They were girls. They whispered around each other like there was danger of being overheard. It was important to both of them that they felt private together, private friends. They tended to meet in vast fields, often full of waste, where no crowds would ever be. The older of them liked roller-skating, and felt secure on the skates only when the younger was holding her hand. She would skreetch childishly, whipping around her young friend in a circle, the outstretched support arm a moving spoke in her wheel. She also liked crawling on her hands and knees while the skates hung uselessly from her feet, wheels turning in the wind. The younger one would ride on her back sometimes, facing backwards, watching the wheels. The younger one liked to piss standing up, legs and feet wide apart. She would remove her pants and revel in the stream of piss splittering on the ground. The older one would turn away discretely while she took off her pants or put them on, but would watch while she pissed. The world they believed in was very small. Neither one of them cared to pay much attention to the other children, their parents, school, or books. They only focused on finding the space and time to be together. If a demonstration ever spontaneously gathered at one of the waste fields they frequented, they would just silently agree to leave and never re-visit that particular place. No speech would be exchanged, nor looks, it was just known and understood between them. No one really knew they knew each other.
They are women. They speak cheerfully to each other, knowing they are being overheard. Their husbands listen to them talking, straining to hear for any private information being exchanged, or even for the melody of privacy. Away from their building they only say hello and pass cordially. Where they really meet is the front lawn of their building, two perfect squares of grass bordered by sidewalk and a fence. They lay in the grass, in the late afternoon, while their two daughters play on the sidewalk. The sun is low in the west, shadowed by the building into distinct geometrical shapes of shade and sun on the grass. The younger lies on her back with her feet dangling in the sun, the older lies diagonally to her with only her face in the shade. Their two little daughters run up and down, their urine-jelly filled diapers bulging and distorting their body shapes. The girls pick up rocks from under the two decorative fir trees in front of the building, and throw them into the grass where they will later be found and spit by the lawnmower. They throw rocks at their mothers. The women loll. They wince when the rocks hit them, but they don’t move away or caution their children. The younger woman scratches at her dirty jeans, the crotch smell rising, a miasma. The ice cream bell rings in passing, the train can be heard from blocks away, but the women don’t listen; they steam and wilt, melting into the grass silently together. When the screech of the gate from the rear of the building signals the return of the younger woman’s husband, the women flutter their eyelids and roll onto their sides, coming to kneeling, for a moment like lumbering dogs awakening from a torpor. They gather their respective children, all without speaking, and go inside.
One day, a poster appears in the front window of the younger woman’s home, the window that overlooks the front lawn. It is a political poster, calling for the re-election of the incumbent. It doesn’t even fill the whole window, just a small blue rectangle in the lower corner of the building. The women come outside with their children, and everyone takes their places, women on the grass, children by the stones. This day, the older woman, hotter than usual, dressed in black polyester, must wipe the sweat off her face and neck. An ant crawls across her arm, irritating. As she shakes the ant away, her head turns slightly and the blue of the poster enters her peripheral vision. So she looks at it. This woman has extensive political credentials from her past, but the vastness of the problems, combined with the tedium of relating to the kinds of people who are involved in politics, drove her into submission and apathy. She never regretted leaving her righteousness behind. The sight of the poster is an electric shock. If the older woman had been speaking, she would have been rendered speechless. She stiffens, suddenly aware of the younger woman’s proximity to her. They are close together, close enough to smell one another.
The children are playing badly on this day, fighting. The older woman’s child is tender, sensitive, talkative, strange. The youngers’: a pistol, yelling, pushing, resisting her friends’ proffered kisses. They argue over the stones, who’s stone is whose, where to throw them, whether to hug. This conflicted play is not unusual, this is their way. The younger woman’s child throws a stone that hits the other child. Tears, the flop, there is a cut. This really would require the attention of the mothers, but the older woman is frozen in a paroxysm of unexpected emotion. The younger, who is pregnant, fries, placid, in the sun. The screech of the gate signals the end of the idyll, everyone knows their part and they pair off into the building as they have done before.
The older woman dreads mentioning the poster to her husband. He has no tolerance for the other side; considers it a defining factor of character, supporting those villains. She mulls it for a day and a night, surely he will see it soon, should she bring it up, or will he? She thinks back over everything leading up to the sight of this horror. The day the younger woman, then pregnant with her first child, knocks on their door in tears and asks, with no preamble, if the older woman thinks she looks alright in the evening dress she is wearing. Her belly swells, it is beginning to be the fashion to wear revealing clothes when pregnant, but her husband thinks it makes her look fat. The older woman likes the way it looks, she looks ripe and luscious, her long black hair and ample ass surrounding her belly like parentheses. She is complementary, reassuring. This is the beginning of a covert alliance, strengthened by the birth of the younger’s child, the older woman brings a lasagna, this is her ritual to all new parents, the hot meal. The husband, good looking, young, stiff, all white teeth and crew cut, accepts the lasagna graciously but without warmth. He is a youth pastor, the neighbors are not people of god, that is obvious, but they are kind and he can tolerate them. The new mother is more grateful, she is exhausted by the baby and is comforted by the presence of someone who has been through it before. She is not close with her mother, resents her litany of sacrifices, and likes the older woman’s off-handed practical matter-of-factness about the body, the baby, the world. The older woman is easy about things, the early medical scare where the young couple’s car won’t start and the older woman gives them the keys to her car without hesitation, the shy but burgeoning sharing of babysitting back and forth for quick trips to the store, the way the older woman calls the youngers’ baby Beautiful, like a name. A contentment with the slow growth of intimacy surrounds the two women like a glow, they are not friends, wouldn’t call it that, but they don’t really need to call it anything. No one out in the world would know they knew each other, but they recognized something together: that they had stepped over a line, firmly drawn, and could never go back.
All this the older woman pondered, worrying over the poster. She felt something had to be done, but couldn’t imagine what. Should she mention it to the younger? This felt so wrong, an intrusion, and not a part of the silent contentment they shared. She considered putting up a poster for the other side, but she and her husband hated the other side as well, just not with as much rancor and rage. She wasn’t for anyone, only against. And in a way, she respected the young couple for caring enough to put up any poster at all. The thoughts came in waves, she was awakened in the middle of the night by the certainty that their support stemmed from a Christian perspective, unquestioning and dutiful. This horrified her even more- they had a child and one on the way, how could they be so blind to the consequences of a re-election? Were they only ignorant? Or willfully bigoted? A day later, she sat in her car as the thought came: what could they possibly think of us? They must hate us, distrust us, find us suspicious. Are they judging us and even pitying us? The older woman found these thoughts so painful, she was taken by surprise. The grief was sharp, she wept. Her husband has only contempt, he acts completely in character, with pronouncements of the end of the children playing together, he must protect his child from the inculcation of these revolting, conservative ideas. The older woman argues for tolerance, a live and let live attitude that she doesn’t really feel. Her husband’s mother comes to visit, she is even more militant than her son, she considers putting up a poster over the one in the window, climbing on a ladder in the dead of night, just wiping out the offending beacon of wrongness. The older woman manages to steer her mother-in-law away from this strategy, focusing on the problem of what poster one could possibly replace the offending one with, for whom could one proclaim one’s alliance? There was no one.
Slowly the days pass, and the poster sits in the window, fading with the sun. The election draws near, the older woman feels the tension stretch and pull, elastic. She does nothing; only turns her back on the poster, like it is in a perpetual state of removing it’s pants, and she turns back only in time to watch the younger woman coming in and out of the building, growing large with the child inside her.