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 (17 page)

Stew finally accepted for real that he couldn’t go back to the house. Trouble was waiting for him there. It all started to come together–what was going wrong. Everyone around him was mediocre. They couldn’t do anything they wanted to. And they were mad at him because he could.
It was shocking, this revelation. His family was a bunch of bores. They weren’t happy, and nothing interesting ever happened. That buzz of the garage door was the soundtrack to their life. Then he got it, and fear stalked his soul. Stew realized that the more his family understood how truly different he was, the more they were going to want to remove him. He had to get out. But how? Where would he go? He could go to Joe’s house, but how would he get there?
It hit him then–he couldn’t go to Joe’s. Joe and David were in trouble because of him. Stew couldn’t go near them. He was surrounded by walls, his family, the police. No one was flexible. No one had a reasonable explanation for their behavior, and no one had to. It was crazy.
In this way Stew started to take in that he was completely and totally alone. He had no mother. He had no father. He had no sister. He had no boyfriend. Everything had been taken away from him for some reason he couldn’t understand. Everything that everyone else in the world had every day had been taken away. It made no sense. He looked at the lights protruding from houses on both sides of his street. Each of those people had families and lovers. He was the only person on this block who did not.
He thought ahead to his future and saw nothing. There was no
achievement, no maturation, no old parents proud and happy. No Carole to barbecue with, no Joe or David to snuggle up with and suck their cocks. There was no birthday. No Christmas. No money. No food. No dinner. No phone calls. Maybe his mother and father would die soon and Carole would let him back in the house. But when would that happen? It could take a long time. Then what would he do if his parents died? He needed them. If they died, they would never change their minds.
There was only one person who could help him. Who would outlive him, who everyone seemed to listen to. That was Victor. He needed to talk to Victor. He needed to get Victor on his side.
Stew turned left instead of right and went down the block to Carole’s house. Where was Victor? The car wasn’t in the garage. That meant Sam was out drinking as usual and Carole had taken Victor somewhere. But where? Stew then decided to go back to his house, get some food, clean up, and pack his stuff. He turned again and walked down his block, up his walk. He had walked this block and that walk for fifteen years. His whole life. He had always thought of it as his, but it wasn’t his. It belonged to his father. He had to take his stuff and get out.
When Stew got to the front step, he could see that the TV was on. It glowed through the drapes. That was the sunlight in his life, the TV. It illuminated every path. He put his hand on the knob and opened the door.
Mary waited for Ilene Leopold to return her phone call. She had been waiting for weeks. Each morning she left for work with seven dollars worth of quarters, calling her own answering machine from every third working pay phone to see if Ilene had left a message. If she got sent out on a temp job that had e-mail access, she checked her e-mail every ten–no, nine–minutes to see if Ilene had sent any.
As each day passed, Mary became more possessed by strategizing about Ilene Leopold. After all, Ilene was the key to the life Mary wanted to have. Her real life. Everything before this next moment was a waste–it was just treading water. Because after Ilene Leopold kept her word, Mary would cease to be a discarded person whose plays would never be seen, and whose calls would never be answered. She would become her true self. Mary knew that later, when her play had had a moderately successful run and she and Ilene were on their next, really big project, Mary would buy a cell phone and one of those handheld e-mail things, but that was then and this was now.
“Hockey is having problems again. He has growths all over his face that have to be frozen and burned off. He’s depressed.”
Mary calmly watched Eva talking, but inside she was screaming,
Ilene, Ilene
“He’s always depressed, but who can blame him?” This was Mary speaking in code about herself.
“The fact is,” Eva said over her morning coffee, “we’ve lost our
preliminary pretrial motions because the judge is Catholic. It’s a fix. If the judge were Jewish or black, we’d have a chance. We’re going to have to settle. David isn’t going to like it, and neither is Thor.”
Eva loved talking like this over breakfast, sharing the amazing journey toward solution with the most interesting person she’d ever known. No one Eva had ever loved had had to come as far as Mary had had to come. She admired this so much. Eva loved this strength, all that vision in one little person.
