“I have seen the future, and it is tolerant. Fabulousness will prosper.”
Henry Alford, My Gay Wedding
By The Shores of Gitche Gumee
“Your maximum efficiency is forty r.p.m. That’s what your body wants,” Lois says.
“Is it now?”
“Just relax and let your feet spin. You’re getting tired cause you’re trying to control the pedals.”
“I thought it was because I’m totally hung over and out of shape,” Andrea pants, “and we’ve been riding for an hour.”
“That could be a factor. You sit back and hold the bars inside the brakes if you want. That’s just as efficient.”
“Do you know how sore I am?”
“I think so.”
“If I sit up straight, I press right on top of it.”
The day is one of those close ones, the air like a flock of angels offering tiny hot kisses on the cheeks and neck. The scents of horse manure and honeysuckle mingle on the towpath, and every thirty yards or so are another group, walkers, families on assorted sized bikes, runners, passers or must be passed.
“Are we in Maryland yet?” Andrea asks.
“Almost,” Lois tells her, pointing to Fletcher’s Boat House. “We’ll stop and eat in a minute.”
“Oh, that’s okay. Let’s ride to Great Falls.”
Lois, beside Andrea, drops back to let an oncoming couple pass. Then she comes floating up beside Andrea again, sweat shining on forehead, shoulders, lips. Her short black hair, Hispanic black, not Asian black which like Andrea’s often has a squirt of blue in it, is almost as short as Moe of the Three Stooges’ and cut in nearly as primitive a roof. Why this is an adornment rather than a neglected area is what Andrea asks herself as she takes in the whole rest of Lois, her flat chest, her sturdy thighs, the sweet bulge of her pubis against her biking shorts. All the fucking and cuddling of the past weeks—they sleep each night in arm-and-back-wrenching tangles, unwilling to compromise intimacy for anatomy—leave them silly and sleep-deprived. Now in June they take account of the wider world and find it pretty much the way they left it in May, except lovelier, devoid of certain delicate blossoms, and hot as Mississippi. When Lois learned that Andrea was a lawyer and not a secretary, she was as close to suspicious and stand-offish as she is capable of being. She’s had two serious lovers in her life, the first an alcoholic, Jackie Nesbit, with whom she lived for four years after she left her parents and brothers’ house in Takoma Park. Jackie hit Andrea occasionally, never really hurting her, but finally forcing Andrea to for her first solo apartment, where she still lives, off Tenley Circle. Her second love, Karen Rockwell, an older woman, at first loved Lois’ working class job and her lack of academic ambition (no, Lois is not learning disabled, not even mildly dyslectic, she simply doesn’t like to read, write, do figures, or sit still, especially when she’s not allowed to say whatever pops into her head—in short, she hates school), but then, after a year-and-a-half, began insisting that Andrea study for her GED, start looking into community college, make plans to turn her jockishness into a white-collar position as a physical therapist or even a gym teacher in a high school, as if what the world needs is another dyke gym teacher. Karen was embarrassed introducing Andrea to her friends, all big deal downtown lawyers like herself. Jackie was a partner at Wilmer Cutler & Pickering., so that when Andrea said, on her and Lois’ first date (Kyber Pass, aushak and roast lamb, red wine) that she wasn’t the kind of clerk Lois thought, that she worked for a judge and was already a lawyer, Lois put down her fork, wiped her mouth carefully and said, Shit. Isn’t there a decent woman in this town who isn’t a lawyer? It wasn’t until a few nights later (they slept together the night of that first date, and every night since) that Andrea learned about Jackie and Karen, and how fearful her being a lawyer made Lois. Lois fessed up that she was sure Andrea would tire of her, but just decided to be with her for now anyway, without real expectations, because she loved Andrea’s bookish tenderness and because no one had ever given her head the way Andrea did, well maybe Jackie, but Andrea didn’t slap her.
“Here,” Lois says, and they walk their bikes to a stretch of grass between towpath and Potomac. The river is muddy and has overrun it bank, but not all the way up to the spring flood line, marked by all the branches, leaves, and mud dried in the saplings to six feet off the ground. Thet sky is like lint on the dryer screen after a load of not-so-white whites. Andrea swaggers around John Wayne fashion, wondering how many different ways she can be sore in the same wondrous month, while Lois lays out a baby-blue bed sheet and arranges pita, hummus, feta, olives, brownies, grapes, ice water. Black silhouettes of kayaks appear in front of the sun. The kayakers float the strip of rapids, sometimes not working at all and staying still, other times digging frenetically while being carried off. Story of my life, Andrea thinks, and also, Olives are good. She should read about olives, how many kinds there are, how they are cultivated and cured, the history of the trade of olives. No, she should tell Lois she loves her.
“We’re the same,” she says. Lois looks warily up. “No, I don’t mean you’re smart, you can be anything you want, why don’t you go to school and be like me,” Andrea says. “I mean we’re both afraid that we’re not going to have the real relationship. I was in love with Consuela Mariana for years and I thought that was good enough, as good as I deserved. That’s how you’ve been. But maybe we can be the real thing for each other, and not settle. Maybe we are the real thing.”
After they eat they sleep for a while, Lois’s head heavy as hell on Andrea’s chest, but it’s worth it, Andrea thinks. She wakes and feels Lois’ drool through her shirt. She strokes Andrea’s hair, which resists smoothing like the fur of a friendly animal. When Lois speaks she is still dreamy, like a person woken by a phone call.
