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 (7 page)

Of course, Mary, too, had had to adjust very rapidly to the way Eva saw life. Anyone wanting to make it in New York had to catch on quickly. There was a hysterical kind of ambitious socialist loyalty that Eva, and the other people who dominated New York culture, had in tow. They would wish death on their opponents while inviting gross, dislocated, poor people home for dinner. What was the point? Eva should just take care of her own business and let other people fend for themselves.
Mary could. Mary was robust, she worked three jobs, wrote plays,
she did all of this without handouts or scheming. Mary understood Eva’s way, but Eva had a hard time figuring out how the other ninety-nine percent lived. After all, Mary realized quickly, her girlfriend was the really provincial one. Eva had never lived anywhere but here. She’d never had any job but lawyer and now teacher. She’d never had a real job, where it is incredibly boring but you can’t do anything about it. And most important, Eva–who had no artistic impulse, and had never even made one drawing in her entire life–Eva had no idea of what the theater world was really like.
“Well, he’s one of those producers who wants to know whose play it is.”
“But it’s yours. Throw me that rag, with you?”
“No, which character. They think that a play can only belong to one character. So they walk around saying, ‘Whose play is this?’”
“That’s dumb.”
“Yeah, it is dumb. It’s a limited way of looking at what theater can be.” Mary got up and poured them both more coffee. Nonfat milk for Eva; she had cystic breasts. Mary, on the other hand, could eat anything. She never gained weight and never got sick. American. Her people settled the West. “But all the guys who run the theaters arbitrarily agreed one day that a commercial play had to be about one character. They don’t have enough empathy to care about someone they don’t identify with. It’s a combination of pathology and privilege. They don’t realize that the world belongs to everyone
at the same time
. When you sit on a park bench and look out, the world you observe is not about one person. Life is the protagonist. Human failing. Desire.”
“So why does he only want one?” Eva wasn’t getting it.
“Because.…” Mary wanted to be patient. She took out four
Mallomars. Eva wouldn’t want any. Mary could eat them all. Eva didn’t like junk food. She was afraid of it. “He thinks if the audience can’t tell from the start who in the play they’re supposed to care about the most, they’ll get mad. But I don’t think that way. I refuse to be back-story, but I know I’m not the only story. Do they?”
That sounded good. She’d made her point clearly–if anyone was smart enough to get it. Mary stuffed a whole cookie into her mouth, thereby freeing her hands for the more pressing task of typing out that phrase on her keyboard. She’d savor the next Mallomar. This one had been a martyr to the larger cause.
“I’m totally fucking up this bicycle.”
“Lift the chain, Eva. You’re gonna get greasy, it’s unavoidable. There’s no other way to fix it.”
“You’re always so sure,” Eva said admiringly, lifting the chain. She got greasy and fixed the bicycle. “It works. I’m like the audience–I get nervous. I just watch and wait, wondering what I’m supposed to feel, supposed to do.”
“But it’s your
“But it feels like it’s taking place in their world.”
“Eva, art creates worlds.” Mary reached for the chocolate milk. “It makes everything possible. If what I’m offering the audience is truly transforming, the rules should not matter.”
“Perfect. You were so right. Want to go biking?”
“No way. You almost get killed three times a day on that bike. I can’t bicycle in New York City. I’d never survive. Bikes are for the country.”
“But, honey,” Eva absentmindedly rubbed the grease all over her clothes, “when are we ever in the country? You just have to watch out for car doors opening.”
“I don’t want to,” Mary said. “I don’t want to think about car doors when I’m riding a bike.”
“Mary, you’re dropping cookie crumbs on your keyboard.”
“Oh shit.”
“Dreamer.” Eva smiled as she went out for a ride. No helmet. Wrong way down a one-way street. Riding on the sidewalk.
Like she had her whole life.
Daniel Wisotscky, Certified Social Worker, aged sixty-six, had been logged on to his computer for three solid days exploring America Online. He was still angry about having to learn the computer, but the Mulcahey family’s case made it finally essential. What Wisotscky found on the Internet shocked him, in spite of forty years as a mental health professional and twenty years as County Family Counselor for Van Buren Township.
