Read The Child Online

Authors: Sarah Schulman

Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Lesbian, #United States, #Genre Fiction, #Lgbt, #Gay Fiction, #Lesbian Fiction

The Child (10 page)

“So I’ll see you at the baby shower.”
“Mommy, let’s go.”
“Okay, Diggie, Mommy has to pay. See you tomorrow then.”
Eva watched them out the door and onto the street.
“I didn’t know your sister had a baby,” Hockey said.
Here it was. The one thing Eva could never outrun. Her exclusion from her family.
The strange thing was that gay people who had families told her to just give up. Not even try. Then they would go home for Christmas. They couldn’t see what they had and how much it meant to them, even if it was very little. They lacked empathy.
Then there were the other gay people who also didn’t have families. They told her she should be relieved to be rid of them, just settle down with her friends and Mary and forget. They usually said this over a third martini, after five excuses, three lies, four missed deadlines, and every other sign that they themselves were totally unreliable, alcoholic, and suffering daily from their own family’s abandonment. And there were the straight people who say “We love you!” and you never see them again, especially not around Thanksgiving.
If the exclusion would stop, she could get over the previous twenty-four years of it. But it’s hard to get over being hit on the head with a hammer every day. First the hammering has to cease, and then you can start thinking about bandages. Eva’s family remained committed to earlier, stupid cruelties that they just didn’t have the decency to undo. So as each event retreated into the past and there was a chance to let her back in, they would come up with some fresh, new reason to keep her out, a new wound. It was like trying to reconcile with a battering ram. They just couldn’t admit they were wrong, so they had to make sure someone was.
“Mary and I only found out last week.”
“That is so mean,” Hockey said. “I didn’t know your sister was so homophobic. Hey, I didn’t even know you had a sister.”
“It’s complicated,” Eva said. Was it worth trying to explain this to Hockey? “She gets more out of manipulating my mother’s prejudices than any of her own.”
“Sounds sophisticated,” he said. And she could tell he had other things on his mind.
Eva tried every strategy. She even went to the gay synagogue to find out what Judaic forgiveness was all about, but that, too, turned out to be extremely complicated. In Christian forgiveness, apparently, the offended is not involved. The victim just forgives the perpetrator who keeps doing it, and Jesus makes it all okay. It seemed awfully convenient from the perpetrator’s point of view. Jewish morality is quite different. It requires interdependence, mutual awareness, and group consciousness. Forget it. First the violator has to come and ask for forgiveness. They have to say why what they did was wrong and then they have to never do it again. The odds of getting that out of sister Ethel or mother Nathalie were basically zero. There was nothing in it for them.
“Here’s your chamomile,” the waiter sulked. “Sir, what can I get you to drink?”
“I’ll have a vanilla malted,” Hockey sighed.
“That bitch,” Eva said.
“The waiter?”
“No, my sister.”
“In this day and age? Isn’t she embarrassed in front of her friends?”
“She tells them it’s for other reasons.”
“Like what?”
“Hockey, look at me.”
He saw someone who could look a lot better if she tried.
“What would be a good reason to keep someone away from a child, and could any of those reasons apply to me?”
“No,” he said. “There cannot be any reasonable justification for
this.” Then he started to imagine the kind of ritual satanic abuse that would have to be in place to keep a child away from her aunt. He was allowed to know all of his aunts, even the ones who cheated his mother on a used car.
“I love my niece/nephew,” Eva said. She cried. Her salad arrived. What was so strange was that Eva truly did love this child, this unseen, unheld little being. She wasn’t into children in general, but this one, deeply, was hers. She had photos to show him/her and stories to tell, and imaginary tickets to the
Nutcracker Suite
. Later the kid would hang out with her and Mary, stay over, meet all of their friends. She/he would come to Mary’s plays and play Scrabble with Hockey and find out about other ways to live. Maybe he/she would become an actor, or a radical lawyer, and fight for justice and art and new ways of seeing.
And then as Eva focused this picture in her mind, she knew, suddenly, that this gorgeous image was exactly what Ethel wanted to avoid. She didn’t want her little darling listening to people without rights planning a better future. Ethel wanted a world where people like Ethel were the neutral center, the only way to be. This was how high the stakes were for Ethel–her own sense of herself as neutral, normal, and value free–this huge blob of Ethel’s self was what was on the table. And that was something she would do anything to preserve.
Hockey stared at her plate. “Maybe I should get two malteds.”
She knew she wasn’t going to tell Hockey what she was feeling. It wasn’t worth going into. Eva had spent so much of her life trying to understand what went wrong with her family that she had it down to a science. It was her version of the Kennedy conspiracy. She finally had come to understand how it all happened, but no one else
