>Here’s another little piece of the novel I have written, and am trying to get published. This is Harry, one of the three children, adult children, who return home upon their mother’s suicide. Harry is a lot like me; a lot of the things that happened to Harry happened to me. But then, a lot of them did not.
The pane of glass at its center, an etched rose just beginning to bloom, rattled in the frame but did not break as the outer door banged into the wall. Wyatt listened to Harry’s boot kick the door closed. A new slam, still the glass remained intact, and yet he supposed, one of these days….A key turned in the lock of the inner door as Harry pushed into the apartment. Wyatt heard the book bag crash to the floor; actually, he felt the heavy thump of the canvas backpack in the floorboards. He smiled, briefly; Harry was all noise, all the time. Humming constantly, tapping his fingers on any nearby surface, kicking doors open and shut; Wyatt always knew where Harry was inside the house, simply by listening.
In near darkness, the only light in the room coming in from the windows, from the neon bar signs and automobile headlights running uphill and down, Wyatt sat on the couch. He had waited in the shadows ever since Harry’s younger brother hung up on him. Waiting, but unable to paint; the half-finished canvas, ‘Noe Valley Fog’, already sold to a dealer in Marin, stood on an easel in the bay window. Wyatt was incapable of painting after speaking with Jimmy; the gallery could wait.
Exactly as he had waited for Harry to finish his last class and take the Muni home. The busses, however, were running late again, Thank you, Mayor Brown, and Wyatt sat in the dusky room for an hour and a half, thinking about Harry. What would he say when Harry returned from school? How do you tell the man you love that his mother has died? How do you break that news?
Light from the hallway flooded the apartment.
“I think you left these in the dryer.”
Harry turned to the voice, to the man who held a pair of underwear, his underwear, a pair of gray boxer briefs, in his hand. Closing his eyes, out of embarrassment and shyness, Harry nodded at the man and reached for the briefs. At least he’d found a clean pair, Harry thought, shuddering at the alternative.
“Thanks…yeah, thanks, “ he muttered, narrowly, taking the offending pair in his hands. A swift second later and the missing underwear had rejoined the others in the blue Rubbermaid basket. Pretending to fold his laundry, Harry snaked his eyes to the side for a quick peek at the man, a cursory raising of the eye, and another nod of thanks as he realized the man was staring back. Then he went back to the folding table and his clothes.
“I’ve seen you around before, I think,” the man said, coming closer. “Do you live in the neighborhood?”
Please, Harry thought to himself, his hands clenched around a bath towel, leave me alone. I’m just doing laundry. I didn’t come in here to…. I’m not looking for…. But, to be polite, and Harry was nothing if not courteous, for shyness breeds manners, he offered the man another smile, albeit without bothering to look up. His head stayed down, a curtain of brown hair falling over his eyes, and he continued to fold the jeans and shirts, towels and sheets; underwear.
“Thought so.” The man refused to go away. He stepped between Harry and the soda machine, pressing his body into the narrow space, and Harry couldn’t help but notice that his jeans were faded, and tight. His shirt, too. “Uh, where…do you live?”
“C-Collinwood.” Harry stuttered. “Up on Collinwood.”
“Yeah?” the man said, running his hand on the rim of Harry’s laundry basket. “I thought so. I just moved into a building on Nineteenth, by the playground, and I thought I’d seen you. Have you lived in the Castro long?”
“No,” Harry said firmly, wanting the conversation to be over; wanting the man to leave him alone; wanting the man…. At last, he eyed the stranger, taking in, once again, the form-fitting shirt and pants, the hair too blond to be true; and that smile. Harry wondered what that smile wanted from him, uncertain of what he wanted from the smile. He began putting his clothes in the basket, the clean, folded ones, unfolded sheets in a wad, the still dirty dishtowels and socks. He needed to get away from the laundromat, and away from that man and his smile, before…before something happened.
The unwieldy basket resting on his hip, Harry practically ran to the front door and kicked it open. He was out on the street in a flash, walking uphill in front of the laundry. He took a quick peek inside, through the words—‘Free Dry With Every Wash’—painted on the window and saw the man, still standing there, smiling, and shrugging as Harry rushed past, looking inside, then looking away. Not bad looking, Harry thought, if you liked that type.