“Help me start a messenger business? Do the paper work and everything?”
“I’m sicking of working for Ed. His fleet is too big, with the mopeds, the cars. He bills for everything but doesn’t adjust me. I want benefits.”
“Shh. We’ll start a good company. You’ll be the boss. You won’t hardly make more money than you do now, cause you’ll be so fair. The fairest employer in the land.”
“What should I call it?” Lois says, her voice as tiny as a child’s.
“What do you want to call it?”
“Lois Express. That’s my rider name but it could be my company name.”
“Lois Express. I like that. Go to sleep.” And she does. Andrea shifts her incredibly heavy head over a rib. I better learn something about small business liability, Andrea thinks, and then she’s out, too.
The angels land, kiss, fly, and so forth.
“Excuse me,” Peter says. “Can I scream now?” But nobody hears him. Nita’s hiking boots pound the stairs and then her door, solid oak, slams. Sam laments in the front room, needing what? Not a diaper, not a bottle. Burp? Another circuit of the house on Peter’s chest? Jon’s soft knock on Nita’s door is met with Go away! and desperate sobs. So Nita’s not happy about Sam being the center of the universe. It doesn’t take Copernicus to figure that one out. Nothing has been taken from Nita, neither her twenty minutes of being read to at bedtime (the girl’s like a union carpenter, real clock stickler), nor her wake-up rubs (a mini-massage every morning, and wake-up kisses from both dads), nor her input into what kind of sandwich for school, whether it’ll be carrots or celery on the side, chocolate chip, oatmeal, or vanilla cream cookies). Nothing in Nita’s routine has changed, yet everything has changed. Peter is tired, he doesn’t have the energy to indulge her when, for instance, she doesn’t like anything he cooks for dinner. Peter sticks to the rules—she must eat a small portion of each item and come up with a plan for how to acquire the rest of her nutrition, a plan that doesn’t involve going to Andrei’s house for mini-pizzas. But Peter’s become more rigid and less creative about finding solutions that give Nita her share of power. Okay, you don’t want the Brussels sprouts, even if they do look like Barbie cabbages. What about extra salad? Now it’s just, Please eat two Brussels sprouts now, Nita, as he walks Sam around and around. How did the kid get so motion dependent? Must have been Lucy, walking Sam all over the Chevy Chase house during his first two months. Peter feels like a dray horse, Ella his shorter, redder pair in the traces, circling from front room to den, kitchen, library, living room, front hall, maybe a hundred times per twenty-four hours, singing Inchworm, Bah Bah Black Sheep or another standard. Jon is supposed to be doing half the work but he’s not. And Nita doesn’t like hearing Peter sing her songs to him, as she still calls Sam. She calls him Baby Sam when she’s feeling affectionate, helping with the changing (she’s fascinated by Sam’s penis and the details of his circumcision), and she likes the way Sam hungrily goes after his bottle, hands lips eyes all reaching. Once a day or so Peter let’s Nita give Sam a bottle or part of one, Nita sitting in the kitchen, Sam on her lap. But Nita’s hugs are too hard, her kisses like surprise attacks when Sam is dropping off to sleep. When Peter calls her on this, Nita’s protestations are so unconvincing that Peter must force himself not to frown judgmentally at her, but instead to explain, once more, how delicate and little a baby is.
The novel? Oh, that, Peter thinks once or twice an hour when he’s driving to pick up Nita, Sam strapped into his car pod in the back seat, when he’s doing another load of laundry, on hold with the contractor about the roof leak, when he’s cooking. The novel he thinks when he’s taking a hurried crap before everybody wakes up in the morning, when he’s reading a page, often the same page as the day before, of someone else’s new book. The thing about novels, he often says in his mind where most of his adult conversations have taken place during the six weeks since Sam arrived in Gramma Caroline’s arms, and Valerie became visiting mother and started back on her meds—the thing about novels is they require a lot of care and feeding. They’re not hard to write, exactly, in the sense that if one writes a thousand words a day (four manuscript pages, which takes Peter an hour on a good day, three hours on a terrible day) for a hundred days, one has a medium-length novel. The trick is to produce four pages that bear some relationship to the previous and successive four, and that do not bore a reader into a state of wanting to read someone else. The trick is to end up with a sheaf of pages (or a hard drive of bytes, roughly 130 K of them) which are lively without being trivial, witty but not overly clever, and which are about something. The trick is to create characters that readers sense at once to be people they know or might know, whose thoughts they have had or might have had, whose experiences are neither unlikely or mundane. Interconnected lives, a plot that encompasses without stifling surprise. Many parts of the novel-making process can fruitfully be undertaken in ten-minute to one-hour intervals snatched in the middle of the day or night while Sam naps, tasks such as editing passages written days or hours before, outlining upcoming chapters, reading factual background, there remains one aspect of the writing process which requires slightly longer intervals of concentration, two hours, say, when one is well rested, not hungry, not worried about what is happening downstairs or across town. This is composition, the making of shit up. The filling of the blank screen with winking little words, unexpected to the author himself, that add up to a new scene, an event that hadn’t occurred before it was written, the emergence of a character, the elaboration of an idea often thought by just about everybody but ne’er so well expressed by Peter. The last time Peter wrote a new scene was the week before Sam arrived. Go figure.
