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 (2 page)

“Yeah, now we got a management company. It’s okay, I just started here a week ago. Medical technician. I like it.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yeah, that data entry was getting tired.”
“You get benefits?” Eva asked. That’s what New Yorkers discussed these days instead of talking about the weather. It was native cosmopolitan dialect of the urban indigenous in an era where unions and their health plans were something belonging to lucky grandparents or elderly neighbors who happened to come to this country at the right time.
“A lot. Too bad that law clinic closed. It was a good place.”
Back to the truth. Forget about thickening breasts; this was the real danger. Eva hadn’t fought hard enough and she knew it. Every day brought a realization of one more thing she should have done to keep it open. “Yes,” Eva mumbled, ashamed.
“That’s a shame.” Alicia nodded. They both knew.
The door opened just then and an older man walked in, thinking deeply about something else.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Pollack. This is Alicia.”
Oh no
, Eva worried.
He thinks nothing happens in a room before he comes into it. Bad sign
“Let’s see what you’ve got here.”
Dr. Pollack handed her X-rays to Alicia, who placed them on the light wall. Eva could tell that he was a somewhat religious Jew, despite lack of head covering. It was the way he didn’t look at her, and that timbre of speech–quick, deliberate, profoundly questioning within a very rigid framework. He was exactly the kind of person that Eva did not trust.
There were, after all, good Jews and bad Jews. It had always been that way. Roy Cohn was bad, Ethel Rosenberg was good. Henry Kissinger and Ed Koch were bad. Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman were good. Hannah Ahrendt? Excellent. Ariel Sharon? Terrible. This would always be. Unions were good, and landlords were bad. Groucho was good. Lenny Bruce, good. Philip Roth started out good but ended up self-absorbed and crotchety. Jews who believed in a Zionist destiny and biblical right to the land of Israel? Bad. Jews who hoped that a multicultural, socialist Jewish state could avert inevitable future Holocausts? Well … hard to picture. Walter Benjamin? Great. Eva loved him. Emma Goldman? Superb. Andrew Goodman, the murdered freedom rider? A
forgotten hero. The Jewish Defense League. The Lubavitchers, the neo-conservatives who opposed affirmative action? All horrible.
On some level it boiled down to religion, didn’t it? Did fundamentalists of any stripe have anything good to add really? It was delusion after all. A hallucination to see oneself as God’s chosen. A crackpot wish with terrible consequences. And now this guy, this religious one, had her fate in his hands.
Thirty years before, when most photographs were as black-andwhite as the TV, an Israeli cousin had come to visit them in New York. What kind of Jew was this? He wasn’t religious and he didn’t care about the poor. Was there a third option? This guy wore gold chains and an open shirt and looked like an Italian. He went to singles bars. His main interest was agriculture. He was a racist. A racist.
“The religious? They’re worse than the Arabs,” he said at his first New York dinner table, a place where no racist word had ever been uttered. “The Arabs, you kill them like flies, but the religious have twelve children. Hey, let’s turn on the game.”
He watched hockey. Hockey! The emblematic
activity. Hit each other with sticks? Jews couldn’t even follow the rules.
Young Eva was shocked. Who talks about other people like that? She’d never seen such a thing. It was wrong. Arabs were not flies. She was outraged. Now she was worried about the religious, and about the Israelis. But even with two more hesitations, she wasn’t at all alone. Many others felt the same way.
Today, though, sitting in the examination room, everything was different. Her opinions on these ancient subjects were all nostalgic. No one who cared about those precise things back then still cared about them now. The ones who were still alive didn’t even remember
caring. Caring about these subjects was an old sock. There was no more family. None of the standards of the former family had any authority now. There was only this religious doctor, and she was at his mercy. The secular liberal no longer existed. Israel was a nightmare. She had no family. And here was this Dr. Pollack, not only religious, but also a male breast doctor.
“Okay, lie down.”
“Hello, Doctor.”
