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Mirror Image

(excerpted here)


Leigh Stuart

(2014 pseydonym for Barbara Straus Lodge)


“See that woman over there? See how she shakes hands like a man? She’s a lezz-bian. Be careful.”  My mother was talking about Effie, the female tennis pro who was about to give me a lesson. Maybe it was the delivery—a slow, low, forceful whisper across the table at the tennis club—or maybe it was Effie’s suntanned well-developed arms, but that admonition frightened me. If I were careful, though, nothing bad would happen. After my lesson, my mother instructed me to wash my hands and I wondered if Effie were contagious. I did what I was told, kept a safe distance from “the gays”, and didn’t catch anything during my formative years.

I was a good girl who did what she was told and didn’t upset anyone, especially her mother. A short time after gagging my way through Robert K’s “passionate” tongue kiss in the high school darkroom, I very secretly realized I would have rather kissed the lips of Susie L., the swimmer with the long blonde hair and the pretty face. Kissing Susie L. instead of Robert K. would have definitely displeased my mother, her bridge friends, and the generations upon generations of ancestors who were watching me from their graves.

I never did drugs, graduated from college and law school with honors, married a lovely man, and had two beautiful children. My family was proud of me and I was proud of making them proud. After twenty years of an unremarkable marriage (aside from our nonexistent sex life, my husband’s hidden cocaine problem, and the nagging fact that I had recurrent dreams of making out with Ellen DeGeneres in a rustic Spanish house in Santa Barbara), my husband suggested I get some interests and stop putting him under a microscope. I decided to sign up for spinning classes.

The exercise studio I chose was home to a colorful assortment of Venice Beach locals, and was definitely outside of my cloistered, private-school soccer-mom element. That’s exactly why I went there. After spinning regularly for a few months and building a toned physique, I felt strong, confident, and brave enough to sit in the front row with the experienced spinners. There was one person in particular who always captured my interest. She had a broad inquisitive forehead, dominant cheekbones, and a statuesque neck reminiscent of European royalty. Brownish blonde hair was gathered in a worn red band at the crown of her head, dreadlocks spilling down to frame her angular face. Her velvet skin contradicted the rough dreads, and her long dark eyelashes emphasized the flecks of amber in her eyes. “Hello,” she’d say, as she passed by, and then took a seat on the opposite side of the room. At the end of the 45-minute workout, I'd be sitting on the ground changing out of my cleats and she’d pass again. My eyes would scan her muscular legs and more often than not when I looked up she’d be smiling back down at me. No one noticed, though.

Many more spinning classes. Months of hellos and goodbyes. Looking for something new. Seeking something different. Legs circling furiously. Not moving an inch.

            This woman’s presence in the room became as invigorating as the exercise. Over time and without specifically acknowledging one another, we shifted to side-by-side bikes. While ostensibly keeping occupied with class-related preparations, I listened to her conversations. Her melodic accent flowed into me; I exercised it out of me. I’d never met anyone German before; I was sure my fascination stemmed from the many hours I’d spent watching the History Channel.

Nothing more.

Nothing at all.

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