Authors: Andy Schell
Tags: #General, #Fiction
I’ll never forget the night everything changed. We were seated around the dining room table, eating dinner, my mother rambling on about “those jakey Carters” and how the White House had become a “hillbilly retreat for poorly dressed beer drinkers” when I said I had something to say. And my mother joked, “If you’re going to announce that you’re dating Amy Carter, I forbid you to speak.” Which was absurd because Amy Carter was ten years old at the time, but I saw my opportunity for the perfect segue.
“No,” I said, “I’d rather date her brother Chip.” It wasn’t true. Chip was kind of goofy looking and his jeans fit too low on his ass for him to be gay, but it got the point across.
My mother knew the moment I said it that I was serious, and she quickly retracted. “With a little makeup, that Amy could be a lovely girl.”
But it was too late. And with only a little further discussion, in which Winston was quite silent, my father as well, I explained that I was gay and I didn’t see any sense in lying about it and politely declined to see the therapist my mother recommended who’d done wonders convincing the Westholt’s daughter that she didn’t want to be a longshoreman and hopefully life would go on.
And just when I thought I would get out of my confession alive, my father rose from his chair and slammed his fist down so hard he broke two wineglasses, and decreed, “We are the Fords, goddamn it. The Kansas Fords! We’re the most powerful oil-and-gas family, not to mention majority landholders, in the state of Kansas, and we will not be taken down by teenage faggotry,” which I thought was a magnificent use of the word, and he assured me that, if I was going to live a gay life, then I would live a miserable anonymous gay life. And so I did. I stayed in my room most of the time and wrote anonymous poetry and daydreamed about my anonymous invented relationship with the tennis player Guillermo Vilas.
I could call my brother. But do I really want to speak to him? Forget it. He’s so fucking smug since the reading of the will. It was just like when I was ten years old and he was twelve and my father called a family meeting to inform me that I would not be allowed to attend summer camp in Colorado, as Winston would, since I’d thoughtlessly ruined my mother’s brand-new white Berber carpet in the living room with my greasy cowboy boots. I’ll never know how he crammed his feet into them or where he got the grease that was smeared into the soles. I only know that he trudged around the whole room until it was completely defiled, then cheerfully turned me in for the crime. He sat there, the chosen son, the good son, barely containing himself, as Father decreed I would stay home for the summer, not even allowed to ride my beloved horse. And
he sat there, almost fourteen years later, barely containing himself, as our family attorney, Sam Johnson, spelled it out, the one condition upon which my financial future depends. I think Winston knew all along .I think Dad told him about the stipulation before he died that he stood to inherit my part of the trust if I’m not married by my twenty-fourth birthday. “Legally married,” Sam Johnson stressed, looking at me, “for a continuing period of ten years.” Winston knows I’ve been up on my soapbox since the age of seventeen, and that I’m too openly gay to sell out for the money, even if my little share is multiple millions. He’ spractically salivating at the thought of autumn ushering in my next birthday. I don’t want to speak to him. Now or then.
My mother. I’ll call my mom and let her know I’m hospitalized, and when she asks me what for, I’ll just make something up. As long as I keep it light and breezy she won’t care. A wart removal. Liposuction. In-patient pedicure. Something she can relate to. She’s great at cheering people up under those circumstances. I turn to grab the phone and notice the flowers at my side. Somebody knows I’m here. As I twist and lift the card from the bouquet, my lower abdomen stings. I reach down and feel the stitches. I lift the sheets and look at the scar; it’s big enough to call five inches. God, what happened to me? The note reads:
Out with the old, and in with the newt So happy you’re in good hands.t Your “special nurse” assures me there’s no need to fly down, but if you say the word I’ll be there.t
Nurse Carbonada told my mother not to come? What the hell is going on?
“Hey, Bubba!” Amity sings, gliding into my room, flowers in one hand, a bottle of champagne in the other.
“Amity,” I say, surprised. “How did you know I was here?” She smiles, setting the stargazers down and fluffing them out. She puts the bottle of champagne next to them and turns the label toward me. It’s decent bubbly, too decent for a hospital occasion. She sits on the edge of the bed, pulls my paycheck out of her cleavage, and drops it into my hands. “Well, they say whoever brought you here kind of dumped you off. And after your appendix burst, they had to rush you into surgery.” “My appendix. So it wasn’t ” “What?”
