I call her Honey Bunny—an utter cliché. That’s lame, I know, but I value clichés. They do set limits. And limits are the bedrock of sanity: without them passions would be too dark, wounds too deep, and fear would never take a holiday. So thank heaven for good stout clichés.
My mother, bless her soul, called everyone honey bunny: even my uncle who began creeping into my bedroom when I was twelve, even my brother who quit school because it was interfering with his porn habit—even my father who only seemed endearing after he got shot to death thirty years ago. And my mother died at the ripe old age of 95—died with a Bible in her hand, a twinkle in her eye, and a monkish insistence that God will protect us.
I strive to be more like my mother was, but I have only one honey bunny in my life. I met her a year ago in San Francisco—at the annual Pink Parade. The parade, as usual, depressed me—perhaps because of the total irrelevance of what it was celebrating. Why on earth would I want to celebrate being a lesbian, and a failed lesbian at that? I may as well celebrate the color of my hair, the length of my fingernails, or the alarming frequency with which I masturbate. And so I hung despondently at the edge of the crowd and listened to the boisterous shouting of the dykes on motorbikes.
It was she—my very own Honey Bunny—who started the conversation. Touching my elbow ever so gently, she asked me if I had a hair clip. A hair clip! You can buy those anywhere so I knew she was reaching out to me. There was something so very pathetic about her: she was thin as a rake, paler than ivory, and her eyes were like the eyes of a beggar. Yet those sorrowful eyes looked straight into my soul—my shoddy, pedestrian soul. Thankfully, her gaze was charitable—it seemed that her own life, an obvious shipwreck, had spared her the conceits of judgment. It also appeared that she needed rescuing.
“Here,” I said. Removing a hair clip from my already disheveled mane, I handed it to her. She protested—“Oh no, you still need it”—but when I pressed it into her palm, she took it without hesitation. She pinned back her dark bangs and I was able to look at her more critically. Her forehead was shiny and swarming with freckles, her jaw was entirely too weak, and her ears were clownishly large. Only her eyes, her dark luminescent eyes, rescued her from homeliness.
We drank iced teas at an outdoor café—she paid—and I listened as she rambled on about her life. She was an interior decorator but not a very accomplished one—she had not worked in months. Her love life, like mine, was the ultimate cliché: her husband had left her for a man. And she was an alcoholic now struggling to recover. I listened to her with staccato nods of my head. I wanted to appear cosmopolitan. I wanted to appear chic. I wanted to appear breezy. I wanted to be anything but what I was—a farm girl from Iowa suddenly in love.
She patted my wrist before she left and handed me her business card. It read Annabelle Chilton, Living Rooms & Kitchens, Visits by appointment. “In case you drum me up some jobs,” she said—another sure signal. With the entire Internet at her disposal, why would she need me to find her jobs? Clearly, we had made a once-in-a-lifetime connection. Or perhaps we had known each other in another life: a life cut short by some cruel circumstance. The plea in her eyes, the sob in her throat, the tremor in her hands all told me that there was unfinished business between us.
I pocketed her card as though it were a check and walked away from the parade.
I phoned her the following morning. She answered on the very first ring—probably she had been waiting for my call. I invited her to lunch and she accepted at once. I told her it was my turn to pay.
I dressed conservatively: sandals, a cream colored blouse, and a dark pair of slacks that minimized my stocky hips. I shortened my hair with a pair of scissors, teased it into a pageboy do, and then stood before the full-length mirror that hung from the door in my studio flat. I barely recognized the woman looking back at me: with every hair in place, I looked more like a CEO than a part-time nurse’s aide. But Annabelle needed a person of stature—someone to anchor her free-floating spirit.
We met at the same café. She was sitting at a table, bent over a pack of tarot cards that she was arranging face-up. The way she nibbled her lip as she concentrated on the cards was absolutely touching. “Oh,” she said, startled by my sudden appearance. I sat down beside her and she returned her attention to the cards.
“Are you reading my fortune?” I asked.
She put down the deck. “If you must know, I’m reading mine. Things are so crazy I have to read it every day.”
“Why every day? That Death card looks scary.”
“People usually think that,” she laughed. “But it’s actually a card of transition. It means old things die—new things replace them.”
“My father was young when he died,” I replied. “And no one took his place, thank God.” I don’t know why I told her this—the incident, though traumatic at the time, was now more of an embarrassment to me than anything else. But when something is ordained—when it is plainly in the cards—there is not much point in holding back.
