Beyond The Closed Door

KATY REACHED JOSEPHINE’S door and saw that the woman had pulled it shut again. She let out a little sigh and looked down the hall as different families of the manor’s residents began to leave. Children squealed as mothers attempted to make them behave. One little boy started running and accidentally knocked a row of plastic Thanksgiving turkeys off a table. Katy looked at the door in front of her, understanding the reason why it was closed. Josephine hated children.

From what Katy gathered the six months she’d worked there, the old woman was quite feisty. It seemed nobody could tame her, and many tried, though they were mostly resident males looking for love in their last days. Jo seemed to enjoy flirting with the wrinkled old men. She’d smile affectionately at them, wearing her best jewelry, and even pay them compliments. But as soon as their gentle teasing began to turn serious, she would shut them out and retreat, her apparent game over.

Jo’s last victim had been Simon Walker, and Katy had spent the better part of her weekend trying to cheer the old man up. When she tried to talk to him about what happened, all he did was frown and say: “She’s just a damn hussy.”

Katy knew he didn’t mean it. He’d had tears in his eyes, the poor thing. Yes, Josephine was an enigma, and one that sparked Katy’s interest. Since being a little girl, Katy had an eye for the unique. That was why she had decided to become a writer—that was, if she could get through college and get published. Until then, she was stuck here, dealing with closed doors.

Placing her fingers on the handle, she hesitated, hearing a vocal melody from within the room. She opened the door slowly, quietly, and saw Josephine sitting by the window, humming an unintelligible tune. Her room was small, simple, as all the rooms were. A little out of the ordinary was a tiara placed atop her dresser. More normal decorations were pictures of old friends and family, one of which was her son she’d been waiting for all day. Austin still hadn’t showed up yet, and the Thanksgiving meal had been two hours ago.

Josephine didn’t seem to notice Katy’s entrance, her eyes apparently entranced with the beautiful courtyard foliage that had been painted a rich red and gold by nature’s autumnal brush. The old woman hummed, her slouched body wearing a set of pale pink pajamas with frayed hems. She had pulled her hair up, but several messy strands fell down the side of her face. Katy noticed she’d also put on her makeup like an artist. For the first time, the young woman really started to wonder what Jo might have looked like in her younger years; possibly quite beautiful.

Katy stepped into the room. A turquoise shawl drooped off Josephine’s frail shoulders—she’d fought tooth-and-nail with Katy earlier about wearing it. She said it was “ugly as hell.” But Katy insisted the woman needed the warmth and thus won the fight.

Figuring she’d better go ahead and do it now, Katy interrupted Jo’s humming.

“What song is that?” she asked. “It’s pretty.”

Josephine stopped humming but didn’t turn around and didn’t speak.

“It sounds familiar,” Katy said, walking over to the old woman.

They made eye contact.

“You know,” Josephine said, “I can’t remember. Might’ve been something I made up, maybe not. It all jumbles together nowadays.”

Katy let out a little laugh. She noticed the tray of food, the entrée untouched, the pumpkin pie merely nibbled on.

“You didn’t eat your Thanksgiving dinner?” Katy asked.

Jo looked out the window again, her lips pressed tightly together.

“You didn’t even like the pie?”

“No,” said Josephine. “It had whipped cream on it, and I hate whipped cream.”

“I see.”

“And I don’t want to wear this thing anymore, it’s ugly. I don’t care if I’m cold. Take it. I’m tired of wearing it.”

She handed the turquoise shawl to Katy, who reluctantly took it. Jo could be so stubborn. Katy stood up and walked to the dresser. She opened the middle drawer and placed it inside, then casually searched for another item of clothing that might keep the old woman warm. Loose silky underpants, flannel button-downs, white socks. She was about to go for one of the flannels when she noticed an old manila envelope at the bottom of the drawer. On it were scribbled the words:

Josephine, 1956

Curiosity flooded her thoughts. Josephine stared out the window again. Katy’s hands crept to the worn envelope’s opening and slid out the contents. Her heart jumped into her throat. Nude photos. Nude and provocatively posed of a gorgeous blond woman—a woman that had to be Josephine.

Blushing, Katy nervously shoved the pictures back in their hiding place and shut the drawer.

“Did you like ‘em?” Josephine said.

Feeling her neck heat up, Katy said, “Like what?”

Josephine laughed and turned around. “My pictures.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—I was just looking for something to put on your shoulders, and I was just—”

“They were taken by my fourth husband.”



Katy raised her eyebrows. “How many times were you married, if I may ask?”

