Monday, May 28, 2007

What do you think?

Let me hear from you! I invite any response that is not ad hominem or hateful (which is not the same as contentious or critical). Just scroll to the bottom of the entry you want to respond to, and click on "comments."

By the way, this site is more manageable if you click on the individual postings in the archives, so that they open up on a separate web page. You can return to the main blog by clicking on the heading.

This is especially true my novel in progress, The Bridegroom Comes, which I have posted in individual (and very tentative) chapters.

Ketuvah Sestina

Here's a poem I wrote about incarnation. It was originally published in The Dead Mule, but isn't there any longer. There's some great stuff there. Check it out!

Ketuvah[1] Sestina

Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity

-Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself," 1860, v. 178.

So Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey and went back to the land of Egypt . . . . . . . On the way, at a place where they spent the night, YHWH met him and tried to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched his feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then she said, “A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.”

-Exod. 4:20, 24-26; NRSV, alt.

Tsípporah—so delicate a name
for a minister of blood: swallow,
or sparrow, like the bird of Isis, who fluttered over
the inarticulate parts of her son and lover’s
body, twittering them back into
one sublimely scarred, wounded, thus whole.

This one wields the knife herself—a whole
foreskin subtracted, confirming a name,
cut off, its unguent blood transformed into
a sign: Already offered, no need to swallow
him up, sliced in two, son and lover
here and beyond, the one who crosses over.

Good mothers make these cuts over
and over to save their sons, daughters, whole
peoples from the seductions of the dark lover,
Lord Thanatos, Kali—names
for the name-destroyer, the violent angel who would swallow
all things, retract the law-giver, lured back into

the void, before God’s word was spoken, into
the uncreated waters the Spirit hovers over.
Tsipporén means “point of a stylus”: the swallow’s
sharp beak, tearing the undifferentiated whole,
the tohu bohu—“Let there be light!”: A naming,
incisive and violent, traces of a rough lover.

Poets are brutes, intemperate lovers,
excited by the blankness of the page, into
which the hovering nib plunges—a name
carved there, the sheet ploughed over
like the furrows in Achilles’ shield, the whole
field made fertile by the inky seed it swallows.

Each laborious line yields fruit, a swallow
of wine, “This is my blood, my body,” the Lover
of our spirited bodies cries out, ecstatic, wholly
bent toward the body of His lover, the earth, into
whose sifting sand he writes—starts over—,
carving a space for the promiscuous body, a new name.

Saint Philip, exegetical lover
of scarred bodies, teach us to trace our names
along their cut lines into the whole!

[1] Hebr. fem pt. ptc. of ktv, “write,” “inscribe,” “engrave”; variant : ketuvim, “scripture”; Aram. fem. n.: “document,” especially a ceremonial marriage contract.
Cuerpos de palabras

Las palabras son traicioneras.
Se ocultan tanto como revelan,
Como los espejos à la fería
O los ojos de mi amante
Quando dice, “Te quiero.”

Ningún es transparente--
Como nosotros--
Porque tenemos todos cuerpos
Y también las palabras.

“Palabra,” “candalabra,” “alhambra”:
Sonidos exóticos
Que huelan al misterio,
Significando demasiado
Por colocarse en un poema.

The Bridegroom Comes: Chapter One: The Furies

Falling to his knees, Anton Lubov was overcome by a familiar sensation: absolute devotion to the intimate lover and utter stranger before whom he knelt. For the past four months, ever since his arrival in Dallas, he had spent an hour or so of ecstasy every Saturday night in this same dark space. All around him he felt the presence of other bodies, closely packed, going through the same motions of submission. The smoke wafting around the room caused his nostrils to dilate as he was pulled downward. “O Lord and Master,” he thought, placing his hands on the hard wooden floor, slowly declining his forehead to touch its cold planks.

His thoughts echoed the words that had been recited near the beginning of the service, each phrase punctuated by a prostration: “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. . . .” Now, though, the prayer was different. Slowly, quietly and without accompaniment, the choir to the right of the icon screen separating the altar and priest from the congregation took up the chant: “Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight . . . .”

Without looking up, Anton knew the scene unraveling before him: Fr. Kyrill walked slowly, deliberately, through the door on the left of the iconostasis, holding aloft the chalice containing the pre-sanctified Gifts of the Body and Blood. Framed by solemn-faced candle bearers, he made his way to the back of the worship space, up again through the prostrating congregation, and through the opened Royal Doors beyond which the altar could be seen, waiting to receive the Gifts.

‘This is It,’ Anton thought. He had had this same sense at exactly this moment of Lenten Vespers for as long as could remember: ‘I could die now, whether heaven or hell; it’s out of my hands.’ For this instant, he felt released from his furies, from the shrill cries demanding vengeance and justice, a recognition and repayment, however inadequate, from the man who had abandoned him and his mother twenty-five years ago.

“Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,” sang the choir, . . .
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching;
But, unworthy is he whom He shall find sleeping.

* * *

Stepping out from church into the darkness, Anton felt momentarily disoriented by the warm Texas air, so different from springtime in Oregon. As he had for the past two weeks, he walked quickly to his car, wanting to avoid the usual post-service chit-chat. Ever since he had located Tracy, Anton had found socializing with his fellow parishioners insufferable. ‘Why the hell should I feel guilty?’ he asked himself as he opened the door and slid in. ‘I’m not the bastard who left his wife and child for some pervert.

‘No, I’m the one his leaving turned into a bastard,’ he added, his face twisting into a grimace trying to pass as a smile. ‘Why shouldn’t he be made to pay for it? And, who better than me to make him pay?’ Unintentionally, Anton gunned the engine as he turned out from the church parking lot onto the street toward home, leaving behind the stench of burnt rubber.

* * *

“Shit! Stop! That hurts!”
Tracy pulled back, careful to provide some relief without suspending the pressure of his body’s leaning into Anton’s. “You need to relax. ‘Why do you kick against the goad?’” He spoke ironically, misinterpreting Anton’s pendant Orthodox cross as the vestigial type of jewelry worn by many of the men among Tracy’s clientele who, like himself, considered themselves ‘recovering Catholics.’ Anton pushed him off and sat up.

“You didn’t tell me it’d hurt so much.”
“Yes, I did.”

“Not like that.”
“You’re very stiff. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Okay.” Tracy absent-mindedly reached for the towel at the end of the massage table and began to rub the clove-scented lotion off his hands. “Maybe it’s a little too early to start deep-tissue. How about we continue with a light massage?”
“No, it’s okay; I’m done. . . . Don’t worry,” Anton added, noting the disappointment that flashed across Tracy’s face, “I’ll pay for the full hour.”
Tracy shrugged. ‘This is an interesting one,’ he thought. ‘A real closet case. Good looking though: straight, silky brown hair a couple of weeks past due for a haircut; a compact, slightly defined body; powerful thighs lightly dusted with black hair; pale, unblemished skin. About two three inches shorter than me, maybe five foot seven. Probably has a wife and kids. Too intimidated to call an escort, which is what he really wants. Not that he knows it.’ “Whatever you want.” He gave his best professional smile and reached for the dimming switch, raising the light faster than normal. “Go ahead and get dressed. This isn’t for everyone.” He walked toward the door separating the massage studio from the rest of his apartment.
“Wait.” Anton was immediately at a loss to explain why he had stopped him. “I, uh, . . . I’m sorry. I’m not very good at this. But, . . . I know I need a massage. I’ve been tied up in knots.” Still, he reached for the clothes he’d left neatly folded on a chair nearby.
Tracy’s brow furrowed. “I’ll wait for you outside. Take your time.” Leaving the CD playing, he walked out and closed the door.
‘Nice,’ thought Anton, getting dressed. ‘Fucking nice. You’ve uprooted the family to this godforsaken state to find this guy. You go to the trouble of scanning the local fag mags from cover to cover. You find his ad, like God was just lining it up for you. You work up the nerve to call him and arrange for an appointment. Then, you blow it. Idiot.’
As he pulled on his shirt, Anton’s mind raced for some pretext for arranging another session. Tracy had surprised him. From the scanty information his mother had been able to give him about the man his father had run off to Dallas with—a first name, and a dim recollection that the young man was some kind of “masseur”—, Anton had constructed an image of a new age airhead, the middle-aged brat of middle class parents, with pretenses at being some kind of latter-day shaman. True, there was the Enya CD, and incense. Anton surmised they were standard salon accoutrements. The incense was part of the problem: It was almost the same scent used at church, and, between that, the dim lighting, and the music, he had been unable to shake the image of himself lying naked in the middle of Vespers at St. Nicholas, getting pushed, prodded and stroked by another man. Then, to have the guy quote Scripture—it had been too much.
Still, Tracy, with his almost cynical bearing, was clearly no post-factum hippy. His neatly trimmed, short blond hair, wireless rectangular glasses perched on an aquiline nose, full lips, and smooth skin clothed in a white dress shirt opened to below the collar bone gave him the air of a young professor, though Anton calculated he must be around forty-two, twelve years older than Anton, himself. His face broke into its grimace of a smile: ‘A cynical masseur—must be a professional liability.’ Behind Tracy’s detached demeanor, though, Anton sensed an element of kindness. Maybe he could play on that.
He walked out of the massage room wearing an abashed expression, using the embarrassment of the moment to his advantage. “Eighty dollars, right?” he asked, fumbling around for his checkbook and a pen. Tracy nodded. Anton sensed that vulnerability was the right note to strike. “Look, I . . . I know I must have come off as a complete dweeb. But, I’d like to try again.” He forced himself to look Tracy in the face. “Please.”
Bullseye. A hint of compassion passed into Tracy’s eyes, though the rest of his face remained impassive. “How long have you been out?” he asked.
The asshole. Anton felt no need to suppress the flush he felt climb into his face; he knew it fit perfectly the effect he was trying to create. “Not long,” he stammered.
“You’re nervous about letting another man touch you?” Anton shrugged, looking at the door.
“Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but this has nothing to do with anything sexual. I’m a gay massage therapist with a mostly gay clientele. But, I don’t jack my clients off.”
Anton flinched, and Tracy felt a twinge of remorse at his crudeness. “Look, would you like to get together for coffee sometime? To talk. At a café or something . . . . I’m not trying to come on to you.”
Anton found it difficult to suppress a triumphant smile, again aware that this worked to his advantage. “Yes. I mean . . . , I’d like that. If you have the time.”
“Here’s my card. I don’t work until the afternoon, usually. Why don’t you meet me at Hunter’s Bistro tomorrow, say around noon? I eat lunch there almost every day. It’s not far from here; do you know it?”
“I’ll find it. Thanks.”
“Tomorrow, then.”
“Right, at noon. See you then.”
Tracy let Anton out.