The first truly upsetting thing that Wisotscky uncovered was the Hairy Chest Page. This was a site for homosexual men, and, presumably, heterosexual women, with advanced fetish compulsion toward men with hairy chests. Wisotscky had previously been aware of a wide range of sexual fetishes, such as “pregnancy pornography,” featuring pregnant models. He’d also discovered online images of naked women shaving their pubic hair and ones of women being rained on. However, there was a strange ironic stance to the Hairy Chest Page that he found particularly grating: it had no shame. It was like making a fetish out of a Bic pen.
Wisotscky found this idea to be terribly disturbing. Not only did the site show full-frontal nudes of hairy men that any child could download, but the designer of the Web page also made available a fifteen-thousand-example annotated listing of all the moments in American and European cinema in which an actor bared a hairy chest. It was insane.
Wisotscky noted that there was a new arrogance behind deviant sexual behavior in the computer age. There was a flagrant
ingenuity; almost a smirk. The next site he went to was dominated by the image of a young male child orally sodomizing an adult. It was more old-fashioned and made clear to him that the electronic light field of the computer was hypnotic. This, combined with the easily accessible lurid imagery, could convince any child to participate, unwittingly, in the complex trappings laid by a pederast.
“Mr. Wisotscky, the Mulcaheys are here to see you.”
In stumbled a bedraggled working-class couple from the township, their overly seductive adult daughter–typically named Carole–and their alienated, adolescent son. The husband was standard from these parts. Late forties, looked sixty. Never took care of himself. Bad food, bad shampoo. The mother was inappropriately girlish. She was flirtatious and overfeminized in a manner that was unbecoming. Infantilized. The son, predictably sullen, was quite small for his age. The sister was underclad.
“Mr. Mulcahey, Stew.” He looked at the chart. “Carole. You’re the married sister. Mrs. Mulcahey.” Another glance. “Brigid. Please have a seat, all of you. There, on the couch, or I also have these two chairs. Please sit down. Good.”
He noted that the boy gave up the best chair to his mother. Good, everything would have a happy ending.
“What else do you know about us?”
“Can I call you Marty? I am Daniel Wisotscky, County Family Counselor for Van Buren Township. I see that you were referred by Officer Bart, that you’re trying to make some tough decisions about your family.”
“I don’t understand why we have to talk to you about our decisions.” Marty was putting on a show for his daughter. “It’s our family, we’ll do what we want.”
Wisotscky said nothing, so of course there was an awkward silence. He had long wished for the day when these blue-collar families would come into therapy as naturally as they took their cars in for lube jobs. But, unfortunately, these people would rather buy some self-help book or watch a daytime talk show than put their lives into the trained hands of a professional who could make a difference. It was the submission that was important, the capitulation to experience that signaled a real effort to change. What the alcoholics called “helpless.”
“Daddy, there are some problems.” There was Carole, being the substitute wife.
“I don’t even know this guy.”
“I know,” she said sweetly. “But the officer said you can’t do anything without the approval of a social worker.”
“Why should he have all the power?”
Dan smiled at the real wife. “Do you feel this way, Brigid?”
“I have no power over anything, especially my son.”
Okay, so she’s the martyr
“Have you told him how you feel?”
“It doesn’t matter what I say. I ground him, he sneaks out. Do you know what it’s like to make dinner for someone who won’t look at you?”
“Then my wife and I get into fights.”
Carole joined in. “Stew is taking no responsibility.”
“I can’t manage him,” Brigid said. “It’s too upsetting for Stew, and it is too upsetting for us.”
Stew sat impassively.
“He sits there like a crazy person.” Marty gestured toward his son. “He grits his teeth and makes fists. He cries like a baby.
He yells at us. He’s a bad kid.”
“I am not,” Stew said. “I just have my own ideas.”
“Like what?” His mother sighed. She’d been through that one before.
“Like, Mom–like old is better than like new. Did you know that?”
“Not when you’re my age.”
Wisotscky noted on his pad that the kid was
“See, Doc,” the father said, pointing. “What is he talking about?”
“I know he was molested.” Mrs. Mulcahey sighed again. “But even before he was molested, he never co-operated.”
