand.
Pedro opened the door of the truck. “Stay in the truck, Pedro. I’ll call you if I need you,” Rosie’s father said, his voice rising. “This is disgusting. You are disgusting,” he said with a finger pointed at Birdie. “What did you do to my daughter? You brainwashed her.” He held his hand out to Rosie, and when she didn’t reach for it, he grabbed it.
“She doesn’t want to go with you,” Birdie said as she lost Rosie’s grip. “She wants to be with me.”
“She doesn’t know what she wants. I’m her father, I know what she wants. Get in the truck, Rosie.” Pedro stepped out so that his sister could climb in. Rosie didn’t look at him. She didn’t look at anyone. Her father waited until the truck door had shut before turning back to Birdie. “I don’t know how your parents raised you or what kind of screwed up childhood you must of had, but that is my daughter, and you will not drag her into your sick ways. You will not speak to her again. You will not even look at her.”
“I’ll do whatever I want. I love her,” Birdie trembled, but did not back down.
His hand tightened into a fist. “You will never see her again,” he yelled. That’s when Birdie saw something in him she never saw from her own father, passion. The hatred Rosie’s father showed her was more emotion than she could ever remember feeling from her own father. He turned and walked back to the truck.
“I will not stop,” she called as he stepped into his truck. She stood there, shaking and holding in her tears until the truck pulled away.
“Daddy, please,” Rosie cried into her hands as they drove home. She wasn’t sure what she was asking for, mostly his sympathy.
“You are forbidden from talking to that girl ever again.”
“You can’t do that. You have no right.” She couldn’t look at her father.
“I am your father and I have every right. If you won’t obey me, I’ll take care of this another way. When we get home, you are to go to your room immediately and pack your suitcase. We’re leaving tonight for your uncle Tony’s house.”
At home, Rosie ran to her room. She didn’t bother to stop and talk to her mother. Her mother would not stand up for her. Her father stood in her doorway as she sat on her bed and cried.
“Start packing, Rosie. We’re leaving in twenty minutes.”
“I’ll pack, but you have to do one thing for me.”
“I don’t have to do anything for you. You have disrespected this family.”
“Please dad, I’m asking you for help. You have to get Birdie her medicine. She needs her prescription. Can you please call her mother?” Rosie pleaded.
“Nothing can help that girl, Rosie. All I can do now is try and save your soul.”
Rosie laughed at this. She couldn’t believe the words coming from her father’s mouth, couldn’t believe there was a time once when she thought he knew everything.
“Pack your things, goddammit,” Rosie’s father said and threw her suitcase on the bed. She had never seen anger like this in him, come to life like a dormant volcano. She had always felt a benign hatred for her father, but she had never before feared him. Rosie and her father drove out of town that afternoon, past the empty cherry orchard.
Birdie returned to her empty home. She tried calling Rosie’s cell phone, even though she knew it was useless. She suddenly felt very tired. She spent the rest of the day in bed.
On Sunday morning, Birdie rose early and dressed. She had made up her mind to go to Rosie’s house and try to reason with her family. There was no reason the two of them couldn’t be together.
Pedro answered the door. “What do you want?”
“May I please talk to Rosie?”
“She’s not here.”
“Will she be home soon?”
“No. My dad took her to the Tri-Cities to stay with my uncle for the rest of the summer.”
Birdie couldn’t think of a thing to say.
“So don’t come around here anymore. You’ve done enough to this family,” Pedro said, his voice beginning to rise above a polite tone. Birdie could see Rosie’s mother in the hallway behind Pedro. She caught her eye and tried to hold it, but she turned away.
Her eyes began to blur with tears. “I didn’t do anything but care for Rosie.”
“Rosie doesn’t need anything from you, you sick cunt.” He slammed the door.
Birdie felt tired of crying. Her tears were useless, but they wouldn’t stop. She needed to talk to her mother. Coco always knew what to do.
