Welcome to the second issue of Bachelors, an occasional and free digital magazine for gay fiction in all its myriad styles.
It's Pride Month. A time when a fair portion of the United States opens the closet and shows off their colorful fabric by the yard. A time to remember the difference between guipé gents and lamé fellows. And to really embrace the Daddies on Father's Day.
I have honestly never needed an excuse to read a gay-themed book, but this month I'll do my best to avoid anything heterosexual without offended my mother. Perhaps she will take kindly to being greeted by "Mumsy." She was actually the first family member I came out to *coughs* years ago.
It is my hope that you, dear reader, will find this issue of Bachelors to your liking. If you do, please share it with your friends, lovers, tolerated ex's, and, perhaps, even your own mother.
And if you haven't gotten vaccinated, there's no better time than now. Kissing another guy is so much better without a mask...unless that happens to be your kink (and even then, go get yourself a prick).
Steve Berman, Editor
Why Didn't Someone Warn You About Prince Charming?
Blending heroic male icons, literary archetypes, gay relationships, and an observant, sharp humor, Jameson Currier’s newest collects twelve new tales of bad romances, backstage affairs, bittersweet recipes, and broken hearts.
"This collection is very much a tribute piece to the older gay man, the guy who has not achieved all of his dreams, but his power is in the fact that he hasn’t given up—he’s not down for the count, not yet. Where there’s life, where there’s love—there’s still hope. There’s still a life affirming story to tell.” —Lambda Literary
"A smart, heartfelt set of tales of gay men’s lives." - Kirkus
"This is a collection of fully realized and humorous prose that will satisfy many a reader..." - A&U Magazine
How did you learn about or find this book?
I couldn’t tell you the specific circumstances that led me to The Zombie Pit, but I know it was in my early twenties while working for the Lambda Literary Foundation. That was a wonderful and messy time of my life. I was a manic, over-caffeinated, twenty-two year old, starstruck with every writer I met. Sam D’Allesandro was one of those names casually tossed at me by someone with the expectation that I knew everything about him. Of course, I did not. I hardly knew anything and was constantly playing catch-up.
I originally bought The Zombie Pit because it was short, because my book list kept growing at an unsustainable rate. I’m a slow methodical reader and I figured I could finish this one in a single night. I didn’t. Instead, I savored it, reread it over and over as if trying to ingest the words. I have faint memories of sitting out on my apartment balcony, smoking cigarettes, chugging coffee, rereading the stories while bitterly thinking, “why can’t I write like this?” And then, for months afterwards, I took it everywhere, crammed in my knapsack like a trusted bible, and would pull it out wherever I sat down to write or when I wanted to be seen reading something obscure.
What story in the book is the most influential to your life or writing?
“Giovanni’s Apartment” was one of those love-affair fantasies a lot of have at one point or another. The narrator is walking late at night and feels the presence of a man behind him. What should have been a one-night stand turns into a two-month stay in the man’s apartment. It is a visceral romance, full of sex and rituals and uncertainty. Both of them are changed by it, not for better or for worse, but simply changed.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was living a subdued version of this fantasy. I had moved in with an older boyfriend, who would eventually become my husband, sharing this apartment with him while I was trying to figure out what my adult life should look like. I was very happy there, though I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that whole relationship was temporary and that one day it would end and I would have to move on. I don’t know why I felt this way.
In my own writing, I was constantly trying to capture these feelings, ones that D’Allesandro described with such ease. From the first few pages of “Giovanni’s Apartment”, the narrator says:
“When he asks me my name, I stupidly shoot back ‘Why do you want to know?’ Instantly I wish I could grab those words back out of the air. Instead they hover there, naked and embarrassing, like a bad child I can’t disassociate myself from.”
How many times had I felt this way? And why did I always lack the words to describe so accurately?
If you could ask the author today to add a coda, what would you want added to the book?
When I recently pulled The Zombie Pit off my shelf, I was surprised to find a folded piece of paper inside with a few printed lines on it. I don’t remember typing these or why I thought they were saving.
