Hayley Katzen: Come Make Hay
Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and welcome to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme. Queerstories events happen regularly in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and I’m also now hosting them in regional towns. If you enjoy these stories, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast, and consider buying a copy of the Queerstories book: A collection of 26 of the stories edited by me and published by Hachette. I’m really proud of this collection and I hope you enjoy it too.
Hayley is a writer who lives on a small cattle farm west of Lismore. Her play, Pressure Point, was performed at the Byron Community Theatre, and her short stories and essays have won awards and been published in Australian and American journals, and anthologies. The first publication she worked on was The Bride Wore Pink, a community discussion paper on the legal recognition of same-sex relationships produced by the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby in 1992. Hayley performed this story, an excerpt from the memoir she’s currently working on, in Lismore.
“A woman who can put petrol in her car to drive to the farm, who has a job with a regular wage, is a non-smoker, and has a swimming pool.”That was Jen’s list of what she wanted in a girlfriend.
Or so she told me as we lay naked in her white sheets, the morning after we became lovers.
After Jen’s relationship with the carpenter had ended, she had taken to dropping in for a swim, not to deliver eggs or firewood or hay, as she’d done during the last couple of years of our friendship.
One December day, home from my job at the uni’s law school, the swimming pool water, airy and cool against my skin, as I watched Jen tumble-turn underwater, I was surprised by a race of desire. Jen seemed sexually attractive, urgently so.
Was it her laughter and lightness? Her body? Those muscled arms and back, her horserider’s thighs, the slender hips with the tattoo on the hip-bone? Or was it that it’d been exactly two years, two months and three days since my last lover?
And now Jen, with that playful glint in her eyes, was clearly available.
With our elbows on the pool edge, we chatted about love and, as lesbians do, we told each other our coming out stories. I urged her on with questions, wanting our conversation to last, no evapourate like the squiggles she drew with water on the hot pavers. I so wished I’d spent more time studying the art of seduction rather than the options for legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships.
When Jen dropped in early one morning a few weeks later, after I’d fried eggs and made toast, she asked, “Is there something we need to talk about or should we just leave things the way they are?”
“Well,” I said, resorting to the only type of seduction I knew, “what I’d really like to do is race you off to bed right now.”
She laughed and said, “Well, that’s not going to happen. I’ve got to get back to the farm and it’s not long since my break-up. Anyway, neither of us are after a one-night stand.” She was right. As much as I longed to be the kind of girl who’d had more lovers than notches on my belt, my heart was sensitive and I wanted more than sex.
“How about dinner?” I asked. “It’s too far to town from the farm,” she said. “I’ll call you.”
When I leaned forward to kiss her, she presented a cheek, hopped into the truck and said, “All good things come to those who wait.”
I groaned, and not just because I hate clichés. We courted by letter and phone. The publisher’s deadline for the law textbook I’d been contracted to write was looming but the case law on the right to a fair hearing no longer seemed compelling.
I pruned every hibiscus and bougainvillea in the garden, oblivious to the scratches the thorns left behind. I thought only of Jen – well, of sex with Jen. Eventually, the invitation came – a fortnight later during a phone call. “Do you want to come make hay?” she asked. “Sure,” I said, interpreting the invitation metaphorically.
“I’m serious,” she said. “I’m baling the Mill paddock.”
On that first hot summer’s night, as cicadas sirened in the gumtree, Jen announced that everything on the plate was home-grown: The new potatoes, the lettuce, and tomatoes, and herbs – and the rump steak.
All I could think was, “Who’s going to make the first move?” Instead, I said, “So, did this cow have a name?”
“Easter,” she said, smiling, “or Christmas, or Dinner.”
Later, as I leaned my elbows on the wide windowsill of her bedroom, I inhaled the sandalwood oil at my wrists, and over the top of it, manure and lawn clippings; intoxicating blends everywhere. But what was I getting myself into? This place was a two-hour drive along winding country roads from where I lived and worked. Culturally, the distance was possibly even greater.
I’d once assumed my life partner would be someone consistent with where I came from, with what I was passionate about, and who I thought I was. I’d imagined people like us. But Jen and I came not just from different countries but backgrounds and interests poles apart too. My parents were middle-class Jewish South African professionals and intellectuals who’d never done a day’s manual labour. Jen’s father had been employed as a station stockman and her mother as a barmaid. I wondered if maybe we were like Romeo and Juliet, or Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. But those were all heterosexual stories. Where were the lesbian models?
As I tried to rein in my mind, Jen came in, scooped Puss off the bed and put her outside, closed the French doors, and kissed me on the back of my neck.
f my house with the swimming pool and full tank of petrol were part of what drew Jen to me, I was drawn to her abundance of things money couldn’t buy. Our kisses and bodies were breathless and bold. I arrived for weekends on the farm with smoked salmon and mangoes, and whisked Jen off to luxurious rainforest retreats and city weekends. I was the adventurer, the city slicker, wresting Jen away from her country comfort. Jen’s response to these trips was, “What I love about going away with you is coming home.”
Jen treated me to bonfires and billy tea, nights in the swag under the stars, horse-rides and naked swims in the cool waters of a creek visited only by wildlife. In the evenings, as we sat on a log in front of the bonfire, watching the moon rise gold through the gumtrees, I pinched myself. This woman. This space. This freedom.
“The rural idyll,” I said, leaning into Jen. This was the antithesis of my busy work life. The antithesis of my childhood of burglar-bars, high fences and security gates. Jen laughed. “Don’t romanticise it too much. I’ll get you out working soon.”
One weekend, she led me away from the white sheets and mosquito net down to the stables where she was building a fence. I’d only ever hammered picture hooks into plaster or hit a tennis ball. She showed me how to place the two-inch nail against the wooden pailing and tap its head. The first nail catapulted into the dirt, as did the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth. Even when I managed to get the nail to bite the wood, and swung had as instructed, the nail barely moved. When it did, it was bent. I bit my lip, confused, surprised.
“Don’t worry,” Jen said, “it’s very hard wood.” I relinquished the hammer and, with a roll of my eyes and a mock shimmy of my hips, said, “Does that mean I just get to be the beautiful assistant?”
As I traced the initials – Jen’s and her previous girlfriend’s – that were carved into the cement of the feed shed…
… I marvelled she knew how, and physically managed, such work.
As Jen and I gradually opened our hearts and souls to each other, my limitations and fears didn’t seem to matter. I was a visitor from another world. So, when the pink twine cut into my palms as we swung rectangular hay bales onto the truck’s tray, Jen kissed my soft office hands. When I couldn’t fathom how to open the strange lever of wire and wood, Jen called a Cockie’s Gate, she climbed down from the truck, and we flirted as she unhooked and levered wood from wire.
When I didn’t think to light the wood stove three hours before I wanted to make a cake, we laughed. When I leaned over the fence, watching as she broke in her mare Topdeck, we joked that she was breaking in two of us at once. When I asked why there were filing cabinets in the paddock, Jen said, “You mean those bee boxes?”
… and we laughed.
We decided we were each other’s favourite waste of time. We couldn’t get enough of each other and there was no risk we would. We lived two hours apart and both had busy work lives. and difference seemed intrinsic to our relationship; perhaps even its aphrodisiac. I wondered then, as I’ve often done over the nearly last 21 years if perhaps we all thrive on attention between the familiar and the mysterious. Thank you.