The Bridegroom Comes: Chapter Two: Hunter's

“Anton, Darling, what is that you’re wearing? Old Spice?”
Anton squirmed inwardly at Herman’s massive embrace, knowing from experience that any outward sign of his repulsion would be met by an intensified and prolonged entrapment. Nevertheless, he stiffened. Over the course of a month’s weekly meetings with Tracy at Hunter’s Bistro, Anton had come to accept such interruptions as inevitable. Queers, it turned out, were a gregarious lot, at least when on their own turf, not at all the wilting daisies he remembered as the obvious fags in high school. And, it had quickly become evident, Hunters was very much their turf: The clientele seemed to include a fair amount of straights—mostly the young, hip and/or artsy—, but the core crowd seemed to be homosexuals comprising a surprisingly broad spectrum, from old men and women to kids who looked like they must still be in high school, though the majority appeared to be young, middle-class types like Tracy.
“For heaven’s sake, it’s like queer repellant. Are you quite sure you like to suck cock?” Herman settled heavily into the chair Anton now regretted not having moved away from the table Tracy habitually claimed at the Bistro. Herman’s eyes flitted around the room in hopes of an audience, then, met with the indifference of customers accustomed to his theatrics, bore in again upon Anton, who steeled himself.
“O, dear, already an ice queen, and not yet even out of his Sears and Roebuck couture. Really, Darling, just because Tracy knows how to greet royalty with open arms, doesn’t mean you have to.” The attentions Tracy attracted from members of the Bistro’s varied cliques no longer surprised Anton, nor did the fact that some of that attention inevitably seemed to spill over onto himself—he sometimes felt like the new, exotic addition to some zoo. But, the presence of this massive drag queen still unnerved him, though he had never actually seen Herman in anything but the fairly conservative mufti Anton surmised he always wore in public outside the confines of whatever bar tolerated the complete unleashing of his dramatic leanings. Shifting his attention to Tracy, Herman asked, by way of apology, “Can you believe what a bitch I am? Must be the hunger. I’m famished!” He raised his voice to be sure to be heard by the young man behind the counter, who feigned imperviousness. Anton forced a smile.
“Get a load of the dimples,” Herman cooed. “And the blush!” He turned to Tracy. “I can see why you’re so taken.”
“Behave yourself.” Tracy’s tone conveyed both affection and real admonition. Uncharacteristically, Herman made no rejoinder, but sat, smiling.
Tracy broke the silence: “Okay, out with it. You’re obviously dying to tell us something.”
“You’re no fun.”
“You want me to beg?”
“I wish! Why I even bother with you commoners . . . .”
“Begging your pardon, Your Highness.”
“Well, as it happens, it is a matter of the goings on at Court.”
“ . . . Well?”
“We’re going to have a party!”
“This is news?”
“For the children!” Satisfied at the bemusement that crossed Tracy’s face, Herman pressed on: “You know the school off Pine Street, behind the Pink Flamingo?”
“St. Monica’s?”
“Right. The one with the boys choir.”
“Isn’t the choir director one of your Court queens? The black closet case.”
Herman shrugged. “Simon. Anyway, we voted yesterday to adopt the whole school for Christmas. We’re going to put on the show of the year to raise funds.”
Anton interjected, “Drag queens and parochial schoolboys: Interesting mix.” He really wished Herman would leave.
Tracy rose to the defense. “Well, if anyone ever needed royal patronage . . . . Especially, now that Holy Mother Church is so down-and-out. I hear the diocese is about to declare bankruptcy because of all the law suits from former altar boys they buggered.” Remembering Anton’s neck cross, he glanced to see if his words had provoked a rise. They had not.
“Exactly.” Herman fixed his gaze again on Anton. “I’m not just talking a Santa Clause quickie, either: ‘Wam, bam, thanks for relieving my conscience, now back to the suburbs.’ Have you seen their playground?”
“Uh huh,” Tracy answered. “Looks like it’s been frequented more by drug pushers than school kids lately.”
“We can earn enough to reclaim it, if last year’s gala is any indication: a new jungle gym, swing set, teeter totter, whatever. The idea came up at the Court meeting last night, and I can’t remember the last time I saw the girls so worked up about something, not even Cher’s inclusion of Dallas in her “Farewell Tour” last year.”
“The ‘goodbye’ that never came to an end.” Tracy felt vaguely annoyed at the staleness of his own joke. He glanced again at Anton, whose face registered nothing. “What about the AIDS shelter? Isn’t that your pet cause?”
“Honey, those folks have an endowment! So to speak. Besides, every gay group in town gives to them. Those kids need someone besides the nuns looking after them; they could use some mothering.”
“And, you’re just the mothers to give it to them.” Tracy grinned.
Sweet Cheeks!” Herman again accosted the barista, who had ventured out to deliver a lunch plate to another table. “Are you going to take my order now, or wait ‘till I’ve passed out on the floor? Man cannot live by the sight of those honey buns alone!”
“These aren’t for you, Miss Ivana.” The young man did not bother to turn around. “But, if you behave, you might get a taste of something.”
Herman’s roar of laughter finally won the attention of the other customers. Anton had learned not to wince, but his annoyance grew. He had worked at gaining Tracy’s trust, and feared that Herman’s unpredictable behavior might somehow upset the balance. Six months’ effort, including a move to Texas, was quite an investment. It struck him momentarily how different his life looked from six months ago.
* * *
He had been standing in his mother’s kitchen in Portland, discussing with her his prospects for a promotion at work, when the phone rang. He felt annoyed at the interruption; his mother never seemed to make use of the answering machine he bought her for Christmas, beyond glancing at the caller ID before picking up the receiver. Still, he’d never known her to reject a call. “214?” she read out the prefix, “Who could this be? Hello?”
Anton picked up the paper on the kitchen table and began to scan the headlines, impatiently waiting for his mother to get off the phone with whichever telemarketer she was allowing to interrupt their conversation. A change in her voice broke through his concentration.