“Swallow me whole.” “Last week, we went dancing to the 80’s at the Rock ‘N Roll Hotel.” “I predict it will be a brief and disturbing affair. Brief in the way adrenaline skyrockets before the crash. “We meet at Union Station. 8am.” “Right now, I’ve got Sammy. We’ve been acquaintances for two+ years and he knows I’m willing as long as he gives a little chase.”
Whatever story I had circulating in my head at the time was never written and remains lost. That’s ok. They’re not great lines. And I don’t know any Sammy’s, so I have to wonder if this was some temporary desire to write some metafiction in which I have an affair with a deceased writer. Unfortunately, too much time passed and I’ll never know what I was thinking. But if I had the opportunity, I would pass them along to D’Allesandro himself. I’d tell him, “Here you go. Go make sense of these and turn them into something beautiful. You are the only one I think can do it.”
You are everywhere, waiting at corners, eager for eye contact; or driving discreet cars, to slow down only by shadowed bends and uninnocent lanes; or chatting online and hiding behind indiscreet handles—BiBoy4U, GwapoKo, hotmale. You and I live for the intricacies of games. Our nights in this city afford this. But this is perfectly fine with me: my living thrives on your secrets and indiscretions.
My college ass is for sale. If you pay well, I’ll be your own private, first-class Shakespeare-spouting Jeff Stryker for the night. That’s something you don’t get normally from hook-ups on ordinary streets and corners. A call boy with high IQ. Literate. In my job, that’s called an “angle.” A specialty, like menu for the day.
Call it a bonus, an added feature—something to titillate the common trick, the way some straight boys like to sexify middle-aged librarians with glasses—but as far back as I can remember, the ultimate fantasy has always been to hustle. “If I had a nicer body, I’d be in porn,” I told Rita once, some time before, half in jest. She raised an eyebrow. “Or dancing ‘round a beanpole,” I continued. “Scott O’Hara, the porn star, was also a bestselling fictionist and playwright, you know. He was such an unexpectedly good writer.” And once again: “If I had a nicer body, I’d be in porn.” Rita nodded without ever trying to understand. That is what I like most about her.
But instead, I went to college for a philosophy degree.
Only later did I discover GymUltra tucked in the bowels of Uymatiao Building; for 650 pesos a month working out sweat and muscles, I considered it a bargain. Of course, their cardio machine doesn’t work, and the instructor is inept and narcissistic, always given to showing off by pumping iron or preening in front of the mirror-covered walls. But I decided then that this gym would do well for me: this was where I planned to endure months to look like Lukas Ridgeston. Or any one of those video faces that burned regularly the head of my VCR. This was it. Chances bloomed to deconstruct perverse wishes, Derrida meeting Nin. Or, if I have to be Jungian and mythological: the ugly duckling turned swan. Six hundred fifty pesos a month—steep sometimes, given my lot—is an investment worthy of any of the hustles to follow. A primed body is worth material comfort.
Even at nineteen, you must see by now, I already wear the world on my shoulders.
This is the deal: two hours in a single night for not less than a thousand, or maybe more, depending really on the take, and on my time. I’m a busy person, and I delude myself in thinking I have a reputation to maintain. I do this for capitalist fun really—to test Althusser and Marx, I tell myself: commodification as practical exercise, setting a price for an object of desire—John Berger’s thesis on “gaze” fleshed out. Thinking in the abstract makes me feel good. Reduces the guilt to a mental exercise. But basically, there is only the memory of needing money most, especially when final exams come and there are tuition fees to bear, like rough hands clawing at my flesh, enough to eat me alive.
My mother has no clue, of course. She sells Avon when she is not playing mahjong, and cannot be bothered. She thinks I have a scholarship. I nod and tell her lies; I lost my scholarship when I got a 1.5 for Algebra, for not sucking Prof. Manalastas’s dick. I had principles then.
Most days, I tell myself, I don’t mind. What’s a dick for a cellphone card?
You can take me in a nice car, one of those shiny new models that burn rubber. You can take me to a nice motel, maybe one outside town, like maybe that one near Cangmating Beach. The Honeybee Motel. Honeybee, Honeybee . . .. The name sings like a jingle.
