(photo, thanks to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse)
Chapter 1: The Zone of Totality:
Eclipse (3/7/1970) An early spring filled Forsyth Park with azaleas. The dogwoods laced the pink with white. Pigeons puffed their breasts, flashing the sparrows and mocking birds. The chill spray of Forsyth Fountain saturated the morning breeze. It was nearly noon and a gathering of people grew on the long side porch and in front of Twenty-four West Gaston Street. Dr. Landry, owner of the house, stood on the porch, sipping a weak scotch and water and talking to the congregating guests. It was warm for March 7, though increasingly overcast to everyone's disappointment. Most had come to see the celestial event of 1970, a total eclipse, a rare event in Savannah, even rarer on a Saturday.
Dr. Landry lit a cigarette. He was a tall man, and though he was thin, he had an elegance and grace that made his every movement a significant gesture. He dressed well, wearing a deep purple turtleneck shirt and a silver medallion from Mexico. At thirty-five he was already gray with thin hair, almost no eyebrows and a huge forehead. His nose was long and aristocratic. Landry had grown up in Tulsa, and had he been wearing a broad brim hat, jeans and boots, he would have been the picture of a cowboy. As it was, he reminded a number of his colleagues of Don Quixote.
He didn't know quite what to make of this gathering consisting of gay friends, students from Armstrong College, and recent acquaintances both straight and gay, a few who seemed determined to induct him into the hippie movement. He thought of the afternoon two weeks before, a warm February afternoon filled with sunshine. Bill, Eddie, and David were waiting for him, then, when he arrived home from Armstrong. They were sitting butt naked on his porch steps, easily visible from the sidewalk. He had laughed, but the sight of them had been anything but funny.
David and Eddie were there now, wearing bell-bottom jeans and T-shirts, and talking to other friends below in the entrance way.
" Do you think we'll be able to see it?" Eddie asked. "How dark will it get?"
David was the astronomy expert, having taken two courses in college on the subject. "We shall find out soon enough." This was his first total eclipse and he had no idea how dark it would get.
David was infatuated with Eddie, having realized that, after dating Eddie’s sister for over a year, it was Eddie to whom he was really attracted. There was only one problem--Eddie was obsessed with girls. This had not prevented them from becoming college roommates at the University of Georgia in Athens; but it had proved a distressing obstacle to David's sharing Eddie’s bed.
"I thought it was supposed to begin ten minutes ago." Susan was saying to Dr. Landry. At first he didn’t know what she meant.
"I think that’s just the partial eclipse," Landry remembered. "It doesn't get dark until the eclipse is total." He knew this from what David had told him; but he found the whole event disconcerting and like an uneasy dream.
The sun appeared momentarily and everyone's attention turned upward. Several people peered through filters and specially made sunglasses that were supposed to be safe. One student was projecting an image of the sun on paper with a lens. Another had a pinhole cardboard unit that allowed several people to watch a projection of the sun's disk. " Look, you can see the crescent shadow." one girl was yelling. Then, the sun slid behind the canopy of cloud again.
Susan spotted Charlotte Lane arriving. The two young women had recently taken an apartment together on the corner of Bull and Liberty streets, across from the Hilton Hotel. They both played in the Armstrong Players' current production of Uncle Vanya, which would open in a month. Susan waved as Charlotte noticed her on the balcony.
Charlotte was slender, wore large, unflattering glasses, and wore her long, auburn hair loose about her shoulders. Eddie noticed her the minute she arrived and, like Susan, had waved. Eddie was tall and imposing, cornering Charlotte before she reached the steps to the porch. David, standing near, smiled to her, "I didn’t think you'd make it to our event."
"Oh, I wouldn't miss it." Charlotte answered, "Not to see the eclipse, but to watch everyone's crazed reactions."
"How were rehearsals last night?" asked Eddie. He had invited Susan and Charlotte to accompany him to Pinkie Masters’, a gathering place for journalists, a forum for political types, and a friendly neighborhood bar, all in one. They had declined because of the play.
"We are far from ready, I'm afraid. Chekhov is too subtle for Armstrong, in my opinion. Langston tries to get at the nuances, but we just don't have the range of experience. The characters are just caricatures so far." Langston was Ben Langston, the black theater professor who was perhaps too ambitious in his choice of plays. He hoped to do a production of A Streetcar Named Desire next.
Dr. Landry approached with Susan. "It doesn't look promising," he said, pointing to the sky and looking primarily at David. "If you like, there's coffee made inside; or, if you prefer, have a drink." He made the last offer with hesitation. The drinking age was eighteen, but giving drinks to students was frowned upon, officially.
"Do you have any beer?" Eddie asked.
"There are several in the fridge," answered Landry. "You are over eighteen, aren't you?"
Being twenty, Eddie saw nothing funny in the question, but David, who was twenty-two, laughed at the joke. To David, Landry was ancient.
"Any chance of making a Bloody Mary?" suggested Susan.
"Help yourself. There isn't any mix, but all the ingredients are there."
As noon passed, the rooms of the Gaston Street house filled. Susan and Charlotte moved to the study. Most others gathered in the large living room, passing through the arched doorway that was mirrored by an arching window which revealed Forsyth park across Gaston Street, and allowed the guests a glimpse of the sky. The living room held many of Landry’s collection of exquisite antiques: Hepplewhite chairs, Louis XVI chairs and sofa, a Louis XV chest with curved, inlaid mahogany drawers, and several Nineteenth Century paintings and drawings. The white, carved mantle over the fireplace held matching blue and white Chinese porcelain vases. A gilded mirror rose above the mantle to just below the fourteen foot high ceiling. Two tall windows to the right of the grand arching window faced Whittaker Street and were covered with light green sheers and valence curtains that filled the room with a diffuse glow. Landry’s jet black Burmese cat, Fergus, eyed the visitors with contempt from beneath the Louis XV commode.
David loved this room. It included everything that was missing from his family's house in Ardsley Park. The rooms in that house were dark and cluttered. The furniture there was cheap and warped. The curtains were thick and ugly, allowing no light to penetrate the gloomy interiors. Both his parents, now divorced, had abandoned the house to his brother Skip when David had been away at the University. The walls inside and out were peeling. Plaster was falling from many of the twenty-three ceilings. David had begun calling the house "Battey House," not so much because it dominated the corner of Forty-ninth and Battey streets, but because of the increasingly weird occurrences there.
David sat in one of the Louis XVI chairs and placed his coffee cup on the marble side table. He felt comfortable in this space, as if he had lived a more elegant life himself in a prior lifetime. He scanned the room, admiring its art . He got up and walked over to the three Hogarth engravings to the left of the mantle. They were labeled "Morning," "Noon," and "Night." Each depicted a scene in London at different times of day. Hogarth’s biting satire revealed the vanity and foolishness of every class of citizen, from a lady with a fan trying to ignore the muck and poverty around her to an old woman emptying a chamber pot onto a crowded street below her window as a black woman kissed and fondled a buxom white woman, and a coach crashed and burned to the distress of the riders hanging out of the carriage. David realized that these scenes were drawn the same year Savannah was founded.
In the study, Charlotte was admiring Landry’s books. She sipped the Bloody Mary Susan had made for her as she scanned the literature and poetry, all neatly arranged on the built-in bookcases by period and author. There were several shelves devoted to Yeats about whom Landry was writing a book of his own.
Susan sat watching Charlotte from a red wing chair. "Did you know that Kahil Gibran used to visit this house?" she asked.
"Did he? Whatever for?" Charlotte replied.
"He was in love with the owner, Mary Haskell. She was a rich widow. When he came to the U.S. from Lebanon, he always came here. In fact, he left her a collection of his drawings which are now in the Telfair Academy." Susan knew she was mixing things up.
"They slept together? Here, in this house?" Charlotte thought of the swirling naked figures in Gibran’s The Prophet. She looked at Susan with skepticism.
"I'm sure they did." Susan speculated.
People were now passing freely from room to room. Three students found their way into the bedroom where they shared a marijuana joint. Landry himself had tried grass, but had mixed feelings about its benefits. He would have been unhappy to see students smoking in his bedroom, but he was still out on the porch chatting with guests.
David wandered from the living room towards the study. He looked around for Eddie. David walked up to the large mirror in the hallway. He attempted to comb with his hand his shoulder length, brown hair. He looked at his mustache, Fu Man Chu style, and felt pleased with its growth. David was short and a bit overweight, but his features were handsome and he was happy enough with his appearance to wink at himself. Entering the study, he spoke to Susan and Charlotte. "Have you two given up on the eclipse?"
"Isn't it still cloudy out?" Susan replied, quite comfortable in the wing chair.
"Yes, but in a few minutes I think it will get really dark, like nighttime. It'll be interesting to watch. By the way, have either of you seen Eddie?"
"I think he's already gone outside," Charlotte suggested.
David turned to Susan, "You look relaxed."
"I am." Susan smiled.
Susan was relaxed because her mind was adrift. She floated not to another place but to another time. Susan had been in 24 West Gaston only once before, on New Year's Eve. On that night, she had helped put on a surprise party for Landry which he had almost missed. While he dined at Johnny Harris restaurant with colleagues from Armstrong, Eddie and David climbed through one of the study windows and opened the front door to a dozen of their friends. That was at eight. By the time Landry arrived home around ten, most of the party were drunk, stoned on grass, or both. Several of the group had decided to stage a "nude-in," as well and were walking from room to room stark naked.
Landry had invited Larry Kilpatrick, chair of the English Department, and a few other Armstrong professors back for a drink and a quiet, uneventful celebration of the new decade.
"It looks like you have guests," Kilpatrick exclaimed as Landry parked his Volkswagen in front of the house. Larry had arrived just ahead of Landry and was watching the silhouettes moving behind the sheers of the arch window. "How clever of you to have a surprise shindig arranged for us."
"The surprise is on me, I'm afraid," Landry replied, feigning amusement, but actually feeling a blend of anger and alarm. "You'd better let me go ahead and see what's going on."
Landry couldn't persuade Kilpatrick to wait, however, nor two other profs who arrived simultaneously. They had all marched up the side entrance and the porch steps together.
