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Mimi's Valentine's Day
Not a fan of Valentine's Day? Neither is Mimi. But, as this extract from Lucy Ellman's super sexy noir novel shows, she's given a lot of thought to her reasons...
Mimi wasn’t crazy about Valentine’s Day though: she considered it only a shadow of its former glory, a fake and faded version of ancient fertility rites or something. “The only reminder of its real purpose is all the vulvas,” she told me.
“Yeah, all the pink valentine hearts.Those aren’t hearts, Harrison. You’re a doctor. Hearts don’t look like that, vulvas do! Open vulvas. They’re all a throwback to prehistoric vulva worship, that’s what those heart shapes are.”
“Prehistory.You know, before the Bronze Age.”
“Before the Bronze Age? Before the Bronze Age, missy, there was nothing. Nada. Zilch. Niente.”
“Before the Bronze Age, mister,” Mimi said,“we had two hundred thousand years of peace, music, dance, arts, agriculture, and goddess worship!”
“. . . Any cuckoo clocks?”
“People still act like the whole human race cracked out of an egg about five thousand years ago,” Mimi said, getting up and putting on her purple kimono.“They totally forget about prehistory.”
“I’m getting the feeling prehistory’s your favorite bit of history.”
“Sure,” she said, brushing her hair.
“But you can’t just pick and choose the bit of history you like best, can you?” I asked her.
She turned on me.“Why not? Men have!”
“I always knew there was something fishy going on, the way history’s taught in school. And then I realized: they leave out the first two hundred thousand years, and they leave out women! All they care about is male history, patriarchy—but that’s only been going maybe five thousand years. Five thousand years of teenage boy hissy fits, with sulks in between.What a mess.”
“Well, that’s an interesting perspective on the whole of Western Civ—”
“Everything was going swell, you know. Matriarchy worked! Then men took over metalworking and used it to make more and more powerful weapons...And then they domesticated the horse...”
“Gotta domesticate that horse!”
“Yup. It’s not horses’ fault, but from then on it was just rape, rape, rape, war, war, war, colonizing everybody and wrecking stuff. Everything became about men and their death wish.They colonized us too! We don’t even know what women are anymore, they’ve been suppressed for so long!”
I liked this dirty talk. I went over to colonize her, and we ended up back in bed, where she started to tell me about “pockets of matriarchy,” which at first I took to be a euphemism for vulvas— I was exploring her pocket of matriarchy as we spoke. But no, “pockets of matriarchy” turned out to be islands and other isolated, peripheral places in ancient Europe, where vestiges of prehistoric, female-centered cultures survived a bit longer than elsewhere, with remnants still apparently detectable now. Places like Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, Orkney, Ireland. . .
“Yeah? That’s nice,” I said, not fully concentrating (my head under the blankets, my tongue seeking out her peripheral spots).
“There are still signs of it,” Mimi said, “um. . . in folklore and customs, and ceramics. . . mmmm, Harrison. . . And there are these big bulbous Venus sculptures. . . in Malta and places. . . And vulvas, paintings and. . . Oh!”
“Any quilting?” I asked, mounting her.
“No. . . But. . . ahhh. . . cave paintings. . . Women did all the cave paintings, Harrison. . .” And then there was no more talk for a while.
“Pockets of matriarchy, huh?” I said later, getting dressed.“Sounds like pussy to me. No, not you, Bubbles!” And I grabbed Bubbles, holding her belly up like a babe in arms. She loved that. Some tickling was involved.
“Matriarchy’s a much more natural way to organize things,” said Mimi dreamily from the bed.“Without mothers no mammal would survive. Meerkats are matriarchal.”
“You want me to be a meerkat?!”
“Bubbles is a mere cat.”
“Well, I’m sure there’s a lot to be said for the Stone Age, Mimi, but all I know is, I wouldn’t want to have been born before Bach. And ASPRIN.”
When we eventually went out, the streets of New York were full of vulvas, just as Mimi had predicted: vulvas in every window, vulvas painted on the buses, vulva-shaped balloons outside restaurants, dogs with flashing vulvas on their collars, taxis sporting ads for vulva-related events. And every corny heart shape made me horny again for Mimi. I would never tire of this feisty gal.
