Authors: Armistead Maupin
“You ever been there?” asked the man.
“I live there.”
A slow nod. “You're Mona's boy.”
Andy did as he was told, and the car sped off down the road.
“You're growin' up like a weed,” said the man.
“Yes sir,” said Andy. “I am.”
his house, thought Shawna as she passed through the rose-heaped gate at the crest of Noe Hill, feels like the family seat now. There was a mature garden here, and curling brown shingles, and an air of tatty antiquity that evoked her childhood home at 28Â Barbary Lane. Shawna's new home (a crisp bamboo-floored condo near the Greek Orthodox cathedral on Valencia) was handy to her lifeâwell, her
life, at any rateâbut it still felt more like a base camp. Mrs. Madrigal's flat in the Duboce Triangle was no more than a charming last stop on her journey, and Shawna's dad's RV was a journey in itself, hardly the stuff of home if you didn't actually live in it.
But this house, oddly enough, this cluster of “temporary” shacks built for refugees of the 1906 earthquake, felt steeped in permanence. On the nights when she joined Ben and Michael on the sofa for takeout burritos and
, the lights in the valley below seemed designed to twinkle for all eternity. They had made it that way, the two of them, with their reverence for domestic detail.
Including, of course, this dog, this big Muppet of a Labradoodle galumphing toward her down the garden path. As usual, when she was wearing a flowy skirt, he made her feel merry and girlish, like Heidi coming home from the hills. Right up to the moment he stuck his big Muppet nose between her legs.
“Stop that, Roman!” Michael was yelling from the front door.
“Please,” she said. “I can use the attention.” (Not true. That particular part had received plenty of attention the night before, and she was pretty sure Roman already had the scoop on that.) “He's the one I'm worried about,” she added. “One day he'll get his nose stuck on my vajazzling, and it won't be pretty.”
“Be stern with him,” said Michael. “Push him away. He took classes to learn not to do that.”
“I remember,” she said. “Labial aversion therapy.”
Michael kissed her on the cheek as she reached the front porch. “Not just for that. He's an equal opportunity sniffer.”
“Hey, I can dig it.” She found herself sounding strangely retro whenever she was around Michael. It wasn't something he actually required of her, so it was possible she just liked doing it. Maybe, in fact, that was what having a “gay uncle” was all about for her: to take the sting out of having missed the 1970s.
“I was half expecting a fashion show,” he said, leading the way into the house.
“I dunno. You mentioned Burning Man on the phone. I thought maybe you were gonna model an outfit.”
She could see why he'd think that. Their living room looked like backstage at Fashion Week. There were bolts of fabric everywhere, a veritable planetarium of EL wire on the table, some fuzzy shit on the floor like shrapnel from a lime-green bomb.
“Actually,” she said, “I haven't started on my outfit.”
Michael just shrugged. “You don't need to, do you? You've already got a closet full of costumes.”
She loved that he knew that. That he had actually
the whorish snarl of scarves on the back of the door. Not to mention the mysteries within: the tutus and bustiers, the baseball uniforms, the Catholic schoolgirl fetish wear. He knew her as well as anyone, this dude in the white mustache and untucked Pendleton.
“It's all Ben's doing,” said Michael, looking around the room. “You'd think sewing had just become another event in the decathlon.”
She smiledâpartially because that was funny, and partially because she had just pictured Ben, tanned and gleaming and yoga-sculpted, running out of the waves to grab a seat behind a sewing machine.
“That is so cool,” she said. “Is there anything he can't do?”
Michael widened his eyes at her. “Guess not.”
There was a brief squirmy silence between them. She had not meant the question as a leading one, and he almost certainly hadn't taken it that way, but she was still uncomfortable. She scrambled, tellingly, to back away from the subject.
“Dad's new Facebook bride is awesome,” she said.
“Isn't she? At least she used to be. I'm glad to hear she still is.”
“So down-to-earth, you know. A real
“You know they called her âThe World's Most Beautiful Fat Woman'?”
