Ava Barbi

The front-loading washing machines in the dim, dank laundry room lurched and groaned their grievances over decades of neglect. But worse than that, Val was missing her favorite prime-time soap, The Edge of Passion, because she had gone to the gym over the weekend instead of laundering her clothes. Cursing under her breath, she sipped on chamomile tea from a mug with a mosaic of survival cracks and leaned back so that her wide hips strained against the red metal folding chair. She fixed her gaze on the sudsy liquid spewing against the glass of the machine she had been lucky to claim.

Up at street level, the police sirens, screeching of cars, restless laughter of young people on spring break, and humming amen corners of brown, beige and ebony sages formed a kinetic quilt of the African Diaspora. Indeed, the frenetic, tough and culture-steeped Bedford-Stuyvesant streets seemed a world away. Do or die? she mused the neighborhood’s survival motto. Feels like a little of both, today anyway.

Like the ebb and flow of the ocean, the toxic water in the washers pulsed, teased, receded and splashed, reminding her of the approaching summer. But two months was too long a wait for the relentless sun to melt her frozen heart. She longed to embrace her lover again, to apologize for the misunderstandings that sent her mind whirling like wet clothes on spin cycle. Closing her eyes from the assault of the laundry room's fluorescent lighting, as blinding as sunrays, she began tracing the events that led her to an unbearable emotional solitary confinement.

The last time Val trusted abandoning her wash to catch up on fictional characters airing their dirty laundry via the all-soap cable channel was a lonely night in January. She was sipping on jasmine tea at the faux-walnut snack table and dipping chunks of a potato samosa in plum sauce in a feeble attempt to watch her figure. A former high school sprinter, she was confident that her athleticism would rescue her from the perils of urban living despite her parents' warnings about careless acts such as doing laundry late at night.

Running down three flights of stairs to the laundry room in the basement only took a minute but the effort was moot because, to her surprise and embarrassment, someone had taken the liberty of removing her intimate apparel from the washing machine. Bras, thongs and camisoles were strewn about wantonly. On several washers, across a dryer and on the floor. She had no choice but to retrieve them and prepare them, albeit with much silent cursing, for a repeat wash. Who would do such a thing? she wondered.

Reaching down to grasp a lacy pink thong from the gritty floor beside a corner washer, she suddenly noticed a shadow loom over hers and found her answer. Without warning, a firm mocha hand covered hers and a dusky voice uttered, "Don't be afraid. I'm not here to hurt you."

"Are you the one responsible for --" Val could not complete her question.

"No, of course not. I've been the unofficial monitor of our building's basement," said the muscular woman, now helping Val to her feet. "Turns out there's a panty raider among our neighbors, and he or she is frightening the crap out of the women who do their laundry on-site."

"Geez, maybe I should go to the Laundromat around the corner -- Sudz," said Val. She thanked her neighbor, extending her hand and introducing herself.

"Pleased to meet you, Val. My name is Isis and, no, I do not hold the magical secrets of Ancient Khemet."

Both women chuckled, and Val gently pushed Isis' shoulder as if she had known her for aeons. When Val's eye locked on a thong that remained on the floor, Isis could not resist teasing her. "Hmm, I see someone has a naughty side, huh?"

"Well, I-I-I like to fantasize that I'm as sexy as one of those supermodels in their barely there lingerie," said Val, squatting to sweep up the stray thong.

"Why don't you give me your phone number in case of an emergency," Isis said, tugging at a paper in the back pocket of her tight jeans. "You know, with panty raiders among us and all," she said, laughing.

Val laughed back nervously but complied, adding her apartment number, 3J, to the paper. Her confidence was back in the safe zone, but Isis insisted that she return to her apartment.

"I'll guard the rest of your wash for the night," Isis said. She accepted her new friend's roll of quarters, her fingers brushing Val's palms and recording their softness, and then sent her upstairs.

Smiling at the fading thuds of Val's ascent, Isis ran her thick fingers through the metallic blonde tufts framing her oval face. In profile her head resembled that of an exquisite West African wood carving, the kind she had bought at the indoor market on 125th Street in Harlem. She dropped five quarters one at a time in a washer's coin tray, pushed it forward and launched the wash, sensing her blood surge through her veins as powerfully as the machine's motor. She relished her chair duty in the manner of a lifeguard misusing his or her vantage point to spy on the hard bodies wading out into the surf.