Or maybe you can take me down to a cheap pension house somewhere—they dot the town and stay open 24 hours a day—for P400 a night, where the clerk never asks questions, only perhaps to give an impersonal nod, to nonchalantly give you the key to a small white-wallpapered room with no carpet (but with TV and cable), where the bed is large enough and soft enough and muffled enough to cushion my creaks and your moans.
The clerk has seen so many of your kind in this place to mind the fact, really, that you’re an older man with a young boy like me in tow. At nineteen, I look sixteen—and perhaps that’s what makes you mad, lecherous, for me. I look familiar to the clerk, too—but I do not have enough of the telltale, streetside swagger for him to better pigeonhole me. But he still nods at me, and I give him a blank look.
Such are the exchanges of the trade.
In your room, you ask me if you have seen me before. It is a nervous question—something most tricks like you ask, as if this face can also be traded for another. (That’s how we call you, “tricks.” Like in magic. Like in a disappearing act.) Perhaps you ask me if you have seen me before, a need for reassurance, for familiarity in unlikely situations. Psych 101 tells me that. So I just smile, and give you a half-nod, a half-shake: non-committal, like the exchange we are about to make: anonymous flesh for discreet solicitations. The whole world is a puta.
“Why don’t you lie back, sir, get naked—relaxed,” I tell you. My voice is soft but commanding.
You are not used to being told what to do—not from a pick-up you pay, noooo. But who says I am a regular pick-up? It was my peculiarity of station that struck you, if I have to remind you once again. A while ago, I was just on my side of road going to Bantayan, ostensibly to flag down a pedicab home before the late night became even later. I wore a dark-blue long-sleeved shirt over carefully pressed denims, punctuated by Adidas sneakers. I had glasses—fashionable enough not to seem nerdy. I had a backpack. I looked like your normal college boy. I am, in fact, a college boy. And your car was gray, and purred slowly towards me with such intentions, the headlights blinking. When you got to me, you rolled the windows down on the passenger’s side, and you asked me if I needed a ride home. I just told you, simply, that for such a ride, you had to have a thousand pesos, no more, no less—but perhaps, if you were satisfied . . . more?
You looked me down, and up—and something in my years and in my air satisfied you—the way those unfortunate parke boys in Quezon Park, dirty, uncouth, and shameless and obvious of their trade, might not have.
You smiled back at me and said to hop in.
“Do you do this often?” you asked the silliest questions—also tactless.
I smiled and smiled, and said, “No, sir.” And then I told you my regular line that all others before you had fallen for: “I’m in college, and I need the money for tuition.” Which is true. People like you fall hard for that needy line: in your mind, this is practically charity.
“Oh,” and then you had that look of fascination I’d seen in others slowly descending on your smile. “Wow. What school are you from?”
I told you.
“Fascinating! I went to that university, too,” you said.
And you looked at me again, and grinned—finding me an aberration, perhaps, but oh how that made you hornier for me. In Japan, I read somewhere once, some high school girls “date” older men for a little more cash money, dressed in their trademark uniform of white blouse, very short plaid skirt, and thick, white, knee-length socks. The Japanese call them enjo kasai—translated, it means “someday mothers.” Some older women prostitutes make this a regular fetish performance for demanding clients—with uniforms, pigtails, and all. The whole world is a pedophile.
Now, in this motel bed, I am master for the money you pay me, and I say again, “Why don’t you lie back, sir, get naked—get relaxed.”
I straddle you and then I lower my chest towards you, my right nipple just so near, your tongue aches to lick. “Tempting, isn’t it, sir?” I say.
“Well, sir, Oscar Wilde once said that the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it,” I say, huskily—meaning it, and saying it as academically as I can.
Oscar Wilde finally does you in, and you go for me like the temptation that I am, and I yield—beyond Marx, beyond Althusser, beyond guilt. Sometimes when I do this and I catch a glimpse of myself with an anonymous man in some stray motel room mirror, I do not recognize the body that heaves and works for pleasure: a picture of detachment is all I see—not I—and knowing, somehow, that abstract ideas are only abstract ideas. We live out our compensations.
