Authors: Brendan Kiely
“Don't say that,” I said, and tried to say more, but he kept going.
“They already think I'm worthless. What will everyone else think? I can't go to school. I can't go anywhere. I'm so fucked.” He looked up into the sky and sighed. “I don't even understand. It just started. I was in eighth grade. Father Greg told me it was love. But what hurts, what I fucking know, is that it wasn't right with Father Greg. What I feel right now, and what I also
right now, is that I like guys. He didn't love me. I thought he did, but it wasn't love. But I could love another guy. I know that, too.” He looked up at me. “Come on, man. You know what I'm talking about. Right? You must.”
I didn't respond even though he kept asking me. He moved closer to me. “Come on, man. Please talk to me.”
“Stop talking,” I said. “You don't know what you are saying.”
“Yes, I do. That's what's making me so fucking nuts. There's no one else to talk about this with. Except you. You know. I know I wasn't the only one. You worked there.”
“Stop talking about Father Greg. Just forget him. Nothing happened with him.”
“Yes, it did. I need to talk to someone. We don't have to be alone.” He stepped toward me for a hug, and I gave
it to him. “You were there too. And, for real? Doesn't this mean something to you? You're not alone?” He tightened his grip around me. “You understand, man. We don't have to be alone. We can talk about this.” His hands slid up and down my back, and he pulled me closer. “A kiss means something.”
“Stop.” I pushed him away.
“Come on, man. We're the only two people who can talk to each other about all this.”
“No. Fucking stop talking. Don't say another word about Father Greg. Nothing fucking happened there.”
Mark shook his fists. “Fuck! Don't make me sound any crazier. I'm not crazy. Everybody else is.” He came closer to me. “I saw him at your Christmas party. I avoided him. But I saw him look at you across the room. I'm not crazy, man. I saw it. I know it had to have happened with you, too. I know it.”
I pushed him, and he stumbled backward. “There's no fucking way. That's not what happened. Don't ever say that again. Don't say anything about it again. It never happened with me. Not with a single fucking person. Don't you get it?”
Mark looked up at me. “I want to talk about Father Greg, okay? I thought you'd been with Father Greg. Come on. What are you always talking about? Take your face off, man. Talk to me. I need someone to talk to. I'm not alone.”
“What's the matter with you?” I said. “Don't you hear me? I don't know what you're talking about.” I stood over him. “Why are you telling me this?”
Mark began to cry. “I can't be alone.”
“Maybe you are,” I said. I trembled and tried to get ahold of myself. “That's not the Father Greg I know. I don't ever want to talk about him again.”
“Dude, please. Please help me,” Mark sobbed. “I need help. It happened. I feel so fucking alone. I can't keep it inside anymore. It's fucking burning me, man. It's killing me. Please. I need help, dude. Please.”
“Look. I'm not like you. Okay? I'm not! I don't know, maybe you were looking for it. Maybe that's it. Maybe that's what you are trying to say. But I'm not you, okay?” I could barely get it out of my mouth, but I repeated myself. “Stop talking about it. Bury it. Bury it so deep, you can't even think about it. That's all anybody does.” I hauled Mark up to his feet. “Don't ever mention Father Greg to me again. Don't fuck it all up for yourself, and don't fuck it up for everybody else. Don't ever talk about any of it again. Promise me you'll never tell anyone else.”
Mark shook his head. “Can you even hear yourself? Who are you?”
“Don't give me that. Take your life back.”
Mark stared at me, and then he looked away. He walked to the edge by the metal grate, down to the fire escape, and swung his legs over the ledge. He paused and looked back at me. “This is my life,” he said. Then he dropped down out of view, leaving me on the roof, staring into the darkness without him.
slept in very late, and the next afternoon I found Mother in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea and looking over papers scattered across the butcher block.
“I was at the bank half the day yesterday,” she began, as if we were already in conversation with each other.
