The story is told that the sky suddenly struck a blow to the ground so full of anger - so without a remorse for anything in the way - that the very earth where its fingers struck the earth cracked open in a single instant. Rocks that had taken millennia to create crumbled away in an instant. Rivers who had nurtured this region for years - became subterranean. The leaves of fall dotted the now mossed covered boulders, exposed now since the time before. A small stream fed from unseen glaciers higher and deeper in the wet landscape gurgled and sang down the hillside before disappearing in a froth of painful white fog, falling and falling and falling , falling - - never to be seen again.
When I was a child I loved sitting in the picture window and watching the rain storms dance across the pond behind the house. Even if it was barely raining you could see the silent dance of raindrops across the surface of the pond. One half of the pond pristine and absolutely still, the other potholed with dancing raindrops falling from their storm and joining the lake in a swarth dance. Then just as perhaps you assumed that the still side of the lake wasn’t equally alive - you’d see a orange leaf fall and skip across it’s surface, trying to hold out for life for every last glorious second before swaying down into it’s resting place in the pond below.
My grandfather would spy me looking out over the pond and I’d hear the record scratch of him starting up his Victorola. He’d play this immortally simple recording of Marcello’s Oboe Concerto, the Adagio. This would soon be followed by the house smelling of his freshly lighted pipe, and the strong smell of British flake burning away in giant white puffs.
I can’t for the life of me remember if my sisters and brothers were similarly stationed somewhere else in the farmhouse facing the pond. Or whether the Adagio stops them in a flood of grateful emotion whenever NPR plays it now that we’re adults.
What I do remember, is how moments like these were the simplest of prayers. Magical moments where life was reduced involuntarily into it's base elements. Even breathing felt like the woodwinds joining the oboe in its mournful song - disappearing into the wind and dancing with the water it's notes dissolving into the pond below.
I’ve been dreaming about it for a week now. I’m only allowed sugar on Fridays. No doctor or dietician told me this, but my body did. My body decided sugar needed to a become a treat again versus two or three times a day. For the first few weeks after my body and I made the decision, I dreamed in sugar laced drowning dreams of donut shops and ice cream parlors. Even in my sex dreams - people tasted like maple syrup and brandied apples. I dreamt of multiple bowls of Captain Crunch.
But now it’s been a few months. And my mind and body have figured it out. It had also caught me when I using honey instead of sugar rationalizing that it wasn’t the same thing. Funny how these self regulated prisons work, huh? I treat rice Krispy treats like gifts the magi might have brought the savior two thousand years ago. We three kings of orient are, bring cinnamon rolls, sweet tea and chocolate ice cream profiteroles with whipped cream and a cherry.
All was good till I walked by the bakery on a blustery rainy day. I grasped my umbrella and was forging ahead when out of my periphery… it. appeared. Glistening behind the raindrop speckled glass was a perfectly lit, perfectly coiffed brown sugar clad treasure. It reminded me of that scene in Raiders in the Lost Ark when Jones finds the golden head in the cave - and measures the right amount of sand to not bring the entire place down on his head. Only in my fantasy it’s a bag full of glistening perfectly processed white sugar.
Who top lights a fucking cinnamon danish? “A baker who knows what a weak motherfucker you are being right now,” my conscious quickly answered in defiance.
I reached out and touched the glass like I was viewing the Crown Jewels in the finest museum. Today, sadly, is a Saturday....
Mother will never understand why you had to leave
But the answers you seek will never be found at home
The love that you need will never be found at home
The fall of 1982 didn't seem all that different from any other. The weather had turned from shirtless abandon to hoodies and wool socks. The crimson leaves crunching under feet after being covered in frost the night before. It didn't seem all that different from any other except this was my last time crossing the lawn and disappearing into the woods to catch a bus.
A few weeks earlier, an old friend of my mother's had visited. He was in town and wanted to see her. He traveled with another man as his companion. The man had this ethereal gentleness to him, and wore giant hoop earrings in each ear. Mom laughed about her younger days and the trouble they'd caused here or there. They gave each other a strong hug.
"Do you understand what is different about them," she asked me shortly after they left.
"You know what I'm talking about. They are homosexuals."
"Never turn out like them, hear me? There is no happiness in that life. It will make you an other - an outsider, a "them" for the rest of your life. Can you understand how they are choosing to be less?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said, lying to her.
Within six months of setting out across the lawn from my small town life, I was just about to turn 18 when I became one of them.
"Where are you hitchhiking to, boy?" he'd asked.
"Vancouver I think."
