Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
Let's Make a Deal by Dorothy Baker
Spring teased them with new life that year. Shiny new leaves on the maples, gaudy new flowers in Trinity's gardens, fuzzy new baby llamas shyly peeking from around their mamas' flanks. Trinity fervently hoped that Peyton's white cells were also newly replenished and ready to stand guard against recurrence. The October mastectomy had tricked Peyton's hobgoblin into submission. For now.
She stood behind Peyton, arms around her waist, both of them facing the antique mirror. Peyton's right breast was familiar and beautiful, holding its own admirably against the gravitational pull of forty-plus years. Her left breast was gone, replaced by a bubble-gum pink half-moon scar. Trinity ached to touch the scar, lick it, throw Peyton on the bed and ravish her for a change. But she restrained herself, trying to be sensitive to Pey's feelings.
Restraint was becoming an all-too familiar companion.
"It's not so bad, right?" Trinity nuzzled Peyton's shoulder blade.
"What does it matter?" Peyton said. "The Spectre's going to get me eventually."
"OK, Sunshine," Trinity tried to get Peyton to smile. "What's Phil Spector got to do with anything?"
"Not PHIL Spector, THE Spectre. The Grim Reaper, the Angel of Death. It's already got its big old jack-booted foot wedged in my door." Peyton's mouth was a grim line.
Still trying to keep it light, Trinity answered, "If anybody puts a boot on my clean floors they'll draw back a stump, Reaper or not."
Peyton's face took on that expression of misery again. "You don't understand. It feels like I'm losing my nerve--I've never been afraid of anything in my life. Now, every time I look in the mirror, my gut clenches."
Trinity tightened her grip. "I know, honey, but before you know it, you'll be yourself again, riding, sky-diving and bungee-jumping, God help us. It just takes time, Pey."
"I don't think I can live with the possibility of having to go through this again." Peyton pulled out of Trinity's embrace and put on a faded denim shirt. She headed downstairs and out to her bike, the screen door slamming behind her. Trin watched as she mounted the old Indian motorcycle in the driveway, almost losing her grip on the handlebars' black fringed covers. The llamas grazing in the field next to the driveway scattered as Peyton gunned the Indian's motor and tore off in a wake of dust and pebbles.
Trinity stood in the doorway and watched until the bike disappeared beyond the trees, thinking about the first time she'd seen Peyton. It was 1978. Trinity was a senior waiting in line to register at Harpur College. Black curly hair hung down to her waist, & even though it was hot and heavy, she refused to cut it. She shifted her ponderous backpack to clip her hair up on top of her head, dropping the clip in the process. Before she could bend over to pick it up, a gangly blond deftly swooped it up and presented it to her with a broad grin.
"You ought to be more careful about bending over with that pack--could be fatal if it shifts."
"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." The blond girl had mesmerizing topaz eyes, and Trinity accepted the tortoise-shell clip in both hands, cradling it as if Sir Lancelot had just handed her the Holy Grail.
"Oh, yeah, sure, sorry to stare, it's just...... you have the most amazing eyes."
"Really? I've never heard that line before. How original!" The blond rolled her wolfish peepers.
They both laughed, and before she knew it, Trinity and the blond with the topaz eyes were having breakfast in her sunny little apartment. That was twenty-six years ago.
Most of that time, it seemed Peyton was always dreaming of more--testing her own physical limits, expanding her bike business, pushing Trinity to do the same with her wool crafts. But when Trinity suggested it might be time to consider a baby, Peyton's response had been, "Hey, we have each other, we have the farm, what more do we need?"
The farm, their dream realized, had twenty-five acres and two barns-one for Trinity's lamas, and one for Peyton's motorcycle repair shop. Peyton had apprenticed herself to an aging bike guru, who owned the Harley shop where she worked while Trinity perfected her wool crafts and added to their savings working in a yarn shop. In '84 they bought the farm.
And now Peyton might really buy the farm if the big C came back. The thought just popped up, then the laughter snorted out of her nose and mouth until she fell breathless in a heap on the antique Persian, tears streaming down her face, feeling guilty but purged, at least temporarily.
Life here is temporary, and I CAN'T lose the real Peyton. Her essence lives on eternally, Trinity reminded herself, repeating the mantra until she felt, rather than thought it.
* * * * *
The gardens the following spring were full of weeds, except for a few volunteer rudbeckias, matching the weeds in tenacity and determination, two qualities Trinity admired. She let the screen door slam, running a hand through her thick salt and pepper hair. There were chores to be done. She smiled, imagining how she must look waddling around the farm in her purple knee-high wellies and llama wool hat with the earflaps. Peyton used to call it her "Daryl" hat, because it was like the one worn by a character on an old TV show. Then her eyes began to sting, and she busied herself replenishing the vending machine with pellets so the tourists could feed the llamas.
Chores finally completed, she huffed and puffed her way back to the house, kicked off her boots on the porch and went to put on the kettle for tea. Chamomile and home made oat scones with blueberry jam made from berries grown on the farm. Feeling entirely justified, Trinity indulged in a third scone. For the extra nourishment I need now, she thought, grimacing at the face she knew her doctor would make if her weight was up too much at her next checkup.
"Doctors, what do they know?" she asked the equally rotund yellow tabby sunning in the alcove above the sink. The cat's whiskers and tail twitched in agreement--or irritation.
Hunger satisfied for the moment, Trinity shuffled over to the sage green couch and sank down into the cushions, luxuriating in the relief to her back. She thought of Peyton, as usual, how they'd parted, what was said, what wasn't. She still couldn't believe Peyton wouldn't come back to her, wouldn't be with her to help when the time came. Couldn't believe it wasn't the cancer that took her, but a teenager, too inexperienced to control his new truck on a wet country road.