Trouble was, Harry didn’t know what type was his type. Only recently had he accepted the fact that he was…well, that he was the type of guy who wondered about other guys. Harry had only just realized that he was…say it…gay. Or queer or homosexual or whatever it was you called yourself these days.
And he had yet to…he never…. He was shy, that way. There hadn’t been guys like Harry back home, except maybe Sean who, he heard, moved to St. Louis after graduation. Besides, the two of them hadn’t spoken much once reaching to high school. The best of friends at one time, they had gone their separate ways, become polite strangers, and Harry couldn’t remember why.
Harry was gay. He was finally able to admit it, only to himself, one day as he studied his reflection in the mirror while shaving. “I’m gay,” he would say, trying to smile, hoping it wouldn’t sound forced if he said it to someone else. Gay. That word was okay; it sounded happy, and he should be happy, he had every right. But he never liked the word queer; as a boy, Harry always believed he was…queer…he was odd. Different. Grotesque. Yet, since coming to San Francisco, he recognized that he wasn’t different or odd…or queer. Simply, he was gay.
At age twelve, shy and quiet, alone and lonely, Harry found himself trapped in the locker room with Tim Holt. Tim usually called Harry names as they passed in the hall, or shoved him when they stood in line for lunch, but that day, wearing a sly grin, he sauntered right up, pressed Harry back to a locker, and asked if he was gay, and Harry didn’t know how to answer. He faltered, the combination lock driven into the small of his back, steam spilling from the empty showers. And then, just as he was about to respond, to say it aloud for the first time, to get it over with once and for all, so all the questions and taunts and shoves would end, as he was ready to admit it, Tim Holt pushed him harder into the locker and… kissed him. Right on the mouth. By the time Harry realized he had been kissed, and not punched, Tim Holt was gone. He never spoke to, or bothered, Harry again.
That day in the locker room, Harry had been ready to admit it, but the kiss sent him deeper into the closet because he didn’t know what to do. Should he approach Tim and ask him why he’d done it? Or should he simply stay hidden and quiet and gay. Gay; he would never call himself faggot no matter how ‘in’ that word had become. He understood what people meant about taking the word back, but he could never use it to define himself or anyone because it reminded him too much, and too painfully, of Beal’s Landing, of locker rooms, of home. Of the looks his mother gave him. That one word the reason Harry left home; why he worked so hard for two summers to leave The Landing and not look back.
Strangely enough, Harry always knew he would end up in San Francisco; and not merely because it was a ‘gay’ capital. As a boy, infatuated with the city, whenever his father suggested a trip down the coast, for whatever reason, Harry leapt at the chance. Whether they were going to the zoo or the DeYoung Museum, Golden Gate Park or The Legion Of Honor, Harry would plead to sit in the front seat between his mother and father, on those rare occasions when mother came with, to be the first to spot San Francisco.
Crawling out of the Caldecott Tunnel, he would scan the horizon for the Coit Tower or the Pyramid building. Rounding a curve, and catching sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, he would invariably sigh. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. The way the cables sliced through the fog, how, sometimes, you couldn’t see the top of the bridge for all the mist and clouds. Pea soup, his father called it. “Fog’s as thick as pea soup, Harry. I’m not sure the city’s even there today.”
Nevertheless, it was always there, waiting for Harry to come back, though he never knew when, or why, he would return, Harry knew he would come back to stay. The bells on the cable cars chugging up the hill from the Buena Vista called his name; the smell of salt water and steamed crabs on Fisherman’s Wharf were like perfume. Even as a child, Harry felt it was home; he could breathe, and let go of…the pains…Beal’s Landing.
Chewing on his lip while he read, Harry was amazed. He had never read anything like the Anne Rice novel, and he could not put it down.
‘The old man begged to be told what we were saying. He called out,
‘Son, son,’ and Lestat danced like a maddened Rumpelstiltskin about
to put his foot through the floor. I went to the lace curtains.’