“I lost count after five—I’d rather forget all of them.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Honey, it’s okay.” Jo was really smiling. “I had a life before moving to this shit hole, you know. I could tell you stories to blow your socks off.”

“Well, I’m sure you had relationships just like everyone else—”

“Yeah, and I even fucked like everyone else.” She grinned. “Though I’m willing to bet not many people did it on a pool table, or a public restroom, or with two different guys in one night.”

“Oh—um—probably not.”

It seemed strange to Katy how surprised she was at all this. She knew Josephine was human and hadn’t always been so old. Still, it was hard at times to realize it when all she saw day in and day out was a grouchy, wrinkled old woman, staring out the window like a corpse. She wanted to inquire into Jo’s obviously colorful past, but wasn’t sure if now was the right time. She had work she needed to do. But Jo, for the first time since she’d met her, looked amused—mischievous even. She looked like she wanted to talk.

Not sure what to do, Katy let her eyes wander around the room. She noticed a large, framed star certificate up on the wall.

“Someone bought you a star?” Katy asked, her interested perked.

“Yes,” said Josephine, her voice softening. “Someone very special.”

“I bet he was really romantic.”


Katy turned. “I beg your pardon?”

“She. Not he. She bought me a star. And yes, she was very romantic.”

Katy sat down on the edge of Josephine’s bed, looking at the woman with new eyes. How intriguing. She could see the connection now; see hints of the woman that once was. It was in the slight upward curve of her lips, the twinkle in her eye, the prominence of her cheekbones.

“This woman,” Katy said. “Was she your—”

Josephine stared at her with knowing eyes.

“She was the last woman—and person—I ever loved.”

Katy looked at her, waiting. Jo continued:

“I’d fallen for a handful of people in my life, like we all do. Different stages of our life, we love different people in different ways for different reasons. She used to say that I was her reason for living. And that she’d waited her whole life to find me.” Josephine looked down into her lap, her smile fading. “I knew it was the same for me. But I couldn’t tell her.” She looked at Katy again. “Do you ever look at yourself and wonder how God could let certain people into your life, when you know you don’t deserve it?”

“I think I know what you’re talking about.”

“Well, you’re young, you still have a long way to go.” She let out a sigh and gazed once more at the falling red oak leaves. “This woman and I were soul mates; in the truest sense. Sometimes I think she was an angel.”

Katy saw that there were tears in Josephine’s eyes. Still, the old woman went on:

“And I know you’re wondering. She’s gone now.” Her voice sounded hard, distant. “I was with her when she died. We always thought it’d be the other way around, but it wasn’t.” She found her smile again and placed a cold, frail hand on Katy’s knee. “If you get anything out of this conversation, I hope you remember that life really is too short to give into pride. I’d give anything to have her back and tell her just what she meant to me. At times, it was like pulling teeth just to get me to say ‘I love you.’ And even to this day, I don’t really understand myself.”

“Well, sometimes it’s difficult to state how we really feel.”

“It shouldn’t be. That’s the flat truth. It just shouldn’t be. Life—living—should be something easy and fun and honest. You’ll realize this when you start losing things.”

The young woman nodded, emotion making a knot of her heart.

“Live, Katy,” said Josephine, removing her hand from the young woman’s leg. “Just live.”

A knock startled the young woman, and she turned to see Austin, Josephine’s son, standing inside the doorframe. Katy stood up and breathed in deeply, walking to the tray of uneaten food.

“Hello,” she said to the man.

“Hi,” said Austin. “Hey, Mom.”

“Hey,” Josephine said in a sweet little tone.

“Sorry I’m late.” He bent down to give her a hug.

“I’ll just get this out of your way,” Katy said, taking the tray in her hands.

She saw that mother and son had the same blue eyes, but Austin’s stature was startling big. Surely a former athlete, he wore a wind-suit and smelled of tobacco.

Josephine gave Katy one last look. She nodded slightly, clearly off in her own thoughts. Then she shifted moods into something brighter and commenced to talk with her son.

The young woman took the tray out of the room and walked the sterile, now-quiet halls.

She pondered the photos, the star, and the woman that had been Josephine’s lover. As she let the rich thoughts firmly plant themselves in her memory, she looked at the elderly men and women, the old and wrinkled faces around her, some calmly sleeping, some staring blankly at a television, some intently focusing on a game of cards. And she wondered, with almost restless fascination, what stories they had to tell.