Always, in these stray mirrors, I mistake myself for a little boy, and you the specter of a loss. Mother calls you “Son of a bitch!”, a “monster,” and has hidden your pictures from my reach. I do not know or remember your face anymore, only your smell on my skin. I suspect mother has burned all those photos, all memories of you, the way she burns her face every day and every night into an earnest concentration on mahjong tiles. This way she gives herself a good excuse—perhaps—not to see me, not to see my face. Something in me triggers her crying, so I have learned to stay away.
Then you moan deeply as you come, each spasm digging deep into me, into a certain hollow I do not even recognize. I realize all too suddenly that this is now, and this is you, not some shadow I do not even try to remember.
~ ~ ~
I am in Why Not? Disco. Inside, the crowd is milling: jeans-clad people on a bored Friday night, dancing to a beat, or raving madly to the guitars and deafening blasts from the band on the little stage. The band doing a little April Boy Regino, doing a little Natalie Imbruglia. Old, corny pop songs to cringe from. It used to be a good crowd, the A’s and B’s of the town with the designer shirts and skirts. But time and new places to go to have caught up with the tinsels and dusty vinyl records hanging from the smoky ceiling. Why Not? Disco is grimy like an abandoned whore, and looks its age.
Everybody talks American. Too much movies and Sidney Sheldon pulp—sometimes it is a slurred, swallowed up gurgle, the way these people speak, but it’s all mutant forms of Alicia Silverstone-and-Marky-Mark-talk.
Somebody asks me something.
“Whatever,” I mutter back, to test the waters. I sound ancient.
Tonight, the gathering crowd sports tsinelas and fake Penshoppe polo shirts. “Bakya crowd,” Rita growls under her breath, as if she does not belong.
She tugs at my silken shirt, and gives me a pinch. She wants to go to Happy Days where the waiters are cuter, and the Budweiser is cheap.
“Shhhh,” I pinch her back.
I look around, ignoring the croak of the lead singer with the baseball cap—he is pock-marked, pony-tailed, and full of attitude. The overhead camera pans his face, and his sweaty nose breaks into the huge TV screen behind him. He shrieks, he strums “Born to Be Wild” on his electric guitar, and the drunken crowd goes wild.
It feels embarrassing.
I scan the crowd and then I see you sitting in the bar stool a few feet away, alone, stiff collars on the neck, drinking watered-down vodka at the bar. Everything in Why Not? is watered-down.
Your hair is a bit curly, framing your Gaelic face in a nice mop. You look thin, you seem tall. Fuckable.
I like you.
You eat creamed sauerkraut, and munch slowly.
You stare, and I stare back.
I suddenly remember my brother who prostitutes himself in Finland, an “assistant” to an old businessman; he had told me once that if one wants a guy, the only way to communicate, “to negotiate,” is through the eyes.
Look at him, look at him hard, he had told me, look at him and mentally undress him. He will feel you undressing him. If he looks at you, bingo, you smile. If he smiles back, bingo, you smile back some more, and then you slowly get up from your sweaty seat, and go to the toilet, or to the empty seat near him.
Simple rules for the hustle.
So I stare hard. You stare back, too—but suddenly you are talking to mustachioed Marlboro Man with the muscles and tacky red-plaid shirt. Shit.
I look around. I tell myself I’m looking too hard.
“Will you be all right tonight?” I finally ask Rita, her hair streaked with blond dye.
She is nursing her Cali, and fiddles with her maroon lipstick. “Baby Tsina” I had called her when she emerged into the dancing floor, her new ‘do angling her small tulippy nose. She had smirked, and swished her red miniskirt in my direction.
“Yeah, sure,” Rita smiles. “I’ve got a cigarette in my hand, I’m all dressed up in my favorite red miniskirt . . .. Baby, I’m all dolled up.”
She laughs, hollow, like a hyena in menopause.
“Come on, Rita. You just got well from that fever you had. You sure you’re all right?”