Peter hoists Sam, the quavery voiced self-winding siren and motion detector, walks him one lap. Out of the living room, through the arched doorway into the entrance hall with its coat tree, its framed marriage license courtesy of city hall in Albuquerque, and the front room with Jon’s cluttered bill paying-desk, Nita’s low drawing table, the love seat, the bassinet which will contain Sam’s eleven-pound-seven-ounce, twenty-three inch self for another week, max. On the straight-away from den through kitchen, Sam stops crying as if someone flipped a switch, and Ella’s tag, like a bell, can be heard. Sam smacks his lips and looks nearsightedly up at Peter as if wondering what all the fuss was about. In the silence Peter hears Jon’s super-reasonable voice and Nita’s shrill responses.
What happened? Nothing. Why did the baby suddenly wake up and start to cry? I don’t know. What do you want to do this afternoon? (It’s high noon on Saturday, the day, the weekend stretching out before Peter like a medieval seige). Nothing. Do you want to go grocery shopping with me? No. What’s Andrei doing? I don’t care. Let’s call and find out. No.
Peter misses his novel. He’s lonely for his novel. Sometimes he visits his novel late at night, flipping on the Gateway and wincing at the little aural Windows logo which occasionally triggers Sam. The novel looks like it could use a little less sleep, and a little more nutrition. Peter tries not to feel guilty about the novel. The novel is like a pet rock. The novel will wait forever for its meal or to be lifted from its bed, but it’s Peter’s pet rock and Peter feels responsible for visiting it and talking to it every day, including—no, especially—government holidays and weekends. Saturdays are so long when Peter is not with the novel. Peter hears the novel reproaching, You said you’d come see me today. That was how I got through the week, during which I barely saw you. Peter detects the note of false cheer in the novel’s voice when he abandons it after a hurried half-hour visit, I’ll be fine. You just go have fun. It’s a beautiful day. Why should you work, sitting in this little room with me, when everyone else is out enjoying the fine weather? You can write me next week or next weekend. In fact, it’s better if you don’t stay with me today. You’ll be fresher later, and that will be good for both of us. The novel is manipulative. The novel really knows how to get Peter’s goat.
Sam is blowing bubbles and looking deep. He’s a philosopher and a grunter. So far all he says is grr um tff and stuff like that, not only when he’s shitting but as general commentary. Peter fully expects Sam’s first words to be something like, Consider the set of all possible worlds. If an event is possible in just one of these worlds, it is not impossible in any world. It’s very difficult to imagine that Sam is not unifying theory of everything when he grunts and presses his fist into his cheek. His dad must have been darker than Nita’s dad, who Jon suspected was Chris Sharrett, a pudgy fair-haired aid at Washington Psychiatric, a pleasant fellow who had a sly look about him and was a great favorite of Valerie’s. Peter is entirely taken up with Sam now, seeing him in his mind’s eye whenever they are apart, waking or sleeping, listening for Sam ceaselessly with or without electronic spying devices, clocking his intake and output automatically (Peter knows Sam’s formula consumption over the last day, or week, to within a couple dozen ccs., and could report his stools and urine almost as quantatively). Moreover, Peter has begun to grunt an array of monosyllables not only to Sam, who of course understands the language perfectly. The other night Jon reminded Peter about a tune-up appointment for the Saab and Peter answered gmpf. Excuse me? Jon asked, and Peter repeated that he would take in the car in Saturday morning if the shop promised to have it back that evening. Having a new baby is similar to falling in love in that one’s entire consciousness is taken over by the other. A slow immersion into a foreign culture of two, a place with its own language, governed by conventions (When I am hungry, thou shalt cease in whatever occupies you and come and feed me, even unto the second bottle. When I am awake, thou shalt bestir thyself, though darkness may reign upon the land, and thou shalt cavort and make merry with me, giving thyself over to dancing and singing, though the people may mock and pity thee. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s ass, despite having had little ass thyself in the proceeding months; nor shall thy desire thy spouse’s job, which permitteth him to wear natty clothing and to speak in complete sentences other than Gruntspeak to people who admire him and note his independent existence,) conventions bearing little relation to peace-time human rights. A country for two that no one else can see, not the friends who come for an hour of congratulatory ogling, before skedaddling with just a hint of panic, of stampede-to-freedom, as they reach the front door, not the sisters and brother who have kids of their own but who somehow don’t get it about one’s own kid, not one’s parents who don’t really remember having charge of an infant and who, one suspects, didn’t actually parent in contemporary terms, more ran a dorm in which many children lived lives of quiet self-sufficiency. Not even Jon, sweetheart that he is, imagining when he comes home at six-thirty, his self-esteem and batteries fully recharged, his vomitless shirt beneath his perfectly knotted tie, arriving like the cavalry in the nick of time to contribute, to do his half, imagining that he is coparenting, that he is a primary caretaker, a homemaker. Alas, there is only one primary in this house and Peter is he, one need only observe Jon at two in the morning handing over the little grunter to Peter and climbing the stairs, because (a) he can’t figure out what Sam wants, when obviously it’s to play with Mike the Frog (current favorite with his high-contrast black-and-white vest, smile, and webbed