The Look of Love


by Nicole Hampton


In all of Jessica’s seventeen years, she had never seen a lesbian couple before.

“Oh, and before I forget, make sure to water the plants in the window,” Julie said as she waited on Stacey to finish packing.”We only just got them a few days ago. Didn’t think we’d be needing to leave our new home so soon.” Jessica was relieved to not have both wives in the kitchen with her, a reminder of a strange world outside of her own.

“Yes ma’am.” Jessica ran her fingers through her long golden hair that stopped at the beginning of her favorite and only pair of designer jeans. Before leaving the trailer, she had fretted over what outfit to wear more than she ever had on any first days of school. She ran a finger over her mother’s smooth golden bangle, the only jewelry she owned, stolen from their shared bathroom.

“So, Jess, were you raised in Albatawny your whole life?” Julie’s eyes were curious and open, which made Jessica uncomfortable. No one had ever asked her honest questions with the look of absorption Julie held. It could be because she was only a ‘silly girl’, ‘silly teenager’, or a ‘silly child’. Regardless of which it was, people’s inability to listen to her must have to do with how silly she was, although she felt anything but silly most of the time. She figured they all must think that of one another because she didn’t think anyone was really ever listening to anybody else in her town. Unless it was anything that could be used and traded among the townsfolk as gossip. If it was juicy, a flavor which was hardly ever tasted in Albatawny, then best believe it was listened to and repeated for years to come. She wondered if the “lesbians livin in the woods” knew that they had already been tossed around in people’s mouths and deemed epic enough to bring up in conversation for years to come.

“Yes ma’am, I grew up here.” She didn’t like saying ‘raised’. Albatawny was not a place where one is lifted in any sort of way. Having heard “You Raise Me Up” in church as well as hummed, whistled, and hollered by every civilian to walk the sun cracked streets, she knew that she had not been raised.

“That must be difficult for a pretty young girl like yourself. Not much to do around here is there?” Julie smiled wide at her own evaluation of the town. Jessica felt a sudden anger towards her that was stemmed from other people’s opinions on the infamous lesbians. ‘City folk’, ‘hoity toity’, ‘muff divers’, ‘dykes’, ‘queers’ all came to her mind in an instant.

Truth be told, Jessica was probably the first person to actually have a conversation with the couple. They first approached her to ask for an opinion on which brand of breadcrumbs is best at the local grocery store, The Pork Jiggler. She thought they were best friends, like her and Tammy. So when, at the end of her tutorial on how to properly fry chicken was complete, they asked her to house sit for them for a few days while they were visiting a dying relative in Florida, she didn’t refuse.

“There’s some things,” she said, empty hearted at her short list of activities she did when boredom struck. One, pick on ten year old brother till he cries. Two, steal mother’s liquor bottle when she passes out and drink the remainder with Tammy till they’re puking and stumbling in someone’s farm or forest. Three, make fried chicken.

Julie’s mouth showed even more teeth inside the outline of her glossy lips. “I’m sure there are. Just be careful. A young girl with hair like yours in this town, I bet you stick out like a sore thumb.”

Jessica caught her breathe at the compliment and her thought process of how to handle an attractive lesbian hitting on her was cut off by the sound of Stacey lugging her suitcase down the long wooden staircase. Julie gave Jessica a finger that meant “Just a sec” then sprinted out of the open kitchen and up the stairs. Jessica could hear her reprimanding Stacey for not calling on her to assist as she made her way back down, the suitcase handle in Julie’s gripped hands.

Jessica tried to figure out how they knew who did the manly duties like heavy lifting as Julie put the suitcase near the door and they both started towards her. They were equally slim and womanly, but Stacey was much shorter. Perhaps height was a factor on who played at being husband. However, Julie had long tussled brown hair and Stacey wore a purple bandana covering hers if she had any.

“Alright Jessica, we’re off.” Stacey said with a smile as big and bright as her wife’s. Even with her hair up, she was striking. For a moment, Jessica could see why Julie found her attractive. She got a hot feeling in her stomach like she did when she took the first swig of her mom’s Skol vodka.

