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Chapter 1: Dolly’s

girls on Jane drinking martinis at lesbian bar

Knife wasn't her real name but no one in The City knew that.

"My parents were big acid heads," she'd murmur cryptically anytime anyone asked her about her name, which was often. People usually believed her because, not only are most people astonishingly stupid, but Knife was a phenomenal liar. She was a dangerous liar. A world-class liar. An effortless liar. Lying was Knife’s sport. She was akin to one of those naturally gifted athletes that catapult out of the womb wildly-talented despite having no formal training or genetic predisposition to the sport.

Knife's parents didn't lie. They were third-generation Cranberry farmers from Wisconsin. Honesty is a farmer's religion. No one in Knife’s family understood how she turned out this way; cunning, pathological, grotesquely charming, handsomely beautiful. Knife's family were the only people who knew the real truth about her. Lucky for Knife they lived far, far away in the rural town of Warrens, Wisconsin, home to the world's largest cranberry festival. Warrens felt like a galaxy away from Knife's new life in Manhattan's West Village, home to the world's most fabulous gay bars.

Knife wasn't exactly popular in the downtown dyke scene. She was notorious. Barefoot, she stood a whopping six feet tall, towering above the masses. She was built like a snake; slithery and narrow with arms so long her fingertips kissed the tops of her knee caps. Her skin was pale and bloodless like a junkie and her arctic blue eyes were so piercing, most people couldn't help but look away when met with her icy gaze. She wore shrunken blazers from H&M that she made a big show of telling everyone she'd stolen from Goodwill when "on the road." It wasn't a particularly flattering lie — stealing from a charity shop — but Knife couldn't help herself. Tall tales flew out of her mouth faster than a wildfire spreads across a parched California desert.

The most real thing about Knife was her hair: organically platinum, shoulder-length, beachy.

The best word to describe Knife's appearance? Razorblade.

Of course, Knife modeled. Of course. Sometimes she modeled for obscure editorials in Japanese fashion magazines, but she was best known for posing topless with her long arms folded against her small chest in a men's underwear campaign a few years back. The provocative ad appeared in magazines and on billboards and naturally caught the eye of the downtown glitterati. For fifteen minutes, she was the androgynous darling of the New York fashion elite. even profiled her. But you know how fashion is, don’t you? — Chew you up, spit you out, on to the next boney-cheeked girl. No one in the real world or the fashion world for that matter really knew who Knife was anymore — but that didn't stop Knife from having the inflated ego of a household name.

"I'm the first woman to ever be signed as a male model," she'd loudly slur to the bevy of straight girls she was always trying to take home from the college bars she frequented on the Lower East Side. It wasn't true, obviously, but Knife had a type: Sheltered-NYU-girls-clutching-their-coach-bags-reeking-of-flat-iron-burnt-hair-reading-Emily-Griffen-novels-on-the-Metro-North-back-home-to-Westchester-every-other-weekend. Girls who knew nothing of fashion or the queer scene or an androgynous lesbian's brief stint as a male model. Plus, Knife was hypnotic. So hypnotic, everyone lost the ability to question anything when caught in the riptides of her magnetic trance.

Everyone except Violet.

Knife stuck her hands inside of her brand new cream-colored blazer as she traipsed down Seventh Avenue. She was on her way to Dolly's — her favorite lesbian bar in all of New York. A windowless watering-hole tucked right on the corner of Jane Street and West 4th, Dolly's was Knife's second home. Six nights a week, she sucked down whiskey sours at Dolly's until about midnight when she made her way to the East Side to snatch the twenty-one-year-old straight girls right out of the grubby hands of their lousy boyfriends. Boyfriends who'd never made them cum, not once. Knife greatly enjoyed the power trip of taking home a straight girl and making her explode in orgasmic bliss for the first time. Lesbians were usually too jaded and too over-orgasmed to fall weak in the knees for her cartoon-like swagger.

Even though it was early May, Spring lingered in the air. You could smell it. You could feel it. The damp, flower-fragrant energy of the city aroused Knife. It made her think of sex. She felt her nipples stiffen beneath her blazer. Tonight was going to be good.

