At the moment, I’m reading Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters:
Brought up in a Whitstable oyster parlour, Nan Astley is 18 when she first sees Kitty Butler, a male impersonator (or masher), perform on the stage of the Canterbury Palace of Varieties. Having fallen instantly in love with Kitty, Nan is thrilled to be invited to become Kitty’s dresser and move with her to London. During their first year together, the girls’ relationship becomes physical and passionate, and Nan joins Kitty on the music hall stage as a male impersonator.
I’m only about a fifth of the way through the book so far, but I am rather enjoying it: the historical detail is interesting, and Waters’ writing style is personal and appealing. And the romance, the longing…
Here is the passage that gave me pause, that made me sigh, right before Nan finally kisses Kitty, the lovely performer she’s followed to London, whose bed she shares every night as a sister in their shared attic room:
I let my hand drop; she kept her fingers upon my lips, then moved them, very slowly, to my cheek, my ear, my throat, my neck. Then her features gave a shiver and she said in a whisper: ‘You won’t tell a soul, Nan – will you?’
I think I sighed then: sighed to know – to know for sure, at last! – that there was something to be told.
That one little line – there was something to be told – encapsulated many feelings I know so well. The agony, the longing, the desire; to have someone and to not have them, to be near her everyday and to wonder: is this how it feels? You want to see her all the time. Your day isn’t real until you tell her about it. Your body aches to be near her, but would you risk it all to move just one step closer? That’s the price it’s going to cost you, if you want to know: if you want to know if she feels the same way, you have to risk giving her up, because you can’t go back.
You can never feel what it is in someone else’s heart, and you cannot read their thoughts, and so you wonder: does everybody feel this way? And if they do, how can they bear it?
And then the surface cracks, and you get a peek of what’s beneath: one tiny glimpse through her eyes. You are not imagining things: there is finally something to be told.