Authors: Felice Picano
Tags: #Fiction, #Gay, #Gay Men, #Domestic Fiction, #AIDS (Disease), #Cousins, #Medical, #Aids & Hiv
I'd surfed some at Gilgo Beach and told him.
"Well, that's a point in your favor," he said and was once more distracted, looking at the gardener. Who, surprisingly, in those few minutes of our chat, had managed somehow to move much closer to us, perhaps by leaping the way frogs do, as I hadn't seen him rise once. "Don't pay any attention to Dario. He's sort of brain-damaged. Not to mention fixated upon me!"
Alistair stubbed out his cigarette determinedly, grabbed a bottle of tanning lotion from the pocket of his robe, and walked down to the lower level of the terrace, a scant few feet away from the gardener. There, he dropped himself facedown onto the warm flagstones and held the bottle out, directly into a stand of gigantic cannas where the gardener had last been seen. He had to shake it and gesture a few more times before a gloved hand reached out through the stalks for the bottle.
," I heard Alistair mumble.
The gloves came off, and now two bare, tanned, strong hands emerged from the cannas and began to slather the greasy liquid over Alistair's shoulders and back.
"Anche le gambe
," Alistair said, and the hands moved slightly to smear the backs of Alistair's long legs.
," Alistair said, pulling down his trunks to expose his buttocks, pinkly white against the otherwise tan back. The hands pulled back as though burnt. I saw the sunhat bob away into the deepest part of the garden.
"You jerk!" Alistair sang out after him.
At that instant, the glass doors slid open and a pretty, petite dark-haired girl my age stepped onto the terrace and shouted, "You lose!" She was wearing Ray-Bans, a pale blue sunsuit, and white ankle socks under ivory-colored high-heeled espadrilles.
Alistair's head popped up. "Park your twat, Judy. I'm busy," he said in a bored tone of voice.
She seemed unoffended, even amused. She lifted her Ray-Bans to gaze seductively at me, made kissy-mouth, then slinked over and sat so close our legs touched.
"You must be Mr. Gorgeous Cousin," she cooed, revealing startlingly gray eyes. "I hope you're not a complete pervert like Stairs."
"That's Judas," Alistair said. "Ignore it and it goes away."
"Not today, Pooch," she said. "We've got serious slumming to do. Do pull up your bloomers. Everyone's seen that tired old moon!"
"What slumming?" Alistair asked.
"You promised to buy me something expensive today."
"Not an engagement ring, however," he said, standing up and joining us on the terrace. To me he said in a tone of complete incredulity, "She refuses to perform fellatio. She'll die an old maid!"
"I thought taunting the Dim Sicilian put you in a good mood," she mused. She suddenly screamed at me—I'd stood up with the tray— "Drop it!" I did. "Look at yourself!" I did, expecting to see my fly opened or half the
in my lap. Nothing.
"Stairs!" she cried in alarm. "Look at the apparel!"
"The shirt offends the eyes," he agreed darkly. "The trousers cry out betrayal! Don't you have shorts? And those sneakers! Complete pigs! Cannot be destroyed quickly enough!"
"Cousin-kins," she said and cuddled up to me, "you'll never attract an anilinguist dressed like an aging concierge. Stairs, we simply can't let him out in public like this!"
They each grabbed an arm and dragged me up to my room where, over my protests, Alistair stripped me down to my BVDs while they hunted though my clothing for something suitable. Only one T-shirt— "White and honest," Alistair declared—and a pair of close-fitting swim trunks were deemed "at all usable"; the rest were dropped in a corner.
"Put on the suit," Judy said. "Oh, don't be gauche, darling. I've seen more dick than you've got ingrown hair. Nice butt," she concluded. "Must be genetic. Stairs swears great and binding oaths on his buttocks."
I was dragged to Alistair's suite and into his dressing room, where they rummaged through his castaways—most of the clothing looking unworn to me—until an outfit was put together for me that wouldn't too much offend their sensibilities. Alistair then dressed, and in minutes we were outside, headed for her sky-blue Corvette, when I remembered my wallet in my room.
Coming downstairs, I saw Inez talking on the phone and wondered whether I should tell her I was going out. She seemed busy, so I headed for the front door. I opened it directly into the approaching figure of the mysterious gardener. He stopped. I stopped.