While Val was upstairs cradling another ceramic cup filled with soothing chamomile tea, in preparation for The Edge of Passion, Isis was downstairs stopping the washer to remove one sudsy undergarment after another. When she found her favorite article -- the nylon black thong -- she stretched the narrow crotch between her thumb and middle finger, and with her other hand she undid the zipper to her jeans, tugged aside her own sopping thong and diddled the purple clit head that was extended from its engorged sheath. Then she placed the drenched panties in her back pocket.

Several hours passed, and Val stubbornly awakened to her telephone's insistent ring tones. The Edge of Passion was watching her, which made her laugh inwardly.

“Hi,” the raspy voice whispered. “Val, did I wake you? It’s me, Isis. I’m holding your thong for ransom.”

“Oh, I overslept,” Val said. She did not hear Isis’ joke. Instead, she offered, “Do you wanna come up now, or should I --”

“Don’t bother leaving your apartment. It’s nearly 10 p.m. I’ll fold everything and come up in about 20 minutes.”

It took 15 minutes for Isis to fold the clothes and another 15 minutes to shower away the natural lube that had oozed around her crotch during her self-adventure in the musty cellar. Her apartment was situated one floor beneath Val’s, and therefore she was at her friend’s threshold, wearing a fresh T-shirt and jeans, before the 11 o’clock news could begin. In one of her back pockets she had stashed the cum-caked nylon black thong because that aroused her and gave her a power befitting an Egyptian queen.

“Am I too early for the pajama party?” Isis asked jokingly.

“Uh, I think I’m a tad underdressed, don’t ya think?” Val replied, at first looking upset that Isis was late. In typical fashion, she shrugged off the minor annoyance, then pulled Isis through the door with much effort. “You are welcome anytime,” she said.

“Welcome to do what, young lady?” Isis said, flexing her eyebrows. She dumped the laundry bag near Val’s hat stand and followed her to the lumpy plaid sofa.

“What are we watching on TV tonight, honey?” Isis asked, her right hand supporting her chin and left hand resting on her crotch in a mock-masculine gesture.

Val could only laugh heartily, apologizing in between to neighbors as if they could hear the joyful noise she was sharing with her newfound companion. She sashayed in Isis’ direction, wearing a flannel, plaid prairie-style gown and fuzzy pink slippers, then plunked down wearily on the sofa beside Isis. “Something tells me you’re going to be like the big sister I never had,” she told Isis.

Isis walked over to the laundry bag, reached inside and pulled out a DVD, then returned to the sofa. When she dimmed the lamps on the end tables, Val opened her eyes, wondering what was happening and then spotted the title of the DVD: Sappho Sistas Part VI.

“What’s up, Isis? I thought we would just be hanging out, just talking and playing chess or Scrabble. I mean, it being a Friday night and all,” said Val.

Isis moved closer to Val, glancing up from her pendulous breasts to her full lips. “I sensed downstairs, when you embraced my hand, that is -- well, I thought we had a connection, a certain, you know, un … der … stand … ing,” she said, planting a kiss on Val’s neck between each syllable.

“Look, I don’t, oo-oo-oooh --” Val was speechless for what seemed like the longest minute in her adult life. Then, whimpering, she tried to reason with her seducer: “I mean, oh, God. I mean, I-I-I’m straight, Isis.”

“You mean, ‘Oh, Goddess,’ don’t you?” said Isis, unable to hide a sly smile escaping her lightly mustachioed, dark-pink lips. Her warm tongue slithered between Val’s trembling lips and then snaked along her palate. They savored the promise of sex lingering in every molecule of each other’s abundant saliva while their uneven moans, as dissonant as an Indian love song, filled the emptiness of the living room.

Val’s eyes were shut but her mind remained opened to Isis’ entreaties. She crossed her legs as if to throw off her scent, but Isis was like a dutiful bloodhound ready for the hunt.

“Straight? Are you really?” Isis implored. She slowly laid a forefinger on Val’s pouty bottom lip, then leaned her top-heavy body toward her so that Val was pressed backward against the sofa. “If you’re straight, I’m a trophy wife, OK?”