The driver looked down at my small high school pin clad backpack, then back up at me, then back at the road. It's like he knew a jar stuffed with cash, a crusty Louis L'amour novel, a few pictures I'd stolen from picture albums. He knew that was all I had.
I slept on an old mattress in his basement for a few weeks before I got my first job. Before I found other clothes than hoodies and blue jeans. He lent me books and introduced me very carefully to his friends. On my next birthday - and he and his boyfriend announced they thought I was ready to out to go dancing with them.
"Now - Bearzone can be really intense. but you know we've got your back right? if it's too much we can leave whenever you want."
"Dressed like that, he's going to get consumed out there," teased his lover.
Smacking him upside the back of his head, my friend said, "We don't want the boyo broken on his first dance night."
That was their nickname for me, "The Boyo" or "b" for short.
The entire evening is one of those memories that's a blur but you can remember every specific moment simultaneously. I remember someone strapping the dollar store party hat on. I can remember walking past someone glistening in sweat, and realizing I walked that particular route a few more times just to remember how he smelled. I remembered a man suddenly leaning in and kissing me like he was going to go on to incredibly intimate things to me, then just as suddenly getting pulled away in the pulse of the dancing crowd. I remember my first sniff of poppers. I remember my face hurting from smiling for several days afterwards.
It's an interesting moment when you find your tribe. When you realize you'd rather be one of "them" than anywhere else in the entire world.
To Ned and Mike, I'm still the boyo, even though I'm now in my fifties and have had my own string of broken hearted relationships.
I still spend all the real important holidays with them. I send Ned Father's day cards, I send Chuck the frothiest, sparkliest Mother's Day cards I can find. They keep a box of stationary in a drawer somewhere.
Ned writes back on father's day, "Couldn't be prouder of you, boyo. Love, Dadbear."
Chuck writes, "Bitch! Love, Mom"
Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry
Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry
Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry
Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry
The rules of being a princess were easy and simple:
Honestly, pretty hard to fuck that up.
It made for a simple yet glamorous life. Having inherited her mother's cheeks and her father's long delicious torso, she had found it all pretty effortless up to this point.
Endless bubble baths and travels to exotic places. When she'd reached maturity - as much ice wine and other frivolities as were desired, as long as true incapacitation was never in view of the adoring public.
Throw a charity ball every year, dance with cute boys from all over, giggling demurely in a large collection of princesses and ladies of great fortune from throughout the world. It was a glorious life to consider.
Monarchs had a tremendous penchant for longevity. Elderon lived to 122! Ringbeth lived to 104, Horatio to 98. She had decades of decadence before a few weighted decades as monarch and then the transition to dust like all the others. Their heirs had enjoyed long luxurious lives filled with the occasional formality or duty - but mostly quiet, uninterrupted luxury.
So it came as a surprise to her, and frankly everyone else, when her father, Erron, unceremoniously choked to death on falafel the day before at second breakfast. At the age of 42.
This was all dreadfully inconvenient.
She stood in the chapel staring down at his face.
"This isn't fair, Father. I had at least fifty, sixty years of not worrying, of just remaining pretty, to go........
.... All because you couldn't chew you goddamn food properly. Now I have to trade in my tiara for the Crown, and become the Fairy Queen."
She paused for a moment, running her hand up the golden buttons on his jacket.
"I suppose it's the least I could do for you...... as you go down in history as the Falafel King."
The bishop presiding over the viewing guffawed, gazing at her with a disapproving look. She looked at him, replying with a simple, devilish wink.
She stared outside through the kitchen window like there was some miracle waiting for me there.
"Could you just get outside and play, like a normal child for once," she said, cigarette dangling from her lips.
We both knew I had to make scarce so her boyfriend could come by. Oscar didn't like children. That made the fact that I was ten a grievous inconvenience.
This was no time to waste on a Normal Rockwell moment. No carefully crafted snowmen or craft paper snowflakes.
Oscar provided things for her that motherhood could not. It was an easy choice.
"Well... get a move on."
I laced up my boots. I'd proudly treated 'em with boot grease and installed pristine bright red laces. I always loved the first steps out in fresh winter snow. The untouched crunchiness.
I had the adventure all mapped out. Down through the woods to Mastens 5 and 10 for giant globs of bubblicious bubble gum. two for ten cents. Along the waterfront to the dutch bakery for a hot chocolate and a maple bar, paid for with money stolen from the swear jar. I'd enjoy that fucking maple bar! A cheshire grin spread across my face the entire time.
Course plotted, I disappeared into the woods.
The rest of me could be freezing, teeth chattering, even. But my feet were confidently waterproofed and warm.
