Saturday, August 24, 2013

How you are


Two minutes past midnight on the day of his wedding to Heather, Jason got out of bed and headed for a gay bar. He had to drive then take the Metro because there weren't any of those kinds of places in his town. The houses on his street were sleepy. At a stoplight by a shopping center, he could see a tank of goldfish
 shimmering inside a closed-for-the-night barber shop. March snow had turned to gray slush in the Metro parking lot. The trains of the Orange Line wailed in the night. 

At Mr. P's, Jason stood on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets. A short blonde man burst through the door laughing and began to smoke a cigarette. He noticed Jason and gave him a look of recognition. Jason had gotten that look before. The other time was in high school, when a boy named Darrell, whom Jason's father once referred to as the "flaming" variety of gay person, had invited Jason to a party. At the party there had been kids drinking liquor in a treehouse. Jason had bought a striped button-down shirt at Express Men the week before to wear to the party. Darrell had worn a polo shirt with the collar turned up, a braided suede cord around his neck, and his hair was spiky. He had led Jason to a bedroom and kissed him, and had gotten three buttons of Jason's new shirt undone before Jason had begun to weep.
"This is how you are," Darrell had said. The bedspread had been seafoam-green chenille, and Darrell's lips had traveled down Jason's body. 

"First time here?" the man said now. 
"I'm getting married tomorrow."
The man stomped out his cigarette and guided Jason inside. 

When he returned home, Jason found Heather asleep in her car parked in front of his apartment. It was almost dawn. She had arrived sometime after he'd left. She had a lightweight baby-blue blanket pulled over her, the one she kept in the trunk in case she broke down. She was curled uncomfortably on her side with her knees jammed against the gear shift. Jason hesitated before tapping on the window. Jason had met Heather through the church. She knew how hard he had tried to right himself. They had held hands in a pew and prayed over it together. 
Heather had put a coat on over her nightgown before driving to Jason's apartment tonight. Inside, she took off her coat, and took off her nightgown. She was naked. They had never made love. She said, "I need to know this is how you are." 

Before the guests threw handfuls of birdseed at the departing newlyweds, Jason went into a men's-room stall and prayed. People were getting down to one last song before the DJ packed up. Through the men's-room wall, the muffled music throbbed like a heartbeat underwater.

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