'Best of Times' by Emmanuela Copal de León
Best of Times, Emmanuela Copal de León, 2000.


in the company of strangers
by samantha coerbell


i am sitting in a room filled with women. they are tall, short, thin, fat, soft, round, smelling of perfumed oils and their lips are a myriad of colours, their cheeks are rouged. these women are talking, mostly about men. i am sitting in a room filled with women talking about men. how to get, get rid of, goad, grit the nerves of, and stake a claim to—men. dull pockets of air rise above their heads, they are cartoons, their every word filling this bubble above their head. (i do not want to have to call them bubbleheads.) it is very crowded in this room.

the girl next to me has the most amazing breasts. there are two of them. they are both in the front. the nipples are dark and erect. she is excited about something. or cold. they are mesmerising. as if they float on air, they are swollen beneath. i wonder why i am so fascinated by them. it is them, not her. i really wonder why i am so fascinated. i, too, have breasts. two of them. in the front. and i am pleased with mine, one even has a pretty picture on it, but there is something about hers. the foreignness, maybe. i look around to see if the other women in the room have noticed her, her breasts, what all. then i remember, i am in a room full of women, men on their minds, and there is no time to toss a compliment a sister's way. no one will even say, "yo sis, i like your shoes." now, how would i ever get one of these women to say, "oh girl, you got some nice tetas."

they are talking about men. men they have, have had, want. their past, present and future tied up in their men. their timelines are dictated by their relationships with them. they talk like this, "you don't remember that play, you remember, that was the one you went to with Thomas..." "i started working there when i was with Richard..." "i don't know, it was after Harold, but before..." and their contexts are defined by these men. forgotten and displaced, they still define. what is this power they accord men, when there is not one in the room to rally around? they are cursed and loved, reviled and craved in absentia. the room is filled with their ghosts.

bumping through this room i see women — brown, tawny, perspiring, drowsy, cloying, just down-right-evil, and each oh so much prettier than the next. i look at them and am drawn — moths and flame, flies to shit on a sidewalk, kiddie day at the zoo — to the way they style their hair. i am taken in by the hues of their nails. my eyes are riveted to the way their hips move. sometimes i wiggle mine like they do theirs, but they know something i don't. they are either not sharing or i am not paying very much attention.

i am looking inside of me to see how i even got in this room. they know i am not one of them. they may even suspect i am a spy. i am constantly in danger around them. i sleep with their boyfriends. but, that is not the worst of it, when i am done, in moments of afterglow i give their men advice on how to protect themselves from these women. i am an uncle tom. i be scraping up to the Man. for real, though. delusions of persecution aside, i believe they suspect that i am not true. though my breasts are real.

i quickly scan the room for another like me. a woman on the verge of not-ness. that is, a woman who is not really thrilled with the whole gambit. see, maybe one of the other femme-esque beings here is tired of the game, too. her pantyhose go unworn for years, like mine. she has one tube of lipstick a friend gave her that she cannot bear to wear, like i have. she owns dresses, really fancy ones, that she has never worn because she could never justify the abrupt change of image, which is to say, the fellas would rib her about it. "you're a girl..." maybe she has heard this said and reacted in shock and horror and dismay. she, like i, has heard this with a question mark, an exclamation point, righteous indignation, mockery. i know i have heard it and was none too thrilled.

i pause on the stairs and think how i fit in here. i have never believed my breasts make me a woman. i know my vagina answers certain questions, i just can't say that it binds me to the others. they don't rub their breasts against mine, for unity. (though some have offered.) we do not worship at each others vaginas. (okay, some do.) i am in this room filled with women and i don't want to talk about my period, let's talk literature. or, who was on Charlie Rose last night because i will not share my fear of childbirth. so, i'm a little secretive and won't tell you about my lover, he may be one of yours. no, i don't "sometimes feel bloated" and my thighs are fine, thank you.



Text © 2000 by samantha coerbell

Original Graphic Image, "Best of Times" © 2000 by Emmanuela Copal de León

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