This month at Lethe sees the release of For Want Of A Horse, edited by Evey Brett, collecting together twenty-three tales of "supernatural stallions, magical mares and paranormal ponies" handpicked by queen of the genre Evey Brett, this collection features stories both old and new.
On Tuesday we gave you an excerpt from 'Red Dust and Dancing Horses' by Beth Cato. Today, you can read an excerpt from 'Rafael' by Evey Brett herself:
I'd always been more sensitive to the presence of others than the average man, which meant large cities with their stifling crowds, often at all hours, left me anxious. Rome I discovered to be one of the most difficult: by the time my taxi pulled up in front of the hotel, I was nearly blind with a migraine. When I stepped out into the air, tainted with vehicle fumes, I had to lean against the taxi until the dizziness subsided.
“Si sente bene, Padre?”
It wasn’t the driver who’d spoken, but a policeman mounted on a handsome bay mare. Concern radiated from him, which didn’t help my poor head, but after so many years in the priesthood, I’d learned how to wear a serene expression no matter the circumstances. “Sto bene, grazie.” That was the extent of pure Italian I could speak, though since my native tongue was Catalan and I had studied Latin since I could read, I understood a good deal of the city’s babble.
The horse nudged my shoulder with her nose and let out a soft snort, as if she knew I was lying. I stroked her soft muzzle, calmed by her gentle presence. The throbbing in my head eased just enough to be bearable.
“Buon giorno,” the policeman said and directed his horse through the crowd. By then the driver had fetched my bag, which he handed off to a waiting porter. After a few deep breaths, I was able to steady myself and take stock of my new surroundings. The hotel’s façade seemed to glorify the city’s history, with stone lions flanking the columns and a gigantic fountain showing a mural of Bacchus in the midst of a wine-fueled orgy. I thought it a work of art, but Generalissimo Franco would have deemed the scene morally reprehensible and had it destroyed.
But this wasn’t Spain, and for a little while, at least, I didn’t have to worry about internment or being killed if I did or said the wrong thing. My greatest worry now was being able to cope with the crowds while not revealing my affliction.
I followed the porter into a lobby buzzing with guests, mustachioed men and women in lurid dresses and tall bouffant hairstyles. It took all of my effort to keep from being overwhelmed by the intensity of their thoughts and emotions, which transformed my headache into a sensation akin to ice picks driving through my skull.
Breathing deeply, I closed my eyes, wishing I’d been able to find an excuse to keep from attending a conference on alternative healing, but my superior had insisted. “You spend so much time alone, Rafael. Besides, with your dedication to your patients, there’s no one better to represent us.”
The irony was that I was interested in all aspects of healing, though much of it was because I was desperate to ease the pain of others and thus spare myself. So when the Salesian Pontifical University had offered to sponsor a Spanish candidate, I’d been sent. And while it was a relief to be free of Spain’s dictatorship, however briefly, I couldn’t risk letting my guard down.
The porter led me to the registration desk. A few minutes later I had a key and a room which, the attendant assured me, had an excellent view of Olympic stadium built three years before in 1960. She gestured down the hall. “The conference is to your left and through the double doors. You can’t miss it.”
The porter held up my bag. “I’ll put this in your room and see that everything’s perfect.”
“Thank you.” I handed him a tip and caught a flash of pleasure as he grinned and departed.
The foyer was crowded with doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and practitioners of every sort of healing including energetic, herbal and spiritual. I checked in at the welcome desk, picked up my name tag which dangled from a lanyard, then wandered around to get my bearings, exchanging nods with a few Vatican priests. Cigarette smoke drifted through the air, increasing my malaise.
I was about to head toward the elevators when my skin tingled. Something uncomfortable, something akin to electricity. The sensation traveled through my body, lodging there and filling me with sickening unease. I lost what little control I had. Emotions tumbled into my mind, nauseating with their intensity. I struggled against my rising terror. There was evil in this place. Someone—something—was filled with an insatiable hunger all too similar to that which I’d gleaned from many of the soldiers and politicians in Spain.
Frightened, I looked around. No one else seemed to have noticed anything amiss. Priests, doctors, laymen—there were so many people present that I couldn’t tell from where the vileness emanated. My first impulsive thought was that someone had followed me from Barcelona, intent on exposing me. Then I caught hold of myself. There was no reason for them to tail me. I’d been careful to keep my secret.
For Want Of A Horse is out now from Lethe Press. Check it out.
This week we put our five questions to For Want Of A Horse editor Evey Brett.
For Want Of A Horse is out now from Lethe Press. Check it out.
