Read Strange Sisters Online

Authors: Fletcher Flora

Strange Sisters

STRANGE SISTERS

By

Fletcher Flora

Strange Sisters
By Fletcher Flora
 
First published in 1954.
 
ISBN:  978-1-936456-10-9
 
This book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

INTRODUCTION

A new revolution was underway at the start of the 1940s in America—a paperback revolution that would change the way publishers would produce and distribute books and how people would purchase and read them.

In 1939 a new publishing company—Pocket Books—stormed onto the scene with the publication of its first paperbound book.  These books were cheaply produced and sold in numbers never before seen, in large part due to a bold and innovative distribution model that soon after made Pocket Books available in drugstores, newsstands, bus and train stations, and cigar shops.  The American public could not get enough of them, and before long the publishing industry began to take notice of Pocket Book’s astonishing success. 

Traditional publishers, salivating at the opportunity to cash in on the phenomenal success of the new paperback revolution, soon launched their own paperback ventures.  Pocket Books was joined by Avon in 1941, Popular Library in 1942, and Dell in 1943. The popular genres reflected the tastes of Americans during World War II—mysteries, thrillers, and “hardboiled detective” stories were all the rage. 

World War II proved to be a boon to the emerging paperback industry.  During the war, a landmark agreement was reached with the government in which paperbound books would be produced at a very low price for distribution to service men and women overseas.  These books were often passed from one soldier or sailor to another, being read and re-read over and over again until they literally fell apart.  Their stories of home helped ease the servicemen’s loneliness and homesickness, and they could be easily carried in uniform pockets and read anywhere—in fox holes, barracks, transport planes, etc. Of course, once the war was over millions of veterans returned home with an insatiable appetite for reading.  They were hooked, and their passion for reading these books helped launch a period of unprecedented growth in the paperback industry.

In the early 1950s new subgenres emerged—science fiction, lesbian fiction, juvenile delinquent and “sleaze”, for instance—that would tantalize readers with gritty, realistic and lurid stories never seen before.  Publishers had come to realize that sex sells.  In a competitive frenzy for readers, they tossed away their staid and straightforward cover images for alluring covers that frequently featured a sexy woman in some form of undress, along with a suggestive tag line that promised stories of sex and violence within the covers.  Before long, books with sensational covers had completely taken over the paperback racks and cash registers.  To this day, the cover art of these vintage paperback books are just as sought after as the books themselves were sixty years ago.

With the birth of the lesbian-themed pulp novel, women who loved women would finally see themselves—their experiences and their lives—represented within the pages of a book.  They finally had a literature they could call their own.  Of course, that’s not what the publishers of the day intended—these books were written primarily for men… indeed shamelessly packaged and published to titillate the male reading public. 

Many of the books were written by men using female pseudonyms and were illustrated by cover artists who never read the content between the covers.  However, a good percentage (primarily titles from Fawcett’s Gold Medal Books imprint) were written by women, most of whom were lesbians themselves.  For lesbians across the country, especially those living isolated lives in small towns, these books provided a sense of community they never knew existed… a connection to women who experienced the same longings, feelings and fears as they did—the powerful knowledge that they were not alone.

We are excited to make these wonderful paperback stories available in ebook format to new generations of readers.  We present them in their original form with very little modification so as to preserve the tone and atmosphere of the time period.  In fact, much of the language—the slang, the colloquialisms, the lingo, even the spellings of some words—appear as they were written fifty or sixty years ago.  The stories themselves reflect the time period in which they were written, reflecting the censorship, sensibilities and biases of the 1950s and early 1960s.  Still, these lesbian pulp novels are a treasure in our collective literary history and we hope you will enjoy this nostalgic journey back in time.

Chapter 1

From the start, she knew it was a bad thing she was doing. Of all the things she had ever done that were bad for her, which were far greater in number than she could remember or wanted to remember, this was probably the worst and would bring her after a while to the worst end.

The irony was that it was something she wanted to turn out good, and she had only started it in the first place because of her sudden conviction that there had to be a break, and that once the early and really bad part of it was over with, everything would get better. Not immediately, of course, not all at once, but slowly and surely over a period of time, the way she'd seen daylight come after one of the long nights when she hadn't slept.

But she had understood, once it was begun, that the bad part of it was all of it, the beginning and the end of it, and that nothing would ever get better. She thought a thousand times that she would stop, would go no farther with it, but she went ahead in spite of knowing very well that it was coming to a bad end, because after she had gone so far, she was obsessed with the belief that any kind of end was better than no end at all.

It was so simple, really, and involved nothing more than a man. An ordinary man. Well, maybe not such an ordinary man, at that, as anyone might have felt after seeing his lean, gray, hawk's face. Not that she had chosen him because he was either ordinary or extraordinary. She had not really chosen him at all. She was merely using him, and she was doing it because he had presented himself at the right time under the right circumstances when she just happened to be ripe for him. She had gone into a bar. She had gone there, not to pick up a man, but to get a drink. She had just ridden downtown on a crowded bus, caught in a jam at the] rear between a fat man sour with yesterday's sweat and a younger, thinner man who made the most of the congestion, and she needed the drink badly. She went into the bar and ordered a Sidecar, which was what she usually drank, except when she drank straight rye in order to get quickly and mercifully drunk. She drank the Sidecar greedily, feeling a partial interior recovery and a little warmer in the flesh as the chill drained out.

