-------------------------------

Lyssa

Hannah

Mercy

Roxana

Lilith

Diana

Myrine

War

Deborah and Mercy crashed the heated discussion of what rape had to do with anything and dragged Lyssa back out into the living room.

"You've got to get everyone's attention somehow," Mercy said.

Lyssa looked at the huge crowd. "But how?"

"Wait a sec," Diana said, and ducked into the kitchen. She reemerged with a heavy pot and ladle, which she handed to Lyssa. Lyssa grimaced slightly, but complied, proceeding to pound on the pot. "Don't dent it, Lyssa, okay?" Diana admonished her. "We're a little short on kitchen utensils."

Once the women's personal and political discussions quieted to mere whispers, Lyssa began to speak. "Originally, I didn't think I would have to introduce myself here tonight, but I don't even know half of you. I hope you all know why we're here, though."

The women cheered.

"Hey," someone called out from the door of Diana's bedroom. "Can you get up on something? We can't see back here."

Lily brought Lyssa a chair from the kitchen. "I hope it holds. Our furniture isn't particularly stable."

"Thanks for the compliment," Lyssa said as she got up on the chair. She turned her attention back to the crowd filling the living room and spilling out into the bedrooms and up the stairs. "I'm Lyssa Strutter, and this is Lilith Lampito. When we decided to meet here tonight to discuss the possibility of a public action in response to Rachel Vincent's rape and murder, I thought it would be a mere preliminary. We almost have a demonstration already."

The women cheered again. It was perfect group interaction.

"But there've been demonstrations before," Elaine, a colleague of Carrie's from the rape crisis center, pointed out. "Can't we do more than that?"

Lyssa nodded. "I've thought of that. Are there any suggestions?"

"What can we do besides demonstrate?" one of the frustrated secretaries from Mercy's classes asked.

"How about a sit-in?" a woman about Lyssa's age suggested.

"Why should that be any better than a demonstration?" Carrie asked.

"Publicity," Mercy said.

Sam waved a hand in the air. "I can provide a bit of that."

"But where should we sit?" the blond from Rachel's school asked.

"How about the Portland Building?" Myrine said. "It's suitably central and suitably loud for a loud protest. And Portlandia could act as our protective deity." She gave Deborah a meaningful look and Deborah smiled.

The crowd cheered yet again.

Elaine shook her head. "I still don't think it's enough. If we want to draw attention to the prevalence of sexual violence, we have to think of something more drastic than a demonstration or even a sit-in."

"I agree," Lyssa said. "And I was actually thinking of a much more radical form of protest. I was thinking in terms of a strike."

"A strike? What kind of a strike?"

"In bed!" Lyssa said triumphantly.

"Good!" Carrie said with an unusual display of enthusiasm. She seemed to be in the minority, however. Women groaned. Women moaned. No one cheered.

"But my husband..."

"But my boyfriend..."

"But my lover..."

"...didn't do anything!"

"Ridiculous," Myrine said. "I won't do it."

"You said you'd try anything to put an end to sexual warfare," Lyssa reminded her.

"But what good is a strike supposed to do?" Myrine asked.

"Didn't I hear you say earlier that demonstrations never do any good?"

"Yeah, but, a strike? In bed?"

"What are we mad about?" Lyssa asked aggressively, the glint in her eye taking on a dangerous edge. "Isn't it the involuntary use of our bodies? Can you think of any better way to emphasize our right to say 'yes' first?"

Myrine thought for a second. "No."

"Well, then, are you with me?"

"Yes," Myrine said reluctantly, shrugging her shoulders. "I bet Matt's not going to like this, though."

Virginia, trained in the logic of courtroom rhetoric, decided to step in and act as the Voice of Reason. "How is a strike supposed to help any more than a demonstration?" She was also thinking about sleeping next to Richard and trying not to touch him.

"It's certainly more original," Elaine pointed out.

"And I bet it would get a lot more publicity," Sam said. "Probably even outside of the greater Portland area."

The logic of Sam's journalistic argument was unavoidable. Women nodded reluctantly and murmured assent.

"Then you would be willing to join in such an action, Sam?" Lyssa asked.

Sam grinned. "I have to maintain my professional objectivity. But it's a good story. I can at least promise local coverage."