David Ziemska, aged thirty-nine, sat in his Westchester living room drinking a Coke. The TV was on, as it always was for every moment of joy or grief, every conversation strained or resolute. The doorbell rang, and so he sloshed through the dirty shag carpeting, glancing back at the television set to catch a last glimpse of the new commercial.
He opened the door to Stew, fifteen, standing on the front step, smiling his adolescent, crooked, acned, thin wisps of moustache, skinny dishevelment. He was pleased with himself, realizing he’d grow up to be a rake someday, and then settle into a responsible adulthood that was quiet and relaxed with a secret sparkle about his rakish days, the days when he went wild.
“Get in here.”
David pulled him across the threshold, annoyed.
“I didn’t know you were coming. You could have e-mailed me.”
Stew moonwalked on the thick carpeting while David looked down the street and then closed the door. He had to smile at the boy, all comfy now, chin down into the collar of this favorite worn, brown corduroy jacket. A gift from Dave. While rugged, it had a distinctive quality for being so deceptively soft.
“I hitched to Newburgh and got the Greyhound. Then I got out at Port Authority and asked the token lady which subway to take. So I got to the other side of Manhattan, and then I was in Grand Central. There, I talked to the guy at the information booth who told me how to get the Metro-North. I got out at White Plains and I
asked the deli guy, and then I asked a lady with her kid and I walked and I found it. I recognized the street.”
“Oh God, you talked to the deli guy?”
The new commercial played for the second time as Stew took his little hands out of his jacket pockets and threw them around David’s neck. He jumped up in the air with his lithe body until Dave caught him, swinging him in like a sweetheart, and their lips touched. Stew was small, so people often attributed youth to his size. It was the kind of budding containment that seemed ready for transformation at any moment. But actually Stew would never grow to be a large man.
“I love you,” Stew said.
“I love you,” David said.
Love had come more easily to David these last few years. In his twenties he’d lost the love of his life, Tommy Jackson, to the abyss of alcoholic behavior. Tommy had acted badly, become ashamed, punished David, then become more ashamed and therefore punished David more. For ten years David had not been able to fall in love again. Now he had finally come to love a number of people. When there was something compelling about a man or boy, something endearing about his homosexuality, David found it easy to love him. There were fewer expectations now. Increasingly, he was leaning toward the temporality of happiness, and the memory of it. That was progress. That was it.
As a younger man Dave might have longed for another fellow simply because of some bait–like a glance that revealed knowledge, or a particular gesture associating with a resonant scene in a movie or with Tommy. But these last few years he had successfully taken in the joy of obsession and had eliminated the compulsion for
pursuit. The remembrance of male beauty was satisfying in its own right. Predictably, since he had come to that revelation, men and boys fell into his arms with greater tenderness and frequency. He’d learned how to keep his loneliness to himself.
“I had to see you,” Stew said.
“I’m glad. I could have picked you up in the city. Hey, Joe,” Dave yelled. “Get up. Stew’s here.”
Joe shuffled down the carpeted stairs still in his pajamas. It was Saturday afternoon and he’d only gotten off the lobster shift at seven.
“Hi, Stew.”
Joe came over and gave Stew a kiss on the lips. Then the three of them had their arms around one another, and Joe and David lifted the boy up into the air.
“I’ve got to get a Coke,” Joe said, waking up. “How’s school?”
Joe scratched his balls. He could have been handsome with minor effort, but he didn’t care at all. Those officially positive attributes, like blue eyes, went unexploited. Joe accepted himself the way he was and attributed that to being from Canada, where people were not as neurotic as New Yorkers about anything.
“Got any new videos?” Stew smiled.
Joe laughed then and stumbled into the kitchen, door swinging behind him. Stew plopped down on the couch and glanced up at Dave coquettishly. Then he folded his jacket, carefully placing it out of the way.
“Flirt,” David said, worrying about the danger, but then going forward as he always had. Personally assured of the appropriateness of his desires, he lowered the blinds.
Joe came back with three Cokes and a stack of videos.
“Here’s a new one.” He handed out the drinks. “
Manrod in Space
. It’s about those Russian cosmonauts that were stuck up in the fucking Mir. Then NASA sends up an American astronaut to rescue them and he’s.…”
“Jeff Stryker?” Stew giggled.
