This story was originally published in Code 7, Vol. 3, and Published by Bound in Leather Press in May, 1984. All 4 Code 7 zines are available again through Agent with Style. Her web page is: http://www.agentwithstyle.com, or you can email her at: email@example.com. Special thanks to Tex for getting it ready for the web. Comments about this story can be sent to Flamingo.
God Bless the Child
"Cop, huh?" Sheila asked, peering at him over her vodka and tonic. Why the hell had I said anything? "Pretty. You have good taste." There was something in her voice — something more than the transparent compliment-fishing she was doing. Sheila wasn't pretty — blonde and average and a little washed-out after a long night at the club, and she didn't cope well with that sort of truth. She was constantly comparing herself to every person who walked through her life. I should have pretended that I didn't know Ken when he came into the bar, but seeing him again . . . it sent schoolgirl flutters through me. He was pretty, and not at all the Ken I had known. That Ken . . . poor guy was as fucked up as I was then; we didn't know what we wanted, either of us. I remember him in shades of beige and gray as if the life was slowly draining out of him. Beautiful, yes, but in a stark and lonely way — like the desert, like the devil. This man who moved with such grace and assurance was connected in no way with the man I knew. Glorious, glamorous, and that old standby amorous . . . .
"Why'd you leave him?" Lost in a song, I ignored her. "Marianne, I swear, you never listen to me."
"Why'd I leave him? I didn't," I told her as I stirred my drink. "We were never really together." What we had was desperation. I needed a safe place and Ken seemed strong . . . he was strong — in the broken places. But I never had what he needed.
I watched Ken as he settled into a secluded booth with his date. He was glowing, for chrissake. They both were. "He's found it," I whispered to myself, not knowing if the thought pleased or depressed me.
"Found what?" Sheila asked, a little too aggressively. She hated being ignored even for a couple of minutes.
"I was only woolgathering," I explained.
"About your cop?"
"He's not my cop!" GOD! Mine? How could that beauty ever belong to me? And yet . . . for a short time — an afternoon, a day — it had been given to me like the gift of life, like something precious that needed protecting.
Sheila gave me one of those crooked smiles that meant 'I don't believe you for a minute', but all she said was: "Want another drink?"
"Yeah." Sheila slid out of our booth with her usual deliberate lack of haste. She hated to look graceless and awkward. She hated having people watch her because she felt so unlovely. Poor Shee . . . I loved her.
And yet I couldn't take my eyes from Ken. He glowed . . . He was the brightest and most beautiful light in the room and everyone noticed and wanted to be noticed by him. They ate him up as he danced, holding his date close in an embrace that said: "This is the thing I love most in the world." What they had together made all the other couples pale by comparison. Even Sheila swerved to pass closer to their swaying, interlocked bodies.
When I knew him he was alone and nearly defeated. How had he become so fair? It was obvious he was in love . . . the sickness and the cure in his case, the name of the goddamned game. I could have loved him — I almost did — but I hated him, too. My life is bound up with a tired, gray man who shared a narrow bed with me one cold afternoon. There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy . . . .
Sheila returned. "Christ!" she muttered. "He even smells good." She set our drinks down on the table and unwrapped a fresh pack of cigarettes. "How'd you get mixed up with him?" What she meant was — how'd a mouse like you snag a looker like that? Miss Sensitivity.
"It's a long story. You remember I told you about my brother and how we were mixed up with some very illegal stuff a couple of years ago? Ken was the cop I got involved with."
"The one who set you up?"
"It wasn't like that!" Who was I trying to kid? It was exactly like that. I tried to recapture some of the anger but it was an old hurt and I was tired. I could just remember the feel of his arms around me. All things pass.
A friend of Sheila's (one of her ex-lovers, as she never tired of pointing out) came over to the table and asked Shee to dance. Sheila looked at me as if I was going to make some sort of jealous scene, but I wasn't up for that sort of game. "I'm gonna go over and say hi," I told Shee. "We didn't part on the best of terms, y'know."
