“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. 

‘The Keepers’ by Michael Graves

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Jess kneels before me. Gazing up, he asks, “You sure you want me to get it off?”

“Just don’t hurt me this time.”

Jess stares at my crusty, bright violet knee scab. It is the size of a prescription bottle cap. He begins grinding his thumbnail around my wound. Jess gnaws his lip. This means that he’s concentrating. “You alright?”

“Yeah.”

He loosens the seal, tugging and pulling.

As pain drives through my leg, I long to clutch his just-skinned head.

“How’d you get this one?” Jess asks.

“Spilled on my bike. Ate the sidewalk.”

“Damn, Jonah,” he says. “This is major.”

“I know, right?”

He pulls again. Goo and gore dot his fingers. “Can you take it?”

I’m almost gasping. “Don’t stop, loser.”

The final, slow rip sears. As it curls off my body, the opened gouge quickly ponds with blood.

Fuck, yes,” I proclaim.

Like an Olympian, he lifts my swatch of dead skin toward the sky. Jess says, “This is friggin’ epic. Better than my Monument Hill gash. Way better than your elbow that time.”

I cover my sore with Subway napkins.

“Gotta keep this someplace safe ‘till we get back to your room,” Jess says. He unzips his backpack and yanks out a potato chip bag. Jess dumps the remains, yellow shards raining free. Carefully, he lays my scab inside.

I say, “Gotta hit Ronnie’s for more snacks.”

Jess glares at me. “So, ya wanna play assassins?”

“Won’t your mom get mad if you miss your counselor again?”

He clucks. “She scored another new girlfriend. Won’t even care. Look, we playing or not?”

*

The late December sky has begun to shed its meager coat of light.

We tromp down to daddy’s car lot. Two tow trucks rumble by and my knee throbs.

I ask, “Aren’t we too old for this game? Thirteen is old, I think.”

“Aw…fuck that.”

“Then don’t be a turd and make up new rules like last time.”

Jess says, “Alright. Stop beefin’. Same as usual. Run. Hide. Count to eighty. Whoever finds the other and shoots first, wins.”

“Got it.”

“Don’t let me kill you this time.”

Jess and I vault in separate directions.

I begin counting, “Three… seventeen… forty-nine…”

*

Stray turnpike beams singe my eyes. I am armed with rock grenades and a stick revolver. Shadows creep by the chain link fence and I quickly slide to my stomach, kissing gravel.

There is a peep. I hear a squawk.

I’m gonna kill you, Jess.”

I peer through the window of a sedan and see an infant belted to the backseat. It is wriggling some, clawing at the air.

Among the Lincolns and LeSabres, I scream, “Jess! Game over! Come find me!”

*

He romps closer, toting a branch rifle. Jess says, “You trying to dick me around this time?”

“Look.” I point to the fussing baby.

“Holy shit!”

No shit!”

“We have to get it out.” Jess circles the car, wrenching on each handle. “Totally locked up.”

I ask, “What do we do?”

“Call your dad.”

“He’s at Billy’s,” I say. “Probably half in the bag by now.”

Jess squeezes his forehead. This means that he’s confused. “What if it runs out of oxygen? What if it freezes to death? We have to bust the window.”

“My dad’ll flip.”

“We can’t let the thing die.” Jess snatches one of my grenades. Grunting, he hurls it through the driver’s side window.

The baby begins to shriek.

“Jesus!” I holler.

Jess reaches in and plucks open the door. He turns to me, saying, “Get the kid, why don’t you.”

*

Mom might be double-shifting at BJ’s Wholesale Club.

Jess and I hustle the child upstairs to my bedroom.

He says, “That kid friggin’ reeks.”

“It has a dirty diaper.” I set the baby on my bed.

“I’m not dealing with some shit scene. Nasty.”

“Stop being a pain in the ass. I change my sister’s kid all the time.” Unlatching the diaper, I use Febreeze and a torn concert t-shirt to clean the baby. Maybe one day of waste is present.

“Hey, he’s a boy,” Jess says.

“Yep.”

Brown cakes of shit cling to his flesh. I peel them away as he yelps quietly.

“Poor guy,” Jess says. “He’s got a pretty small dick.”

“He’s a baby. All babies have small baby dicks.”

“It just looks sad.”

I knot a dishrag around the child’s torso and nest him in my lap. In moments, he begins to mew.

Already, Jess is admiring the scab jars hidden beneath my bed. He begins to nod fiercely. This means that he feels proud. Jess seizes our first blood treasure, shaking it before the infant. Months old, it is now shriveled, shrunken and brown. He says, “Look at this one, kiddo. Pretty fuckin’ awesome, huh?”

“You can’t swear at a baby, Jess.”

Whatever. See, buddy. Jonah got slayed at the haunted playground.”

The tiny boy begins gurgling.

Jess chuckles and asks, “What would you name him? If you could?”

“I don’t know.” I frown.

He snaps his head toward the yellowed ceiling. “What about Zeus? That would be the balls.”

Jess…we have to do something. Call my mom or call your mom or call the police?”

“His parents don’t want him anyway,” Jess says. “Let’s just keep him.”

“Yeah, right,” I say.

“He could be our club mascot.”

“We don’t have a club.”

Yeah. Yes we do! All best bros have a club. We’re like, the wipeout club or something.”

I sway, rocking the child. “You’re whacked, man.”

“I bet it would be cool.” Jess strokes the child’s dented head. “He’d be ours.” His grin softens, slackens, but he stares at me. I’m not sure what this means.

The door moans.

My mother yells, “Hey… Jesus Christ! Where did you get a fucking baby?”

“His name is Zeus,” Jess says. “And we’re pretty sure we’re keeping him.”

Michael Graves is the author of the recently released 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, Velvet Mafia 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.