Category Archives: Gay

The Invitation

My dearest,

I’m writing to ask you to my wedding on the 15th. Her name is Roslyn. You don’t know her. 

I don’t wish for you to receive this news as a rebuff. It is possible to be two things at once. Like you. What was that name you insist your mother gave you in that bleak time before we met? “Herve”? And yet will the Lord God judge me as a liar for calling you Harvey all these years? 

Two things at once.
Your Jonah

Drakkar (A Noir)

“Darling Jesse,” she says—her voice is a bassoonist playing in the back of a concert hall—and then she ashes her cigarette into a waiting urinal.  The wide brim of her sun hat and her five-o-clock shadow obscure her face, but I recognize the mole on her right bicep just below the hem of her puff sleeve. “Where’ve you been, lamb?”

Sleeping on dusty couches in basements. Imagining us on Jerry Springer: me with a chair raised above my head, you appealing to the audience, the cameras. “Around.”

The neon light from the Pabst Blue Ribbon sign in the window makes the sweat in the air glow cobalt blue, and the smell of stale cologne mixes with the smell of urinal cakes. Every kind of Lycra shirt slides by us on their way to the urinal or to hide behind a stall door, but my eyes stay on her mole.

“Mm hmm,” she says and blows smoke into my face. “You could have come by anytime. I don’t hold grudges.”

You stole money from me.”

“Borrowed. I borrowed money from you. I told you about it, didn’t I? You did get my IOU, yes?”

Yes. She’d only written four words to justify taking $1,000: MISS VEE HAS NEEDS. The block capital letters had reminded me of her past life as an architecture student.

“That was no IOU. That was a cry for attention.” The DJ punctuates my words with techno breakbeats.

“Maybe.” She slips the cigarette back between her lips. “Or maybe it was charity.” The beat of a Chemical Brothers song fades and a man’s voice rings through the building. Vee’s show was about to start.

“Right. Stealing money from me was an act of charity.”

“That’s right, lamb, because we both know you weren’t saving that money up to hand off to the nuns.”

“Still. You didn’t have to take my money and kick me out.”

She reaches an acrylic fingernail out to touch my collar bone, and drops her voice low. “You’re welcome back in my hive anytime you’re ready to follow the Queen Bee.”

The MC’s voice echoes down the hallway. “And now let’s welcome Miss Veronique Ahhhhhh to the stage.” The crowd roars. I hear the sizzle of embers hitting the water in the toilet bowl before she glides down the hallway to stand in a waiting spotlight.

The Art of Distraction

“SO IS THIS WHAT YOU DO HEREmake Rube Goldberg machines?” Jacob said, after I’d spread string, scissors, plastic cups, and a few small peg boards across the breakroom counter. He was sitting at the table eating a sandwich and fries from a styrofoam box. I watched as his paisley tie dipped into ketchup. That’s how new he was to the pediatrician’s office—no one had told him yet that Medical Assistants could dress business casual.

“Huh? No, I’m the Scribe? The one who inputs the doctor’s notes into the patient database? The job’s kinda tedious, so I started pushing thumbtacks into the corkboard behind my desk and wrapping rubber bands around them two at a time. Set up a little maze down the wall for a marble to travel down. Janet, the Nurse Practitionernot Janet, the Lab Tech—saw it and liked it. She started bringing patients by for demonstrations, and then she asked me to build a machine in here.” Stop rambling. Why do I turn into an idiot whenever a hot guy is around? “I’m Ethan by the way.”

“Hi. I’m Jacob. Your machine sounds cool. Where’d you learn to make them? Did you go to an engineering school or something?”

I answered his question by pulling out my college ID and showing it to him, not remembering the terrible picture on it. Scraggly beard, eyelids half-closed, a questionably-high James Franco smirk. Jacob pulled a matching ID card out of his messenger bag.

“We must have just missed each other on campus,” Jacob said.

After that, a pause filled the room. “When you’re done eating, do you want to see the machines?” I asked. Jacob nodded, mouth full of pastrami.

I took him down the long hallway past the exam rooms to the corner where my desk squatted and showed him the machine. I handed him a silver marble and pointed.

