Image: Richard Westall – The Artist’s Wife as Sappho
Kaylie Saidin lives in New Orleans, where she studies English literature and is an editor at the Maroon. She was the winner of the 2018 Dawson Gaillard Award for Fiction and the 2018 Monroe Library Research Competition. Her work is published or is forthcoming in The Tulane Review, Jellyfish Review, and Bombus Press.
This story was also featured in Issue Two of Porridge, available for purchase here.
The first time you’ll ever have sex with him, he’ll ask you if you’re a lesbian. The question will take you off guard, and you’ll lay there naked, flipping through magazines he keeps on his bedside table, wondering why he brought it up.
Why would you think that? you’ll ask.
To this, he will shrug. My best friend growing up back in Brooklyn had two moms. You remind me of one of them sometimes. A very dry sense of humor, you know?
The only lesbian you’ve ever known is your Greek Classics professor, Dr. Alatea. She’s a huge woman, round, like a gigantic peach, with pursed lips and short hair. She always wears running sneakers. The rest of the class remains indifferent with the occasional snicker, but you revere her.
Once, Dr. Alatea told you that her wife’s favorite play was Sophocles’ Antigone. You went home that day with the intention of reading it, but instead you stared at the ceiling and replayed the scene in your head, the way the phrase my wife rolled off your professor’s tongue. You wondered if you’d ever pronounce anything that confidently.
The boy is waiting for an answer. You give it. Well, you say. I guess you know more than I do.
He doesn’t contest this and continues to read his magazine as if it requires all of his mental concentration.
This boy is a Biology major. He makes sure to mention this any time he meets someone knew. He also makes sure to mention that he grew up in New York, and that he misses the real halal food there. When you first met him, this was interesting to you. You had never been outside Mississippi before college. But once you heard him repeat it a few times, you began to wonder if he was a poorly programmed alien sent from outer space who had a default story that looped each time someone asked where he was from. So far, you’ve been on four dates with him.
Do you think it’ll ever get legalized? you ask.
Yeah, he says. Probably. It’s on the ballot for the state of New York in 2007 after we graduate. Then he looks up from his magazine, right at you. But probably not for a long time in Mississippi, if ever.
This makes you nervous. You shift your weight and cross your legs, trying to get comfortable. You feel like a bug under a microscope.
I think me and the people I knew in high school would vote for it, you say. If it was on the ballot, I mean.
He corrects you. The people I knew and I.
Thanks. You aren’t thankful. You just thank him because maybe this is the one time in his whole day that he gets to feel superior, the one time in the day he isn’t being shown up by other students who can do Punnet squares and take field samples better than he can.
Two dates later, you hear him talking on the phone in the other room with his mother.
I’m seeing a girl from Mississippi, he says. Isn’t that crazy?
You eavesdrop from his bed, pretending to be listening to music from his huge vinyl collection. The boy has hundreds of records, but only one pillow.
Yeah, she’s pretty smart, she’s a Classics major, he says. You wonder what his mother had asked about you in between. After a while, he seems to make some kind of conclusory statement about classical studies. Well, it’s like Plato said. Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.
You can’t help but laugh at this. You try to stifle your cackle, but it’s too late; he comes into the room and puts his mother on hold.
What’s so funny?
You want to tell him that Plato never even said that. And Plato wasn’t even Plato’s real name. It was a nickname in Greek that meant “broad”, and has the modern equivalence of calling someone Bubba.
Nothing, you say. He wouldn’t get it, anyway.