had the patience to let her explain. She had tried to tell a therapist. Once. It took fifteen sessions before she got the entire story out, only to realize that the therapist hadn’t been keeping track. One night she had tried saying it all out loud to Mary in their apartment as practise for telling the world, but after three hours of solid talking, Mary was so offended by the monologuing, she made Eva promise to never do that to her again.
So she was left with no alternative but to repeat it to herself privately every once in a while, so that she—the only person who knew—wouldn’t forget. Someday someone else might want to find out. Maybe her niece/nephew.
First they humiliated her for being gay, so she became alienated. Sequence, consequence.
But because the family viewed the initial humiliation as fine, Eva being upset about it was only further proof of how bad and wrong she was. Being upset about something fine was wrong. Saying that something fine was not fine was wrong. That was the familial “modus o” from 1975 to 1992. At that point, because of AIDS there was a social shift, and the kind of vulgar homophobia the Krasner family dutifully practised went out of fashion. A new, slicker kind that they could never master came into vogue instead. So now the family brilliantly changed gears. Now they no longer cited the homosexuality as the justification for their cruelty. They now pointed to the consequences of their cruelty as its own justification. Eva being alienated was now reason enough to keep her that way. What had caused it became unmentionable.
Now she was no longer bad because she was gay; she was bad because she was hurt, because she was sad as a consequence of being hurt. Hence, no baby shower.
“So,” Hockey said. “So what I wanted to talk to you about was this case I mentioned on the phone.… Eva?”
She had to wake up.
“Eva? How’s your dinner?”
“Okay.” She looked around. No one eats fat anymore, but they are still fat. You are what you don’t eat.
“So this case has come my way. I want you to work with me. I need you.”
She heard the word
and perked up.
“It’s a good case, Eva. Internet sting, lots of juicy stuff. The kid is fifteen, they guy is forty-five.”
“It’s a gay kid, right?” she said, her heart open. This was why she became a lawyer. “I mean, a
gay young adult
.” A good lawyer.
“Yeah, but the kid is not our client. Our client is David Ziemska. The grownup. All expenses will be paid by the Committee to Lower the Age of Consent Defense Fund.”
Age of consent, consensual sex. She’d done that before.
“Is our client a weirdo? Does he look like pervert?”
“We’ll go out and see him next week. They’re paying us fifty an hour. I know, that’s nothing. It’s like an honorarium. But it’s more than I make with no clients and than you make correcting papers.”
“I don’t care about money.”
“Duh.” Hockey actually laughed. He had this low, gravelly voice and dark, thick hair. “It’s a good case. David broke the law, but he doesn’t need to get twenty-five years. He can pay a fine.”
“Second offender? No way.” Eva knew she was in. She caught her own face in the mirror over the counter, the one reflecting the fruit salad and half grapefruits stuffed in ice. Like Hockey, Eva was
also dark, with the thick, Jewish hair she’d ironed in fourth grade and then let grow wild. They could have been from the same tribe. Now, for both of them, silver threads had begun to be their own cliché. She’d better cut it and act her age. Would that ever happen? “Can we get the child to testify that it was true love?”
“No,” Hockey said, relieved that the malted had finally come. “The kid is out of the picture. He was coerced into writing a statement claiming that he was molested, and turning in his boyfriend. I’ve got a photo. Stewart Mulcahey.”
“Let me see.”
Eva looked at herself. “There is nothing worse than being a gay kid in the wrong family.” She felt closer to Hockey now. She felt a little less alone. “Hockey, I want to ask you something. When you go to the doctor and he sticks you with a needle, what does he say?”
“He says, ‘This might hurt a little.’”
“Anything else?”
“‘This might sting.’”
“You sure?”
Eva wished she could talk more about her sister.
“Does he ever say ‘Here comes a little prick?’” Was that it? “No, wait. Does he ever say ‘Here comes my little prick?’ Does he ever say
little prick?”
“I wish he would.”
It was strange, the importance of that one little word.
little prick versus
little prick. She realized that the doctor had said
, not
. But as she was telling Hockey about it, she felt afraid that he wouldn’t believe something wrong had happened. He would not have taken her side. That’s what made Pollack such a genius. He
knew exactly how to walk the line. That’s why she couldn’t file a complaint. The authorities would never believe her. Pollack had insured this dilemma by expertly saying
prick, when he really meant
. He insinuated his prick everywhere into her examination without even showing it.
She looked at Stew’s picture again. “I feel sorry for that kid.”
“Your niece/nephew or Stew?”
Here came the onion rings.
“You know,” Hockey said, chomping. “Some people do worse things to their family members than they do to anyone. They kill them, they rape them, they throw them out on their asses. You were sixteen when your family threw you out. Stew is fifteen.”
“Poor kid.”
“But you turned out okay. And so will he.”
“And we’ll be helping him, by helping his boyfriend, because…. Eva? Listen to me, Eva!”
“Yes?” She was staring at the forbidden onion rings.