He'd come to the farm with his family after the accident, walking shakily on crutches. He started to cry when he saw her. She put her hand on his arm and smiled. "It's all right, I don't blame you. She was upset when she left here. She was a really good rider, you know. It wasn't your fault."
Over the next few months his parents called to see how she was doing, asked if they could do anything. There was. She would need some extra help around the farm soon, and by then, their son, whose name was Caleb, should be recovered. His parents agreed it would help him to work through his feelings about the accident by helping Trinity. Somehow, life moved on.
Trinity pulled the wool throw around her shoulders and fell asleep. She dreamed of a cloudless Saturday morning, just after sunrise. She was getting ready to take her palomino Cheyenne, her most precious gift from Peyton, for a long ride in the crisp air. A glint of sun on chrome caught her eye. A motorcycle. The rider was wearing creamy white--Peyton usually wore dusty black leather. The rider coasted past the open gate like a ghost while Trinity stood on the porch with her mouth open. The Indian shone like a silver dollar. Long shimmering white fringe hung from new riding gloves. Then the rider removed her helmet, and shook out her shoulder length silver hair. She looked a little haggard, but resolute. She seemed to move in slow motion, a knight with helmet tucked under an arm, wolf eyes clear and calm.
The vision in white took both steps in one long stride, deliberately placing gloves and helmet on the rocking chair. She moved so close their bodies nearly touched. Peyton looked down into Trinity's eyes, cupped her face in both hands and kissed her tenderly but firmly on her still open mouth. Trinity felt Pey's soft lips on her own, then her knees buckled. She ripped down the zipper on the white leather jacket, her tongue licking at the pink scar like a kitten at a bowl of milk. Pey's hands moved to her breasts. Trinity tilted her face up for a deep throated kiss, only to find herself face to face with Peyton's younger brother Pete, smiling sheepishly and holding a test tube filled with something milky. She was reaching to take the tube from his hand when she woke up to find the cat's bulk atop her mounded middle.
She pushed the cat off roughly and pulled the wooly afghan over her head, the familiar painful lump rising up in her throat as the hot tears burned her chapped face. She stroked her own swollen breasts, crying and comforting herself as best she could.
Peyton's mood swings were like summer storms-- lots of flash and noise followed by cleaner air and a profound calm. Trinity figured that last one would probably be no exception. She understood the reason for the moods and Pey's need to escape.
Pride, pure and simple. Pride and fear of her own feelings. Why couldn't she have ever learned to let her guard down and admit that she might need some support instead of running away? But no, that wasn't her nature, and it was too late now.
At first Peyton had been able to joke about the mastectomy, claiming it was easier to work on bikes with one less appendage to get in the way. But Trinity wasn't laughing. After all, Peyton, though she had still been in pretty good shape, was no longer a youngster. She'd had a knee and shoulder replaced after getting clipped by a drunk in an El Camino while she was on her old Triumph. But that brush with the Spectre hadn't slowed her down any more than the cancer had.
Once the mastectomy had healed, Peyton worked even harder, taking on cycle rehab jobs that kept her up till all hours banging and using power tools long into the night in the barn across from their bedroom window. To Trinity, it seemed Peyton thought of the antique bikes as her legacy-feverishly working to restore them before time ran out.
Trinity got up and rinsed her tea cup in the sink. She and Peyton never talked about the stream of motorcycles, almost like anonymous lovers, that flowed through their lives last summer. With the arrival of autumn, the stream and the screams stopped, to Trinity's great relief. But the relief soon turned to worry.
Despite a more regular work schedule, Peyton remained closed to her attempts to make love. They had never gone more than a week in all the years they'd lived together. Peyton was often the initiator-slipping in when Trinity was in the shower, enticing her with strong, calloused fingers when they were in bed. Months after her surgery, Peyton not only failed to initiate things, she flinched at Trinity's touch. Although understandable, it also hurt. Trinity wished she had known what to do, the right words to say to help Peyton.
She ate a lonely supper. Around two a.m. she dropped the novel she'd been reading and fell asleep again on the couch.
She was falling off Cheyenne. As the ground raced toward her, Peyton's strong arms quickly caught and supported her. She felt Pey's remaining breast pressing against her. Wolf eyes looked right into her soul.
Trinity was suddenly furious. "Hey! What makes you think you can just waltz in here and sweep me off my feet? And wipe that stupid grin off your face. One catch doesn't make up for all the grief you've put me through. I'm still mad as hell you didn't come back..."
"I made a deal with Phil Spectre. I'm OK now--I'm not afraid." Peyton danced backwards, waving, while the Ronettes were singing in the background, "Be my, be my baby!" A silver-haired child chased llamas in the field behind them.
Trinity woke up to the radio playing 50's oldies and thought to herself--so she's okay now, better late than never, I guess. The blanket under her was saturated. Contractions were rolling in, giant waves of discomfort circling her from belly button to spine.
She picked up the phone, breathing deeply, speed-dialed the midwife, and settled back to catch the next wave. Silently, she made her own deal with God, Phil Spectre, or whoever was listening.
Dorothy Baker has been writing since she was nine. She was strongly influenced by the soap operas she watched with her mother while coming of age in a small town in North Carolina in the 60's. Some of her other work, including a film review and short story has previously appeared in Breath and Shadow. She has lived in western Massachusetts with her partner for twenty-six years.
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