In the natural progression of conversation, Raymond wondered why I never spoke about a girlfriend. It had never occured to me that it would make me out of place not to seem constantly on the hunt - or boasting about my 'accomplishments.'
I admitted to him that the whole subject of sexuality just confused me so much I'd never acted on any of it. He said he'd known what sex was and was not since he was in his early teens. He laughed, that way that he would, not in a demeaning way, but of demonstrating a joy of learning something important about you.
He said as much sex as he'd already had in his life, that I must be spending all my spare time beating off furiously in private, cuz all that sexual energy has to go somewhere, right? I laughed, agreeing with him.
A few months later, we were on a camping trip in the islands. Having chosen to go tent camping in winter, we soon discovered that we had the entire corner of the campsite to ourselves. We made supper, laughed over some beers, passed a joint back and forth at the campfire - and finally turned in for the night.
I woke up in the dark of night realizing he'd rolled over and spooned in behind me. I layed there wide awake for an hour with his arm draped around my middle. What did this mean? Was this right or wrong, or neither. After much worrying and mental gymnastics, it finally occurred to me how good it felt and I relaxed back in against him and fell back asleep.
I woke up again around sunrise - realizing he was now spooned, albeit in his own sleeping bag, against me with a hard on. I went to pull away and he said quietly and reassuringly, "don't worry - we won't do anything with that you don't want to, but don't run away, from this, from us., " he said pulling me into his chest.
Leaning in, rubbing his Marlboro man moustache on my ear, and kissing me gently.
"This is just between you and me and nobody else, you're safe to be who you truly are with me. and i'm very glad you're here."
He pulled me in even tighter and we disappeared off into what would become many, many nights together in the perfect sleep.
It was at Brightenbush that autumn that I first saw them. I noticed two men attending the faery gathering that were spectacularly unadorned but for various matching tattoos. They walked the grounds in black loincloth style coverings and nothing else. One followed the other almost in lockstep. While you couldn't see everything, you could imagine that every part of them had been marked with ink.
They were known by the other faeries as simply "them", they had started coming to gatherings, sharing meals, and dancing until late in the night. They only came to the autumn gathering - and always arrived and left silently. Truth was, even asking around, very little was known about them.
"So - have you ever talked to either of them. met one of them?" I asked.
"There is something of an odd magic going on between them. It's not like nobody's been friendly to them. but they stay mostly to themselves. Even when dancing it's like they hear music nobody else does, and they remain enraptured with each other. We've never seen them in the play forest or any of the other sex parties, so as far as we know they are into themselves.
I'm here to hit the sex parties and be free, not create weird relationships with antisocial faeries. . my main problem with them is they don't shower much. They are too earthy for most men's tastes. I mean faery is all about loving nature and being out here to commune, but these boys seem to take it a whole different kind of seriously. Greg calls them the freaks in the forest."
"They don't stay in lodgings or even in tents. they sleep out in the open on a old cloth tarp. out back behind the garden. I don't think anyone has ever said you can't do it - so they just show up and do it."
The conversation made me all the more convinced, these were the people I was meant to know by coming to the faery circle and spending the weekend in the woods. Not guys I could meet over coffee in the gayborhood. I was drawn to someone, or someones, that took this all a 'whole different kind of seriously.'
I kept practicing how I'd say hello at a meal then lose my nerve. I kept watching them on the dance floor, rather obviously, but never interrupting their rapture. One held the other to his chest as they gyrated, the other seeming to be lost in the smell and sweat of his companion on the dance floor.
That's when I thought of my way to introduce myself.
I broke out my sketch pad, the following evening, and drew them in their dancefloor embrace. I worked to find a moving version of each tattoo, wondering what the story was behind each stroke of the pen. I rolled the drawing up, tying it with a ribbon, and left it on their tarp out behind the garden in the moonlight.
I am not sure what I expected to happen. The act left me rather sleepless overnight, and I found myself wandering the grounds in my nightshirt before coffee was ready at the dining hall.
That's when I noticed a rolled piece of parchment on my car's windshield. It was tied with the same red ribbon I'd sent with the drawing. I looked around, nobody was around, the grounds were silent. How did they know my car, or who I even was? I hadn't signed the drawing. I gently opened the parchment, and written in beautiful perfect letters,
"We have been waiting for someone to really see us. Join us at our tarp at sunset, and we will reveal who we are to you. If you love and get hurt, love more, if you love more and hurt more, love even more, if you love even more and get hurt even more, love until it hurts no more.
Do not be afraid of the shadows, it means there is a light nearby."
