(yes, I know it's not Tuesday. shhhh)
The song ends, and I can hear the street even through the closed windows. I am driving too quickly, and everything blows by. James touches his hand to my hand.
I say, “I really wasn’t aware that you are…”
“I don’t exactly advertize it. I mean, people know. My friends do, I guess. I mean, we haven’t talked about it…”
“Then how do you suppose they know?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t date.”
“That proves only that you are not unambiguously straight. There is a large gap between ambiguously straight and…”
He says, “What? I mean, you are. God, you are, right? Oh, holy shit, Oliver.”
I laugh a bit. “I do not use that word.”
“Well, generally no.”
“That one I do use. Gay. I do not use the word gay in the context of homosexuality.”
“What do you use?”
“Well.” We are getting close to the light where I will have to choose to whose house I am driving. I don’t want to ask. “Homosexual. Queer. Fag.”
“You like fag better than gay?”
He watches me. “Okay, this I’ve got to hear.”
“It is a values choice, I suppose. The word fag makes more sense to me as a description of myself.”
“Oliver, it’s an insult. It’s an offensive thing straight people made up.”
“So is ninety percent of the known world. At the very least it means something. It means homosexual. Put whatever politics on it you like, but a fag is a homosexual. If someone says fag, you know what he means. And I am.” I look at him. “Assuredly. A fag.”
“But you’re not gay.”
“The word gay? It means happy. It means carefree. That is what the word means.”
“That’s not what it means now.”
“That is not the point. It is…like a battered ex-boyfriend. Use it if you want, but I am warning you that I believe it comes with too much baggage. That I might judge.”
“You wouldn’t date someone who’d been hit?”
“I don’t believe that was my point.”
James is quiet. “So you’re not happy?”
I look down only briefly. “Even when I am, I don’t believe I should be required by nature or nurture to have it as a part of my identity.”
He doesn’t speak for too long. Then, “Oliver? I think you’re fantastic.”
“Let’s go back to my house, all right?”
In a way, I hate myself for saying that. But, more than that, I just cannot believe it. I cannot believe I haven’t yet done something to irreparably mess this up. Even my tirade on the merit of homophobic lingo hasn’t discouraged him. And hasn’t discouraged me. I continue to look at him and smile. I continue to feel something in my stomach, several inches higher from where I usually feel any sort of connection to anyone.
Usually, my chest would begin to hurt around this time. I would begin looking for an escape route. I would kiss goodbye. Tonight, that is not going to happen. Not with James. I cannot believe that it is not going to happen.
“God, you have a nice house,” he says.
“Thank you.” I lead him inside and show him where he can put his coat. “Would you like a drink?”
He touches the mezuzah at the door. “You’re Jewish?”
“I am. To drink, James?”
“I don’t know what you mean by drink. Um.”
“Maybe a Coke?”
I pour him one, and a gin and tonic for myself. We drink without sitting down, leaning over opposite sides of the island in the kitchen, facing each other.
“Where are your parents?” he says.
“They like to go out. They will probably be home soon.”
He touches one of the cookbooks. “Who does all the cooking?”
“Your…mother?” He looks up.
“And occasionally me.”
“Who plays the piano?”
“Play me something?”
I laugh and bring my drink to the piano. He slides onto the bench next to me. I play from the music book that is already open—Beethoven.
He listens with his eyes closed and his fingers rested on keys too high for me to use. “Sing.”
“It is Beethoven, James. There are no lyrics. It does not remind me of summer.”
He smiles, his eyes still closed. “Sing anyway.”
I do. It takes me a moment to pick out which notes to sing in the seemingly hundreds I am playing, but I find them and I sing on an open A. He opens his eyes and watches me.
He begins quietly, but soon he is singing with me. He does not know quite how to hold his mouth, so the sound isn’t as clean, but it is there. He sings. The notes that are high for him are high for me as well; he is clearly a bass. His voice builds, until it is nearly the same volume as mine.
And something feels more complete in this house than it has in a long time. James’s hand is not on my chest, but I feel as if it is.
We are on top of each other on the piano bench. We are kissing and furiously unbuttoning. The front door opens.
We sit up. He fixes himself more urgently than I do. “It’s okay,” I say softly. “We are not in trouble. It’s okay.”
My parents are here. My father is shorter than I am, but he dresses well and has a nice smile. Karen is taller than either of us. She has curly hair and red stilettos. Her nails match the patent leather.
“Did you have a nice night?” I say.
My father messes up my hair. Someday he will get stuck there from my hairspray, and I do not know which of us this would punish, if either. “We did. How was the concert?”
“It was very nice. This is James.”
They shake his hand. James looks incredibly frightened.
We talk about Etta; they tell me they are glad she’s all right. James nods that he is as well. My father leaves to get ready for bed, and Karen takes the opportunity to notice my glass resting on the piano. She lifts it. “This will leave a ring, Oliver.”
I wrap my fingers around James’s. “I know.”
“Bring it to the kitchen.”
“I am not finished with it.”
She sniffs it and makes a face. “Finish your drink and tell your friend to go home,” she tells me, her eyebrows lifted, and clicks her way to my father’s room.
James had only just started to relax, and now he looks so cold.
“Sorry about that,” I say quietly.
He clears his throat. “She doesn’t look much like you.”
I fold the music and put it away. “She is my stepmother.”
“Oh.” He laughs just a bit, rubbing the back of his neck. “I was going to say…”
Please do not say anything. I wish I had never brought him here.
“She’s a little, um, pointy,” James says.
Pointy. That one is new.
He says, “I mean, those shoes—”
“Those were my mother’s shoes,” I say, softly.
He doesn’t say anything, and I cannot look at him. “You see,” I say. “My father has a very distinct type, I suppose, and that type is my mother, and Karen is very nearly exactly my mother. Actually.”
He is still not speaking, and now I cannot quite breathe.
“I think you should go,” I whisper.
He says, “Oliver…”
“No.” I can look at him. I can grit my teeth. “You do not understand, I don’t think. I believe it’s time for you to go.”
Thursday, June 18, 2009
(yes, I know it's not Tuesday. shhhh)