I married her in 1912, down under the weathered steeple of the First Presbyterian Congregation of Dullcreek, Pennsylvania. She wore a little blue garter on her left leg and didn't tell no one until I went after her later that night. She stepped in close to me, so close I could smell her smoky breath, like smoked pine and I knew I wanted to taste her mouth on me. She was a good woman, lithe and classy, with short dark-golden locks pinned in the waved style of our heyday. Sometimes she wore hats, complete with the flourish of a male peacock feather tucked in the band. Annette was a sweet dame, with cherry-filing lips and a smile like light on water.
We giggled in the seats, her hands gentle on my stomach, my neck, all the way up to my mustache, where she carefully peeled away the super-sticky resin holding it on. Les and Annette Smith. It didn't take much to make the convincing picture. I wore my pa's suspenders and boots, and the clean cotton shirt was stuffed with just enough cotton to present a slight over-belly over the worn waist of my trousers.
And my Annette? Sweet flower she was, so convinced that any kind of destiny that involved me was certain to take her to Heaven. She believed in the Lord, up until her last breath. A distant smile and her dark eyes focused on me once again.
“Make them see Lesley,” she'd said, with her soft graceful fingers curled around my own. “Tell them. Don't be afraid.”
The day my Annette died was my momma's birthday. And my momma had herself the same situation we was in. Only my momma was a pretty woman, delicate in bone and sculpted of cheek until the Rotary club of Something or Other came upon her in the road and called her the name of a dam. She always used that word when she told the story. She told it to anyone who would listen through those bars, and that was for a long time since women weren't allowed to have death sentences. The state saved her until the one night I was born.
But with Annette, I'd tried. We'd gone out, and Annette even kissed me deeply before going into the cinema like a man and wife. I wore the pants; she wore the fancy stoles and dresses. She curled her eyelashes and spritzed on perfume that made her smell like a movie star. She sure was a star in my book.
When the mayor found out that we'd gotten married right under his nose, we were separated immediately. I was found guilty of impersonating a man and thrown into jail. Annette was not to see me for six months while I served my sentence, learned the talk, walked the walk and endured all kinds of messes that ladies should never run into.
Good thing I'm not a lady.
Annette picked me up at the gates in our old Ford, a subtle defiance to what the law stated. As long as there was no public displays of affection, they'd allow it. As long as I denied what I'd made mine back before she was fully a woman, they'd allow it. We took a faith and lived separate lives, all the while meeting in the dark with pressed breasts and heated breath. She bit my lip and I tugged her pretty curls. She'd use her fingers and then her mouth, and I'd lay across her and repay the kindness.
The sun came unexpectedly one morning—we'd fallen asleep in the same room together, naked—and the innkeeper came to the door with master keys and opened the door on our shame.
Then the men came up. There were so many of them. My hands were torn from her hands, and they beat me up in front of her, before taking her away. My lip still stung from where she bit, but hairy knuckles bloodied it good.
“Les Smith, if that is your real name, you are under arrest for homosexual acts and other abominations in the eyes of God. Annette's coming with us, and you're going back to prison.”
Defeated, I let them jerk me whichever way they wanted, and did not respond as my naked breasts were covered by scratchy wool. I didn't flinch when backhanded, I just got back up off the floor and walked behind, head down but my eye straining to catch a glimpse of dark-gold curls.
Nobody figured the classy lady'd shake loose of their grasp and run, skirts fluttering around her shapely legs but I did. I knew Annette. I knew she wouldn't just accept the fate handed to her. Maybe she didn't see the gap between the rails and thought she could beat the train and leave her pursuers on the other side of the tracks, but the heel of her dainty little boot caught and held her fast, and then there was the train, and then there I was, chained and bloody, but her head was in my lap and a man lay dead in the street because of me.
I was twenty. I don't think she knew what'd happened. Her eyes reached up to mine and held my gaze with love. I saw those pearly-whites once more before the scarlet came. They said she had no pain, it was a fairly clean cut just at the waist, but I folded myself in half just to touch my lips to hers and lay cheek-to-cheek with my Annette because my hands were still cuffed behind my back.
I got to spend the next seven years contemplating who Les was in Rockview Pen, busting rocks and being touched nearly every damn day I was in. When I got out, no one was waiting for me. I took a bus south, down where the Mississippi is redder and I staked me out a tiny plug of earth. I put on my daddy's fedora after getting a haircut from the nice barber just outside of town, and lit a cigar as I plotted my homecoming back to Dullcreek.
Women who have posed as men in history.
This was one tough lady. I don't envy the upstanding moralists of Dullcreek.
Damn. You are one fine writer my dear.
I like both your characters and the way they resisted convention. "...and I replayed the kindness..." wonderful. Hope to see more of Les... Peace, Linda
Let the voices speak to you more often.
Damn Carrie! I wish I had your brain sometimes :) GREAT piece. Will we see a reprise over at The Bijou par chance?
