The following work is complete fiction. Any similarity with existing people or places is purely coincidental. It may also contain scenes of sexual activity between males; if it is illegal for you to read this or if you feel you may be offended by reading it, please do not do so. Because the story takes place in 1971, some characters may engage in behavior which is considered unsafe today. If you are not abstinent, please respect yourself and your partner by being safe.
I invite your comments. Please PM me at gayauthors.org or ghouldrool.com; or, email atFTCG1076 at netscape.net. (Copy and paste the address and substitute @ for the word "at." This helps me avoid getting my mailbox overrun with spam. Thanks!) I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for reading my story!
The sun was just setting below the trees to the west as the two young men sat on the bench beside the bandstand. Across the park before them, a dozen or so boys frolicked about the grass, tossing Frisbees among themselves, tackling each other, and yelling good-natured insults back and forth. A Parks Department employee was cleaning the giant green army tank on the northeast corner of the park, removing the latest anti-war insult to President Nixon painted on it by students from the college across Twelfth Street. Locusts sang in the trees, their songs undulating from one tree to the next. Lightening bugs darted about and starlings gathered along the power lines bordering the park and chattered among themselves.
The two young men, one tall and blond with wire-rimmed glasses, the other slightly shorter with dark curls around over his head and down to his collar, smiled at each other. The blond stood and made a brief comment before strolling toward a yellow brick building at the south end of the park. He walked past a garden of marigolds, zinnias, and cannas until he came to a patio beside the building, on which several green wooden picnic tables had been arranged. Sitting at one of them was a rough looking man in his mid-twenties. His dirty-blond hair was uncombed and there was a brown stubble on his face. His sleeveless t-shirt revealed a tattoo on his upper left arm. The t-shirt was filthy, as were his jeans and work boots. The blond man glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, but thought nothing else of him as he walked past and opened a door beside the old red Coke machine.
He entered the men's room and walked past the sinks, above which one of the mirrors had been cracked. Turning a corner, a long trough-like urinal stood opposite three stalls from which the doors had been removed. Trying to hold his breath to avoid the unpleasant odor, he stood before the trough, unzipped, and began to relieve himself.
His sense of concern was aroused as he heard the door to the restroom open and the sound of boots stepping slowly across the filthy floor. The man who had been seated on the patio slowly walked past him. He looked straight ahead, not reading the numerous graffiti on the wall, willing his bladder to empty faster. However, when he heard first the sound of jeans unzipping and the unmistakable sound of skin rubbing against skin, he stopped.
As he began to put himself back together, he heard a voice ask him a crude question. Glancing to his side, he saw the man facing him, exposed, his jeans open, stroking himself. He shook his head quickly and started to raise his zipper, when the man angrily grabbed his shoulder and roughly turned him back, facing him. Repeating his question forcefully, he looked angrily at the young man, who turned around again and started to take a step toward the door. The man grabbed him again, spun him around, and then rammed his fast into the young man's stomach. Falling to his knees in agony, he looked up at the man standing before him, his filthy member in the young man's face.
The man repeated his question; the younger man could only shake his head. In response, the man's knees struck the younger man's jaw, knocking his head back against the thin metal of the trough. A kick to his stomach sent the young man sprawling on the floor. Choking on his vomit, he tried to scream, but the kicks were too fast and furious for him to cry out. Sprawled in the urine, mud, and vomit on the floor, as the furious kicks pummeled his body, his last conscious thought was of the young man outside waiting for him.
And, then, he was no more.
It was only a week after the solstice and the full heat of the summer had not yet fallen on Clarkesville. I stood in my white shirt and gray slacks looking out my window at Centennial Park as a cool breeze blew past the curtains. It would be only a few hours and I would be able to sit under my favorite maple tree and escape from my world into my latest book. From downstairs, I could hear the unmistakable "beep, beep" of the Roadrunner cartoons my little brother always watched on Sunday mornings before church. The roar of the dishwasher in the kitchen cleaning our breakfast dishes was unable to drown out Brian's hysterical laughter in the den. I gazed longingly at the park, at the large, old turn-of-the-century houses along its west and south sides, of which ours was one, at the college on the north side of the park across Twelfth Street, at the little shops and businesses on College Avenue along the east side, that catered to the college students. This was the center of my world, Centennial Park, with its gardens and trees and playgrounds, the army tank on the northeast corner that was always being vandalized, the giant black steam locomotive of the Gulf and Great Lakes Railroad on the northwest corner, the statue of old Zachary Eustatous Clarke, a famous abolitionist and the founder of Clarkesville, on the opposite corner from our house. This was my home.