“Yes, that’s me. . . . Who?” Irene’s body grew rigid, matching the suddenly icy tone of her voice; a demeanor she reserved for conversations concerning her estranged husband, Gary. “Yes, that’s right. . . . No, we have no contact.” Her voice dropped to a near whisper; it was all Anton could do to stop himself from leaning forward. . . . “Yes, but frankly, I don’t see what that has to do with me. . . . I see. . . . Well, I appreciate your calling, but frankly, I’m not interested. . . . No. . . .No,” his mother’s voice grew firm, almost angry. “Thanks for your call, but I have no intention of pursuing the matter. “. . . No, that won’t be necessary. . . . No, I have your number on the machine, but as I said . . . . You’re welcome. Goodbye,” placing the phone back on its receiver, Irene remained at the kitchen counter, gazing out over the sink through the window.
“Who was that?” Anton had to repeat the question before catching his mother’s attention. He made as if to get up, intending to place his hand on her shoulder, but she cut him short, walking briskly back to her seat at the table. A firm nod of her head and the frown on her face kept Anton in place. “. . . Well?”
“Your father.” Anton frowned, but kept his eyes fixed on his mother’s face. She tried to avoid his gaze. “He’s come into some kind of money. It has nothing to do with us.”
“Who was that?” It was only with the greatest difficulty that Anton succeeded in prying from his mother the gist of her conversation: The caller was some Dallas lawyer his father had consulted. Apparently, Gary had won a tidy sum in the Texas State Lottery and was anxious to shelter the profits from any claims Irene might make. As it happened, this could be fully guaranteed only by her ignorance of the matter. Stupidly, and typically, Gary had tried to stiff the lawyer, who had called, Anton surmised, out of revenge.
Anton made a point of never entering into arguments with his mother any more. He had inherited her stubbornness, and the combination of their tempers had made for such fierce rows in his teenage and college years that their relationship had nearly been permanently damaged. For both, this would have been of tragic consequence; the bond between them was all the fiercer for their emotional distance from others. Ultimately, Anton had come to recognize that, while Irene was as emotionally dependent on her son as he on her—perhaps more so—, it was up to him to acquiesce whenever the possibility of an argument raised its head. This had once appeared to him as an injury to his pride. With maturity, he had come to accept it as the demand of filial loyalty, even to take pride in it as a sign that, in this area, at least, he had emotionally outgrown his mother.
So, Anton later regretted the argument that took place over the phone call. Irene resolutely refused to follow up on the matter or to have any further contact with the lawyer. Looking back on his angry pleading, Anton blushed to realize how he had reverted to teenage behavior, to the point of petty subterfuge: Before leaving her house, he had returned to the kitchen on the pretext of retrieving the newspaper, and had furtively copied down the lawyer’s number.
To little avail: He called the lawyer from work the following Monday, but was rebuffed. The man had already taken legal risks in contacting Irene, he explained; to divulge information about his client to any one else against Gary’s wishes, even to his son, would be simply too risky. Anton kept his cool with difficulty; he had no intention of falling back into the pleading tone he’d adopted with Irene. Hanging up the phone, he wanted desperately to break something.
It took some time for him to calm down; in fact, his frustration burst out in exaggerated pique at work and at home over the course of the week. He knew it was pointless to bring the subject up again with Irene, but he could not escape the sense that he was called to do something. He owed it to his mother, he knew, and to himself—ultimately, to God. While Irene was not exactly destitute—thanks largely to the monthly deposits Anton had arranged directly from his paycheck into her savings account—, the years in which she raised her son and made mortgage and car payments while setting aside money for his college tuition on a hairdresser’s salary had been a fairly hard-scrabble existence. She had refused to pursue Gary for child support just as adamantly as she refused to entertain the notion of having their marriage legally dissolved. “I won’t give the bastard the satisfaction,” she had said on the single occasion she consented to discuss the matter with her son. “Whether he likes it or not, he’ll die a married man and a deadbeat father. But, frankly, the less he has to do with us, the better.”
Well maybe his mother was content to live out the rest of her life as the victim of a worthless husband, but Anton was damned if he was going to just stand by and watch it happen. Up to this point, though, he had felt helpless to do anything about it.
This pervasive sense of helplessness conflicted with what Anton had unconsciously over the years come to assume as his unique calling: the pursuit of justice. It shaped not only his sense of his role as son to a wronged mother and protector of his wife and children, but his choice of profession, as well: Anton pursued his work as an accountant with a zealotry others would find foreign to such an occupation. In his current firm, he had made a reputation for handling particular types of cases: those that required the sniffing out of hidden profits and losses on behalf of large creditors and stockholders. He found the work engrossing, deeply satisfying to his lust for bringing to justice those who sought to adulterate the orderly realm of numbers and mathematical law, to pervert the one sphere of human understanding free from ambiguity into a means of pursuing private desires at others’ expense.
So, when he learned at the end of the week following the phone call from Gary’s lawyer that a position had come open in the Dallas branch of Anton’s firm, he saw God’s hand in it. He immediately applied, and by the end of the month had his wife, Cynthia, packing for the move. His co-workers had been baffled by his willingness to uproot his family for a job which paid no more than he had been making in Oregon, with fewer hopes for advancement. Anton still felt guilty for lying about this to his wife.