fingers), and because (b) Jon has to teach at ten that morning while Peter can, in theory, nap with Sam during the day after getting Nita to school and before picking her up again. No, Peter is the sole permanent resident of Planet Sam, just as he was once the only colonist on Nitaland, and that’s ironic in so many ways that Peter just shakes his head sometimes and smiles. For instance, Peter once believed that he was doubly insured against just this sort of isolated bourgeois illiterate homemaker existence, (a) by being gay, which at eighteen, when he moved to Fort Collins, established residency, and enrolled at U. of Colorado, meant that one was unlikely to be monogamous, very unlikely to conceive a child, and in his case even less likely to adopt one because he just didn’t want to, and (b) because he chose, sophomore year, silently, to become an artist, which as he understood it meant probably never having any money, certainly never driving a Saab or making grocery lists from Gourmet, and never ever letting anyone come before Art on the priority list, because what after all is an artist except someone who says, Sorry, I can’t relate to you right now, I’m going to go make Art? Read a few biographies of the Great Ones and a pattern emerges—do your art every day, let the lovers husbands wives come and go speaking of Michaelangelo, while your opus accumulates year by lonely, perhaps selfish, but always productive, year. Silently, without telling a soul, because what could be less credible than a nineteen-year-old with a couple of poems in his high school literary magazine telling anyone, a roommate, god forbid a writing teacher, a lover, that he is an artist, that he’s going to write great works all the days of his life?—silently Peter resolved to be one of those who make text not love, or at least more text than love, text even when not making love, especially after age fifty. He considered himself doubly protected, therefore, from mate, offspring, dull job, keeping up with the Joneses on all levels, competing for prestige, money, toys, bright lively children. Yet here Peter is, high noon on a Saturday in the ragged end of his thirties, three ISBN numbers, only three! to his name, and all he really cares about, all that makes his pulse quicken and his eyes light up with joy, is a creature twenty-three inches long saying ffrrt and looking like he just solved the riddle of the sphinx, not the sphincter.
It’s all Jon’s fault. When Peter moved to DC to take his first and as it turned out only creative writing faculty position, he was still on track. He had never bought the Tony Lama boots he always wanted but was too poor to afford (almost picked up a pair in a thrift shop in Laramie, but discovered blood on the inside of the left one which, while picturesque in a cowboy way, seemed like a bad omen), he didn’t have the boots, so it was his New Balances that were made for walking and carried him in and out of relationships, past lucrative career choices (law, public relations, real estate, university administration, really anything except teaching and writing), that carried him almost every day to his desk where he cranked out his thousand words. He got the doctorate in English/Creative Writing at the U. of Denver, a union card that would permit him to eke out a living and write on until the middle of the century, when he could retire and write some more. He had published stories in a dozen literary journals and his first book had made, if not a splash, at least a couple of ripples. He had the non-tenure track job that he could parlay into another such, and eventually get the tenure, that golden cage that would allow him to put out a book every couple years as long as fended off summer teaching, that would allow him to press palms and trade invitations for visiting lectureships with writers around the country, to get on award committees, the NEA committee, to write book reviews for a half dozen newspapers and thus keep in touch with book review editors whom he would rely on when his own books came out. In other words to pursue a literary career full-throttle. He had left Luke behind, rather coldly telling him that he didn’t think he should uproot himself from Denver and follow him east, not so much because he didn’t love Luke (he did love Luke, but in a companionate, not a passionate way, not more that is than he had loved Matt or Mark before him) not because he didn’t love Luke but because he knew Luke wanted more than Peter was prepared to allot to him. He was the master of safe sex, not only in the technical sense but in the emotional one, working his way through a series of good men, steady men, as if he were indeed living out the biography in which the artist marches blithely through an unending sequence of erotic adventures, collecting material, bagging memories, his or her only real commitment the paintings, the films, the novels that will make up the legacy.
Yes, Peter was a man with a book and a plan, until he came east and ran into Jon, who was parked like a state trooper at a speed trap. Peter was doing seventy-five with a love/radar detector and a thirty-year schedule to keep when he hit GWU. Jon was just the sort of man Peter hadn’t met yet and hadn’t imagined he ever would. Jon was at once available and hard-to-get, eager to go all the way, yes, to marry, but also willing to let Peter escape, at least at first. Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit even careers, was the gist of what went wrong with Peter’s well laid, in a couple senses, plan. Jon was that thing that happens and not just in literature and drama. He was a soul mate, best friend-plus, the man Peter had either always been waiting to meet or hoping to avoid, he wasn’t sure. Jon saw right through Peter, recognized Peter’s selfishness for what it was, neither more nor less than an insistence on independence, a life of the mind, those fragile things that Jon also insisted upon. He was Peter’s worst nightmare, a well-hung intellectual with a trust fund, utterly, but not slavishly, devoted.
