By John Yager
This a story of hope. It is the story of a young man coming of age in a culture of prejudice and misunderstanding. It is a story which deals with difficult and often disturbing issues but, nonetheless, issues which must be confronted in today's world.
Again, special thanks to Andrew for proofing and editorial help.
This is a work of fiction and in no ways draws on the lives of any specific person or persons. Any similarity to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental.
This work is copyrighted © by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
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I woke at eight o'clock feeling as if I could have slept another ten hours. I knew dad wanted to be on the road by ten, so figured I should get up, even though he was still sleeping. His snore, which had kept me awake much of the night, had now become a muted wheeze.
In the bathroom I peeled off my shorts and stepped into the shower. I had shut the door from the bedroom so the running water wouldn't wake dad, but also because I felt such an overwhelming need to get off. My cock was sore and even a little red from all the beating I'd given it the day before, but I lathered it and went to work, think, as I did of Todd and Chad.
Of course, just as I was fully committed, the door banged open and dad came in. The glass doors of the shower were so foggy that it probably didn't matter. He seemed to be mindless of my being there and went directly to the toilet, flipped the seat back and let go with a loud and long stream.
When I'd heard the door opening I'd quickly turned and sent my seed crashing against the back wall of the shower. I watched enthralled as it slowly slid down the slick ceramic tile and was then swirled away down the drain.
"Mornin' Rob," dad called as he headed back to bed.
I finished and dried off. Dad had not closed the bathroom door and I got the feeling he was watching me as I dried myself and wrapped the towel around my waist.
"Morning, Dad," I said as I came back into the bedroom and gathered my clothes. "Are you still expecting to get on the road by ten?"
"Yeah, guess we'd better."
"You planning on eating breakfast here at the hotel?"
"Oh," he groaned, "I can't face the thought of food. Why don't you go on down and eat. I'll be ready by the time you get back."
"Yeah. I'm very sure."
Turning away from dad, I let the towel drop and stepped into my jockey shorts. We were a very modest family. I'd never seen either of my parents less than undressed, and was finding it very awkward being naked in front of him.
With my brother Ted it was different. We'd always run around our own room with little or nothing on. We'd gone skinny dipping together since we were kids and never thought anything about it. But here in the confines of a hotel room with my dad I was not at all comfortable. I knew he was watching me as I stepped into my jeans and went in search of a shirt.
"You know, Rob, you're filling out real nice. You're going to be as big as Ted in a year or two."
"You think so, Dad?" I said, not knowing how to respond.
"Getting to be a mighty good looking kid. I bet you get the girls going."
I just smiled and buttoned my shirt. But I knew dad was right. My body had filled out a lot in the last year or so and I did see the girls looking me over. I even suspected the guys were checking me out in the locker room and shower, but that was just the way guys are, right?
Getting out or the room was a relief. I practically ran for the elevator and continued out the door to the street once I reached the lobby. It was already warm and there was a heavy feeling in the morning air. It would be a hot drive home and I both looked forward to and dreaded the time with dad in the car. I didn't know what to think about dad coming back last night showing obvious signs of having been drinking. What was even worse was the evidence that he'd been with a woman, a woman who was not my mother, his wife! Whatever that had all been about, I would leave it alone. Maybe sometime I'd have a chance to talk to Ted about it, but I sure wasn't going to say anything to Dad. And I certainly wouldn't say anything to mom. I guess dad knew that. He knew I would never say anything about what had gone on in Memphis.
I walked around the block and tried to clear my head. I knew I had to talk with him on the trip home. It would be the only chance I'd have any time soon and I had resolved to sound him out. I had to know what he thought about homosexuality. I guess I knew what he'd day, but I had to hear it from him.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought I should just tell him I am gay. But somehow I knew that would be burning bridges, bridges I couldn't afford to burn yet.
The time would come when I would have to tell mom and dad about myself but this wasn't it. I'd just have to take things one step at a time. I ducked back into the hotel lobby and headed for the coffee shop.
The breakfast menu was obviously designed for people in a hurry, business men who wanted to eat and run, families who were off to see the sights of Memphis and didn't want to linger over an old fashioned leisurely breakfast. I ordered and ate fast when the food came. Forty-five minutes later I was back in our room.
Dad was ready and his bag was packed. He was shoving a few papers in his old briefcase as I put the last of my things in my duffel bag.
"I've already called down for the car," he said as I took a last look around.