* * *
The real payoff was what he had come here, to Hunter’s Bistro, to pursue. Anton had at first feared that Tracy would grow impatient with his awkwardness, or suspicious that his evasiveness over the details of his own life might arise from motivations more sinister than bashfulness. But, Tracy’s seeming arrogance worked in Anton’s favor. It appeared to him that Tracy delighted in the role of gay mystagogue, offering up his own experiences and prejudices as a template for the “novice”—Anton appeared to be playing that role fairly convincingly—, finding it natural that Anton’s life prior to and apart from their relationship held nothing much worth discussing. Anton assumed it was for this reason that he found it relatively easy in their conversations to keep the focus off himself, and on the object of his investigation. That, too, was a role he played well, and one to which he was far more accustomed.
In truth, Anton had come to look forward to these weekly meetings—an emotion he attributed solely to the “predatory thrill” he frequently experienced in the course of an investigation. That thrill had reached an apex just before Herman’s uninvited intrusion: Anton, having worked the conversation around to Tracy’s sexual escapades, lighted upon his ongoing relationship with a man named Peter. He was eager to bring the subject up again.
First, he had to get rid of Herman.
As it turned out, that problem solved itself. “Darlings!” Herman stage-whispered. “You won’t believe who just swept across the threshold: Miss Holier-than-Thou, herself, the reigning queen of Austin-and-all-Texas, surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting.
“Miss Amanda! Amanda Squeeze! What brings you to Dallas? An unannounced visitation—Honey, where is your sense of etiquette? Darlings, you don’t mind?” Rising from the table, he barely glanced at Tracy, who waved him on with a tolerant smile.
Clearly enjoying the peace left in Herman’s wake, Tracy stretched back in his chair. “So, where were we?”
Anton affected a casual air. “You were telling about your move from Portland. With . . . What was the name?”
“Yeah. So, you and I have that in common.”
Anton flushed, despite himself. “What do you mean by that?”
“Moving here from Portland.” Tracy gave him a curious look. “So, how long’d you live there?”
“I grew up there.” Anton hastened to shift the focus back. “You?”
“Same. The suburbs: Troutdale. What neighborhood were you in?”
“Southeast Portland, right near Milwaukie. So, you and . . . Peter . . ., are you still . . .” –he sought for the right word— “. . . involved?”
Tracy smirked. “That’s one way to put it. I look him up once in while. We didn’t last long as ‘a couple.’ Not exactly husband material.”
“You or him?”
“Both. Why the hell some queers are so eager to ape straight marriages . . . . ‘Good Housekeeping’: mowing the lawn, white picket fence, a dog. 2.5 children, conceived with the aid of a turkey baster and a lesbian, of course. Shit! The whole thing is so fake.”
“Children aren’t fake.”
Tracy broke the awkward silence. “I’m sorry, I forgot you have kids. Two, right?”
“Forget it. So, if it was just sex, why’d you move to Texas with him?”
“I dunno. Adventure. I wanted to get out.”
“That’s all?”
“I was still a kid, really. Twenty-four.” He shrugged. “I guess I still believed in picket fences.”
“Did Peter?”
“What do you think he was running from? He had a wife and a kid.”
“A son?”
“Yeah. Why?”
Anton felt queasy. “What kind of work does he do?”
“He’s a trucker.”
Gary, Anton’s father, had driven truck, among his many jobs, none of which lasted more than a year. Anton spun another line: “That’s a hard way to make a living.”
“I guess. I don’t know if he’s still in it. He just came into a big inheritance; should be enough to retire on. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes him to go through it. I give him a year.”
The bastard hadn’t even used his real name, had thrown it out like so much garbage, along with . . . us. Me. Mom. Odd, that he’d pass off a lottery win as an inheritance, though. Lying bastard.
“You alright?” Tracy looked truly concerned. “You look like you’re going to get sick.”
“No, I’m . . . . I must have eaten too fast. Heartburn. So, does Peter still live in Dallas?”
“Nearby, in Mesquite.”
“Maybe you could introduce us sometime.”
“Why? Believe me, you two have nothing in common.”
“You’re protective of him?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Nothing so conventional, right?” Anton immediately knew he had gone too far, had bordered on revealing an interest in this man and a degree of malice that might arouse suspicion. “Never mind. It’s getting late; I’d better get back to work. See you later.”
“You’d better watch out; you’re getting to be almost as much a regular here as me. Or Herman,” Tracy smiled.