“Great,” she said, wanting the rare burning sensation that she only occasionally experienced in Tammy’s drunken presence to subside. “Have fun,” she added, nervously hiding her face with her natural honey locks.

“Oh we will,” Stacey said, looking up at Julie as Julie looked down at her with something never seen by Jessica. She was a true skeptic of that forbidden feeling, that undying, unlimited sort of thing. Especially when it was shared by two women.

They went over all of the generous details of how Jessica could “help herself to anything she wanted”. They listed and gave direction to where food, clothes, TV, Wii, and a hot bath could be found in the large cabin house as they got the two suitcases to the car with Stacey merely supervising. After the hug goodbye that was much too intimate for Jessica to understand, she walked back into the house with a perplexed tone about her. As the day progressed into night, not even the high volumed dialogue of South Park or the consumption of alternative healthy snacks could displace the uncertainty the lesbian house held.

Her mother had warned her of the house, saying that it had been haunted since old man Wiggins drowned in the tub more than a year ago. People said they saw the ghost of Wiggins as they walked by, and that that had been why it hadn’t sold. The lesbians must not have heard what was the biggest story listened to till they moved in. In comparison to the two infamous legends that had lived on the premises, Jessica felt awkward and unworthy. She was confident it was this, and not the warning of ghosts and devils by all who owned mouths in the rural town, that led her to feel shadowed the entire evening.

As nine o’clock came around, she had eaten almost everything that wasn’t a vegetable or didn’t require any form of cooking. She was watching her eighth episode of South Park, all of which ominously involved the death of Kenny. Just as he was impaled through the face with a metal pole in Cartmanland, the television went dark in an instant. In the darkness of the biggest flatscreen she had ever been in front of, she could see herself on the couch. With a heavy sigh, she pressed the remote’s power button at various angles to try and press life back into the television. She stared intently at the reflection of herself in the living room for any sign of cooperation.

Suddenly, she saw a dark figure as black as her own illusion within the TV screen, moving behind her. She gasped and turned fast, holding the remote upward as a momentary reaction for protection. She sighed as her irrational jumpiness subsided. Julie had assisted in locking every door and told her to do so once they left. She had turned the two bolts before they were out of the driveway. There was no way anyone could get into the nicely furnished home. The reaction did lead her to uncover the uncertainty she had been feeling since the lesbian couple left; a feeling of a pair of cold eyes upon her.

She had been brought up in a Christian town that held little, if not opposite, values taught on Sundays. The people of Albatawny were all actually rude with a loose code of ethics, though none would dare question their pride long enough to figure it out. Politeness was their buffer to blatant unfriendliness. Due to the culture of the God-fearing town, they were also bred to be Devil-fearing. Superstition soaked clean through them. Wring each one out like a sponge and there you would find it, a pool of dark superstition. What they did behind closed doors was not to be judged accordingly till someone found out about it. And when they did, if devils weren’t after that person already, a synchronous curse made by all members of the town would certainly draw demons to their doorstep.

*Squeak*

A sound from behind gave her another startle as she turned to examine the stairway, then the kitchen and dining area to the right of it. Again, there was no one.

Although her mother, Tammy, and everyone else in the town believed in such things as demons and spirits, she herself rebelled against the concept. The idea that there were forces unseen was purely based on ludicrous mob mentality and the education in the town was too primitive to give any children an idea of otherwise. Whereas most of her classmates had followed their parents’ line of thinking, she had strayed. Perhaps the real reason she did not believe in the Devil knocking at her doorstep was because she did not see God at home. Certainly, if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to keep a child in a constant slowed state of mind.

*Squeak*

She was already turned toward the sound, still facing the stairs, when she heard it the second time. This time, the startling phase of a foreign sound in an unfamiliar environment all but disappeared. Jessica figured it must have been the old wood acknowledging the wind in the night’s air. She brought the remote upward once more, this time directing it at something that was actually there. The results were the same as before.

A third squeak was given off by the old house, this time louder, as if trying to get her attention. She didn’t even turn around to the invisible origin before stating, “What do you have to whine about, old house? All you have to do is stand sturdy.”

