By Jane Barnes
Desiree was sick and non-het at the same time. She fell ill and went to the hospital and then to rehab for two months, where she began to learn how to walk again. Bi and 78, she made her sexuality clear to people in the rehab, though to most it was a moot detail because aged ladies didn’t have a sexuality, did they?
Her nurses took it calmly because they were supposed to take everything calmly, even sepsis. She supposed that they weren’t very interested, especially the straight ones. At least, no one showed any interest, but maybe that’s because of her age, which perhaps made it irrelevant. Anyway, she was bi-ing some people and nobody was bi-ing her. So, she made her usual revelation by way of saying casually, My ex-wife. And they would say, Your what?
And so, Desiree in particular, would say, My wife. I’ve had two ex-wives, and three husbands. And if you’ve got a couple of hours, Nicole, I can explain it all to you. Oh, that’s okay, she said, not really listening. Desiree said, So my ex-wife this or that. And Nicole corrected her. You mean your husband. No, Desiree said, I mean my wife. Nicole said, tidying up her blankets, Oh, you were married to a woman?
Desiree said, No, not exactly, but what do you call living together for nine years? Isn’t that kind of a marriage? Nicole said Well, I don’t know. Maybe Nicole was indifferent because she herself was wearing a thick gold wedding ring. And had a new last name, and God knows what else.
Nicole asked, Do you have a ring? Nope, said Desiree. Don’t wear rings. I’m happy I’m alive, actually. and I have a charming physical therapist who’s a third of my age, and quite amusing and sharp and good looking, actually. Desiree was facing weeks—maybe months in a walker.
Devin you mean? Nicole said. Yes, said Desiree, I call him my flaming heterosexual. My metrosexual buddy. Nicole managed a smile. Oh, yes, Desiree said Then you know how he’s loved by everybody. And loves everybody. Hello, Johnny how’s that leg or Mary, how is your back doing? He knows everybody.He said to me, See that man over there? He was in traction for six months and then I got him walking in six weeks.
Desiree thought of other back stories as she’d pushed her metal walker along the hall which was so polished it hurt her eyes. And everybody was wearing masks, because of Covid. Nicole might have said to herself, now closing the blinds: What does that have to do with being That Way? Um hmm, said Nicole, out loud.
Desiree kept talking. And then he would say, let’s throw ball. To tell you the truth, I’m not much for physical movement. So having a physical therapist is a strange thing, but of course I can hardly walk at all. See, my mind would talk to my muscles and they wouldn’t answer back. They wouldn’t move. But it’s not like I’m paralyzed or anything. The nurse glanced down at her watch. Time for her break. She thought of the brownie in her lunch bag. You’re learning—well, what walking is about. Desiree said, I practice and I practice. I go up fake stairs and get to the top where there’s nothing but a wall and so I turn around and come back down again. I can do it four times in a row.
Nicole’s eyes blinked yes above her mask. Um hmm she said, thinking again of the brownie in her lunch bag. A cocoa brownie with not too much sugar in it. And walnuts. Desiree, Nicole said, Turn out the light? And then came the predictable question they all posed: So which do you like better, men or women?
Desiree said The smart ones, which I guess makes me a sapiosexual. That’s what they call us. I like Italians and Geminis and people who are partly Irish because they also have the gift of gab which I am said to have also. And a bit of humor. As soon as they get away from the Catholic Church. (But there Desiree was: convalescing at a Catholic rehab, with statues in alcoves and nurses who wore gold crosses glistening against their necks.)
Desiree said, Now, I was rather witty myself, some said. Nicole thought to herself, How many people would say that about themselves? She said, so how long were you with this person—“person” like a dead bird held up for inspection by hunters. Desiree said Nine years. And imagined she heard a little “ouch” in Nicole’s lack of response. She said, Laura and I were so happy and then we broke up.
Oh, I see, Nicole said, Too bad. Then she asked Did you say, Three women and two men? No, said Desiree, three men and two women. Nicole wanted a clearer picture: So were you married five times? No, said Desiree, I was only married to the first man and he was the worst of all. Nicole said, I see. Do you want anything else? Desiree laughed. A husband. Or maybe a wife. I don’t care. As long as they’re smart. I like dark men and blonde women, dark, dark short men.
Desiree thought, But perhaps you’re straight, and have to go home and make dinner, or you’re a lesbian and have to go home and make dinner. Either way, you’re not bi, by the way, but thanks for listening. Nicole walked to the door and said You’re welcome. The door closed with a satisfying click. She said to herself, George ate the last brownie. It must be the lemon cake.
Jane Barnes is a long-time New Yorker, currently living on Staten Island.