The Bridegroom Comes: Chapter Three: "Simon, Simon"

The voice that came over the loud speaker at the end of the school day at St. Monica’s was, as usual, barely comprehensible through the static: “Mr. Stewart, you have a call in the main office.” Simon always responded to any summons to the office with trepidation. “Who could that be?” he thought, gathering up his effects. Stepping into the office, he smiled stiffly at the receptionist, who nodded permission for him to step behind the counter to pick up the phone. “Line two,” she muttered.
“Hello, this is Simon Stewart.”
“Simon, Wallace Millron.”
At first, he drew a blank. Of course, he knew the name. Simon had run across it in articles in the gay and mainstream press about his campaign and election to City Council—the first for an openly gay candidate, and of course, it had been the subject of gossip at the coffee house and Court meetings. Even then, Millron’s name had provoked in Simon a revulsion tinged with fear. He was used to keeping the gay world and his life at school far apart. Millron’s very existence blurred those boundaries. When the name finally registered, he felt as if the temperature in the room suddenly dropped.
“Mr. Stewart?”
“You’re the choirmaster at St. Monica’s?”
“I don’t believe we’ve met, but you may have heard of me. I represent District Four on the City Council.”
“Yes. Of course, I’ve heard of you,” Simon glanced nervously at the receptionist, who busied herself a little too obviously with the forms spread in front of her. Did he introduce himself to her? he wondered. Would she have recognized the name?
“Listen, I’d like to chat with you about this event your Court is planning to put on on behalf of your school.”
“Now is not a good time.”
“Of course; I understand your need for discretion. I’d like to meet you somewhere; later today if possible. It’s a matter of some urgency.”
“Um, can I get back to you on that? Give me your number.”
“I’d prefer to meet in person. You know Max’s, downtown? It’s not far from your school.”
The idea of meeting Millron in public threw Simon into a slight panic, but he saw no way to decline the offer without prolonging the conversation. At least Max’s, a gay piano bar, was unlikely to be frequented by anyone associated with the school. “What time?”
“How’s seven?”
“Fine.” Simon’s head whirled as he sought to ring off. A button on the keyboard began flashing, indicating another call coming in. In his confusion, he pushed the button, then stood momentarily paralyzed as a woman’s voice came over the line: “Hello? Is this Saint Monica’s?”
“Um, no. I mean yes. Here.” He clumsily pushed the receiver toward the receptionist, who frowned, nearly yanking the device out of his hand. “Sorry,” he muttered, then rushed out of the office, sheepishly returning a second later to retrieve the satchel he’d left on the front counter. The receptionist, still on the phone, paused for a moment, staring in slightly scornful bewilderment before returning to the school calendar she was reading off to the woman on the other end of the line.
Simon paused in the foyer, aware of the need to collect himself. For a second, he could not think where to go: Back to the classroom? No, home; he had his sheet music and student papers with him; he could finish his preparations for tomorrow’s classes there. Heading out the door and down the walk toward the staff parking lot, he paused for a moment as he passed the prayer garden, where the usual statute of the Virgin stood arms outstretched in a gesture of acceptance and blessing. ‘Holy Mother, shelter me in your loving arms, and protect me,’ he prayed silently. The prayer had become a ritual accompaniment to his daily arrival and departure, but now, when it should have counted most, he found the words strangely hollow.
He drove home faster than usual. The drive normally relaxed him, giving him time to let go of the petty aggravations of a day spent trying—mostly successfully, at least in others’ eyes—to mold unruly inner-city kids into a first-rate choir. After fumbling with his keys, repeatedly selecting the wrong one, he finally managed to get himself through the door of his townhouse. He thought briefly of sitting down at the piano, but sensed his aggravation was too great to be mastered even by the cool rigors of Bach or channeled into Vivaldi’s emotional refinement. After pouring himself a glass of wine in the kitchen, he sat down on the love seat near the front porch in effort to gather his thoughts, but found himself distracted by the bric-à-brac he had set up on the low bookcase against the opposite wall.
