GeminiMAGAZINE
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Although I live in 21st century New York City, only
a close circle of friends know I am a lesbian. The East
Coast may be considered a liberal and elite milieu to
the rest of the country, but as a teacher in a charter
school, with daily and close proximity to children, my
private life could be held to a different standard. My
preferences for short hair, buttoned down shirts, chinos
and vague references to my personal interests reveal
me to my colleagues. But I am mostly judged by my
professional abilities and navigate at the periphery of
the school’s social life and gossip. My last relationship
ended a year ago, about the same time I developed a
crazy crush on Angelique.

When we were assigned to work together, Angelique
had confided that her real name was Angela, and she
had changed it to Angelique in hopes of becoming more
glamorous. I told her my given name was Susan, and I
had asked since high school to be called Sasha, the
name implying a certain androgyny. Angelique and
Sasha—we could be salon Sapphists in a novella by
Colette. The only problem is I don’t think Angelique
likes girls. Her husband has just moved out to live with
his former lover, who he had reconnected with on
Facebook. Rick told Angelique he still loved her but was
“in love” with his old girlfriend. For now, Angelique has
accepted this dubious arrangement.

* * *

Angelique is late for work. It is class trip day to the
Bronx Zoo, and we have to pack extra gear like bottled
water, snacks and a first aid kit. She is a terrific
teacher, gifted really. We co-teach the second grade
and the worst case special needs kids get placed with
us. With her skill and patience, we always manage. Our
close work collaboration over the past year has
developed a yin and yang quality; she is structured and
organized, I am creative and playful. I’ve just finished
making nametags for the kids when she comes in.

“Hey, Sasha, sorry I’m late,” she says, bumping into
desks while carrying plastic bags from the supermarket.
“I got the gummi bears for rewards at the zoo and ice
pops for later. There are chips and ice teas for us. We’re
going to need caffeine today.”

I run to the cafeteria to put the ice pops in the cafeteria
freezer. When I return to our classroom, Geri Bachman,
the school nurse, is sitting in a child’s chair opposite
Angelique, grilling her about her marital plans.

“Have you gotten an attorney yet?”

“No, I suppose I should, but I don’t know how to start.
I don’t think it’s over between us yet.” Angelique runs
her hands through her wavy brown hair, then walks
around the room depositing the nametags on each
student’s desk. “What’s the matter?” she says as she
looks back at our disapproving faces, disapproving for
different reasons.

“You should think about moving on, Angelique,” I say.
“He’s a hypocrite. He never wanted you to have
children, and now he’s living with a woman with two
kids.”

Geri chimes in. “I saw a talk show that discussed the
social networking phenomenon of hunting down old
boyfriends and girlfriends. Stronger hormonal levels
when people are in their teens and twenties make the
memories more vivid and intense than the reality. Rick
will probably come back when he realizes he’s living
with a divorced mom with little income. Forget about
sex. It will be a matter of economics.”

Geri looks at me with a challenge in her eyes, then gets
up and leaves as students start to burst through the
door, excited and boisterous, anticipating a full day out
of the classroom. It is an inclusion class, which means
there are children with learning disabilities mixed
together with kids without any special needs. The
philosophy being they can benefit from each other’s
differences. The children, though excited, follow the
everyday routines and hang up their backpacks, file
homework papers and notes in the appropriate baskets.
Then they take seats on the rug for attendance and
circle time. I review the day’s schedule, affix the date
on our calendar, and discuss the weather and class
news. I wish my life could follow the same precise
structure of our second grade microcosm.

Angelique sits at the back table checking homework
and trip permission slips. I ask the children to share
with the group which animal they want to see. Joshua
raises his hand and talks about tigers. Letitia gives a
detailed description of the endangered snow leopard.
All the children contribute something, except Dorian,
who is a selective mute. Dorian understands us, but for
his own reasons, does not speak. The school
psychologist tells us that selective mutism is an anxiety
disorder and there is not much we can do but make him
feel comfortable in the class. Edwin is Dorian’s best
friend. He raises his hand.

“Yes, Edwin.”

“Miss Godinger, can I show the class Dorian’s journal?”

“Yes, of course.”