The women laughed themselves into another, affectionate embrace. The DVD never had a chance that night. When Val reached for the remote, Isis slid it across the coffee table and seized her hand. She stood up and pulled Val to her feet, then spun her around with the stylized precision of a tango figure so that she could nibble on her neck. Val threw her head back in surrender, inviting Isis to reach around and massage her breasts. The only element missing from their scene was a bandonen melody.

They shared a brief joke about cup size and gravity, but when Isis’ hands began pulling up Val’s gown from the large rear wet spot, the levity segued into staccato shrieks from Val, who had a five-octave vocal range. Groping her sopping pussy with enough passion to sprinkle the carpet with Val’s feminine juices, Isis could not believe she had sparked such fire in her seemingly conservative neighbor. She released the gown and spun Val back around to face her, kissed her hard and long.

“Which way is your bedroom, honey? And I do mean honey because you’re one sweet sticky thing,” Isis said, licking the fingers from the agile hand that had wrung the cum from Val’s unkempt bush.

“What exactly are we going to do?” Val asked coyingly and started to walk backward toward the bedroom. At that moment, the telephone rang.

“Are you expecting another booty call,” Isis asked, without a hint of amusement.

Val rolled her eyes, pursed her lip and gave her suspicious new lover a silent “fuck you” before grabbing the phone.

“Hello, it’s me,” the baritone voice melted into her ear.

“And what’s supposed to come next, huh? I’ve thought about you for a long, long time,” she sang off-key, which made him laugh. He was oblivious to her sarcasm.

“You know I’ve always loved that Todd Rundgren song. Look, Val,” he said, returning to the subject of her dissatisfaction, “I’m really getting a divorce this time.”

“Bullshit!” she yelled at him. “You know you’re just trippin’ over having two loyal women obey that stiff cock of yours as if it were a conductor’s wand, except you have no intention of facing the music!” Her eyes sought Isis’ for comfort, then rolled to the whites when her adulterous lover dared another attempt at talking her out of her drawers.

She bristled at the fleeting thought of her borrowed man’s latte-complexioned asscheeks pumping between his wife’s thighs, the tilted crown of his cock glistening lewdly each time it re-emerged from her clenching pussy, the ripped muscles in his arms flexing from all the strenuous push-ups against the mattress. At first she had her back turned to Isis, but now, as her rented beau’s honeyed words dripped through the phone line, her feet were pacing the carpet with such intensity that the static electricity could have produced a fire as rampant as her rage.

Isis crept up behind Val and stopped her from pacing again by pulling her gently into a protective embrace. Val reached back with her free arm, caressing the coarse tufts of bleached-blonde hair atop Isis’ oblong head. Isis whispered candied thoughts into Val’s unoccupied ear and could not care less if the man on the phone heard her hushed moans. All she knew was that Val was yin to her yang. That they both had yonis would not be a barrier to experiencing the many positions of the Kama Sutra, especially with all the strap-ons that Isis had collected from sex toy parties that were as popular as Tupperware soires in the 1970s. All she desired at the moment was engaging Val in rhythmic lovemaking chants punctuated by dissonant moans and spine-tingling shrieks.

With so many of what bisexual writer Anaïs Nin had termed “erotic imaginings” heavy on her mind, Isis lowered her mocha face to the nape of Val’s caramel neck, planting sympathetic kisses there. Surreptitiously she lowered herself, pressing her plum-juicy lips against each square in the plaid print of Val’s flannel gown, causing her to gasp at just the moment the caller’s voice rose a register.

“C’mon, Val, give me some credit for getting separated from her,” he tried to reason.

“Credit? You’ve been banging my pussy black and blue for how long?” Val said, turning toward Isis in a prickly moment of self-consciousness to whisper her request for privacy. Isis sauntered in the direction of the kitchen, singing a few strains of Prince’s “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” in the harshest falsetto that Val had ever heard since Mariah Carey’s croaky rendition of “I Still Believe.”

Like a true lothario, the booty-caller was confident that Val perceived him as the only man that she could ever love, as if her orgasmic confessions over the past six months lingered with meaning long after they had feasted on each other’s bodies and drunk of their tainted communion wine. Her long-distance lover only was half-listening to her at this point, his mind locked on an image of their last casual encounter. Only her austere tone could curtail his solipsistic reverie.

“Neal Hen-der-son, I refuse to rewind that sordid tape of you and me making what can only be memories. Besides, this isn’t a good time; I have company.”