"Hi, JACK!" Knife hooted as she gun-slinged up to the bar, socking poor Jack in the arm. Jack grumbled and shook Knife's hand off her. Jack was the resident grump of Dolly's. She was a sturdy 5'5 with a square frame always draped in ratty sweatshirts that said things like: "CAPE COD" or "THE NORTH HAMPTON LIBRARY" emblazoned across the chest — even in the summer. No one knew how old she was exactly — but her raspy voice and weathered energy suggested she'd been a regular at Dolly's for a generous lump sum of time.

"Listen up, kid," Jack huffed, her beady eyes flickering like a table-top candle in an Italian bistro. She slammed her beer against the table, causing a shy-looking baby dyke in a snap-back to skitter away in fear. "I saw what you posted on Facebook. What do you mean GENDER is a CONSTRUCT?" she barked.

Knife wasn't exactly sure what it meant — but she'd overheard a cool-looking girl with a fashion mullet purr "gender is a construct" at a queer potluck in Bushwick a few months prior. She thought it sounded smart and progressive so she made it her Facebook status last week during a bout of wild insecurity. She was always posting things on the internet she didn't understand, but it never seemed to matter. The less she understood what she posted the more likes she seemed to acquire and wasn't that the whole fucking point of social media? To garner validation in the form of likes and comments? (Knife secretly blamed her insatiable thirst for approval on her mother who'd recently confessed she had never breastfed her).

"You gotta get with the times' Jack! It's not my job to educate you," Knife lectured, flashing her trademark smile. She’d been meaning to throw the word “educate” around in a casual conversation and was surprised by how sophisticated it had made her sound.

Jack narrowed her eyes and popped a fresh stick of nicorette into her mouth. These kids and their pretentious jargon made her want to go to reverse conversion therapy. How dare they be so disrespectful to her? She'd nearly been arrested for Civil Disobedience while rallying at the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987! She'd volunteered — for free — in the sweltering August heat at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival every consecutive summer from 1989 to 1995! She'd screamed, "THIS IS A PROTEST NOT A PARADE!" at the top of her tired, nicotine-laden lungs at Manhattan's first-ever dyke march in 1993! For almost four decades she'd been beaten, arrested, and ostracized in the name of lesbian rights. For what? To be condescended to by an airy twenty-something wannabe-model breezily sucking back cocktails at the one bar Jack had ever felt a sense of belonging in? She felt a volcano of anger erupt in her belly.

"Catalina, can I getta another beer!?" Jack shouted to the bartender, angrily like she was yelling at the GOP through a megaphone outside the capitol. It was only 5 p.m. and Dolly's was practically empty so her battle-cry hung heavy in the stuffy bar air.

Knife was too busy scrolling through her text messages to notice.

"Sure!" Catalina sweetly crooned batting her long fluttery lashes. Catalina wouldn't ever dare to admit it, but a few weeks prior she'd had a vivid sex dream about Jack.

"I'm going to whip you with the same riding crop they gave you at pony camp," Jack had huskily whispered into her ear before fucking her with a giant purple strap-on dildo in the same stable Catalina had stored her prized Thoroughbred (unironically named "Gold Star") throughout her childhood in Montclair, New Jersey. She'd woken up drowning in a pool of sweat and desire. She hadn't been able to shake the oddly erotic dream since. And every time Jack rudely demanded a beer from her, Catalina found herself twitching and wet between her pilates-toned thighs.

If only Jack knew. If ONLY Jack knew. Catalina, with her wild curves, luminous terra-cotta-colored skin, and bright swollen red mouth was easily the most lusted after lesbian in the West Village.

The funny thing was — Catalina the Vixen — wasn't exactly Jack the Grump's type. Jack liked complicated, Jewish girls from the Upper West Side. Girls who had been under the care of a renowned psychotherapist since the first grade. Girls who popped antidepressants like Tic Tacs. Girls who wept when they were drunk over freshly unearthed childhood traumas. Girls who devoured the poetry of Sylvia Plath whilst biting their nails with religious fever. Girls with eating disorders and Adderall addictions. Girls with deadly gluten allergies. Girls with stomach issues. Girls with Daddy issues.

Girls like Violet.

Catalina was far too healthy — mentally and physically — for Jack to sexualize. Then again, it had been so long since Jack last had sex, she secretly worried there were mothballs gathering inside her vagina. When you incessantly mutter passive-aggressive comments under your breath whilst reeking of menthol cigarettes and Axe deodorant; it isn't exactly easy to get laid. Especially in the West Village where the lesbians seemed to have such sticks up their asses these days.