Whenever he read, which was most of the time, for books were a sort of refuge, Harry became lost in his novels, far away from everyone and everything. Whether in his room with the door locked, or at the dinner table eating in silence while Mother sipped this or that and Jimmy fiddled with his baseball cards, whether walking up Hesser to school or on the long walk home through Renny’s Forever Fields, Harry read, preoccupied.
As usual, his thumbnail was in his mouth as Harry hunched over the cafeteria table, the book, Interview With The Vampire, splayed out across his knees, his neck stretched beyond belief as he read, unaware. His mouth formed the words silently…
‘I could see and hear the slaves surrounding the house of Pointe
du Lac, forms woven in the shadows, drawing near…’
…and he was oblivious to the growing swarm around him, whispering and plotting.
Suddenly, a burst of white light unfurled before his eyes. Lightening that instantly became a hand, clipping the edge of his book and sending it sailing down the linoleum floor. Lurching into a trashcan, it stopped beneath a wadded up burrito wrapper and a cardboard cup of cold fries, sliding into a mound of almost, but not quite, dried catsup.
“That what faggots do at lunch, Seaton? Read?”
Harry stared up into the faces that imprisoned him, most of them laughing, all of them smiling. Kyle Greggs stood behind him; his hand had sent the book away. Kyle had always been the one; the one who shoved Harry in the hallways, knocking his head into lockers, muttering ‘queer’ under his breath if Harry spoke in class, an exceedingly rare occurrence since Harry didn’t want to hear that word every time he answered a question.
Kyle was always the one. Throwing balls at Harry on the playing field–basketballs, baseballs, footballs, soccer balls. He coined the nickname ‘Harry The Fairy’ the day Harry tried, and failed, to climb the rope in gym class. Yet another time he tried to fit in, to go unnoticed, and failed. Kyle was always the one, but he wasn’t the only one. Dan Mahoney, Russ Lindale, Dave King helped Kyle; their girlfriends, too, had tortured Harry at one time or another. It was a lifetime of punishment when you considered they attended the same schools for ten years. Everyone did his or her fair share of pushing Harry, physically and emotionally. A kick in the hallway was as good as a snide word in math class; as good as a look or a pointed finger in the cafeteria.
As he had done every day since arriving in the city in early June, Harry sat alone in his apartment, in a big chair near the window. He found the chair on a street corner early one morning before anyone was on the streets, and carried it back to his one-room flat. He sat in it all day long, and most of the night, watching and listening to life happening around him. Through the Venetian blinds he stared at people wandering by his building, wondering where they were going, and at night he stayed quiet, listening to the sounds coming from the other apartments, up through the floors, drifting down from above. He listened through thin walls whenever his neighbors had friends in for dinner, which was often; booming laughter hammered the walls as they played Trivial Pursuit or watched ‘Cheers’.
Watching alone, Harry sat in his apartment every day, afraid to go out, but growing desperate as he realized he would soon run out of money. He had saved just enough from his job at Dawson’s to move to the city and find a small, furnished room, but soon all of his savings would be gone. Harry needed a job if he was going to stay. And he was staying; he had no place left to go.
It was then that Harry walked outside and looked around rather than down. For the first time, he went into the Castro, venturing away from his apartment and that window, and began to feel as if he had come home; he was home. The family he left behind, the mother and brother still in The Landing, the sister and father who vanished long ago, weren’t really his family. They had never truly known Harry; they hadn’t wanted to and he wouldn’t let them. Yet, these people on the streets, men that looked like him and smiled at him, women who didn’t point and laugh, instantly seemed like family.
Standing on a street corner, deciding which way to turn, wondering who he might be, Harry felt at home. He discovered he wasn’t a freak at all. Okay, so maybe he didn’t look like everybody else. Not like the guys in the leather chaps and nipple rings; and nothing like the drag queens, those amazons parading up and down the street on Friday nights, teetering in sky-high heels, but this was his home now. He had always fancied himself an immigrant of sorts in The Landing, unaware of his heritage, but now he happened upon his roots, his family gathering in this makeshift community, one that, while not exactly like him, never-the-less welcomed him, smiled at him, liked him.
