(This is an installment in a serial story.
To read “Magic” from the beginning, click here.)
The door to the Women’s Room was open and warm light and a warm, spicy scent spilled out on the street. The butterflies in Sarah’s stomach banged their wings against the walls as she walked in the door.
“No surprise here! Happy birthday!” Lupa called out, greeting her in the doorway. All in one fluid motion, she pulled Sarah in close for a hug and a kiss on the cheek, wiped her lipstick smudge away with her thumb, handed her a sparkling flute of champagne, and turned her by the shoulders to face the room. “Meet your party. Party, this is Sarah.”
Someone reached out and grabbed Sarah by the wrist and pulled her into the roomful of women, where she was hugged and kissed, and passed from person to person. Marco gave her a quick hug and kiss as she went by him. The volume in the room began to rise as she was peppered with good wishes, introductions, and questions.
“How do you know Lupa?” an older woman asked, her silver hair and dangling earrings sparkling like the many chandeliers overhead.
“I moved in across the street.” Sarah pointed toward her building.
“Oh, are you the woman with Alba, the beautiful white cat?” the woman asked.
“I guess I am.”
Trying to mind her manners, Sarah returned the question. “And how do you know Lupa?”
“Oh, I’ve come here for years,” the woman said. “I think the first time was in the early 1960s, when I was a student at Mills. It was more underground then. There was no sign, no letters on the window, and her hours were more erratic. Sometimes the building wasn’t here at all. It would just disappear. But Lupa was always so welcoming, and she gave me special teas to help get me through my finals.”
Sarah smiled and nodded, but her head was whirling. Lupa didn’t look any older than she herself, but the woman speaking was clearly much older, maybe even 50 years older.
The woman continued on, oblivious to Sarah’s confusion. “I first heard about The Women’s Room from a professor. She told me on the sly, and said she used to come here during the war years. Like so many women she had gone to work in the shipyards, and sometimes she just needed the comfort and company…” Her voice drifted off as Sarah’s head spun with calculations.
“But Lupa wasn’t here then,” Sarah interrupted. It was a question, not a statement.
“Oh, but of course,” the woman said. “What would it be without her? She has been nuturing and caring for the women of the Bay Area for as long as anyone can remember. This room has been a nexus of political and sexual revolution. Some people think this IS the nexus. She’s in the history books, that one.” The woman cocked her head toward Lupa. “But you’ll never find her, or this place, mentioned by name. There is only allusion. After all, it’s all an allusion.”
The woman kissed her quickly on both cheeks. “Lucky girl,” she murmured, and disappeared into the crowd.
The thrum of background music began to swell and the conversation in the room grew louder and more raucous. Sarah was pulled from one knot of women to the next.
At the first sip, Sarah realized that what she had first taken to be champagne was some sort of sparkling herbal elixir, both fruity and spicy, with an aftertaste like a musky perfume.
Remembering her previous encounter with one of Lupa’s concoctions, Sarah asked her in passing if she needed to be careful.
“Not here, sweet thing. This is the one place you don’t need to be careful. I’ve always got your back.” Sarah looked at Lupa carefully, studying her smooth ageless face and deep red lips. Lupa’s eye crinkled only slightly as she smiled. “Oh, no you don’t. No questions. Now back to your party.”
Platters of amazing food made an appearance, deftly passed through the crowd by young, gender-queer waiters in white dinner jackets with pink carnations. There were lovely little tidbits that managed to be both savory and sweet, light and filling. The handsome, piratey-looking woman with the shaved head, that Sarah recognized from her first visit , wrapped an arm around her waist and leaned in close to her ear, conspiratorially. “I guess I’ll be seeing you after the party,” she said, before squeezing her and moving on.
Sarah had almost forgotten about the after-party gathering at her house and wondered if she should go home so she could light the fire and be there to greet people.
“Don’t you dare,” Lupa said, passing by and apparently reading her mind.
Instead Sarah sunk into one of the luxuriously overstuffed sofas and was soon flanked by women telling her stories and making her laugh.
The rest of the night passed in blur, but slowly Sarah became aware of the room getting a little quieter, the music a little softer. Was it her imagination, or was it even a little dimmer?
Lupa clinked a spoon against her glass and the room hushed. “It’s quarter to twelve, my friends.” And just like that the room cleared out. Remaining were Lupa, the piratey-woman, a delicate woman with a beautiful tumble of red hair (a mathematician, if Sarah remembered their conversation correctly) and the older woman with the silver hair. The waiters busied themselves tidying up the room.
“They’ll lock up,” Lupa said, referring to the waiters. “So, off we go.” And with that, she slipped into her coat and picked up a basket and headed across the street with Owl at her heels
(to be continued)