“ Here were a fairy. ”“ Shakespeare, Cymbaline, Act III
“Just look at them, standing there: bunch of ungracefully aging queers, like a clutch of molting pigeons,” a quiet voice said, conversationally, near my ear, just as the wind shifted west.
I looked up startled, then shocked, to see him. “Boring old faggots,” he continued, ignoring my amazement, still staring off at the distant cluster of men. “Pretending to be interested, to care; wasting their days, pretending to be alive.” He snorted, tossed down his cigarette and ground it into the grass. “Who’re they fooling?” He looked over at me and chuckled.
“You look surprised.”
I cleared my throat, hesitating. “Well, yes.”
“Didn’t expect to see me here.”
I coughed, hand to my mouth. “Ah, no, not really, Jeffrey.”
He laughed and tapped out another cigarette, lighting it as he watched me, then sighed.
“Couldn’t really stay away, now, could I?”
I looked over at the group of men standing together more than thirty feet away, then back to him. I bit my lip.
“It’s okay, they’ll never notice.”
I nodded. “Okay.” I didn’t know what else to say. He watched me thoughtfully, pulling on his cigarette and exhaling upward periodically, dramatically. You could almost imagine an antique cigarette holder in his long fingers and Gloria Swanson majestically descending the stairs. He returned my uncertain smile but it was somehow tired, strained, a distant look in his deep brown eyes.
“Not really the guest list I’d have assembled, though.” he said. He looked away from my face, at the cluster of cigarette butts on the clipped and over-fertilized, emerald green grass beneath our feet. “Not really the people that matter, to me.” He looked back at me sardonically. “No offense.”
I blinked. “None taken.” I said automatically. Still a shit. Some things never change.
“No, really, I’m glad you’re here, at least.”
“Um, thanks,” I answered, dubious. “I can’t say it was an invitation that thrilled me, if you want the truth.” He smiled.
“I’ll just bet.”
He watched me dispassionately, chain-smoking his Camels and taking in my attire.
“At least you dressed for the occasion.” He finally said. “Not too shabby. Almost worth showing up, just to see you out of your jeans,” he said, and then laughed as I blushed. “I mean, in something besides Levis, baby.”
I looked away, unable to stop the flow of images in my head. How long had it been? He could still disconcert me so easily, in that offhand manner that used to drive me crazy…in so many ways. He studied my expression; my nervous posture, standing there in my pressed Hugo Boss suit. I stuck my hands in my pockets, ruining the line of the tailored pants.
“How long’s it been, anyhow?” he asked me. I swallowed hard.
“Oh…” my voice trailed off and I coughed. His smoking always did bring up my allergies. As ever, he pretended not to notice, or maybe just didn’t give a damn. He glanced up at the cerulean sky, visibly calculating.
“Three years, I’d say, at the least.”
“I didn’t know, Jeffrey, I swear I didn’t. I’d have come sooner if I’d--”
“Right, sure.” He said, flicking ash.
I was angry now. “I would have, I would, if you’d bothered to pick up a fucking phone. You haven’t called me in three years, either, so what am I supposed to think, supposed to do? You tell me.”
He sighed, looked away. “I know.”
“Last I heard,” I continued, annoyance fueling my words, “you were ecstatically happy, happy as hell, you and Tom. That’s what they told me, that’s what I heard. I’m supposed to just, what…call? Show up?”
“I know,” he repeated, still not meeting my eyes. A long silence lay between us: we could hear the distant group, the rise and fall of unidentifiable words spoken, the occasional forced laughter. Overhead, in the swaying crepe myrtles, sparrows chattered amid the pink and white blossoms.
“Tom left me,” he said suddenly, without inflection, still looking at the distant party of our friends. Well, his friends. I’d flown in yesterday but had lost contact so thoroughly that I was ensconced in a hotel rather than suffer the awkwardness of anyone’s guest bedroom…and their barbed, nosy inquiries. Unlike Jeffrey, I was not a talker, my ability to speak diminishing in reverse proportion to the level of my discomfort.
Right now, it was pretty high, that discomfort. I didn’t want to have this conversation with Jeffrey, not now. Oh, three years ago, even one year, I’d have crawled over broken glass to hear him talk of Tom in these bare tones but now…well, now, what was the point? Three years, after all. Not to mention—
“Yeah, I came home from work and he was gone, just gone, his closets empty. No note, nothing, not even a fucking text message.” He glanced at me and laughed harshly.
“Guess you think that’s what I deserved,” he said, eyeing me sidewise. I didn’t answer. The last thing I wanted was an argument, to rehash ancient history, especially now. What was the point? Some words just come too late to matter.
I sighed. “No, Jeff, I don’t think you deserved it.”
He shook his head, his thoughts distant. “Three years ago, when--”
“Jeffrey,” I interrupted firmly. “You didn’t deserve it. Neither did I but that’s…well, it doesn’t matter anymore, does it?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, but--”
“It doesn’t matter,” I repeated.
He continued, ignoring my expression, “Yeah, but at least Tom had a reason, right? That’s what you’re thinking, right?”
I looked away, didn’t answer. The silence lengthened, punctuated by riffs of conversation in the distance and the busyness of birds overhead. Far off, a car horn honked.
“That is what you’re thinking,” he insisted, “right?”
Sidestepping the question, I asked, “Have you seen him since? You know, after…” my voice trailed off as I rummaged for words. Jeffrey watched: sardonic, amused.
“Yes?” he asked, suppressing a smile. I frowned, annoyed; this was too familiar.