*Squeeeeaak*

You have an easy job. While the living you hold have to do all the real work.”

*Squuueak*

“Nobody likes a whiner.”

This time, she did not get a response from the house she was giving life to by having a conversation on how not alive it was.

“That’s what I thought,” she said as she got off the couch and wiped off the crumbs of a cacao acai granola bar from her favorite brand name jeans. Once they fell successfully from her to the floor, she began the mission of placating her boredom. There was little to the downstairs that she hadn’t seen besides the laundry room. She got up and perused that room thoroughly, but only from the doorframe, taking heavy note of their leading brand detergent and the lacy bras half-hazardly hanging on a white string. The unmentionables must have felt the same way about her as she did the house; watched.

This led Jessica to fulfill her growing desire to see the bedroom which had to be located upstairs. She confirmed that the squeak must have been the house while she walked up the creaking stairway. Although the sounds were very dissimilar, the floorboards giving a much more whimpering timid squeak, this nonetheless set whatever doubts she had to rest.

She opened all doors in her life with ease, seeing as there was never a Devil to cross her doorstep, just as there was no God to make fried chicken for. There were two doors to the right, and one to the left in the middle of the two. She opened the lonely one first, standing in the frame of the doorway as she did in the laundry room, finding it to be a bathroom. Although she didn’t turn the light on, having only what could ascend from the downstairs lighting, the bathtub shined with luxury. She knew from magazines that the legs initiated it to be a claw foot. These were certainly all claw, golden talons attempting and failing to attach to the white tile. The tub was white as well, dipping lower in the middle section of the tub. Above it was another realm, one of pitch darkness. Although she could not see them, she knew trees and animals were in that other world, but only that. That world of nature, the one people get so unaccustomed to that they begin to fear it, was kept barricaded by the window, by the house that squeaked, looking to gain approval for all its hard work.

“You do a fine job of keeping Mother Earth at bay, but only her.”

She grabbed the golden knob and shut the bathroom door. She had in her conscious mind to keep everything in pristine, uncontaminated condition. She walked to the door on the right, furthest from the stairs. She searched for a light switch along the wall since the downstairs light was hardly sufficient, but she found no hard plastic growing out of the dark blue walls. She soon gave up all hope, and entered the room to search for a light. Upon turning on the light switch that was conveniently located alongside the door, she could see she was entering a bedroom. She could also clearly tell that this was not the owners’ bedroom. It had a cold, lifeless energy about it. It was something for show and occasional guests like herself.

*Squeak*

She paused a moment before shutting the light off and the door closed with haste. She turned to look at the hallway, where the peculiar squeak most definitely came from. It felt closer, sounded louder that time. Now that she was closer to the source, she determined it was most definitely not the floorboards. This was more of a solid, well-rounded squeak. Perhaps they had a live mouse caught in a trap.

Jessica moved into the hallway and down to the first door to the right of the stairs. The door cracked open gently, a soft glow coming from the widening crevice.

The adolescent who was doubtful about the look she saw pass between the two women, was hoping that her irritation would find its source. Unfortunately, there were no strange sex torture devices or large rainbow dildos to be found. No altars to Satin or anarchy symbols. There wasn’t even black silk sheets to questioned the validity of their goodness. She walked to the middle of the room, glancing down at the bed to her left. It looked like the bed grandparents would sleep on.

She had grandparents, but not the kind people want to know intimately. They didn’t smell like cookies and clean cotton when they gave her one of their incompetent hugs. They smelled of bourbon and beef. Her grandfather was a chicken farmer so he only ate red meat because he knew the conditions the chickens in Albatawny were kept in. She didn’t know why he thought the cows were treated any different.

She eyed what appeared to be a handmade quilt folded and situated at the end with pristine decorative pillows at the top. When she moved to the bottom of the bed, she tested the quilt’s validity like a grilling man sticking a fork into a steak to see if its done, with hungry uncertainty.