“I’m so very sorry,” she said. And she meant it.
“Don’t be,” I replied. I did not want her pity—that would never do. “He was shot to death in a hovel, you know—a goddamn brothel. Some say he needed killing.”
She turned over another card—the Queen of Swords.
“Now that bitch is scary,” I said.
She laughed. “She can be mean. But she’s really a card of judgment.”
“A dyke with a sword? What kind of judge would she make?”
She giggled like a child. “Not a very good one, I’m afraid. She’s too conflicted herself. She’s part man, you know.”
Her come-on was so banal that I could only smile indulgently. Opposites attract. Opposites repel. And so the game goes on. I scooted my chair closer to her and watched as she lay down more cards.
She told me a bit more about her life and my pity for her grew. She had gotten married straight out of a Catholic women’s college. For five years, she had clung to a safe but passionless marriage. When her husband had confessed to an affair with another man, she settled for a no-fault divorce and came to San Francisco to pursue a new dream—that of becoming an interior designer. It was a dream for which she lacked the slightest qualification—a dream as fanciful as her bullshit marriage and her trust in those silly tarot cards. But her tenacity, even in the pursuit of lost causes, was to be admired. My own bullshit marriage had ended years before my ex-husband came out of the closet. It had ended in its very first month—when I heard him brushing his teeth for the two hundredth time. Try as I may, I could not stand the sound of him brushing his goddamn teeth. And so, when I got my divorce papers, I gleefully packed a bag and set off for San Francisco—not to chase a dream but to put as much distance as I could between myself and Iowa.
She plopped down another card. It was the Magician.
“Now what does he stand for?”
She laughed and patted my wrist. “He has very striking powers,” she said. “He turns gravel into gold.”
As it turned out, it was the Queen of Swords who had striking powers. She was not an abstraction—an interplay of Yin and Yang—but an actual person: a towering drag queen who was approaching our table like a ship that had drifted off course. She was vampire pale with Madonna length hair and her eyes were looking daggers straight at me. I recognized her instantly as a hustler, one of those bottom feeders that hung around the Mission District—the kind who preyed on the homeless waifs that poured into the city every day. What did she want with my Honey Bunny? Did she want her to sell drugs, work as her pimp, pose for lewd photos? I could tell by Annabelle’s demeanor—the way she stiffened as this bitch approached—that she had already been caught in her snare. What a silly thing to do, but that’s my Honey Bunny.
The Queen of Swords sat at our table, glowering like a sunset as Annabelle introduced me. She introduced me as Rebecca—the name I had adopted since coming to San Francisco, a name that symbolized my complete and utter relocation from Iowa.
“Eve,” she said hesitantly. “Eve this is Rebecca. Eve and I are roommates, you know.” She spoke the word roommates as though she were describing something vile—a mooring of desperation. A port of last resort.
“Charmed,” the Queen of Swords muttered. She took my hand, squeezing it with a man’s grip. I was stunned by the reptilian strength of her fingers. But I was also rather glad to meet her. Now I knew my mission. Now I knew what my Honey Bunny needed to be rescued from. Now I knew what would make me the Magician in her eyes.
An invasive chill settled over the table—a chill as penetrating as that of an Iowa winter. It was Annabelle, dear and vulnerable Annabelle, who broke down first. “Eve was in a movie,” she blurted. This was not a disclosure so much as a cry—a frantic attempt to break the silence.
I nodded woodenly. Movie, my ass. It was probably a film clip: the kind you saw in the Mission Street sex shops. So that was the Queen of Swords realm—the goddamn basement of the goddamn porno industry. Was she planning to recruit my Honey Bunny—get her into those flicks? I swore I would never let such a thing happen.
Arching my eyebrows, I looked back at Eve. “I don’t much like movies. They get on my nerves. But you are very photogenic.” I said this not to flatter her but because I could easily picture her face on a police mug shot.
The bitch lit a cigarette—a Salem—and smiled like a ghoul. She had accepted my comment as a compliment, but this did not stop her from blowing a veil of smoke in my direction. “Take care of your gifts, darlin’,” she said. “I’m sure you have gifts of your own.”
I shrugged. “Not a one,” I confessed. “Not unless loyalty counts.” That was a lie, of course. I had never been loyal to anything in my life—certainly not to my uncle who tried to bribe me with a kitten, my ex-husband who hid gay porn under our bed, my mother who never lost that fucking twinkle in her eyes. But today—today—I was ready to make a change.
