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The Uses of Strength

She stood in front of me, her sweatpants low around her hips, her nipples hard. I arose from my bed and just leaned my head against the side of her thigh, and then as if I were climbing a ladder up out of my exhaustion, I stretched up toward her, moving my hand from the curve of her belly up to her chest, where it lay, fingers splayed out along her ribs. I rested there until I became aware of the fluttering of her heart, and then I hurried on. Soon my cheek was against hers, and though she stood, and I kneeled on the bed I had come to know too well, I was her equal in the travels of the flesh.

We had driven up the coast to Gloucester on a gray spring day. She had wanted to visit the hometown of a poet she admired, but before we reached the small New England city, we came upon a park that overlooked the ocean. We walked slowly over the soggy earth until we reached a cliff that fronted the sea. She stood in front of me, catching the full force of the wind, her gray hair dancing in the autumn air. I stood behind her, leaning against her back, my arms around her waist. The ocean rolled in, over and over, gray and complete and never still. I began to cry for all the oceans I had seen with lovers, for all the leave-takings that had left their marks around my heart.

If I take you in my arms, pull your head to my breasts, if I curve my hand over the winged blades of your back, pressing you farther into me, if I spread my legs to give you better purchase, settling your bones into my flesh, if I move into you, gripping your want with my openness, if I press my mouth against your neck, my tongue softening the skin where my teeth will pull at you, if I slide down your narrow belly, my breasts dragging against your skin, if I bury my face in your cunt, spreading your lips with my tongue, if I take all of you into my mouth, sucking the folds open, if I push two fingers into you, pulling at your pleasure, if I swirl my tongue over your swollen clit when your muscles tightening around my fingers tell me you are ready to come, if I close up your lips while you are still pulsing so you can keep the sweetness longer, if I pull myself up along your body and rest my head on your shoulder as your breathing slows down and the sweat dries on your breasts — will you think I am weak?

I turned my cheek against the rough wall, my hands stretched out above my head, trying to find a hold. I felt the coldness of the wall in my belly. “Close your eyes,” she insisted quietly, pressing into me. She spread my legs with one of hers, her leathered leg pushing my slip up until my ass was bare. I pushed farther into the wall, wanting to escape my own nakedness. I could hear footsteps all around me as other women moved through the narrow passageway of the bar’s back room. Her gloved hand moved over my hips; my slip fell off my shoulders, but I had to let it go. My hands could not leave the wall. No rope was needed, no scarlet tie. Years of shame pinned me to the wall, while air moved over my nakedness. I waited, and then she returned, fully. Her hand curved over my ass, leaving only to deliver sharp, short spanks, and then to knead the never-seen, never-wanted flesh, until a heat ran down the back of my things, a heat that made me spread my legs even more because pure want was pouring out of me. She laughed against my ear and then entered me, pushing at my tightness until resistance became a sweetness. After she left, I turned around in the darkness, too tired to move off the wall. Pulling my slip down, I faced the passing women, my comrades, quietly and directly.

The nights are hard. Often sleep does not come. She turns to me, gazing quietly at my desperation. Her hand reaches out and for long minutes, she strokes my breasts, my belly, my legs. I move into the crook of her arm and soon her heartbeat, slow and steady, becomes my own.

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© 1995 Joan Nestle. First published in Heatwave: Women in Love and Lust: Lesbian Short Fiction, edited by Lucy Jane Bledsoe, this piece may also be found in my book A Fragile Union: New and Selected Writings.

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