The following is an excerpt from Punk Disco Bohemian, a queer transgressive novel by Arya F. Jenkins about a young bicultural’s coming of age that is set in mid 1970s Provincetown. Punk Disco Bohemian is available at NineStar Press. Here are excerpts from Chapters 9 and 10:
Once the fire in Carol’s cabin got going, she switched on a bedside lamp, and I began to scan shelf after shelf. I made out Our Bodies, Ourselves, Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics, and The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone, all books I had yet to read.
“These yours?” I asked again, pointing to the political line up.
“Yeah, those are.” Carol flipped off her boots and threw herself back on her bed. “Come here,” she said patting the mattress. I obeyed. She sighed as she sat up and looked me straight in the eyes. “You’re not twenty, and we’re not doing it, but you’re definitely a sweet kid. Want something to drink? Water, tea, Schaffer—it’s all I’ve got.” She used the can opener on her key chain to open her last beer, downed some and passed the can to me. As I sipped, she pointed out the handsome wooden round table at center she’d built, sanded, and laminated, and a cabinet against one wall she’d also made in which hung a couple of blouses, a leather jacket, some dress pants, a blazer, and a long coat.
“You’re so talented. You didn’t build all this?”
“Actually did with the help of some friends. We worked as a team. Finished their cabin, a ways from here, Jean and Audrey, this past September. Yeah, I love this place. It’s got everything but a john. If you need to go, you’ll have to use the outhouse—out there.” She pointed.
“Oh,” I said.
She cackled. “Stack of napkins is over there.” She motioned to a pile on a stand near the door under an iron-shaped weight. “Got plenty of H-2-O though.” Two buckets, one covered, one not, filled to the brim, sat nearby. “One’s for cooking and rinsing dishes. The other, bird baths. The well I use is about a mile from heah. It’s a nice trek unless we get snowed in.”
“I say ‘we.’ It don’t mean shit.”
The rustic style appealed to me. Like almost everyone in town, Carol collected floats. A few hung near her fireplace. There were plenty of neat shells and found objects on the mantle and books I wanted to investigate, but it was time to call it a night. Carol had stripped down to a tee and underwear, so I kept my underwear and bra on too as we both crashed on one bed.
In the morning, she was up before me, padding around in flip-flops and a loose sweatshirt over a pair of men’s checkered underwear, sweeping. Her attractive, muscled legs had probably never seen a razor. I admired them as she approached with a hot mug of fresh brew. The fire ebbed, the room remaining warm. The bright outdoors shone through an uncurtained window. “Come on, get dressed, baby dyke. I’m late for work, and I’ve got to run you back to town.”
Carol was my first dyke pal in Provincetown. Even though we never had sex, we always exchanged a warm, “Hey, how ya doin’” and sometimes hung out shooting pool. Her protective attitude helped pave the way for other dykes to approach me with less trepidation. The regulars at the MS started chatting me up when they ran into me, “Didn’t I see you at such and such the other night,” the sort of thing that passed for conversation then. I soon learned from a couple of sharks the best place to go late-night for dancing was Piggies.
“Drink somewhere else before you go there though. You can’t get near the bar to order shit once Piggies gets goin’, even in wintah.”
Everybody converged late-nights to party at Piggies, the jam-packed circus on Shank Painter Road. The first Saturday I showed up. I wore my favorite outfit—a lamb’s wool vest, white blouse, pressed jeans, and desert boots. Looking fresh out of East Coast suburbia, I might as well have worn a sign, “Hi, I’m the new girl,” which was probably what I wanted. Barry White’s “Love’s Theme” swirled throughout the interior that evoked a modern Lautrec painting.
