“Homecoming” by Michael Graves

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 If only I could be moved by these Thanksgiving hallmarks: floured tables and blowout sales. The football legacy that thrums inside each old man’s bones. Jammed liquor marts and buffed parlors. The premature Christmas lights flaring on Third Street.

I’m at Ninny’s and I nurse my sidecar and I want to carve a message in the snow.

Someone braces my shoulder. “Franny!”

I swivel and see a sweet, slack idiot boy. Merely grinning, I attempt to recall him.

“From the park,” he says. “I was the Ferris wheel guy.”

Yes. Bryce Whitley. During one July, I truly believed there were stars inside his shorts, dreams lurking in his armpit hair. Nine days had passed and then, bored, I no longer squeaked his name during masturbation. Also, I fear amusement park rides.

“Where you livin’?” Bryce asks. He claims a thrashed stool beside me.

“California…I guess. But I had to come back to Mass.”

“There’s nothing like turkey time at home, huh?”

I smile at my shoes. “Everyone’s gonna chow.”

“We’ll probably eat whatever’s in the fridge.” He tips back his brew. “Who knows? Fuck it.”

“I guess it’s just another plain day really.”

Bryce grips my thigh. “For years, my ma used to make a crazy spread. The bird, potatoes, beans, squash. Hush puppies for me. All these pies.”

I shrug. “Next year, maybe. If it comes.”

“You look good. You look…back to normal.” His sideburns are lax, lawless from shave blunders. “Everyone was so happy when you got found, Franny.”

I chug my cocktail and I hear someone cackle and I think about falling asleep beside my parent’s wood stove.

Bryce says, “Pretty fucked up shit, huh? Who found you?”

I turn to him. “No one did. He just sort of let me go. Told me to leave.” I almost chuckle. “I really wanted someone to come rescue me.”

“Were you scared?” he asks. “I’d be scared.”

“I think Walter was scared. I just listened to music all day. He took my picture. I watched The Karate Kid a bunch of times. He brought me Burger King. I didn’t have to hear anything about Trump.”

Bryce smirks and whispers, “Did he touch you?”

“No,” I say, laughing softly. “Sometimes, it didn’t feel like a real kidnapping. Well, abduction. I guess I’m not a kid anymore.”

    I scan the bar. A group of lugs are now singing some catchy, lame, one-time hit. In silence, the bartender delivers Bryce another stout.

    He smirks. “I’d come home from work and eat supper and watch you on the news. It was like Jon Benet. Or, what’s her name? That Molly girl.”

    “They’re dead, though.”

    “Is home like you remember it?” he asks.

    “No. No,” I reply. “My father bought a new living room set.”

    “I thought about you lots, Franny.”

    “I thought about the sun.”

    “Well, sure. I get that,” he replies, slurring some.

    I tell Bryce, “And when it was late, I thought about other things.”

 

♦♦♦

 

There is proof of days lost here: a ticking kerosene heater, an abandoned treadmill. The cat urine stink that hugs the entire laundry room. Retired crutches and a yellowed box fan. The screen door that refuses closure, thudding every minute or so.  

Bryce and I shift about the laminate. With sputtered kisses, he cradles my head like a cardboard hot dog boat.

I pull back. ”Won’t your mom hear us?”

“Naw.  Newhart is on. She’s dead to the world.” Bryce slurps more. “We’re safe. Don’t worry.” He turns me about and wrestles down my jeans.

I can smell our groins and I remember my bruised thigh and I wish I were completely inebriated.

Bryce whispers, “If I was him, I would have fucked you all the time.”

I can hear him beat his own lazy dick. Gazing out the window, I watch the backyard winds sweep. There’s a fully set picnic table. Ketchup and mustard bottles stand, uncapped.

Yeah. Alright…” Bryce pants.

I see plastic wrap half-clung to bowls, snapping fiercely.

“It’s gonna happen.”

I turn to him and offer a weak grin.

Bryce crumples in defeat. With teary eyes, he says, “I’m fucking trying.”

“Okay…”

“Sorry. I’m wasted and I feel soooo sad tonight.”

I glance to the backyard. A full load of laundry hangs on the clothesline, frozen, fixed. Iced trousers swing to and fro. Shirts and nightgowns bob.

“I just wanna come,” Bryce says. “I just wanna come. And I just wanna feel good.”

“Yeah…me too, I guess.”

 

♦♦♦

 

“Do they listen to phone calls when you’re in prison?” I ask.

Walter is whispering. “I’m not sure. It would probably be smart if they did.”

“Anyway,” I tell him, “no sex, he just ended up crying and crying. Said his sister was dead. She was walking the dog and an air conditioner fell on her head.”

“Christ,” Walter says. Something clangs nearby him.

“Young people usually die from mass shootings or drug suicides. Cancer sometimes.”

Walter asks, “Now, tell me, how is home?”

I sigh. “When I was…with you…I never really saw Cincinnati. I mean, just the police station and the airport. The cellar. But it’s weird. I lived there. I could put that on a job application.”

Walter wet-coughs. “Well, maybe you could.”

“I knew that place.”

“But you’re free.”

“I wish you would have tortured me a little. Like cut me. Made me suck you off at least. For Christ’s sake. Then things would be different right now.”

“Aw. Come on, Francis. You gotta look on the bright side of things.”

Sighing, I say, “I guess I felt better being missing.”

 

Michael Graves is the author of the novel, Parade. He also composed Dirty One, a collection of short stories. This book was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an American Library Association Honoree. His fiction and poetry have been featured in numerous literary publications; including Post Road, Pank, Soft Cartel, Storgy and Chelsea Station Magazine. His short work can also be found in several anthologies, such as Cool Thing, The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, and Eclectica Magazine’s Best Fiction: Volume One. 

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