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 (8 page)

Wisotscky noted
on his notepad.
“Stew,” Brigid said, reaching out for his little shoulder. “How can we help you to behave if you won’t say anything? We want it all to work out, but you have to co-operate, too.” She took her hand away.
“Why are you lying?”
Brigid was up to her elbows in suds again.
“See, Doctor? I’m in over my head. Marty and I are trying to do everything you people tell us to do, but you’re not helping us handle it. Right now, with Stew acting this way, I can’t deal with him. If you make me take Stew home, something terrible is going to happen.”
“You stop that, Brigid, or I’m out of here,” Marty blasted, exhausted. “I can’t take any more.” Marty looked scared. “Control yourself, Stew.”
Wisotscky could see that the mother was narcissistic and childish. She acted like a girl. If the father would give the son some contained attention, everyone would be satisfied. And the father would feel better about himself, more self-esteem.
controlled.” Stew was enraged. “I’m not doing or saying what I want to say or do. Isn’t that what you want?”
“Stew.” Wisotscky decided to wrap it up. “Do you want to have a short-term residency in a juvenile detention facility?”
“You’ve got to stop it, Dad.”
“Stop what, Stew? Your father isn’t saying anything.”
“No, he said it before. He’s got to stop all those sentences beginning with the word
. I can’t take them anymore. Listen to me, Dad. I can’t take it. I’m not just saying that. I’m telling you the truth. Please, please, stop.”
“I’m talking, too,” Brigid said.
“Stop what?” Marty said. “What are you talking about? Are you hearing voices?”
“Stop everything that starts with the word
. I can’t take it, I’m not kidding.”
That was it. Marty gave up. Wisotscky saw him get overwhelmed. A little more paternal confidence and everything would be fine here.
“See, Doc, the kid doesn’t make any sense. Now he wants to stop me from talking. Well, kid, you can’t tell me how to talk. I’m going to tell
how to talk. Shut up. That’s how you should talk.”
“Mrs. and Mrs. Mulcahey, Carole, please step outside for a minute. I want to speak with Stew alone.”
Wisotscky sat back in his chair, watching, as Brigid, Carole, and Marty obeyed, angrily, awkwardly, silently, negotiating their exits.
The next day, Monday, Eva came back from work, groceries in hand. And flowers. Something horribly unexpected had happened on the way home. But inside their apartment, Mary was the one waiting for comfort.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said, tiny, vulnerable, relieved.
This sweetness opened Eva’s heart. It healed her. She kissed the love of her life.
“So am I.”
“I walked into the theater and he said, ‘I can get this play done, and I can do it soon.’”
“Wow!” This was
news. “The Federal Theater said that!” Eva put down the shopping bags and started jumping around.
“Oh, okay.” Listening quietly, Eva unpacked the vegetables. This was her greatest pleasure. To belong to someone. Someone to come home to, to talk to, someone waiting for her. Someone to listen to. To look at. This was it.
“That’s what I thought.” Mary was pacing, gesticulating, finally supported enough to be outraged. “I thought,
Wow, this is finally going to happen
.” She lit a cigarette.
The radishes were gorgeous. They were so white, they were like stars. Eva put them on a blue plate. It looked incredibly weird.
“Okay.” Mary imitated the gruff, dumb, generically male artistic director. “‘But we have to make the play work,’ he says. ‘It needs one good story.’”
“Okay.” Eva was open, wanting to get it. “Oh wait, is this that
whose play is it
“Wait!” Mary inhaled.
“‘I love the part about the boy,’ he says. ‘But those two gay women will have to go. They’re a distraction from the real story. What in the hell do they have to do with that boy?’”
“I like them,” Eva said, offering Mary a radish. “I like those two gay women.” She started putting flowers in a vase. “Did you explain?”
Yes, Mary had explained. This was her third appointment with the dramaturge at the Federal Theater. The first time, she’d come all dressed up and waited in the lobby for two hours while the seen-itall tired queen at the switchboard kept ringing his line and getting no answer.