“Mmm. I checked her out on YouTube.”
“She really was a knockout.” He chuckled suddenly at a surfacing memory. “Brian told me he had already jerked off to her before we met her up at the river.”
“Am I oversharing, little one?”
“Of course not! Where? On the Internet?”
He rolled his eyes with a sigh. “A picture. In a book. It was something we had back then. A bunch of pages you could turn.” He flopped on the sofa like a flung-aside teddy bear, then motioned for her to follow suit. “Is she still hot?”
She took a seat, curling her legs under her ass. “Would I fuck her, you mean?”
“No, I did not mean that.”
“Well, I wouldâI mean, I
, of course, but I would .Â .Â . if I met her at a Litquake party, say, and she asked me out for a drink or something.”
He arched an eyebrow. “My, aren't we getting specific!”
Shawna shrugged. “She liked my book. She said so when I met her. I was just putting it into a believable context.”
He smiled. “Everybody liked that book.”
She reached over and patted his denimed knee. “Thanks for tweeting about it, by the way.”
“Sure. I meant it. I couldn't put it down.”
“Still .Â .Â . thanks for spreading the word.”
“To all seventy-six of my followers. You don't need my help, sweetie. I just saw your picture in
Oh God, that picture
. And even worse, that dress: a short high-waisted number intended as a friendly nod to Lena Dunham in
. Huge mistake. The end result had been more like Little Lulu. Note to self: dress like self.
“Actually,” she said, curling up on the sofa, “I'll be glad to
being everywhere for a while.”
“Burning Man,” he said without much enthusiasm. “Why is that not part of being everywhere?”
“No cell phones. No cars. No airplanes. No schedules.” The litany was already lulling her. “It's the opposite of a book tour.”
“I guess so,” he murmured. “How about sofas?”
“Do they have sofas?”
She chuckled. “They do, actually. Lots of them. In the strangest places.”
“Good. I have a feeling I'm gonna need 'em.”
She was relieved to see the rueful twinkle in his eye. He was starting to get with the program. It was vital to her agenda that Michael feel fully connected to this grand adventure. “That should be your playa name,” she said. “Sofa Daddy!”
Michael groaned. “Do we really have to have playa names?”
“No .Â .Â . but it's fun, Uncle Grumpy. Being someone else for a while. Flying our freak flag. No one I know takes it too seriously.”
“What's yours, then?”
“My playa name?” Oh shit, he
ask that. On her last Burn she had dubbed herself Loosey Goosey while slinging Cosmos at Celestial Bodies, but that would
work for an insemination. She needed something grounded and classic, something she could conceivablyâso to speakâshare with her child someday.
“I haven't decided yet,” she told Michael.
He scrunched up his brow with sober professorial interest. She remembered him using that expression when she was seven years old and brought him riotous finger paintings from the Presidio Hill School. It proved that he cared.
“What do you want the name to convey?” he asked.
And there was her opening.
She shrugged. “The theme of Burning Man, I guess. Fertility 2.0.”
“What's that mean? 2.0?”
“I knowâright? Confusing as all fuck. They had one before, apparently. This is the second one.”
“Soâjust Fertility, then.”
He mused briefly. “Tillie T.”
She rolled her eyes. “Cute. But that's a waitress in a diner.”
“Okay, then .Â .Â . Fecundity.”
?” She swatted him with a throw pillow. “That makes me sound like a swamp!”
“Are you pregnant?” he asked, instantly scuttling their game.
She shook her head. “I wanna be, though. You know that.”
He nodded with a beneficent smile. She had suggested as much a month or so earlier when the royalties started coming in from the book, when she could finally lay a claim to adult responsibility. Michael had told her he wanted no part of raising a kid, but he wouldn't mind having one nearby. He wouldn't mind that at all.
“And the clock is sort of ticking, you know.”
“C'mon. Twenty-nine is not old.”