The man on the stool beside her said, "May I buy you another?"

She had hardly noticed the man when she sat down, and now she looked at him swiftly, her eyes dilating and her viscera reacting with the familiar exorbitant violence that was like a physical shock. She averted her eyes, looking back down into her empty glass, and said with a kind of prim abruptness, "No, thanks.'*

The man lifted a hand in a gesture to the bartender. "The lady will have another of the same," he said.

She didn't look at him again directly, but she lifted her eyes to probe the smoky depths of the mirror behind the bar and found his face beyond and a little above a row of Pilsener glasses. He was looking at her and smiling, and she noticed this time the strong, hooked nose, the hard, gray planes of the cheeks, the thin, predatory mouth above a narrow, jutting chin. It was not a handsome face, was actually ugly; but it was possessed of a cruel strength, and, rather paradoxically, she found the strength soothing, a kind of depressant to her furious adrenals.

"I said, no thanks," she said.

His smile spread in glass. "I heard you. Now that you've made a gesture for propriety, you can enjoy your Sidecar."

The bartender placed it in front of her, and after a moment she picked it up and cupped her hands around the small, cold bulb of the glass, letting her eyes slip down from the reflected hawk's face to the suggestion of her own in amber. She wet her lips with the mixture, permitting a little to slip past and down her throat, and it was then that she got the idea. It just came into her mind. At first it made her slightly sick, and she tried to repel it, but then she accepted it and considered it coldly, looking down into her glass as if the idea had materialized and was there in suspension. She couldn't have said why she was so suddenly capable of doing it. Yesterday she wouldn't have been, and tomorrow she probably wouldn't be. And maybe that was the reason. Because it was time, high time, and it had to be done now, at this moment, in this bar, with this man, or it would never be done at all, because all other times for the rest of her life would be too late. She didn't actually think it all through like that. It was just a feeling. Maybe it was insight.

"My name is Brunn," he said. "Angus Brunn." And even his name was a precipitant. She liked the chopped quality of it. Especially the rugged Angus. It was conservative and agrarian, and it would go with a man who adhered to restrained and traditional forms. All of which was, in this case, a monstrous deception that she practiced on herself deliberately in a kind of inverted hatred.

"Mine is Kathryn Gait," she said. And then, with the first concession to familiarity that was a sign of fatal commitment, she added, "My friends call me Kathy."

That's the way it started, the bad thing. She allowed Angus Brunn to buy her two more Sidecars, and the brandy helped her to do what was necessary. Once when her left hand was lying on the bar beside her glass, he reached out and covered it with his own. His hand was square and hard, with black hair growing in thick clusters between the second and third joints of the blunt fingers, and she felt a sudden shock of sickness in her stomach, a shriveling of the flesh on her bones. She thought then that it was no use, that she would never be able to go through with it, but somehow she managed to leave her hand lying limp beneath his, and after a while, with more help from the brandy, she recovered.

It had gone slowly from there. That afternoon she left him in the bar, but she also left her address and telephone number. She had intended going to Jacqueline's, maybe to spend the night with her, but instead she killed a couple of hours in a movie and returned to her own place uptown to spend the night alone. Ready for bed, she stood for a moment to examine herself in the full-length mirror on the back of her closet door, leaning forward to trace with her eyes the lines of the face that was almost as lovely as Stella's had been, the longer lines of the body that even Stella's had not surpassed. Crossing her arms beneath her breasts, she hugged herself in a fierce, protective gesture of love. She always loved herself in a mirror. Then she wanted to be only what she was, never anything else, and she was able to discount her recurring depression, the suicidal despair and inverted hate.

The next day, Angus Brunn called her, and the first moment was a critical one. Hearing his voice and knowing that the idea she had examined in a Sidecar was gaining shape and dimension, she felt a terrible compulsion to cradle the instrument without answering. But in the end she talked, she let him come, and the idea grew materially over a period of time that seemed ages to her but was actually no more than a week. And now, tonight, in the night club, in the taxi, in the ascending elevator, she understood that it had grown to its ultimate monstrous proportion, and that it was, in spite of her desperate good intention, a bad thing, the worst thing for herself that she had ever done.

In the hall, he unlocked the door to his apartment and pushed it inward. "Welcome to my sanctuary, baby," he said. "I warn you, you won't find an etching in the place."

She accepted this as a bald statement of intention, and she felt her flesh crawl, sucking in her breath in brief anguish at the sharp contraction of her stomach. She had no reason to take offense, certainly, and even less to be alarmed. The intention had been implicit in their relationship from the start, was indeed the whole reason for her allowing the relationship to exist, and she had accepted the essential with a cold, sacrificial despair that now threatened to disintegrate in terror.

It wasn't too late. There was still time. She was still free to turn and walk back down the hall to the elevator, to descend in the whispering car to the half-life, the dim, precarious way beyond a translucent barrier. She stood without moving outside the open door until her inner disintegration had arrested itself, and then she moved past him into the room and waited rigidly for him to come up behind her and take the wrap from her shoulders. His fingers brushed her skin, and she shivered, the response traveling in a kind of peristaltic action over the whole surface of her body.

"What a nice place you have," she said.

He laughed. "It serves. Relax a minute, baby, I'll fix you a Sidecar."

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