We walked the High Line all the way down to the Village, so Mimi could pick up a few things from her apartment, then on to Washington Square to sit on a park bench. Things seemed a little less capitalistic and warlike there than in the rest of New York, if only for the moment. Some buskers were taking turns playing a baby grand they’d somehow wheeled into the square, and a bunch of students were standing stock-still in the middle of a path, never flinching, for reasons unexplained (a very strict form of Simon Says?). Washington Square was our new spot—we were middle-aged after all, and liked looking at dogs! (From afar that is—neither of us wanted to own one.)
“So, if women handled everything in the Stone Age,” I began, “and men took over in the Bronze Age—”
“Iron Age,” she corrected.
“Then what Age are we in now? I guess it must be the Nuclear Age...”
“Nah, the Diet Age,” Mimi decided, as a huge, fluffy, perfectly white Samoyed puppy rode by in a small shopping cart. “All anybody wants to conquer now is their stomach.”
Next, a basset hound lumbered valiantly by. How do they manage to walk at all? Four marvelous black standard poodles came the other way—curly-haired and not overly trimmed: true urbanites.
“I think it’s the Front Age,” I grumbled, “with all the boob-jobs I have to do.”
“This is BIG, Harry.It’s just like Rear Window!” Bee exclaimed when I called her later to tell her about Mimi.“You know, when Jimmy Stewart can’t decide about Grace Kelly—”
“Nobody can decide about Grace Kelly.”
“And Thelma Ritter says a man and a woman should come together like a couple of taxis on Broadway: WHAM!”
“Well, I knew something was up.” Bee always knew when I fell in love with somebody, because I’d forget to call her. But we had to talk on Valentine’s Day, no matter what. Bee and I had a thing about official public holidays and how stupid they are—especially since Nixon changed all the dates around (what a nerd). But we made an exception for Valentine’s Day, because Bee had claimed it as her own, reclaimed it from all the marketers, greeting card companies, restaurants, and anonymous stalkers. Bee wanted to get Valentine’s Day back to the friendly affair it was in childhood—when you’d send cards to everyone in your class, stuffing them into a communal cardboard mailbox, and chosen pupils got to do the deliveries— back when Valentine’s Day was fun. So over the last twenty years, Bee had turned Valentine’s Day into her own personal art project, and every year sent out hundreds of valentines that were really little works of art. She used a lot of found materials. One year, just a bus ticket (she must have saved them up for decades) with the message, “Come up and see me some time, Valentine!” Another year, all you got was a stick of Virtue gum: “Stick with me, Valentine.” Or a little packet of cloves: “I clove to you.” One of my favorites was a wilted petunia stuck on paper inscribed with the pun, “Bee-mine.” This year, she’d sent out tea bags, with a note saying, “For you to keep or steep, Valentine.” Given the recent shooting in Tucson by a guy inflamed by right-wing propaganda, I told Bee the note should have said, “Some Tea Party this is!” But that wasn’t Bee’s style. Her valentines were sweet and quirky, not bitingly satirical.
She wanted to return to the subject of Mimi, and when I told her that at a crucial stage in our courtship I took Mimi to see some Matisse, Bee said, “Well, of course! The guy’s an aphrodisiac. All pattern, light, and color.The artist of the middle-aged—”
“The Middle Ages? I don’t think so.”
“The middle-aged. I don’t mean he got mellow or soft or something. I just mean he’s got the preoccupations of the middle-aged, like plants, warmth, comfort. . . Why else does everybody get obsessed with cooking and gardening in middle age? And art. All the stuff you’re too busy to appreciate when you’re young. Luxe, calme et volupté.You finally know what really matters in life. Nature. Love. Food. Flowers. Sex. . . ”
“Sex! Those goldfish? Come off it!”
“The odalisques, Harry, the odalisques! All those half-dressed women, lounging around taking it easy. Stretching their arms up over their heads. Those women are sex on wheels! And this is what you realize in middle age, that life is about pleasure, that’s what it’s for.”
“Jeez, all I get are people worried about their jowls!”