"I think it's a good idea, Lyssa," Carrie said.

"I'm with you too," Elaine volunteered.

"How about the rest of you?"

"But Lyssa!" Diana protested. "My willpower has never been the strongest in the world."

"It'll be good for you," Myrine threw in.

"Now really," Lyssa said. "It won't last forever. Are you women or are you wimps?"

"How long is it supposed to last?" Lily asked, wondering if it could really matter to her anyway. If Adam had a new flame then it was the beginning of the end all over again. But a strike! That would make a new man to cure her of the old one out of the question. Maybe there was something to be said for that -- the method had never proven itself particularly successful in Lily's experience. Diana was good at it, but Lily wasn't.

"Maybe a couple of weeks," Lyssa replied.

There were more groans.

There were more moans.

"How are we supposed to endure!"

"There's no substitute for sex!"

"There's chocolate," Mercy contributed.

"Try masturbation," Myrine suggested.

"I still don't understand how a strike is supposed to help," Virginia said.

"Publicity!" Lyssa insisted. "To point out the prevalence of sexual violence in a way radical enough to get some attention for a change. Rape is not an isolated incident, it is a threat to each and every one of us. What we're saying is, as long as men continue to take women against their will, then we won't be taken at all. And maybe that will show them we will no longer take it lying down."

"I usually don't," Lily said.

"Maybe taking it on top would be an alternative?" Diana suggested with tongue in cheek hope.

A spurt of laughter erupted from the crowd. The mediocre beer and worse wine was being demolished, not without results.

"But how are we supposed to prevent men from taking what they want?" came an objection from a more realistic, less intoxicated participant.

"God, that sounds cynical," Myrine said. Diana gave her a startled look.

"Well, how?" the spoil-sport continued. "Men are stronger than we are."

"Not necessarily," Myrine said.

"We'll give classes in self-defense," Lily suggested.

"Hasn't it occurred to anyone that a strike might only lead to more rapes?" Virginia objected. "Just think of how frustrated all the men would be."

"Not to mention the women," one jokester commented.

"More rapes?" Lyssa repeated. "I don't think there will be. We've got the male ego on our side."

"How so?" Virginia asked, the tilt of her brows betraying rampant skepticism.

"Rape is not about sexual fulfillment," Carrie said. "It's about power."

"Exactly. But with a strike going on, resorting to rape would be as good as admitting defeat--at the hands of a bunch of women. An increase in rape statistics would prove the strike is working and they're being deprived."

"I don't know how much I trust your logic," Myrine said. "How about nightly patrols and those courses in self-defense that Lily already mentioned?"

The crowd applauded enthusiastically.

"Here, here!"

"Take back the night!"

"Did we ever have it?"

"Well, if we didn't, why don't we just take it in the first place!"

The women cheered and clapped each other on the back.

"I still don't know how we're supposed to accomplish that," Virginia said, shaking her head.

"With a demonstration!"

"A sit-in!"

"A strike!"

"Right," Myrine said dryly.

"Why not all three!" Mercy chimed in. The atmosphere of the absurd was beginning to have its effect her as well.

"All three?"

"How would that work?"

"We march through the streets to Portlandia, take over the Portland Building, sit there in protest and publicly announce the strike."

"They'd probably just throw us out."

"That's what they're supposed to do," Mercy said. "If we want publicity, we'll get publicity."

"I'm not so sure they would even throw us out," Lyssa said, monitoring the discussion from the heights of her chair. "After all, Portland is blessed with public officials with a sense of humor."

"If they let us sit for a while, we may even manage to get more publicity than if they threw us out," Virginia said, apparently coming around.

"Public opinion would probably be in our favor too, at least to start with," Sandra said.

"We'll have to take action pretty soon to take advantage of the general public outcry over Rachel," Lily pointed out.

"We would need Monday to get the word out," Mercy said. "Classes and all."

"Then how about Tuesday?" Lyssa suggested.

Diana checked her pocket calendar. "But that's April Fool's Day!"

Lily laughed uproariously, bubbling and infectious, and in spite of the circumstances leading up to the meeting, many women joined her.

"Why not April Fool's Day?" Lyssa asked. "Maybe that will make the authorities more willing to go along with the 'joke'."

"But it's not a joke," Carrie protested.