“Jeff Stryker? You’ve been watching vintage porn.”
“He’s my favorite star. School sucks. Everyone hates me and I hate them. I want to get out of my house.”
Dave had to nip that one in the bud. “If you leave home, you’ll be poor forever, right, Joe?” He looked over for some confirmation, but Joe was busy with the remote. “You’ll peddle your ass and be totally fucked up.” He did not want this kid moving in with them. “You gotta finish. You’ll graduate soon.” Dave saw the anxiety on the kid’s face and decided the message had gotten through. He sat down next to Stew on the couch. Softened. “High school is
party. Just get out and never look back.”
Watching Stew relax, Dave remembered Tommy Jackson as a young man before he was ravaged by his addictions. Dave remembered a smiling, loving Tommy with the small slope of his back. Then David remembered Tommy at his craziest–how he would never pick up the phone and told the police he was being stalked, just because his friends were worried. How he blamed David for all of his problems. Shame overwhelmed love for Tommy, but not for David. Dave still believed, as he had for so many years, that if Tom would go to a twelve-step program, Dave could forgive him and they could be together again. They could move to South Carolina. Dave would give up everything he knew if he and Tommy could be together again. Joe would understand.
.” Joe snapped open his soda can.
“Stewie is not graduating
. Three more years, right, guy?”
“Right. Put on the video.”
“Okay, okay, Mr. Frisky.” Dave was ready for action. “I remember when I was like you. Boner–morning, noon, and night.”
“I hated school,” Joe said, sitting down on Stew’s other side. “Everyone called me a fag. No one would stand up for me. No one. Let me tell you something, Stewie. Fags have to stick together. Never squeal on another fag. Never. I hated those kids, and I still hate every one of them. There is nothing bad enough that could happen to them what would be too bad as far as I am concerned.”
“I want to kill them.”
“No one is killing anyone, Stew,” David said. “Open your Coke.”
They sat on the sofa, sipping their Cokes, watching
Manrod in Space
“Hey, stallion.” Dave rustled Stew’s hair. “Look at the gonzo on that one.”
“Yeah,” Stew said, putting his hand on David’s thigh and then on his crotch. Joe put his hand up Stew’s shirt and touched his nipples. Dave and Stew kissed. Stew unzipped his own pants, and Joe started sucking him off while Stew kept his hand on Dave’s dick. The dialogue from the video was inane.
The phone rang.
“Shit,” Dave said.
“Don’t stop,” Stew said.
Stew was hard again on the train going home, but he also felt squishy and silly. He felt happy. Listening to the low whine of the passengers,
he knew that going to David’s house by himself, just because he wanted to, was one of the greatest moments of his life. He could get out now whenever he wished. He knew how. Childhood was over and the possibilities engorged him.
It was getting dark and lights were starting to come on in the Westchester towns. He passed house after house with the TV flickering, so boring, just like his own fucking house. He was tired suddenly and a little cold. He wanted to fall asleep and pretended that he lived in one of those houses so that he could roll over into bed. Someday soon he’d have his own place, and then his friends could come over and jerk off, goof around, and make out. The ugly houses were passing. Every single person who lived in them was trapped. He knew it. They all had someone telling them what they could not do. Harping on their flaws. But now he’d figured out how to get away from all of that, all those monsters.
The train passed through Harlem and he saw black people in their apartments watching TV. Then the train got to Grand Central Station and he had a hard time finding the subway. He got a little lost because of all the construction, but Stew didn’t mind. Three times he ended up back in the Great Hall of the station, finally staring up at the domed ceiling, the gold stars and planets painted on its slope. It was huge, old, and elegant.
That was another thing he’d understood on the train. The problem with those houses in New Jersey and Westchester was that they were both new and shabby. Here in Grand Central Station he figured out that old and solid was better. It was like a slap, that realization. He woke up panicked. Not only was he free, but he had his own taste. It was a new kind of responsibility to be discerning.

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