I look toward my roommate’ sshadow behind the curtain. “Never mind.”
“Harry, who dropped you off here last night?”
God, she has good instincts. She knows just where to fish. “I just met him yesterday. Some big, tall, lanky guy.”
“Lanky? Darlin’, that’ sc ode for dick the size of a luxury sedan.” She starts laughing while smoothing out the bed covers. “For heaven’s sake, Harry, that lanky guy had nothing to do with it. It was just your little ole vermiform appendix. It doesn’t serve any purpose but to take up space in your life, live off your body, and then at the worst possible time go bad on you. There’re people like that, you know.”
I laugh, and my stitches hurt like hell. “Shit! Don’t make me laugh.” I breathe in, exhale. “Amity, how did you find me?”
“Well, besides your wallet and insurance card, there was the piece of paper in your pocket that had my phone number on it and Jacqueline’s too, but she wasn’t home, so they spoke to me,
and I put them in touch with your family.”
“My family? But “
“Through the airline, Harry. Of course I don’t know your family, but I convinced the supervisor that you and I were good enough
friends that I needed to call your mother and assure her that every thing was simpatico. She’s a lovely woman, Harry. Just precious. I promised her I’d take care of you.”
“See,” Nurse Carbonada says, shuffling into the room. “I told you she’d come back.”
Man, life is fast. Yesterday I had an appendix; today I don’t. I have a new roommate whose family dwells in a lake. I have a prehistoric nurse who thinks Amity is my girlfriend, and no doubt my mother hopes Amity is my girlfriend, and Amity is acting like my girlfriend. I wonder where the lanky guy went.
The nurse sets my meal tray down in front of me and leaves before she hears the guy on the other side of the curtain call, “Nurse? Nurse?”
Amity draws back the curtain slightly, peers in, and says, “Vampira is gone, darling’. What can I do for you?”
“Oh,” I hear the guy say nervously. “Never mind.” “Come on now,” Amity pursues. “What is it?” “No, really.”
“This is a hospital,” she says in a motherly tone. “Don’t be shy.”
“I need my bedpan emptied.” He chuckles uncomfortably. “No problem,” Amity chirps. She disappears behind the curtain and then reappears carefully carrying a metal bedpan out in front of her. She looks sideways at me and winks, announcing, “Peepee!” while walking into the bathroom with it. She empties it, flushes the toilet, walks past me smiling, and steps beyond the curtain to my compadre. “Fresh as a daisy,” she says. He thanks her and she returns to the bathroom to wash her hands. “Now, Harry,” she calls from the bathroom, “I have to run errands today and I may not make it back until after dinner. Are you going to be
I hardly even know this girl and she’s treating me like a best friend. If it were any other time in my life I’d ask myself what’s
wrong with this picture. But considering the state I’m in, this picture is frame able “I’ll be fine,” I answer, opening up the envelope that holds my paycheck. It’s still not enough money to get me started on this life in Dallas. And I can only imagine what the hospital bill will be.
“You’re sure?” she asks, coming back into the room. I nod affirmatively, and she grabs her purse. “OK then, Bubba, I’m going to take off. They say we can get you out of here in just a couple days. I promise to push things along.” She kisses me on the cheek and glides out of the room, singing over her shoulder, “See you tonight!”
“Man,” the guy behind the curtain says, “you sure do have one fine lady there. And she don’t even care about your sissy-boy cravings.”
Sissy-boy cravings? Interesting way to put it. I guess he heard the part about the lanky guy. Yet he’s still talking to me? Does this mean the banjo duet from Deliverance will start playing, and he’ll rip back the curtain and tell me I have a purdy little mouth? “What are you in for?” I ask as if we’re serving hard time.
“Swollen feet,” he answers. “Circulation problems. Can’t walk no more.” Cain’t woke no mower.
I relax somewhat, knowing that he can’t get to me and that he hasn’t had some kind of belly surgery that inspires him to rip back the curtain and lift up his gut and show me the scar. “That’s tough. A guy’s gotta be able to walk, huh?” I tell him, dipping a spoon into my fish broth.
“It ain’t so bad. I can eat lyin’ down and watch TV lyin’ down. Only thing tough is takin’ a shit.”
“I can imagine.” But I won’t. In fact, I think it’s time to think about little puppies and rainbows and unicorns and all things fresh and clean.