"Chrisser, get a move on!"
I turned to find my Dad poking his head in the door, his usual smile on his face.
"Yes, sir," I replied as I picked up my tie from my dresser. I stood before the mirror, tied my half-Windsor, combed my red hair and sighed as I looked in the mirror at my freckles. So many changes had overwhelmed my body in the last year and a half. Why couldn't one of those changes have been the sudden and welcome disappearance of those freckles? Well, they were fading and I had to admit that there weren't quite as many. But still....
I had the radio on my desk tuned to a station in Kansas City since the Clarkesville station always had religious shows on Sunday morning. The Sandpipers came on singing one of my favorite songs, "Come Saturday Morning," about spending time with your friend in your Saturday things and your Saturday smiles doing things you would remember long after Saturday was gone. It was not the typical sort of song a boy my age was supposed to listen to, but then I was not a normal boy, a fact which was made painfully obvious to me a million times a day. If only I had a Saturday morning friend.
"Chris? Wake up! We need to go!"
Dad was in the door again. I started and then reached across to turn off my radio.
"Are you OK, son?" he asked with concern. I hated it when Daddy asked me if I were OK.
"Yeah, sure! Why?" I lied with a smile as I picked up my Prayer Book and my blue blazer.
He said nothing, but as he stepped aside to allow me room to walk through the door, he put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a hug. I loved my father and it killed me to know that I was a cause of so much concern to him.
We all gathered in the foyer, Mother in her perfect yellow dress and her perfect blond hair and her perfect make-up, Brian in his blue-plaid slacks and his disheveled jacket, struggling to get his clip-on tie connected properly. Daddy fixed it for him and we were off.
We walked across the porch and down the steps to the walk. It was a perfect day without a cloud in the sky. We turned east to walk along Tenth Street to the church, which was at the southeast corner of the park. As we crossed Union Avenue, the street along the western side of the park, I looked longingly across at the park.
And, then, I saw him.
He was walking across Union a block away at the corner of Eleventh, crossing from the huge old Sinclair house, the one with the big round turret on the corner. His hair was dark and long, so much longer than boys in Clarkesville ever wore their hair. I knew he was not a girl, though he was tall and slender. He wore a t-shirt with some wild colors on it and what looked like really short cut-off jeans and maybe sandals. He was carrying a book and, and, and he was stopping under my maple tree, my maple tree. He was sitting down and opening his book. Under my tree!
Before I made my parents curious about what I was looking at with so much outrage, I looked forward and continued to walk, though with a slightly bolder step than normal.
It is traditional in many cultures to view the age of thirteen as that special and magical time in a boy's life when he begins the metamorphosis from child to man, from freedom to responsibility, from innocence to knowledge. As I look back on my childhood, I know that my own journey may have begun before then, but it was on that Sunday morning in the summer of my thirteenth year, as war raged in Asia and men walked on the moon, as prices rose and confidence fell and truths were questioned everywhere that I came to the knowledge and awareness of myself and others that marked that point beyond which nothing would be the same, when I put away my childish things, and I cried for my loss and my gain.
In the early summer, the morning sun shines through the stained glass of St. Andrew's diffused by the multitude of colors into a soft glow that warms the left side of the church and gives it a special radiance and cheer not found on the right side, where the angle of the light is such that no warmth seems to fall. The wooden sculptures of the Disciples on the pillars throughout the nave seem to take on a life of their own in the soft light and the very air seems alive. The people who choose to sit on the left seem to have a certain quality missing in those on the right. They greet each other with sincerity and energy, they smile more, and when they sing, they do so with fervor and joy, while those on the right seem dour and restrained, devoted to decorum and propriety.
Or so it seemed to my thirteen year-old mind as I sat on my acolytes bench in the sanctuary and watched Father Partridge climb the steps to the elaborately carved pulpit. The congregation had just recited the Apostle's Creed and everyone was sitting back, relaxing from their Episcopalian calisthenics of sit-stand-and-kneel. I took the opportunity to lean back myself and cross my legs under my vestments until I caught the raised eyebrow of the senior acolyte, Stephen Kinkaid. My face burning, I uncrossed my legs and turned to pay intense attention to whatever Father Partridge was about to say.