“No shit, Manolo. It’s night, and you know I gotta do what I gotta do.”
I shake my head, slowly, because my neck feels strained.
That’s when Rita snaps.
“Aw, stop that. How else am I supposed to live? I just can’t lie down on that bed, sick, and do nothing.”
She downs her Cali, and then rifles quickly through her handbag.
“I worry about you. That’s all,” I say.
I turn back to look at you. You are alone again. And staring. I call you Curly Hair in my mind. Marlboro Man is nowhere in sight. I stare back, but I add a little flirtatious smile. For once, there is an equality to both our being objects of desire. That keeps me interested, sated. You smile back, your curls glinting in the shower of crystal light flooding the disco bar. My heart leaps.
Rita takes out her compact mirror, and retouches her rouged lips.
“I know . . .” she begins, “But you . . .”—she peers from behind the mirror—“you don’t look too hot, either, Manny.”
She lightly dabs her lips with one last touch of maroon, and smacks her lips, once, twice, thrice. “How’s school? Did you get your mother to pay the balance of your tuition? Because if she didn’t I could lend you some, you know.”
“Yup, she did.”
Rita looks at me, watches my face intently, and then shakes her head.
“What was that all about?” I ask her.
“Nothing,” and then she sighs.
She taps her fingers on the bar and sways her head to the music. “You know, sometimes I still don’t know why you bother even to be friends with me.”
“You make me laugh, that’s all,” I grinned.
She playfully slaps my biceps. “Oh, do I, huh?” She smiles. “But still, you know . . . you knowing what I do . . .” She looks up to me, and lays it down, “Thanks.”
“Sure, no probs.”
I met Rita once, two years before, when I was doing a paper for Sociology 34, for Prof. Andrea Martinez, on Japayukis from Dumaguete. Rita was recommended to me by a cousin’s friend’s friend. She had arrived at our interview in Scooby’s Snackbar wearing short shorts, tight white spaghetti-strapped shirt, and bangles, a lot of bangles. She looked out of place—but never noticed it. She flaunted her difference, absorbed the stares people gave her, and tossed their judgments off with a toss of hair. I liked that about her—her nonchalance, her acceptance of self, her clipped high school English.
“How come you’re not in Japan anymore?” I had asked her when the interview ended.
Rita only laughed, and said, “Never again.”
She has never told me what she meant by that.
We met regularly after that, always unplanned, always in Why Not? Disco—where she is always in her element. We do not meet anywhere else. In Why Not, I study Rita like a hawk. She walks to any white man and gets what she wants: I figure it is her exotic appeal—the post-colonial Other to a white man’s lust. She defies my feminist theories.
Now she leans towards me, serious all of a sudden. “Manny, listen to me, okay? Me, I understand why I do what I do. But what about you? What are you doing here?”
The crowd roars as a Lighthouse Family rendition comes on. “High.” The crowd sings along with the band.
I laugh. “What do you mean? It’s a nice night out in the Boulevard. Did you see the nice moon outside? Romantic night. Might find a girl.”
“Bullshit,” she says. “I’ve seen you hustle.”
I catch my breath. She touches my arm, and I flinch. Putang ina.
Rita’s voice growls as she lowers to a whisper. “Tell me, Manny, how much do you cost? What do these men do to you?”
I cannot think.
I fall silent for a while. “The orange juice is making me tipsy,” I finally say, smiling benignly. I close my eyes to stop her stare, and I panic for the music to crash into my ears. Rita’s lips were tight, agitated. She is silent, like a snake waiting for her prey; her waiting eyes are venomous.
“Sometimes, Rita,” I say, after the song dies away and the clapping and the hooting starts, “sometimes, there are things in life best left—unsaid.”
She shakes her head. “Too dramatic. Try harder.”
“Can’t you get it past your stupid head? I . . . I don’t want to talk about it.”
She takes her hand away. She still has that smile.
“It’s all right.”
I do not say anything.
“Listen,” she finally says, “I have to go. The port’s Welcome Area waits for my beauty.”