She shook her head. “I meant Anna. I want it to happen while she's still with us.” She avoided Michael's eyes by fidgeting with her skirt. “I dreamed last night that we were at Barbary Lane. Only it looked like it was when I was little, before those dot-commers made it look like a five-star B and B. But it was now present-day .Â .Â . because you and Ben were there .Â .Â . and Anna was there, too, but she looked really young and .Â .Â . you know .Â .Â . fresh .Â .Â . younger than I can remember even. And she was touching my belly. And when I woke up, I knew it was time to get pregnant.”
Michael smiled sleepily.
“The thing is,” she added, “I want it to happen at Burning Man.”
The smile curdled noticeably. He was obviously thrown, but trying not to show it. “Well .Â .Â . I'm sure you'll find plenty of takers.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Oh, Michael, not
“Oh, you mean .Â .Â .” Mysteriously, he pressed his fingers to his thumb as if he were operating the mouth of a hand puppet.
“What the hell is that?”
“Oh, right .Â .Â . exactly. Bingo.”
The relief bloomed on his face. “Thank God. I was picturing some grotesque variation on speed dating. With me and Ben in the tent next door.”
“You know it's an eight-hour drive, don't you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well .Â .Â . that stuff doesn't travel very well. You'll need one of those super coolersâ”
“Oh .Â .Â . right. You have a supplier
She nodded. “A possible one. A sweet guy from my Conscious Dance workshop. He has no interest in being a father, thank god, but he's totally fine with .Â .Â . you know, giving it up for me. I've checked him out. No schizophrenic parents or anything. Clean and sober even. He's got a hammock over at Chakraliciousâ”
“I have no idea what that is, Shawna.”
“Just another camp. Not far from ours. Sharon, this friend who works at Zynga, has offered to be the runner.”
“The cum runner.”
It was less of a question than a not-so-funny joke, but she confirmed it with a nod. “He's a decent guy, but I don't feel close enough to him to .Â .Â . you know, have him in the tent while it's happening.” It sounded odd to put that into words, but it was exactly what she meant. It was important to be clear from here on out.
“So Sharon is gonnaâ”
“ârun it, yeah .Â .Â . from Chakralicious.”
Michael took that in for a moment. “You know,” he said, “if you were a guy, you'd know it's not all that easy to jerk off in a hammock.”
She laughed. “I'll leave it to him to figure that out. Assuming, of courseâ” She cut herself off.
Another excruciating silence. “The thing is .Â .Â .” She realized that this was the second time she had said The Thing Is in the last minute. She was not the sort of girl who touched her throat and said The Thing Is. As a rule, she said just what she wanted without batting her eyes in supplication.
“âyou and Ben are my family.”
“I know that, sweetie.”
“I mean, Dad too, of course .Â .Â . but now that he and Wren are settling in New Mexicoâ”
“He didn't tell you?”
Michael shook his head, frowning. “I guess he was waiting until he saw me in person.”
“But .Â .Â .
.Â .Â . Caleb will be perfectly fine for thisâ”
“The guy from Chakralicious.”
“âbut you would have been my first choice.”
“Your first choice for .Â .Â .” It took him a moment, but he got it. “Oh, Shawna, honey .Â .Â .”
“Am I weirding you out?”
“Just a little, yeah.” His flashing stoplight of a face confirmed this.
“I'm sorry. I just wanted you to know that .Â .Â . I would have been thrilled for my baby to have something of you. Something of your sweetness and wit and your .Â .Â . huge capacity for love. I know it can't happen, since you're HIV-positive, but I want you to know that I would have asked you, everything else being equal. I would have, Michael, in a fucking heartbeat. So thereâI said it. Shoot me.”
For a moment she couldn't tell if he was deeply touched or just grossed out. Then, when he reached for her hand, she saw the tears shellacking his cheek.
“No one's gonna shoot you, honey.”
“But shut up, right?”
“Yes, please. Immediately.”
“It's not like we're related.”
“But it is, sorta.” He quickly swiped at his cheek. “It
sorta like that. Even if I weren't positive, it wouldn't be appropriate. We're different generations.”