But Coco didn’t answer the phone. Birdie left a message. “Hi Mom, it’s me. I need to talk if you have time. I wish you could come home today.”
Birdie sat at the kitchen table. She ran her hand over the stack of mail in the middle of the table, across the ordinance from the mayor. She forgot that Coco had kept it. “Beyond the boundaries of earthly life,” Birdie read aloud. Her eyes stuck on the word “boundaries.” A few minutes later, her phone beeped with a text message from Coco: “Thumper took me to the new Tom Douglas restaurant last night. Gorgeous. Should be home Monday, but may stay through Tuesday. Will call later. Kisses.” Birdie set her phone down and then picked it back up. She scrolled through her list of contacts until she reached her father. They hadn’t spoken since before she and Coco left Seattle. Birdie breathed deeply and hit Send. After one ring the call went to his voice mail, which she knew meant that he saw her calling and ignored it. It wasn’t even his voice in the message, just the cold robotic recording announcing that the voice mailbox was full.
Birdie moved to her bedroom and began pulling her paintings from the wall. She heaped them into a big pile, smashing some as she threw them across the room. She turned to her art magazine and saw that she had left it open to Boticelli’s painting, to the garden. Birdie thought of Rosie. Rosie had been the woman in white; she had been pulled away from the garden by the dark figure. That left Birdie as the woman with the flowers. But Birdie had no flowers.
There would be other deaths, of course, other lawbreakers. Garrison Foster clutched his chest in the middle of his yard and felt his heart give out one more pathetic thump before he collapsed to the ground. Mrs. Foster turned from her rhododendron bush and screamed. This happened only two weeks after Birdie. Three months after that, Manuel Rodriguez would be killed in a botched robbery of his gas station. He hadn’t even taken his smoke break when the teen with a need for quick cash and a sweaty trigger finger walked through his door. These deaths would be mourned by the town, by families, and by widows. These deaths would be mourned and cried over and talked about on bar stools between sips of cold beer. But they would never be talked about like Birdie’s death was talked about.
“She was so young.”
“This is such a tragedy.”
“Only seventeen; she’s the same age as my boy.”
“You heard what she was, didn’t you? A lesbian. The damn dike deserved what she got.”
“A lesbian? I didn’t know they started that so young.”
“I guess the mayor better hurry up and expand that cemetery now. It would be in poor taste to fine that girl’s mother.”
“I heard the mother will have her cremated. Wants to spread her ashes in France. I think she’s leaving town too.”
“It’s just like Birdie to do something dramatic,” Coco had said at the funeral as she dabbed a tissue behind her large black glasses. Nobody in town had seen her eyes in the last few days, not since Birdie had driven to the Fred Redmon Memorial Bridge on I-82 and gracefully dove, head first, to the ground. Coco, now childless, put on her glasses each day before leaving the house because the sun was too bright for her exhausted eyes.
The day it happened, Rosie’s father had taken Rosie to stay with relatives. From there, he had made arrangements for Rosie to transfer out of Highland High School. He sent Rosie to a Catholic all girls’ school, Saint Mary of the Heterosexual Virgins, or something like that.
Rosie wouldn’t hear about Birdie until she came back for Christmas break, wouldn’t hear about the lovely artist’s swan dive until she begged her mother over breakfast one stale, gray morning when her father was at work. And even though far away at school she didn’t know, she knew. Losing your first love is like having your limb cut off. It can’t grow back.
Eventually Rosie came to like her school—an ironic punishment from a father who wanted to “make” her straight. The school challenged her academically, more than the public school had back home, and at night in the dark dorm rooms where all the fair maidens slept in a row, Rosie found her way into many different beds, her fingers into the warm places of fever dreams. She learned how to paint with watercolor and how to blow rings with her cigarette smoke in the field across from the school. She learned how to write a sonnet and all the wonderful tricks a tongue is capable of performing. And she was happy.