“Why are you sitting in the dark?” Harry asked, coming into the living room with the mail. Wyatt was but a shadow, a gray figure on the sofa, illuminated only by the light from the Flame Club across the street, a neon spear that flashed red, then white, then red again. Wyatt sat up. Slowly.
“Your brother called—.”
“Jimmy? Here?” Harry instantly knew something was terribly wrong. He hadn’t heard from his brother in thirteen years; it was over six years since his Mother had last written; six years since he had sent her that letter. “What did he say?”
Sniffling, Wyatt’s eyes glistened in the darkness; his mouth opened but no words came out. He closed it, shook his head, and sank back on the couch. At once Harry was at his side, one hand on his knee, the other squeezing Wyatt’s neck. The moment he touched him Wyatt began to cry, weeping not merely for Harry, but also for his mother; and for his younger brother who made that call and for Harry’s sister, out there, somewhere, perhaps unaware that her mother had died.
Oblivious to the bustle of the crowded café, Harry glanced up from his book, Anne Rice’s new one, Queen Of The Damned, into the face of the guy who had smiled at him in the laundromat a few months before. The handsome guy, though not Harry’s type.
“Hello,” Harry said easily. He wasn’t as afraid as he had been that day. Since then, he learned to understand himself, to like himself. Sitting at a table for two, in the front window of the Chestnut Street Bar and Grill, Harry closed his book and set it on the bench beside him. When the man pointed to an empty chair across the table, Harry nodded, Go ahead, sit down. The man took a seat and smiled again, an easy grin, not a sinister smile as Harry envisioned that day. It was simply an ‘I’ve seen you around’ kind of smile.
Harry started to speak, but then the waitress arrived with his lunch: Pastrami and Swiss on rye, hot mustard, side of fries. Making room for the plate, he dropped the napkin in his lap and slid his iced tea to the center of the small table where his fingers brushed the man’s hand. The girl looked at Harry, and then at his friend, who spoke again.
“I’ll have the same,” he said to the waitress; to Harry he said, “My name’s John.”
Fighting back the tears Harry walked home down the long hill toward town. He wasn’t crying, or trying not to cry, because of the scene in the lunchroom; it was because people he had known his whole life, who once were friends, had done that to him. They had robbed him of his book when all he wanted, all he ever wanted, was to be alone.
While they kicked his book around the cold filthy cafeteria floor like a hockey puck, Harry made a fool of himself trying to get it back. Dropping to his knees, he tried to grab it as it sailed by; running insanely across the room, he screamed at them, “Stop it!” But they didn’t stop; instead they began to mimic him, lisping, “Thtop it!” The more he chased, the more they laughed, but he wouldn’t give up. That book was his, the one thing he cared for, and he would not let them destroy it.
Kyle, Dan, Russ and Linda, Connie, even some of the teachers, laughed as Harry began to cry. His face turned all shades of red and his eyes went wild with tears, but still they snickered and pointed. Then, just before they tired of the game, before lunch was over and it was back to class, Dan Mahoney slipped, on a French fry or something, and Harry was able to scrape the book off the floor. He grabbed it and began to run.
It would be okay now, he told himself, flying toward the exit, but everyone was still laughing. Then the name-calling started. Harry The Fairy. Fag. Queer. Harry looked at them through eyes so filled with tears that he could only see distorted shapes of plaid shirts and cheerleader outfits. He ran for the door, slipping on the linoleum, wiping his eyes on his sleeves, clutching the book. Out of control, sprinting like mad, he saw the other boy, at a table near the exit, bundled up in a soiled brown corduroy coat. He was the only one in the room who wasn’t laughing at Harry, who wasn’t calling him names.
Sean Cooper ate lunch by himself, too.
“What in the hell is this, John?” Harry ranted, his fingers gripping the piece of paper he’d found tacked to the front door. It was a Three-Day-Notice-To-Pay-Or-Quit, left by the landlord. Harry had gotten off early from work and beaten John home; he found the note.
“It’s no big deal.” Mumbling, John walked past Harry into the kitchen. He grabbed a cold Anchor Steam from the refrigerator and reached for the tequila. It was his afternoon martini, of sorts. “So what?”