Eve blew more smoke at me and chuckled. “I do hope you’re fibbing, darlin’. What good is loyalty in the Mission?”
I looked at her as though I were looking at a piece of shit. What a hypocrite she was to say something like that. As though she, the Queen of Swords, had not demanded total fidelity from my Honey Bunny. “Do I look like I’m fibbing?” I snapped.
She groaned, her tenor voice giving way to a deep baritone. “Maybe to yourself, darlin’,” she said. “You look like a woman in search of a cause.”
I continued to stare at her. It did not matter that she had read me like a book, that I had broadcast my intentions, that my soul was so barren, so utterly transparent, that even this street shark could take its measure. I had stood up for my Honey Bunny. That was enough.
But now it was time for a strategic retreat—time to go home and plan the first step of my campaign. I rose from the table, feigning indifference when my Honey Bunny frowned at me. Don’t leave me, please was the plea in her eyes—she looked like a jilted lover. But I would have to leave the silly creature for now.
“I must go,” I said firmly.
Her eyes began to water. “Go where?” she blurted. “You were about to buy me lunch.”
I smiled mysteriously. “To the movies,” I said.
I went straight home and lay down on my bed. I hated to abandon my Honey Bunny, but I needed some time to think. Time had always been my ally; it had served me well after my father was shot to death thirty years ago—after I identified his body, as stiff as a manikin, lying upon a gurney in the county morgue. Only time could have mitigated my memory of his drunken fits. Only time could have given me a few bits of nostalgia: he had taught me how to hunt—how to load and unload a gun. And time would assist me where Honey Bunny was concerned. Since her sanctification was vital to my mission, I needed time to forgive her her folly—time to accentuate the very best in her. Dreams are so very vulnerable, after all.
I started with an e-mail, a few short sentences that I revised several times. When the message was ready, I looked at it with satisfaction.
Can we meet? Not in a restaurant but a cavern—a place where only the Magician might appear. Remember, it was Eve who forsook Paradise, Eve who perverted Man—Eve who stole the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. I will wait to hear from you.
I pressed the send button and waited for a reply. I waited several days, but that did not surprise me. Were my Honey Bunny quick-witted—were she able to think on her feet—she would not be caught up in a hustler’s web. Her reply, when it finally came, was short and succinct—a sharp departure from her usual garrulous ramblings.
Thank you for the invitation. I’m afraid I must decline. A little knowledge can go a long way.
Was my Honey Bunny miffed at me? Probably—I had walked out on her at the restaurant. Or were these Eve’s words? I sincerely hoped they had come from Honey Bunny. Good things protect themselves, after all, and now I could truly hope that my Honey Bunny was not promiscuous—that her precious affections would have to be earned. Be wary of finding your love on a single night. Love that comes too easily is too often counterfeit love.
I composed another message:
Thank you for your reply. A little knowledge does go a long way. There is no need for you to meet me—I understand why you can’t. But drop me a line now and then—just a few words to let me know how you are doing. That will be enough and enough is as good as a feast.
I forwarded her the message along with an invitation to be my Facebook friend. She did not answer right away, thank God: her reticence gave me time to reflect, time to consider my options, time to woo her in small increments. Rapture, after all, is better pursued in degrees—otherwise, the impact could prove overwhelming. And so I sent her one e-mail a day—one and only one—just to remind her that I would be there no matter how perilous the journey. After a month, she replied.
Enough is not a feast. Enough is enough. Do not correspond with me further. Abandon your notion that we’re good for lunch. Invite the Magician if you wish, but leave me out your daydreams. Please.
I re-read her e-mail and gasped. How desperate my Honey Bunny must be to resort to so silly a code. Was it a fear of rapture that prompted her to do this or was it her obedience to the Queen of Swords? In any case, her message—Do not abandon me, please—was too disturbing to ignore.
Thankfully, I still had her address. It was printed on her business card—how convenient. She lived in a fleabag hotel in the Mission District—at the intersection of 24th Street and Folsom. It was an hour’s walk from my flat in the upper Castro, but what did distance matter? It was imperative that I check up on my Honey Bunny right away.
I walked the entire twenty blocks to her hotel. By the time I got there, my feet were so blistered that I could barely hobble. I should not have worn flip-flops for such a long walk.