“Drop it on the highest rubber band there,” I explained, and we watched as the marble glided across the vertical maze, and down to where I’d looped the final band around the switch of my desk lamp. The marble clicked against the switch and my light turned on, which also caused Jacob to beam.

“Like I said, I have a lot of free time.” I tried not to notice his long eyelashes or his one crooked tooth; I itched my ear instead. “So, yeah, the kids liked it, and pretty much everyone in the office is looking for new ways to distract patients. It was a hit.”

“I see why.”

Two coworkers came out of the exam room next door and asked me to demonstrate my machine again, after which, one of them, Cindy from Billing, said she wouldn’t mind her own machine. I told her I’d see what I could do.

 

AT LUNCH THE NEXT DAY Jacob ventured down the hallway again carrying a milk crate with about a dozen random objects in it.

“Hey, Ethan, I did a little googling and brought you some supplies.” His elbow brushed my shoulder as he set the crate down on my desk. I could feel heat disperse through the ridges of my ears. “I…If you feel like it, I can help you with Cindy’s machine.”

“That would be great,” I said, avoiding his gaze by inspecting the items in the crate. Some dowel rods, duct tape, a hamster wheel, and… “A blender?”

“I figured if we couldn’t use it, maybe I could make us some margaritas? Not here…I mean, back at my place…but, you know, not like that.”

Not like what? A date? I felt tingling in my feet. “Why don’t we just play it by ear?”

The rest of the work day dragged. When it was finally just Jacob and I, we took out all of the things he’d brought. We decided to make a machine that would unfurl a sign at Cindy’s desk. Jacob started pounding pegs into a pegboard. When I caught myself watching the curve of his bicep contract with each hammer blow, I started tinkering with the blender.

“What’s the plan?” he asked.

I told him what I was thinking: dowel rods and a wedge to guide a marble into the bottom of a flat, paint-stirring stick. The stick would jerk and a string attached at the top of the stick would yank a paper clip free from the sign we’d hang from Cindy’s desk.

“Sounds good, but I wonder if we could incorporate her chair somehow or put something on the floor? I saw a video last night where they wrapped an electric cord around a chair les so when someone pulled it out the machine started.”

“We could, but how long do you want to be here tonight?”

He faced me, a grin triggered a set of dimples. That crooked tooth. I knocked something off the desk and was turning my head to see what it was when I felt something swipe my neck. I smacked at it without thinking, connecting with Jacob’s nose and cheek. He had tried to kiss me.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Are you ok? I was…um, let’s maybe not kiss? At work, I mean, with the security cameras. But definitely again.” I put my hand on his shoulder and winked. I never wink.

“Well, at least we got that awkward first kiss out of the way, right?”

We quickly set up Cindy’s surprise after that. Jake printed out a picture of a cat with a pink party hat over its ears and a wry look.

We tested the machine a few times and started repacking the milk crate with the items we didn’t use. I picked up the blender still sitting on the breakroom table where we’d left it.

“Hey, you still up for some drinks?”

“Absolutely, but we won’t be needing that.” Jake pointed to the blender. “I just needed some way to ask you out.”

To my NYC Midnight friends, this is an edited version of the story I submitted. Group 54—romantic comedy, a pediatrician’s office, a blender.

Shoes, or What Not To Do When People Call You Names

As the bus doors opened, a tall man planted his feet wide in the threshold and stretched his long arms to the top corners of the jamb. He wore jean shorts and an old concert tee, and he had what looked like a cold sore on his lower lip. Our eyes locked as he leaned out toward me and my partner standing at the bus stop. A smirk pulled at his mouth, and he mumbled as he stepped onto the sidewalk and elbowed past me.

A minute later my partner asked if I’d heard what the guy said. I had. Despite the racket of the idling bus I’d heard him clearly. He said, in an almost genial tone, “How’s it going, faggot?”

 

The first time I remember hearing that word I was in church. Some dude wearing a cardigan was pulling felt characters of Jesus and sheep and wise men out of a Ziploc baggie, preparing for class. I remember street lights were on in the parking lot outside, which means I wasn’t in Sunday school but at Awana, what the Baptists called a youth group but was really just Sunday school on Wednesday nights with a game of dodgeball and a juice box thrown in.