This month at Lethe sees the release of For Want Of A Horse, edited by Evey Brett, collecting together twenty-three tales of "supernatural stallions, magical mares and paranormal ponies" handpicked by queen of the genre Evey Brett, this collection features stories both old and new.
Read an excerpt from 'Red Dust and Dancing Horses' by Beth Cato:
No horses existed on Mars. Nara could change that.
She stared out the thick-paned window. Tinted dirt sprawled to a horizon, mesas and rock-lipped craters cutting the mottled sky. It almost looked like a scene from somewhere out of the Old West on Earth, like in the two-dimensional movies she studied on her tablet. Mama thought that 20th-century films were the ultimate brain-rotting waste of time, so Nara made sure to see at least two a week. Silver, Trigger, Buttermilk, Rex, Champion—she knew them all. She had spent months picturing just how their hooves would sink into that soft dirt, how their manes would lash in the wind. How her feet needed to rest in the stirrups, heels down, and how the hot curve of a muzzle would fit between her cupped hands.
The terraforming process had come a long way in the two hundred years since mechs established the Martian colonies. Nara didn’t need a pressure suit to walk outside, but in her lifetime she’d never breathe on her own outside of her house or the Corcoran Dome. There would never be real horses here, not for hundreds of years, if ever. But a mechanical horse could find its way home in a dust storm, or handle the boggy sand without breaking a leg. She could ride it. Explore. It would be better than nothing. Her forehead bumped against the glass. But to have a real horse with hot skin and silky mane…
“Nara, you’re moping again.” Mama held a monitor to each window, following the seal along the glass. “No matter how long you stare out the window and sulk, we can’t afford to fly you back to Earth just to see horses. They’re hard to find as it is. Besides, you know what happened when that simulator came through last year.”
Yeah. Each Martian-borne eleven-year-old child had sat in a booth strung with wires and sensors so that they could feel the patter of rain and touch the flaking dryness of eucalyptus bark. Nara smelled the dankness of fertile earth for the very first time. She threw up. The administrators listed her as a category five Martian, needing the longest quarantine time to acclimate to Earth, if she ever made the trip.
“Blast it, another inner seal is weakening,” Mama muttered, moving to the next window.
The dull clang of metal echoed down the hall, followed by the soft whir of Papa’s mechs. Papa would understand. He would listen.
Her feet tapped down the long tunnel to his workshop. Nara rubbed the rounded edge of the tablet tucked at her waist. Sand pattered against the walls as the wind whistled a familiar melody.
The workshop stood twice as big as the rest of the household, echoing with constantly-clicking gears. The grey dome bowed overhead, the skylight windows showing only red. Papa’s legs stuck out from beneath the belly of a mining cart, his server mechs humming as they dismantled the plating on a small trolley alongside him. The workshop was half empty. The basalt mine had received a new load of equipment just two weeks before, and as Papa described it, he’d have a lull before everything decided to break again. Judging by the lack of dents on this cart, the lull was already over.
“Hey, girly. Hand me the tenner,” Papa said, a hand thrusting through a gap in the chassis. Nara passed him the tool. “What’re you up to?”
“Nothing.” Nara slipped open the tablet, expanding the screen with a tug of her fingers. After a few taps, she accessed the data she wanted: the anatomy of the horse. Her fingers flicked up, removing the layer of skin, then the muscles, leaving the bones. One of the nearby mechs bowed, his knees fluid and graceful as he picked up a tire and conveyed it to a stack on the far side. Nara squinted, looking between the mech and the screen.
“You’re never up to nothing,” Papa said. “Did Mama kick you out of the house?”
“Not yet. I was wondering something, actually. Think I could use the extra space you have in here to make a project?”
Wheels whined as Papa pushed himself out. “What sort of project?” Grey and red smudges framed the skin around his goggles.
Nara held up the tablet, projecting the images out six inches. Papa chuckled low. “Why am I not surprised?” he asked. “You want to build a horse?”
All Lethe Press books, including For Want Of A Horse, are available through the major online retailers and booksellers. You can also support the press and authors by buying directly from our website.
Welcome to Lethe's weekly Giveaway Mondays -- and this week we're getting in the spirit of winter.
Firstly, we've got three ebooks of A Report From Winter by Wayne Courtois to give away. Described as "stark and evocative story will grip readers" by Rainbow Reviews, A Report From Winter is a death-in-the-family story, a love story, and a meditation on the meaning of 'winter'. Find out more on our website. To win, just like our facebook page and share the competition image, or follow and RT us on twitter @lethepress.
Secondly, all week the Lethe/Bear Bones Books anthology The Bears of Winter, edited by Jerry L. Wheeler, is just $10 dollars in paperback, which is definitely not something to be missed. Follow this link to buy on our website.