“Yes, hi, but get this: Your father has actually agreed to help. We're still sorting out the contractual details, but this seals it. I'm moving forward.” Her legs were crossed, and she bounced her foot. “I've already spoken with Cindy. I thought she was pressed for money, but she's giving me a deal on space in her building. I don't know. Her family is going through a hard time.”
I forced myself to stand still. “Why?”
“It's James. Do you know James? He went to Country Dayâwell, until this week. She's pulled him out of Country
Day and put him in Bullington. Doesn't that say it all? It's like your house has been marked: âHi, town, my kid's got problems.' She thinks it's all her fault, too. I feel just awful for her. I don't know why she's beating herself up. Poor James is an emotional wreck. Whenever he isn't in school, he's at the gallery with Cindy. But I'm not going to pry. Honestly, can you imagine?”
Mother continued, and she was too excited talking about her new storefront and the furniture she needed to notice that I was remaining silent. I only half listened. I was fixed on James, and when Mother said she had to go back out, I acted so quickly, I nearly surprised myself. I asked her if I could join her and, giving her one of her own City Center smiles, asked if we could see her new space, too. She hugged me. I continued, and it didn't even sound like me. It was someone else speaking. “You're really making things happen,” I said to her. “I want to see it all.” She was thrilled, and it was so easy to lie to herâit actually felt good.
When we got there, we stood out front and peered through the windows. It was a raw space, and Mother did not yet have the keys. We stood on the sidewalk and, in her big sunglasses and cool lavender scarf, she looked like a 1950s movie star directing her own movie as she pointed to the area where she would sit and make plans with clients, where she would store some of her design portfolios, and which part of the space she planned to turn into a gallery of parties. “This is the idea,” she continued. “People can pick
and chose elements and themes. Is it a party we're creating in a raw space? Is it in your home? Do you want the elegance to show overtly, or subtly, as if you yourself threw the whole thing together? It's all a show, isn't it? It's part of the client's identity, and she should feel free to explore.”
“Or to invent completely,” I said.
Cindy's gallery was next doorâthe whole building was hersâand Mother led the way there next. It had been the plan all along to stop by Cindy's, but now that I was actually there, my chest tightened and I couldn't hold still. The storefront was a wall of windows, and through them the bright glare from two enormous hypercolored paintings flashed out onto the sidewalk. Mother pointed at one in particular, but it was too hard for me to focus.
“This show is fantastic,” Mother said. “It just reels you in from the street.”
The reception desk was scattered with leaflets and catalogs, and Mother introduced me to the young assistant who looked as sleek and modern as the exposed I-beams in the vaulted showroom. The gallery had been built to look like a renovated warehouse, although there had never been a warehouse on this street, but that didn't seem to bother the small crowd that shifted around the freestanding walls in the deep space. The assistant looked up at Mother over her thick, black glasses and repeated my name as if it was something foreign and hard to pronounce.
While we waited for Cindy, it was impossible for me to move without second-guessing my gestures. I was so afraid, I nearly thought my teeth would tumble out of my mouth if I smiled. I stopped moving altogether and stood in front of a print, not really looking at it but wondering, instead, for the hundredth time, if James had told his mother. When I was finally calm enough to let my own voice back into my head, to slow down and control myself, to not let my own breath knock me over, I knew I still didn't want to say anything to Mother. For some reason, telling Mother made me feel as though I was opening the door and letting Father Greg right back into my house, and once he was back, I thought the whole world would know, and the thought of everyone knowing what had happened somehow seemed worse than having been trapped in the act in the first place. If no one knew, it didn't really happen, right? And that was my story: Nothing had ever happened.
I didn't know how long I stared at the print before Mother came up to me. “What are you doing? Why are you acting like a crazy person? Out here? In public?”
“What?” I must have looked slightly deranged.
“What's the matter with you?” Mother asked. I wasn't sure if I had seen her look that pissed since I'd gotten home from Elena's. “Cindy's on the phone. She'll be with us in a minute.” Mother looked around and flashed one of her winning, “public” smiles. There must have only been a couple of people milling nearby, and Mother and I had spoken so
quietly, I doubt they could have heard anything, but I could feel that old frustration behind Mother's bright facade.