It was a mercy to my feet that I did not have to wait long. In a matter of minutes, she emerged through the doorway to her hotel—as though the Magician had summoned her. Thank God she’s psychic. Thank God she came so quickly. But when I saw her, my heart began to bleed. She was hollow-eyed, shoeless, and clad in a cheap summer frock. And—surprise, surprise—she was with that bitch, Eve. What Eve had done to my Honey Bunny, I could only imagine—but gone was her vitality, her lively innocence, the childlike luster in her eyes. She looked like a crack whore.
I waved—hoping to attract her attention. She noticed me at once, and her face began to soften. She then jerked her head in Eve’s direction—an urgent effort to warn me away. A few minutes later, the pair of them disappeared into a subway tunnel.
I walked back to my flat—the entire twenty blocks. My feet were like pulp by the time I got home, but what did that matter? For the sake of my Honey Bunny—my dear and precious love—I was prepared to give my life.
It’s so strange to be knocking upon heaven’s door. What if it were to open too quickly? What if I were unworthy of walking through it? What if heaven were too great a challenge—not only for me but for my Honey Bunny as well? As I thought more about it, I started to choke; it felt like a python was crushing my lungs. Thank God I could turn on some music.
Desperate for YouTube, I went online. I selected one of my favorites, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”—not the Bob Dylan original but the more dynamic version performed by Guns N’ Roses. As I listened to the riffs of the lead guitar and the gravelly drawl of Axl Rose, I began to get out of my skin. And soon I was singing along. “Knock knock knocking on heaven’s door—hey, heeey, yaaay.”
But it was time I knocked louder. And so, when the song ended, I composed another e-mail to my Honey Bunny.
Don’t snub the Magician. He is wiser than us both and far more resourceful. And, after seeing you this morning, I fear it is time for a transition. But come to me on your own accord—not like a lamb but a fearless queen. Don’t make me play the Death card on you.
I paused before sending the message. What if my Honey Bunny had been turned against me? What if she were less courageous than I imagined her to be? What if Eve were to intercept the message?
But what if I did nothing? What if I abandoned my Honey Bunny to drugs and destitution? Surely, I would be hell-bound—deservedly so—without a prayer of ever reuniting with her. And so, there it was. One of us would have to be brave.
I took a deep breath and looked fear in the eye. And then I hit the send button.
An hour later, I heard a knocking on my door. Had heaven come calling so soon?—I rather doubted it. But, having taken the leap, I was prepared for whatever was to come. Be it bliss or be it woe, I was ready. Anything was better than this maddening limbo.
Quickly, eagerly, I opened the door. Standing outside were two dykes wearing pantsuits. They were stately, tall, and beautiful, and their faces glowed with the righteousness of angels. Why couldn’t my Honey Bunny be so brave? The women were an escort—that was clear—and I was ready to be escorted. And so I said nothing when they slipped the bracelets over my wrists, walked me down the hallway, and eased me into the back seat of a police van. One of them scooted in beside me and began reading the warrant. But I wasn’t listening.
“You look like Wonder Woman,” I said.
She laughed. “Take it easy on me.”
“Were you sent here by a queen?”
“Take it easy.”
The one who was driving glanced over her shoulder. “It was a homely looking chick with dirty feet. She seemed kinda batty.”
I smiled with relief. “That’s my Honey Bunny,” I said. “Crazier than bat shit.”
“She isn’t worth jail time—that’s for sure.”
I laughed and agreed. But, of course, I was lying. For my Honey Bunny, I would gladly go to jail. I loved her with all her flaws. I loved her in all her moods.
I saw her three days later during my arraignment. She was sitting at the back of the courtroom and she looked like a train wreck. Her hair was disheveled and greasy, her dress was badly rumpled, and her eyes were so dark that she looked like a mugging victim. But I was a fright myself: clad in a jail-issued jumpsuit—no makeup on my face at all—I was not at my best for Honey Bunny.
She looked at me and blushed, and I felt my pulse starting to pound. What joy—to know that she was penitent, to know that she yearned for a glimpse of me. But how heartbreaking to see her in such a state.
My public defender, a short owlish man, told me I could probably take a plea. I could cop out to five years probation—the standard term for felony stalking—and agree to a ten-year stay-away order. My heart leaped at the possibility. How merciful. How utterly convenient. I could never put my Honey Bunny through a trial. I could never force her to take the stand—to submit to the whiplash questioning of a lawyer. I could never ask her to betray me publicly. Such an experience would crush her bird-like spirit forever.