“No big deal?” Harry repeated, a look of astonishment chiseled onto his face. “So what? You didn’t pay the fucking rent, John. Again! Where the hell is the money?”
Within months of their first date on Chestnut Street, right after the New Year, Harry and John moved in together. John packed his meager belongings, a futon, some compact discs and books, his clothes, and carried them up Collinwood to Harry’s apartment. Once Harry found work, he was able to move out of the one-room efficiency and into a larger apartment on the third floor. John convinced him they would be better off sharing his place; it was larger, and in a nicer building.
Harry, however, never realized that by having John move in with him, everything stayed in his name; the rent and the utilities. What Harry also failed to see was that John could never hold a job for too long, and that he always had an excuse. Not enough hours at the deli; too far away from the museum. Why should he work in a mailroom? Harry, in the meantime, held two jobs, struggling to keep the lights going and the gas on, the rent paid. He worked lunches at Bentos, south of Market, and tended bar at the Elbo Room at night. In between, he went to school.
At first, everything worked out fine. John cooked and cleaned; Harry paid the bills. Then John took the cash for the gas bill and bought a pair of jeans. Harry worked an extra shift at the bar to pay for that. John spent the money for groceries on lunch with his friends. Harry begged his boss for a few more lunches at Bentos and did the shopping himself.
This, however, was the last straw. For the second time in as many months John had taken the money for the rent and spent it on clothes and drinks, on nights out with the boys while Harry worked. Rather than get the money order for the landlord, John went dancing. Harry borrowed from his friends at work to cover the rent that first time, but this time…this time was different. He still owed his coworkers and couldn’t scrape together enough shifts at either job to cover the expenses by himself for another month. He slid deeper into debt while John went dancing, had lunch with friends, replenished his wardrobe.
“You need to get a job, John. Now. Today.” Harry said, standing firm, or at least pretending. He held the eviction notice in his hand, but now he let it fall, watching its slow descent to the floor. “I can’t pay the rent again. I don’t have the money this time. You need to get a job or you need to move out.”
“C’mon Harry. Can’t you borrow from someone at work?” John asked, calmly sipping his beer. With his bare foot, he nudged the scrap of paper on the floor and looked at Harry with those eyes, eyes that could usually convince his boyfriend but this time failed.
“No?” John said smugly, then laughed. “No?”
Without hesitation, John threw the beer bottle at Harry, barely missing him. It smashed into the wall beside the door, into a watercolor Harry bought from a friend; the glass shattered and the frame bent. When Harry turned to look at the mess, John ran at him, tackling him and shoving him into the living room.
On the edge of his bed, facing the big window that fronted the sea, Harry sat, engrossed by what lay in his lap; the Anne Rice book that had turned into a plaything for his…his friends at lunch. The book’s cover was bent back, the spine revealed, cardboard showing through in places; pages were scuffed with Nike and Reebok footprints, dirt and grit; catsup glued chapters together. Whole sections had fallen out from the abuse, pages hanging limp and lifeless from the binding.
“Harry?” His mother bellowed from the bottom of the stairs, her voice already full of that slur. Three o’clock in the afternoon and she screamed at him with what sounded like a mouth full of gin-soaked cotton balls. “Why aren’t you starting dinner? HARRY?”
Closing his mind to her cries, and to the book in his lap, Harry watched the sea. The sun, falling toward the ocean, littered it with silver sequins and left it sparkling like a dress on Oscar night, fanciful, as if it wasn’t real…a movie backdrop. Harry stared at the Pacific until he heard his mother walk away, until he heard her in the kitchen getting more ice from the freezer. “Gin can never be too cold,” she always said.
Sneaking from his room Harry stood at the top of the stairs waiting for the house to fall into silence again. Then he crept down, skipping the risers that creaked. Peering into the dining room, he found it empty, though he caught sight of her through the still-swinging kitchen door. Her hands, dotted with age spots, held a glass filled with radiant chunks of ice, and he noticed how they trembled as she filled the tumbler with gin, then became less unsteady as she raised the glass and brought it quickly down, half empty. The quaking had stopped, as always, and, realizing she would be distracted for a while, and wouldn’t hear him, he went to the back porch. He opened the door and pushed aside the screen; no need for silence now, she had her drink. The door fell onto the house, rattling the clapboards, as he jumped off the porch, breathing without difficulty now.