Jessica sat down on the bed and sank into it. She didn’t think she had ever sat on a bed this nice, certainly not one with this many pillows. She allowed herself to lay down on the bed. Immediately, she felt sleep wanting to overcome her. She thought about pushing herself up and directing her tired pubescent body to the guest room, but this one was so much more warm, full of a kindness. There were pictures of family and friends on the walls. The biggest was framed above their dresser, the two women on either side of a familiar looking old man.

There were two identical yet slightly varied paintings above the mound of decorative pillows, hung side by side. Jessica imagined them at a fancy art class. She rolled her eyes at how many stupid things rich people spent money on. Then she thought about them at the art class, pouring each other wine, Stacey playfully getting paint on Julie’s nose, all the while sharing that strange damned look. The two paintings were of the moon, with a creepy black tree’s barren branches blowing in the moonlight.

*Squeeeeeak*

Jessica sighed at the ceaseless squeak. It definitely wasn’t a mouse now that she had another listen. It was more artificial than living. It resembled a clown nose or a dog’s chew toy. Perhaps they had some type of pet they forgot to mention. She let the silence cover her once more, hoping the squeak would not disturb her again.

Just as she was on the brink of dreamland, a vision of kissing Tammy on her tummy carrying her to sleep, she heard a sound. At first, it appeared as a waterfall in her dream, and Tammy and her were wet and splashing water onto one another. The rushing continued till it went from a nice even flow to relentless. Perhaps she awoke from being in another person’s home, two lesbians’ home who look at each other with honest affection. Or maybe it was the sudden urge to pee. Regardless, Jessica emerged from her half-sunken wet dream.

Dreary-eyed, she found her way off the bed and towards the bathroom. Upon opening the door, she had no need to go for the light switch.  It was already on, but barely, flickering to a silent beat. It kept to its dance as she looked around the room. The light made her think of a bug lamp that was constantly catching its prey.

“I don’t remember turning you on,” she said, although thinking back on her night, she couldn’t be sure.

The search for the lesbians’ bedroom had been of so much concern to her, that she couldn’t remember. She did know, however, that she did not turn the golden levers atop the right side of the bathtub. But there they were, one turned straight forward, the other only slightly inward. The results were a smooth rush of water from the golden arched faucet landing in the porcelain tub. She couldn’t determine the water level because there were clean white clouds of bubbles up to the brim, just shy of overflowing. She walked over to the tub, bare feet chilling at the contact with white tile, and turned off the faucet. The smell of lavender wafted up and into her senses, soothing her worries of how a tub could possibly turn itself on.

She considered the possibilities. There could be someone in the house, but it would be ignorant to think if someone was sneaking in they would be drawing a bubble bath instead of stealing from the lesbians or chopping up Jessica. It was even more unlikely to think that the house had a life of its own, even though she had been entertaining one sided conversations with it. So the only logic based explanation in Jessica’s mind was that the pipes had gone haywire and turned on themselves from old plumbing. There must have been old soap residue caked to the inside of the tub. She was certain of one thing, lesbians must take a lot of baths. All of the porn she had searched on the matter showed that they were very into hygiene, especially showers.

The thought of Stacey and Julie using the very tub she was standing in to confirm their love like the girls in the porn videos made Jessica’s lower stomach flip. Although she refused a God and Devil, she could not deny the incredulous nature of a same sex marriage. One with no whips or dildos, no nasty habits or shameful secrets. Just lingering looks and the toting of suitcases, reprimanding the other for not asking for help.

She undressed. Her naturally straight honey blonde hair fell lightly across her buttocks after she shed her favorite jeans. She caught a glimpse of darkness to her left and turned. All she saw was her, under the flickering light, naked in the large mirror that hung over the sink. She had never seen her naked body before. In the one bathroom that her mother and little brother shared with her, there was hardly any time, let alone a proper mirror with enough space, to get a second with herself.

She was firm and small, especially compared to her other classmates who each had a mom with their own secret family recipe for fried chicken. Her breasts were perky and her nipples hard. She turned left and right, upset that her ribs didn’t poke out like the models’ did in her mom’s magazines. After scrutinizing pieces of her body for several minutes, she looked at her face, slim and sad. She didn’t like including her face in the reflection so she went focused back on her body at all angles. She wondered if Stacey or Julie would like to see her naked, if they thought that was the reason a pretty girl should be careful in a town like this. She almost missed them in that moment, wished they were there to help her into the tub.