I made a point of opening the wardrobe. His lipstick-stained shirt was gone, along with his dirty socks and underwear. I assumed he'd put them in his suitcase, but wondered later if he'd just tossed the shirt in the trash. He certainly couldn't put it in the clothes hamper at home. Mom would be sure to see the stains.
"You through lollygagging?" he called from across the room. His voice sounded rested and cheerful.
"Yeah, Dad, I'm ready. I just wanted to be sure we hadn't forgotten anything."
"Let's go then," he said as he took his suitcase and briefcase and headed out the door.
I found myself hurrying to keep up with him. I may have grown a lot in the last year or so, but he was a big, powerful man, several inches taller than me. His long legs carried him fast when he decided to move.
The car was waiting at the door and while dad checked out at the hotel desk, I loaded our bags in the trunk. Dad tipped the doorman and got in behind the wheel. I'd kind of hoped he'd let me drive.
We went down toward the river and then headed south, following old Route 61 out of town. Once across the state line, the old road runs southwest, following the river, but never close enough to really see much of the water. We went through miles of farmland and occasional small towns. I was wanting to ask my questions but couldn't seem to work up the nerve.
I guess I dozed a little. I sure hadn't slept well and it was catching up with me. Waking, I looked out the window as mile after mile of farmland went by. I thought about Todd and Chad again and wondered where they were, the actors who'd played them in the film, I mean.
I wondered where that film had been shot and decided it must have been done in California. I'd never been there but the hills and the vegetation didn't look like anyplace I'd ever seen. Watching the scenery whiz by, I thought that California must be a magic place. Maybe, I thought, there really was a place where people could live like that, free, not bothered by all the rules and all the fears.
When we saw a sign saying Clarksdale was ten miles, dad asked if I'd like to stop. "You mean for lunch?"
"It's early but I didn't have breakfast," he replied.
"Sure, I can always eat," I said.
We found a diner on the main road, just at the north edge of the town.
"Will you order me a hamburger and fires?" I said. "I need to find the restroom."
In the men's room I relieved myself and while I was washing my hands I saw a dispenser for condoms hanging on the back of the door. I knew "condom" was the proper word, but the guys I knew always called them rubbers.
One dollar for a pack of three. "Sold only for protection from disease," the sign said. Yeah, right, I thought. This was Baptist country.
I stood there looking at the vending machine and thinking that sex was so much a part of our culture, so much a part of our lives. Yet we never talked about it. At least we sure didn't talk about it in my family. We talked about food and sports and politics. Dad talked about the economy and the lumber yard, but he never talked about sex with Ted and me. Other guys I knew told how their fathers had sat them down when they were twelve or thirteen and explained "the facts of life." It was always sort of a joke because by then, they probably knew as much as their dads. Not that their dads knew all that much.
Our dad never told us anything. I wondered if he was too embarrassed or if he just figured we'd gotten the scoop from our friends and he didn't need to bother. Ted and I talked about sex between ourselves. He told me a lot, but I never asked him the questions I wanted to ask. I figured I'd better ask them once Dad and I started off again. I probably wouldn't get another chance any time soon. I was just going to have to work up my nerve.
Back in the booth, dad was drinking coffee from a heavy white mug and looking at the map. "We should be home by four," he said.
"Dad, I was wondering if we could, well, maybe have a talk."
"Sure, son. Shoot."
"Well, maybe I should wait until we get back in the car. We'll have time driving on home."
"This sounds serious."
"Well, you know. I'm seventeen and guys my age are dealing with a lot of stuff."
The waitress came with our lunches and we waited to say anything more. When she left he looked at me for a long moment before picking up his ham sandwich.
"You aren't in any trouble, are you, Rob?"
"No, Dad, nothing like that."
"Haven't gone and gotten some girl pregnant or something?"
"Well, I see the girls looking at you, boy. It wouldn't be the first time something like that's happened."
I ate my burger in silence and waited. We said nothing more as we ate but dad kept looking over at me as if he was going to say something and then thought better of it.
"Want anything else," he finally asked as he was fishing in his pocket for change.
"You going to drive?"
"Yeah, for a little while longer anyway."
"Well, maybe I'll get an ice cream cone to eat in the car."
"Go ahead. Tell the girl to add it to our bill." He ducked into the restroom without saying anything more. I walked over to the counter and just stood there.
"You want anything more, honey?" the waitress said when she came back from serving a couple of guys at the far end of the room.
"Yea, ma'am, a chocolate cone, please."
"One dip is fifteen cents, two is a quarter."