"`Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him,'" began Father Partridge in his soft South Carolina drawl, so different from the flat Midwestern accent normally heard in Clarkesville. I enjoyed listening to Father speak. His was not the harsh and ignorant Southern accent so often portrayed in movies and on television. It was soft and melodious, like sweet honey flowing over bread.
"`And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.'"
The Rector paused and looked about the congregation, as did I. In the front pew, on the left, in the Light, Stephen Kinkaid's elderly mother sat with her fellow widows, her silvery blue hair glowing in the light from the windows like a nimbus about her head. However, on the right side, in the Dark, Old Man Morgan, the President of the First National Bank, sat in his black suit, the buttons on his vest straining against his enormous girth, his dark eyes watching the Rector narrowly as his whisper of a wife sat primly, her white-gloved hands folded in her lap as she looked out of the corner of her eye with disapproval at those sitting in the Light. The contrast to me was striking.
"In the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday after Trinity," Father Partridge continued, "Luke tells us of the Pharisees' outrage that our Lord should sit with publicans and sinners."
I felt a stirring to my right. Ryan Corcoran, my fellow acolyte, leaned over, dark curls falling across his freckled face, as he grinned and whispered, "What's the big deal? I sit with Republicans all the time."
"Publicans, you dork, not Republicans."
A cough from across the sanctuary warned me that Stephen was watching. Ryan jumped back and I quickly turned back toward the Rector, my face burning yet again.
"The Pharisees believed in The Law and that nothing should come before The Law. They reviled and rejected those who failed to follow The Law. Yet, our Lord sat with those whom the Pharisees reviled, spoke with them, broke bread with them. The Pharisees were outraged."
Behind Stephen's mother, several pews back, I could see the Corcoran brood, all five of Ryan's younger siblings as curly haired and freckled as he, corralled between his mother on the aisle and his father by the windows. Both parents were watching the Rector with attentive smiles on their faces as their kids squirmed in the pew but, nonetheless, behaved themselves. Across from them, Dr. McAdam and Mrs. Dr. McAdam, their matching beak-like noses aimed like rifles at the Rector, both sighed in unison as both looked askance toward their right without turning their heads. It was amazing.
"But, how did our Lord react to the Pharisees' anger and disapproval? He responded, as he often did, with a parable. If you were a shepherd and one of your sheep strayed, would you simple shrug your shoulders and allow it to wander away, abandoning it while you watched the remainder of your flock? No, of course not. You would seek to find it and bring it back to the safety of the flock."
This seemed to be an unusual sermon for Father Partridge. He seemed to be speaking with a bit more intensity than usual. Father seldom challenged his congregation. His sermons were comfortable and soothing. He was an easy-chair of a pastor.
However, today he spoke with a note of passion in his voice. I normally paid little attention to his sermons, I enjoyed listening to him speak, but I seldom actually heard what he was saying. The message no longer had any meaning for me and had ceased to even before my confirmation. In fact, I no longer believed. I had begged God to relieve me of my curse and he hadn't. I had concluded that either God didn't care or God didn't exist. I still loved the Church. I loved being an acolyte. It was the peace and beauty of the service, the ritual and the music, the thought that I was part of a tradition dating back centuries that I loved. For an hour every Sunday, I could escape from the world and lose myself in the serenity and beauty of the Episcopal Church. Today, however, Father Partridge was breaking with his normal pattern. He seemed to have some life in his sermon, some emotion. His voice was rising above his normal monotone.
"Are YOU a Pharisee?"
I jumped. I was NOT expecting this. Apparently, neither was anyone else in the church. I looked out across the congregation and saw all eyes open and focused on the Rector. I turned my head to Stephen, across the sanctuary, and raised my left eyebrow in a silent question. He simply held his hands out, saying `I don't know.'
"Have you ever looked upon someone you considered to be a sinner and turned your heart away from them?"
I turned back toward the Rector. His arms were extended toward the congregation and there was a look of earnest pain on his face.
"Have you ever condemned someone as a sinner and turned your back on them?"
I looked across the congregation. My parents and my little brother, Brian, were sitting behind Ryan Corcoran's family. Mother, her hair perfect, her make-up perfect, her composure almost perfect, was looking up at Father Partridge in shock. My father was watching with more than his usual interest. Indeed, there was an intensity in his face that showed more than his usual curiosity. Brian, who was seldom able to sit still for more than two or three minutes, was actually paying attention to the Rector.