On opening his front door, Landry was mortified. Not only had people broken into his home, they were having an orgy; or so he thought as he walked into the hallway. Fortunately, Kilpatrick saved the situation. He removed his Stetson and laughed a deep, throaty laugh, saying hello to a student he recognized from one of his own classes. Landry was relieved by his taking charge and accepting the embarrassing affair.
His other colleagues showed nothing short of delight, getting an unexpected eyeful. Only Dr. Brown, who arrived several minutes later, was scandalized and shared Landry’s fear that the police would arrive any second and take them all to jail.
Susan smiled to herself as she recalled the looks on the professors’ faces. She had never met Landry before, but recognized him immediately-- the one resembling Don Quixote on losing a battle. She walked up to him, watching as he scanned her naked body, especially her breasts. He seemed fascinated. She reached to put her hand casually on his shoulder, no mean feat considering she was only five foot three. "You must be Dr. Landry, I presume." She had said.
"I don't believe I have had the pleasure of your introduction." Landry answered, charmed in spite of himself.
"Susan Kraft. The pleasure is all mine."
"You should see the smirk on your face," said Charlotte, waking Susan from her daydream. "What are you smiling about?"
"I was thinking of the last time I was in this room."
"New Year's Eve?" Charlotte recalled the party. "You served us all warm cinnamon flavored milk and honey and fed us grapes. It was a pagan spree."
"And the happiest pagan was Dr. Kilpatrick, drooling like a goat over the naked bodies. Do you remember the look on Landry’s face when he got home?"
"All I remember is getting drunk on Landry’s brandy. And I remember how out of it David and Eddie were. It was a wonder we all survived the night."
"The last thing I recall," said Susan, "was falling asleep in the bathroom. You, David, Eddie and I were crawling from the hallway to the little half bath. And Bill and Mary were staring at us in disbelief. Landry and the other professors had disappeared by then."
" I do remember midnight," Charlotte added, "I remember kissing David. He seemed so sad and lost. And Eddie was pawing all over you. Then David gave Landry a big kiss that I'm sure he enjoyed."
Susan sank back into the wing chair. She pictured Eddie again that night. How he had loomed over her, huge and insisting on touching her. She remembered his cock, so much larger than David's, or anyone else's. Whenever he had been near her, he had begun getting an erection. The thought of him on top of her, thrusting that shaft into her, was revolting.
Susan preferred David. He needed comforting. The nakedness had destroyed his composure that night, revealing his desire for Eddie just as clearly as it revealed Eddie’s lust for Susan. Charlotte had had the good sense to keep her clothes on, and to steer clear of the fray. Susan gazed at Charlotte's trim figure, stretching to remove a book from one of the higher shelves. How unlike Susan's plump, petite body, Charlotte's was. Susan wondered how differently she might have acted that night had Charlotte stripped as well. Then Susan laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation.
"What have you found to read?" Landry entered the room, startling both women out of their thoughts.
"I was looking at all of your books on Yeats." Charlotte remarked. "Aren't you teaching a seminar in the fall on him?"
"Yes. I teach Yeats every other year."
"I’d love to sit in on the class, if you'd let me."
"Aren't you graduating this June?"
"Yes. But if I'm still in Savannah next year, I'd still love to audit your class."
Landry wondered if the two women were lovers. Was Charlotte sleeping with David? "Help me choose some music," he suggested, walking to the stereo system. Burt Bacharach had finished singing about raindrops.
"You have an impressive collection." Charlotte scanned the tapes and record albums, mostly classical and jazz, all neatly arranged on shelves to the left of Landry’s Empire desk. "Oh, you have Santana. Would that be O.K.?"
"Whatever you like," Landry replied.
Going from room to room, David began urging everyone outside. "Even if we can't see the sun, it'll still be dark and weird," he coaxed.
The sky turned an ominous gray, as if a storm were gathering. A hundred or so people had gathered in the park across Gaston. The clouds were still thin, however, and the shrinking disk of the sun was almost visible behind the moving veil.
Then the darkness came. A black shadow fell over the city. Street lamps came on. People gasped. Pigeons took flight and all of the birds in the park swarmed into confused arcs above the trees. Dogs howled. Cars stopped in the middle of Whittaker and Gaston streets. A cold wind whipped through the oaks.
David shivered. He suddenly saw his life in eclipse. His love for Eddie, Charlotte's attraction, Susan's empathy, and Dr. Landry, whom he had met only months before, were the celestial objects swirling in wildly elliptical orbits around one another. His college degree, his opportune job at the Carnegie Library, his family, and the places he inhabited became a spinning cluster threatening to collapse into a black hole. "There is something strange happening to me," David whispered , "and this is just the beginning."
Landry descended the steps of his porch. It was mid-day. It was night. How was this possible? Like David, he felt that the reason guiding his life was ruptured. Anything was possible. His life until this day was no longer a guide for what would come. Like the sparrows and pigeons, Landry’s mind was circling in arcs that went nowhere. He needed the sun to return. It had to come back, regardless of what new order it would bring.
Landry fell to his knees on the concrete walkway. He raised his arms toward heaven. "I believe," he yelled. "I believe."
The darkness lasted three minutes. The returning light dazzled the crowd. Cars started up along the two streets. Charlotte and Susan stared at Landry from the porch, considering whether they should attempt to help him up. Before they could act, he had risen and composed himself.
"Is that all there is?" asked Eddie as he and David returned to the house.
"What more did you want?" David replied, annoyed by Eddie’s failure to be impressed.
" I wanted to see the eclipse itself; the corona, the moon and all that." Eddie complained. " Now I suppose we'll have to watch it on t.v."
By late afternoon Dr. Landry succeeded in ridding himself of guests. Tending to the wants of such a diverse crowd tired him. Landry thought of David, of his short, healthy body. What a contrast they were, even in their responses to the eclipse. For David it was all predictable science. "But for me," thought Landry," it is pure mythology. The old gods are still with us, playing their tricks unseen and unacknowledged."
Landry tried to nap, but his mind refused to lie down. He thought of his family, or what was left of it, in Tulsa. His mother lived alone, her second husband having died last year, alone in a huge house with a small fortune remaining from her sale of the tool and dye business that had been run by Landry, Sr. Of course, she parceled out bits of this fortune to Landry, having paid his expenses in New Orleans for graduate school at Tulane, helping him move first to Charleston and then to Savannah. He never could have bought 24 West without some of that money. Landry thought of his lover in New Orleans, Dick St. Claire, with whom he had lived for over a year. Dick had tried so hard to please his mother when she had visited. He had bought her a dozen roses when they first met. But it was all to no avail. She could never reconcile herself to Landry’s homosexuality. For her it was a sin, no worse than the sins of adultery or other forgivable wrongs, but a sin nonetheless. It was a part of her son's life that she simply ignored, and she therefore ignored Dick as much as she could without being downright rude.
Landry asked himself repeatedly whether he had taken the post in Charleston as a way to break off the relationship with Dick. "I'll never leave New Orleans," Dick use to say. But Landry knew that Dick would have given up his job managing the men's department at Maison Blanche had Landry wanted him to come to Charleston. Was it his mother who had subconsciously influenced him not to ask?
Landry looked around his bedroom. A Gabon mask hanging on the wall above the Queen Ann chest of drawers grinned as if mocking his thoughts. He thought of his sister and her early death from alcoholism and depression. Her marriage had been a complete failure. Landry wondered if her life might have been better had she gotten out of Oklahoma as he had. She had managed to have one child, Carrie, who was now grown and married herself. Landry’s mother talked endlessly of her granddaughter and her banker husband. They had adopted two children and lived in a mansion in Miami, Oklahoma. Landry thought of his visit Christmas when they had flown him from Tulsa to Miami in their own twin engine Cessna.
The afternoons gave Landry peace of mind. He always taught morning classes so that he could arrive home early enough to enjoy the remainder of the day. The afternoons were a time to listen to music, to read, to put things in perspective. This afternoon, a Saturday, was no less sacred. He was listening to piano pieces by Faure and Ravel. He tried reading an article from the New York Review of Books on Nixon and Vietnam policy, but he couldn't concentrate. He resisted the urge to light another cigarette. "Why am I so restless?"
Perhaps it was depression. His doctor had diagnosed what he called "a mild case of Grave's disease," a thyroid condition that could bring on fatigue and depression. A few months ago Landry had taken the treatment at Candler Hospital: he had downed a vessel of radioactive iodine that a nurse wearing lead gloves brought to him with forceps. He doubted that the treatment had been nearly as effective as the prescribed anti-depressants.
Landry absent-mindedly picked up the tube of tanning creme from his dresser. He dabbed lotion on his forearms, took more on his fingertips and applied it to his face. He had begun using it after Eddie had said, on seeing a picture of him in last year's Armstrong yearbook, that he looked "carved out of wax." The words haunted him. Landry never knew that what Eddie was criticizing was his stiffness, not the paleness of his skin. Worse, the effect of the lotion was to make Landry’s color more orange than tan. And because he did not distribute it properly, there were hints of streaks on his forehead and neck. " ‘Vanity, vanity. All is vanity.’ " Landry quoted, as he put the tube down.
He walked to the study and shuffled through the mail and other papers on his Empire desk. He smiled at Fergus, curled up warmly on the settee. Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand began playing. Landry sat in the red wing chair, closed his eyes, nodded, and fell asleep. A vein, with a hint of blue through the opaque skin of Landry’s forehead, kept beat with the music.
(The author's Thunderbird and Battey House, circa 1970
photo by Jack Miller)
Chapter 2: Battey House
The air was a hot broth in Ardsley Park a week after the Fourth of July. Air conditioners ran in every house, sucking out the hot air, but also
draining the energy of those who hid inside. What flowers remained on the lawns of the 1920s mansions of Abercorn and Washington Avenues had wilted. David drove his father’s ’63 Thunderbird south to 49th street and turned left down the moss-draped, oak-lined street. He passed the two-story, red brick elementary school where he and Skip had learned the first lessons of Southern society. He parked the car on Battey Street, across from the school and in front of the white, wood-frame mammoth structure in which he had grown up.