Every week, Lethe posts a list of ten books on a theme compiled from suggestions by our readers, editors and authors. The list is neither exhaustive, didactic, or ranked, and while there are undoubtedly countless books you've missed off, perhaps you'll find a few new ones here to discover for yourself.
The holidays - if the adverts are to be believed - are all about family, but sometimes for those who fall into the queer spectrum, this might not be as easy or as comfortable as for everyone else around us. For many of us, we have built our own families around us with much-loved friend - groups that provide us support, love and validation. In his Tales of the City series, Armistead Maupin coined the term 'logical family' (as distinct from 'biological'.) Here are our picks for books that depict gay friendship in all its glory - whether it be to push away the looming family holiday which either comes with or without family, or just because you fancy reading a damn good book.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Well... this list couldn't even begin with Maupin, could it? Maupin coined the phrase 'logical family' -- as distinct from 'biological family' -- and places it in the mouth of the den mother Anna Madrigal, referring to his diverse constellation of characters across the Tales of City series. The message that 'found family' can be more powerful than 'real family' is never clearer than in Michael Tolliver Lives, when Michael Tolliver is forced to choose between attending the deathbeds of either his mother, or Anna Madrigal.
A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham
A novel preoccupied with the complex relationship between a male-male-female trio of friends who become lovers, A Home At The End of the World delicately untangles the complications of establishing a family that loves and supports itself with its own special set of rules. The trio walk back and forth across the line between lover and friend across the spread of the story, but at its heart is the strength of the 'found family' the three create for themselves.
FROM THE LETHE VAULTS:
The Mariposa Club by Rigoberto Gonzalez
Finding your own identity amongst a band of like-minded friends is a familiar theme in Young Adult fiction, and The Mariposa Club memorably explores this area within a close group of friends who identify as LGBT. A sweet but powerful story of the bond between friends granting the strength to overcome adversity, The Mariposa Club was also on our list of 'gay YA books for someone who just came out'.
Buy The Mariposa Club here.
Love! Valour! Compassion! by Terrence McNally
Okay, so we're cheating a bit: the next two titles are actually play scripts. Later adapted into a film, Love! Valour! Compassion! tells the story of eight gay friends who spend three weekends of a summer together in a summer home. For all the tensions, rivalries and insecurities that are rife amongst the group, the play turns on the bond between them as they weather relationships, AIDs concerns, infidelities and soul-searching.
The Boys In The Band by Mart Crowley
A potentially controversial entry on the list, The Boys in the Band is more famously known as a film, though it was adapted from an off-Broadway play by playwright Crowley. Although with a modern eye the story can be seen as a time-capsule of self-loathing, there is undeniably a bond between the characters in the play. As dysfunction as a biological family perhaps, but found family nonetheless.
FROM THE LETHE VAULTS:
BearCity: The Novel by Lawrence Ferber
Based on the award-winning movie, BearCity follows the funny, romantic and often dramatic adventures of a tight-knit pack of bears, cubs and friends in New York City. Found-family friendships amongst LGBTQ people is one thing, but it can be argued that the bond is even deeper for the characters of BearCIty, who belong to an oft-ignored subculture within the LGBT world. A sweet, funny and occasionally filthy book. (Plus, look out for the follow-up film BearCity 2 and the upcoming BearCity 3.)
Halfway Home by Paul Monette
Halfway Home concerns itself with the return of the protagonist Tom, sick with AIDs, to heal the rift with his brother, but the story opens with an introduction to Tom's own tight-knit circle of friends who have replaced his absent biological family.
The Wolf at the Door by Jameson Currier
Described as "It's a Wonderful Life fused with all the ensemble wit of Tales of the City and the regional gothic texture of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire", The Wolf at the Door is a tale of spirits, spooks, and sinners, a supernatural roller coaster set in the Big Easy that is giddy, soulful and sentimental, featuring an eclectic and tight-knit group of friends.
FROM THE LETHE VAULTS:
Safe as Houses by Alex Jeffers
Described as "a gay novel about family values'' by Edmund White, Safe as Houses is the story of Allen Pasztory and his family -- the family he was born to and the family he has stumbled into and embraced. A hearing child of deaf parents, Allen enjoyed comfort and seclusion in his early family life, an experience that he tries to re-establish in the new family he is creating.
Buy Safe As House here.
Never The Bride by Paul Magrs
A borderline entry on the list, but one we couldn't resist because we love the series so much. Never The Bride introduces the trio of Brenda (the Bride of Frankenstein), Effie (the witch next door) and Robert (the queer fella who works at the mysterious hotel) and together they investigate supernatural goings-on in Whitby. The frothy 'chintzpunk' exterior is built on a strong and endearing core friendship between the group that, whilst it only includes one explicitly LGBTQ character, is queer to the core in its banding together of the ultimate outsiders, and in later books in the series the group expands to include Robert's faintly alien boyfriend (as well as a whole bunch of other characters.)
