Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
1696 words
SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012


by Judith Arcana

The younger generation will come knocking on my door.
—Henrik Ibsen

Andrea’s a white woman with silver-grey hair and a chronic cough. She walks a lot, mostly down the middle of Portland’s small residential asphalt streets; they’re easier on her joints than concrete sidewalks. She learned about that resiliency when she injured her knee in ’99 and had to stop riding her bike. She became a committed walker then: no car, some buses and trains, mostly walking. That’s how she gets where she’s going.

She’s seventy now, and it is terribly strange, just like Simon & Garfunkel sang it would be. She thinks of herself as an entry-level old person; she doesn’t have the chops yet, not like people over eighty, but—and this is important to Andrea—she’s ahead of the boomers. Born smack in the middle of that war they popped out after, them with their group identity.

Andrea got tattooed in the summer of ’73, a pink ribbon with red rosebuds at both ends and the name “Jane Roe” written on it, rippling across her belly a few inches below her navel. Even later, when Weddington’s plaintiff went over to the dark side, that name still meant what it was supposed to mean: Everywoman. Anywoman. Andrea.

She met the two young women in this story at the hot tubs on NE 33rd. She was lying on her back on a bench, eyes closed to the sun drying her naked skin, baking her cough, when she felt their shadows move across her face and chest. She opened her eyes and one of them said, I love your tattoo! It’s so, like, vintage! The lines, you know? The style—and the meaning too, the politics. Totally.

Andrea sat up.

Yeah? She squinted. I see you don’t have any yourself, though. She looked at the other young woman and said, You, however, are ahead of the game. The second one, who hadn’t spoken yet, had bracelets of bright beads tattooed on both wrists, tiny golden serpents wound around both nipples, and a purple sash drawn in soft folds circling her waist.

Both of them were darker than Andrea, but she couldn’t be sure, squinting in the sun, if they were women of color or simply tanned by the strong summer sun of global warming. When she’d first opened her eyes, dazzled by that light, Andrea thought—for just the tiniest second, the way you can think a whole story in what seems later like not even time—maybe these young women could be mixed-race grandmothers of the golden people she imagines will live on earth afterwards, when the horrors have subsided and remaining species are few enough to live on the little bits of air and water that’re left, eating food grown in soil clean enough to be tilled in those new, post-Monsanto, years.

She squeezed her eyes shut again for a second and did a tiny head shake. Then she opened her eyes and saw them clearly: two young women, naked as she is, out there on the wooden deck of a bath house in NE Portland.

You’re right, the first young woman said. I’m trying to decide—I’m still not sure.

Andrea swung her legs aside so they could sit down if they wanted. She said, It’s a serious choice. Choosing can be hard.

The second young woman sat down close enough that her bare thigh touched Andrea’s and said, No. It’s only hard if you think it is—choosing’s not a hard thing at all, by itself. I mean, the nature of choosing, like, making choices? People do it all the time, for different reasons, all day long, every day of our lives. Everything we do makes us, like, choose one thing and not another thing. Everything’s like that! Then she said, I’m Dannie, Danita. This is Andrea. She pronounced it Ahn-dray-uh.

Andrea! Andrea said, pronouncing it that way too. That’s my name. Except I say Ann-dree-uh.

No way! Seriously? That’s amazing! So, this is like Fate, right? Destiny? I was supposed to meet you today, young Andrea said, with your old tattoo and your old woman wisdom. You’re going to, like, help me decide.

Andrea—our Andrea, the elder Andrea, the one this story began with—laughed. She laughed so suddenly, so loudly, she nearly barked. Oh? Is that the deal? Is that what’s happening here?

Half an hour later, sitting in the pie shop on Alberta, waiting for their order to be called, the three women kept talking. Their hair was dry already.

Andrea the Younger said, Like, taking the bus or taking the train to get downtown? Getting up early to shower, or sleeping as late as possible? Those choices aren’t so hard because, like, who cares? But telling the truth or a lie, telling or not telling anything to your parents, your boss, your friends? That’s hard! Come on—you know this! Some decisions are more important, totally more important—and hard. It took me like four months to decide whether to get an IUD (like, could there even be guys I’d want to have sex with?); I spent half my senior year deciding whether to go to Colorado for college—and I don’t even know how many weeks I went back and forth about breaking up with Jess when we graduated—it’s hard! And, like, what if you change your mind? What’ll you do then? Because, I mean, face it, the choice you’re making is just how you feel now, what you think now. How’ll you feel in ten years? Or even just one? That’s the thing, isn’t it? You can’t, like, know for sure.