I was sitting in a half-circle of school desks with the other young Christian boys aged 9 to 11. The classrooms in our church basement smelled musty year-round, but especially so in the humidity of that early September night in Michigan. To this day, a dank room reminds me of rubbery pancakes and eternal salvation.

The kid next to me told everyone to look at how I was sitting. Hands on desk, left ankle on right knee. He said, “Why are you sitting like a girl, faggot?”

The Cardigan stopped unpacking.

“I’m not,” I said. “My dad sits like this all the time.”

“Haha! Nathan’s daddy’s a queer!”

“That’s enough. Let’s get started. Nathan, both feet on the floor, please,” the Cardigan said, and then he launched into his lesson, probably the one about turning the other cheek. I spent the rest of that class studying my teacher and classmates, watching how they sat, staring at the floor because, for some reason, I thought their shoes would show me what unified them and set me apart.

 

Just like in the church basement, the moment with the tall man on the bus happened in a flash. He was smirking and then he was gone and then I was sitting in the back of the bus kicking myself for not confronting him.

I could have adopted my most winsome Southern drawl, slid an index finger down his sternum and said Why, honey, you interested? Or I could have unleashed a wild grin—each tooth a separate act of defiance—and quipped I’m great, asshole, how ’bout you?  I could have called him the epithet that popped into my head when I saw the scab on his lip. I could have punched him in his willfully-exposed torso or tripped him as he stepped past me or I could have simply said “Fuck off.”

But I didn’t.

Thirty-some years after I put my feet on the floor, after the tribulations of reconciling my sexuality with my religious upbringing, after the lonely years post-college believing the ridiculous notion that all gay men ended up sad and alone, after the exhilaration of meeting my partner, after almost 15 years of enjoying a happy loving relationship, a stranger called me a faggot and I looked down at his shoes.

 

 

Steam

PHILIP HAD SPENT THE MORNING before the wedding stewing in the bathtub. He told Ben before he closed the door that taking a bath before a major event was a Taggart family tradition, but really he just needed an excuse to be alone for a while. A curtain of steam was the perfect device to hide him from distraction. He took his time undressing and slipping into the water, his mind buoyed with worries of the day ahead. He imagined the scowls on the faces of certain relatives when they saw him with Ben later that day.

The Taggarts were a passionate lot, his father especially. Joseph Taggart presided as the town’s mayor and had worked very hard to get there. Philip’s early childhood memories consisted almost exclusively of his father standing yards away at a podium, the fiery words he spoke matching his blaze of red hair. Growing up, Philip and his family attended all of Joseph’s functions: they canvassed the town as a family, they manned the polling stations as a family, they even bumped heads kissing the babies of the town. The Taggart name was synonymous with Michigan politics. Philip had known since he was 14 that some of his views clashed with his father’s, but it wasn’t until his senior year of high school that he actually challenged the platitudes he heard at the dinner table. His mother and brothers took his audacity silently, while his father grew taller in the dining room chair. Philip would have been intimidated, but their hold on him had long since loosened. Philip believed his father had many fine qualities, but he was self-righteous to a fault so the conversation leveled off into Philip offering his views on the environment and his father listing off the reasons Philip was wrong. It was true that his Aunt Leslie and her partner had tempered some of the Taggarts’ views—even his father tamped down his fervor slightly while his little sister was in the room, but flip comments could still be heard, especially about Aunt Leslie. They mostly talked about Uncle Jimmy not speaking a word to Leslie since she told the family she was gay. After Philip came out himself, he noticed the topic was never broached. He doubted they had ceased talking about it; it was just no longer mentioned in his company. 

Philip didn’t notice the steam dissipating from the small room. When Ben tapped lightly on the bathroom door, the imaginary verbal smackdown Philip was rehearsing in his mind clicked off and he was jolted back into the bathtubnaked, sitting in chilly water with only a thin line of bubbles clinging to the edges of the ceramic.

“Did you fall asleep in there?” Ben said, opening the door.

“No, just deep in thought.” Philip caught a glimpse in the blurred mirror of the red that was his own hair.

Ben dipped his fingers into the water. “Yikes. Get outta there, baby, unless you’re training for the Polar Bear Plunge. I’ll grab a towel…what were you thinking about?”

“Nothing specific. Just stuff.” 