The house loomed over the neighborhood. A sycamore tree rose from the corner lot to just above the sloping tin roof. Untrimmed, overgrown azalea bushes, no longer in bloom, ringed the house. A white picket fence, rotting, ran from the back of the house to the corner of Battey and the circle of street encompassing the round park on 50th. The fence enclosed a dying mimosa tree and a garage apartment that threatened to collapse into the dirt lane that ran between 49th and 50th streets.
David hopped up the front brick steps, tried to open the locked wooden door to the house, then rang the shrill doorbell upstairs where his brother Skip would be. No answer. He rang again, letting the bell sound longer.
“Stop ringing that damn bell,” Skip yelled from the upstairs bathroom window.
“Why is the door locked?” David yelled back.
“I’ll be there in a second.”
David heard the toilet flush.
When it was built of cedar and heart of pine in the 1920s, Battey House had been a grand vertical duplex. David’s grandfather, Herman Jackson, had bought the house in the ’30s when his successful grocery business had provided enough money to move his wife Sibyl and Will, David’s father, from a small house on Price Street to affluent Ardsley Park. The Depression provided remarkable real estate deals. When David was born, his grandparents moved into the garage apartment, which Herman had built as a wedding present to Will and Betty, David’s mother, turning the twelve rooms of the downstairs half of the main house over to them. Herman died of colon cancer in 1962 after a long year of wasting away, and Sibyl followed him a year later, dying of a stroke and of grief over the loss of her husband. It was then that the house began its decline.
Betty and Will had met in the Air Force at the end of World War II. When Will made lieutenant, he had proposed. Betty wowed Will with descriptions of her grandfather’s plantation in Virginia, and Will led Betty to envision a future of prosperity, married to an officer and an attorney. By the time of David’s birth, two years later, both were disillusioned. The Virginia plantation was in truth but a poor tobacco farm. And Will’s illustrious career settled into the Air Force Reserve and a struggling law firm. During the 1950s, it was the grocery store, followed by a thriving package store, opened and run by Herman, that kept them all going.
Skip was Betty and Will’s last fully cooperative achievement. Before Skip was born, Will returned to active duty, as the Korean conflict erupted, and Betty spent a pregnant summer alone, dodging cockroaches and asking herself why on Earth she had agreed to live in “this fucking swamp.”
It had taken almost two decades before Will and Betty acknowledged they were incompatible. They divorced, Betty moved to an apartment downtown, and Will remarried -- a client whose own divorce he had handled -- and settled into Windsor Forest, white-flight suburbia well south of Ardsley Park. With David away at the University of Georgia, the vast, aging house became Skip’s by default.
Skip opened the front door and David followed him up the creaking steps to the second floor. The interior of the house was dark and damp. They entered the living room.
“Dad called. He said he might stop by.”
David walked to the stereo system and selected an old album by Simon and Garfunkle that was actually his. “Mind if I play this?”
David was not glad to hear that his father planned to visit. For the last few years they had disagreed on virtually everything, from the Vietnam War to the use of marijuana to the length of David’s hair.
“Go ahead,” Skip answered. He disliked the way his brother always took charge when he came over.
“It looks like you got burned.” David noticed his brother’s sunburn.
“Ann was really hot last night.” Skip’s jokes were earthy at best. After a few crude exchanges about sex, they talked of the Kleins, the family from Asheville, North Carolina, who visited their Savannah relatives every summer. David and Andreas Klein had grown up together, visiting Andy’s grandmother and uncles who lived two houses down from Battey House, spending childhood mornings together at the family bakery or swimming off the Turner’s Creek dock of the vacation house on Wilmington Island. On the death of Andy’s grandmother, that property had been fought over and sold by three uncles. Now the Kleins simply rented a beach house every summer for a week or two.
“Did you know that Andy has brought a girlfriend to Tybee?” Skip asked.
“Yes, he told me he had invited her.”
“Her name is Eva. She is really cute. How did Andy get up the nerve to ask her?”
David thought for a moment about the letter Andy had sent a few weeks ago. “ I think they met in a history class in the college in Asheville. They are second cousins, but had never known each other before. Her grandfather is one of Andy’s grandmother’s four brothers, or something like that.”
“She has a strange last name.” Skip tried to recall.
“It’s German-- Ubelee.” David remembered.
As Skip recounted his visit with the Kleins and their day on the beach, the door downstairs opened and closed with a bang. David recognized the sound of his father’s footsteps marching up the creaking stairs.
Will Jackson entered the dark living room. He wore a cheap gray suit that was too short for him and which was wrinkled from a day at the office. He had on a polka-dot bow tie, a clip-on that was coming loose, at an angle, from his light blue shirt.
“You’re early,” David said. “It’s not even four-thirty.” Will regularly left well before five. He liked to beat the traffic on the long ride back to Windsor Forest. He ignored his son’s critical comment.
“So what are you two planning?” Will asked. The question was odd for its tone, implying that they were up to no good.
“We’re going out to the beach to see the Kleins. They are here all week.” Skip answered. “Why?”
“You wouldn’t be planning to smoke some mary-jee-wanna, would you?”
David knew at once what had happened. His father had gone through the glove compartment of the Thunderbird. David had placed an ounce of grass there that he and Eddie had bought. He had forgotten all about it.
“That grass is Eddie’s, not mine,” David yelled. He was surprised at his own anger. “You haven’t got any business rifling through my stuff.”
“You could go to prison for possessing that stuff.” Will’s voice also grew loud. “You must be crazy, riding all over town with drugs in the car. I could be arrested myself, since I own the car.”
Will and David stared at each other, neither accepting the other’s actions. Will continued his lecture, “Do you not know how addictive this crap is? I don’t want to see my son hooked on heroin and other narcotics.”
David sneered, “it isn’t addictive at all. Your cigarettes and booze are addictive.”
Neither of the two listened. David praised marijuana and Will insisted it was the road to ruin. “I have no intention of putting up with this,” Will said, at last. “I’m flushing it down the commode.” Will took the grass from his jacket pocket and made as if to walk towards the back of the house.
“No you aren’t,” David yelled. “That grass is Eddie’s and other people have paid him for their share of it.” David blocked his father’s way. He looked straight at him, noticing how red and twisted Will’s face had become.
When Will tried to pass him, David lunged for the bag, trying to seize hold of it. The two men collided, wrestling for control. Unable to use the hand which held the grass, Will was thrown off balance and tripped over Skip’s massive wood table made from the hatch of a ship. David watched stunned by the sight of his father sprawled across the table and floor.
But David failed to take advantage of the situation. Will tossed the bag to the sofa and tackled his son in one motion. Before he could think, David was pinned to the floor with his father holding him down. Neither had struck blows with his fists.
Skip, visibly upset, tried to separate them. “That’s enough, you two. Dad, let David up. There’s no need for you two to fight. Dad, if the grass belongs to Eddie, we’ve got to give it to him.”
“You, shut up.” Will commanded. “Your brother and I will iron this out without your help.”
“Fine then, aye-earn it out.” Skip mocked his father’s Geechee accent. “Just wipe up the blood when you’re done.” Skip walked out of the room, slamming the double, glass-paned doors to the den.
“Are you finished wrestling, now?” David asked; he was out of breath. “You’re hurting my arm and you smell horrible.”
“Maybe if I knocked some sense into that head of yours, you’d be more of a man.” Will couldn’t resist the dig at his son’s queerness. Then he regretted the base urge to make fun of David. A deeper feeling arose in him. “You should be grateful you have a father who cares about you.”
“Oh yes,” David spit out sarcastically, “and this is the way you show it.”
As David lay pinned to the hard wood floor for what seemed an interminable time, Will entered another time of his own. He saw himself at thirteen, standing in front of the brick bastion of Chatham Academy. His ten-year-old sister Ruth was taunting him, “We don’t have the same daddy. Your daddy is dead.”
Young Willie could not believe his sister was saying this. “It’s not true,” he protested. “Who told you?”
“I swore I wouldn’t tell,” she pouted. Ruth stood her ground, small as she was, the dark curls of her long hair rolled up like fists along the side of her round head. “You were born in 1921 and Daddy married Momma in 1923, the year before I was born.” Ruth had the facts. Willie and Ruth walked home together after school each day. His parents insisted that Willie watch over her.
“Anyway, ask Momma if you don’t believe me.” Ruth was full of confidence even if she had little awareness of what a different daddy entailed. Their cousin April had told Ruth all of this yesterday after over-hearing her mother, Herman’s sister, whisper the dreadful story to her father. “You won’t be able to have the Bar-Mitzvah, now, will you?”
“Shut up, Ruth. You know you’re just jealous, and all these lies aren’t going to change anything.” But Will knew that everything was changed forever.
Will looked at David’s face, filled with disgust. He saw again the look on his mother’s face in 1934 when he asked her for the truth. “Am I a bastard?” he had asked, shocking her with the word.
“Who said this to you?” Sybil asked.
“Never mind who.” Will stood tough. “Tell me if it is so.”
“I want you to ask your father this question,” Sybil responded. “Let him tell you what is true and what is not.”
But Will knew that instant what was true. When Herman returned from work, prepared by a phone call from Sybil, his son, who had cried all afternoon in his bedroom, stood resolutely and dry-eyed before him. “Who is my father?” Will asked simply.
“I am your father,” Herman answered. “In the eyes of the law, in the eyes of God, I am.”
Will stared at him, moved but unsatisfied. He knew what a father was.
“You were with Mama when I was born?” Will asked.
“You were begotten by another man,” Herman said, trying not to display anger. “But there was only your mother there when you were born. I married your mother, and I adopted you legally. I am the only father you will ever have.”
Will remained perplexed. His adoptive father must love him, he realized. But he was not of the same blood. How could he go through with this Bar Mitzvah. “Was he Jewish?” Will asked. “Was my real father Jewish?”
Sybil, who had stood by quietly, spoke up.
“No, he was Baptist. And so was I.”
Herman could not contain his anger any longer. “He was nothing. I am your father now and you will join the Jewish community next month.”