I stared ahead at the print of a man's face. The canvas was broken up into a symmetrical grid, creating the appearance of both a three-dimensional depiction of a young man with a wry half grin and a flat surface broken into patterns of multicolored cubes. I wanted to leap into one of those cubes, hide in the color red or blue, and let the rest of me disappear.
Mother touched my shoulder, and I turned to see Cindy poking her head around the corner from the back of the gallery, waving at us. I smiled back automatically and felt that familiar pose creeping over me. I really wanted to cry, but I wouldn't if the corners of my mouth were shoved way up into my cheeks. There it was again: Mother and her indomitable survival of the cheeriest.
Cindy and Mother embraced and told each other how wonderful they looked. Unlike her assistant, Cindy wasn't wearing any black at all. I assumed she was the type who would never wear blackâespecially because she owned an art gallery. She seemed pleased to see us, but she looked tired, too, and the makeup caked under her eyes couldn't hide the puffy bags.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. I was speaking with Walter,” Cindy said.
“Since when did he start calling to check in with you during the day?” Mother asked.
“We're just trying to connect a little more these days,” Cindy said. She seemed a little relieved. “It's so great you brought Aidan along,” she said as we kept pace with her brisk strides toward the back of the gallery. “James is here too. You've never met James, have you?” she asked me. “He's downstairs playing video games. You should join him while we talk shop up here.”
I tried hard to control myself and mirror Mother's attitude. Stick to the plan, I kept telling myself. Just talk to him. In the back of the gallery there was a narrow set of stairs heading down to the storage rooms below. I could see a row of framed paintings tucked side by side on a rack at the foot of the stairs. Cindy leaned over the railing. “Honey?” she called. There was no answer, but we could make out the electric gunfire and high-pitched squeals of agony from the video game. Cindy tried to smile, but she gripped the railing tightly. “Honey?” she called. “Honey, where are you?”
Cindy ran down the first couple of steps. “James!” she yelled. I thought some of the guests out in the gallery must have heard her. She rubbed her forehead and spoke more softly. “Sorry,” she said to us. “I'm just so frazzled these days. I'm sorry. I'm okay.”
“Of course, dear,” Mother said.
“James!” Cindy said again.
The game noises suddenly stopped, and we could hear James yelling back from the depths of the room below. “I'm
here, Mom. I'm here. I was just finishing a level. I'm here,” he said, coming around the corner. He stood by the painting rack at the foot of the stairs with his hands rolled up in the tails of a green-and-black flannel shirt. He was a wiry kid, wearing black, skinny jeans, and his curls hung over his face. It was terrible to hear him speak. He sounded wiser than he should, and a hard lump tightened in my throat as I thought about how this little runt had been the reason Father Greg had started to ignore me. Even knowing everything I knew, and knowing how twisted Father Greg's affections had been, I still could not
He blinked and looked up at all three of us. “Hey,” he said when Cindy re-introduced us, and from his unchanged expressionâthe way his lips remained still and sadâI knew right away he did not want to see me.
Cindy urged James to invite me to join him and play his video game. “We have so much to discuss up here,” Cindy said to me. “We might take a little while.”
“I can't wait,” Mother said.
“Are you kidding?” Cindy said as she composed herself. “We're going to be neighbors. And I have some ideas that might help both of us.”
After the Plague
,” James said. “You can play too, I guess.” His voice was soft, but it scared me anyway. It had the weight of the whispers.
“That game, really?” Cindy said.
“Come on,” James whined.
“Okay. Okay,” Cindy said, cutting him off. “I'm not criticizing. I was just asking.” She turned to Mother nervously and walked back up the stairs. “These kids todayÂ .Â .Â .” She trailed off for a moment, until they'd moved away from the stairs. “You just have to worry about them more, or for them. I don't know.”