For other stories with these characters, read Periphery or Procession.

Procession

FROM WHERE PHILIP SAT he couldn’t tell why people were laughing. The bride was only seconds into her march up the aisle and the back pews were already snickering. Since everyone was facing her, he saw the backs of fifty people’s heads tilt up in laughter. He felt his date, Ben, shrug his shoulders and then half-stand to get a better look. The laughter in the sanctuary swelled with each step of the bride. Philip looked toward the groom, who was smirking, and the groomsmen—there were 4—all looked toward the back wall with brows set deep in concentration. Odd.

The church was long—one of those monstrosities they built in the 90s, the kind crammed with Escher stairways and skylights shaped like amoebas. Everything in the church could have come straight off the set of Beetlejuice. A large skylight shaped like a cross shone down over the chancel. The day was overcast, but Philip imagined the drama of the moment the sun peeked out from behind a cloud and shined a spotlight on the…minister? Preacher? Father?

He leaned to Ben’s ear. “What do Methodists call their preachers?”

“Drones.”

“No, that can’t be right.”

“Look, Philip. Behind her.” Ben pointed above the bride. Given the dramatic and glacially slow step-together walk that, for some reason, was only employed during weddings and graduations, she was only about a quarter of the way down the aisle. She was gorgeous, Philip’s Aunt Stephanie, even more so after a morning of facials and waxings and touch-ups and blowouts. She had the Taggart nose—that same bump on the bridge that made everyone ask Philip when he broke it—but her complexion was darker and her emerald eyes made her look more like a Greek woman in an epic poem than the Irish lass she was. Philip spotted a gray disc bob above his aunt’s head. The drone held her veil in two places from above, making the edges wave to both sides of the congregation. Occasionally, whenever the drone fell behind pace, the veil tugged on the bride’s hair. Aunt Stephanie didn’t look bothered by it though. She kept her gaze on the nervous bald man awaiting her on the steps that divided the sanctuary from the chancel. The groom patted beads of sweat from his boxy forehead. The light shining down on his bald head made him look like one of those strange IKEA light bulbs.

“Is that a Millennium Falcon?” Philip asked.

“Six of them!” The crowd’s laughter muffled Ben’s excitement. Behind the first drone, five others became visible to the front of the congregation, working to keep the veil afloat above the train. Philip took a second to study what joy looked like on the side of Ben’s face he could see—the dimple, the etches around his eye, the sharp arc of his hair around his right ear. The abrasion on his forehead was almost fully healed. Today was their seventh date, which is why Philip hesitated to invite him to the wedding. But the days following the mugging shifted their relationship into a higher gear, convincing Philip to do something he’d never done before: introduce a boyfriend to his family.

“Did you see the bridesmaids?” Ben asked. All four women wore a flurry of taffeta and thin garlands in their hair. From their garlands dangled long teal ribbon, four or five of which were attached to still more drones that topped the women’s heads like mechanical halos.

“Who’s steering them?” Philip checked the front of the church again. He hadn’t noticed the little black boxes in the groomsmen’s hands before. Tangles of lace and ribbon fell from their antennae. Their looks of concentration suddenly made sense. That accounted for four drone pilots; who were the others?

“I don’t know,” Ben said, still beaming at the wedding procession, “but they’re really good at it. Have you ever tried to fly one of those things? It’s harder than it looks.” Ben flashed  Philip a wink. Thank God it was going well, Philip thought.

For another story with Ben and Philip, read Periphery.

The Perch Act

I was naked and still dripping bath water when my boss fired me from the Sells Floto circus.

* * * * *

Luke and I were in the practice tent, using a mirror to check our opening form. See, after I raise my hands above my head, Luke uses them as a base to lift himself up from behind me—to the audience it looks like he’s on an invisible elevator. But then he pivots his torso so it’s perpendicular, then he swings his hips up quick so they’re over his head. With his arms fully extended, energy zipping through us, he uncurls his legs from the jackknife position he’s in and locks into a beautiful hand stand. His pale feet hover over us a second like seagulls.