He knew that when Val enunciated every syllable of his surname, she was incensed at him. Tonight, however, he sensed her hostility elevating to repugnance. Although he was located miles away in an East Village loft, it was as if she were standing before him, and he detected a pungent odor that singed the hairs in his nostrils. Audibly sniffing, he asked, “Who’s there? I bet it’s a --”

“It’s no one you’ve ever met or will ever meet. Why don’t you just forget my number, forget about me and repair your relationship with your darling wife.”

“I told you we’ve come to an impasse. It’s over, really.”

“I don’t believe you. Goodbye!” She disconnected him.

Meanwhile, Isis, feeling abandoned, had sought refuge in Val’s kitchen, raiding her fridge in the process. Among the assorted fruit and packaged deli meats she had found a six-pack. She emitted a belch as she crushed the empty can. “I wish this was his face,” she growled. “You deserve better than a philanderer. Allow me to stroke the hurt away, Val.”

It was a deal that Val could not decline in her distressed state. She had thought Neal was her ideal man, always bringing her flowers after work and treating her to lavish dinners in restaurants that required reservations several months in advance. The whole time he was calling me his boo, she reflected, blind to Isis massaging her buttocks as they headed toward the bedroom in her railroad-flat apartment.

“You got any toys around here?” Isis asked bluntly.

“I stopped playing with -- oh, those toys,” Val said, her wide eyes narrowing toward her androgynous temptress. “The only one I like to kill time with is my vibrator, this one,” she said, flicking on the light and reaching into a nightstand drawer for her Slim Zone, or “Slim Jim,” as she affectionately referred to her dependable friend. She flipped on the radio to find Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Rush Over” dousing the airwaves with its heady, seductive brew.

Stripping off her clothing to the R&B song’s rhythm, Isis eyed Val flinging off her gown and undies. When Isis kicked her jeans over to the wall, she nearly loosened the Sheetrock, which caused Val to snicker with nervous laughter because she knew that any damages to the apartment would be deducted from her security deposit. Isis apologized and gestured to straighten up the jeans and other articles of clothing, and her jerky movements made Val’s nylon black thong slip out of a rear pocket from Isis’ jeans.

“Aha! You’re the panty raider!” Val shrieked in mock-disbelief, shaking her index finger at Isis.

“Are you ready to give up other treasures?” Isis challenged, licking her swollen lips, which matched her nether quadruple set beneath her untamed forest mound.

“Only if you share with me the genius of the pharaohs, my queen,” Val said, bowing.

“Well, if you’ve ever fantasized about a threesome, Jimmy and I are gonna make you come tonight, baby,” Isis said, pointing to the vibrator. She leaned into Val, who now was seated on the platform bed.

“You’re already fulfilling my lesbian fantasy, Isis,” Val said, watching wide-eyed as her lover loaded the vibe with a trusted brand of double-A batteries. “I don’t know if my G-spot can handle that kind of sensory overload.”

They had a thrilling time finding out just how much Val could take. Roughly six inches of the vibrator -- on high speed. Isis’ technique had a failure rate of zero: First she prodded the shiny silver rod inside Val’s panties, under the elastic and back inside, across her rosebud, then in the petal-like folds of her drenched vulva. Val discreetly experienced a subtle spasm, as if she were trying to head off the inevitable paroxysms. How she did not plunge over the edge was a mystery, especially with Isis’ smoky encouragements, which alternated between “Mmmmm, you’re so wet” and “Come for your queen.”

Val felt reborn, speaking in tongues in a different way now, her mouth drooling, legs twitching, toes curling and hips churning. She sensed a familiar cooling sensation, as if she were sinking her teeth into a scoop of ice cream. But this kind of brain freeze felt divine. In Isis’ presence, she felt protected and cherished. Until now she was living in the past, but Isis’ hands, like cardiac paddles, shocked her into the present.

Lucid moments like these were rare. Val whispered “I love you” into Isis’ ear while her lover pressed kisses into the side of her neck and worked the slimy vibe in and out like a piston. Val’s delicate hands sought Isis’ angular face, traced its rugged outline.