“Well, is he here, for instance?” I asked neutrally.
“Who?” Jeffrey asked, all innocence.
“Tom, Tom, of course I mean Tom,” I said between gritted teeth. “Is he here, today?”
Jeffrey smirked. “Sure, he’s here,” he said, pointing at the distant grouping, “over there, in the tacky grey suit. Emporio Armani. And right off the rack, not even tailored.”
I squinted but couldn’t see which man he meant. I didn’t even know what Tom looked like, except that our friends, Jeff’s friends, had been so gleefully pleased to tell me that he was handsome, tall, had a movie star smile. Blond, maybe, or had it been brown hair? Probably hung like a racehorse. Not that it mattered. Not any more. Three years. Not to mention—
“Well, if he’s over there, what are you doing here, talking to me?” I asked him acidly.
Jeffrey carefully tapped out another Camel, then looked at me as he lit it.
I looked up at the little birds, toiling in the flowering trees. So much life: growing, building, blooming, moving forward. Incongruous, really, when you stopped to think.
“Guess,” he repeated.
“Fuck you,” I said. I’d always hated his little games, his little torments. Answer a direct question? Not Jeff, not a chance. “Fuck you,” I repeated.
“I wish,” he said with an exaggerated leer. I rolled my eyes, then shivered as I realized—
“You did get tested,” he asked me, suddenly concerned, “didn’t you? When you heard?” There was something unfamiliar in his eyes: was it anguish, regret? I looked away; the emotions were too close to the surface, I guess, for both of us.
“Yeah, Jeffrey. I got tested.” I said awkwardly, then stopped speaking. This wasn’t a subject I was hot to pursue. His natural impatience got the better of him, of course, after a minute or two.
“And?” he demanded.
“Negative,” I said and, as he exhaled hard, adding, “I’m fine, Jeffrey, really.”
He closed his eyes. A moment passed into several. Applause rang distantly, hollowly, from Jeffrey’s friends.
“I couldn’t have stood that, if it’d been the other way. I want you to know that,” he said softly, examining my face. “Anything else but…not that.”
I raised a dubious eyebrow. “What about Tom?”
Jeffrey snorted. “Fuck Tom, he probably gave it to me. Such a slut, the bastard, down at the bathhouse every Friday night; ‘working late’, my gay ass.”
I looked away, uncomfortable, yet some tamped down part of me was pleased to hear him criticize my successor, even if it had been three years. Still, what did it matter, especially now?
Jeffrey must have thought the same thing, adding in calmer tones, “Not that it matters. Could have been somebody else, anybody else.” He sighed, tiredly, looking up at tendrils of cloud moving slowly across the California blue. “What does it ever matter really, who or when?”
I nodded, still uncomfortable.
“If is the only thing that matters,” he said, almost inaudibly, “when you get right down to it. That and how long. The rest is just…drama,” his sigh was soft as the wind. “Pointless pointing, all of us spinning the wheel, playing the blame game…like it mattered.” He looked into my eyes.
“You know?” he asked.
I swallowed. “Yeah, Jeff, I know.”
He nodded, stuck another Camel between his lips and dug his silver lighter out of a pocket. As he lit the tip of the cigarette, his eyes met mine. I must have worn, just out of habit; my old look of disapproval because he said, “Still wanting me to quit, baby?”
I laughed, then looked away to hide the tears that welled up.
“A little late for that, Jeff.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, taking a long drag and exhaling smoke. “It is, isn’t it?”
Our friends, Jeff’s friends, someone’s friends: they were standing now, hugging, kissing, performing all those little touchy-feely gay goodbye rituals. It was over, apparently, thank God. Metal chairs were being folded up; men were pulling out keys and walking towards cars.
I watched them for a few minutes, to let the tears dry from my eyes. I’d be double damned if I’d wipe them away where Jeff could see. Three years, after all, and now this. A little late, yeah. A little late for a lot of things. Nothing but words now, meaningless sounds.
I felt the wind shift to the east and the crepe myrtles shudder. A quiet voice in my ear, so soft it was a bare breath, nearly unheard, said:
“Just look at them, will you? Just look at them…”
I turned to answer, but I was alone.
Pink and white blossoms fluttered downwards, settling on my shoulders, hair and polished shoe tips. I looked around; the park-like cemetery was nearly empty; except, of course, for the birds that haunted the trees. A lawnmower started up, growling in the distance. I patted my suit pockets, locating my rental car keys and my return ticket. I pulled the latter out, checked it for my departure time. I had no intention of being even a little late, ever again.
As I headed towards my rental car, the spring wind whispered into my ear, “Carpe diem, baby…carpe diem…”
I didn’t look back.
ELEGY FOR A FAIRY is a TR short story and, as such, belongs to him alone by right and by statute.
World Aids Day is held annually and internationally on December 1st. Wear a red ribbon in honor of those lost to, and living with, AIDS and support local AIDS awareness and education.
For more information, visit http://www.worldaidsday.org/.
Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi finem di dederint. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati. Seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam, quae nunc oppositis el pene debilitat pumicibus mare Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida aetas: carpe diem.
~Horace, The Odes 1.11
[Don’t ask--it's forbidden to know-- what end the gods will give me or you. Better just deal with whatever comes your way. Whether you'll see several more winters or whether the last one Jupiter gives you is the one even now pelting the rocks on the shore with the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea--be smart, drink your wine. Scale back your long hopes to a short period. Even as we speak, envious time is running away from us. Seize the day.]