“This kid has got serious problems that have nothing to do with being molested,” Marty explained deeply. He had done a lot of thinking to come to this revelation.
Brigid looked at her husband. “Doctor, Stew is ruining our lives. He is angry all the time. He wants to leave.”
“Get it, Doc?”
Wisotscky could see Marty’s annoyance at having to re-create and summarize this concept for the doctor’s benefit. Obviously Mr. Mulcahey frustrated easily.
“No, I don’t,” Stew almost cried. “Shut up.”
“Doctor,” Brigid said. “I’m afraid of him. I’m afraid he’s going to hit me.”
“Are you talking about your husband or your son?”
Stew laughed.
“Why is he laughing, Doc?” Marty squirmed. “It’s not normal.” Marty stared at Stew. “What’s wrong with you? You think this is
a joke?” He pointed at his son and then looked up sideways at Wisotscky for approval. It was like Wisotscky was the daddy, and Marty, the little family tattletale.
Carole put her hand on her father’s shoulder. She was behind him one thousand percent. “Go ahead, Daddy. Tell the doctor.”
Actually, Wisotscky was not a doctor. He was a certified social worker. But he did not correct Mr. and Mrs. Mulcahey. It made his clients feel more secure in his office if they carried the illusion that he was an MD. Most of the people of Van Buren Township were not aware of the various possibilities within professional categories. Wisotscky softened his face into a more cinematically fatherly disposition. It was what everybody wanted him to be and helped encourage transference.
“Are you feeling depressed, Stew? Tell me, because there are other alternatives.”
“He’s not the only one.” Brigid gave a big gasp now and put her hand on her forehead. To Wisotscky she looked like the Irish washerwomen of his youth back in Ashtabula, Ohio.
“What do you think is the solution? Mr. and Mrs. Mulcahey?”
“Well, we’ve been talking it over.” Marty looked at his wife. “And we think he’d be better off in a juvenile home, some kind of reform school or military camp. Some place where he’d learn a lot of discipline, like I did in the army. I figure after a few weeks of that he’ll appreciate us more and will learn how to behave. Nothing permanent, Stewie. Just long enough to help.”
Brigid nodded. “We both agree.”
agree.” Carole was the royal guard.
“Stewie,” Brigid tried to smile. “It’s just temporary. I’m afraid,
Doctor, that he won’t understand. That he’ll grow to resent us.”
“Mommy, I resent you already,” Carole said. “For not doing anything.”
“Shut up.” Stew looked at the floor.
Dan leaned toward Brigid compassionately. “Why do you let him talk to you that way?”
“I can’t stop him.”
“Tell me a little bit about yourself, Mrs. Mulcahey. What do you do for a living?”
“I work at Soto’s Insurance.”
“Like it?”
“Have you thought about getting a new job?”
“If I ever lost my job, I’d never find another. Who wants an old hag who doesn’t know computers? I hate computers. They’ve ruined everybody’s life.”
Stew laughed. “I don’t feel sorry for you.”
“Well, you should.”
“Brigid, why should he feel sorry for you?”
Mr. Mulcahey looked at his son. Wisotscky could tell that the father was nervous. “My wife and I had some problems. But now they’re straightened out.”
“My father had a girlfriend.”
Marty blew up. “You make everybody’s life miserable!” He looked around, humiliated. “You think I like sitting here? You think I like taking time off from work? You’re like a crazy, sick person. You are the problem. You are wrong, kid. You’re a wrong kid. You hear what I’m telling you? I don’t know what else to do.”
Wisotscky let the requisite moment of silence pass and then did his thing.
“Stew, it sounds like you’ve made your father pretty angry. Why do you think your father is so angry?”
Stew was so angry he couldn’t talk. He pressed his teeth together ferociously in order to keep from saying anything that could be called inappropriate, thereby sealing the lid on the box he was backing into.
Wisotscky noted
repressed rage at father
on his pad.
Stew balled up his fists to keep from crying at his father’s comments. His position was untenable. There was a limit, Wisotscky knew, to how much Stew could keep under wraps. Eventually he would spill it. Perhaps a short visit to a juvenile detention facility would do the trick. Those clenched teeth distorted his whole face.

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