It's easy to talk about queer literature - or LGBT literature, or gay literature, or QUILTBAG literature, or whatever your preferred term is - and assume that all that means is that the stories feature LGBT characters. But is there something deeper that makes a story truly queer in a way that is more than just window dressing?
What do you think? What makes a story truly 'queer'? Comment here, or on our facebook page, or tweet us @lethepress and let us know.
It's nearly the weekend, so it's high time for a little fun, don't you think? Every Friday we're posting an excerpt from one of Lethe's erotica anthologies, and this week we're featuring one our classic releases from the Bear Bones Books imprint, Bearotica, edited by R. Jackson.
Read the story 'Four Times In Room 230' by Daniel M. Jaffe. (And if you're a fan of Jaffe, take a look at yesterday's post for another of his stories from his collection Jewish Gentle.)
I glimpse you in the maze, rounding a corner, your hairy chest disappearing behind a black wall, your ponytail. A beard?
I hear you from around the corner, from behind the wall, your voice soft and firm, telling another man to turn around. I eavesdrop for moans.
Others walk by me, muscular men, lean men, who size me up in the shadows of Chicago’s baths, who notice the hair coating my chest, my pudgy waist; they sashay quickly past.
I hear a sigh from around the corner. You or the other? I reach beneath my white towel, excitement growing at men’s sounds. I think to steal a glance around the corner, but you might want privacy in this public space; some do; I don’t wish to annoy because, even though another occupies your maze-lair now, later the chance could be mine.
Whether or not we actually meet, I decide, you will be the memory I leave with tonight, the grizzly wraith I’ll conjure when, later at the hotel, I telephone my lover back in Boston, when I make him playfully envious of my night’s harmless romp.
From behind your corner steps a man, tall and hairless and thin. Oh. Is that what you want — smooth and lanky? I haven’t a chance.
Then you emerge, tall and thick, hair covering your full chest, your solid belly, brown hair tangling down somewhere behind the towel. And yes, a beard, yes.
You walk, notice me, stop. You stop still. Stock still, two arm-lengths away. Your eyes, I see your eyes seeing mine and you stand there still. Maybe? Maybe I should — ? Or maybe you’ll slap my hand away, mock with a laugh?
Hell, I’ll take the chance.
I step forward, reach out, graze the back of my knuckles against your chest and . . . you move toward me. I splay out my hands, fill each with hairy flesh, your nipples hard against my palms, your hair entwining my fingers, and you reach out to me, stroke my upper arms, reach around me, pull me close, bend your head down to nuzzle the hair swirling on my left shoulder.
Your Fuller Brush beard against my shoulder, my left, then my right. “Turn around,” you whisper and I, usually resistant to command, obey without question. You reach your arms, your hands around me; my nipples between your thick fingertips. Ahh. Gentle nuzzling, beard against back of neck, tongue in my right ear, my left, and someone else, some unknown hand reaches out in the darkness to grab at my hard-on meant for you, he squeezes — did you know? Your arms around me, your thick arms, your arms pulling me close, you pressing against me, all of you against me, around me. A whispered invitation to your room.
I disengage from the anonymous groping hand to follow you, watching as you lumber just a bit side to side and stomp, your feet thumping against the indoor-outdoor carpeting, your calf muscles flexing, your butt now tightening, now releasing beneath the white towel, fine damp hair filming your back, light brown hair to match the ponytail half-matted with sweat.
A cold, late December night, but Room 230 is warm.
Inside, towels off, I reach up to embrace you. You look down at me. Your thick mustache against mine, your wet lips covered in soft bristle, your tongue reaching to soothe.
You want to know — do I like massage? Is oil okay?
For you, this Yogi Bear with blue eyes and gentle touch, I lie face down, my eyes blinded by pillow. So unlike me, usually wary and guarded and closed, to lie on my belly for a stranger, to lie vulnerable, unable to see an approach from behind.
You kneel over me, straddle me, your heavy cock and balls brush my ass, I hear the rub of your hands together warming the oil. You begin with my shoulders. Ahh. Gentle and firm, strong, deep, ahh. Shoulders and back and butt, your fingertips along my butt, gently inside and — oh oh oh, tongue replacing fingers, beard against my ass, tongue deep, oh oh oh — then your hands on my thighs, on calves, on feet. You lift my feet one at a time, take charge of my feet as if to assure yourself I won’t run away, you fill your mouth with my feet, toe by toe, your tongue in between, your beard, the bristles.