No, no—a thousand times no. I would stay loyal to my Honey Bunny. I would continue to set the standard. And one day, she would surely come to me.
She wrote me while I was still in jail—unmindful of the restraining order the judge had issued. The letter was brief, a single mottled page that appeared to be dappled with tearstains.
The DA said not to write you, but write you I must. I never thought the Death card could be scary. But now I see you each night in my dreams. In my dreams, you are the Charioteer—a most unsettling card. In my dreams, you wear a bright red tunic and come to me like a conqueror. I want these dreams to end.
You scare me, Rebecca. You scare me so.
I put down the letter and started to weep. The subtext—I want you so—was plain enough, but it was the body of the letter that most affected me. The fact that no good deed goes unpunished was simply unacceptable where my Honey Bunny was concerned. I would have to let her know—and know right away—that only the Queen of Swords need be feared.
I composed a quick note.
I confess. I want to be your hero. And you need a hero, my darling. Still, I would rather die than frighten you for even an instant. So let us dispense with chariots and tunics. Let us settle, instead, for a single red rose. Tape a rose upon the door of your hotel if you want me to come to you. I will check your hotel every day for a rose. A rose is all I need.
Your friend, Rebecca
I stuffed the note into an envelope—thank God they don’t monitor the correspondence in here—and gave it to the jail chaplain to mail out. I waited a week and then shivered with joy. Since lightning did not strike me—since the DA did not bust me for violating the restraining order—I knew for sure that my Honey Bunny was having second thoughts. I knew, without a doubt, that our love would win out in the end.
Thirty days later, I went back to court. I stood before the judge, held up my head, and nodded stoically as he recited the terms of my probation. When I had taken my plea bargain, I looked around the courtroom, hoping for another glimpse of my Honey Bunny. She was there, of course, but how sad she looked. Sitting again at the back of the courtroom, her face buried in her hands, she resembled a mourner at a wake. When she finally looked up at me, my heart almost burst. Oh, for a bit of lipstick! Oh, for a dab of rouge! With my pasty complexion—my jailbird pallor—I must surely have looked like a ghost.
The following morning—alone in my flat—I reevaluated my strategy. Since I was now a specter to her—a shadow from heaven’s door—I would have to approach her as such. Shattered as she was, my Honey Bunny could only handle ghosts, pallid reminders of what still might be. And so I created a Facebook phantom—a parody of my masculine self—and I named him Ruhben. The anagram of Ben Hur would be instantly apparent to her: an assurance that the Charioteer was not to be taken seriously.
It seemed almost redundant to send her a friend request. She was with me constantly now, her presence like a warm breeze that caressed me daily—or sometimes like an arctic winter chill. But it wasn’t enough that she was psychic—I needed to hear from her as well. And so I sent her a Facebook invitation—one that she instantly accepted. She even posted my “picture”—that of a bronzed surfer dude—on her friends page. Ruhben, she wrote coquettishly. Are you from India? What a tease she can be.
The next day, as I walked to the probation department, I felt such joy that I almost floated. How good it was to be out and about, to feel the warmth of sunshine on my skin again, and to know my Honey Bunny was thinking of me. I had lost my job at the hospital—thank God. Now I was free—free at any hour of the day—to dash to her side and kiss away her tears. Who knew when she might need me? Who knew when she might call for me?
I liked my probation officer—a handsome woman who reminded me of Jamie Lee Curtis. After she had referred me to a therapist and given me a chit for food stamps, we talked about movies. You’ve got to know how to handle these people if you want them to cut you some slack. I even patted her shoulder before leaving her office and promised I would report back to her in a week.
Later that day, after checking my Facebook feed, I went out to feed myself. The taqueria at 24th and Folsom—the one across from my Honey Bunny’s hotel—was perfect. There, I could be closer to her. There, I could feel the full strength of her vibes. There, I would be ready if the love she so feared, yet so desperately wanted, delivered her to my arms. And so I went back, every day for a month, and watched for a single red rose.
Betrayal has so many faces. Omission is one, denial another, and settling must certainly qualify. But first one must betray oneself. First one must sanctify dark habits. First one must decide that another dead end marriage—another bullshit union—is not salve but salvation. What is beyond your capacity seek not. My mother used to quote that from the Bible whenever she wanted to put me in my place. And maybe she was right. But I felt only grief—unfathomable grief—when I read my Honey Bunny’s announcement.