She turned and worked on the cone. The ice cream was really hard and she had to dig into it with the dipper. As hot as it was I was glad it wouldn't be so soft it would drip all over.
The waitress handed me the cone just as dad got back and settled up and we headed back out to the car. We pulled out of the parking lot with gravel flying. Dad liked big cars and he liked to show them off. I sat back and worked on my cone. I rotated it as I licked up the two dip high tower of hard chocolate ice cream. Gradually the two dips lost their separate shapes and were formed into a single long shaft by the labors of my tongue. I stayed ahead of the drips, even in the hot air. I began to sort of grin to myself as I thought of what I was doing, licking the long, hard shaft of light brown ice cream. Todd and Chad came to mind.
When I'd finished and wiped my hands on my jeans, dad gave me a sideways glance and said, "So what's on your mind, Rob?"
"Well, dad..." I froze.
"Spill it, boy. You got me worried."
I again thought through the story I'd invented while I waited for dad in the hotel lobby the night before. The guy had sat down by me and started a conversation. In reality his wife had come over a few minutes later and they'd left for the bar. But it had occurred to me then that with a little imagination on my part, that incident could be the starting point for a rather different story, a story which would let me get to the questions I wanted to ask.
"Well, dad," I began again. "You know how I was sitting in the lobby waiting for you when you got back last night?"
"Well, while I was sitting there a man came over and started talking with me."
"What kind of man?" Dad's voice had taken on an edge.
"Just a man. I don't know."
"How old was he? What did he look like?" His voice was louder, more urgent.
"I don't know. Not too old, maybe thirty. He just looked like a business man or something."
"So what did he say?"
"Well, at first he was just talking. He asked if I'd had a good day and if I was staying at the Peabody. Then he asked if I was alone."
"I bet he did! What did you tell him?"
"I just said I was waiting for my father." I waited, knowing I now had dad's full attention.
"Did he want you to go someplace with him? To his room or something?"
"Yeah, he did."
"Goddamn queer." Dad snarl . "Goddamn sick bastard fucking queer." I had never heard such language from my father before and for a moment I was really afraid he was going to have a stroke or run the car off the road. "What did you say, boy?" These last few words were almost a hiss.
"I just said no. I said I was going to sit there and wait for you."
"You should have gone over to the desk clerk and told him what the guy had said."
"You really think he was, well, you know, homosexual."
"Of course he was. Nobody but some sick fag would approach a good looking young fellow like you and ask him to come to his room."
"Well, I sure wasn't going anyplace with him."
"Of course you weren't, son, I know that! No boy of mine would ever get himself involved with one of those filthy vultures!
"If you'd told me this last night I'd have insisted the hotel manager call the police and see if they could find the bastard."
Well, I thought to myself, it was a good thing I'd waited until we were a good way south of Memphis before telling dad my tale.
"I hear guys talking about men like that. You know, locker room jokes and stuff, but I never expected to run into one. I guess I never would run into one around Spring River."
"You bet your boots you wouldn't." Dad said. His voice had become almost normal now.
"We had one of them around about twelve or thirteen years ago and we made short work of him."
"What do you mean, Dad?"
"Oh, you were just a little kid. Even your brother was too young to know what was going on."
"Who was he?"
"The son of a woman who lived out on Prescott Road. He'd grown up in Spring River, but had been off in New Orleans for ten years or so. When he came home to stay with his mama he figured he could carry on around Spring River the way he must have done there."
"Well, some of us men...you know, the group that sort of looks out for law and order around home, we just rode out there one night after he'd made a pass at a high school kid."
"You just rode out to his mother's place?"
"Yeah. Well, we parked our cars about half a mile from her house and walked up real quiet."
"And just knocked on the door?"
"Knocked on the door?" He snorted. "We covered ourselves with sheets and knocked the damn door clean off its hinges. There was a sheet and pillow on the sofa and we figured later that he'd been sleeping in the living room, but when he heard us coming in, he ran. We caught the sick bastard hiding under his bed without a stitch of clothes on. He'd been sleeping naked.! Can you believe it, sleeping naked on the living room sofa with his mother right there in the house where she could have walked in and seem him! We'd heard a lot of that type do that. Really disgusting, sleeping naked, I mean."
Dad seemed to be especially shocked by the guy's sleeping habits, or was he somehow intrigued by them? "You knocked the door in?" I said, much more shocked by the actions my father and the other town leaders had taken than what the guy wore or didn't wear.
"Yep, knocked it in and dragged the bastard out. We beat him good."