Violin tremors. Chocolate ice cream chills.
Your mouth between my toes then up my calves, your tongue, again my butt — oh God — and up, your tongue along my spine, your beard, you take my arms between your hands, my thin hairy arms between your thick fingers and you . . . do something . . . some rubbing or squeezing or kneading, I can’t even tell, but my fingertips feel ready to ejaculate blood.
“Are you relaxed?”
You roll me onto my side then, I open my eyes to see you lie down facing me on the narrow cot. I want to feel all of you, your body, I nuzzle your eyes and your beard and taste your massage-oil lips, your tongue with the flavor of my butt, and I clutch your face, probe my tongue deep into your mouth so deep it drags out half my chest, I fill you with me and you squeak, a little river-otter squeak of delight, your blue eyes squeezed shut at the force of my tongue against yours, my hands filled with your beard, me shifting us both so I lie on top of you, rubbing hairy chest against chest, kissing you, not pulling away, not letting you pull away, breathing your breath, filling your lungs with mine, your arms around me, your hands grabbing my ass, our cocks against each other and you, you whimpering sweet surrender and trumpeting conquest: “Fuck me.”
A moment of preparation — me kneeling, sliding it on, lifting your heavy legs to my shoulders — slipping in. I tell myself I should focus on the tingles, the sensations of your hands on my chest, my cock inside you, but it’s your face that fills my mind, your beautiful face, your hair, your beard, your chest, your eyes again squeezing shut, your head snapping right and left, your moans, your groans loud now from the gut, your growls, you not caring who in other rooms, in the hall, on upper floors might hear your howls and roars and we are two bears rutting a winter summons and challenge to spring.
Your sounds wane to whispers, I slow, your eyes open and you tell me I’m the most this in the world, the best that, and again I gently pound my belly against the backs of your thighs, filling you as deeply as I can, slowly now. I thrust. Your eyes shut. Again the moans. And again the roars and you gasp, motion me to stop. You’ve come twice, without even touching yourself.
Your thighs down, I lie on top of you, satisfied that you’re satisfied; you look away and say the most romantic phrase I’ve ever heard: that if you stare into my eyes, you will come yet again.
We shift so I’m on my back, you’re on your side, your head resting on my chest, your hand playing with my gray hairs among the brown, and I hear that same joy whimper as before, I hug you closer.
“I’d fall asleep on your chest,” you say, “but I’d lose my heart.” This is a statement, but also perhaps a question, a tentative request for permission.
I so want you to fall asleep against my chest, to lose your heart to me, but I’ve no right, holding, as I do, the heart of another back home who holds my own. What is this need to forage and hunt when the larder is full?
So we talk. You of your home in Seattle, me of home in Boston, his home and mine. You whimper again, perhaps in residual joy, perhaps in regret. I’m sorry and I’m glad.
You’re a cellist, you explain, come here to Chicago to audition for the symphony the day after next; I’m here for a conference of literature professors, will leave town tomorrow. A chance encounter. You say: if your relationship ever ends, not that I hope it will, but if . . .
Sweet sweet sweet.
What is this capacity to share so with a stranger, to feel tenderness toward a furry wanderer amid shadows? To meet and within minutes to trust, to place ourselves in each others’ hands, to trust our bodies, our eyes, to trust the perimeters of our hearts?
We kiss again, you make me hard. You caress my balls as we kiss and I suck in your tongue, vacuum your mouth while your finger enters my ass, index finger or thumb or both or more. Inside me, I feel you inside me. I pump my cock with my hand and instead of the usual quick surge to Everest, I rise slowly to foothills, then higher amid brambles, your fingers inside me, your hand, maybe your arm, your shoulder, your head climbing in while I rise to a ledge, hear moans, my moans, feel your ponytail tease the tip of my cock, and my back arches for you to crawl up inside me, pound me, fill me up and up and up until peak after peak after peak.
I’m in a swirl of darkness, feel only the heaving of my chest, then you pull out your hand, I hear you stroke, you come onto me.
I gasp, breathe deep, sit up, sit up straight, try to clear my head. I stare into your blinking eyes, pull your head down to my lap, the back of your head on my lap, your face looking up at mine, your lips, I graze your bearded lips, our eyes lock, you whisper, “I see your heart behind your eyes,” you reach down to yourself and . . . a fourth time.
You are amazed at your fourth time. I am amazed at your fourth time. To come four times, you are not bear but lion. To be able to inspire such vigor, I feel myself lion as well.
More whispers and caresses, nipple tweaks and hugs, sincere declarations of how special and what a fantasy. Completely sincere. Sighs. Exchange of addresses on matchbooks.