I tried out Mimi’s valentine-vulva theory on her: Bee said she’d keep it in mind for next year’s valentine. “It’ll be a doozy!” she declared. Bee was thrilled I’d finally found someone I could laugh with. “But Mimi? Isn’t it a bit like dating Tosca, or Violetta,or some other doomed damsel of stage and screen? She doesn’t run around in a nightgown, does she, looking all hollow-eyed?”
“No sign of any nightgown yet,” I said proudly. “Though she does have a kimono. . . ”
“Ah, Madame Butterfly then!”
“Sorry Bee, gotta go. Call waiting.”
Sometimes Bee did anything to keep me on the phone. She was lonely over there, I guess. I didn’t ask her about her sex life— Bee’s amorous activities since her disastrous marriage to Hunter had been pretty minimal or, like her valentines, ephemeral: none of her men seemed to last more than a couple of weeks.
When she met Hunter, she was a few years out of art school and, like most art graduates, doing art in her spare time while waitressing. It’s amazing how many women stick with waitressing as a career, women probably as talented as my sister, women yearning to paint or dance or act, but nobody’ll let them (or pay them) so they’re stuck carrying plates, announcing specials, and getting goosed the rest of their days. But Bee must have been pretty desperate to think marrying a cop was the answer! The marriage reeked of self- delusion from the start. She gave up art completely to be with that jerk and live on Staten Island within yelling range of his entire family. The time had come to either get serious about art or run for the hills. She ran. There was nothing I could do about it; those were my propofol days, followed by my Rosemary days. None of us knew what we were doing, we were in our twenties for godsake. And Bee didn’t seem to want anything to do with me anyway, which I interpreted as a sign that she was deeply in love, so I left her to it. Rosemary and I only went out to Bee’s place once, for a barbecue with all the family. Hunter was in charge of the food.
“Who wants a hot dog?” he kept asking. “Nobody?”
Yes, NOBODY. Hunter’s nephew was there, this tiny little kid just starting to talk. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and the kid said he wanted to be a girl. So Hunter whirled around from his manly post at the grill and said he’d break thekid’s leg, which his whole family seemed to find remarkably funny. Apart from the nephew, who started crying. Rosemary and I left as soon as we could—left Hunter to his hot dogs, and Bee to her blinkers. I never saw the creep again. A few weeks after the barbe- cue, Bee called me up and admitted Hunter had been hitting her for months, under the approving gaze of his barbaric relatives— while I’d attributed her strange muteness to love. But why, when my work at the ER brought me into daily contact with women with that same blank look, who’d all been beaten to a pulp by guys like Hunter? And she was still defending him (those women did too): “He has a tough job,” Bee told me over the phone. It was only the incident with the nephew that had brought her to her senses.
I took the day off and rushed over to Staten Island to help her get out of there before Hunter got back from his “tough job” pushing papers. After that, she seemed to sit for weeks at my little kitchen table, telling me things he’d done that I still can’t bear to think about, like the time he picked her up by her heels and threw her against a wall. I wanted to kill the asshole, but Bee wouldn’t even report him. Cops don’t like accusations against cops, she said—my big strong sister who was now scared of going outside, scared of crowds of people and big spaces and loud noises. I had to content myself with the fact that she was safe at least, since the jerk never showed any interest in hunting her down, content to despise her from afar I guess.
For the first few months she was quiet, too quiet. But then she started up with the Bach solo violin partitas that got her through adolescence, and the more three-dimensional they became, the better I knew Bee was. Soon she was sculpting clay monsters. Then she started making these very artful arrangements of junk. They filled my whole apartment (a smaller place than I have now). I never knew why she did those things, but I bought a few pieces off her anyway, just to cheer her up, and eventually she was able to get a studio in Queens, where she could live and do art. And once she was there, she got to work proving all her old teachers and her dissatisfied father and her asshole of a husband WRONG, WRONG, WRONG about Bee.
Within a year she had her first solo show in a one-room gallery in New Jersey somewhere: round, flattened disks of fired clay that formed paths all over the floor. They looked like individual pieces of dried-up desert soil, about a foot wide, cracking around the edges, and people were supposed to take their shoes off and walk on them. The show got closed down pretty fast for safety reasons— big outbreak of athlete’s foot, sprained ankles, who knows? But I think of those crazy cowpats now like Beethoven’s “Heiliger Dankgesang”: Bee’s stepping-stones out of the abyss.