"Are you a PHARISEE?" the Rector demanded?
I could hear some uncomfortable rumblings from the congregation and as I looked across the Dark Side, there were some definite looks of outrage. Father was not scoring any points on that side of the church.
"My friends, I must answer than question myself. I cannot, in good conscience, stand here in this pulpit as your spiritual guide and not admit that I... have been... a Pharisee."
I looked to my right and Ryan had a truly excited look on his face.
"This is gonna be great!" he added.
"Shut up!" I whispered. Father Partridge was obviously in pain and this was clearly something difficult for him. Besides, I wanted to hear what it was.
"I have looked upon one who did not deserve it with a look of judgment and condemnation. And, it has pained that person and it has pained me."
Was Father Partridge actually starting to cry as he stood grasping the edges of the pulpit? This was really serious. This was some real stuff!
"My friends, it is You who suffer when you turn your head away from one whom you feel is a sinner. It is you who is hurt when you judge, It is you who is diminished in the eyes of our Lord when you deny those whom you reject. Friends, brothers, sisters, I beg the forgiveness of my Father in Heaven for my sin of judgment and rejection and I beg you to do the same."
"Aw man..." I heard Ryan whisper in disappointment. "I thought this was gonna be good."
"Do not harden your heart to those whom you judge to be sinners. Your rejection may guarantee they never find the joy of God's love and guarantee that you are held by our Heavenly Father to that same exacting standard."
I scanned the congregation. Both Old Man Morgan and Dr. McAdam had crossed their arms across their chests and were looking with ill-disguised rage at the Rector and it was at that moment, at that precise moment, when I realized it was I, me, Christopher Conrad, the son of the County Prosecutor, that everyone on the right side of the church, in the Dark, would condemn. If these people only knew the truth about me, they would be the first to declare me lost, to condemn me to an eternity in Hell, to turn their backs on me and their hearts away from me.
I felt an awful stiffness in my chest. I couldn't breathe.
My eyes went to the left side of the church, into the Light. I looked at Stephen's mother, at Ryan's parents, at the dozens of other people in the pews beneath the Sun, at my own Mother, with her strict and demanding standards, at my own Father, with his own dreams and hopes for me, and I realized that they, too, would have to turn their backs on me, turn their hearts away from me. They MUST reject me, for I was an abomination. St. Paul had said so. I was an abomination.
I had known it for at least a year, but for some reason, it just seemed to hit at that particular moment. Those people on the right side of the church, in the Dark, would be the first to turn their backs on me, to reject me. The Lord wouldn't. The Lord would sit with me. Or would he? Father Partridge had told us of Luke's story about Jesus sitting with the sinners. The sinners. He would still think of me as a sinner.
I had begged God to change me. I had begged God to rid me of this curse. I had begged God to free me from this abomination. And, yet....
I don't remember much of the rest of the service that morning. I must have performed my duties, but the next thing I remember was walking up the nave holding my taper beside Stephen, who held the crucifix, with Father Partridge and the choir following.
Quickly, I walked back to the acolytes' room. I had to get out of there. I had to escape and be by myself. But, just as I hung my vestments, Stephen and Ryan entered.
"Man, Chris. What's the hurry?" Ryan asked as he set his taper in its holder.
"Nothing. No hurry," I lied as I quickly adjusted my tie in the mirror and put on my blue blazer. My eyes darted upward in the mirror and I saw Stephen watching me with concern. He reached over and put his hand on my shoulder.
Ryan had pulled his robes over his head and was hanging them up when Stephen turned to him and asked, "Ryan, could you let me talk with Chris for a moment?"
"What's the big secret?" he asked scrunching up his nose. He pulled his jacket on and instead of straightening his tie, loosened it up. As he stopped at the door, he turned and gave a devilish grin.
"When I come back, you two better not be making out in the corner!"
I was about to retort angrily when Stephen chuckled and asked, "Jealous?"
Ryan rolled his eyes and closed the door on his way out.
"So, Chris. What's the deal?" he asked as he looked at me kindly.
I had always liked Stephen. He was cool, for an older guy. I remembered when I was a kid that he was an acolyte and then he left town after high school for California. He came back when his dad died, to take care of his mother. It was like he was a kid and yet he wasn't. He was quiet and happy and friendly and everyone in town liked him. The look of concern on his face hurt me. I didn't know why. I didn't want him to worry about me. I didn't want anyone to. At that moment, I just wanted to run away and be alone. Yet, as I looked up at his blue eyes and the longish blond hair falling across his forehead and over the top of his ears, part of me wanted to talk, but I just couldn't. I swallowed and looked down.