But Will did not and could not go through with it. The whole family knew of his shame. He could not stand there, a Christian bastard, before his uncles and aunts. He would join the Baptist church. He would be baptized just as other Southern teenagers were baptized, in the faith of their true father.
But after that ceremony, which neither Sybil nor Herman attended, Will almost never attended church, not until his marriage to Betty. He made peace with God in his own way.
“Will you get off me now? You’re cutting the circulation off to my arm.” The fight was over. Will relented and David crawled out from under his father’s hold. Not letting another opportunity pass, David grabbed the grass from the sofa and walked out of the living room before Will could stop him.
As he fled Battey House, David slammed the solid wood door. The plate glass in the large window over the door rattled. One day it will crash down on someone’s head, David imagined. He jumped into the Thunderbird, replaced the grass in the glove compartment, and drove off. He intentionally drove the wrong way down the one-way street that ran beside Charles Ellis school. He turned right at Washington Avenue and headed for Tybee.
In 1970, there were few housing or shopping developments on Wilmington Island. Palm-lined Victory Drive continued past Thunderbolt’s shrimp boats and marina to become a palm and oleander bordered two-lane road all the way to the beach. Once across the Wilmington bridge, the first of five to the beach, the main houses were waterfront mansions concealed down long, mossy driveways. The home the Kleins once owned could only be seen from Turner’s Creek as it flowed into the Wilmington and past the Oglethorpe Hotel, with stucco walls and a red-tiled roof seven stories high, tall for the Twenties when it was built.
David drove across the island, passing the landmark airfield with piper cubs for sport or a tour of the islands along the Georgia coast. He passed the entrance to the Savannah Yacht Club. David fondly recalled Eddie standing naked in the showers of the club pool. Eddie and family were members, and it was when he had gone as a guest for the first time, years ago, when he was 17 and Eddie 15, that he had seen Eddie naked for the first time. David had known then the power of that attraction; it was a palpable need, not mere hunger for pleasure as his sexual appetite for Eddie’s sister Beth. Beth was play, elaborate masturbation, an ornament for David’s adolescent ego. But Eddie was, as David remembered the line from Tennessee Williams, “fox teeth in the heart.”
As David crossed Bull River, the fox teeth eased their bite. The green marshes were filled with the water of high tide. Egrets stood like white, solitary specters in the tall savannahs. The oleanders, alternating with palmettos, were yet in bloom, half of them white, half red. Tension from the fight with Will relaxed from David’s body.
The Kleins always rented the same house on 11th Street, two doors down from the sand dunes, a large second-story deck offering a place to grill hamburgers and to congregate. With three generations of uncles, cousins, and ever-increasing numbers of children, the Kleins needed the deck and the long screened porch, upstairs and down. As David arrived, most were on the beach, but Andreas and his new companion were stretched out in lounge chairs on the deck.
“David! Come up and let me introduce you to Eva.” Andreas Klein was always pure hospitality. He raised his 250-pound bulk out of the chair and stood on the deck as David came up the side staircase to the screened porch.
“I’ve just had a big fight with my Dad,” David confessed.
“Get yourself a beer out of the fridge. Or there’s a whole cooler of Beck’s if you want one of those.
“Introduce me first,” David said, seeing Eva, still sitting, smiling at him.
“Eva, this is David Jackson. David, Eva Ubelee.”
“Andy has told me all about you,” Eva drawled. David wondered exactly what that “all” included.
As the hot afternoon transformed into a warm evening, with sea breezes easing the heat, David relaxed and allowed two or three beers to put him in a friendly mood. Eva charmed him. David watched as she drew her shapely legs up along the lounge chair, rubbing more coconut-scented suntan lotion onto her legs and arms. She wore a one-piece, form-clinging orange bathing suit that showed off her full, country girl breasts and hips. Her waist though had the slenderness of a teenager. Noticing David’s eye, Eva played with the curls of her long, black hair.
“You grew up in Hickory; what was that like?” he asked her.
“Rural. I was ready to leave when I was 12. Going to college in Asheville was what I dreamed of in high school.”
“And that’s where you met Andy.”
“We were in the same American History class. He helped me study for the exam and I actually made a B in the course.”
“So who spoke first, you or Andy?”
“I did. I asked him -- you’re not going to believe this -- who won the Bull Run battle. I’m sure he thought I was really stupid.”
“I think Andy was alive during the Civil War,” suggested David. “there is absolutely nothing he doesn’t know about it. Don’t get him started on how the South should have won the war in 1861.”
David smiled as he thought of the argument he had had a few years ago with Andreas over whether Jefferson Davis had caused the South to lose the war, whether his decision not to let Lee attack Washington was a mistake.”
But the Civil War no longer interested David. “What do you think of Savannah?” he asked Eva.
“Well, I haven’t seen much of it yet. I love the beach, though. The ocean is so liberating. I was 10 before I ever saw it.”
Having grown up by the sea, David pitied anyone whose childhood did not include it. “We must go out tonight and show you the city,” David offered.
“You’d better arrange it with Andreas.”
Andreas had gone downstairs to help with the preparations for dinner. The older Kleins tended to gather downstairs and the younger ones and friends upstairs. Andreas' father, swishing a strong drink on the rocks, mocked his son. "Are you keeping Eva entertained?" he asked, "I hope you aren't just sitting around doing nothing."
Andy tried to ignore him. He helped his mother arrange things on the kitchen table. There was always far too much food. Each of three uncles had brought groceries, each trying to outdo the other. The Kleins had brought enough food from Asheville for a week. David was invited to partake of a ham, a deli turkey, several salads, potato, pasta, etc., endless varieties of chips, and a huge jar of party mix homemade by Andy’s mother.
After dinner, and after a beer or two, or in David’s case, a bourbon and ginger ale, Andreas, David, Eva, two brothers of Andreas, and a cousin walked along the beach. The full summer moon was emerging from scattered cumulus clouds over the ocean. The beach itself was dark and the six figures were silhouetted against the moonlit sea.
A stiff breeze almost brought a chill.
“Shall we take Eva to Pinkie’s tonight?” David proposed to Andreas.
Andy recalled his father's mocking implication that he couldn't keep Eva entertained.
“Sure. If she wants to drive into the city.”
“I’d love to see it,” Eva replied. “What is Pinkie’s?”
“A local pub where journalists, news people, and occasional politicians go,” David explained. “Only most of the people there are just locals who are a bit out of the ordinary.”
One of Andy’s brothers was old enough to drink, but he declined the invitation to go to town. David, Andy, and Eva decided to meet at Pinkie’s at 10:00, after David stopped by Battey House to pick up Skip.
“I think Eddie will meet us there, also,” David hoped.
After the walk on the beach, David drove back to Battey House. This time, the door was open.
“So what did he do when I left?” David asked about his father.
“He looked depressed,” Skip said. “He acted like you were already a heroin addict.”
“And now he is back safe and sound in suburbia with his perfect wife and her perfect children.” Will’s second wife, Barbara, had a son, aged 12, and a daughter, aged 10.
“You should try to get along with him.”
“He’s the one that searched through the glove compartment,” David snapped.
“He said he was looking for some papers he misplaced,” Skip tried to defend.
“Yeah. Right.” David seldom believed any of his father’s stated reasons for doing things. “And he wasn’t seeing Barbara before he divorced Mom, either.”
Skip was not sure with whom he sided, his father or his brother. He too often disliked them both.
“Are Andy and Eva going to Pinkie’s?” Skip asked, changing the subject.
“They will meet us there at 10:00, which reminds me, I need to call Eddie.” David phoned his friend, who lived 17 blocks away on 66th Street. After the call, he returned to Skip.
“It’s all set. We’ll all meet at Pinkie’s.”
Pinkie’s, with its Pabst Blue Ribbon sign lit, was hopping. Several people were standing on the corner of Drayton and Harrison, across the street from the side of the brand new Hilton Hotel, as David and Skip entered the bar and passed through the swinging inside doors. Lillie was bartending.
“Skip. David.” She recognized the brothers. “David, bourbon and ginger?”
“And a Bud for Skip.”
“Sounds good,” Skip answered.
David spotted Andreas and Eva sitting in one of the dark, wooden booths.
“Did you save us a place?” David asked Eva.
Pinkie’s was loud and smoky, though a small exhaust fan over one of the shut windows attempted to clear some of the smoke. The air conditioning appeared to be blowing frosty air. “Pennsylvania 6-5000” was playing on the eclectic jukebox. Above their booth, a framed, yellowed copy of the front pages of the Chicago Tribune announced that Dewey had defeated Truman.
The people sitting on stools around the bar were as varied as the music: a few students from Armstrong, a business man or two in suits, half a dozen women ranging in age from 20 to 60, and a few rapidly aging alcoholics, whom Lillie knew by name. A couple from the suburbs played pinball on one of the two machines in the back corner of the bar.
As David and Skip joined Eva and Andreas in one of the wooden booths that lined Pinkies’ walls, Eddie entered. He ordered a Becks, pulled up the last free chair and greeted everyone, introducing himself to Eva before Andy could do it.
"Have they told you the history of this place?" Eddie asked Eva.
"We just got here." She answered.
"Well, the bar is rich in stories." Eddie regarded Eva with a sly smile, as if kidding. "Georgia's very own governor stood right there on the bar."
"Which governor was that?" Eva asked, skeptical.
"The present one-- Jimmy Carter."
"The story goes," David chimed in, "that Carter made a speech during his campaign, here. Then he left his mother, Lillian, sitting at the bar while he went to wheel and deal with the local politicians. By the time he returned, she'd had so much to drink, she fell off the stool."
"Come on. That's not true." Andy protested. He thought Eddie and David were making fun of Eva.
"They all know the story here," Eddie laughed. "We heard it from 'Ski who's here during the week; but I'll bet Lilly will confirm it for you."
As they debated the truth of the story, Don Landry entered the bar. Not seeing David or Eddie, he ordered a scotch and water from Lilly and sat on one of the bar stools. Lilly greeted him, gave him the drink, and nodded toward the booth, "Aren't those your friends?"