Roaming across the yard, the sun shining on the sea mesmerized Harry, so beautiful, so unreal; tinsel dancing on waves. A world far less real than his own, but one he dreamed of getting lost in. Moving through the yard, a field really, the tall grasses immune to the mower, Harry stopped at the cliff’s edge, the end of California, and stared down onto the pebbly beach, the waves booming. Trapped between open fields and a foaming sea, with nowhere to go but down, knowing he needed an escape from school and home, to get away, he kicked a small stone over the sea cliff. He listened to it ping…ping…ping down to the water’s edge. At the precipice, the toes of his shoes gripping the rim, he started down.
The summer Renny had run off, looking for a chance to get out of the house, he first spotted the footpath in the side of the cliff. When they were younger, Mother never allowed her children to play near the cliffs. They were to stay in the front yard, but, when she wasn’t watching, which was most of the time, they ventured into the Forever Fields.
Now, however, with Renny gone, Harry stopped listening to Mother. Even on her most lucid days, she rarely made sense; sitting in the back parlor, listening to Ella or Sara, she prattled on about how people cheated her, stolen her life, lied. Sheathed in drunkenness, she cursed Dad and Grandmother, but every now and then her venom turned on Renny or, for some odd reason, her own sister. When the shouting started, and it was usually at Happy Hour, Harry escaped; when the bottles came out he went to the cliffs.
Every afternoon, having put up with the tortures of school for another day, Harry went down that slender path carved into the rocky sea wall, a bit further with each attempt until, one day at the end of that first summer Renny had been away, he reached the beach. A sandy spot roughly the size of a bath mat, protected from the ocean tide by a rugged barricade of stones.
Frozen on that bit of sand, the waves roaring toward him, Harry noticed the way the rocks coiled away from shore; a half-circle of boulders in all shapes and sizes. This passage of stones ended up at an enormous boulder, in the middle of the cove, covered in a mob of seagulls. The angry birds perched there until the waves smashed into the rock and chased them off, and then, squawking their irritation, they soared to the cliff top, circling overhead as though gathering steam. Several minutes went by, and then the flock of birds would dive at the boulder, appearing to scare off the sea in order to regain their perch.
Laughing at their antics whenever he went down to the beach, which was often, Harry cackled at the birds battling the sea for that one rock. He found that by timing it right, leaving the shore the moment the surf broke against the bluffs, he was able to walk out to that large rock without getting wet. It wasn’t far from the house, but it was farther.
As often as not, Harry spent his afternoons on there, with his back to the shore, the house and the shouting. Since Mother seldom left the house, and had forbidden Jimmy to play in the backyard, he could be alone. He sat with the gulls, which learned to tolerate his interruption, but still scurried away at every wave. He came to his rock every day, once school was out and before he started dinner, and all day on weekends when his chores were finished, to watch the ocean and wonder where, out there, were other people like him. If there were others.
Wyatt stayed in the living room, in the dark, the red white neon of the Flame Club the only illumination, while Harry disappeared into the kitchen to phone Jimmy. He heard the muffled sound of Harry’s voice which, at first, he mistook for stillness and patience, but then his partner’s tone turned indifferent, cold, angry, as he asked a few simple questions Wyatt could scarcely hear—something about pain pills and bourbon, flowers. Harry’s bare feet scuffled across the maple floor, padding from sink to refrigerator, then back again. Finally, the phone clicked off and Harry was in the doorway, the glow of the light above the stove flooded the arch beneath which he stood; a darkened figure in a halo of anger.
“Funeral’s Friday,” he said evenly. “Apparently she made all the arrangements before she, uh, killed herself. Jimmy couldn’t reach Renny, just her machine, so we don’t know if she’s coming.” Taking a deep breath, his hands on his hips, he said, “I’m going up tomorrow morning to help. Jimmy sounds pretty shook up…. I guess he found the body—.”
“I’m going with you.” Wyatt said.