"Did you just leave him there?"
"Oh, hell no! His mother was screaming that we were killing her boy and she was going to call the sheriff and a lot of nonsense like that. She didn't realize we'd cut her phone line before we even got near the house. It was kind of funny, though `cause the sheriff was in our group. He was covered with a sheet like the rest of us so she couldn't recognize him or any of the rest of us." Dad had been talking so fast he had to stop for breath.
"No we didn't just leave him there," he continued. "One of the guys had gone for his pickup and we threw the queer in the back and tied him down like a sick hog. Then we threw a blanket over him and drove him to the railroad yard.
"The district railroad chief was with us and he led the way to a freight train that was due to leave for New Orleans in about an hour. We threw the bastard in an empty freight car. There he was, naked with nothing but that blanket. Then we locked him in.
"We heard about a month later that he'd surfaced again in New Orleans and gone back to his old ways."
"You mean living a gay life?"
"Gay? Don't you ever use that word that way with me, young man. They aren't gay! They are a sad bunch of sick bastards and don't you ever forget it. You can call them homo sexuals," he spit it out as two separate words, "or you can call them fags. Or just call them queers. But don't ever use a perfectly good word like `gay' to describe the likes of that filth."
"What happened to the woman, the guy's mother?"
"Oh, the next day the phone guys showed up and fixed her line. And the sheriff showed up with two deputies saying they'd heard there had been some trouble the night before. They made a few notes and fixed her door. Nothing more ever came of it. She moved off eventually and I don't know where she went.
"But the word gets out. Those bastards are just like those unruly northern niggers who started voter registration drives a few years ago. They may come around Spring River once but they sure as hell won't try coming back again."
"Do you hate black people the way you hate homosexuals, Dad?"
"Now, son, I never said I hate queers. I guess if anything I just feel sorry for them. But you can't have them hanging around a town like Spring River. You have no idea how much trouble they can cause.
"And black folks? I don't hate them either. Not our own black folks, anyway. Hell, son, I have black folks trading at the lumber yard all the time and their money's just a green as anybody else's.
"It's just those radicalized northern blacks you've got to watch out for. They come down here and tell our perfectly happy and perfectly peaceful black folks how bad off they are and how they need to go on marches and carry on for their rights or something."
"But you're okay with black folks so long as they're our own black folks?"
"You bet, most of the time, anyway. Once in a while you get some young buck getting out of line, but most of them are fine."
"So long as they are our own black folks."
"That's right, son."
"But this guy from New Orleans, he was raised on Spring River, you said."
"Wasn't he local than, one of our own folks?"
"Well there is a difference, boy."
"How, dad, I guess I don't understand."
"Well, let me see how I can explain it." He was silent for a few moments as he thought over his response to my question.
"I guess it's kind of like a cancer, son. You get a cancer, you have to just cut it out, no matter how painful or how disfiguring it is. You get a queer in the community, you just got to get rid of him before he goes around trying to turn all the perfectly innocent young fellows into queers like him."
"But with black folks, as long as they are our own black folks, part of the community, you'd let them stay?"
"Well, sure. They aren't really a part of our community, son, not really a part. They have their own community, so to speak, so long as they stay in their place and do what black folks are supposed to do." I was silent for a while, thinking over what dad had said, trying to come to terms with the magnitude of it.
I lived, I realized, in a family of bigots, in a community of bigots. For the time being there was very little I could do about it, but the time would come. I knew then, for the first time, that I would have to leave Spring River. I could never live out my life surrounded by such hate.
My thoughts went back to the story I'd told dad and his response to it.
"Were you ever approached by a guy, Dad?"
"No, never was. But that's what comes of hanging around a big city hotel lobby late at night. That's where they live, you know, where they can hide and try to blend in. Then they come out at night like a bunch of diseased vampires looking for boys and young men. Bunch of sick queers, they all ought to be rounded up and shot, just like the Bible says, and for good reason!"
"The Bible says to shoot them?" I asked with some disbelief.
"Well, it says stone them, but shooting them is just as good." Dad slowed down as we came into Cleveland. "We're needing gas."
"Can I drive for a while now?"
"Sure. I guess you need to get some highway driving experience. What about a coke?"
He smiled and gave my thigh a friendly squeeze as he pulled to a stop at the first filling station we came to.
"Well, I'm just mighty glad nothing happened." He looked over at me and added, "You did the right thing, telling me, Rob."
I was strangely relieved.
As bad as it was, I at least now knew where I stood.
To be continued