Isis usually relished in her prowess, but now she felt ready to surrender to the degree of intimacy that Val had revealed moments earlier. She said she loves me, Isis intoned. As if a mysterious force were guiding her body, she delicately lowered her succulent lips to Val’s, alternating burning kisses there with ethereal whispers. Her eager, dewy digits were a delectable replacement for the slimy silver vibe, their rhythm inside Val’s vagina outpacing Ndegeocello’s bassline.

Seduced and mesmerized by the furious bass popping, Isis started tapping her thumb on her lover’s clitoris. The friction sparked with an electricity that reverberated throughout Val’s being -- a tactile equivalent of musical frisson that sent her soaring off the charts and digging her acrylic-butterfly nails into Isis’ back. Isis jolted up in the bed and drew in a quick breath to swallow the piercing pain.

“Damn, Val,” she said, wincing. “If you’re trying to mark me, I can have your name tattooed anywhere that pleases you.” She tried to hide her smile as she craned her neck to look at her back. “And I think you drew blood.”

Val laughed, each movement of her diaphragm triggering her G-spot to conspire with her clit to give her aftershocks.

Isis did not want to miss a beat. Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo” floated through the room now. She lubed her hand generously with her mate’s favorite brand of intimate moisturizer -- Frisky -- then slowly fisted Val to the West African rhythms until her soft honey-toned body quivered and tensed in sweet agony matched only by Sade’s wailing. Then Isis revved up “Slim Jim,” and on cue Val propped herself on her knees in front of her lover and went for another ride.

With her distended breasts serviced by Isis eager lips and tongue and no brakes on the vibrator, Val bounced on the throbbing metal like a jet skier braving fierce currents on a river. She reciprocated while Isis lay on her broad back, spreading her furry legs and exposing to Val her moist mound and inner thighs. Val was so turned on that she stuck her forefinger and middle finger into her goddess’ gaping hole and scooped out a dollop of cream. Isis let out a scream that could be heard across the deserts sands of Egypt. Val sucked the viscous white nectar from her slender brown fingers, then went back to the oasis between Isis thighs for more sustenance.

“Am I your flava?” Isis managed to ask in a hoarse voice.

“Yes, yes," Val assured her mate.

"C'mon, tell me," Isis huffed, nearly wheezing. "What's the goddess' flava? What's the flava, baby?"

"Ambrosia … never … goes out … of style,” was Val’s breathy response. Then she slid the buzzing vibe from her oyster-textured opening and invaded the goddess’ palatial pussy.

The pair panted and shrieked, shuddering to climaxes in counterpoint and, hours later, in unison. They lay spooning each other in a huge wet spot, the vibrator still whirring but on low speed due to ever-reliable lithium batteries. Four sticky hours later, dawn peeked in through sheer curtains marked by the silhouette of a fire escape. The fuchsia panels, which were actually a repurposed sari, billowed in the breeze flowing from a littered, rodent-and-crackhead-infested courtyard.

As one often does close to awakening, Val shifted around in damp sheets and murmured Isis’ name. Isis was sleeping soundly, her back to Val, so she decided to allow her spent lover to slumber awhile longer. She felt a slight chill in the bedroom but was too lazy to get out of bed to adjust the thermostat in the hallway. Instead, she gathered up the duvet that had been kicked to the end of the queen-sized bed. Her sudden rise in body temperature and the smell of blended cum conspired to change her mind about leaving Isis to her dreamtime. She licked the salty, beaded perspiration dripping in slo-mo from her own forehead and plopping down onto her lips as if the bed were hooked up to a surround-sound system. Peeling back the moistened sheet from her glistening nude body for a rear view of Isis’, she surrendered to the craving of early-morning sex.

“Isis,” she whispered. “Isis?” Upon hearing no response a third time, she nudged her lover. It took an effort but she rolled Isis toward her and gasped at the sight of her beloved’s blank stare, the apparent result of a heart attack. No blood could be found anywhere. The only evidence of foul play was on a note taped to Isis Henderson’s gaping mouth. It was the same note on which Val had written her contact information the previous night, but someone crossed out her information with a medium blue ballpoint pen and with such brutality that the ink barely could be seen through the mutilated paper. The rips on the notepaper gradually became outnumbered by Val’s teardrops spreading in a wet path toward, and beginning to obliterate, a brief sentence printed with a black Sharpie: “NEAL WAS HERE.”

The End

Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of author. All Rights Reserved.

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