Next thing you know old Peter’s a millionaire, almost literally, married in ten states in the union, no pre-nup, and Jon up to his ass in assets—blue-chip portfolio, real estate, bonds—all of it growing each year, a little tasteless maybe, but big and green, like a hydroponic cucumber. Peter up and moves to Dupont Circle. Gay folks, lawyers. A decent theater, galleries, coffee shops. In-laws, a whole family of them, the parents half a mile, the bonkers sister all of a mile away, like snakes in paradise. At first life with Jon looked like the perfect setup for Peter to be even more ruthlessly careerist than hithertofore. Once it sunk in that he didn’t have to teach, didn’t have to suck up to faculty, attend committee meetings so boring they made the skin itch, didn’t have to read the good, the bad, and the ugly student work that made the job of running and grading creative writing workshops such a drama, the good kids, whether or not they could write, the ones who were trying their best to figure what writing was and how to do it, drawing Peter ever further from his thousand words a day, those words struggling to make there way into the world past a sea of notes in encouraging green ink in the margins of all the student pages—one Peter recognized that he didn’t have to confront a thicket of departmental memos, a swamp of student recommendations—once Peter realized he was free of all those other words, that tenure-track way of spending energy, and realized too that he was engaged and would soon be married, so that he didn’t have to devote his weekends to finding and leaving good men, he really dug in and wrote his second and third books faster than you can you could say Jack Robinson. His editor at Viking is Jack Robinson, an overworked, delightful, light-touch editor (who calls himself John Robinson, Peter learning about the childhood name Jack from a woman who had grown up on the same street in East Orange), a stylish young editor who couldn’t hide his enthusiasm when Peter looked for no further academic island after the three-years at GW were up and instead turned full-time novelist/wedding planner (it was no mean feat to plan a wedding in New Mexico during the Great Wedding March, even if one had grown up there). Novel two was widely reviewed, acknowledged to have its merits, but of course said to be inferior to novel one, all books following a successful debut doomed to such comparisons, like the younger siblings of memorable student-athletes in rural high schools. Novel three was the breakthrough book, sales doubling, then tripling first print run, the momentum drawing Peter safely from the mid-list doldrums into the promising-novelist-of-his-generation Gulf stream. All was going according to the new, accelerated plan.
And Peter was not one of those baby-holders. He didn’t seek out the nursing mother at the dinner party and engage her in conversations about the tribulations of labor and breast-feeding while, in the other room, everyone else talked politics. He didn’t volunteer to hold said baby for a minute while said mother grabbed a bite to eat, had a swallow of wine, or ran to the bathroom. Well, yes he did do all these things. But so what? That didn’t mean he wanted a baby of his own, or at least he didn’t think it did. Then Nita arrived, Valerie becoming unresponsive for a week or two in the baby’s first month, an event which surprised everyone in the Aldrich family, proving once and for all to a bewildered Peter that hope does indeed spring eternal. Valerie rallied, a second full-time sitter was found, and for five months, Peter and Jon’s role was confined to visiting every other day and overseeing all care. Then Nita began to throw fits whenever Jon and Peter made to leave Valerie’s house, fits which Valerie, doped up in front of the tv, took no notice of, and Peter insisted that Nita come home—that is, to his and Jon’s home. Peter honestly believed at first that Jon, being the brother, would also be the main changer, feeder, listener for the cries and interrupted breathing of, schedule arranger, driver, dresser, shopper, in short, dad. And perhaps Jon would have become primo dad if Peter had been more patient. But after raising his own three younger sisters and little brother, Peter found it excruciating to watch Jon fumble with the adhesive on a diaper, applying the thing so slowly, so delicately, so loosely that it no more would hold piss than a silk scarf tied to Nita’s knee. Then there was the feeding, Jon trying to give Nita her bottle upside down, the nipple arced up towards Nita’s nose, Jon not being able to tell when Nita was sucking and when she was just fooling around. Jon was slow to react to real hunger, which came often because of the reflux problems and which frightened Peter more than he liked to confess. And Jon, only once because he never got another chance, overheated the bottle in the microwave (Peter’s fault for letting him use the microwave at all) and scalded Nita’s tongue, which, combined with her flux-related candida almost sent her to the hospital. No doubt Jon would have mastered everything in time, but Peter couldn’t hold back (his sisters and brother had called him Sarge when they were kids, because Peter always gave orders) and so Jon never had opportunity to learn. Even had Peter been more forgiving, Jon went off to G.W. five days a week after his brief pseudo-official paternity leave, really just cobbled together sick-leave and volunteer assistance from the history faculty. Which meant it was Peter who took Nita to the doctors, who learned to interpret her airy chirps (Cricket was no grunter, she was a squeaker, emitting messages that only dogs heard in full, their ears pivoting and eyes widening, while humans heard the soprano frequencies), Peter who coaxed 900 daily ccs. into her foreshortened, temperamental gut, during that first tough six months. Peter who in that same six months wrote two book reviews and one chapter. Only he found this surprising. The playground mothers, most of them five years younger and twice as energetic as him, laughed in his face when Peter pushed Nita in her stroller alongside theirs and complained he had hardly had time to write. Write? they mocked. I hardly have time to wash my hair. Time to empty the garbage. Time to order my groceries delivered. Write? How male!