Normally, this was another source of comfort; now, it produced quite the opposite effect. He had arranged the figurines atop the bookcase to give shape to his spiritual journey, a journey which had taken him well beyond the traditional Catholicism to which he had converted in an effort to reconcile the strict Church of Christ faith of his white adoptive parents with the religious culture of his Haitian birth mother. She had given him up when he was two, but he felt certain he remembered, or was beginning to remember, her embrace, the feel and smell of her skin. That memory—real or imagined—had become the focus of his spiritual life, and was embodied in the miniature African pietá that formed the centerpiece of the shelf arrangement, flanked by the images of a youthful male Santos deity purchased at a local New Age shop, and a museum shop miniature copy of the Venus of Lespuges. Simon found little room left in his heart for the Father God that had dominated the home in which he was raised, His place taken by the tender yet terrible mother—Mary or Magna Mater—and her dying and resurrected son and consort.
Simon’s spiritual explorations enjoyed some cachet among the members of the drag court who formed his main social circle outside the school community. He relished the irony of this: By reputation, drag queens were a callow lot. Of course, they expressed their esteem as they addressed anything that might provoke lethal earnestness—with tongue planted firmly in cheek: Simon used the stage name “Aleta Love,” but to members of the Court, he was, variously, “Mother Superior,” “Sister Simon,” or for the more malicious, “Our Great High Priestess.” Normally, Simon took these labels as tokens of affection, but now, the priestess title reverberated in his mind scornfully as his eyes passed over the bookcase images. To add to his consternation, it struck him suddenly how much the arrangement made his bookcase look like an altar. An altar requires sacrifice, and that requires a victim.
Simon turned away with a shudder. What could Millron want? He was the last person with whom Simon wanted anything to do. And, not just because he blurred boundaries. Among the gay community, Wallace had a reputation for ruthlessness in pursuit of his ambitions. He had said it had something to do with Herman’s goddamned proposal for a fundraiser for St. Monica’s. When the idea had first come up, Simon had been absent, busy with an evening choir rehearsal. When he first got wind of it, he had protested vehemently, first to Herman, then, when Herman objected that the other Court members had already become enthusiastic about the idea, in one of their monthly planning meetings. The Court, he had argued, knew full well what a delicate position this would place him in, and had no right to undertake such a project without his prior consent. At first, Herman had tried to make a joke out it: The headmistress and her fellow sisters, he’d pointed out, were quite receptive; their religious community was notoriously progressive. Simon had reminded him that, if that were true of the nuns, it was not necessarily the case with the rest of teachers and staff, who far outnumbered the dwindling company of women religious. It was even less the case with the students’ mostly African-American and Hispanic parents. Perhaps the nuns would be accepting of a gay choirmaster, but what about the kids and their parents? And, even with the nuns, a closeted, if somewhat fey, gay choirmaster was one thing, but one who occasionally donned a dress and sang in gay bars would likely be quite another. Of course, Herman and “the girls” had sworn that they would protect his identity, but no one—least of all the drag queens, themselves— could claim that keeping a guarded tongue was among their greatest strengths.
Simon’s pleas had made headway among the members of the Court, and it even seemed like Herman might be on the point of relenting. The last thing Simon needed now was for Millron to turn the whole thing into some kind of political cause célèbre.