I'd seen so little of him before that I must have gaped openmouthed a long time. I was amazed that he wasn't the gargoyle I'd expected from all of Alistair's talk about him, but instead strikingly handsome, with a face as perfect as though it had been sculpted, with an unblemished tan, long, almond-shaped gray eyes, the entire astonishment framed by exquisite ringlets of jet-black curls.
" he finally said, bowing slightly.
Confounded by the unexpected sight of him, moved and stirred in some way I didn't at all understand, simultaneously frightened by my confusion, completely unable to reply, I managed to edge my way around him and stumble out to the gravel driveway, where Alistair gestured for me to hop on the back.
"Ciao, Dario," he yelled blithely as we tore off through a squall of flying gravel.
Alistair never did buy Judy anything expensive that day. As we charged onto Beverly Drive, headed toward Sunset, she spotted two convertibles filled with teenagers, parked side by side blocking traffic. Their occupants confabbed excitedly with Judy and Alistair, and it was decided that we should all go to the beach. Judy turned right and began a long chase through Westwood and Bel Air, across the San Diego Freeway—still not yet fully planted—to where Sunset Boulevard became higher and ever more twisting, through a section named Pacific Palisades, from which I could finally see the surf, then down to the ocean itself and along the shore, through towns with odd names like Malibu, until we'd lost the other cars, then found them together, parked at a decrepit open-window restaurant hangout that looked more like a gas station.
"We're this close," Alistair shouted at Judy. "Might as well!"
Without asking what he meant, Judy gunned the Vette past the restaurant, despite shouts from the others who'd seen us. Five minutes later, we were coasting around the immense curve of beach hugging the exposed yellow flank of mountain cliff, passing little but an occasional fishing-tackle-and-bait shop. The omnipresent mountain cliffs gave way suddenly, and I could see a dry valley widen diagonally to the road and sand. A few shops and several cottages were scattered throughout the dale; more cluttered the beach. Tiny road signs successively announced that rock slides, mud slides, and another twenty miles of curving road lay ahead.
"Topanga," Alistair shouted over the rush of wind.
Driving past the cottages, Judy slowed down unaccountably and stopped.
"Last stop! All out!" she shouted. "No transfers!"
I followed as they slogged through the sand toward a distant edifice, a barely standing shack nearest the tide line of all the houses on the beach, its unevenly formed roof shaded by trellises that looked as though they supported not only surprisingly large blooms of purple morning glory but the house itself. As we came closer, Alistair and Judy veered toward the ocean side, where we were greeted by an almost solid fence composed of a score of used surfboards roughly roped together, with an occasional rubber raft stuffed between. A large, sand-and wind-whittled sign had been hung across two boards, hand-painted to read "Keep Out!—Danger!—Mad Woman Within!"
As though in instant confirmation, as we reached the only open side of the place, we heard a female voice shouting—or was it singing?—over loud pop music inside.
They went right in, but I stayed out among the strew of bleached, barnacle-crusted anchors and odd flowerpots—an old motorcycle helmet, an ancient table lamp hollowed out—scarcely containing the copious white, carmine, and fuchsia geraniums. Six unmatched pieces of old den furniture completed the informal veranda's decor.
I'd halted because I'd noticed boys surfing, maybe six of them, each more accomplished than the other. I'd also recognized how good the boys had to be. Those waves were a surfer's dream—or nightmare: huge, so high you could have driven a Volkswagen through the tunnels they formed; regular as a bank clerk's hours yet so powerful that even that far from shore they exposed vast tracts of sand beneath each drawing-in of the tide.
"You ready to ride the Thundering Appaloosa?" I heard a raspy yet young voice ask.
I looked around and spotted its source: sitting astride the open sill of the bow window was a slender youth wearing the most bleached and tattered denims I'd ever seen. He was barefoot, with long, almost prehensile toes and the flat, apparently muscleless torso and all-tendons arms of a surfer since infancy. His face was small, deeply tanned, and highlighted by albino tufts of eyebrow and eyelashes and a trainer mustache, mostly hidden by an all-encompassing sweep of sun-streaked blond hair, cut as though with a bowl over the top, but allowed to grow out to weird proportions.
"Is that what it's called?" I asked.
"Nah!" he rasped, then tumbled out the window onto a persimmon leather chair, using it as a springboard to somersault onto his feet, "See ya," he rasped again, then raced away, around the surfboards and out of sight.
