Wednesday, May 2, 2012
EXCERPT: The Things We Want
Today's excerpt is once again from my anthology Slight Details & Random Events from Dreamspinner Press. It's a chapter from one of the two novellas in the book, this one referred to as the "Cat/Gael" stories by readers. It was at one time an original and much larger work, but I decided to keep most of it from publication for the time being and just exhibit it in short story form. It's the closest thing to a memoir for me, and much of the original book is still too painful to put out there. The chapters that were published, however, have amassed a nice little following. Who knows? One day maybe the whole thing will be read by someone other than me. I'll publish it posthumously.
The Things We Want
The fraternity house was on the very edge of campus near an overgrown patch of woods that hid the narrow, winding, treacherous drive that was once the main road on to college property. It had since been abandoned due to the dangerous inclination to speed among the young students, and the stubborn propensity to fall of the hulking boulders that surrounded it. The house itself was regal, yet it looked almost overcome and defeated by the surrounding trees. It was as if the vines and roots of those withered giants would imminently wrap themselves around the old fraternity and drag it into the dark netherness that secret old, places have always held.
During the school year, the house was a lively place and looked proud and unique among the other, more conventional Greek houses on campus. The trees behind and around it also served a purpose in the eyes and hearts and groins of the brethren. The old arbors and the air that surrounded them were known to emanate a very relaxing odor in the hours between midnight and dawn. Needless to say, the woods allowed ample cover for ne’er-do-wells and the rest of us to play the way we do in the dark. A guy could get away with a lot living so far from the heart of campus. Wants and needs of the most carnal kind could easily be obtained.
School was out for the summer, though, and the house appeared saddened and alone when I first saw it. The vitality given to it by the students who had lived there had been sucked away. The fraternity looked weary of the trees that reached toward it with their crooked, knotted limbs. It was clearly going to be a heavy task for Cat and me to bring life back into the old house as we cared for it for the season. Our pay was free room and all the left-overs in the kitchen. Of course, we had other jobs on the side.
The weather was muggy and oppressive. Sweat dripped from us like molasses as we worked that first day on our living arrangements. We brought all the fans we could find in the house (those left behind by the brothers) and assembled them in the house director’s room where we were staying. There was no air conditioning. The brothers’ house money was spent instead on parties and pledge events.
That night, after all had been moved in or about, Cat and I laid siege to the room in hedonistic abandon. Everything that we considered to be responsible-or could be construed as such-had been done earlier. I had worked at the fitness center till noon, done my workout, and then gone on my cherished dusk-light jog with Cat. He, for his part, had gone into town, rented some movies, and purchased anything we might need, which included a bottle of gin.
We began drinking early. It was still very hot in the room, so we set the fans to circulate in our direction. We had the volume on the TV turned up almost as far as it would go to cover the roar of the fans, but we still perspired. Colleges in river valleys are extremely humid.
Cat sat on a recliner with one leg stretched over one of the arms of the chair. He had stripped down to his tight briefs. (A cute boy in his underwear. If there’s anything better, I don’t know of it.) He held a tall paper cup of 7-Up and gin, as did I.
“This is sweet,” Cat said in a lazy tone. “Ain’t this sweet? Just us. None of those wise-acres to jump around and holler.”
“Yep,” I agreed. “It’s the simple stuff. I mean, who needs it.”
“Needs what?” he took a large gulp from his drink.
“All that...crap,” I said gesturing to the TV as it flashed random images of things neither of us might ever be able to afford. “Nobody needs all that.” I could feel the slightest effect of alcohol on my senses already.
“Who can afford it?” he retorted. “I need gin, a good baseball game, and I need a fan when it’s hot...”
”Lots of ‘em,” I interrupted.
“But you’re right. Who needs the rest.” He said it lightly-almost too lightly to be heard over the army of fans.
“The rest of the guys in the house seem to like their little gadgets,” I said. I had seen their mp3 players and ipods scattered about, left behind as if they had cost nothing at all.
“Yeah. But they probably didn’t have to buy those. Most of the guys are better off than I am.”
“I wouldn’t say they’re better off,” I said, sensing the slightest hint of envy in his voice.
Cat looked at me and smiled. “No. You’re right again. But they have more money and that makes things easier, I suppose.” He strummed a hand down his sweaty abdomen wiping away some bug or sweat bead. “My daddy never had nothin’ and he turned out fine. Worked his ass off to get me here.”
