It was after that long, sweaty afternoon down in the Gassett’s basement. That day when Billy finally managed to pick the lock on his dead grandfather’s battered steamer trunk. Six of us gathered around, discovering a much younger man’s hidden memories of Europe during World War II – the first thing we saw, lying there on top, was a Foreign Service cap placed neatly beside a tarnished Zippo lighter engraved with a military crest. Beneath these were layers of olive-green wool uniforms that smelled of slow decay and camphor. Hidden in the layers was a bundle of letters from home, their yellowing Air Mail envelopes wrapped with a white satin ribbon, tied in a bow. These were in counterpoint to a sinister dagger with a red Swastika on its black handle. Hidden away under all of that, in the very bottom, lay a deck of cards – embellished not with hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades, but pictures of naked women. Lastly, carefully packaged and padded, we discovered a small 8mm movie projector and ten flat cans of black and white film.
We sat in that damp, closed space, acrid cigarette smoke undulating in waves half-way between ceiling and floor. A haze buoyed on fumes from the pint of Four Roses we passed between us. We watched the jerky flicker of men in dark socks and phony mustaches embraced by women sporting bales of pubic hair writhing naked over the stained bedsheet we’d hung over the water pipes. The only soundtrack, our excited breathing and the chatter of film snaking its way through the projector.
Squirming, we tried to align the insistent physical discomfort of our cramped erections with the creases in our blue jeans, worried someone might notice when a hand lingered overly long at that task. Even harder was trying to hide our uncomfortable ignorance regarding the mechanics of the acts unfolding on the makeshift screen. Adolescent laughter disguised our uncertainty like a paste-on beard.
Later, as you and I walked together through the dark Beech tree shadows on top of Ronan Park hill, you asked if I knew that – sometimes – guys did those things with each other, too. It was a question ill at ease on your lips, and just as poor a fit for our hearts and needs as it hung in the dark between us. No worse, but more honest, than the hopes our parents held out for their first born boys on city streets.
Neither of us spoke a word as you knelt with moonlight on your hair and your restless hands fluttering over my belt buckle and then my bare thighs. My own fingers clutched your shoulders, desperately afraid we might both tumble forever into that Catholic Hell we’d been raised to believe in. All the noises of the city night faded in the thunder of our breathing.
Three years later, after graduation, you packed up your longing and moved out of your parents’ home for a cottage in Provincetown. If anyone had wondered, all you left behind were tragic make-believe scripts and costumes sewn together from the cruelty of innuendo and rumor of your life.
I’m told your father, in his anger and shame, has never since spoken your name out loud. But then, for reasons of my own, neither have I. ∞
DANE FRANCIS BAYLIS, was born in South Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He has traveled extensively throughout the world and now resides in Southern California. Dane’s work first appeared in Stone Soup Anthology, Boston. Since then his work has appeared in a number of anthologies and journals including Artlife, Rivertalk, Askew Poetry Journal, Lummox Press, The Men’s Heartbreak Anthology, and Poetry in Motion Publications. Dane’s multi-faceted background brings to the written word a distinctly urban style, and his Irish heritage informs his un compromising belief that everything tells a story, creating a unique voice full of wry compassion and unbending artistry.