"Yes. Thanks." Landry took in the crowded booth. David was animated, engaged in conversation and laughing. "Doesn't look like there's room for me, there." Landry said to Lilly. Not that he wanted to join the party anyway. He had come out for an uninvolved evening, wanting to sit back and observe. An intense conversation with David and his friends had no appeal.
However, Eddie was quick to spy Dr. Landry sitting by himself. "Look who's sitting at the bar," he gestured toward David. How long has he been there?"
David climbed out of the booth, crawling over Eva. He took Landry's arm and invited him to join the group.
"Thanks, but I'm fine sitting here." Landry tried to sound friendly, not unsociable.
David was annoyed. "Well, at least come over and meet Andreas. He's the friend from Asheville I've told you about. We've known each other all our lives. You'll like him."
Landry reluctantly gave in and walked to the booth. He shook hands with Andy and Eva. "David sings your praises," he said to them. He said hello to Eddie who was smiling like a Cheshire cat. Then he excused himself from the table. "What an odd assortment of people David keeps around him." Landry thought. He returned to his stool and was pleased to find an Armstrong student he knew sitting to his right. He smiled and spoke to him.
David failed to understand why Landry refused to join his party. "He's such a snob, sometimes," he thought. Then he just sighed and chalked it up to Don's being a bit of a recluse. He tried to give his attention to the conversation.
"What history courses will you teach, then?" Eddie was asking Andy.
"Both world and American." Andreas explained. "There will be several sections of history from grades ten to twelve at Black Mountain High. Unfortunately, the classes will be big ones."
"You'll have to get over your shyness.” Eva said.
"It's hard to imagine you lecturing history to a class full of teenagers." David said. He regretted the comment when he saw the look of fear in Andy's eyes. "But I'm sure you'll get the hang of it."
"I don't know," Andreas shrugged, "Trying to manage all those kids worries me."
For almost an hour they drank and watched the shift of the crowd that came and went at Pinkie's. Landry had left after his single drink. "So why do all these folks come here?" Eva asked. "It is such a dump."
"Maybe we should go to the River," Eddie suggested. "It's the up and coming place now. Our mayor has started a major restoration to create a riverfront walk and park."
"Isn't there an Irish pub there?' Andy asked.
“Molly’s,” said David. “We could park on Bay and take Eva on a tour of Factor’s Walk.”
“And show her the Griffin,” Andy added. The river front and the bluff down which cobblestone streets descended struck Eva as dark and frightening. The Griffin fountain scared her. Andy teased her that pirates and cut-throats hid in the arched storage areas, unlit by the dim gaslights and reeking of urine.
“These stones were brought over in Oglethorpe’s ships. The English used them as ballast.” Andy was saying.
“Women must not have worn high heals then,” Eva said. She continued to stumble along the unlit road.
River Street offered no better, its brick surface heaped with piles of construction dirt closed in with cranes and trucks. Nonetheless, plenty of people made their way over the debris to the Boar’s Head restaurant, Molly’s, and other clubs. Eva and her four men passed a troop of shouting soldiers from nearby Fort Stewart. They were eager to fight. “Gettin’ ready for N’am.” Eddie remarked.
Molly’s idea of Irish was a huge flag over the bar and some Irish music on the juke box. A few beers—Harp, Guinness—David suggested a more authentic locale. “You’ve seen River Street,” he said to Eva. “Now you should see a truly unique nightspot—the Basement.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Andy said.
“No way are we going to that dive.” Eddie added.
Eva was intriqued. “So, what is the Basement?”
“A gay bar, full of weirdos.” Skip answered.
“Exactly; that is what makes it fun.” David coaxed.
“I’ve never been to one,” said Eva; but the last Tom Collins had been just enough to rid her of inhibition. “Hell, let’s go. You don’t mind do you Andy?” When he said it was OK with him she turned back to David, “Will there be any other women there?”
“Probably a lesbian or two.”
Eva hesitated, “Let’s go y’all before I chicken out.”
They arrived at the old Armory building on Madison Square at 1:00. They stumbled down the steps from the sidewalk to the dim, subterranean chamber. David led the way, feeling familiar decadence as he descended into the forbidden bar. The interior glowed with red and yellow bulbs transforming the dull red Savannah brick walls into a garish hell hole.
One huge, twirling mirrored ball sent beams of smoky white light spinning over the empty dance floor. At the bar, on one end, two men in tight, faded bell-bottom jeans huddled and whispered. A single middle-aged woman sat alone at the other end. Several men of all ages and builds were scattered throughout the place, eying this new group suspiciously.
“Looks like we are tonight’s entertainment,” David remarked. “I guess we’ll have to perform.”
Taking David’s cue, Eddie invited Eva to dance. David, smiling, offered his hand to Andy. Andy laughed, but followed his friend to the dance floor. Skip, uneasy and self-conscious, ordered a beer.
They danced in various combinations and continued drinking. When Patsy Cline’s Crazy began to play, a couple wearing cowboy boots danced as well. Yet, the five remained the star act for the night.
Glancing at the men watching from their shadowy corners of the bar, Eva thought they were sinister and resentful. “These guys don’t like for people to have fun,” Eddie whispered to her, reading her thoughts. David heard the comment and realized he was the only one of the five who really fit in here. “I wouldn’t look happy if I were here alone, either,” he thought.
By two A.M. they agreed to call it a night. David drove Andreas and Eva to their car, parked nearby at Pinkies. Eddie rode with them, but Skip walked to his car alone. “Join us at Williams, Sunday,” Andy said to David. The Kleins made the seafood restaurant on Wilmington Island part of their annual ritual. David and Eddie watched them drive off. “Stop by for a nightcap?” David suggested as Eddie fetched his keys to the Karmann Ghia.
“OK,” Eddie replied, “Why not.” He was resigned and apprehensive, knowing well where they were headed.
David lived in the carriage house of the oldest standing house in Savannah, known by the name Camphor-Christian. Originally a small, white wood frame cottage, built in the 1760s, it was raised during the floods of the 1840s above a brick first floor. Will bought the house from a friend and client who was forced to retire to a nursing home. “I want you to have it because I know you; and I know you will take care of it,” she had told him tearfully. Will had gotten a remarkable real estate deal.
The carriage house was built in the 1950s to match the cottage. A narrow passage way led from Oglethorpe Street along the side of the old house to a courtyard and the entrance to the carriage house. Eddie arrived and parked on Oglethorpe behind David’s thunderbird. He followed through the narrow green door and passage. The main living area was upstairs, two large rooms and a kitchen and bath. “I have bourbon and I have beer,” David offered.
“Just a beer. I really can’t stay long.” Eddie answered.
David sat in his wooden rocking chair, watching Eddie sit in the blue, upholstered, 50s armchair by the window. “How’d you like Eva?”
“I think Andy is a lucky man. She’s a real find for him.”
"he’s exactly what she’s looking for,” David said, “loyalty, devotion, stability. You have to admit, he is an ideal boyfriend.”
“Sure, Andy’s a great guy.” Eddie refused to admit envy or criticize Andy’s weight.
David took a deep breath, rose, and walked over to Eddie’s chair. “You are so unhappy.” David sat on the arm of the chair.
Eddie put his arm around David. “I just don’t know what to want, that’s all. All the conflict with Susan has been such a downer.”
They sat holding onto one another awkwardly. Both were drunk and sad. “You want something more, don’t you?” Eddie said finally.
“We love each other. We should experience everything together. Sex would complete the intimacy, be the ultimate sharing of who we are.” Eddie knew there was some flaw in David’s logic of love. He knew that love needed mutual desire. He was too tired to argue though, glad enough to give in. Weeks of frustration over Susan made David’s adoration soothing. I’ll just this once let David have what he wants—he’s wanted it long enough, God knows. It would be cruel, Eddie decided, not to satisfy him.
David was already unbuttoning Eddie’s button down shirt, caressing the hair of his chest. “Let’s go to the bedroom,” Eddie coaxed.
Trance- like Eddie allowed David to take his hand and lead him to the full-size bed. Eddie removed the hand-made wool blanket from Mexico, its pattern like steps of fate. David undressed and Eddie removed the remainder of his own clothes. “I’ll lie back and you can do as you like,” he whispered. David did as he liked. Eddie’s body liked it as well.
When the sexual intimacy was over, Eddie was eager to leave. Remaining naked, David walked him down the stairs to the courtyard. They stood in the unlit courtyard, the bricks cold against David’s feet, and kissed. Eddie then disappeared down the narrow passageway to the street.
David reveled in Eddie’s odor and memory of his body. He glowed with satisfaction as he retraced the path to his bed and dreams.
Eddie felt used. “I have spilt my seed on another man.” He said aloud with Biblical resignation. “I’ve done the ultimate sin.”
On Tybee Island a mist deepened the silence of three A.M. Andreas parked his Mustang, glad to have the long drive from town over. “Would you like to take a short walk on the beach before we go in?” He asked Eva. “Or are you too tired?” No, no, I’m wide awake. I’d love to walk. Isn’t the fog pretty? Eva knew, as did Andreas, that there would be no privacy in the beach house. They slept on a sofa bed in a room shared with Andy’s sister. A light in the upstairs bedroom showed that someone might still be awake, perhaps watching late night t.v. The beach, however, was almost too dark for them to see where they were going. Distant street lights from the boardwalk half a mile away hardly penetrated the fog. The moon, so bright earlier, was lost in the mist. The tide, waves lapping somewhere, was neither high nor low. Still, the rhythm guided them through the cool darkness.
Andreas held tightly Eva’s hand, leading her along the strand away from the light. He sensed where the sand dunes were. “Let’s sit here, OK?” he suggested when they reached them. As they sat, Andreas wrapped his arm around Eva. "Did you like my Savannah friends?" he asked.
"Well, they certainly aren't like our friends in Asheville." Eva replied.
"David's wild, isn't he?"
"He's cute and he's funny." Eva said, wondering if maybe she liked him too much.
"And Eddie sure liked you, didn't he?"
"I think Eddie loves all women."
The two snuggled in the cool breeze from the sea. Andreas kissed Eva gently. She kissed him back harder. They struggled out of their clothes, despite the chill, using the scattered clothes to lie on. The damp sand was nonetheless everywhere. Andreas attempted to crawl on top of Eva, but she guided his massive body back. She would get on top.