Stephen sat down on a folding chair beside the rack on which the acolytes' vestments hung. He rested his left foot on his right knee and said, softly, "Father's sermon really got to you, didn't it?"
I shrugged, but said nothing.
"It was something very important to him. I guess there must have been someone in his life that he must have rejected and now he's feeling sorry that he did."
I shrugged again.
"So, are you feeling badly for Father, or do you think maybe... someone might reject... you?"
I looked at the floor and remained silent. I wanted to tell him. If there was anyone who might understand, it might be Stephen. But, I just couldn't.
After an awkward moment, Stephen took a breath and said, "Look, I know kids hate to hear adults say something like, `Well, when I was your age,' but when I was your age, which, by the way was only nine years ago, and I know that seems like a long time to you, but it really isn't, but when I was thirteen, I think I was feeling some of what is going on in your head right now."
I looked up and our eyes met.
"I've been there, Chris."
I looked away and felt my face burning fiercely.
"I... I don't know what you're talking about."
I turned to the door and took the handle.
I looked at him fearfully. He sighed and there was a look of such pain on his face that I wanted to rush over to him and put my arm around his shoulder; and, that realization came as a brutal shock to me.
"Listen, come by the shop tomorrow. I have a book for you that I think you should read. OK? Please?"
I remained motionless for a moment, looking into those beautiful eyes, so filled with compassion. When it became too intense for me, I looked away, turned the doorknob, and whispered, "OK."
I felt claustrophobic. Halfway down the hall between the church and the rectory, I stopped and took a few deep breaths. I was being silly, I thought. I'm over-reacting. I'm just thinking there's something where there isn't. Everything's going to be OK. I'm normal. I'm normal. I'm normal.
As I stood there, Mrs. Dr. McAdam fluttered by with another elderly lady. Her eyes narrowed unpleasantly as she turned her beak toward me while passing. Then she looked straight ahead again and continued with her comments.
"Partridge is turning into one of those radical clergymen. You just mark my words. And, I'll even venture to say..."
She had turned the corner up the hall before I could hear what else she would venture to say and I decided that, perhaps, I should follow before it started looking strange my just standing there breathing heavily.
As I reached the corner of the hall leading into the rectory, froze.
"I just don't know what to do, Father. He just seems so sad."
It was my father and I knew it was me he was speaking of. I wanted to die.
"How long as this been going on, Ted?"
After a pause, Daddy responded, "Well, at least a year. Chris was always such a happy boy. Of course, there's always been a bit of serious side to him. But, he would come up with the funniest jokes. Sophisticated, intelligent jokes. There was always an energy about him. But, now.... He won't talk to me. He just says there's nothing wrong and smiles. But, his eyes, Father, his eyes are so sad."
He sighed and my heart broke. My father, my wonderful father. I was hurting him. What a freak I was. I was hurting my father. I wished I were dead.
"Ted, he's thirteen. Every boy reacts differently to being thirteen. Have you had The Talk with him."
"Oh, yes. After his fourth grade teacher called me. Apparently, one day, she was holding up a picture of a chicken in an egg and when she asked the class what it was, Christopher answered that it was a fetus in the uterus. She had difficulty deflecting all the questions about what a uterus is. And a fetus. I got quite an earful from her after that. I decided at that point if he was going to be reading my Gray's Anatomy, then maybe I should have a talk."
I heard Father Partridge chuckle.
"I think he just going through a phase. Its all those hormones and he's probably not understanding what's happening. And, he probably feels a little guilt and shame about... well, you know."
"Well, I haven't discussed that because I didn't know if he knew about it and I didn't want to encourage it if he didn't and..."
"I understand. Listen, I think I know what might help. I know he doesn't have many friends."
Oh, Geez. Good God! My father and my priest were discussing whether I did it! This was more than I could bear. Father Partridge continued.
"I suppose everyone has a bit of curiosity about my sermon today."
Daddy said nothing, but I knew his reaction. He was smiling, tilting his head to one side, and raising an eyebrow.
"My brother is moving to Clarkesville."
"Not..." asked my father.
"Yes, the great leftist lawyer, the hero of the anti-war movement, the man who got the Syracuse Six off. The very one."