A final kiss. Final for now, we say, knowing it’s likely final for always.
I leave Room 230, shower and dress, bundle up, leave the bathhouse, take a taxi through the windy cold to my hotel.
I could have invited you to the hotel with me, could have tempted you to count beyond four, could have tried for a record of my own. But if I had, if I had made you risk losing your heart, if I had risked losing my own, if I had lost it, how could I then telephone my lover, as I’m now about to do, and make him smile at an honest, lusty tale?
All Lethe Press books, including Bearotica, are available through the major online retailers and booksellers. You can also support the press and authors by buying directly from our website.
Every Thursday, Lethe takes a look through its vaults for its proudest releases. This week, to coincide with the time of year, it's Jewish Gentle and Other Stories of Gay-Jewish Living by Daniel M. Jaffe, in which the author explores a multitude of aspects of gay-Jewish life.
From the collection, Lethe presents the story 'Telling Dad', which you can either listen to, or read below:
“Sorry to hear about your Dad. You Jews don’t got wakes, do you?”
The plain white sheet fastens itself too snugly around my neck; moist thighs stick to the leather seat; shorts ride up in a gradual, subtle attempt to constrict my crotch. The warm, slow-moving air wandering in through the open window sports the familiar fragrance of shaving cream, hair tonic and Pat’s Old Spice cologne. So very Dorchester. Old Boston.
“You don’t get to see him again?”
“Just the pine box.”
“Strange. Live and let live. What do you want done to you?”
Some long, some short black combs cluster in the lavender water of the glass Brylcreem jar. On a dusty ledge beside the cash register, a few pieces of Bazooka bubble gum soften in the sunlight. In their red, white, and blue wrappers they lie scattered like rejected offspring of the red, white and blue barber pole twirling outside.
The crowd roars on the old television reflected in front of me. The unframed tube still sits on that rickety platform in a corner behind the barber chairs. Growing up, I watched baseball only through Pat’s mirrored wall.
“The Sox are doing okay this season. At least they’re keeping their socks up.”
The first time I heard that stale attempt at humor, I giggled. Dad and I were both excited at my first barbershop haircut. “You’re a big boy of five, now. Time for a real man’s haircut. Just like Daddy.”
Dad hugged me on his lap. During the scissoring, he read to me from Tales of the Old West while I studied pictures of the cowboys. The sheriff looked like Dad—stern with a thin face, trim mustache, thick eyebrows, bushy sideburns. Then, as we sang “Hinei Ma Tov,” my favorite Hebrew song, I hardly minded the buzz of the electric razor.
“Remember that time your Dad bet me on the World Series?”
I smile for the first time since the interruption of last night’s kiss. Unable to ignore the shrill ring of the telephone any longer, I retrieved my tongue, smiled apologetically, and picked up the receiver. “…Okay, Mom, I’ll come home…. I know he didn’t mean to…. Okay.”
“Remember?” Pat repeated. “Only time I ever seen your Dad bet. He won, too. Ooops. Sorry for the nick.”
That sting. The same sting I felt sitting in this chair six years ago. Having just arrived back in Boston that morning for Passover, I decided to get a trim before Dad finished work. I was proud of those long, thick, Samsonesque locks, but a trim would make it easier on Dad, and on me.
For the most part, the seder was typical. Dad didn’t like the way I chanted the kiddush, the blessing over the wine. We engaged in our annual argument over the virtues of Sephardic versus Ashkenazic pronunciation of the Hebrew prayers. I registered my standard complaint that many of the ceremonial readings during dinner had nothing to do with liberation from bondage; Dad defended the unfathomable symbols of “the way it’s been done for generations.”
The only unusual aspect of the evening was Dad’s refusal to leave my hair alone. “Never when I was a boy did we wear such long hair.” Tug. “Only the maidlach, the girls.” Pull. “You should get it cut.” Yank.
I was not in a mood to expose my privacy then.
The next morning in synagogue, Dad wore Grandpa’s prayer shawl, shockling—swaying back and forth—as he prayed, the way his father used to. Even though we prayed in a different synagogue than the one Dad had attended as a boy, he still sat in the back, on the left, just where he and Grandpa used to sit in their synagogue.
When the new cantor introduced an Israeli melody for one of the traditional prayers of the service, Dad refused to learn the tune. He nearly stormed out in a huff when a woman stood before the congregation and opened the ark where the Torah resides. “It’s just a small change, Dad. Women are getting rights. Times are different.”
“Some things we don’t change. A little change here, a little change there…soon you don’t recognize anything anymore!” He agreed to stay through the service so that he could complain to the rabbi afterwards.
That was not the time to tell him.