And about getting out of here.
he first week out of the hospital my mother insisted on putting me up in a suite at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. On her days off, Amity visited me, and I was embarrassed to have her see me there, cloaked in the opulence and abundance of Dallas’s finest hotel, but Amity loved it and delighted herself each visit by ordering various twenty-four-dollar room service items for me.
But the gravy train is over, I’m healed, as well as financially cut off again, and now I’m back at work for the first time since the surgery. Amity insists on flying with me. “With the stitches removed, I have to make sure your stomach doesn’t fly open when the plane de pressurizes she hoots. She has this off-the-wall way of making me feel wanted. How can I not like her? It’s as if she’s some character an actress would play only she’s more interesting. And Amity has met me at my weakest, most vulnerable, and insecure, yet easily looks beyond the maudlin sap who cried on the airplane and convalesced in the hospital. She sees the waggish devil from my college days who even I only hope still exists somewhere inside me.
We’re assigned to fly with one of my other two training class mates in Dallas. Bart is a god. He has the most incredible legs and ass I’ve ever seen. Out of uniform, he wears Wrangler jeans and
cowboy boots and shirts that show off his muscles. A former high school football jock from one of those interchangeable suburbs north of Dallas, he’s Texan to the bone. He loves to tell jokes that put down Yanks like me. All he has to do is shake a woman’s hand and look her in the eye, and she’ll want to fuck him. He rolls great joints.
This is the first time I’ve seen Bart since training, and we’re huddled with Amity in the front galley of the DC-9 on our way to St. Louis, our first destination of the day. Amity breaks in, “I want to tell a gay joke, but I’m sure Harry’s already heard it.” “Why?” Bart asks.
“Because he’s gay.” Guy, it sounds like.
Bart nearly shits a chicken-fried steak. “You are?”
“Of course he is,” Amity says. She looks at me. “You don’t mind me saying so, do you, Harry?”
“Not at all,” I answer nonchalantly. I want her to like me, to think I’m as comfortable as she is. But the truth is, while I’m a pretty candid guy myself, I’m stunned a little by her perpetually openhanded game. She’s just so unabashed. So casual with her candor. I half expect her to get on the PA. system and announce, “Ladies and Gentlemen, at this time, for your own comfort and safety, Harry Ford is gay.”
Bart is shocked because I hadn’t divulged my orientation to anyone in my training class. It’ sfunny what you learn about yourself when you change your surroundings. I always prided myself that I came out to my family at the age of seventeen and that I lived an open life in a family whose heraldic crest probably looked like one of those red-and-white CLOSED signs in the window of a dry cleaner. But my flight attendant classmates just seemed so much narrower than my college chums, and I knew my friendships with them were finite, so I kept my sexuality to myself.
I also hadn’t told anyone I was gay during flight attendant training class because I figured the airline could fire me if they wanted.
There aren’t any employment laws to protect me, and after all, it was obvious they were trying to hire “straight.” Out of the twelve guys in my class, I was the only gay one. Straight male flight attendant? I thought that was an oxymoron. Maybe at other airlines, but not at this one. For the first time since the age of seventeen, I strategically crawled into the closet. Fortunately, I only lasted two months inside before I came jumping out, figuring, “Fuck it. Let them fire me if they want.”
“How does a guy know when his roommate is gay?” Amity asks, launching into the joke. Pause, punch line. “When his dick tastes like shit!” I laugh, and Bart does too, but neither of us louder than Amity. “OK, y’all, time to feed and water the cattle,” she commands.
Amity works the first-class section, and the first few rows of coach, and Bart and I drive the cart in the back of the bus. Bart’s not really cut out for this work. He’s more accustomed to holding a football than a coffeepot, and he’s only truly comfortable when he has a can of beer in his hand, which is just long enough to hand it over to a passenger. But he’s so gorgeous that few people care that his thumb is in their drink or that he’s forgotten the cream for their coffee. Between my socially adept upbringing, and my subsequent poverty during the college years, I’m pretty well suited to the tasks at hand, and Bart often defers to me for help in the delicate operation of spearing a wedge of lime with a swizzle stick without touching it with your fingers or separating two napkins stuck together. When someone asks me for decaf, and I realize we’re out of the little instant packets, I traipse to the front galley to procure some from Amity. “You spear your limes ahead of time?” I ask, noticing her cupful of sticks stuck through lime wedges.