So he had been a little unrealistic, a little self-oriented, a little gay, not expecting to turn into a cross between his own mother and Miss Muffet, Peter admitted. What was harder to grapple with, as the months rolled by and Jack Robinson went from calling ever more often to calling hardly at all, was that Peter kind of liked having a baby, kind of adored Nita more than anyone or anything he had ever known in life, kind of didn’t give a shit about whether his next novel came out in one year or three. What had happened to his burning ambition, his noble and not so noble need to harvest his imagination’s daily crop, his hunger to be more famous than certain individuals who had emerged on the scene in the same year he had, and whom he childishly regarded as his rivals in a life-long race, a couple of them tortoises, he himself formerly the twitchiest of the hares, the whole competition irrationally shielded from the entry of challengers either from two years beforeor two years after Peter’s own arrival on the lit scene? What had happened to all that motivation? Peter remembered his motivation the way he remembered thinking about nothing but sex in his college years, how everything else had to take its place in line behind the chase—Peter remembers his ambition fondly, he pats it on the head and approves of it, just as he approves of his former, eternally horny self. But neither of those Peters, the ever-hard one, or the ever-harder-working one, is the current version, Peter 5.0, or whatever he became when Nita took over and Peter succumbed to the the kind of mellow, manãna spaciness that he thought only lactating moms derived from the great maternal brain-pharmacy. Turns out sleep deprivation, beautiful baby girl, airy fluted messages of aria length, and intense anxiety about getting enough nutrition into one’s daughter followed by relief when she stays on the growth curve, is all it takes to tame a literary maniac into a house kitten papa. And now, just when Peter was getting his groove back, preparing to follow his breakthrough third book with another doozy, something with dare-we-say cinematic potential, a little dumber this time, a little more movie-of-the-week, BAM! here’s Sam. Already, six weeks on, Peter can feel his oh-well, tomorrow-will-be-fine attitude coming back. He’s more interested in Sam’s tongue-curling ability (Nita was early) than in own novelistic technique (he’s returned west for his setting, and forbid himself the use of the first-person voice), more wrapped up in the drama of Nita the Princess slowly coming to love and accept Sam the Pretender than in his characters’ adventures in the bars and bedrooms of the front range.
He sets Sam in the bassinet. Sam’s mauve eyelids flutter open, then close again. Upstairs Nita’s door opens and she appears, sniffling, at the head of the stairs. Ella goes up to see how she is, but before she makes it, Jon picks Nita up and carries her downstairs, raising her to his shoulder and causing her to smile reluctantly.
“Nita wants to play tennis.”
“I do not.”
“But first she wants to help make a picnic. She’s very concerned that the sandwiches be cut properly along the diagonal.”
“I don’t care.”
“Sleeping,” Peter says, trying not to give Nita a warning look. “We’ll just leave him be.”
“Sure,” Jon says. “Let’s find some chips and cut the pickles, shall we?” He carries Nita through into the kitchen, allowing her time to lean back like a limbo dancer to avoid the door frame.
Like all novelists Peter calculates that the time he spends away from his work will pay off in the end. He’ll be able to “do” straight parents now, women, more convincingly, and that should broaden his audience. He’ll be able to write about that selfless bond to the child, about wanting to make the world a better place for their sake, about sudden conservatism (while voting for and in every way championing public education, Peter knows he won’t send Nita and Sam to a place with more than fifteen students in a classroom, a place where students carry knives and guns, or where teachers can not be dismissed for incompetence), suspicion of nannies (forget it, whatever her country of origin or supposed training), terror of teenage baby sitters (why not just entrust your child to an adult who freely admits that his or her chief concerns are finishing homework, talking to and perhaps inviting over sixteen-year-old boys, watching t.v., and eating), new love for one’s mate (Jon never so handsome as in the middle of the night in the rocker in the lamplight, Nita, Sam in his arms against his royal blue robe). No, there’s really nothing like parenthood for a twenty-first century novelist. Fatherhood is what going to sea was for his nineteenth century predecessor. So Peter, in his heart of hearts, wonders if he really is born again, or if he is still scheming away, not so much giving up his writing time as investing it in research and development. Is all of this strategic? Jack Robinson will be glad he waited a year or two when the kids are at school half- and all-day, respectively, and Peter starts trotting out all that material. He will crank out his thousand words in a silent, empty house, and among those words will be diaper, bottle, descriptions of tiny fingers uncurling, lungs rising and falling with those minute shudders that shake the infant like earth tremors. Those thousand words will round out with that part of the life-cycle missing from the novels of the young and hip, the part that comes after heartbreak, courtship, and the happy comedy of weddings.
If only he can get his edge back and start wanting to make books more than to make it through six hours of uninterrupted sleep. If only he can find his way to the idolatry of the book, to wanting to make a new hardback with his name on it with the same intensity that he used to want a new guy in his bed. If only he can desire that title page and then the dedication page, To Jon, with love, as much as he once longed for one of those magic first nights with a new man. If only he can crave the positive review the way he used to long for hot tongue kisses and the feel of a prick in his palm, against his cheek. If only he can become a writer again.
Bertha and Harvey
“Oh, come on! Serge and Bacchus were Roman soldiers, who pledged to loyalty to the death. You make them sound like surfing buddies.”
“They were married,” Max says. “They just happened to have the bad luck to be Christian under Maximinian in Augusto-Euphrates. They had a ceremony in which their union was blessed by a priest in front of the congregation. They joined right hands. They walked the aisle. They were joined before God for all eternity. They kissed. They were crowned. They had a big party. Then they went to their house and got down all night.”
“We don’t know that. We don’t even know if Serge and Bacchus were formally united.”
“They were big strong teenagers. You’ve seen the manuscript illustrations. There’s no mention of wives or concubines. Their love was celebrated for hundreds of years. Trust me, they quaffed mead and did it all night long.”
“Be that as it may,” Keith says, standing and glancing nervously at the door. He doesn’t much like this kind of talk in chambers. “They were joined in a union, not a marriage. Call it a domestic partnership.”
Max throws back his head and laughs. “Read the Greek on the wall, man! The word for marriage is union. Domestic partnership? With full property rights and church sanction? I’ll tell you what, why don’t we call the transfer of a girl, a minor, from her father to another man, in which she had no property rights, no civil rights to speak of, slavery, and call these same-sex unions the only marriages in feudal times. Let’s agree to tell the judge that male-male marriage is the oldest egalitarian relationship sanctioned by church and state in Western civilization, while male-female marriage-of-equals was never seen before the twentieth century, and is still the exception rather than the rule.”