Dorian opens to a series of crayoned illustrations of
animals. The drawings are fanciful, yet sophisticated,
their faces expressive with human characteristics. Their
habitats are detailed. The pictures are labeled, but
there are no sentences.

The class is aware of Dorian’s talent and they ooh and
ah in appreciation. Edwin acts as his agent and walks
the journal around so all the children can see. “Dorian
draws better than my brother Oscar, and he’s in high
school.”

Everyone laughs. I glance over to Angelique and she
smiles at me. Her front teeth overlap a bit; her face is a
perfect oval with a slight hint of a cleft in her pointed
chin. She is ten years older than me, past forty, but
with her good bone structure and slight body she
appears much younger. I don’t think she has revealed
her true feelings about Rick. She is difficult to get close
to. I’m afraid if I try to get her to open up about her life
I will enter a void or step out onto a precipice. It is the
key to her eroticism. Although I am younger I feel the
need to protect her and bring her out of passivity into
what I think is a repressed passion. I am hopeful that
she is not going back to her husband; I want to tell her
I love her. The recent marital betrayal would make it
easy for me to exploit her vulnerability.

When it is time to leave for the zoo, I review rules,
check that every child has a lunch, water bottle and
nametag. Angelique pairs up bus buddies, then
together we usher the group out the main entrance.

The Fort Tryon Park Charter School is in upper
Manhattan near the Cloisters, a museum devoted to
works of the middle ages. Like most charter schools we
are small. Ours has six classes, kindergarten through
five. The whole school is going to the zoo today,
including most of the staff. Although we are in the city,
geographically above Harlem, the imposing hilltop
setting, and the proximity to the Hudson River makes it
seem like we are working beside an ancient, urban
garden.

It is a balmy day in May. Many of the kids wear shorts
and T-shirts. The staff is dressed down in jeans,
sneakers or sweats. Angelique is wearing slim cotton
cargo shorts rolled at her knees and has two body-
hugging ribbed shirts. Lime green is on top; beneath is
an identical sky blue shirt peeking out at her neckline
and elbows. Geri Bachman grabs the seat next to
Angelique. Annoyed, I sit behind them.

The ride is short and uneventful; the bus pulls in and
parks at the Fordham Road and Bronx River entrance
area. We have a tight itinerary and begin at the
Himalayan Highlands exhibit. The terrain is designed to
look like the mountaintops of Nepal, a natural setting
for snow leopards and pandas. There are winding paths
around boulders and caves. Angelique pulls out her
camera to photograph white-naped cranes. I hold my
breath as the class walks across a bridge over a ravine.
We pause for lunch and bathroom breaks. Joshua is
stung by a bee.

The last stop is to the crowded Children’s Zoo. The
afternoon sun is hot; our bottled waters are lukewarm
and unrefreshing. Groups of school children press close
to the paddock fences, hoping to pet a goat or bottle-
feed a lamb. Angelique and I check the headcount;
Nurse Bachman is tending Joshua, but two children are
missing. Turning, I see Edwin and Dorian positioned
beside another group; a lone llama is standing in the
middle of the pen watching the crowd watch him.
Dozens of sweaty, little palms holding dried corn wave
at the exotic creature in hopes of enticing him to come
closer. The llama has a silky coat of white fur and long
ears that curve inward. I approach the boys to tell them
to join our class and see the llama stride with purpose
toward our corner of the fence. The llama gets closer.
With his goofy grin he looks like Joe Camel, minus the
hump, from the cigarette package. Children around the
pen scream in mock terror. His head and neck swing
back and forth like a bobble-head toy in slow motion.
Everyone ducks down a bit, not sure of his intent.

Then with a precision of movement that seems
premeditated, he lowers his neck and head to stand
face to face with Dorian.
Oh no, he’s going to spit, I
think. Instead, the llama blinks his eyes and opens his
mouth, revealing a long tongue that swipes across
Dorian’s right cheek. Droplets of saliva spray the crowd.
There is a hush; we are collectively witnessing an act of
God. As if anointing him, the llama also licks the left
side of Dorian’s face. His mission completed, the beast
turns and saunters to the center of his pen, superior
and aloof. Angelique and I lunge for Dorian, hoping he
isn’t damaged in some way. Nurse Bachman pushes
forward to clean his face with bacterial wipes. Dorian
smiles with contentment; there is a look of other
worldliness on his face. I clutch his hand and gather up
our group to leave the zoo.