To all my Facebook friends:
You are invited to the wedding of Annabelle Chilton and Emmanuel Vasquez—stage star and illusionist. Our hearts are full, our faith in life restored. Love has truly found us.
Services will be Saturday afternoon, 1:00 pm at Glide Memorial Church. Refreshments will be served afterwards at the Treasure Island Yacht Club. Come one, come all, and share in this magical moment.
I lowered my head and wept. What a sell out! What a farce! And who was Emmanuel Vasquez? I studied the picture she had posted beside her own—that of a tall sweaty man in a T-shirt. I practically retched when I realized it was Eve. How utterly disappointing to see her out of drag—to realize she was not a vampire but a slob. Oh, Annabelle. Dearest, dearest Annabelle. How very frightened of life you must be.
Thankfully, I was still brave enough for the both of us. Thankfully, I was bruised but unbowed. Thankfully, my freedom, my life, my very soul, were not too much to risk for my Honey Bunny. I would give them all up for an instant of bliss, a single sweet smile from my beloved’s lips.
Dispensing with Ruhben, my own sad illusion, I composed a short e-mail.
A boat in port is safe. But that isn’t what boats are designed for. So please do not rot in a withering harbor. Instead, put your faith in a mutinous sea. For only the lost—only the truly lost—can ever be found.
After sending her the e-mail, I dashed from my flat, flagged down a cab, and gave the driver directions to her hotel. I asked him to hurry, but he all he did was poke along. It was twenty minutes—twenty excruciating minutes—before we pulled up alongside her building. And still I hesitated. What to do now? Should I push my way past the security clerk, pound on her door, throw myself at her feet? Of course I should—even if it meant jail. Since my Honey Bunny was already imprisoned, it was only fitting that I share in her fate. Her pain was my pain, after all.
And so I felt proud, incredibly proud, when I heard the murmur of a siren—when a squad car pulled in front of the cab. And I smiled when my probation officer, accompanied by two uniformed dykes, approached me.
I got out of the cab. “I surrender,” I piped. “Don’t shoot me.”
She chuckled. “It didn’t take you long to fuck up.”
I stood like Joan of Arc as she fitted me with handcuffs and read me my Miranda rights. After I was strapped into the squad car, we chatted a bit more.
“It sure didn’t take you long, Rebecca.”
I shrugged. “I guess not. But that’s kind of a blessing.”
“I was staking out the building, you know.”
“Did she call you?”
“This morning. She told me she was getting married. So I knew it wouldn’t be long until I saw you here.”
As we drove to the city jail, my heart felt astoundingly full. So my Honey Bunny, my crafty but timid Honey Bunny, had been testing me—testing the depth of my love. And surely I had passed—passed with the brightest of colors. Together, we would now bear the weight of her cross. Together, we would bind ourselves to exile. And together we would be when this test—this loathsome test—had paved our way to heaven.
My probation revocation hearing was a disappointment, not because of the sentence I received—it was only the two-year minimum—but because my beloved wasn’t in the courtroom. I craned my neck, hoping to get a glimpse of her, but she was nowhere to be seen. But that may also have been a blessing: had they put her on the stand—had they made her admit she had trapped me—she might never have forgiven herself. And I wanted her to come to me like a child—like the child she truly was—when I held her to my heart.
A few weeks later, the prison bus took me to the Reception & Diagnostic Center at San Quentin. But even at San Quentin, even in my six-by-eight foot cell, I could anticipate the joy of my persistence. The rock solid walls, the perpetual racket, the frozen bars were nothing compared to the bliss I would feel when I reunited with my Honey Bunny. And so my happiness endured—even as I completed a battery of tests, even as I stood before the inmate classification board, even as I was transferred to the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla.
The Warden at Chowchilla, impressed by my high IQ score and my meager criminal history, assigned me to work in the prison library—a trustee type job. And there, it was so easy to access the Internet. Using the pseudonym Miranda—a reference my Honey Bunny would quickly grasp—I created a new Facebook account. She accepted my friend invitation at once and our accounts, like our hearts, were intimately joined.
But perhaps I should have left well enough alone. Perhaps I should have left her to the sacrament of my memory. Perhaps I should have vilified her: at least, as a Jezebel, she would have stayed mischievous and lively to me. Because her life—the life intertwined with my own—was not going well. How heartbreaking to learn that, unable to find work, she had moved into a public housing project in the Tenderloin. How devastating to know that she had developed a type of leukemia and was undergoing monthly radiation treatments. And how sad that her marriage had already ended. This was bound to happen—the marriage was a sham—but even a sham can provide someone with a semblance of company. And now my Honey Bunny was utterly alone.