I hung up on her reluctantly, but I really did have another call, and thought it might be Mimi. It wasn’t. It was Gertrude, probably phoning to find out if I was wearing my days-of-the-week socks on the right day. Even though she called less now, she still had a knack of calling at just the wrong time. Lately I’d managed to avoid a lot of these Gertrusions by being at Mimi’s, or being in flagrante delicto and not answering, but she’d caught me off-guard this time. What was she after?
I tried to be kind, and was able to listen to her news of Claude with genuine interest. He was starting kindergarten, but Gertrude wasn’t worried about his being ostracized. She was more concerned about how to get him straight from there into Yale. She’d already bought a duplex in New Haven in anticipation.
“But what if he ends up wanting to go to Columbia?” I asked.
So then she finally came out with it (the real reason for calling): “I really just wanted to say Happy Valentine’s Day, Harrison!”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Gertrude,” I replied. Talk about damsels in distress!
Later on, Mimi and I shunned all the pink-menued restaurants to eat at home. She was starting to make good use of my kitchen, and that night cooked me her specialty: Amatriciana, a matriarchal dish, she claimed, made from guanciale, chili and tomatoes, or “love-apples.” Tomatoes are an aphrodisiac. (My mother never said!)
I hadn’t gotten Mimi a Valentine’s Day present. “I’d give you the moon,” I told her apologetically. But it turned out she already owned it.
Mimi on the moon landing: “Women were in tune with the moon from the start. Menstruation’s a lunar cycle. Prehistoric women invented the first calendar, a lunar calendar with thirteen months. You have to understand the moon if you’re gonna farm, or fish. Or follow the tides and stuff. Then men turned the moon into a bad thing, trashing the lunar calendars, and adding all that leap year crap. The lunar calendar is much more exact: there really are thirteen months in a year! They even turned the number thirteen into an unlucky number! And then they go bouncing around on the moon itself ? Get off ! That place belongs to us!”
“Don’t go to the moon, Mimi.”
As Mimi stirred her sauce, which, despite her disdain for corniness looked like a pretty classic Valentine’s Day dish to me—rich, red, and velvety—I started telling her about Bee and her English patrons, and how she never wanted to go to England in the first place.
“What does Bee stand for anyway?” Mimi asked.
“Ah ha, ancient goddess of springs and waters.”
“A goddess? My sister? Well, what about Harrison then?” I asked winningly.“What does that mean?”
“Patrilineal, sorry. Doesn’t mean anything except Harry’s son. Retrograde.”
“Tell that to Harrison Ford!”
We ate in the dining room, looking out at the sparkling lights of other Valentine’s Day celebrations in a million other apartments, then went into the living room with another bottle of wine. Mimi sat on the window seat patting Bubbles’s head in a way I vaguely envied, while I played Scarlatti on the piano. During a melancholic Scarlattian pause, Mimi suddenly said, “Why don’t you help her?” My thoughts raced involuntarily to Gertrude, whose phone call had left a shadow over my evening, but Mimi wasn’t interested in Gertrude. She must mean Bubbles.
“Bubbles?” I asked.“What’s wrong with her?”
“No. Bee,” she said firmly. “Why don’t you give her some money?”
“She’s a struggling artist,” Mimi went on. “You’ve got some spare cash, I take it. Why don’t you help her out?”
The idea had never really occurred to me—Bee was my big sister, after all, always one step ahead of me in the world. Sure, I’d buy lunch, or a sculpture now and then (and put it straight into storage), but that was about it.
“I guess I thought she might find it. . . sort of patronizing,” I mumbled feebly. “Bee’s older than me. It might, uh, change the dynamic.”
“Aw, she’ll get over it,” said Mimi.
And then she did come pat my head, as I’d wanted her to, and soon I had her on my lap, in my power, with my hand in her pussy, exploring her, imploring her, possessing her, making her go limp in my arms.
Taken from Mimi, by Lucy Ellman