* * *

The next morning Angelique is sobbing at her desk. Her
face shining, she looks up at me. “Rick told me he saw
a lawyer to have separation papers drawn. The cruel
bastard said that for years when he was making love to
me, he was thinking about her. Jennifer is the real love
of his life. While he was away at college, she got
pregnant and married this other guy. Rick said he
married me on the rebound.” Her voice intensifies to a
shriek. “Fifteen years together—I’m an idiot!”

Red-faced and panting, she flings a framed picture of
the two of them on a camping trip. It hits a wall, shards
of glass splinter in a glittery arc. I guide her to a chair
and rub her shoulders and neck. My fingers move
through her hair as I massage her scalp. She whispers
to me, “That feels nice, Sasha.” She leans her face into
my wrist; her eyes are closed.

Geri Bachman appears at the door. My hands slip from
Angelique’s head. I see Geri adjust her face to deny any
reaction.

“Are you all right, Angelique?” She looks at me. “You’d
better call the custodian to sweep up the glass. It’s
Rick, isn’t it?”

Angelique nods and looks at the clock. “I’m going to
wash up and sit outside for a few minutes before the
kids come in.”

Geri had been Angelique’s friend for several years
before I started working at the school. Geri is her
contemporary, but looks older. She dresses in
conservative, tailored clothes and is attractive in a
contrived way. She would never leave her house
without being coiffed and made up; nothing she says or
does is an afterthought.

She closes the door. “I want to talk to you. Angelique
needs our help, Sasha. There is a good chance she’ll get
back together with Rick. She loves him; all marriages
go through periods like this. Angelique is fragile. She
doesn’t need distractions at the workplace preventing
her from reconciling with Rick.”

“What distractions?” My voice sounds shaky in my ears.

“You,” she says. “It’s almost like you’re encouraging her
to end things with Rick.”

“That’s not true,” I lie. “Rick is an emotionally abusive
man.”

“You don’t even know Rick! And anyway, what would
YOU know about men?”

Her eyes widen as she cuts herself short. It is her first
misstep in this carefully planned ambush. I am angry
and unprepared to respond. The door opens and several
students trickle in. “I don’t want to talk about this in
front of students,” I say.

“Fine, but remember in this kind of a school there is
more accountability and less job security. We work in
close quarters here and people talk.”

My heart is pounding and I feel unsettled. The children
are still revved about yesterday’s zoo trip; they sit
down to write and draw in their journals. Angelique
comes in looking drained but more composed. The class
does activities related to the zoo trip and Dorian comes
to my desk to show me his picture of the llama. The
illustration captures its wacky essence. During circle
time the students retell their adventures; Dorian raises
his hand. I think he wants to show his picture of the
llama to the group. Instead, he speaks for the first time.

“The yama yissed me,” he says. His voice is low and
husky “I yove him.” There is gasping and head turning,
and we all clap in unison.

Angelique squats down and gives Dorian a hug. “Yes,
the llama did kiss you. We all love the llama. He helped
you speak to us.”

Edwin calls out, “Dorian speaks to me. He talks to me
on the playground and when we sit together in the back
of the bus.”

“Why didn’t you tell us, Edwin?” I ask, thinking of the
hours Dorian has spent with the speech therapist.

“I don’t know. I’m his friend and I can keep a secret.
Am I in trouble?” There is a look of fear on his face.

“Of course not.” I sit next to Edwin and shake his hand.

For the remainder of the day Dorian is quiet; our chatty
class is subdued. There is a sense of wonder regarding
the magical powers of the llama. As I leave the school,
I see Geri talking to the school’s director. I try to
convince myself she can’t hurt me for my thoughts or
feelings.

***

Two weeks later, Angelique has agreed to a legal
separation. Rick is returning to their apartment to get
his clothes, music collection and personal papers.
Angelique is spending the weekend with me. We take
the subway to my studio apartment on 98th Street. I
had gotten up early to remove the clutter and scrub the
bathroom. My galley kitchen is stocked with canned
tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and several bottles of
Merlot. I will make linguine with marinara sauce, one of
the few reliable recipes in my cooking repertoire. As we
walk toward my apartment, Angelique stops to buy a
bouquet of lilies while I pick up semolina bread.