"Of course it isn't," Lyssa agreed. "They'll notice that soon enough."

"I like it," Myrine contributed. "It shows a sense of humor in the face of adversity."

"I don't know if I do," Elaine said.

Carrie nodded. "We're dealing with something serious, here."

"I'm very serious," Lyssa said. "I couldn't be more serious. That's why I think we should do something, whether it's April Fool's or not."

Elaine shrugged. "I've been saying we should do something for years."

"Then you're with me?"

"If you can get this thing off the ground, I'm with you. Maybe it will get a few more women to participate in rape prevention workshops."

"We could do that," Carrie said, looking at Elaine.

"How about the rest of you?" Lyssa asked, her gaze sweeping the crowd in the living room. Her questioning glance was greeted with nods, some enthusiastic, some reluctant, but nods nonetheless. "Good! Then it's WAR against war!" Lyssa proclaimed, raising her gravelly voice to its limits. She could have used a little training in projection.

"A declaration of war to end war? Whatever happened to peaceful protest?" Virginia asked.

"W, A, R, WAR--Women Against Rape," Lyssa announced triumphantly.

Deborah nodded approval. "You're getting good at these things."

Lyssa smiled down at her. "I thought it was rather clever myself."

"But it's been used before," Elaine said.

Lyssa shrugged. "I was afraid of that." Her attention returned to the gathering as a whole. "Okay then, is it settled? We're organizing a demonstration, a sit-in and a strike? To take place beginning April First?"

The women cheered.

"How about a toast?" someone called out.

"An oath! We'll take an oath!" someone else suggested.

"Anyone want wine to go with the toast?" Diana asked the crowd at large.

"Do we still have enough?" Myrine asked.

"I've got some good stuff in my room," Lily admitted reluctantly. "Greek. I was saving it, but..." She looked at Myrine, and Myrine could hardly meet her gaze. "I'll go get it."

As Lily braved the crowds through the living room and up the stairs to her room, Myrine, Mercy and Diana got the remaining jugs out of the kitchen and proceeded to fill empty cups.

"Does everyone have something?" Lyssa called out when it appeared the four were finished making rounds. There were no dissenting voices, so Lyssa proceeded. "Then an oath it is. Raise your cups and repeat after me."

Cups were raised.

"I swear that no man, whether husband or lover..."

"I swear that no man, whether husband or lover..."

"Boyfriend, bed companion or casual acquaintance..."

"Boyfriend, bed companion or casual acquaintance..."

"Will get anything from me when he's hard and horny..."

"Will get anything from me when he's hard and horny..."

Diana shook her head in disbelief.

"If he moves in my direction in erection..."

Lily began laughing so hard her friends feared she might be getting hysterical. "Lyssa!" she said through her giggles. "I didn't know you had it in you!"

"I have depths you've never dreamed of," Lyssa pronounced with a perfectly serious face. "Now stop interrupting me." Lily just laughed all the harder.

"Marty definitely is good for her," Roxana pronounced.

"I will cross my legs and deny him access," Lyssa continued in her poor imitation of an orator.

"I will cross my legs and deny him access."

"If I make him sweat, I will not sway..."

"If I make him sweat, I will not sway..."

"He won't come near enough for me to have my way."

"He won't come near enough for me to have my way."

"And if he tries to take me, I will scream bloody murder and beat him to a pulp," Myrine added.

"Shhh!" Lyssa commanded imperiously, a grin lurking at the corners of her mouth. "I'm not done yet. Repeat! If I keep this oath, let me drink wine..."

"If I keep this oath, let me drink wine..."

"If I keep this oath, let me drink wine..."

"But if I falter, may I drink water..."

"But if I falter, may I drink water..."

"I already have water," Elaine pointed out.

"So do I," Lyssa said, grinning, and drank. The rest followed suit.

"Oh, it's so frustrating!" Diana said.

"But what's so frustrating about it?" Lyssa asked.

"I would think that would be obvious."

"Men," Lily pronounced. "You can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em."

"Oh, I can," Roxana said.

"So can I," a younger woman about Daphne's age said, raising her glass in Roxana's direction in a sardonic toast.

"Not fair," Lily complained. "You lesbians have an advantage over the rest of us."

Roxana shrugged. "You choose your own poison."