“But he said two o’clock.”
“He’s up there.” The receptionist fluttered, batted his eyelids, drooped his eyelids, raised his eyebrows, fully activated all faggoty gestures that could possibly emerge from the ocular area. “He just don’t answer.”
The second round was three months later in a snowstorm. She’d braved blocks of no buses, no sidewalks, no paths. Arrived in the stone-cold lobby and waited for two hours. Then braved them all again empty-handed.
This was strike three. The dramaturge was a sort of cruel, sarcastic young man. He had a respected actor for a boyfriend, and that gave him even more status. It made them an “It” couple. And therefore part of the infamous theatrical hierarchy. That was one thing
that had taken Mary years to figure out. The Hierarchy. If you were lower than someone, they were dismissive to you, and if you were higher, they were subservient. It had nothing to do with whether or not someone authentically liked her. It had nothing to do with her at all. If one day she could get some currency, then people who had been awful would be nice. And that would feel great—she knew it. But how to get from here to there?
So finally she’d made it into his office, where he sat behind an important desk and she sat in a single chair. But she was ready. She’d come prepared to explain.
“See,” Mary told this man with power. “I grew up in a small town called Del Sol, California, where the wind changes direction many times a day. It taught me that in life there is momentum on all paths at once.”
He was still breathing.
It was so warm, that wind. It pushed you forward, kissed your soul, stood in your way. One force in many directions, each with its own purpose.
“So the two gay women in my play are actually interesting. But the audience doesn’t know how to watch them. They’re not used to them. They’re used to watching men.”
He seemed to still have a pulse.
“That’s what I have to offer an audience that’s special. That big news that we’re all in the same world, together. And that no one needs to see a boy in order to see himself. You know?”
Something was going wrong. Mary started to panic. The man who was supposed to finally help her, the one who was supposed to be different and open the door. That man wasn’t coming through. He wasn’t getting it.
“You know? The boy and the women are each other’s story. One story. The space between their experiences is the story. One story. Like the wind. One wind.”
She sat back watching this lump of entitlement decide her fate. She’d brought him a gift, didn’t he see that?
He smiled. Good.
“Keep me posted.”
Then he got back on the phone.
“I’m going to have a glass of wine.”
“No, thanks,” Eva said and kissed her on the mouth. “I believe in you.”
As soon as she tasted the Chardonnay, Mary started strategizing for her meeting the following day with a really big producer. She had to change her method. Telling the truth did not work. This time, no matter what, she would be what he wanted her to be.
If he’s a nice fag, she’ll be herself and flirt a little and be smart. If he’s an asshole fag, she’ll be really competent and smart, no flirting, but she won’t be smarter than him.
If he’s straight, she’ll flirt as long as there are no straight women in the room, because they can do it better and she’ll look dumb. If there is a straight woman in the room, she’ll have to remember not to flirt with her, and not to be smarter than her in front of him. Sisterhood and all that. What if there’s a lesbian in the room? There won’t be.
“What time are you meeting Hockey?”
“We said he’d come pick me up at seven-thirty, so he’ll be here at seven.” Eva placed the vase of flowers on the table. Then she sat down on the couch. She touched her lover’s sloping shoulder with private gratitude and grace. “What are you doing to do?”
“I got a tape of the first five episodes of that new series
. I’m gonna watch them, try to figure out the formula.”
“Have I ever seen that one?”
“Yeah.” Mary was excited. She had her pad and pencil ready. “Remember? The black guy got shot. The white girl got breast cancer and died. The nurse used to be a dominatrix, and the radiologist needed a green card?”
“They’re all like that.”
“No, no, no. In this one a blind girl was kidnapped, someone stole a Six train, the orderly fell in love with the elevator, and the opera singer got breast cancer and died?”
“Oh, okay.… Honey,” Eva said softly. “Something really creepy happened.”
Mary stopped, looked up. She saw the expression on Eva’s face.
“What happened?”