She compliments me on the decor and plays
“Chopsticks” on my piano. I studied for years, but now
play only for myself and a select few friends. Straight
away, I pour the wine for both of us. I am nervous as I
start my sauce, and nick my finger with a knife. My
blood oozes out, red as the Merlot. Angelique adds
garlic, herbs, salt and pepper to the mix while I find a
bandage. I pour a second glass of wine; I look at her
small hands, her fine, wavy hair and the creases in her
cotton skirt.

“Angelique, I love you,” I blurt out, fast approaching
the precipice I have feared for months.

“I know. I care for you, too. I’ve only been with men,
mostly Rick. This new prospect is daunting.”

Her beautiful face is solemn. I am elated that she has
thought about me in this way.

“Don’t be afraid, Angelique.”

We embrace and move to my bed— a looming, lumpy
presence in the back of the apartment. Our bodies
stretch out diagonally across it. I grip the back of
Angelique’s neck and my fingers weave through her
hair; I kiss her lips. She does not recoil; her body is
relaxed. We remove our clothes. Angelique’s body is
little. Conscious of the extent of my passion, I check
myself, not wanting to hurt her. Our bare breasts touch.
I cover her body with mine. I will be doing most of the
work. I sense Angelique has allowed herself to
participate in an experiment; I am intent on bringing
her to discovery. My mouth explores her body and I
expertly bring her to quick satisfaction. Angelique’s
moans are hushed but real. Her reciprocation of my
given pleasure is valiant and clumsy, but I don’t care. I
doze off for a few minutes. When I wake, I see
Angelique filling a pot with water, heaving it over to my
gas stove.

“Hey, sleepy head. I got hungry and decided to start
the linguine.”

Angelique has gotten dressed and is pretending to
concentrate as she turns on the stove. I throw on a
ratty robe. The happiness flows down and out through
my limbs to numb the ends of my fingers and toes; I
know the moment has passed. She attempts to clarify
her feelings for me; she is moving forward with her life
and plans to divorce Rick.

“I was curious how it would be like with a woman,” she
laughs.

“Well, how was it?”

“Great, for me.” She blushes and looks down.

“Move in with me Angelique, even if it’s only for a
while.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready for that, Sasha. I’m thinking
about adopting a child. I’ve never really lived on my
own.”

Our weekend together is wonderful. I play a Chopin
piano nocturne. We go to a movie, shop for bagels and
buy fresh fruits at a Korean market. Angelique sleeps
anchored beside me, but we do not make love again.

Monday morning jumps at us, quick as the second hand
on my old kitchen clock. We enter the school together.
Dr. Prescott, the school director shouts out a booming
greeting.

“How’s my favorite team?”

“We’re great,” I say.

I pass Geri as she fumbles with keys. My eyes meet
hers, but she shakes me off and looks past me to
Angelique. Her back to me, she unlocks the health
office. Geri’s hatred is palpable. I am certain she thinks
I have initiated an innocent into a subversive club.

The day ends as most others. The children are working
on their last science project of the year, Monarch
butterflies. They have been on display in a little mesh
pavilion in the center of our science table. Most have
emerged from cocoons to be released into the courtyard
to take shaky, circular flight above the iron fences
surrounding the school. Dorian draws them and colors
vibrant as glass beads fill up two pages. He says little
today; ephemeral winged insects don’t inspire like his
llama.

Angelique heads home to her apartment to see what
Rick has taken away. I pass Fort Tryon Park and look
toward the river. The height of the cliffs makes me
dizzy. There is water, fluidity; the colors move,
separate, then mingle together, out of human control. I
watch and remain hopeful. Maybe, just maybe,
Angelique will change her mind.


Michele A. Hromada’s work has appeared in Diverse Voices
Quarterly, Forge, Sanskrit, Wild Violet, and Tower Journal. She has
been a special education teacher and educational evaluator.
Presently, she is working on her first novel, with the tentative title
of Pen Pal. She lives on Long Island with her husband and their
rescue dog, Noah. Read more of her short stories at
www.michelehromada.com.
THE LLAMA
Michele A. Hromada