Damn, Keith thinks. That’s pretty credible. But then he remembers he’s supposed to be arguing against the acceptance of same-sex marriage by the federal court, and that Max is a sophist of the worst kind, mixing his positions four parts legitimate, one part hokum, with a full fruity body and no aftertaste.
“The same-sex unions of the medieval church were the equivalent of modern corporate contracts, limited and full partnerships. They were pledges to fraternal organizations or military units, like the vows of the Rotary Club or the Marines,” Keith rallies. “Brother ceremonies had nothing to do with marriage, which the Bible clearly indicates to be the coming together of man and woman. Homosexuality is fornication at best. It was never sanctified.”
“Sex with a woman from a neighboring tribe is an abomination. We should not allow members of different religions, much less individuals from what used to be called races, to copulate. Marriage is out of the question. All in the name of our Biblical heritage.”
“Listen, Max. I’m not saying the Bible should guide public policy. I’m saying if you want to give a fair account of the place of homosexuality in the Judeo-Christian tradition, there’s no way you can say same-sex marriage has any precedent.”
“Le Beau Serge and le buff Bacchus, Polyeuct and Nearchos, and Perpetua and Felicitas are turning somersaults in their graves. Bacchus died in agony after wearing out the executioners who flogged him. Serge ran a half-marathon in shoes with nails driven up through the soles. Then he did another nine-miler. That really hurts, by the way. But when they went to stab him with spears, crucify him, and then burn him alive over extra-slow-burning wet hay, he still had the good manners to pray for his murderers, saying When you lay death upon them, Lord, accept their repentance, and do not remember the ignorance which they have perpetrated against us for your sake. Now do you think Bacchus went through all that so some doubting Thomas in the age of the internet, when finally all kinds of convincing documents from the world’s great archives, the Metaphrastes and the Antiquiors from the Mount Athos, Laura, the Bibliotèque Nationale, and the Vatican, are just a click away, can dismiss the boys’ undying love, which neither of them would forswear even when they were crackling on the hibachi, as a limited partnership agreement?”
“Whatever. I don’t know and you don’t know what those Brotherhood Ceremonies meant, or whether there even was a historical Serge and Bacchus. We do know that marriage is supposed to be a male-female union for the purpose of procreation in every major western religion for the last five hundred years. Let’s just admit it and move on.”
“I’ll admit that the church is divided on the question of what to do with gay couples, and has been since beginning, when male love of Christ was elevated above all other attachments. Sometimes the church has tolerated, occasionally celebrated, and mostly persecuted gays, same as today. They’ve never had a clue what to do with lesbians. If virginity is sacred, what do you do with sexual women in general? Beyond these general observations, I say let the translators and historians hammer out exactly what happened when. Until Boswell, church and classics scholars had been dodging their homework since the renaissance. They’ve finally started scotch taping the pages back into the manuscripts they were torn out of. Let them figure out what’s what. That’s their job.”
“Fine. You tell Gibbons that.” Keith calls the judge Gibbons, which feels funny to him, but not as inappropriate as Patty or the judge would. His high school track coach made them call him Buddy, which was weird, but Buddy was a man just out of college and not one of the nation’s most influential jurists, nor was Buddy a woman Keith’s mother’s age. Keith and Max are in the anteroom going over what they will tell Gibbons in the afternoon when she’ll meet with all four clerks to discuss the bench memo they turned in Friday. The case will be heard in three days. The clerks are at loose ends. They can’t work on the memos anymore, they’re supposed to developing their other cases this week, but they’re really just waiting to hear what Gibbons thinks of their work.
“What about Ifeyinwa Olinke?” Max asks. (Igbo tribe, eastern Nigeria, Keith remembers, his freakish visual memory bringing up pages like some kind of net browser—Olinke an epithet refering to the nine wives Ifeyinwa took in prosperity). “What about We’wha?” Max hounds. (A berdache and lhamana, Zuni tribe, emissary to D.C. at the end of the nineteenth century. Berdaches cross-dressers who married men and were considered to have supernatural gifts.) “Silk Marriages?” Max adds, almost casually. (Sou hie, “self-combers,” South China, early twentieth, financially independent,paired for life in public ceremonies, and shared one house from then on, supported themselves spinning silk.)
“Non-western traditions include same-sex unions,” Keith counters, “which may or may not have the same status as marriages in those cultures. We can’t tell from the outside.”
“Hard. You’re a hard man.” But Max drops this approach because really, how can we know something as subtle as the real status of a particular kind of marriage in another culture? We see what we want to see. What is clear is that many civilizations have peacefully integrated homosexuality into communal life. Why can’t we? The other thing that Max is conscious of is that all this historical hair-splitting is becoming irrelevant now that gays marry in New Mexico and stay married in nine states. It just doesn’t matter anymore what Pope Leo VII’s view of same-sex unions was in 970, or whether hwames were permitted by the Mohave to dance in fertility rituals in 1857. Church history, cultural anthropology, is as beside the point as Black’s Law definition of marriage.
“Listen,” Max says. “Tell me this. What’s the court going to do with all those couples?”
