Authors: Felice Picano
Tags: #Fiction, #Gay, #Gay Men, #Domestic Fiction, #AIDS (Disease), #Cousins, #Medical, #Aids & Hiv
The cabby almost ran the light at Lex. Ahead, I could see traffic thickening on Eighty-sixth. Wally was now French-kissing me. The cabby couldn't stop looking at us in the mirror. At Third Avenue, two turning busses were stopped in the middle of the intersection. The brown eyes continued to look back and forth at us then at the road ahead.
By Second Avenue, I could see dozens more taxis here than one would have expected. Ahead of us, I saw the cab with Junior Obregon and Reinhold's distant relation in the backseat.
At First Avenue, we stopped dead in traffic.
Wally dropped his head into my lap and began nuzzling my crotch.
In the rearview mirror, the eyes were searching for and not finding Wally: they were startlingly large.
Horns were blaring all around us. Ahead, the traffic jam was solid all the way to FDR Drive. Wally lifted his head, and though I couldn't see his face, I was sure he was doing something amazingly lewd with his mouth. He dropped his head again. I thought the cabby's large brown eyes would pop out of their orbits.
The horns blowing in and out of chorus were suddenly punctuated by the electronic wail of an EMS van. Which occasioned even more horn blowing, and heads out the window shouting. Evidently the emergency unit was coming up First, right at us.
We'd been moving a few feet at a time, and the preoccupied cabby suddenly found himself sticking out about three quarters into the avenue, any further progress blocked by cross cars inching past, any possible backward move stopped by cars who'd pulled up close behind. The blare from the horns and the shouting from nearby drivers and pedestrians waiting to cross was both fierce and ugly. Our cabby was trapped, and if he'd been nervous before, now he was a complete wreck. He shouted back, he swore, he tried moving the car ahead—right into the side fender of a sedan—prompting its driver to stop dead, get out of his car, and begin thumping on our cab's hood. Our driver rolled up his window and backed away, lightly tapping the front bumper of the car behind.
His head in my lap, Wally was laughing.
Finally, the EMS van pulled through, and in a matter of seconds traffic began to move again. Drivers got back in their cars, and everyone moved. Our cabby charged ahead, swerved to a sudden stop with a screech of all four tires at the line of parked cars. He turned around and began shouting:
"You cannot do this! You cannot! You have almost made me a accident!"
When I continued to ignore him, he got out of the car and opened the back door. Wally had turned around, still leaning across my knees, and he put a casual hand up to the side of his head.
"Well? What's holding us up now?" Wally asked.
"You must get out," the driver was shouting. He made the error of reaching forward in an attempt to touch Wally, who kicked out violently. The driver drew back. "You cannot do this. You cannot!"
"Do what?" Wally asked, totally blasé.
"You know very well what. Filths! Terrible filths!"
"All the filth is in your mind!" Wally said. "Now, get back in and drive us to where we want to go."
"Never! Never! With all this filths!" the driver insisted. "You must get out!"
"Not until you've driven us to where we're going," Wally insisted, quietly, rationally, implacably.
"This I will not do! You must get out!"
"Not on your life!"
"Then I will call a gop." That's how he pronounced it.
The driver spun around in the street, looking for a policeman. Naturally none was present, several precincts full having been drained and with their hands full a few blocks away at Gracie Mansion. He reached into the front seat, pulled out the change maker, flagged shut the meter, and removed the keys from the ignition. We weren't going anywhere. This was serious. The cabby now began making wider forays from the taxi, still looking for a cop. Whenever he returned to the cab, he'd repeat that we had to get out or stop "making filths." And Wally would say something irritatingly casual like "Sue me!"
This ridiculous standoff might have gone on all night, but as I sat there listening to them, I suddenly had this image of Alistair's locked bathroom door, with the White Woman on the other side, pounding, pounding and shouting Alistair's name, and behind the door, Alistair on the floor, his head on the floorboards haloed by a score of Tuinals.
I knew it wouldn't happen precisely that way. And I knew there was nothing I could do now—could I tell him not to take the pills I myself had given? But the awful vision on top of the annoyance of Wally pulling exactly what I had feared he would try to pull with this cabby was too much for me.
I extricated myself from under Wally's body and began to open the door on the other side of the taxi.
"Where are you going?" Wally almost shouted.
"Got to find a phone," I said.
"Rog!" He grabbed me by the collar of my Sauvage leather jacket, sounding betrayed. "This is important!"
"You've been provoking him since we got into the cab."
"But..." Wally's eyes opened huge whenever he had something crucial to say, as though Nature, realizing what it had produced in Wally, further aided him in a fix by increasing the hypnotic qualities of those orbs. "...He's discriminating against us."
I awkwardly half stood, half rested one bent knee upon the seat.
How could I make him see reason? "We're two blocks from a massive demonstration. Can't you wait to be political until we get there?"
"Rog, we've got to take a stand whenever and wherever we are," he insisted. To me, this was the instant-gratification argument, and what we had was the gay generation gap in a nutshell.
"Fine." I opened the taxi door, interrupting what I suspected was going to be a well-rehearsed speech. "You take
stand. I'm going to the demonstration and take
Wally had released his grip on my jacket. He now grabbed my knee. "Wait!"
I could see the cabby three-quarters of the way down the block, trying to shake coins back from a public telephone that had no function except to gobble money. One could hardly expect his mood to show much improvement when he did return.
Abruptly Wally said, "Why is it suddenly that I don't know for certain what's right!"
I was astonished by this cry of anguish torn from his otherwise Apollonian chilled soul.
"I know I'm right about this," he went on. "And yet I want like crazy to get out of here and already be at Gracie Mansion!"
I could see the cabby kicking the telephone: a substantial athletic feat given his weight and rotundity.
"Ro-ger! Help me!"