That day Luke was favoring his right side and I told him so. He adjusted, then refolded his waist, rounded his shoulders—the pendulum of his legs swung out once above my head—until his feet and nose were both pointing straight ahead. That’s called the Cat’s Cradle. Only, during the last few shows he’d been sagging, toes pointing down toward the ring curb, so that’s what we were checking when Trinka, the gaffer, the boss man, the Pole with the Mole, stormed in.

“Money,” Trinka chuffed. “Tomorrow,” and he flung something white near my feet.

I wobbled, causing Luke to do the same, and the next thing I knew we were coming down. I threw Luke left, asked if he was alright, heard him say he was, and grabbed the litter at my feet: invoices, for our new banners. I anticipated some cost in moving from the kid shows to the ring—new gear, greasing the advance men, that sort of thing—but I didn’t count on paying for advertising. Still, Trinka was known among the troupers as a decent man, so I figured probably everybody paid for their own paper. “Raise your legs higher, Lucas, you look a mess up there.” The rounded esses of Trinka’s accent and the sound of his receding steps softened the barb.

“What’s eating him?” Luke was standing, patting dust off his legs.

“Search me. He’s right though. Let’s try that again.”

The rest of that night was unremarkable. The process of setting up a new site is the same no matter where we go. We were just outside St. Louis, near what they’re calling the Dust Bowl, so, more hatless and haggard townies than usual were wandering through camp asking for jobs. None of them interrupted our dinner. Luke and I ate our fish and succotash in silence, both of us listening to the roars and whinnies of the ring stock being unloaded. Both of us looking forward to bed.

* * * * *

When I came out the next morning, our papers were waiting for an autograph outside our tent. Scarlet and dusty words blazed across the top:

*PASTOR & COLLICKS*

The names were complete pocky, of course, a scheme thought up by Trinka to sell us as the celestial twins come down to Earth. The men performing a perch act underneath the words only slightly resembled Luke and me. It was our second set: the one where I balance one leg of a chair on my head as Luke sits in it, juggling.

We warmed up, then moved on to a few run-throughs of the show. Afterward, I heated up some water and settled into the washtub. Luke had gone to get some food and eventually came in carrying a cooked chicken. Wasn’t long before he was stripped and in the tub with me saying something coy about saving water. I guess we were careless that day, our good fortune clouding our judgment. And that was the second precarious position Trinka stormed in on. No knock. No shout. Just Trinka’s mole punctuating a sneer.

“I expect you out by noon.” His voice was flat.

Forgetting myself, I stood up and ruined any chance of furnishing another explanation. Trinka turned his gaze. “Let us stay,” I said, “and I promise you we’ll make you a very rich man.”

“Out!” he yelled over his shoulder, “both of you.” And he was gone.


This story was written for yeah write’s Focus on Fiction series. Click the badge above to see other submissions.

Another story with these characters is here.

And just so I can find them again:
The video I watched to describe the act accurately.
The circus slang guide I used.
The book notes I read that sparked the idea.

Temporary (Permanent)

(photo credit to Robert Couse-Baker via flickr)

I’d just been down the street helping Justin. He was (shirtless) that kid in the neighborhood who was nice to everyone, so I offered to help him fix his bike.

He asked me to (stop staring at him) grab the little oil can from the garage. It was unusual to find him alone, so I asked him what he’d done with his fan club. He joked that they were all marooned on an island together—that’s why he needed to oil his bike chains: he was preparing to save them from doom.

As I pedaled the upside down Schwinn with my hands, Justin leaned over me clicking the bottom of the oil can. I felt his knee lightly on my back. His (armpit hair, bicep) proximity made me uncomfortable. Side-stepping, I made some excuse about getting home, to which he replied cluelessly “Snag you later then.” I walked up the incline of my driveway shivering,  confused.

Inside the house, my brother was in our bedroom. Mom was working at the kitchen table and Dad was snoring on the couch. So my parents’ room was the only option for me to calm down and avoid having to tell someone (my secret) what was wrong. I wasn’t sure I could. I laid on my Dad’s side of the bed and closed my eyes. Whenever a breeze from the open window hit me, I took a deep breath until the shivering stopped.

A few weeks later, I was in our cramped garage watching my mom sand a dilapidated hoosier cupboard. Flecks of sawdust shone brightly in her dark curly hair. She stopped sanding for a moment to stand back and look at her work, so I took the opportunity to ask if she’d give me a perm. She questioned why and I said I wanted to (fix myself) try something different for my first year of junior high. She agreed to do it—more questions churning behind the words—and then looked back at the hoosier.