It was like any other Monday morning. The alarm went off a 5am sharp, and by the time he'd showered, gotten dressed and pulled out of the driveway on the way to work it was 5:25am.
"Excellent," he said to himself out loud, tapping the clock in the car dash.
"Excellent." he repeated with a smart smile.
He pulled into the Coffee Wizard parking lot and was soon the owner of a steaming flat white with two sugars and a teensy bit of caramel syrup. He liked to think that by typing "a teensy bit" in the coffee app that he was making a barista smile from his wit.
Back in the car, he drove the rest of the way to ferry dock, and waited a short amount of time before the boat arrived and everyone loaded up in an orderly fashion. He could enjoy the calm before the storm that would be the office that day. He pulled forward till the ferry operator gave him the pause signal, pulling the car to a stop and yanked the emergency break. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes as NPR began it's top of the hour news summary.
"Good morning, and welcome to morning edition, I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington DC."
"I'm Rachael Martin in Los Angeles."
"I'm Blotto the clown," said an unexpected voice.
He opened his eyes and found he was sitting in a banquet upstairs on the ferry across from a spectacularly dressed circus clown. Plaid sleeves and a bright red nose. The sight was both calming, amusing, but unsettling.
"I understand," said Blotto matter of factly.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"I really try to pick something out of my guest's subconscious that will put them at ease."
"At ease, for what."
"Well, Mr. Dillard, unfortunately you just passed away in your car from a brain aneurysm. Perfectly painless, but rather instantaneous, so I didn't have much time to pick a form and meet with you to discuss your options."
"My options? I'm not ..."
"You died, Mr Dillard, and I'm here to help you pick from your options about what happens next."
"but. i thought reapers were dressed in big black cloaks and carried scythes."
"well, we did back before 1347 to 1351 or so, bubonic plague so many people dying together so quickly that we didn't have time to pick a corporeal form. some healing cleric with special sight, saw us hovering over a guest once - and oh my gosh that vision of a dark cloaked figure, it took us centuries to figure out how to rehabilitate our reputation. I'm really - i mean - we really aren't a sinister force at all."
"okay. so you are saying i'm dead?"
"Dead as a doornail I'm afraid," Blotto the Reaper said honking a red metal horn in his hand. "Deady dead dead dead."
"That is not helping," he said.
"Oh sorry, overdoing the roleplay. well, down to business, let's go over your options."
Three brightly coloured folders appeared on the table before him.
"First, you can come back as a schnauzer puppy for a gay couple named Mark and Bill. This really is a prime billet. 16-18 years of complete spoiling and all the liver treats you can eat. Your name will be Scooter. or second," Blotto said revealing pictures from the second folder," you could be reborn in Scotland. to the Macnamaras. You'll be the eldest son of a large family. 90-110 years of scottish hills and, oh - interesting - two wives. not at the same time mind you - but the first one dies young, but you'll find love again. or the third, is choosing to corporealize permanently and move to the next. gosh. um. these are interesting choices. honestly, with climate change and well, a pesky meteroid that destroys most of eastern Russia and accelerates climate change, I doubt you'd enjoy very much of option 2, although who knows, right? I think your safest bet is becoming Scooter the Schnauzer or move to the what's next."
"what is next?"
"I don't know, actually - when I died - they offered me what's next, coming back as a tribal leader in Africa or becoming a reaper."
"you chose to become a reaper?"
"you meet some of the most interesting people doing this service. I've been at it....," Blotto said glancing at his watch, "for just about 2200 years. I've met all kinds. seen all variation on this little dance, and I like to think I've made it easier, particularly once I learned how to teach others to find a pleasing corporealness to present these options."
"a meteor in eastern russian huh?"
"yep. big giant hole in the earth for a while that. the exact details are still murky as its a few decades off still and not quite clear."
"I think I'm interested in trying again, I mean I'm only 44. Maybe I'll try what's next, next round?"
"that's the spirit," Blotto said again honking his horn.
He laughed and pointed at the folder for......
I've been the neighborhood witch in Shadow Glenn since 1892 - and I'll tell ya, there are two things you should never do when casting spells. Never forget to wear your reading glasses - - and never, ever rush a spell. You think to yourself, "it's no big deal, right, you've been doing this for centuries," so you over confidently cast the spell you've used a thousand times.
There is a e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s difference between EYE of Newt and THIGH of Newt. One is for beauty - the other is for cross species transformation. One can help clear up acne or say, help a struggling student see new insights, and the other may have turned the McNeil boys into miniature bovines.
Miniature bovines which are now shitting in my kitchen.