Then Dannie said, You can’t know anything for sure. I mean, are you saying we—I, you, everybody, anybody—can’t make decisions at all? Because every decision we make, every choice we make, is what we think now, what we feel now. Because, how could it not be? These questions—what are they really about? You can’t seriously be advocating paralysis, indecision, going along without making judgments—can you?

Andrea the Elder looked from one super-clean face to the other. She said, What matters is taking responsibility for our choices, owning them, as the shrinks say, and recognizing that everything we do, even the simplest actions, is influenced by who—and where—we are—in the world, I mean. Because we’ll always have choices—all our lives!—we need our choices to grow out of consciousness. Not just whether to buy apples from New Zealand, either. I mean all the way up to the major league stuff: life and death choices.

Two months later, Andrea the Younger texts Danita: I decided! Call me!

Dannie calls her, and AtY says: I’m getting a tattoo. You have to come with me. This weekend for sure. Just one. I think. Well, two’s not impossible if they’re tiny. Now that I’m working out at the farm, maybe a vegetable—or some fruit? Something kind of, like, connected to growing, you know? Maybe have it coming up out of the ground, or opening on a branch? Maybe a pair of cherries? Little ripe strawberries? Two tiny oranges, like those ones we get around the winter solstice?

Where will you go? Do you like that new place on Hawthorne? What about the one downtown, where we saw that woman playing the tambourine, the one who painted herself orange? Or the real old place on the east side—the oldest ones are totally amazing. When my roommate Marla got tattooed in Chicago, she went to the oldest place she could find—she wanted a classic mindset. I was with her. We went around Valentine’s Day so she could see the most possible hearts. Their flash was, like, really old school—it was serious. This place was so old it looked like my grampa could’ve gone there before VietNam. Right before he shipped out he got a map of Oregon, with a little red star where Warm Springs is, on his shoulder. So, this place had valentines with Cupid-arrows stuck through (some had penises instead of arrows! dick-hearts!). Some were really frilly, and the lace looked totally real. There were shiny gold ribbons—it was cool how they could make the ink look shiny—and they had black and red that looked like they’d feel velvety. Some were torn, real jagged, and had silver tears crying out of their edges—broken hearts. Sad. It was right by the el—you know that elevated train they have there? Sorta like walking across the river on the Steel Bridge when the Max goes over? This shop was like practically underneath the tracks, and the whole place kind of rumbled—you could feel it—when a train would go over. But nobody hardly even noticed! The guy doing her valentine just lifted his needle—still buzzing!—above her skin until it faded away. I was watching her being done and looking at all the walls. They had Mickey and Minnie Mouse dressed in black leather, and Goofy riding a Harley. They had Daffy and Donald Duck too, and they were like sort of having sex with a girl duck in a yellow polka-dot bikini. I remember the color of the bikini was the same color as her bill. Duckbill yellow, almost orange? They were all like cartoons from before television, cartoons from film school history class, pre-Pixar, way-early Disney cartoon shorts.

A girl duck? What are you saying?

Oh, Andrea! Girl, woman, whatever—it was a duck! Listen, they had a whole wall with pictures of women from so long ago—seriously, so old school, not the way you see women now. Hula dancers, mermaids and women wearing sailor shirts with their stomachs showing, naked witches riding on broomsticks. And all the naked women’s nipples were drawn like cherries, like you see stuck on top of a banana split? It was almost a museum, that place.

Hey, let’s call Andrea the Elder! It could be rad if she came with us and gave me, like, her blessing. I have her in my phone.

Wait—what? Her blessing? You mean, like, a fairy godmother?


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Judith Arcana

writes poems, stories, essays, and books, publishing online and on paper. Her books include Grace Paley’s Life Stories: A Literary Biography; the poetry collection, What if your mother; and the poetry chapbook, 4th Period English.

Forthcoming in 2012 are a fiction zine (Keesha and Joanie and Jane, Eberhardt Press) and a poetry chapbook (The Parachute Jump Effect, Uttered Chaos Press). She’s working now on the Maude poems and a collection of short stories (Hello. This Is Jane.), which includes “Answering the Question.”

Judith lives in Oregon, in an apartment upstairs of her neighborhood library.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury