From Chapter 22: Given how cold it is as we get out of the cab at the Achebes’ brownstone on the Upper West Side, I’m a little surprised to see Milt answering the door wearing only a diaper and a sash displaying the New Year across his chest. He’s awash in gold glitter, and, knowing how much he likes taking off his clothes and showing off his body, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.
“You didn’t tell us it was a costume party,” I tell him as we’re ushered inside.
“Oh, there’s no dress code. There never is,” Milt replies, taking our coats and scarves. “You both look sensational,” he adds, as he heads off to stash our things.
About two dozen people are milling about in animated conversation. Not many costumes, beyond a few remarkable exceptions, one of which is Milt’s wife Edie, who’s managed to create a dazzling depiction of the Old Year, complete with a long white beard, its strands smoother than corn silk, and a tattered white robe with holes in the most intriguing places. Her glitter is silver and it coats everything. Despite the fact that she’s portraying an elderly man, the overall impression she makes is strongly feminine, youthful, and alluring, and I watch Michael take it all in. Catching sight of us across the room, Edie calls out, “Hey, you guys!” and scurries over, giving both of us a kiss. A real one, not an air kiss. Enough to get glitter on our chins.
From Chapter 12: I have not spoken to Steve during the three months I’ve been with Michael, in part because I’m never sure exactly where he is (he refuses to buy a cell phone) and he always likes to make the first move. So, there’ll be a lot of catching up to do as we have lunch in Mt. Washington at his usual bar. He will be late arriving, maybe upwards of an hour, that’s a given, and will have no plausible explanation as to why. If I’d let a little thing like punctuality put me off Steve, we’d never have gotten anywhere. Back in the day, I mean.
I have finished my beer and most of the nachos I’d ordered before he shuffles in, forty minutes late, looking characteristically rumpled, as if he’d just gotten up and thrown on whatever was handy. In this case, a T-shirt advertising some Fell’s Point joint and jeans faded to a shade lichens would envy.
From Chapter 23: Imagine standing on a bare stage, a solitary spotlight drowning you in glare while all around you is utter darkness. You can’t see the audience. You don’t even know if anyone is present. You can’t remember how you got there. You can’t remember when the spot hit you. You have no lines. You have no cues. You’re wearing no costume that could give you a hint of who you are…or who you’re supposed to be. When you look down at yourself, dressed only in your skin, your body, bleached white by the spot, proclaims how vulnerable you are. You ask yourself if you can be happy…if you could ever be happy. You say the words out loud and hear them echo back from the blackness beyond. You gather up your resolve and shout something that’s suddenly occurred to you: I’ve never known how to be happy.
Be happy be happy be happy, the echo replies.
Crossing the precise edge of the spot is a figure you recognize as your stepfather. He enters the circle only a little, drops down to the floor, sitting cross-legged and pretending to pop open a beer can.
Happiness is so fucking overrated, he says bitterly. You recognize that recurring comment from your childhood. You turn your back on him and discover, on the other side, coming across the line from darkness to light, your mother, looking weary and full of despair, wiping her forehead with a limp hand. She adjusts her apron, smoothing out its folds, and pretends to stir a pot on the stove.
There was never even time to look, she says softly, for your ears only, that way she often spoke to you so as not to be overheard. When I was a little girl, I thought I would find happiness when I grew up. It’s what Nana taught me. She pretends to reach for a shaker of salt, sprinkling it over the pot.
But I never could find it.
Your eyes fill with tears. You turn away. It’s too painful to watch. When you look where your stepfather had been, you find your sister there in his place. She’s about five or six, but she speaks with the voice of someone twenty years older.
You never seemed happy, she says to you. All those years, growing up, you never seemed happy.
Stepping into the spot beside her, your younger sister also appears as a child but speaks with the voice of an adult.
Except when you used to read the funnies. THEY seemed to make you happy. If only for however long you kept reading them.
You close your eyes and picture the graphic images of your childhood delight. You see their stylized faces and, hanging over them like zeppelins, their dialogue balloons.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Al Hudgins