She says too many things dramatically. I can only nod.
“Will you be okay?” she asks.
I nod again. “Yeah, I guess.”
When Rita leaves, I turn to look at you again. But you are gone. For a second, I do not even know if you were real or if you were an imagination, a Freudian mirage. I catch myself in time before disappointment comes, and then I believe nothing matters really. For now, I decide happiness cannot be you. Happiness is a cigarette stick.
I check my pockets for change.
~ ~ ~
The cold sea air blasts my face as I exit the heavy doors out of the darkness and the music.
I need a little air, I needed a little smoke, Curly Hair be damned.
Dumaguete at night looks like a flirt. The street outside crawls with night traffic. The scooters roam in moaning whir, like ants sniffing for stray food: blue, red, black… But they all look pale gray and lifeless under the orange glow of sodium light. So do the cars, the jeeps, the occasional Volkswagen.
The night sky is cool and dark, but I do not see the stars. I only notice the bright lights of neon springing at me with an enticing punch. I notice the little throng of badly-dressed young men, eyes roaming, crowding the little cigarette-and-candy stalls beside the street. I walk to one with an old woman in flowered prints, my legs striding cool, noticeable.
I walk like sex.
When I get to the old woman’s stall, I take my pick of nicotine sticks.
“Excuse me, manay,” I say.
Philip Morris. Light. The old woman hands me my cigarettes, my change, and a matchbox. The first matchstick breaks in my fingers, and I hear myself saying “Shit.”
“Excuse me, manay.”
She nods, and I light another matchstick. My cigarette burns.
Nice inhale. I can feel the smoke massaging my lungs in a menthol hug. Very nice.
I walk a little to the crossing of San Juan and Cimafranca Streets. And there you are under a lamppost, a lean boy looking at me with intentions barely buried under traces of teenage pimples. You seem nervous. You look away, twice, which irritates me.
“What do you want, kid?” I ask.
You stammer in answer. “Sorry, sir. I . . . I didn’t mean to disturb you. I just wanted to ask if . . . if . . .”
“If . . . if you happen to know where . . . Ever Theater is. Do you know where it is, sir?”
“Ever Theater?” I grin, quickly sizing you up.
Ever Theater is notorious for its sexy Tagalog movies.
I look at you again. You’re only a little boy. You are thin, boy-thin, your cheekbones prominent on your angular features. You fidget, your hands carefully tucked away in the secret pockets of your khaki school pants.
“I’m sorry if I snapped at you,” I tell you.
You breathe more easily. You even try a little smile.
“Come on . . .. See that road?” I take you around gently by the shoulder and point down Cimafranca Street. “You go straight up ahead for two blocks. Then turn left. The movie house is right there. But, hey, it’s almost nine o’clock. You might be late for the last full show.”
“Uhh, thank you, po.”
You do not go away.
“Aren’t you a little too young to watch ST films? You in high school?”
“Never mind . . .. Anyway, the theater’s just down that way. “
I repeat, “It’s down that way, kid, like I told you.”
You cough again.
“Come on, what else do you want?”
“I . . . I . . . I just wanted to ask sana, po, if . . . if . . . you know...”
You look away. The traffic drones around us, and little by little, beer bottles litter the paved walk beside the Boulevard’s beach. You look at my face, into my eyes—and, like a cosmic joke, God turns and pushes the mute button on his universal remote control: I am dimly aware of my own shallow breathing, the lapping of distant waves, the fall of cigarette ash on my silk shirt, the trample of asphalt beneath my leather shoes.
You look at my face.
Oh my God, is all I can think.
“You can’t afford me, kid,” I say in a low voice.
I can talk! I try to sound angry, to scream against this bullshit slapping my face.
“You can’t afford me. Not with some high school allowance you might have. Besides, I don’t go for kids.”
Something catches at my throat. You are silent.
“Look at me, kid. I’m 19 years old. What are you? Fourteen?”
You rummage through your pockets, the stain of sweat showing through your gray shirt. A varsity shirt. Like the one I used to wear in high school. “I have seven hundred pesos here, sir,” you speak slowly. “Just for one night. Tonight’s Friday. Wala’y klase ugma.”