"Here?! To Clarkesville? What the hell...pardon me Father, but, what's in Clarkesville for Donald Partridge?"
"Its not so much what's here as what's not here, as in the FBI and a Federal Prosecutor with a very big grudge. Basically, Donald needs to chill out for awhile and I thought, what better place than the most typical small town in America?"
There was another pause and, once again, I knew what my father was doing. He was raising both eyebrows and blinking.
"Father, you're telling the District Attorney of Clarke County that one of the most unscrupulous, radical, infamous defense attorneys in the country is moving to my jurisdiction?"
I also knew what Father Partridge was doing. He was giving Daddy his innocent smile.
"And, just what does one of the most notorious left-wing lawyers in America have to do with my son?"
I knew all about Father Partridge's brother. I had seen him on Walter Cronkite when the Syracuse Six got off. Father Partridge never talked about him. Oh. OH! THAT was it. That was who he was talking about in his sermon today!
"Donald has a boy Chris's age. Alex. He's a good boy, quiet, intellectual. In fact, he's a genius. Why don't we see if maybe Chris could show Alex around town and get him acclimated to things here. It's going to be tough for Alex leaving the Upper West Side for Clarkesville and maybe this will help Chris get over whatever is bothering him."
"Forgive me, Father. I'm sure Alex is a perfectly nice boy, but, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with Chris hanging out with someone who's..."
"Donald Partridge's son?"
There was an awkward silence and into it, stepped Stephen Kinkaid's mother. She emerged from around the corner and when her eyes stopped on me, she raised an eyebrow and said, in a voice much louder than necessary, "Christopher! How pleasant to see you again. You haven't seen Stephen have you?"
Punished for my eavesdropping, I felt my face burn as I replied, "Yes, ma'am. He's in the sacristy."
She smiled sweetly at me, held my eyes just a second longer than was necessary, and then bustled along. I turned the corner.
"Well!" Father Partridge declared heartily as my father looked at me with suspicious surprise. "Speak of the devil!"
I was still blushing from Mrs. Kinkaid's interception as Daddy looked at me. I averted my gaze.
"Um, nice sermon, today," I said to Father Partridge, who chuckled.
"Yes, I suppose it probably made a few waves in our quiet little congregation."
"Um, Christopher," said my father in that tone that told me I was in for a talking to later, "why don't you find your brother and make sure he's not trying to burn the church down or something."
I quickly walked away, grateful for the temporary reprieve and headed into the social room, where I stopped at the refreshment table and took a Dixie cup with strawberry Kool-Aid. I hated strawberry Kool-Aid.
As I picked up a chocolate chip cookie I could hear Mrs. Dr. McAdam again.
"...and that Ted Conrad is such a good friend of his. You know he's not bringing his family to John anymore."
"No!" said one of Mrs. Dr. McAdam's cohorts. "Their not going to..."
"Yes! He's going to that Jew doctor! Wiseman! He said John was over-medicating his mother. That pretentious Dorothy Conrad. She wasn't over-medicated. She was just drinking too much sherry!"
The old bitties had to know I was standing there. I turned and was about to furiously respond when Mrs. Kinkaid swept by and said, in her sweet voice, "Oh, Agnes, we aren't being Pharisees, are we?"
Mrs. Dr. McAdam's eyes shot daggers at Mrs. Kinkaid.
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," she said icily.
"I'm sure you do, my dear," Mrs. Kinkaid replied sweetly as she put her arm around me and led me away.
"My dear, I think I your Mother may need to be rescued from that dreadful Mr. Jenkins and his wife."
I smiled at her and wondered how much longer this Hell was going to last.
"And, I sold the old Tool Box to a preacher from Oklahoma! For eight thousand! Can you believe it?"
Roy Jenkins was standing before my mother in his blue plaid suit with his wife in her bright yellow dress. She was adjusting her boofed up hair as she looked around the room. Mother was clearly looking for an escape.
"A preacher from Oklahoma!" she replied. "How interesting. Wasn't The Tool Box that bar on the other side of the tracks that had so much trouble?"
""It sure was. And, we sold it to a preacher! Webster Hardesty. He's going to turn it into a church!"
"Well, can you imagine," my mother replied. She noticed Mrs. Kinkaid and me approaching and suddenly became much more animated as Mrs. Kinkaid declared, "Helen! I think Ted is looking for you, dear."
