from Maison Femme: A Fiction FOYER “This is a photo of a dodo,” said Marie. She pointed to a photograph of a dodo drawn in pencil, and Mina looked. Above the photograph hung the dodo drawing, set in double glass and framed in wood. Mina was visiting from a small town full of lesbians and loggers; the women stood together in the foyer and the walls were full of art. “The artist,” said Marie, “likes to use a material that rhymes with what it is.” “This is not strange,” said Mina, “rhyme is a very good reason.” Marie and Mina liked to discuss this question together: “What are people not supposed to do in life and writing?” “They are not supposed to write a book made of only one sentence,” said Mina “If they are women,” said Marie, “they are not supposed to too violently disagree—at least not face-to-face directly.” “Art,” said Marie, “used to feel like a very strange reason.” Art was like racehorse breeds and fancy cheese. Marie had grown up in a small town in the middle of the country, a town surrounded by small farms and a general feeling that farmer’s daughters aren’t supposed to be artists, for, except in some country music songs, farmers’ daughters are wholesome and clean, and horses just pull things. Long ago, before Marie and Louise were Marie and Louise, Mina told Marie to read Louise’s sentence. “It is best to read it in one sitting,” said Mina, “and it is best find a setting as uncomfortable as the sentence.” In the sentence, a legless soldier narrates his final night, for come the dawn he will die, and death is also a sentence for you and me. Long ago, Louise was in a weekly writing group, but when she gave the sentence to the other writers, they asked her to leave. “The sentence makes us angry,” said one of the weekly writers. They liked to know exactly what meaning was happening, but the sentence was 120 pages and full of word play, like crisis jubilee. “Word play is a very good reason,” said Mina, and she remembered this later while reading Pierre de Bourdeilles’s donna con donna. “Do you know,” she told Marie, “there are lesbian weasels, which is why lesbians were represented by weasels in times before.” “The dodo was extinct before the camera was invented, which is why the artist needed to draw a dodo to make her photo.” A writing teacher told Louise she wrote too much like a man and this was a problem; another professor asked her if she was writing in drag. “I have known some lesbians who are very much like men,” said Marie, but when she later considered this statement, she did not know what it could mean. In the foyer, Mina placed her keys on the Louise’s grandmother’s writing desk, a kidney shaped structure made of tulip wood. “We know someone who asked her students to punctuate the sentence,” said Marie, “and there was a such disagreement about which clauses belonged together, it proved the sentence’s grammatical truth.” “Dodos and weasels and lesbians and loggers,” sighed Mina. “What would you like to drink?” FRONT PORCH Louise returned from one of the nearby markets where she had picked out a pink pony piñata with the help of their son. “We almost bought a turtle,” he said later as he helped Marie hang the piñata from a hook on the front porch, specifying their house apart from the others. The guests would be arriving shortly, and while the event was not exactly open to the public, anyone who knew about it could RSVP to the organization’s general email and receive the house’s specific address in reply. The pink pony would further clarify, as friends, strangers and acquaintances arrived at the house for the first of several benefit auctions held over the course of several years to raise money needed to publish other people’s writing. The pink piñata hung at a slight angle, its chest higher than its rear, and there were Christmas lights framing the porch, for it was the season. The auction was filled with items both singular and ephemeral. There was, for example, a cake baked by a public high school English teacher who was an excellent baker and also the alumnus of a famously exclusive private university. There were prints and photographs by artists with big and small reputations. Several poets, all of them female, donated several kinds of services, including commissioned poems, palm readings, and Tarot consultations. The cake was round, butterscotch, and made with many layers. It was purchased by a poet who had donated a commissioned poem, a poet known across the country for both her poetry and her lesbianism. Three years later, the poet would, in fact, publish a novel about becoming a lesbian and becoming a poet, a novel based on many true stories from the poet’s young life in New York, where she had become an older part. Later, Marie would read this novel during a one-week stay at a cheap hotel in the desert. Marie was in the desert to work on her own novel, which was neither about lesbianism or poetry, and as Marie read the poet’s novel, she noted its fine sentences and saw the book contained both a character and a dog named Marie. Earlier, Marie had written two sentences by Jane Bowles on a small piece of paper: “‘I love my country,’ said Sis, for no apparent reason. ‘I love it to death.’” Marie used this piece of paper as a bookmark in the poet’s novel. Marie brought her large dog to the hotel in the desert, and every morning they walked together on a baseball field she had discovered on the hill behind the hotel. Other women with dogs also walked on this field every morning, and these women, who lived in the small desert town and who were partially retired but still held part-time positions as sales clerks and dental receptionists, took Marie into their group because she was, in some ways, like them. Marie’s big dog liked to play with their big dogs, and Marie talked with the women about their dogs and holiday cooking, for it was early December and one woman made cheese balls every year at this time. But on the last day of Marie’s week-long stay, one of the women complained about Asians, though she used the word Oriental, and Marie looked directly at the woman and said that was not her experience. Marie spoke with the polite lightness of wanting to keep things pleasant. The woman who made cheese balls quickly changed the subject, and less than a few minutes later, Marie said it was time for her to go. All week the women had spoken to Marie as if Marie had a husband, and Marie did not correct them, but used a tone of camaraderie as she spoke about parenting. Everyone knows most parents are not lesbians, and pink piñatas are rather gay, and so a few months after the first benefit auction, Marie and Louise filled the pony with candy and presented it as a birthday gift to the poet who had written the aforementioned novel. A complementary image of the lesbian poet smashing the pink piñata later surfaced in a manifesto by a new narrative writer, and the lesbian poet is still friends with this writer, but she did not become friends with Louise or Marie, for categories do not always stick. Teresa Carmody’s collaborative project Maison Femme (text by Teresa Carmody, images by Vanessa Place) is forthcoming this fall from Bon Aire Projects. Carmody is the author of Requiem (short stories) and three chapbooks: I Can Feel, Eye Hole Adore and Your Spiritual Suit of Armor by Katherine Anne. She is the co-founding director of Les Figues Press and is currently pursuing a PhD in English/Creating Writing at the University of Denver.