Instead, she got in on her own. Her foot sunk into the few inches of bubbles then touched water. Like Goldilocks, she was sensitive to temperature. But the tub was neither to hot nor too cold. Somehow, the old pipes had accidentally made it just right. She sank her entire body into the tub and, unlike Goldilocks, she got excited to the thought of the owners’ return home.

She let her head rest upon the shaped porcelain, her nose right above the bubbles. More relaxed than she’d ever felt, she let her eyes close and thoughts wander. Time passed uncounted and uninterrupted. That is, until she heard *sqaaueeeeek* inches from her ears.

Her eyes shot open. The bubbles had receded to only a milky layer above the water. Floating on it was the source of her annoyance throughout the night. It must have been in the bathtub the whole time, Jessica thought, the bubbles covering the body from view. It was floating atop the water casually, as if it owned the tub. Now that the bubbles were all but dissipated, she could see that the color of the water was much darker than expected. It stunk of copper now that the lavender soap had evaporated along with the immaculate bubbles. She at first thought she must have started her period while in the water. As she adjusted her eyes to the twitching lightbulb, she saw that it was in fact red. She collected a pool of the liquid in her hands and sniffed it, then let it fall through her hands. It was thicker than water, though none the more reliable. It was certainly blood she was bathing in.

The yellow body in front of her let out a timid, quick squeak.

It was the body of a small rubber ducky. Jessica immediately blamed him and bad copper piping for the mess she was literally soaking in. As she began to sulk, the duck smiled unconcerned, black shades manufactured to not show his telling eyes.

She stared at the poker faced malleable avian for several flickers as the misty remainder of bubbles seemed to float him in the opposite direction, his upward tail facing Jessica. She pouted at the inattention. “Are you usually so testy when you make this big of a mess?” The duck continued his indifferent circling, his face smug all the while.

“Don’t play innocent ducky with me. Nothing to squeak about now that you’ve got my attention, huh?”

He circled and showed her his tail once more and continued to float, seeming to look nonchalantly out the window that held blackness with still no outline of the another world.

“Hey, I’ve had enough of this now.” She perched herself up into sitting position and flicked the duck’s butt. He moved a couple inches toward the faucet, the white mist of old bubbles growing.

“I don’t know how you’re doing it, but knock it off, now.” She flicked his butt a second time.

He moved closer toward the edge of the tub as it the white  foam circled around. The ducky let out a deep gurgling squeak that sounded like a warning.

“Is that a threat? I will flush you down the toilet so fast,” she flicked his butt once more, “That you won’t even have time to say,”

Suddenly the plastic duck expanded rapidly, like a balloon being fill with hot air as he released a sound similar to a balloon having hot air driven from it. He took on weight, taking up room in the tub. The hot bubbled blood bath shook as he expanded towards the rim. He faced Jessica just as his rubbery mouth was thinning out and coming apart. Teeth showed through the rubber smile like a tongue that stretches gum in preparation for a bubble to be blown.

Jessica could hardly let out a squeak of her own before she was consumed by the giant rubber ducky in one throat widening gulp. His lips closed in satisfaction. But a moment later, he hiccuped on a piece of Jessica that didn’t agree with him. The ducky hacked up a rag stained red like how a cat vomits up a hairball. Once the rest of Jessica was properly digested, the duck deflated to his normal appearance once more. His mouth molded shut into a broad smile as he floated atop the blood which had started to go down the drain.

Early the next morning, the door opened. The couple had returned to their home.

They noticed the debris of chip bags and empty granola bar wrappers on the couch, along with all of the lights that were still on from last night. Julie told Stacey to get the mop and cleaning supplies from the kitchen. She changed out of her sandals and pulled on rain boots she had tucked behind the door.  She went directly to the bathroom and upon entering, saw a mess of red and a disheveled slimy clump on the tile. The bathtub was drained and stained, a ducky at the bottom, smiling smugly in the unsteady light.