I watched her work a little longer, trying to figure out why she’d bought the old stained thing. I knew in a few months it would hold a prime location in her antique booth. Customers would comment on how stately and charming it was, but I just couldn’t see how.

My favorite tv show at the time was Head of the Class, about a bunch of high school misfits and their dedicated teacher. I had a crush on (Alan) Simone, the shy girl with the long red hair. Simone had a thing for the curly-headed and brainy kid Alan. Lying on my parents’ bed before, I had concocted a plan to look more like Alan and maybe find myself a Simone to take to the first dance of the school year. I saved money to buy a sweater with a dynamic pattern. I asked for wingtips and learned how to buff them. The perm was the last step.

On the Saturday before school started, I was sitting at the kitchen table with medium-sized pink curlers in my hair—Mom apologized for the color; they were her only set— when my brother walked in.

“What’s going on?”

“Nathan wanted something different this year.”

“A perm?” My brother sat down, a smirk across his face.

The chemicals’ smell hit my nose before I felt them dribble down my scalp. I started to panic. I asked my mom what would happen if I didn’t (change) like it.

“I never did understand why they called it a permanent,” she said, “when it’s only temporary.”

permanent200

Vanity

Rosalyn sits at her vanity. She is staring into the mirror with the intensity of someone who relies on her looks for a living. Her slip shimmers in the bright light. As she raises a slender brush to her cheek, she decides she will ask Harvey tonight. She will do it like she does most things—coolly, as though speaking of the weather. A lifetime of rude comments from men has taught her not to let things rile her.

Harvey enters Roz’s trailer as he does every evening before a performance. He feels lucky to have this time with his friend every night. She doesn’t even allow Lucas, her husband, in the trailer pre-show. Harvey is the only one because the flicker of his accent tickles her.

“Will you grab the red one from the back of the bathroom door, doll? I’m almost ready,” she says. She wants an answer to check for emotion in his words—guilt, lust, melancholy— but he only nods his response. She feels disappointed.

The tiny bathroom is stuffy from a recent shower. He opens a window and releases the moths of humidity. He lets the fresh air cool him before he takes Rosalyn’s charmeuse gown over to an ironing board. “I’ve never heard of anyone besides you leaving frocks in the bathroom during their shower. Don’t you know humidity isn’t good for silk?” Harvey looks up in time to see Roz’s lips purse, her standard response to criticism.

“I do it as a courtesy,” Rosalyn’s eyes hold steady on her work in the mirror. “The steam relaxes the wrinkles. . .that means less work for you.”

Harvey takes a folded bed sheet from a trunk. He lays it on the ironing board and slips the bodice of the gown between layers. The iron protests with a sudden churrrr when he begins to press. He watches Rosalyn—the mirror allows him to see both sides of her—then his eyes wander around the crowded room. Large feathers and boas hang from shelves and hooks like bunting, camera flashes of jewelry ask for attention from every flat surface, and three garment racks stuffed with dresses stand in one corner like an audience queueing up. He looks for anything of Lucas’s and then regrets spotting the lonely fedora placed neatly on a dresser. She continues the delicate process of gluing individual hairs to her cheek.

Rosalyn’s status as the most famous bearded lady is not based on a sham: Rosalyn has a glorious beard. But it is blonde and its length is hard to determine from the back of the theater. Every evening she adds darker strands to it, for contrast, she says, but Harvey knows the added fullness pads her paycheck.

He finishes his ironing and walks the gown over to her. After a few primps in the mirror, she stills herself so he can ease it over her head. As he does so, she stands.

“I wish you’d dress before making yourself up. I’m always frightened we’ll ruin your face.” He bends down to pull the gown away from the corner of the bench.

“I’d rather run the risk of lipstick on the inside of my gown than getting glue on the outside.” She winks, a circle of kohl contracting. “Speaking of running risks, Lucas said the funniest thing the other night.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. He said he’s in love with you. He’d like to know what I want to do about it.”

Harvey looks down, smooths out a rumple near her foot.

So it’s true, she thinks. And mutual.