"Oh, that's right!" she replied quickly, disengaging herself from the Jenkins'. "We have dinner this afternoon with Ted's mother! It's been so nice to see you again. Ta ta!"
As Mother led us away, she muttered, "My God, why those dreadful people aren't Baptists, I'll never know." I rolled my eyes and Mrs. Kinkaid just smiled at me.
As we approached Daddy and Father Partridge, the adults all exchanged pleasantries until Daddy turned and looked at me.
"Son, Father Partridge's brother is moving to town this weekend and he has a son your age and he was wondering if you might want to take him under your wing, so to speak, and maybe show him around town, and maybe help him get to know the place."
Pretending I hadn't heard anything, I feigned interest; but, inside, I was wondering how messed up this kid must be, if his dad is getting arrested all the time and doing drugs all the time and defending radicals all the time. The kid must be pretty messed up to need help from me. And, look at what I was!
Somehow, we found Brian before he burned the church down and exited through the side door of the Rectory. I had forgotten that we were having dinner with my grandmother. This would be yet another transcendent joy to survive before I could escape. I loved my grandmother and she was an incredible cook. No one could cook pot roast in red wine the way she could. But, she had some pretty fixed ideas and when she decided that she disagreed with you on something, that was it. For some reason, Grandma would NOT go to church on Sunday morning. She would attend Evensong on Wednesday, when there was no one there except her and Father Partridge. But, Sunday morning was absolutely out of the question. She never explained why and I knew from bitter experience never to ask. And, so, before my escape to Paradise, I had to endure yet another Purgatory.
It was early in the evening. Dad was watching Ed Sullivan. Mother was in the utility room ironing. Brian was off looking for something to destroy and I was finally able to escape to my tree, which, I could see, from my bedroom window, was unsullied by any foreign objects. The heat of the afternoon was beginning to moderate and as I walked cattycorner across the intersection of Tenth and Union toward old Zach's statue, only a couple of mosquitoes seemed to buzz me.
There were only a few people in the park, an elderly couple inspecting the flowers in the garden, some kids playing catch over by the tank, and a couple of older teenagers making out on a bench inside the bandstand in the middle of the park. I strode across the grass and found my maple and dropped down at its base.
I opened my book. It was an old, a really old copy of Tom Brown's School Days, a novel written in the middle of the nineteenth century about a boy's years at Rugby, one of England's most prestigious private schools, what they, for some weird reason, called public schools, (I wondered what they called the real public schools). Tom was a good boy, but he was bullied by the horrible Flashman. At the end of the story, he is the hero of the school, helping his dormitory win the cricket championship and befriending a new boy who was sickly and needed a friend. If only there was a Tom Brown who would be my friend.
It was an old book, printed in the eighteen-nineties in England. It had engravings for pictures and the pages were fragile and yellow. But, I loved it. I had just finished the book, yet I loved it so much, enjoyed the concept of boys living together in a school so much, was devoted to the battle between the evil Flashman and the virtuous Tom Brown so much, that I had to read it again.
I was into the second chapter when I looked up. The starlings, hundreds of them, were lining the power lines and raising a serious ruckus. I slapped a mosquito as it landed on my thigh and, then, I saw him. Again.
He was walking across the park toward the bandstand. The amorous teenagers who had been making out in it earlier were gone, though I soon realized that wasn't his destination. He was wearing the same psychedelic t-shirt from earlier. His slim legs still poked out from beneath the same short and tight cut-offs. Closer, I could see his hair in greater clarity. It was long and it seemed to flow around his head, over his ears and down his neck. It didn't reach his shoulders, but it might soon. He shook his head to flip his hair out of his face and I realized, I wasn't breathing.
He strode across the park with such confidence and determination. I couldn't take my eyes off him as he passed the bandstand and took the walkway toward the southeast corner of the park. He was heading toward the church. He was heading toward the church! He was walking to St. Andrew's! This was Father Partridge's nephew! This was Alex Partridge, the messed up son of that radical lawyer! No wonder his hair was so long. No wonder he was wearing such a weird t-shirt. He was from New York City.
I told myself that he looked like a freak. What a loser I told myself. What a totally messed up goofball. And, yet...
I felt myself getting hard. Damn it!
Angrily, I turned away from the sight of Alex Partridge walking toward St. Andrew's, and returned to the goodness and purity of Tom Brown's struggles against the Flashmans of the world.
So, there is the beginning of Centennial Park. Please write to me at FTCG1076 at netscape.net to let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you!