“Alright, knock it off gramps,” Julie said, the light following command by turning into a solid fluorescent that illuminated the bloody scene.

She picked up the clump of wet crimson and sifted through it to uncover a golden prize. Her mouth pursed at the smell of the girl’s insides as half her liver fell out of the crumpled scalp. Julie carefully shook the sopping remainder of Jessica’s head loose of leftover organ bits that had attached to the something which had upset the duck’s stomach.

She heard Stacey coming up the stairs, carefully carrying up the mop and bucket one step at a time so she wouldn’t get short of breathe. Julie locked the bathroom door and ran to the sink, threw the head of hair in it, and turned the hot water knob as far as it would go. She grabbed the dusty bottle of Garnier Fructis, Stacey’s favorite shampoo, from under the sink and squirted a heavy handful all over the hair.

She scrubbed out pieces of intestine and bone with her small attentive hands until she could see more yellow than ruby. When Stacey’s trek was finished, Julie knew. She heard the pause of accomplishment as she reached the top. Lather grew and coated the sink as Julie continued to rinse and repeat in the solid light, using a comb to untangle and filter.

After a minute, Stacey tapped on the closed door. “Julie,” she breathed hesitatingly. “It’s alright. You don’t have to do this.”

“Just a second,” Julie responded hectically as she ringed out the last drops of what was now mainly water.

“We’ve been through this,” Stacey said. Julie could hear exhaustion in her voice.

Julie laid out a towel and got out the sharp scissors she kept under the sink next to the shampoo. She then lifted the scalp and laid it on the towel with the hair laying out straight behind it like one puts down a towel on a windy beach.

“Sweetie,” Stacey said critically.

Julie held the scissors in her wet hand and took strong hold of the cleaned thick white scalp with the other. She opened the scissors’ lips and situated a large wet lock inside of them, positioning their metal sides right next to Jessica’s skin. Once in a confident position, she let the scissor lips kiss and repeated the method till the hair was no longer one with the scalp.

“Let me in, Jules,” Stacey said with a tone of frustration.

“Just one more second, dear,” Julie said frantically as she threw the scalp in the small trashcan and smoothed out the washed hair.

“Now,” Stacey demanded from behind the door.

Julie open the door to a tired face and smiled down at her before embracing her softly. “Now,” she whispered down towards her ear.

Stacey was led by Julie into the blood infused bathroom and gestured to Jessica’s strands. She ignored it at first, looking at the red tile and into the claw foot bathroom where a rubber ducky smiled coolly with black sunglasses covering his eyes.

She then looked at Julie who was still awaiting her confirmation, her arm outstretched to the brown towel and what basked on top.

“Are you sure this is worth it? He always makes the place into such a mess.”

Julie drew her eyebrows into a look of concern and let her hand fall. She walked the couple strides towards Stacey and put her hands on both sides of her head, staring down at her. “Of course I am.” She kissed Stacey heatedly on the lips and then withdrew only an inch to say, “Your happiness is worth the cleanup. And you know gramps would always do anything for his little grand baby’s soulmate. Plus, you know he was getting restless.”

She took her hands from Stacey’s cheeks to the back of her neck and untied her purple bandana. She let it fall to the rose colored floor and turned Stacey towards the sink to face the mirror Jessica had viewed her naked body in for the first time.

“You’re going to look great as a blond, Mrs. Wiggins,” Julie reassured her, putting her hand around her waist and touching the side of her forehead with hers. Stacey playfully pressed her bald head against Julie’s brown hair and smiled.

“You think? Red was a good look for me the last time.”

“Yes, but I think blonde will be the perfect unveiling wig for the town to see. Grandpa always said you needed to lighten up.”

They both laughed against one another along with the happy squeaks of a rubber ducky.

“This is going to be hell to clean up,” Stacey fretted.

“Let’s just be lucky grandpa always did love to prove the skeptics wrong, especially when it came to our love.”

“And that he has IBS, even in death,” Stacey said as she walked over to the tub and plucked out the composed rubber ducky. She placed it on top of the window frame above the tub, the sun from the other realm shining through.


 

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