Great tale. In some ways nothing's changed. Very well told, Carrie. Vivid!
Amazing work of art, this!
Your writing here is just so raw, so sharp, so wonderful...
Fabulous! I particularly liked the way you played with the gender. It was a bit confusing but very telling of Lesley's struggle.
What a poignant and unconventional-for-the-time love story. Beautifully written, Carrie. Can't wait to learn more about Les!
Fantastic rough emotion- real, passionate, and brave.
"until the Rotary club of Something or Other came upon her in the road and called her the name of a dam. She always used that word when she told the story. " - that went clean over my head. Name of a dam?
I loved this Carrie. The feel. The build up, the gentle matter of fact telling of such a brutal story.
Love it. Period pieces are so hard, rife as they are with the possibilities of anachronisms, but this feels genuine. Fantastic.
I'm curious where Les went from that field, contemplating the future.
Excellent, what a sad story - but you made it sweet as well. Hard to do!
(Name of a dam - dyke!)
Incredibly rich tale, great voice, wonderful detail that rang true. This was a pleasure to read. ~ Olivia
A beautifully written melancholy love story. I loved Lesleys's storytelling voice.
And like Peggy said, keep listening to the voices.
Completely engaging. Very well told and hauntingly beautiful. Well done.
I agree with pegjet - those voices of yours are marvelous. Very nice story indeed!
Hard sweetness. This one has a nice edge.
God, that's brilliant! Emotional, and honest, and horrible all at once. This part of history is so under-studied and under-written...and yet you've answer it beautifully. I bet Lesley's glad she picked you to tell her story.
Oh, I have a feeling Dullcreek won't even see what hits them! Wow, I don't think I've ever had a full-blown character present themselves to me like this. Amazing. Both of them are so solid, so real. I feel outraged for them and sad. Wonderfully told!
This has a convincing voice throughout. You pull in the reader and tell an unusual though quite convincing tale!
A vividly told story with a convincing historic setting and a really capitivating take on gender and sexuality. You've managed to convey the feel of an epic, tragic love story in a short, sharp tale - great writing!
A powerful piece of writing; the historic setting and language are convincing and the story a powerful examination of gender and sexuality. You manage to convey the sense of an epic and tragic life story in a brief space - very well written.
This is probably my favorite of yours to date, Carrie. It's a spectacularly sweet and authentic-feeling opening and keeps rolling from there. Congratulations on writing something so fine.
You did an awesome job on Les' voice! Looking forward to hearing more from her.
Oh this has an edge. Sharply told.
I loved the voice of the character throughout - you didn't miss a beat.
Very well done.
Very well told story. You did a great job with this one. I enjoyed in a TON.
This: "...Annette was a sweet dame, with cherry-filing lips and a smile like light on water." is beautiful.
You have your finger on a lively cultural pulse here Carrie. The fedora, the cigar, the Mark Twain feel of the piece were really well put together.
What a wonderful character. How lucky that she decided to tell her story to you.
Inspired writing. So original. This wasn't a straightforward piece to write with the dialect and the time period to incorporate. It showcases your talent that you pulled it off.
I do hope Les comes back and consents to telling another story. When the characters wander in-those can make the best stories. Wonderful character, wonderful story. I also liked the matter-of-fact manner of the telling of the story (with the barest tint of nostalgia)-seems to suit Les well.
This is such a tragic story, Carrie. Beautifully told. The two main characters, both female, of a historical novel I wrote a while back both dressed as men through part of the book. I have to agree with Anton in that I got hung up by the reference to the name of a damn. Otherwise, beautifully written and a compelling story.
I think it's great that this character came to you. This is my favorite story of yours so far, I really like it. It's a strong voice and a compelling story. Sometimes i believe in the supernatural, like a spirit can actually come to you...
Brave, imaginative, poignant, completely engrossing and sad, sad, sad. Just blown away by this story.
Ooh, I wouldn't want to be in Dullcreek when she returns.
Straight From Hel
This was amazing!
The tone, voice, the feel. . . wow, just everything.
Vivid and perfect - you're usual! :)
what a tale woven here, and amazed at how much you managed to cram in.
Whoah! Looks like this character tipped her hat at the right writer - youhvae painted an immensely vivid picture.
I have an award waiting for you over at my blog. :)
What a fantastic story! I was gripped by every word :-)
It's her voice that does it--strong and female and absolutely believable. This is a brilliant story. You did it all kinds of justice. And thank you for the link to the "Dressing the part" article.
Billy Lee Tipton, dressing as a man to play jazz. Truth is about as strange and wonderful as fiction.
Everyone here’s said it all. Wiswell’s right: you did open and unfold this story well, and ditto Mr. Bell. A tough subject, this, and you did it proud. I love how you left the piece: satisfying as is or open for more. And here I am with your insider info, pleased as pie there will be more : )
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