I wish I could say that I rose to the occasion, but I found myself shying away from Facebook. If one must serve time, it is best to serve it as a hermit. And so I let myself fall into a deadening routine: a routine of meals, sleep, and shelving books—a routine that kept my spirit numb and my earned credit time intact. I did not even allow myself a pauper’s thrill—the titillation a prison affair might have given me. That would have been the ultimate betrayal. That would have sealed my unworthiness of her.
I have always been prone to sudden depressions—not the garden-variety blues but gut checking, hand wringing, crippling depression. I go down like a dazed boxer, my senses reeling from the punch. I go down so hard that there is no up or down. And so the ultimate checkout—the forfeiture of my remaining senses—can seem like a sort of deliverance. Of course, it would be a sin to hurry death along but, given the utter worthlessness of my life, it could hardly be much of a sin. But how could I leave my Honey Bunny behind? How could I face myself in the afterworld if I allowed her to dwindle in a slum? How could I leave her to flounder and fade when there’s room on the chariot for two? Were I to abandon her, not even purgatory would parole me.
It took almost a year—a year of forbearance—to get myself on parole: a parole based not upon self-renewal but the deadening of my soul. And so, it was not until I was leaving the prison that I began to feel the full weight of my funk: a funk that only increased as I collected my $300 gate fee and a bus ticket back to San Francisco. And by the time I had gotten off the bus, reported to the district parole office, and checked into a state sponsored halfway house, I felt like a pallbearer at my own funeral. But there was still a bit of the zombie left in me—enough, at least, for me to last a week at the New Beginnings Halfway House. It was an entire week before I had had my fill of petty regulations, enforced curfews, and pedantic staff members—themselves former felons. After that, I had to check out.
I still had my gate money—thank God—and so I bought myself a little chum. The gun—a Glock .27—looked almost like a toy. How easy to buy a gun in the Mission. How easy to hide it inside my bra. And how simple it was to find my Honey Bunny. Of course, her address was unlisted but the police do know how to find people. I had only to go to the nearest police station, file a false harassment report, and beg them to serve her with an emergency protection order from me. Sure enough, the next day I had her address: it was on the receipt of service. Thank you, thank you, Keystone Cops. But I felt no triumph, no conquest, no thrill—it was all I could do not to bawl like a child. Never, never in my wildest dreams, did I imagine I could be so devious. Oh Annabelle, Annabelle, Annabelle. Have you cast a spell on me?
She was still living in the Tenderloin—in a subsidized housing project not far from the strip joints. I had walked past the project once or twice in my rambles so I had no trouble finding it. But it sure wasn’t much to look at: a dozen crumbly apartments accessible through a breezeway. The apartments looked like prison dorms; the breezeway smelled of urine. Surely, my Honey Bunny deserved better than this.
I stationed myself at a Cantonese restaurant on the opposite side of her street. I treated myself to sweet and sour pork, a dinner that had all the solemnity of a last meal. And when I could eat no more, I rose from the table, left a fat tip, and went looking for my Honey Bunny’s flat. Thank God it was evening: the shadows were dark, impenetrably dark, and the streetlights were glowing like halos.
Her apartment was so very easy to find. The address made me chuckle—69 Hyde Street—an erotic joke, perhaps, but an omen as well. The numbers on her door—so naughtily suggestive—were nothing if not providential. Oh Annabelle—dearest Annabelle. What more of a sign could we want?
A light was on in the window so she had to be at home. I waited a minute. I took a deep breath.
When she answered the door, I almost didn’t recognize her. She was thinner than I remembered, her hair was bottled blonde, and she was leaning on a cane. But her brow was still freckled, her ears were still large, and her eyes had recovered their luster.
“Rebecca,” she breathed. The cane clattered to the floor as she pulled my hands into hers. “Rebecca. How long you have been in my thoughts.”
She kissed my chin—her breath smelled of wine— then she wrapped her arms around my neck. I crushed her body to mine and wept. How frail she was—how much like a bird. And how I wanted her: my nipples were like bullets. Oh, my darling. My darling. My darling.
A minute passed before I released her. Or did she let go of me?—I’m not really sure what happened. I only knew that she was giggling. I only knew that she was flushed. I only knew her apartment looked dreary: a ten-by-twelve foot hovel—nothing in it but a bed, a refrigerator, and a tiny television.
