A Safe Place
By Lynn Frost

In Walthall, Mississippi, all the lesbians met at Wal-Mart at 2 a.m. Adrienne Phelps, dressed in a black tuxedo, strolled past a group of lesbians gathered near the Doritos. Someone whistled and Brenda stepped forward.

"Oh honey," she said, running her long dark fingers between Adrienne's legs, "You packing, ain't you?"

The other lesbians strained to peer over Brenda's shoulder, not an easy thing to do with Brenda being over six feet tall. Amazon. Beautiful cocoa-colored Amazon.

Adrienne peeled Brenda's hands away from her crotch. "Come on," she said, as she pulled Brenda toward the towel section. "I need to talk to you."

"I can see that you do," she said. "You done stood her up again, huh?"

"Not yet."

"You're lying," Brenda said, smiling, "You ain't never going to commit."

Adrienne tightened her grip on the bottle of sparkling white grape juice she was carrying. She stared down at the patent leather shoes she wore. Her face glowed in the black shine, reflected and distorted by the overhead light. Shame burrowed into every tiny crease of those shoes as her feet bent themselves toward escape. Brenda was right.

Brenda grabbed Adrienne's free hand and pulled it toward her, pressing her fingers into the naked, white band of flesh on her ring finger. "You ain't over her yet, are you?"

Adrienne shifted her weight, leaning her elbow up against a thick blue towel, the border of it, swimming with tropical fish. They'd been friends long enough to discard with secrets. Hell, the way Brenda read her was telepathic.

"I don't know." To confess that she still cared for Erica nauseated her, and melancholy descended upon her like a ravenous vulture. At this moment Adrienne's new lover, Aimee Kate, sat dishonored and dressed in a white wedding gown laced with pearls. The second time Adrienne had left her standing at the altar while she went off to think.

The space between the towel aisle grew smaller as Adrienne felt thousands of tiny pins of heat impaling her flesh. "I got to go."

Brenda caught her by the elbow almost causing her to drop the bottle of grape juice. "Girl, you got to talk. Spit this shit out. Right now."

"Aimee Kate wants to move in with me." Adrienne glanced around when she heard one of the lesbians from the Doritos aisle giggle as she shuffled past. Brenda tugged her arm.

"Oh, no, we won't have none of that," she said, nodding in the direction of the giggling woman.

"I don't want her," Adrienne said in her own defense.

"Who do you want? Not that other one," she said, flipping a dark strand of hair off her shoulders. She moved closer to Adrienne. "She's here."


"Erica," Brenda said, her eyes lowered, "Over there in the shoes."

"By herself?" Adrienne's heart swung forward, knocking into her breastbone as if it could break out of her chest. The grape juice bottle grew slippery with her sweat and she poked it between a stack of towels. Erica, the woman she'd planned a life with for two years — the woman who'd collected toys for the child they never had. The woman who'd left her six months ago for a woman named Murphy. Murphy, tall, blonde and so shallow she papered her walls with her own glamour shots.

"No, she ain't by herself, and you don't need to worry about that. You need to get yourself on home and take care of your woman," Brenda said, as she rubbed up against the phallus stuffed behind Adrienne's zipper, "before I forget you're just a friend and throw you down right here in house wares."

Adrienne laughed and stepped back, her chest still quivering with her swinging heart. Maybe seeing Erica might help. If she didn't feel anything...

"How's your grandmother?" Brenda said. The question caught Adrienne off guard because it was so far away from any of the thoughts she'd just been thinking.

"The same," she said, "They're locking her in her room now."

"Why are they doing that?"

"I don't know," Adrienne said, jamming her hands down into her pockets and jiggling her change until Brenda squeezed her fingers into stillness. The warmth of Brenda's touch overwhelmed her and Adrienne felt a knot of tears wad in her throat. "Because she's been going into the other resident's rooms."

"And for that, they're locking her in her room. Unh, uh, honey, I used to work in a retirement home, they can't do that." Brenda dropped Adrienne's hands and propped her palms up on her hips.

Adrienne lowered her eyes and stared back into the black shoes, dreams were dying in them at this very moment — Aimee Kate's dreams. "She beat Mrs. McCordle."

"Beat her? Your sweet little grandmamma," Brenda said. "I don't believe that. She's too fragile to beat anything."

"She did it with a crossword puzzle."

"A puzzle?" Brenda lengthened herself to her full height. God, she was glorious. "Now how does anybody get beat with a puzzle? They're telling you a bunch of shit, A.D."

"It was a crossword puzzle book," Adrienne said, straining her eyes to scan the distance and find Erica. "She beat Mrs. McCordle while she was asleep. And she keeps bursting into other people's rooms demanding to know where somebody named Amos is. They think she may have Alzheimer's."

The tear-knot in Adrienne's throat swelled bigger. If she didn't get away from Brenda, she'd break down and cry like a fool, right there in the towels. She'd meant to get some distance from her problems, not hash them over in house wares. She'd come to Wal-Mart looking for a safe place, a place so busy she could lose her name, forget everything.

Now Adrienne stood thinking about her grandmother, the way she saw her last — waving and sticking her tongue out like a Gila monster. Her grandmother, the one who'd baked her teacakes when Adrienne had run away from home. The one who worked so hard in the Mississippi sun to grow strawberries for her, just because Adrienne loved them. Now she'd become a mindless reptile, hissing and whipping her tongue out, beating the dreams out of other old ladies with crossword puzzles.

Brenda grabbed Adrienne's shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze. "I'm sorry, honey. Why don't you come over to my house? I got some vodka. " Brenda smiled revealing laser-white teeth. Adrienne smiled back at her.

"Thanks, but I've got to get going."

"You're going home, I hope."

Adrienne stepped out into the aisle next to a metal bin full of fat pillows and pointed toward the shoes. "In a minute. "

Brenda puckered her full lips. "You're fucking up, that's all I can say. You're fucking up. Got a good woman at home and you want to go fuck it up in the shoe department. You're crazy. And you know Erica, she ain't nobody to be fucking up wi-"

"Okay!" Adrienne said, "How many more times do you think you can say I'm 'fucking up' and have it do me any good?"

"Three," Brenda said, tossing her head back, "Fucking up, fucking up, fucking up."

"Didn't do a bit of good," Adrienne said, turning her back on Brenda and heading toward the shoes.

"You forgot your grape juice."

Adrienne turned and glanced at Brenda holding the green bottle above her head. "I don't need it. I've got nothing to celebrate," Adrienne said over her shoulder.

Several moments of silence passed before Brenda lowered the bottle of grape juice and stuffed it into the metal bin of pillows. "Fucking up!" she shouted at Adrienne's back. "F-U-C-K-I-N-G! Fucking it all up!"

Her best friend had spelled it out for her, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was getting to a safe place. A place far removed from now. A place away from forever... the shoe department in Wal-Mart.