Stew is not our client
. David is.”
Hockey waved at the waiter, pointed to his empty malted glass, and signaled for another as if asking for a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. He didn’t smile, and neither did the waiter. “You know what I’m worried about?”
“About Stew?”
“No, that I’ll lose this protective coat of weakness I’ve had with my friends. That I’ll be normal again, and to be normal is to be judged. Before, I wasn’t accountable, because I had no future, which means no consequences and everyone dealing with you
knows it. Now I wonder how long it will take before the resentment comes back.”
“You’re probably right,” Eva said, still hungry. Actually she knew for a fact that he was right. She could feel her own resentment already rising. Why didn’t he ask her about the significance of
my little prick?
She missed her niece/nephew so much.
“Pricks,” Eva said, drinking her tea. “I hate them.”
When Mary Elizabeth Morgan was six years old, she inscribed her future into a first-grade composition book:
When I grow up, I will write plays.
This vision had been revealed to her as Mrs. McKenzie’s class performed
Hansel and Gretel
. It made her high. From then on she organized the Morgan family and neighbors into Christmas plays, and wrote the class show every year at Del Sol Intermediate School. After graduating as a theater major from San Diego State College, she moved to New York City with her first girlfriend (also named Mary) and discovered the invisible, under-skilled, under-the-radar world of unknown theater. She put on shows in apartments, rat-infested parking lots, and lesbian bars. Her plan was to work her way up. But she couldn’t locate the next step.
Then the day came when Mary finally realized that no one in New York City enters from below.
So she tried a new approach. She now spent half her paychecks on postage and started laboriously sending out her scripts to literary managers, directors, anyone remotely connected to a real theater. She’d bring home playbills and scour the phone book, find every name that was listed and send them a script. But there was still no result.
She had come to accept the sad truth that there were people in New York City who really mattered, but she didn’t know who they were. This realization dawns on many people at different points through their journey, and this was the moment it had dawned on
her. These special people knew one another’s certain ways and she didn’t know those ways.
She had to act specifically. But what was it?
She had to meet these people. But it had to be under very particular circumstances. What were they? Seeing them on the street and saying “hi” wouldn’t do it.

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