Though Eva had never "gone all the way," she wanted to do so now. The excitement of the night, the sea, the alcohol, the cool mist, all made her hot for this penetration.
Andreas was also a virgin, fearful, but eager and ready. Striding him, Eva reached down and guided him into her. How thick it is, she thought as she squeezed him. She felt the stab of pain as he entered her; it made her think she would faint, pass out with the pain. Then the dizzying pain thrilled her. She felt Andreas go all the way inside her. Andreas felt her wincing and emitting a stifled cry. He thrust upward, trying to hold her hips to him. Then, over Eva's shoulder, he saw the moon seeming to glide behind the scattering fog. His cock burned as he came.
An hour later they lay together on the sofa-bed. In Andreas' wide arms, Eva felt protected, secure. She again pictured David as she recalled the night in town. She smiled to think that she was rid of her virginity. It was the most content moment of her life.
On arriving home, Skip Jackson saw that the door to Battey House was wide open. The house had been broken into before, but the lack of anything but bulky, out of date stereo equipment, built into the cabinets Will had constructed years ago, and an unmanageable console t.v. had left the robbers with nothing of ready value to steal. Skip had found an ice pick jabbed into the middle of his sofa. Revenge.
Wondering whether to go to a telephone booth and call the police, Skip got out of his car and stared at the door, expecting some thief or gang to appear. He imagined an icepick jammed into himself. Going a few steps closer to the house, Skip heard music. Robbers wouldn't be sampling the hi- fi.
As Skip climbed the brick steps, he realized that others were upstairs partying. As he entered the upstairs door to the living room, he saw blond, thin Odie Christian standing in front of the turntable. He wore headphones and was dancing and snapping his fingers. When he looked up and saw Skip, He jumped. Then, he waved and lifted the headset.
"What's hap'nin', Bro'?" Odie yelled. He turned back to the blaring rock-- Led Zeppelin.
Lights were also on in the adjoining den. Skip opened the double glass-paned doors to find Bobby Garrett, another teenage neighbor, more mischievous than Odie, stretched out on the well worn, pink sofa. His jeans were pulled down around his feet. He was reading Penthouse, Hustler, and another especially trashy spread that was tossed on the floor beneath him. He was stroking his deep red, erect cock, which was so long it looked like a bloody snake to Skip. Bobby grinned, seeing Skip, and let out a loud gaffaw. "hey, Man." He continued to masturbate.
"All right, you two have to go." Skip ordered, " I need to go to bed and I don't need all this noise and disgust." He returned to the living room and switched off the stereo. Odie protested, pleading,"What's wrong? You don't want to throw us out on the street. It's Saturday night; where else can we go? This is our only place."
"Just go home." Skip repeated. But he hadn't the heart to force them out. Odie and Bobby were his family now that his parents and brother had moved out. Skip ignored Odie's turning the music on again. He ambled down the back hallway, bypassing Bobby, to his sanctuary. He had installed a bolt lock on his bedroom door at the end of the hall. He opened it with his key and entered the dark womb, bolting the door shut behind him. He was asleep on his soft, unmade bed in seconds.
Susan and Charlotte strolled toward the Armstrong State College theater. As they made their way across the grassy quadrangle beneath tall, thin pine trees and around petite, spurting fountains, they talked of the upcoming play. The theater, like the rest of Armstrong, consisted of a plain, red brick building. The architecture of the college, in contrast to the rest of Savannah, had no character at all.
"I am so glad Eddie didn't get the part," Susan said. "It would have been impossible to rehearse with him here every night."
The two women once again shared a play, with Charlotte as Blanche Dubois, and Susan playing Stella. Eddie had failed to gain the role of Mitch. Director Langston had noticed the tension between Eddie and Susan, wisely eliminating the lesser actor in favor of a student with more talent. Tension like Eddie's and Susan's could, of course, be channeled into productive energy, a challenge Langston loved. Charlotte was capable of that transformation, he knew. Though she had graduated last June, she nonetheless was the perfect Blanche. Langston never hesitated to use alumni and faculty in his productions.
"Did I tell you I'll be working with David's mother?" Charlotte asked.
"You got the bookstore job." Susan said.
"Betty introduced me to the manager. She heaped on the praise for my intelligence. He asked for a resume' and I am apparently qualified for the job."
"Great. Your college degree qualifies you for a job selling books at Walden's for four dollars an hour.," Susan mocked.
"Actually, five. Waldenbooks is being generous." Charlotte laughed.
"Well, at least it will be easy for you to come to rehearsals here from the mall."
"I may even have time for dinner after work."
Their rehearsals would last a month. The spring production of "Vanya" had been a great success. Langston was eager for another. With the selection of the cast, he allowed each central character to talk about the play and what each thought of his part. Susan and Charlotte had opposite experiences playing major roles. Susan went in and out of character with ease. Playing lovelorn Stella about to give birth pleased her as she was just coming out as a lesbian to her close friends. The more unlike herself her role, the better she liked it.
Charlotte enjoyed no such ease. Being the attractive Elena of "Vanya" had been alienating, making her feel envied by others, especially Susan, who had played the jealous Sonia. The complexity of their relationship in the play has affected their real friendship, especially in the week prior to opening night. As David and a few others had pointed out to her her mood swings and irrational responses to real life situations, Charlotte admitted, " I think I have too much empathy to act; or perhaps I have insufficient ego because my personality collapses into the person I am playing."
Now Charlotte was afraid of becoming a desperate Southern belle longing for the boy whose life she had naively destroyed. "Oh, what strangers can I depend on to help me?" she asked Susan as they left the theater.
They drove to Pinkies where David and Eddie were awaiting them. The two men had had several drinks.
"Eddie has convinced me that I should take psilocybin mushrooms with him," David announced to Charlotte as she and Susan ordered beers and they all sat in the corner booth.
"How experimental," Charlotte replied. "Is this trip to take place tonight?"
"Of course not. We plan to take them Saturday morning and then drive to the beach."
"Can you drive when your stoned on mushrooms?" Susan asked."Aren't they like acid?"
"Bill is going to be our guide," Eddie explained. "He'll stay straight and do the driving. Mushrooms are milder than acid, anyway." Eddie had taken LSD, but not psilocybin. He hoped he was right.
"I'd like to trip-- eventually," Susan said, "but only in the right circumstances with someone I truly trust watching out for me."
"Grass is as strong a drug as I ever want to take," Charlottesaid, feeling a bit reactionary. " I think you all should consider just how much you want to alter your minds and play around with brain chemistry."
David shared her fear. "I agree it's a little scary. But people have been using mushrooms and peyote for centuries. Psychedelic drugs clearly expand our consciousness. They require cautious use. Read some of Timothy Leary's accounts or some of the literature on what Indians have experienced."
"Or Carlos Castañeda " Eddie added.
"I have," Charlotte replied. "That's one of the reasons I don't plan to trip."
"Really, it's not that big a deal," Eddie argued. "You see lots of colors and swirling patterns. It's like walking around awake in your dreams. And you notice lots of details you usually overlook."
"Such as?" Charlotte challenged.
"All sorts of things... how an ant carries something twice its size... the delicacy in the interior of a flower...the angles of tree limbs... the way your blood flows in our body."
Susan grimaced. "I prefer less of that kind of awareness, not more."
David changed the subject. "Have you heard about the new dance club that's opening? It's going to be called Dr. Feelgood's. Tim and Kolby are two of the owners."
"Who are Tim and Kolby?" Charlotte asked.
"Don't you know them?" David often mistakenly thought people he knew knew each other. "They own one of the row houses on Troupe Square-- those newly restored and very elegant townhouses."
"Yes, I know the houses. But who are they in terms of our friends? Are they old friends of yours?"
"I met them about a year ago, at a party." David could not recal exactly how he had met them. He turned to Eddie, "Was it at an Armstrong party?"
Eddie had no idea. "I hardly know them, myself. Tim's brother comes here regularly, though. We all could have met here. Maybe Don knows them too."
"That's possible," David agreed. "At any rate they are an enterprising couple in their thirties who have big plans for Savannah's latest bar."
"It will be a gay bar?' Susan asked.
"Mixed. At least that is their hope," Eddie replied. He hopes so too. "We don't need another Basement, do we?"
"I'm not sure we need another bar at all," Charlotte said.
Around midnight the four left Pinkies. The bar had emptied except for the "Duchess," a middle-aged alcoholic, famous for his prissiness and occasional appearances in drag. David had noticed his interest in their talk about Dr. Feelgood's. Last out, David nodded goodnight. The Duchess pursed his lips and blew david a kiss.
Locking his office, Dr. Landry hurried down the dark corridor of the Humanities hall and out onto the bright quadrangle of Armstrong campus. He followed a path that overlapped that of Susan and Charlotte the night before, around the little spurting fountain. Landry smiled. His Yeats seminar included four top English majors and it was small enough to allow discussions and readings of the poetry that were intimate and personal. Landry was also teaching an introductory philosophy course this term and was excited at the prospect of covering Plato, Kant, and Sartre. It was a challenge to stay ahead of his class. Many of the assignments were difficult readings; yet, they gave Landry the opportunity to tap David's confident knowledge, to invite him to have talks. David' held joint degrees in Physics and Philosophy, but the latter was clearly his love.
Along the eight mile drive up Abercorn from Armstrong to Forsythe Park, Landry thought of his nomination to become the president of the Georgia Poetry Society. "It is as close as I could ever get to becoming a member of Savannah's old society," Landry thought out loud. He realized the irony and vanity of desiring to be one of Savannah's elite. He had gladly accepted dinner invitations from the Wares, the Lanes, and the Gordons. He enjoyed hosting the monthly meetings of the poetry group and reading his own passionate poems. The society ladies who attended faithfully loved his poise, style, and seriousness when he performed his masterful readings.