Lunch was on the table when we walked in. He grumbled through the potted meatballs and potatoes. “What’s this?” he asked Mom, pointing to a chocolate-iced cake.
“It’s all right. No milk. It’s parve.”
“Of course! Thirty-five years I’ve been making Passover. I know which foods are allowed. It’s a new mix. Manischewitz.”
Dad ate applesauce.
That was not the time, either. I waited until after his nap. We went for a walk.
“You sure surprised me when you bet on the World Series. It was a great Series, wasn’t it?”
“That was months ago, half a year. Why now?”
He smiled and clasped my shoulder. “You think your father doesn’t know his own son anymore? Something’s troubling you, right? You want to talk about something, I can tell.”
“I knew it. You can live far away at college, but you’re still my boy. So tell me. A difficult course?… A mean teacher?… A girl maybe?… You turn red. That’s it, isn’t it? I told your mother when you started college that soon you’d be bringing home a maideleh to make your mother jealous. You have a little girlfriend and you want to invite her home? No prob—” He stopped and raised his hand to the side of his mouth, hiding his words from no one in particular. “She’s Jewish?”
“Dad, there’s no girl.”
“No? So what’s the problem?”
“It’s not a problem, Dad. It’s….” Blurting was the only possible way: “There’ll never be a girl.” I explained as best I could. I had been rehearsing this speech for years.
“First your hair, now this. It’s not our way. It’s goyish. I never heard of anyone Jewish this way.”
“You’re right, that was a good World Series game. I always liked the Sox.” He mumbled, “Only once I bet. Six months later, look what happens.”
“Dad, we’re not talking about the World Series.”
“That’s all we’re talking about. It’s the most important thing in baseball. That’s all you talked about today. I heard nothing else! Only baseball.”
Pat finishes dabbing the nick with an alcohol-soaked cloth. “Baseball’s what all the customers want to watch. It’s part of what a barbershop’s all about. Some kids say I should change it to a ‘hair salon,’ nix the TV, and hire a woman barber. Nothing wrong with that, I guess. Just different. Can’t get used to it.”
For six years, Dad refused to discuss the issue. I knew what was going through his head, all the religious prohibitions and condemnations. I tried to talk to him about it, but whenever I did, he left the room. So I wrote him letters explaining that I was violating only a minor proscription, not a major commandment, certainly not one of the Big Ten. The rule was put there to keep the ancient Hebrews separate from local peoples so they wouldn’t lose their identity. I’m secure in my identity. I keep kosher, go to synagogue, pray.
He never responded. It’s not that he ever stopped discussing baseball with me or refused to talk about academics or forgot to remind me of an upcoming holiday. He just never commented on the important issue.
But he always tugged my hair.
With a talcumed rag, Pat dusts off my face; flecks of hair drop to the floor like so many bomblets. “There you go. Looks neat, but it’s still awfully long. I mean, for a funeral. Sure you don’t want me to cut it shorter?”
“Your Dad never could get used to it. He told me once that he thought you looked okay with it, just that it was different from his picture of you. It’s not the way he knew you when you were a kid. That’s why he razzed you.”
Finally, a breeze blows through the open window. The sheet gently billows, thighs slide a bit, shorts stop their climb. I twist the barber chair to face the TV, and I watch the baseball game for a few moments.
“Okay, Pat, maybe just a little shorter.”
This week we put our five questions (and a sneaky extra one) to Heiresses of Russ 2015 co-editor Jean Roberta.
Heiresses of Russ 2015 is out now from Lethe Press. Check it out.
This month at Lethe sees the release of Heiresses of Russ 2015, edited by Jean Roberta and Steve Berman. Showcasing the finest lesbian speculative fiction stories of the previous year, this collection features authors such as Seanen McGuire, Nicola Griffith, Annabeth Leong, Ken Liu, and more.
To buy the book, or see the full table of contents, follow this link.
Yesterday, we posted an excerpt from 'Because I Prayed This Word' by Alex Dally MacFarlane. Today, you can read an excerpt from 'Skeletons' by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam.
“Who’s gonna watch the skeletons?” I ask.
We’re about to go camping. Cathryn’s undressing before the closet in her garage apartment. I’m trying not to watch, though she wants me to. Instead I peer into her glass terrarium where the skeletons live, three of them: a dwarf T-Rex and two dwarf stegosauruses. The T-Rex stands atop a lonely pile of rocks.
“I was going to leave them extra food. You think that’s okay?” Cathryn rummages through the clothes pile on the floor, such beautiful chaos. I stare at her reflection in the glass. Her bra, lacy and black, makes me want to glimpse what’s underneath, even though I have before, five times.