The Bridegroom Comes: Chapter Four: "Behold"

“Uh, no. I don’t think I’m ready for that.”
“Come on, enough talk! And, hell, you don’t even do that: I talk. You’ve probed me enough. I’m beginning to feel like one of those UFO abductees. Or your personal virtual reality machine. Have you ever even been with a guy?”
“Look, I like to take things slow.”
“For Chrissake, I’m just asking you to go to a club; it’s not like I’m asking you to fuck!” Tracy’s forced levity failed to mask his irritation. “Jesus, you can’t even hear the word without flinching. What the hell makes you even think you’re gay?”
“Yes what?!”
“Yeah, I have. Been with a guy.”
Anton felt himself flush deep crimson. He had always hated his inability to control his body in that respect. It made him feel like a schoolgirl. Shit. He hadn’t foreseen this. He had known he would probably eventually have to make up some kind of back story to justify his claims about being on the cusp of ‘coming out’—Christ, what a stupid term—, but somehow, he had avoided the realization that that story would inevitably bend the thread of lies he had been spinning all too close to a reality he had spent much of his life trying to shove deep beneath the layers of so many other events best forgotten. Most of them, of course, having to do with his father. And most of them, like the one he was now being called on to divulge, tinged with guilty recollections of pleasure: memories of a kind of sweetness to the man. There was one . . . Being swung onto his shoulders during a walk by the ocean. Later, in front of tall beach grass bordering the sand, sitting between his father’s long legs folded around him like a protecting wall, arms encircling him, Greg’s big hands in front clutching a blade of goose tongue, showing him how to hold it to his mouth to eke out a raucous, lonely, reedy note. He remembered the saltiness of its taste, mixed with the warmth of his father’s body holding him close, like that other . . . . Shit! What the hell had he gotten himself into?
“So? Are you going to tell me about it? Judging from the look that just crossed your face, it wasn’t half bad.” The playful turn to Tracy’s voice made Anton all the more irritated. Christ, beneath that cynical exterior, the guy really was just as much a queen as the rest of them. Fuck, there was no way around it. If he backed out now . . . .
“When I was a kid, I . . .”
“O for Chrissake. Let me guess: You were in Boys Scouts.”
“Well, yeah, but . . .”
“And this one time, on a camping trip . . .”
“No! Look, if you’re going to make fun . . .”
“No, I’m sorry. Go on.”
“I was in band.”
“Oh, better! For a moment there, I thought this story might be a little on the stereotypical side.”
“Forget it. Fuck you!”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.” Tracy made a show of suppressing his laugh and his smirk. “It’s just that you seem so damned earnest about it. Christ, every guy has a story like that one. And most of them are as straight as arrows. This is what makes you think you’re gay?”
“You don’t get it. I’ve never forgotten him. And, believe me, I’ve tried hard. I catch myself thinking about it, about him, . . . a lot, a lot more lately”—damn, that was too close to home—“and sometimes at the worst times.”
Anton’s face flushed deep red again. “Like when I’m with Cynthia, you know . . . .”
“Okay, this is becoming a little more interesting. There’s hope for you yet. Go on.”
“And not just then. Sometimes, at the stupidest moments. Like when I’m at work, in the middle of a calculation, or during some staff meeting.”
“What was he like?”
“I don’t know. He was just a guy, you know.”
“What was his name?”
Anton paused. “Mark.” The strangest feeling came over him. He hadn’t spoken that name in fourteen years. He would have thought its pronunciation would be accompanied with the taste of bile, but instead . . . he found himself suppressing a smile, which broke out distorted into a pained grimace. He clenched his cheek muscles, forcing the grimace into a frown. This was going really fucking wrong. He pushed back his chair and started to stand, leaning against the table. To his surprise, Tracy leaned over quickly and placed his hand on Anton’s. Anton clenched the fist that was about to land square in Tracy’s face, then Tracy leaned over fast and placed his other hand on Anton’s other arm, and he was astonished to find himself leaning in, allowing himself to be supported against Tracy’s surprisingly strong grasp. He felt suddenly disembodied, listening to the small, sharp exhalations that seemed to be coming from someone else’ mouth, from deep within someone else’s lungs. ‘Christ,’ he thought, ‘I’m about to start crying!’ Tracy leaned further over the table, supporting Anton’s weight as he dropped back into his chair. There it was again: strong arms and the taste of salt, as if a past he had fought for years to suppress had collapsed into the present. Anton fought to regain control, wiping his cheeks with the back of his hand. Thank God, he thought, that they had met at Hunter’s earlier than usual, in mid-morning when the café was empty—Tracy had a noon appointment. He just hoped the barrista was still out smoking on the patio. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. Christ, how pathetic.”
“No.” Tracy spoke softly. “No, it’s not. It’s not the least bit pathetic. You’re not the only one who’s gone through this.”
“Listen, I appreciate you’re trying to help me. But, I need to go. Maybe for a while. I need to find some place where I can think this over.”
“Fine. That’s fine. I mean it. You know how to find me.”