Landry knew he was risking his popularity and courting great disfavor from these families by allowin Bill Gordon, a Savannah Gordon, notwithstanding, to publish and edit Savannah's first underground newspaper, which Bill named Albion's Voice in the basement of 24 West Gaston. The name came from Bill's love of William Blake, however little it had to do with Savannah. Still, Landry had seen the first issue and knew the paper would attack Savannah's foul smelling paper mill, attack the Nixon administration, especially the Viet Nam War and would have controversial columns on sexuality and marijuana use that would fuel strong objections. Bill had managed to work with the talented, bright Otis Johnson the first African American to graduate from Armstrong, to write about the city's race relations and ongoing problems in racial conflict. Bill even planned to take up the cause of gay civil rights.
Landry smiled as he thought of Eddie's arrest on Broughton Street where he was selling numerous copies of The Great Speckled Bird from Atlanta. The police seized the bundles of papers and Eddie went to jail until his mother and David's father arranged bail. Ah, the irony of having ultra conservative Will Jackson come to the defense of the Bird, and indirectly, Albion's Voice. Will had lectured both his son and Eddie on the foolishness of "peddling that filth." He made Eddie cut his hair military style and where a suit to court. Even the ample, bushy brown sideburns were cut, "I'm not going to defend someone who looks like the Dutch Amish." Will insisted. But Landry loved the irony of this capitalistic lawyer and major defending an anti-establishment, counter cultural, socialistic leaning newspaper.
In court, Will had slowly and overly deliberately questioned the police sergeant who had authorized the arrest. Will could have taken his point to the D.A. But he liked this method better. After having the officer describe in detail what happened before and during the arrest, Will asked, "And the code section? Give me the exact law you claim my client violated."
When the sergeant answered with the code section, Will ambled over to the judge's bench. A pained, put upon smile, as if this happened all too often etched his face. "Your Honor, I think you see, this case must be summarily dismissed. There were no wholesale sales here at all."
The judge agreed. He hammered his gavel hard, as if admonishing the sergeant and making it clear he did not like mistaken arrests brought before his court. "This case is dismissed."
The code section dealt with wholesale licenses only and made no mention of retail sales of papers. The sergeant would find this out after the trial when the embarrassed assistant district attorney explained it to him. Eddie was free to go.
In spite of himself, David had been proud of his father's handling of the case. Will had not charged Eddie or his family anything for the defense. Landry pictured the look on David's face as he had recounted the story of his father's win and how glad he was that Eddie had not been forced to pay some huge fine or actually spend time in jail. Landry thought of Will Jackson the attorney and the formality he always showed when they met. "Good Southern manners and respect for my doctorate, that is all he allows me," Landry said to himself. "No hint of simple friendship. No acknowledgment of my relationship with his son, whatever it might be.
What a contrast with Betty Bagby, David's mother. Will the formal, right-wing attorney, the upright macho military major, all forced politeness, and Betty, the liberated divorcee. "I'll bet you are a bottom," she had said to Landry on their second meeting. True, she had had more than a couple of vodka tonics, and the discussion had been about which celebrities enjoyed which sexual acts. But her looking him in the eye and smiling those deep red lips and smacking out that remark had caught him off guard. It took him up to a minute to come back with, "And no doubt you are usually on top."
Landry parked the Volkswagen hatchback along the curb in front of 24 West Gaston. No nudes sat on the doorstep. He did notice the open basement window through which Bill Gordon was busy producing the soon- to- be- released first edition of Albion's Voice.
"The Gyres are wheeling," Landry said, as he locked the car, and as he imagined Yeats' unstoppable cosmic gears of fate and process turning.
On Saturday morning, Eddie arrived at David’s apartment behind the Camphor-Christian home. It was a warm September day, and David was wearing denim shorts and a UGA t-shirt. He carried a 35 mm camera.
“How long does it take to kick in?” David asked, as Eddie showed him the powdered psilocybin capsules.
“You really won’t feel anything for an hour or so. I told Bill we’d pick him up and let him drive us to the beach.”
“We can take the Thunderbird, if you want.”
They drove to Landry’s, where Bill continued working on Albion. “He spends the night in Landry’s basement, working half the night so he can get Albion’s Voice out next week,” Eddie explained. “He sleeps on a cot.”
After David and Eddie took the psilicibon, the three drove to the beach. Bill talked about the articles that would be in the first issue of Albion. “We refer to the paper mill as ‘onion bag’,” Bill said. He went on to list the prime enemies of the people: industrial polluters, the oil companies, supporters of the war in Vietnam, and especially Richard Nixon.
“Do you really think Albion will change anyone’s mind?” David asked.
I just want our side in print,” Bill replied.
Fine. But don’t you think we’d help the cause by persuading people, rather than angering everyone?”
“We’ll do both. I want to motivate people who shouldn’t tolerate all this Fascist shit.”
David dropped the argument. Bill was too extreme to motivate anyone, David decided. Savannians would label Bill a communist when they read his paper. Worse, no one would take any of the articles seriously. David still admired Bill for the courage and tenacity of publishing what would be such an unpopular paper.
As the long stretches of marsh beyond Bull River drifted by, David began to sense an altered reality. The curves of the tidal creeks, the expanse of green marsh over which a white egret took flight, the blue sky filling with cirrus clouds -- all looked composed. It was as if David were watching a dynamic painting rearranging itself. He could not determine whether his perspective was the effect of the drug or just the heightened awareness of expecting some effect.
David realized he was no longer listening to Bill or Eddie, though they were carrying on a conversation. “I couldn’t believe it when Langston wouldn’t give me the part,” Eddie was saying. “I know Susan must have said something negative to him. And I can’t figure out why she didn’t want me in the play.”
“It would have been distracting,” David offered. “She can concentrate on her own role better if she doesn’t have you constantly courting her.”
This was a bit harsher than David had intended.
“I’ll bet Charlotte wouldn’t have minded having you in the play,” Eddie retorted.
“If she saw me act, she would,” David replied. The idea of performing before an audience was terrifying. He would never have been able to remember lines.
“Just give Susan room to breathe, Eddie,” Bill suggested. “I’m sure she likes you. She talks about you all the time.”
When they arrived at the beach, Bill dropped David and Eddie off at the south end. There were less people there, especially in September. “I’m going to the new library branch here. I’ll come back in a couple of hours to see how you’re doing.”
“We’ll just walk along the beach,” Eddie said. “I doubt if we’ll swim, though we may try wading a little bit.”
As Bill drove off, Eddie asked David if he felt anything. “Yeah. Everything we say seems to have several meanings,” David laughed. He was unsure if what he said was funny.
“It ought to be coming on now,” Eddie suggested. He was already seeing vivid colors that began to overlap their objects. The gold of the sea oats extended into the blue of the sky.
They walked over the dunes and out to the long strand of beach that stretched at low tide all the way from Tybee to neighboring Pelican Island. There was not a single person there. A handful of seagulls were wheeling, crying out, and leaving trails in their vision. “I think I need to sit down,” David said.
“Remember, the hallucinations aren’t real,” Eddie spoke, gently. “Just enjoy all the effects.”
“Yeah, everything is really beautiful,” David replied, being brave. The visual blending of time and space was fascinating, but he felt fear physically in his abdomen. He focused on Timothy Leary’s advice to “let go” and experience the visions and feelings with a sense of adventure. “If I fight it, I’ll have a horrible trip,” David told himself.
He turned to Eddie, who looked all of a sudden as if he were carved out of wood like Pinocchio. “I think what we are seeing is real,” David said. “We’re experiencing what we’ve been trained not to. This is reality without preconceptions.”
David’s philosophy bored Eddie. He shook his head as if in agreement. But what he wanted was to enjoy the drug without thinking at all. He lay back in the sand and let his mind absorb the clouds gathering overhead. The cirrus clouds multiplied into vast, overlapping patterns, moving in layers from the sky down to just above his head, just out of reach. Eddie lifted his hand in the air as if to ripple the clouds like the water of a pond. He watched in amazement as his arm seemed to extend off into space.
David crawled into the sea oats. They were animated. He knew, intellectually, that the sea breezes were making them move. What he saw, however, were dancing sea oats; each stalk had a life of its own. The oats were swaying as if in joy in the sun and sea air. David understood, for the first time, the theory that everything has consciousness.
Both men floated in this euphoria for over an hour, though they had no consciousness of the passage of time. David managed to crawl back to Eddie’s side and almost dozed off. It was as if he were lying on a float in a pool, being rocked by the lapping water. Then, his attention turned to Eddie, who had removed his shirt and was soaking up the September sunshine. “We need to be careful not to get burned,” he said to Eddie. The idea made them both laugh. David stared at Eddie’s chest. He noticed dark moles, the hairs around Eddie’s broad nipples, the dark hair in the center, above his sternum. He wanted to stroke that hair but knew it would spoil the harmony they were sharing.
Eddie felt his friend’s desire, but he also felt the presence of other people. He had seen in the corner of his eye a couple strolling along the beach to their left. When he turned his head, the couple dissolved into sandpipers running along the water’s edge. “We should walk in the water,” he suggested, rising to avoid having David touch him.
David followed him to the water. They waded in the shallow waves, carrying their shirts, tennis shoes, and David’s camera. Eddie towered over David and occasionally placed his hand on David’s back. For David it was an electric feeling that sent a shock down his spine to the cool water around his feet. Other people appeared, but low tide provided such a wide beach that they looked like ants in a Salvador Dali painting.
Eddie had brought a small paper bag with apples and other snacks. “Hungry?” he asked David.
“Sure.” David bit into the apple. The crunching and rush of juicy sweetness were intense. The skin of the apple slashed his gum, and for a second, David thought his teeth were coming loose. Chewing was equally strange. Eddie must be experiencing something weird as well, for he had a look of surprise on his face. He looked red and beady-eyed. Both men laughed at each other.
“It’s incredible the things we take for granted,” David managed to say. “Eating is so bizarre when you stop and really experience it.” “You should take a picture,” Eddie suggested.
“Of what?” David asked, looking around at the surging sea, the stretch of beach, and the accumulating clouds over the ocean.
“Of us. Of the apples,” Eddie said.
“O.K.” David put the camera on the beach. He lined Eddie up in the viewer, then went to stand beside him. He had pressed the timer, which gave them 30 seconds.