“I guess so,” I say. I look back at the T-Rex. His name, Cathryn tells me, is Ronald. The steggos are called Thelma and Louise; she thinks she’s being ironic. The T-Rex’s bones are so small I’m sure that if I picked him up I would break him. His eyes are tiny as sequins and suspended in empty sockets. He wails like a cat in heat. “I think something’s wrong,” I say.
“He’s just hungry, Emma. Feed him. Food’s next to the cage.”
I open the yellow bottle of skeleton food; the musty smell makes me cough. The bottle is full of squiggling little worms. I pour some into the terrarium. Ronald clambers down the rocks. He dips his jaw into the worm pile and scoops them into his mouth, swallows. I can see them travel down his throat and into his empty bone stomach where they wriggle inside him.
Cathryn clears her throat. She stands before me with her hands on her hips, wearing tight blue jeans and a bumblebee-striped halter top. She’s dressed for clubbing, not camping, and I realize that the kind of camping we’ll be doing won’t require the hiking shoes or the toilet paper I brought. I tell her she looks great. She does. I look back at the tank. The T-Rex peers up at me.
“Let me free,” he whispers. His voice is like an echo. I can’t. We’re going camping.
In the shallow forest we set up our tent. The land has been cleared for people like us, who want to be in nature but not too far in. Our tent is a miniature house. The box says it will fit twenty people, but we’ve only got five. It has French doors that fold down and collapsible walls to give everyone a sense of privacy, but through the first night I hear Cathryn and Anne, the girlfriend she brought along, their heavy breath and little moans. They make the whole tent sweat.
The site is close to the river, but not too close. At night we cannot hear the current. The bathroom is just around the corner, and there’s a leaky water faucet next to where we parked the car, ten feet from the tent. Our friend Wendi brought a portable mini fridge and a fan; they run on batteries, but the fridge eats two an hour so we have to run to the store once a day and buy at least twelve packages of four. We make a game of it. In some ways the drive is the best part of the trip, mostly because Cathryn is the one with the car, and she’s asked me to go with her each time. We roll the windows down. She talks about the new girl, Anne, how they’ve just met but already spend nearly every night together. Every word she says feels like a secret between us. I don’t want to hear about Anne, but I don’t not want to hear about her either, because I want to know if she’s better than me. I want to know when we’ll share a bed again. I try to deduce the information from the cutesy story of how they met at the campus coffee shop, but I can’t, because Cathryn has always been unpredictable, mysterious. With her unflinching face she reveals nothing. Every time she asks me to get in the car with her, I do.
The nearest trash can is two whole miles from our site, so we’re forced to rough it in that regard at least, dumping our food scraps into a plastic bag. Most of what we brought is food. Peanut butter, bread, baked beans in a can and hot dogs with mustard, two bottles of cheap red wine and a plastic handle of rum. Our broke friend Mike does the cooking. It’s his way of paying us back. He also does the majority of the drinking. He’s brought his set of oils, and his paint-stained hands dye whatever he touches. Each hot dog bun has a blue handprint, and by the time dinner’s finished the rum bottle is covered in fingerprints.
The second night Wendi builds a fire and we sit around the flames. The smoke follows Cathryn. No matter where she sits, the wind moves in her direction. Finally she settles in one spot, lights a cigarette, and lets the smoke clog her eyes. We play a drinking game, Never Have I Ever.
“Never have I ever been to Disney World,” I say. Cathryn and Wendi put down a finger; they went there once together.
“Never have I ever done acid,” Wendi says. The rest of us admit defeat.
“Never have I ever been in love,” Cathryn says. No one puts down a finger; no one is sure enough to commit to that. We all four of us look at Cathryn through the smoke. Her hair is up, the skin of her neck glistening with sweat. That we all want her is common knowledge; we can’t help ourselves. This is what holds our friendships together, the flame to which we are helpless as moths.
That night, as we sleep, trees rustle, and the fallen branches on the ground crack like knuckles. When I leave the tent early in the morning to walk to the restroom, I find the contents of our trash bag scattered, the bottom ripped. By the river I spot a leopard, its white fur stretched so tight the bones poke through. In the disappearing moonlight I nearly see the heart pumping in its chest. It’s looking right at me, and I stand and stare until the sun creeps up and the leopard, its fur no longer see-through, bounds into the brush.
Back at the campsite a crowd is gathered around the dying embers of last night’s fire. A dodo skeleton hops around the fire pit. One of the bones from its foot is missing. Without the feathers it looks just like any other bird. We only know it’s a dodo from its fat chest, its dodo beak. Plus it tells us what it is when we ask it.
Cathryn shoos the bird. “Go, fly away.”
“Dodos don’t fly,” it says, lifting a bone wing. The invisible joints crack. “I’m stuck.
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