Writing Skin

Author: Adriana Kraft
Publisher: eXtasy Books, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1-55487-280-0
Rated: 3 Stars
Genre: Lesbian/Bisexual Romance

“Bisexual” erotica that is intended to get the reader off immediately is hard to distinguish from “ménage” scenes in which three or more characters consummate their lust by wrestling like a litter of playful puppies. More thoughtful fiction about the complications of a bisexual life is often more tragic than comic: bisexual Sally, having been dumped by a straight-and-narrow boyfriend, has a crush on her straight girlfriend Jessie, whose husband would like to do Sally on the side. Or bisexual Stan has intense fantasies about his boyfriend Steve’s sister, even when he is in bed with Steve. (Or Stan is doing the sister while fantasizing about Steve – awkward in any scenario). Long-term relationships involving sexual and emotional intimacy are tricky enough for two people to navigate, let alone three.

Can an erotic romance involving three people have a happy ending for everyone involved? Is it even possible? Yes, at least in the plausible-enough world of this novel.

Writing Skin is a novel by a wife-and-husband writing team using a feminine pen name about a wife-and-husband team of business owners who develop a personal interest in their favorite erotic writer, a single woman with a sexual history that includes both men and women. The plot unfolds like the fulfillment of some vaguely Asian spiritual prophesy.

Erotic writer Luci Parker spends most of her time writing in her Chicago apartment, and no longer has a sex life with another human being. Without labelling herself sexually, she is still in mourning for a past love:

“The longest, smoothest relationship she’d ever had was with Gina, but Gina had made it clear she needed to be a mother. She’d claimed that desire was embedded in her Italian genes.”

Gina is now married to a man whom Luci finds repulsive. Since Gina left her, Luci has tried dating others, with disappointing results:

“Since then, she’d been with exactly four women and two men. The women lasted on average a couple months. Neither guy lasted more than three weeks.”

One guy lasted one night.

Luci’s older half-sister Kate, who raised Luci after her parents died, is concerned about Luci’s isolation, but Luci has good reasons for focusing on the writing which has brought her a certain amount of fame, and which is more rewarding than dates which lead nowhere. As Luci points out, she has a collection of sex toys and knows how to use them.

Meet the Fergusons, Frank and his elegant wife Chai, a part-Filipino, part-Japanese former masseuse, dancer, high-end Nevada sex worker, currently a levelheaded businesswoman. (Groan! Not the exotic Asian stereotype! But Chai has as much individual personality as the white characters.)

The Fergusons like to take turns reading Luci’s novels to each other in bed. After one such session, Chai tells Frank that she wants to meet the author:

“’I really think she’s the woman we’ve been looking for,’ Chai Ferguson said, setting the novel aside on the nightstand next to the bed. ‘She writes with such passion. Her characters are sexy yet mysterious, sensual yet adventurous.’”

It seems safe to assume that Luci Parker writes like Adriana Kraft.

Frank knows that Chai has always been attracted to women and was never willing to give up lesbian encounters for the duration of her marriage. She is willing to share Frank with another woman, even in a long-term three-way relationship, and he has willingly shared her with another man from time to time.

The Fergusons aren’t shallow people, and neither of them is looking for a short-term thrill. They’ve been looking for a woman who could love them both and who both of them could love. Understandably, finding the right woman to complete their household has proven as hard as finding the missing piece of a rare puzzle.

A sensible reader can see where the plot is going, but the journey is at least as interesting as the destination. In fact, “journey” is the word Chai uses for a spiritual experience which seems to involve leaving one’s body temporarily. Luci, as an imaginative person, “journeys” with ease the first time Chai gets her started. Each “journey” teaches Luci more about her true nature.

Chai and Frank own The Four Winds, a restaurant and bookstore (where Luci can promote her books), which is also a “New Age” gathering-place. As the relationship between Chai and Luci deepens, Chai encourages her to explore the “four directions” of traditional spirituality, which take her to parts of her own psyche that have been closed off. Of course, The Four Winds is destined to multiply into a chain of four establishments, each in a different part of Chicago. Feng shui isn’t specifically mentioned, but location is important.

Luci must get to know Frank as well as Chai, both separately and together. Chai and Frank must court Luci in a way that doesn’t make her feel threatened. Chapter by chapter, the characters and the reader wade steadily deeper into unmapped territory.

Somehow it all works, and the menu of the place has enough variety to please most appetites. The sex scenes range from gentle rituals to intense, spontaneous fucks, and each scene leads to greater trust among the characters. Throughout the saga, all three central characters keep the strangely innocent quality of people who never lose their ability to empathize with others. You’ll be glad you met them.


Jean Roberta

Jean teaches English in a Canadian prairie university, where she is also a consulting editor for the literary journal.

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