I wanted to say “me too,” but the truth was quite different. My father had died before college had ever entered my mind. And besides, his religious inclinations would have been against socializing with the world outside my childhood, the world which I had escaped. Maybe I would share that tale with him some day...but not this day.
We left the lights off as it grew darker, leaving just the TV to illuminate our surroundings. The night came on like a thick woolen blanket. The heat never let up. But we had our fans, and I enjoyed hanging out in my underwear with Cat. It was as close to being intimate with him as I had ever been. We drank gin, watched movies, and sang along to music from the assorted CDs the house director had left behind for the summer. When Cat slipped in Ricky Martin, we both got up and did our best at dancing, though neither of us had anything resembling rhythm. It was simply a chance to let loose in the summer night. I was in my blue boxers. Cat in his tighty-whiteys, and both of us were shaking our butts. Cat definitely had considerably more booty to shake-he was a ball player, after all. It was a moment of heightened excitement for me when my hand “accidentally” brushed his ass.
We then collapsed into our chairs and welcomed the wind-makers on high. Dancing was fun, but it was definitely hard work in this heat.
After a while, things started to get a little hazy for both of us. Gin, the Green Fairy, took complete control of our faculties. I could see Cat almost drifting off. He looked sweet, almost innocent.
“Man, I’m gonna crash,” he slurred.
Like a child being told to go to bed, Cat rose from his chair a little hesitantly. The alcohol had impaired him tremendously. Realizing, I suppose, that his bed, which was a high bunk, was not a remote possibility that night, he slowly felt his way to the carpet at my feet. The fans surrounded him like watchmen or tiny windmills. There, he curled up in the fetal position. The itchiness of the carpet didn’t seem to bother him at all.
I did not wait for an invitation. He looked too precious. I rose from my own seat as smoothly as I could, turned off the TV, and descended to the carpet as well. I didn’t hesitate as I pushed my body against Cat’s clammy back, spooning him as if we were two boys on a camping trip in the back yard huddling together to keep warm. The sweat between us mingled. I felt my own heated breath on his soft, tanned, strong shoulders. It would have been a perfect moment if not for the damned gin muddling things up. It was as romantic as I could have imagined. My arms wrapped around him slowly, my fingers strumming his abs. It was a moment as precise and sharp as the fan blades.
“What do you want from this?” he asked, startling me as he broke the silence. I thought he had already fallen asleep. “From this life, I mean. What do you want to get from it?”
I was a little relieved that he had restated the question. At first I had assumed he meant to know what I wanted from him at the moment, with my arms around him and the hardness he now surely felt pressing against his backside. I was readying to loosen my grip and shrivel away like a salted slug before he asked the question again more clearly.
“I don’t know. I want a lot of things I guess. Too many things. Mostly things that don’t matter.” I stopped. Material things, contraptions and gadgets, popped into my head like those I had seen earlier on TV. But was that the answer? The real answer? “When it comes down to it, I guess I want to be content like everyone. Why? What do you want?”
“Two things. I only want two things from life,” he said. “I want to travel, and I don’t want to die alone.”
I could tell he was drifting off to sleep from the tone in his whispering voice. But his quiet proclamation had awakened me a little. I raised my head so I could more clearly see the side of his face shadowed by the night. He was peaceful and beautiful. What he said had made me see him differently, though. I had been given an inside look at the miracle. He had shared with me an insight into his fears. I was moved almost to the point of tears.
“You’re not going to die alone, Cat,” I assured him. “That will never happen. You’re going to live forever, and I’ll...” but I stopped there and swallowed my thoughts. I’d tell him some other night...but not tonight.
“As far as traveling, there’s a course in Italy next spring term,” I whispered. “Maybe we should look into it.”
“Today was a good first day, huh?” he whispered. “A great first day of summer.”
I could have replied but he wouldn’t have heard. He was asleep. So instead I stole a kiss from behind his ear.
I rested my head back down on the carpet and I breathed once again, happily, on Cat’s smooth shoulder. There were so many things I wanted to say to him, and for the first time it looked as if he might understand. I wanted to explode my secrets all over him. But I kept those words for later. At the moment, for as long as I could keep my drunken eyes open, I would enjoy the feel of him in my arms. With my heart racing, I hugged him like a pillow.
Everything I had to tell him, all my wishes, had to wait until morning...or some other day. Maybe later in the summer. Yes. That would be best.