Mary had to keep her message-checking to herself. If Eva knew about it, she would go bonkers. Since Eva did not have big dreams, she had no patience for another scheme gone awry. Well, it wasn’t that she had zero dreams; they were just about things like rent control. She was able to do what she was put on this earth to do, so she didn’t understand how crucial it is to someone’s soul when they are kept from that pursuit, as Mary had been. Mary had always known that false hope was better than no hope. “Dwell in Possibility,” Emily Dickinson has said, and look at what a great writer she was. A big break can only happen if you try.
“The thing is,” Eva said from her cup of joe, “if this were a heterosexual adult male and a girl child, I know I would feel differently. But when it’s two gay men, I don’t know, the romance serves another function.”
“What’s that?” Mary asked, thinking about Ilene Leopold.
“Well, a lot of gay people felt like aliens in their families. The structures did not always serve them. But gay children need parents, too, and sometimes gay adults are the only ones who can give that kind of knowing love.”
“But sex….” Mary said.
“I know. But isn’t there something sexy about having parents for
kids who are straight? They watch them sleep together, live together, kiss and hug. They hear them have sex and probably watch them doing it, too, catch sight of their genitals. Straight kids get all that porn at home, and gay kids have nothing to look at. Why wouldn’t gay teenagers want to have sex with gay adults? They need parents and friends and their own private peep show.”
“What are you going to do about tomorrow?”
“You’re coming with me to the clinic, aren’t you?” Eva panicked. “You’re going to meet me there at one, right?”
There were a lot of cars honking outside. Something must have happened. It reminded Mary that there was an outside.
“Of course, but I mean, aren’t you nervous?”
That morning Mary had gone for a run along the river. The air was so sweet, just a light breeze peeking around the boats. Over her shoulder, the skyscrapers looked scrubbed. They were gorgeous. But even this image laid out before her wasn’t enough. She knew that without opportunity she would always be a spectator. And that would never be the right life. Never.
“I’m terribly nervous,” Eva said. “I’m terrified that I have cancer. I’m afraid that tomorrow I’m going to come out of that clinic with breast cancer, and then it’ll just be me and you dealing with it. We’ll be alone. Are you afraid of that?”
“Yes,” Mary said. “I am afraid.”
She seemed little, vulnerable. A soft, trying love. Eva’s heart was so open.
“But you are not alone,” Mary said, reaching for her sweet. “You have me.”
Eva listened closely. This was what she had dreamed of her entire life. She watched those lips say
You have me.
And yet she was
thinking, guiltily, adulterously, that she also wanted her niece/nephew. Was that wrong of her? Was she letting Mary down by still, after all this cruelty, wanting to have relatives? Would this subconsciously make Mary feel unloved?
When she left the house for Hockey’s office, Eva stopped at a pay phone and called Nathalie’s number. It was strange to dial it after so much time. It made her sick, the familiarity.
That voice. Eva wanted to be a good daughter and slit her own throat.
“Hi, it’s Eva.”
“Did Ethel get our present for the baby?”
, Eva hoped she would say.
That was very thoughtful. We know it’s been hard for you, being kept away from the family for so long. But I can see that you really love the baby, and I’ve told Ethel that this exclusion has to stop.
“I don’t think a black T-shirt with the words
Iggy Pop
on it is appropriate for a baby, do you? Ethel says it’s some kind of Satanic cult.”
A particularly noisy truck came by at that moment, so Eva had to hunch over the phone, pressing one finger against the other ear, keeping out every influence but Nathalie’s.
“We thought it was fun.”
“What do you know, Eva?”
“You know, Mom. You’re right. I know nothing.”
“Well, you’re right about something.”
Eva kept her voice even. “What’s the kid’s name?”
“Maison Toibyn Levi.”
“Any chance of me and Mary getting to come visit … Maison?” She clutched the pay phone’s slimy receiver.
“Eva, Ethel doesn’t want you influencing her children, and I agree.”
“Influencing them to do what?”
“You know … going against their parents.”