There are no classes tomorrow. That makes me laugh out loud.
“Jesus . . .. Are you really serious about this? You’re so young . . ..”
“I saved for it po.”
You tell me that in a firm, polite voice.
Yet later, I find myself sitting back with you in the darkness of Ever Theater, wondering what I am doing here. You sit uncomfortably in your seat, which reclines backward when you push forward with your thighs. You look at the projector lights punching the darkness. Then you furtively watch my face, as if waiting for cues, for signs. I tap your hand. I gesture to the back where the anonymous faces are, where there are the constant shifting of walking, preying feet, and the quick looks, the groping hands, the pretense of going to the toilet for the usual reasons. The toilet door is on an eternal swinging—in, out—the hinges probably already worn out like the tired red light above the door spelling the word “Men.”
“Do you want more Mr. Chips?” I ask you. “I like nacho cheese.”
“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught, sir?” you whisper.
I do not understand why I laugh.
“Caught?” I shake my head. “That’s how they, the theater, make money . . . show all these sexy films to entice these men who never really watch the movie.”
On screen, Rosanna Roces runs almost naked through a deserted street pursued by good-looking thugs, her breasts popping out from behind her crossed arms.
You say, “A friend once told me things happen in the parks, too.”
“In the park . . .,” I say. And then, after a while, “Listen, is this your first time to...you know . . .?”
Rosanna cries for help.
“Look at me.”
“Look at me.”
“Give me your hand.”
I take your hand and lead it to my crotch. I did not expect your fingers to grip my groin like that, and suddenly—without knowing where it comes from—I feel violated.
“There . . .. You feel that?” I say, an edge to my voice.
“Now, kiss me.”
Your lips are soft and small, nacho cheese and Coke clinging to your tongue. I feel like crying, but I don’t.
Music. Suddenly, there is music. Frank Sinatra warbling a tune, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin . . ..” I breathe deeply, standing as the lights go up, and then braving the long walk to the door to the night outside.
You run after me, but I do not hear or see you.
There are no theories to explain this.
I run a quick litany in my head. Foucault, Sedgwick, Altman, Butler, Halberstam, Weeks, Garcia. All the saints in academic heaven are suddenly mute to my violation.
The last thing I see on the glass of the revolving theater balcony door is my face on your face, reflections quickly blurring together—burning in my mind the way memory lurks and deepens the more one struggles to forget.
Most folk who are familiar with the work of Jerome Stueart know him from his acclaimed writing; his short story "Postlude to the Afternoon of a Faun," was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award.
But Jerome is also a talented artist. "Drawing makes me feel like I can play. These postcards give me a freedom to make something quick--about an hour to an hour and a half to make—that is finished, complete. I can share it right away, and people feel joyful immediately. I've always liked art for that reason—it is immediate. Writing can have a deeper impact, but it also has a longer process. Few stories are written in an hour and shared (though conversations are stories shared in such a manner, which makes me think that good writing often has that need to be shared). When I did a cartoon in the school newspaper, I felt like I was accomplishing something twice a week, and those added up into a collection quickly. They felt real and substantial. I have a harder time feeling that with writing. But I want to. It's just not as full of joy, nor as quick to finish, or quick to get feedback on. (and blessedly, no one critiques or workshops my postcard paintings. They are finished pieces, and I have full confidence in creating them. If someone doesn't like one, that's okay. I'll make another one the next day. But usually I don't hear the negative. That really builds up good feelings in you as a creator too."
There are some stories I've worked on more years. At my quickest I can turn a story around in weeks, but that is rare. And friends won't be able to read it for another six months.
Michael Alenyikov is the author of Ivan and Misha, which received the Northern CA Book Award for Fiction and the Gina Berriault Award. His stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines. He's a New York City native and a long-time resident of San Francisco. "Arithmetic" was performed onstage by the Word for Word acting troupe in 2019.
"Arithmetic" © 2016 by Michael Alenyikov and first appeared in Foglifter
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