The following extract is drawn from the narrative strand involving Jenna and Aimee, a married couple....
Jenna sucked on the straw and watched a couple introduce themselves to Aimee after overhearing Rae’s enthusiasm. The edition of Conviction featuring an article on Aimee Ince-Shepherd had come out two weeks ago. Headlined The Face of Dissent, it contained four pages of Aimee, pictured in a baggy t-shirt that bore a revolutionary slogan and tight panties. The text beside monochrome images described ‘the sudden rise of a style icon’, and, in among the questions about her wardrobe, Aimee managed to slot in some bigger ideas. She talked of the human race needing to evolve beyond ‘governments’ or ‘borders’, how these were pernicious holdovers from primitive times twenty-first century citizens should abandon. According to Aimee, there had been a great deal more said at the interview Conviction declined to include. At least she had smuggled in some opinions though, to be absorbed by the readership as those salacious photographs caught the eye. Jenna supposed she agreed. It wasn’t as bad as that lifestyle feature last month where they tried to dress Aimee up as Che Guevara.
As the alcohol hit her bloodstream, Jenna became less aware of the anxiety she had been carrying for weeks,
a knot that had swollen over the days, as work matters became clearer and her domestic situation more confusing. Aimee was still up at the university a couple of times every week, making use of the office facilities and meeting Student Union reps who had stuck around during the holidays, but this summer was less taxing than previous ones. Instead there were photo shoots around town for Jenna’s wife modelling
offers in the capital, Aimee travelling up by train at least once a week, to be snapped by hipster mags and
Then there were the demonstrations, often held in London at the weekend, calling for greater accountability or less greed or more opportunity or an end to armed conflict or whatever. These ideals struck Jenna as unachievable but they never failed to fire Aimee up. Besides, if she was to keep her place as the face of dissent, a voice for the victimized and impoverished, Aimee had to remain visible. Lead from the front and take every opportunity to get her views out there. Aimee returned from the trips in a state of exultation Jenna found it difficult to share, even as she listened to the tales of celebrity activists and rousing speeches from great thinkers. Disparate movements were coming together Aimee said, putting differences aside to get a single message across. Because what had been happening in this country wasn’t right.
As Aimee’s public profile burgeoned her time grew limited. There weren’t enough hours in the day for all the networking and administrative work she once did by herself, so the students who had stayed in town for summer were enlisted to help. They wrote emails, designed posters, printed flyers for forthcoming actions and phoned press outlets to ensure journalists were covering the protests. Jenna often returned home from a day at Flawless to find a couple of them crammed into the box room, or sat in her lounge jabbering away on smart phones. Alisha would be there if she wasn’t working at the clothes shop, along with Laurel who had the means to do whatever she wanted, choosing to be far from the family home in rural France right now.
Then there was Lexie. An athletic brunette, self-possessed beyond her years, Aimee had introduced Lexie to her wife only recently, and it seemed like this girl hardly needed to sleep. Lexie was often the last to leave of an evening, and she would reappear the following morning, having been to the gym at an hour most didn’t know existed. This student was the best worker of them all, never lapsing into sullenness like Alisha or
getting distracted before a task was complete the way Laurel did. Jenna thought it was funny, how the French girl would lose interest in that banner they were meant to be making when someone on TV caught her attention, or a song on the radio meant Laurel had the sudden compulsion to dance.
Around the married couple Lexie was quiet and respectful and a lot less fun. She only let her guard down in the company of other twenty year-olds. Jenna heard them sometimes, speculating on the sexuality of famous women or teasing each other, Laurel and Lexie and sometimes Alisha falling about laughing. It wasn’t clear why Lexie had become involved with this group; she didn’t have any obvious beliefs, stayed silent during Aimee’s orations on the real problems facing England, as the others bellowed their agreement. Lexie didn’t strike Jenna as much like any other lesbians she knew either. The girl showed little relish for the gossip and good-natured bitchiness that characterised the coastal scene.
She mentioned this one night after Lexie had gone, while Aimee was deep into some philosophical text.
“Hey.” They kissed and, before Aimee could go back to reading, Jenna said: “So what’s her story?”
A knowing smile. “Oh, Lexie”
“It’s just, with so much going on, you haven’t told me anything about her.”
Aimee put her book down. “What would you like to know baby?”
“She doesn’t really strike me as the activist type, that’s all.”
“You know, I kind of agree with you.” Aimee ran her fingers through Jenna’s hair, watching the blond filaments fall. “This might just be a phase she’s going through. Even if it is, I’m grateful for the help.”
“I can see she’s a good worker, don’t get me wrong.” The night was muggy and Jenna felt hot under the covers.
“Did you meet her at LGBT?”
“Through the girls who still go, yeah. You know Adam takes over from me permanently in September? I don’t have the time anymore.”
“Really?” Jenna wondered if her wife had shared this news.
“She’s a bit of a lone wolf is Lexie.” Aimee shifted onto her back. “I think she was looking for a gang and gravitated our way because we’re all girls. From what Lexie says, she’s had bad experiences with men in the past.”
Jenna looked to Aimee. “You mean she was abused?”
“Not physically, no.”
Aimee looked tired all of a sudden. “You know our society is called Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Trans don’t you?”
“Lexie says she’s bi?” Jenna thought about the girl, how focussed on staying thin she was, the most conventional looking one in the student group. “Do you believe that?”
“Look Jenna, she doesn’t say anything alright? We welcome anyone who isn’t certain about their sexuality. Some of the bi people there are the most confused of the lot.”
Jenna wasn’t about to let that go. “Don’t you think most girls call themselves bi to live out straight male fantasies though? I’m sure you said something like that before.”
“Maybe I did, I was most likely drunk at the time.” Jenna could tell Aimee wanted this conversation to end; they both had an early start in the morning. “You can’t tar everyone with the same brush Jenna; they’re not
all play-acting for the boys. Some of the girls I meet genuinely find men and women attractive. That’s the way it is.”
“I don’t understand that.” Jenna said quietly. “Surely you end up with one person. One person can’t be both.”
“You’d be shocked how some girls live their lives Jenna. As long as no one gets hurt while they’re doing it, where’s the harm?” Aimee had fallen into her schoolmarm expression and Jenna felt herself flush. “I’m surprised you feel that way about bi girls. Maybe you’re not as tolerant as I thought.”
Jenna was about to say something but Aimee turned away before she could, muttering: “I’m going to sleep.”
Her wife was left wide awake and sweaty in the late-June night, angry at Aimee and wondering if there was anything in her words. Jenna remembered the girl who had once accused her of dilettantism. Was she behaving like that bullish lesbian? Lapsing into prejudice and generalisation in the face of something she couldn’t comprehend?