Eddie held up the half-eaten core of his apple. “Friends to the core,” he said.
David laughed and held onto his own core. The camera clicked. “It’s more like the forbidden apple,” David remarked, tossing the core into the waves.
Bill had parked in the public lot near the boardwalk and easily found them, still wading in the water. In fact, they had sat in the shallow waves and were digging in the mud like babies. “I think it’s time to take you children home,” he said, as he walked up to the water’s edge. He could see that they were beyond reason. Bill picked up shoes, shirts, and camera lumped together on the beach. Eddie and David slowly arose and followed wherever Bill told them to go. David had the sensation of bouncing in and out of reality as he walked. His body flashed in and out of awareness as his eyes and mind floated along. He imagined himself as a helium balloon being pulled along by Bill.
On the drive back to town, David thought about death. He stared at his hands, which appeared to be aging. “Isn’t it incredible,” he said, “that all the cells in our body can die but we stay alive. Perhaps all the souls of the world are God’s cells. We die but God lives on.”
“There is no God,” Bill declared.
“Sure there is,” Eddie piped in. “God is the collective spirit of all of us, not some granddaddy in the sky.”
“Let’s go to Bonaventure,” David exclaimed. “I want to visit my grandmother’s grave.”
“We can go for a few minutes,” Bill replied, “but I need to get back to Albion. I still have a lot to do to get it ready for next week’s press.”
Finding Sybil’s grave was not easy. Bonaventure had two entrances, one marked by a cross, the other by the Star of David.
“When Grandma died, they gave her a Jewish burial,” David told his friends. “That was the only way she could be buried next to Herman.”
“She was a Christian?” Bill asked.
“Yeah. I was really pissed. They spoke Hebrew at the funeral. And when we had a memorial service for her at St. John’s, my aunt and cousins didn’t even attend.”
“I don’t think Jews can attend Christian services,” Eddie speculated.
“Couldn’t or wouldn’t. Skip and I went to our cousin Mo’s Bar Mitzvah. And I went to cousin Marlene’s wedding. It just seemed so disrespectful to our grandmother to act as if she were Jewish, when she wasn’t.”
“The whole rigmarole of religious ceremony is absurd,” Bill remarked. “Religion breeds nothing but hate and war.”
David was too stoned to have a political or theological discussion. He felt God. The world outside the car was a sphere, psychical and spiritual, and David felt it. His awareness was curved, and God was the unifying force that held the curve together. “I am a cell of God,” David whispered, again thinking of organisms. Eddie turned around from the front seat. “We all are,” Eddie whispered back. “God is in our cells, too.” He reached back and touched David’s hand with his own. For both it was as if they connected physically and flowed into one another.
“Does it matter which gate I drive through?” Bill asked on reaching Bonaventure Cemetery.
“Not at all. They both go to exactly the same place. It’s all symbolic. Jews and Christians think of the cemetery as two different places, depending on which gate you enter.”
“What if you enter one and leave by the other?” Bill asked.
“Let’s do it,” Eddie exclaimed.
Finding Sybil was not easy. “I know you can see Wilmington River from her site,” David said. They drove down several oak-lined paths. Heavy, silver moss made the paths like tunnels. The huge gravestones announced Habersham, Duffy, Low, and Miller with no apparent order. Still stoned, Eddie and David felt the presence of ghosts hovering over the markers. The sky had become dark, and David imagined a fierce storm and all the graves opening to reveal the blessed and the damned. The latter, David felt, were lurking in the shadows and hanging from the trees in the moss.
At last they found them -- Herman and Sybil Jackson, buried under modest marble stones. David pictured her once again in the garage apartment making him coffee and toast. He saw her hand smearing butter across the toast with a silver butter knife. Her wrinkled hand, with long red fingernails, reached to touch his face. “She still exists,” David said. “She knows we are here, I’m certain of it.”
Eddie and Bill stood silent. The only sound was the steady pulse of crickets. Drops of rain began to fall like tears from the dark sky. Water burned the corners of David’s eyes. “Let’s go,” he said.
Bill drove the Thunderbird back to David’s apartment on Oglethorpe. “I’ll walk to Dr. Landry’s, it’s not far. Actually, I want to walk,” he said to them. “That visit to your grandmother’s grave was heavy.”
David and Eddie hugged Bill goodbye, then entered the courtyard. It was late afternoon, and the rain had stopped though the sky was still overcast. “I’m going to meet Susan at her place around 6,” Eddie said. “Maybe the four of us can go to supper later.”
“I think Charlotte already has plans with her family,” David replied. “Besides, I’m exhausted. I just want to be alone, take a nap, and maybe a hot bath.” David was beginning to feel poisoned, as if some metallic and enervating substance were flowing in his veins. “I think I’m crashing.”
David wanted Eddie to stay with him, but could think of nothing to keep him there. "I'll see you in a day or two, then."
Eddie looked at his friend, forlorn in the empty courtyard. He must give David some comfort before going to see Susan. He overflowed with good will. He felt pity and empathy. "Come here, then," he offered, taking David in his arms. They kissed.
David felt he was passing through a tunnel to Eddie's soul. Their mouths fused and their tongues merged. Both felt they were soaring through inner space, bodies dissolved. The kiss fulfilled them both. They hugged a long time, each in his own way happy with the other. Eddie felt at one with David, almost the opposite of the night they had had sex.
“Saturday night,” Landry said to himself, “and I’m home grading papers.” He was reading a rather clever essay Charlotte had written on Yeats’ use of the rose as a metaphor for short-lived beauty. He would give her an “A” even though she was only auditing his course. He admired the fact that she attended his lectures voluntarily and still managed to work and rehearse for the play.
As Landry finished her essay and wondered whether to go out, he heard a knock on the glass of the front door. He peeked through the curtain of the study window and saw that it was David. He was thrilled, yet didn’t approve of people showing up, repeatedly, unannounced. He had to put a stop to it.
“David,” Landry said, pausing at the door. “I’m in the middle of grading papers.”
Sorry,” David said sheepishly. “I was taking a meditative walk and decided to stop by. You don’t want me to come in?”
“You should call, first,” Landry lectured.
“I’ll come back another time.” David turned to walk away.
“You could wait for me in the living room,” Landry relented. “Do you mind sitting for a half-hour or so? I should be finished by then.”
David hesitated. Perhaps he should just go home. A wave of nausea gripped him, and Landry’s unfriendly manner had been odd.
Landry opened the door wide to let him in. David did as Landry gestured. He ambled into the living room and sorted through the magazines on the glass table beside the French Sofa. Landry returned to the study.
The green living room looked as elegant as ever. David studied the paintings and prints again. He sat on the sofa and flipped through The New Republic. There was an article on Hair. David kicked off his shoes and curled up on the sofa. He was asleep in minutes.
“David!” Landry said. David opened his eyes. “Are you O.K.?”
“Yeah. Just dozed off. What time is it?” David slurred.
“Almost 11. Have you been drinking?” It was an hour later and Landry had finished with the papers.
“I had psilocybin this morning,” David confessed. “With Eddie. I just came down.”
“What happened to Eddie?”
“He’s with Susan, somewhere. Have you ever tripped?”
“Once, on L.S.D.”
“What was it like?”
“Confusing,” Landry answered. “Colorful, stimulating, and ultimately, confusing. I couldn’t clear my head for several days after.”
“I took a bath and I felt like I was dissolving,” David said. “My skin was like a transparent membrane.” I saw myself as a liquid, separated by skin from bathwater. Weird.”
“I can see you’ve had a rough day.” Landry’s heart was dissolving as he sat next to David and listened to the details of his trip. “He’s a hopeless hypochondriac,” Landry thought.
“Didn’t you think tripping was mystical?” David asked. “Like Coleridge on opium?”
“That’s what I expected. But I was disappointed. Actually, I’ve taken opium.”
“What’s it like?” David was impressed.
“I only had it once. I smoked it in a water pipe when I lived in New Orleans. At first it was visionary and exciting. Later it became nightmarish and I felt increasingly paranoid and claustrophobic. I fled back to my apartment and lay in terror for hours.”
Landry led David back to the study and put on an Eric Satie record. David sat on the striped settee next to Fergus. As he stroked the cat’s long Burmese fur, he relaxed. Landry sat in the wing chair, and they talked quietly of poets and drugs, or just listened to the piano music.
“Do you want to go out?” Landry asked.
“We could look in at the Office Lounge. It’s quieter there.”
“Never been there.” David had passed the entrance on Liberty Street but had never gone in. “Sure. That sounds fine.”
The bar was nearly empty and the two spent an hour there, David sipping his regular bourbon and ginger, Landry drinking scotch. Then they returned to Gaston Street. “Let’s walk in the park,” David suggested, not wanting to go inside again. “It’s such a gorgeous night.”
Forsythe Park was cool and dark. There were only dim, old-fashioned lights made to look like gas lights. The only well-lit place was the fountain, glowing under white spotlights. Neither thought of the safety of walking there late at night.
“How’s your job at Carnegie?” Landry asked.
“Getting interesting. There’s a fight brewing over the collection of black authors. The Main Library wants it and the Carnegie librarians are furious."
“They want to move the collection? Why?”
“Oh, it’s very prestigious. And it would diminish the influence of Carnegie Library. It’s all political.”
They reached the fountain and sat on a bench.
“What are you going to do? Or can you do anything?”
“I’m working on it. I’m really for Carnegie. The collection should stay where it is.”
Landry spoke softly. His words of support were a caress to David’s ego. His interest, his undivided attention, was soothing. David knew Landry was seducing him.
“How are things between you and Eddie?”
“Fine.” David remembered the long kiss, open mouth to mouth. He felt a ripple of euphoria. “Eddie has been wonderful, lately.”
“And he’s still seeing Susan?”
Landry had a way of leading one logically to unpleasant conclusions without completely saying the syllogism himself. David recognized the image Landry had of him, a fool for unrequited love.
Landry was intoxicated, both with alcohol and David. The image he held of a fool was himself.
“Do you think you will ever care for anyone else the way you do now for Eddie?” Landry asked.
“Never,” David said.