That was it, after all this time. Eva’s conjecture was actually right. It was fear of the other world. The world of people who know that the rules don’t matter, or are wrong or boring or unfair. Homosexuality was at the centerpiece of this other way of seeing, and Nathalie took it as a personal affront.
Would it be worth it to have cancer if that got her a mother? Too late. The days of deal making were over. She had no mother and she never would. She did not want cancer. Someday she and Mary would see their niece/nephew and the three of them would talk.
When she hung up, Eva called Mary.
“Guess what?” Mary said on the phone, ecstatic. Happier than Eva had ever heard her. “Ilene Leopold is on her way over.”
“I’m so glad,” Eva said, deciding to keep her own problems to herself. “I knew you could do it. I believe in you.”
Back home Mary was preparing for Ilene’s arrival. She cleaned the whole place and bought great food: fresh mozzarella, Israeli tomatoes, gorgeous bread. She changed the sheets, just in case. She went to the expensive deli and got olives and hot peppers, and when she came home fifteen minutes before the meeting, there was a message on her machine.
“Hello … Mary? It’s Ilene. I’m feeling dizzy and won’t be able to come over. But, Mary, if you call me exactly on the hour, we can have a phone conference. I’m really, really sorry, but I’m really, really sick.”
Mary stood under the clock in the kitchen and smoked. The hands ticked, ticked, ticked. She called as the church bells struck, but she got the machine.
“Hello? Hello? Ilene? Ilene? It’s Mary. It’s three o’clock. You said I should call you at three o’clock. You said you were really, really sick. It’s three o’clock–whoops, it’s three-oh-one. I’ll call you back.”
Obviously she hadn’t done it the right way. Something was not working out. Mary considered all the possibilities. Ilene could be asleep, or in the bathroom, or even in the hospital, or dead. Or maybe it was that same old thing again, where the person doesn’t mean what they say. Was Ilene just another liar in Mary’s life? What was the right way to talk to a liar? She couldn’t figure it out. What was the way to get Ilene to keep her word? She waited ten minutes and called again. The machine was no longer picking up. Someone had unplugged it. Another nasty trick.
An hour later, Mary’s phone rang. She stood there, smoking, watching the fax come in.
Dear Mary,
You’re treating me like a child.
Love, Love, Love (and I really, really mean it) Ilene Leopold
The only sane response would be to smoke crack. But Mary wasn’t sane. She didn’t know where to get crack, and she wasn’t sure of exactly what it was. All she wanted was a no. Screwing around with someone’s artwork was just awful. Many cigarettes later, Mary came to a realization. What Ilene did was terrible. And yet she got away with it completely. There was nothing Mary could do.
And then it all became clear.
Had Eva been playing a horrible joke on her, too, making a fool of her? Day after day, year after year, Eva kept encouraging Mary to do what she wanted, to work on her plays, to schmooze, to go see plays, to have readings, to send out manuscripts, to talk to agents, to actors. Eva pushed her and pushed her. But Eva should know that Mary was never going to make it. That people like Mary didn’t stand a chance. She was in the wrong class. That’s why she had cautioned her about Ilene. Eva
no one would ever really let her in. She
it. It was obvious. So why was she spending years pushing Mary to do something that was going to fail? To commit to a world where she could never succeed or excel. It was a sick joke. Eva was treating her like a trained seal. She just wanted to see her bark.
When Eva came home that evening, she said the words “I’m scared about tomorrow.” But Mary was seething. She didn’t feel any empathy.
“Get over it,” she said. Then the phone rang. She grabbed it. “Hello? Ilene? … Oh, Mother?”
Instinctively, both Mary and Eva looked at their watches. Delilah never called this late; she would be too sloshed.
Something terrible must have happened.
“What?” Mary looked up at Eva. “What is it, Mother? Tell me.” Mary loved her mother; she always had. And at this second she knew it, entirely. Mary knew she wasn’t alone if she could love someone that much.
She listened and breathed softly. She felt her own compassion and responsibility and whispered to Eva, “
Tom died
. ... I’ll be right there, Mother. I’ll pack right now and go straight to the airport.”

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