“No,” Harry said sharply. “It’s best if I go alone. There’s too much…history…up there, with Renny, if she comes home, and with Jimmy. I gather he was pretty shocked to find out about you. Mother never told him.”
“All the more reason I should go.” Wyatt stood up and went to Harry. Placing his hands on Harry’s face, his own eyes damp while Harry’s were not, he said, “I want to be there for you, Harry. I know you and your mother were—.”
“We weren’t anything, Wyatt, especially after I sent that damned letter.” Out of habit, and exhausted by the events at day’s end, Harry chewed nervously on his lower lip. “We were liars…. Her with the drinking and the stories about my dad, and me…well, me with simply being myself. I was not what she expected.”
“I’m going, Harry,” Wyatt persisted, holding his lover’s face closer. “I spent too much time hiding myself, my true self, from my family when I was younger…it never worked. I simply hated myself more…and more. You need your family now. Jimmy and Renny are all you’ve got now—.”
“You’re my family.” Harry said quietly. Slipping from Wyatt’s hands, he walked into the living room, staring out the window, wincing at the red and white spears. “Your mother and father. Danny and Chris. Sarah. Lainie. Curtis and Martine. You’re my family, all of you. More family than I ever had at home…”
“Good! All the more reason for me to go,” Wyatt decided.
The sun setting before him, brilliantly blinding, Harry sat on the rock looking high into the sky behind him, to where the night was coming. The heavens were blackening at his back, turning purple overhead and splattered with rhinestones of starlight. Passing him by, the heavens slipped into oranges and reds, before fading into pink and lavender at the edge of the horizon. Where it gathered around the sun, an astonishing ball of fire dropping like a quarter into a slot in the Pacific, the sky was a silvery white.
Watching the sunset, Harry thought about Renny. It had been three years since he began coming down to the rock, three years since she left home, without a word, right after graduation. He hadn’t heard from her, or about her, in all that time, and often imagined her life. What would she be like now, at twenty-one. Was she married? Did she miss him as much as he missed her? He was always wondering what she would think of him. Would she hate him, too? Would she call him Harry The Fairy and kick his book around a dirty floor for laughs? He had no idea how Renny felt about him and thought he never would know.
Jimmy, however, was a different story. Harry was certain his baby brother was on the fast track to becoming the Kyle Greggs of his high school years. Already Jimmy was calling Harry names; not as bad as fag or queer but….he called him Harry The Housewife since Harry did the things women did; most times, he called Harry a sissy.
The remembrances, flipping through his mind like photographs in an album, turned to his father. It had been eight years since Billy Seaton left the coast, like Renny, without a word. One night he was there, at the dinner table passing rolls or something and asking his son about school, and the next day he was gone. And no one ever said a word. At least not anything he believed. Mother said Billy had run off with a woman from town. A floozy, she’d said, from the fast houses above the beach. Then she would change her tune and say he had gone away because he didn’t want to be a father any longer. That was the story Harry believed, sad to say, because Billy vanished soon after Jimmy was born. Deep inside knowing it was wrong to do so, Harry blamed his younger brother. But then, when she was drunk, Mother told him Billy was dead; that was why he’d gone away, to die like in a fifties melodrama. Whatever the truth, all Harry knew was that there was one less friendly face at the table; one less hand to pass a roll; one less voice to ask about his day.
It wasn’t morning, it was too early for that, but the brilliance of the room pried his eyes open. A slash of light tumbled from the closet and spilled over the floor; it raced along the wood planks and the corded rugs, up the side of the bed, into his eyes. Rising on one elbow, Wyatt rubbed his eyes with his free hand.
Harry was in the closet. In the middle of the night, he had gotten up to search for something. Wyatt could see a shadow moving inside the closet, along the back wall, folding out along the pants, and skimming the bottoms of their winter coats. It softened over the shoeboxes on the floor. Wyatt heard Harry, straining to tug a carton down from a shelf.
”What are you doing?” Wyatt asked when Harry emerged from the closet, dragging a large, taped and patched cardboard box with him. He stayed in bed, pushing the comforter down to his waist. “What is that?”