“I knew you were coming,” she whispered.
I gasped. “Was that in the cards?”
“No, you silly queen. You had me served with a protection order.”
I laughed. I kissed her lips. How warm and soft they felt. “Protection,” I said. “What a con that can be. What a sad and silly con.”
She looked at me oddly and nibbled her lip. Had foreboding reclaimed her? Had she felt the gun inside my bra? Had the police been coaching her? Buy yourself time. Tell the stalker what she wants to hear. But all she did was titter. “I knew you were coming, Rebecca. I bought you a present.”
As she limped away from me, I noticed Eve’s picture on the windowsill—Eve in drag. How vapid it looked, how totally dead—like something that belonged in a museum. But inside the refrigerator there was something fresh. She giggled as she took it out. It was a rose, a single red rose, in a slender vase of water. My hands trembled as she handed it to me. The scent was so pure, so tangy and ripe that I almost swooned.
I gazed longingly at the rose. I licked the petals. My lips were damp when I looked back at her. “Thank you,” I said. “I have so wanted this.”
Of course, she was holding a gun on me now—a standard issue Glock the police must have lent her. But that too was a gift. What better time to go than now? And what better way than at the hands of my beloved?
She was bracing the gun against her hip, pointing the barrel up at me. Her face was like wax. “I wish,” she stammered, “that you didn’t want this also.”
She was trembling so much that my heart almost burst. I had to make it easy on her. I had to stop her from thinking about it. Otherwise, she would fail me once again. I stumbled towards her.
How clean was the blow that walloped my chest—a kick from the chariot’s most powerful stallion. I rose, I literally rose off the ground, before I felt the floor pressing upon my back. The room was now ringing—a shrill but thrilling sound. I never knew an explosion could be so shattering.
It was not until the ringing subsided that I heard her sobs, that I saw her dear face above me—that I noticed that my chest was as red as a robin’s. And her floor was wet, so terribly wet that I hoped she would hand me a towel.
She was holding the gun in both of her hands, pulling it against her groin. Her face was remarkably tender, but it was tender in betrayal. Why, oh why, did she hesitate? Put two in her breastbone then one in her head. Wasn’t that what the police had told her? Yet all she did was sob.
I noticed my gun—it was somehow in the palm of my hand. Surely, my Honey Bunny had seen it first. Surely, this explained her procrastination, her betrayal, the tentative hope with which she looked at me.
Ever so slowly, I lifted the gun. It would be a sin, a cardinal sin, not to oblige her. And so I wept—wept like a child—as its weight pulled my hand to the floor. How very heavy it was.
But, no—no let it be this way. Let me precede her to the afterworld. Let the debt be hers. When her turn arrived—and it would probably not be long—she would fly to me straight as an arrow.
A blow stung my wrist—the gun went spinning from my hand. There were others in the room now: police, paramedics. A sharp voice interrupted my Honey Bunny’s sobs. “Ya shoulda emptied the gun.” It sounded like the voice of my father.
How irritating the paramedics were: loosening my clothing, tightening a compress to my chest, loading me onto a gurney. Why were they trying to rob me of life?—of a few vital moments with my Honey Bunny. How much I had paid for those moments. How dearly I had earned them. And yet those few moments were not to be: the voices of the medics—somber and surreal—prevented me from even hearing her. “Just how bad is she hit?” I heard one of them say. “Bad enough,” said another. “It’s amazing what a hollow point can do.”
My body is numb—deliciously numb—as they roll me out of her apartment. The police are now bat-like: they dart to and fro as though locked in some grainy old movie. But although I hate movies, my heart skips a beat. Two naked strangers—hermaphrodites—are standing in the breezeway talking to each other. How handsome they are—how regal and tall. As I roll through the breezeway, they look at me pleasantly and then resume their conversation.
An ambulance awaits me on the street, its bright lights racing, chasing off shadows, bathing me in a rosy red glow. Yet my skin is cold—so sticky and cold that I cannot feel any warmth. Without her dear kisses, what more can I be but a statue made of wax?
And so, on an evening far shorter than any other, I throw away the Death card. I go like a mariner into the night. I go to make a home for her.
James Hanna is a San Francisco probation officer, a Pushcart nominee, and the fiction editor of The Sand Hill Review. His novel, The Siege, will be published this year.
“Honey Bunny” was originally published in Cry Baby (TLR Fall 2013)