"How can I help you, Wals? I'm part of your problem!"
As Wally couldn't help me about Alistair's probable suicide either, being he opposed it so totally.
"And this poor schmuck of a cabby," I went on, beginning to see it all link up, "he's probably convinced that he's taking a stand, because you and I are some kind of crypto-racists, discriminating against him because his skin is brown."
Wally's mouth dropped open.
"As those cooks in the Hunan Hell before probably thought we were discriminating against them or at least offending them by kissing in public."
I could see that Wally saw it all come together. But I could also see the cabby, in a complete state of fuming ire after his run-in with NYNEX-on-a-stick, was now trudging back toward the taxi.
"But, Rog...," Wally asked, "if that's all true, then... where does it... stop?"
What was I supposed to say? What the humanists for centuries have said? That only brotherhood stops it? Love? He'd laugh me around the corner if I even hinted at it.
I began to say "I don't know, Wals," then changed it to "It stops with you and me. In bed together."
This was something Wally not only understood but wouldn't mock. At least I hoped for the sake of us he wouldn't.
He looked unpersuaded, so I got out of the taxi. The cabby was approaching fast; his hatred seemed to have intensified on his scowling face. He'd grasped his metal change maker through its back handle in one fat hand and now held it out as though it were brass knuckles. He trudged toward me like doom.
This was it. He'd slug me. Wally would slug him. We'd never get to the demonstration, but would instead be arrested for brawling in the gutter.
Then Wally was out of the taxi, blocking me. It looked as though he were holding out something in his hand. Yes, he was holding out a ten-dollar bill, thrusting it at the cabby. I knew Wally had already spent his money tonight, so this had to be his only-in-a-dire-emergency cash kept in his Levi's tiny hip pocket. A real sacrifice.
"Keep the change!" Wally said brightly to the suddenly befuddled taxi driver. All I could do was shrug. I slowly stumbled after Wally, who'd already strode off, headed up Eighty-sixth Street.
As I passed the cabby, I saw him fingering something in his other hand, the one
holding the change maker; it looked like some kind of beads. Yes, that's exactly what it was—prayer beads! I was so surprised not to see a knife or blackjack that it didn't strike me for a minute why he'd been fingering the beads: he'd been praying there wouldn't be a fight—even in his great anger and sense of righteousness. The opening lines of
flew into my mind: "All living creatures fear death."
Two blocks farther up, I spotted Wally. He was across the street, holding a phone, waving the receiver at me.
When I managed to get through the traffic to where he stood, Wally said, "You were going to call Alistair?"
I took the receiver and hung it up. "You never stop! You're incorrigible!"
Wally wasn't in the least upset. He took my hand and pulled me along.
"C'mon, slowpoke. The demonstration will be over!"
"But I've got to stop him from taking the pills!" I said. "I've got to reach Orkney and tell him."
"No," Wally said. Grabbing me by one shoulder, Wally began to lead me away, up the sloping walkway to the promenade, repeating, "No. You've already done what you had to."
"But... If Orkney knew..."
Wally walked me over to the steel pipes running horizontally along the river side of the promenade. Across the churning water was Long Island, Queens, Sunnyside. I found myself thinking, Sunny side of the street. Gold dust at my feet. Clouds had begun to thicken the night sky. I could make out the pearled necklaces of lights from three bridges.
"If I call now, I can stop him!" I explained.
"You have to let whatever happens happen," Wally said. "It's out of your hands now, Rog."
He wasn't kidding, nor was he setting me up for some judgmental shit. This was Wally being Wally. The real Wally. The Wally I could trust, could rely on. The Wally who sometimes—not often but sometimes—saw with total clarity and let me know it.
"Then he'll die," I said.
"Hell die," Wally confirmed.
I pulled away. This was too much. "He doesn't deserve this!"
"Doesn't he?" Wally asked. "He's done awful things to you."
I stared at his unyielding face, then I let Wally take my arm and move me toward Gracie Mansion. He was right, of course, Alistair had done terrible things to me. Terrible things to several people.
I'd never met my mother's cousin Diana, so when the plane finally landed at Burbank Airport just before sunset that late June day, I had no idea whom or what to expect. Given what little I'd overheard between my parents and my sister of Cousin Diana's history—divorces, remarriages, travels to strange places—I expected someone totally glamorous: a combination of Barbara Rush and Dagmar.
What I got instead was a slightly spiffier version of my mother. True, Cousin Diana wore dark glasses and a silk kerchief tied around the middle of her long, thick, unnaturally blond-streaked hair, not covering it so much as dividing it and lifting it off the back of her neck. Also true, she wore a silk blouse unbuttoned in front much farther down than I would have expected to see on a woman her age, close-fitting tan slacks that revealed more of her than if she'd been nude, and high-heeled sandals through which her bright carmine big-toe nails glimmered. She was waiting for me at Arrivals, and she recognized me instantly—from photos my mother had sent, I assumed—gathered me up into her musky, rather large bosom (unhindered by any bra, I couldn't help but note), and welcomed me with a hug and a light kiss.
"It wasn't too awful a flight?" she asked in a voice suggestive of the onset of laryngitis.
This had been my first airplane flight, filled with wonder upon wonder. I replied, "It was okay."
She'd already corralled a redcap, who located my two suitcases and brought them out to the parking lot. As I stepped out of the hangarlike building, I felt I was stepping into a place truly different from any I'd known before: dry, warm weather, yet balmy, with breezes, an astonishingly cloudless blue sky, a bright disk of sun slowly descending toward a horizon defined by a distant mountain range. Palm trees were the tallest nearby objects. Rows and rows of them patrolled everywhere I looked, guarding the low, wide airport buildings, the immense parking lots. But what impressed me most was the enormous amount of sheer wasted space everywhere I happened to glance.