“Oh, shit,” Harry mumbled. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Well, try leaving the lights off and keeping the grunting to a minimum,” Wyatt said in a gravelly voice. Now he peeled the covers from his body and slipped out of bed, smiling at Harry. “It’s okay. What are you looking for?”
“Pictures.” Harry bent down, picked up the carton and lugged it over to a chair by the window. Setting it gently on the cushion, he peeled back the flaps carefully, as though he feared what lay inside. He cautiously folded the cardboard edges back, peered inside, then clicked on a light.
Hobbling on tired legs, and trembling a bit in the chill of early Spring, Wyatt crossed the room and stood behind Harry, looking over his shoulder at the box. He recalled helping Harry carry this particular carton into the apartment when they moved in together. He never looked in the box; he never even asked about it. This was Harry’s past, things Wyatt wasn’t sure Harry wanted, but brought along on every move. Wyatt knew he didn’t have the right to look inside without Harry’s permission; without Harry.
“Harry?” Wyatt, slipping an arm around his lover’s waist, set his chin on the other man’s shoulder. He looked into Harry’s eyes, which were dark and dry, and then peeked inside the box. “What is it you’re looking for?”
“Them,” he murmured, swallowing the word whole. He pointed to the stacks of photographs, black-and-white and color snapshots, some curling at the edges, others so old they had scalloped borders. “It’s been so long…. I’d forgotten what they looked like.” Without warning, Harry started to weep, for the first time since he’d heard the news and called Beal’s Landing. Looking into the box that held his past, that somehow kept it alive and real, Harry cried. Wyatt held on tight for a minute, and then let him go.
Leaning over, his fingers rifling through the carton, Harry pulled out a stack of photos. Renny’s graduation picture, her hair long and straight, no bangs, parted in the middle. The studio that photographed her had painted Renny’s cheeks pink and even put on eye make-up. Still, she had the sweetest smile. Then there was a picture of a young boy—“Jimmy,” he told Wyatt—in a baseball uniform, crouched down with one hand on his knee and the other inside a leather mitt.
Harry found another one; this one a glossy eight-by-ten of a man in another uniform, and Air Force cap on his head. He held a plaque citing twenty years of outstanding service. There was Harry’s mother, the only photo of her in the entire carton of memories, standing in front of a large tree. She looked striking in a blue suit, a silver brooch pinned to her lapel. Her hair was a soft auburn and one arm disappeared behind a younger Harry in a plaid shirt; her other arm was draped over Jimmy, a little boy in a blood red sweater. His head was cocked to one side and he held a hand over his eyes against the sun.
More pictures appeared. Harry and Renny dressed as hippies for Halloween, in wigs and love beads, straw hats. Jimmy was Spiderman. Harry, with his boyhood friend; Sean Cooper, Wyatt thought. Candles blown out on a Sweet 16 cake. Christmas; Harry with a new watch. Renny in a blue dress. Jimmy with a pet turtle.
“I’d forgotten all about them.” Harry wept.
“No.” Wyatt reached around Harry to take a picture from the carton. He held a snapshot of three kids, dressed in their Sunday finest, probably off to Easter services. Renny was about fifteen, and on her way to becoming a beauty. Harry, Wyatt smiled, was scrawny and eight, in a black suit and thin dark tie. Jimmy, no more than two, wore a beige sweater and bow tie. It was only the three of them, no mother, no father. “You could never forget them, Harry. You’d never do that. You’ve had them with you this whole time.”
Tenderly gazing at the picture Wyatt held up, the tears fell freely from Harry’s eyes and ran down his cheek to his bare chest. He had kept the memories in a box for so many years, taped up, high on a shelf, never able to forget, but afraid he might.
“I’m going home with you, Harry.” Wyatt settled the argument in that instant. “I helped you with John, getting your things back, and going to court with you to get the money he owed. I was there with you when he died.”
“I never thanked you for that,” Harry said.
“When are you gonna learn?” Wyatt laughed, his own eyes glistening. “You don’t have to thank me Harry. I love you…so much. I would do anything for you.” He slid his hand up Harry’s back and touched his cheek; he kissed Harry’s shoulder. “I don’t want a thank-you. I want you.”