"Jack! How are you, my love-love!" Serafina sing-songed twirling into Dolly's as if it were the entrance to a debutante ball, not a lesbian dive bar.

Her signature scent, Chanel #5, loitered behind her like a jealous lover. Jack sneezed. She was allergic to the chemicals in fragrance. Back in her day; dykes wore their natural stench with pride.

"Jack, love-love, let me get you a drink. Want some whiskey?" Serafina asked, her vague European accent sounding even more theatrical than usual. Serafina had been the owner of Dolly's for the past fifteen years. The previous owner was a stone butch delicately named Meredith. Meredith had died fifteen years prior. She'd tragically drowned in the Atlantic ocean after falling off the boat during a VIP Whale Watch excursion during the annual "Women's Weekend" in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Meredith's untimely death rendered the gay community devastated. Because even though Meredith was as mean as a snake, she was somewhat of a maternal figure to the lost queers of New York. She was always secretly doling out fat wads of cash to the homeless baby dykes fresh off the bus from bumblefuck. Shaved-headed little lesbians who had fled to her bar to seek solace after escaping the violence and homophobia that spread like a cancer through their shitty hometowns. She hardly ever charged anyone at Dolly's, either. After she'd scream bloody murder at you for smoking too close to the bar or being too loud outside of the bar or having too much fun inside of the bar — she'd plop a handful of tequila shots on your table and her verbal abuse would quickly be forgotten.

Shortly after Meredith passed, rumors swirled through the scene that Dolly's was going to close down for good. Apparently, rent hadn't been paid on time in years and a Starbucks had its eye on the oh-so-coveted Jane Street location. That's when Serafina swept in and saved the day. Allegedly, she bought Dolly’s for one million dollars over the asking price.

Serafina, an heiress to a billion-dollar Nigerian Petroleum fortune, never uttered a mere word about her astronomical wealth. Even though she was tight-lipped about the millions upon millions of dollars she had sitting pretty in her international bank account, she possessed that specific type of luxurious beauty that oozes money, money, money. She had exquisite black skin with brilliant violet undertones, a mane of curls and the kind of thick, luscious eyebrows that reeked of expensive breeding. She wore Dolce & Gabbana skinny jeans with pointy stiletto heels and blousy silk tops. Even though she looked more like a retired ‘90s supermodel than your average Manhattan dyke — there was no question as to which way darling Serafina swung. Serafina was as Sapphic as it gets. Her flirting style was so unapologetically aggressive it might be deemed a tad vulgar if she wasn't so smokin’ hot and so colossally wealthy.

"Come over here, you sexy thing!" she'd drunkenly meow at an innocent young girl new to the scene. Serafina was hot for high femmes who wore loads of lipstick and sky-high heels with heads that bore horse manes of thick hair. (In fact; she liked girls who looked like younger versions of her — which made her secretly wonder if she was a narcissist. But then she’d slam a cocktail and the thought would dissipate into the air like cigarette smoke). You could always find Serafina at Dolly's, front and center of the packed bar, slurping her down her vodka water as she eyed a beautiful twenty-something like she was a slab of meat freshly plucked off the shelf from butchers.

Like Jack, no one really knew just how old Serafina was.

Catalina pulled Serafina's baccarat crystal tumbler out from behind the bar and filled it to the brim with vodka. She discreetly pulled her shirt a little lower hoping to tantalize Jack with her bronzy cleavage as she cat-walked over to the group.

"Here's your drink, boss," she said coyly, her voice drippy and sweet like maple syrup.

Jack nodded at her, "Kid, I'm ready for another beer." Catalina could smell the axe deodorant permeating out of Jack's pores and was suddenly overcome with the irrepressible desire to throw Jack against the wall and kiss her!

"Catalina, let's meet up after work?" Knife asked, winking at Catalina while theatrically nudging both Jack and Serafina as if to say: I can score the hottest girl in this town, WATCH.

Right before anyone could say anything, the door slammed behind them. The temperature in the room shifted. No one even had to turn their heads to know Violet had arrived.

Illustration by: Tate Eknaian


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