"Where is that little son of a bitch?" a woman shouted, flying out the door after him.
I pointed to where he'd fled. She ran past the flowerpots and anchors and stood in the sand calling after him, "Next time, I'll rip your nuts off!"
She turned toward me. What I'd thought at first to be a middle-aged hag, from her voice and her stance and her girth and her sacklike house-dress, was in fact a young woman, quite fat, not pretty, with a large mass of uncombed reddish hair. "Who're you?" she demanded.
"Came with Alistair," I said.
"Oh," she replied. "I thought you were another Skeezix."
She lumbered past me into the dilapidated house. "What are you waiting for? The butler? Come on in."
The largest room contained less real furniture than the outside: a half dozen mattresses on the floor, alongside partly burnt candles in bizarre holders and a half-furled sleeping bag. One ajar door revealed a bathroom, another a bedroom with a real double bed, probably hers; a third room was bare except for more mattresses. The kitchen was old-fashioned, large, right out of "Ozzie and Harriet," nearly filled up by a round oak table and ten chairs. Judy, Alistair, and the woman were seated at the arc closest to the window, sipping coffee from mismatched mugs. As I sat down, the woman grunted her satisfaction and poured me a mugful from a battered old percolator, all the while continuing her tirade.
"...think they can get away with murder, little bastards! Give them all the head and cunt and food and uppers and downers a boy could ask for, but ask one to do a measly little favor... little pricks!"
"Jewel is housemother here," Judy said. Then she pointed outside to, I supposed, the youths riding the waves.
"Last week I got this refrigerator from Harry Calpard... you know old Harry, horny old fucker! For nothing! Well, maybe not exactly for nothing, but almost nothing, and how long do you think it took me to round up enough of those peckerheads to help me move it? Three days! Three fucking days! While cheese went sour and OJ turned to motor oil in the heat. Wouldn't have gotten it even then if I hadn't put my foot down and said not a dick gets milked till I get that fuckin' fridge. What's your name, honey? You a homo like Stairs here? This fruit gets more action off my boys than I do, and what does he give them? A ride in an Alfa Romeo. Dumb peckerheads!"
Jewel continued her monologue, not allowing me a break to get in an answer, getting more foul-mouthed and expressing more annoyance than I thought possible in one so young. Alistair and Judy sat back and laughed and goaded her on. I remained silent, picking up more salacious idioms, facts, and opinions in twenty minutes than I'd heard in my entire life. Clearly, she had been the model for their slightly wittier use of bad language.
From what I pieced together, Jewel had been married to a Seabee— "You never met a more scum-faced liar and thief, but he was hung like a negro donkey and beautiful as a picture book!"—when she was sixteen, and when he vanished two years later, she got the house, now universally known along the beach as "Jewel's Box." Directly in front of it was the Topanga Pipeline, favored by surfing denizens for thirty miles up the coast. One or two of them began to stop by for a "glass of OJ" and since Jewel was lazy and lonely, they'd stay for a hop in the sack. More and more of the youths started visiting, hauling junk over, bringing in mattresses, hanging out, sleeping over when things got difficult at home, until little by little, inexorably, without her quite knowing how, Jewel had become in her own words "functioning provider, bedmate, and mother confessor" to a gang of them.
Despite her complaints, it was clear that Jewel had gone from being a fat and unattractive teenager and neglected wife to being a local character—"al-leged in my own time." Her newfound fame, all the attention she got, the constant boys underfoot, the abundant sex she got from them were far more than a girl from Covina with her looks had any reason to expect out of life.
"Not that one of them is any good except for riding the pipeline and slipping a dick into a wet place," she concluded acidly.
As though on cue, the surfers arrived, all of them looking like slight variations on the first boy I'd seen: yelling, shoving their boards deep into the sand, punching and pushing one another, falling over the veranda furniture, spilling into the house through doors and windows, filling the kitchen, demanding food and drink, kissing, pinching, and groping Jewel, slapping palms high in the air to Alistair and Judy— until they had pretty much disrupted everything and emptied the coffeepot and several shelves of the refrigerator, and Jewel had had enough and simply stood there shrieking, "Out, out, out!" And all of us were forced out onto the veranda—except for one youth, Sandy, who was peremptorily called back in by his hostess, and who sheepishly returned inside, to a chorus of hootings, moanings, and fake orgasms by the others.