"Marianne . . . "
"It's okay," I lied. "I'm all together tonight. It's okay." Willow weep for me . . .
I made my way across the dance floor to their table, weaving through the swaying locked bodies. They were unaware of me, caught up in the music and the rhythm and the feel of another human being in their arms. For this moment at least they were all happy and could believe themselves loved. I wondered if I would ever feel that way again. I wondered if it was always doomed to be an illusion brought on by dim lights and soft music and one too many drinks . . . and need, my God, the need. I wondered how many of the people on the dance floor knew their partners' names; how many would wake up with strangers tomorrow morning. But I knew my stranger's name.
"Ken?" He turned and his face registered shock and then something more . . . happiness? My heart was beating so fast I thought I must be vibrating. "I saw you come in." We kissed awkwardly. "Where's he gotten to?" I asked, indicating his date's glass.
"Using the facilities. Please, sit down. Can I buy you a drink? You look wonderful, Marianne. It's been a long time."
"No drink, thanks. I have one at my table." I sat beside him and fumbled for a cigarette. He took the lighter from my hand and lit the cigarette. My damn hand was shaking. "So . . . you're still together I see."
He flushed. "It's not . . . . We . . ."
"You're not embarrassed, are you?" I snapped, annoyed to think I might have been just a convenient substitute during a lover's quarrel.
"It's just that it's sort of new." He shrugged and looked so young that I melted. "We haven't been lovers for very long."
I smiled. "You come here often?"
Then the phrase registered and we both laughed. "Not the most original opening line, is it?" It felt good to laugh with him; it was something we'd never done before. He twined his fingers around mine and a current of fire trailed up my arm and into my heart. "Ken . . ."
"Have you been okay?"
"Not bad." Got those Monday blues, straight through Sunday blues. Lonely, I wanted to add, and suddenly craving the feel of you inside me and the strength of you around me. "Are you ready for this? I'm having an album released next month."
"That's wonderful! Let me know when so I can get one, okay?"
"And I'll autograph it for you," I joked. "To another ex-lover. Would you like an invitation to the release party? Two," I amended, eyeing the glass that stood between us like a sentinel.
He smiled the most contented and joyous smile I'd ever seen and said, "Thanks, I appreciate that." He was silent for a while, and so was I. "Are you happy?" he asked at last.
"Are you kidding?" I smiled at him and changed the subject. "I'm surprised to see you here."
"I was about to say the same to you." Silence again, this time more painful than companionable. The silences between us had always been uncomfortable, echoing with what we could never say to each other. "I wish . . . ." he began, but I shushed him.
"If wishes were horses . . . . Leave it, it's not worth the effort. You seem happy." He nodded. "I'm surprised," I said, a little spitefully. "I didn't think you had the capacity."
He flinched and it made me happy in a perverse way to know that the man was still vulnerable to me, and I remembered the pleasure of hurting him to chase away my own pain. "I didn't mean that," I said quickly. "I shouldn't judge people by my own standards."
"Does that mean you don't think you have the capacity? Everyone has that." His fingers tightened around mine as I tried to pull free.
"I have to go, Ken." Out of the corner of my eye I could see his partner hovering at a discreet distance and looking none too pleased to see me.
"No, wait, Marianne, I . . . I wish I could have given you more."
Angels don't lie.
"I just came over to say hi. I really have to go. Sheila is the jealous type."
He smiled a little. "So's David," he admitted.
"So . . . Be happy, Ken." I kissed his cheek.
"You too. Call me if you ever need to talk, okay?"
I wondered if he really meant it. "I don't think so, Ken, but thanks." I left him and went back to my table.
"Loverboy live up to the memories?" Sheila asked, managing just the right note of sarcasm. Her old lover was dancing with a tall black woman in a blue dress.
"Do they ever? C'mon, Shee, let's go home."
Mama may have, Papa may have,
But God bless the child who's got his own,
Who's got his own.