Huddled around a table in the rear, a handful of guys in uniform eyed everyone circumspectly. Just away, a couple of lean, longhaired guys dressed in jeans and skimpy tops made out while groping each other at the bar, the display sending a thrill through me. It screamed, “Freedom is here. You can do anything!” Women in long hippie skirts, bangles and beaded necklaces skipped in a circle on the uneven wooden dance floor. Somebody extended a hand and I joined and we went around and around, “the circle game.” Throwing my head back, I glimpsed something flitting among the high rafters, maybe an entity watching over me.
After a couple of numbers, the woman who’d grabbed my hand led me to the bar. “Tequila shots,” she called out. “And a Coors.”
Maggie had pale green eyes shot through with gold streaks, a Lauren Hutton-like split between her teeth, and medium-length wavy auburn hair that clearly rarely saw a brush or comb. Right away, she let me know she was bi, a blues singer from New Orleans.
“What does bi mean—to you.”
“Bi, bisexual, interested in people” She leaned toward me so I caught a whiff of patchouli, a scent I liked and associated with gentle stoners. She took a couple of long draughts and passed me the beer. I kept thinking, Please don’t ask how old I am.
“Got a cig?”
I jostled two Marlboros out of my pack, lit hers, then mine. We smoked, held each other’s glance, and nodded. She was shorter than me. I peered into her cleavage, noticing she wasn’t wearing a bra.
“What do you sing?”
“Everything. Haven’t had a gig since New Orleans,” she whispered, coming closer to avoid competing with the volume of music, her words nibbling my ear. “Got here in August. Been here ever since.” She laughed nervously.
“Ma, my dad liked the blues, jazz,” I stuttered.
“Oh yeah?” She didn’t press further and I was glad since it occurred to me she might have thought I connected her to Dad, age-wise. Maggie offered her age, twenty-five, but didn’t ask mine.
“How’d you find out you were bi?”
“Man, in this biz, everybody sleeps with everybody. I love people, you know?” She began nodding again and I followed suit.
“Yeah, I can dig it.”
“Let’s dance, babe.” She held my hands and pulled me to her in a kind of sexy shuffle. When the number ended and it was closing time, she batted her eyelashes “Wanna crash with me?”
* * * * * * *
Maggie lived in a trailer on somebody’s property set on a hill along Commercial Street. To my mind, free spirits lived in vans and trailers. We removed our clothes then got underneath a huge patchwork quilt, and spent a while looking at each other. When we were warm, we began tracing each other’s bodies, our newness, me taking in Maggie’s vast, lovely contours, she, responsive and tender like someone opening up a gift. From time to time she let loose a raspy cackle and I echoed with a small laugh like a sigh.
I’d never experienced so much exploring someone’s body. I sensed the others who had been there before me, the history of her affairs, their emptiness that lingered. Afterward we sat together in the buff, smoking, talking about how we loved the nighttime and music while eerie wind shook the trailer. I told Maggie I didn’t understand jazz enough to dig it, but I wanted to drum.
“You should be a drummer, Ali. Start with bongos. You can do it.” She sounded excited.
No one had ever encouraged me to do anything, Maggie and I covered so much ground talking. Naked, in the moment, I stepped outside to baptize myself in this new place of freedom and tiptoed gingerly across the frozen lawn and snow-rimmed rocks to Commercial where wind knocked about wooden signs before storefronts. The heavy, hand-hewn Hermit Restaurant jerked unnervingly from side to side on an otherwise empty street. Overhead, a dusty moon and sharp stars winked at me as I breathed deep the piercing cold and sensation of being wholly free. Then I returned to the trailer to the warmth of Maggie’s arms. “Crazy, love, crazy, love,” she called me……
* * * * * *
Arya F. Jenkins’s flash, short stories and essays have been published in many journals and zines. Her short stories have received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize. In 2021, one of her short stories was also nominated for Best of the Net. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks and a short story collection, Blue Songs in an Open Key (Fomite, 2018). Her mixed genre novel, Punk Disco Bohemian, is available at NineStar Press.
A second collection of short stories, Angel in Paris & Other Stories, is due out in 2022.