“At the Bar Association cocktail party. My sister. It’s so ridiculous.”
Mary cared. “Of course you’re upset.”
“Yeah, I’m upset.”
“What happened?”
Sometimes love is just asking an open-ended question, then sitting back and listening with compassion. It can be a question like
What happened?
Or it can be something even smaller, like
What is a poem?
What was it like when you were young?
It’s the opening of a window, the creation of space. The interest. The time.
“Well,” Eva said, now feeling it. Now having her turn. Now being in her home with her lover, having her moment. “It was bad enough when we found out that she’d had a baby and didn’t tell us.”
“That was awful.”
“But today I actually ran into someone who had been invited to the baby shower. Isn’t that bizarre? I had to confess that we didn’t know anything about it.”
“Your sister, I want to kill her.”
“No one’s killing anyone.” Eva did want to kill her sister, but she would never say so. Mary would say so. Eva depended on her for it.
“Did you finally find out if it’s a girl or a boy?”
No, Eva had been too embarrassed to ask.
“Mary, do you think it’s child abuse to keep your kids away from their lesbian aunts?”
“Legally? How would I know?”
“Can I go into court and sue for the right to be an aunt?”
“I don’t think you can win that way.”
All the way home from the cocktail party, she had looked at little children on the street and thought about their phantom niece/ nephew. It felt so bad. Eva didn’t know how to fight this thing.
“What if I offer to meet our niece/nephew with a chaperone?”
“No.” Mary was certain. “Absolutely not. I am not going to let you do that to yourself. This is not your fault.”
It felt so good to have someone say
This is not your fault
when in fact it was not. And yet in some way she wished it were, because then she could change it. If the problem was that Eva was an alcoholic, she could go to detox, rehab, endless AA meetings, and many cups of coffee later change it all. It would be in her hands. But when the cruelty comes from the outside–in some stark, unwanted reality–she is at its mercy. Unless her sister changed, Eva would be spending the rest of her life following little girls on the street wondering
Is that my niece?
Always longing for justice—to be treated the way that she deserved. To know how to make that real.
“Look,” Mary said, refilling her glass. “There are a lot of lost kids around. Remember yourself. What if there was a child who really needed you?”
“If she needed me?”
“Or he?”
“If he needed me?”
“Well, maybe someday our niece/nephew will be that child. But maybe it’ll be someone else. Let’s keep our eyes open in case a child needs you, needs me. I think it would make you feel better.”
“I need you,” Eva said. “But I am not a child. I’ve only done two things right in my entire life. You. And no children.”
Stew Mulcahey and Dan Wisotscky were alone together.
Stew was scared. Which side was Wisotscky on? Stew felt somewhat lulled by the guy’s soft tones, but then he noticed a slight flickering in the eyes. The calculation of assessment. He seemed nice, but it could easily be a trick.
“Now we will begin the individual evaluation component of the intake. Stew?” Dan asked kindly. He’d obviously settled on taking the
approach. “When you are sitting at home on your computer, have you ever gone to the Hairy Chest Page?”
Stew’s face was flat, but inside he was panicking. His new plan was that if he couldn’t think of the right thing to say, he would just be quiet.
“I know you met those men on the Internet. You think they’re your friends, but they’re not.”
Stew flinched. He dug his nails into his palms. He was a good soldier.
“This might be tough for you, Stew. But some police officers from Buffalo, New York, using online names that tend to attract kiddie porn traders, collected thousands of graphic images from men like your friends. These include forty-one baby rape photographs. Would you like to see these photographs, Stew?”
Stew looked around the office. The desk wasn’t as impressive as it had been when he first walked in. It was fake wood. He knew the difference. These chairs were made of shit.
“No, thank you.”
“I think you should take a look. I want you to realize how sick these men are who violated you. How low they’ll stoop. Once you realize that, you can put this event behind you forever. Once you see an eight-year-old baby boy being raped, you’ll throw up. You’ll never forget it. Would you like to see a young girl and an adult male having sex?”

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