“The New Mexico referendum is going to turn off the tap,” Keith says, but his heart’s not in it. He can’t muster any sort of victorious or superior tone. If New Mexico voters authorize the state legislature to ban same-sex marriage, the state court will likely declare the measure unconstitutional.
“Nobody’s going to rescind existing licenses. Court won’t permit it.”
“There will be just this one generation of gay marriages.”
“Forty thousand, by referendum time. What’s going to happen when all eighty thousand people get old, and those inheritance and spousal medical rights cases are filed? Times said last week eight more states will rule reciprocal recognition next year. The feds have to get in line before they start looking stupid. Let us not forget 1962 when twenty-four states had race-blind marriage laws. Let us not forget the venerable Virginia decision Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangements there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix. Supremes don’t want to look like clowns or cowards. Aldrich and Day is going to be heard, maybe not next year, maybe we’ll send it back down to the district court for a couple years of debating club. But when it comes back up, it will be heard and it will win.”
“DOMA?” Keith says, too tired to raise his objection in a complete sentence.
“Second section is gibberish. Second three is overreaching. Whole puppy rests on invidious distinctions. Supremes will rule it unconstitutional.”
“In your dreams.”
“No, they will. Think about it. They’ll have to. Congress will make a big noise but won’t do anything. Armey and DeLay will stump on the networks until they’ve satisfied their constituents they did they best they could. Choice-of-law will go back into the muck, like the eerie swamp creature it is, for another hundred years. DOMA will be history.”
Keith smiles faintly and sits down to play Tetris on his notebook. Max retreats to his desk and the Post. Tetris is Max’s haven whenever he feels the world spinning out of control, whenever he notices that the way things ought to be and the way things are are pulling slowly apart, like ship leaving dock. What ought to be now is that Keith ought to know where he stands, what he thinks, so he can outperform or at least keep up with the other clerks in conference with Gibbons in three hours. But he’s befuddled, caught between what he knows by experience, that lots of people fear and loathe same-sex marriage, that they will feel attacked, dirtied, when they see two men or two women kissing on the altar, and what he knows by training, that when one adds up the legal and logical imperatives of the situation, same-sex marriage must stand. The state, the majority, can’t tell gay people either to accept second-class citizenship. Moreover these prejudices, these feelings of revulsion, are in effect state-sponsored, as racism once was. The Tetris bricks drop in clumped geometries through space. Keith spins and nudges them into the ground-level row. Order is maintained. The courts moderators between citizen groups, the courts a pressure valve, a timing device which slows change down to a workable pace. Keith is part of one of that machine. When is the real question. Same-sex marriage was twenty, thirty years off, and then suddenly it wasn’t. Andrew Hrycyna, a judge near retirement on the New Mexico high court, decided that gays should be able to marry. No one knows exactly what came over Hrycyna (a Ukranian name, pronounce Ricina, the man himself a tall, craggily handsome fellow with blue eyes and a broad shy smile) was a regular new democrat, pissed off about mandatory sentencing but pretty much towing the line anyway, anti-death penalty, pro-bilingual education and Native American rights, gung-ho environmentalist to the point where several decisions, in which he told miners and developers just to forget about it, were overturned on appeal. But on family law Hrycyna was no radical, giving custody to whichever parent looked fittest, hesitating to give black and Native American babies to white people, but willing to shift priorities when agencies got too backed up, quick to pull abusive spouses out of their houses. Just a regular left-of-center judge until three couples filed yet another appeal for the right to marry. These were the usual upstanding citizens, one pair of gals married in their minds for thirty-some years, one set of well-heeled professional gentlemen raising a kid from one of the guy’s former marriage, the third a pair of civic-minded, goofy-looking university types eager to get into the history books, their speeches typed up and ready at press conferences. Hrycyna was just another governor-appointee liberal judge, watching his ass less he become governor un-appointed, when in the dawn of the new century he went Hawaiian all of a sudden, weighting the bench till it tipped. Did Hrycyna see his chance to be for gay marriage what Judge Albert, the presiding voice in the California 1948 Perez decision, was for interracial marriage? The man who anticipated the Supremes by fifteen years and whose reasoning provided the framework for Loving. Did Hrycyna (married, twin girls) have a guy friend of his own on the side, or was he just suddenly tired of working, and willing to get his ass booted and play golf full-time if need be? Whatever his motives, Hrycyna and his fellow judge Joseph Barsugli, who actually is gay, he and his partner, Bob Schmitt, gallery owner, having given a thorough Albequerque Tribune interview weeks after appointment to the bench, wrote a decision over Willard Hunt. Hunt lost his gear, he was no genius to begin with, and wrote a hysterical diatribe so odd that it makes Clarence Thomas’ Roemer dissent read like an orderly discussion of law. What made Hunt nuts was that Hrycyna and Barsugli not only overturned the lower court decision outright, rather than remanding it, but much more boldly, wrote an injunction making marriage licenses available to same-sex couples immediately. During the ensuing Great Wedding March (the right wing press unimaginatively christening the new era The Follies, and attempting to ridicule the weddings by filming and photographing transvestites’ and transsexuals’ weddings, a strategy which backfired badly because (a) the ceremonies proved extremely heartfelt and moving, and convinced many former opponents of same-sex marriage across the land, especially women, that they had been wrong, and (b) because the attention to the wedding decor and apparel, especially the dresses of this subgroup, filmed not as folly at all, but often as the fulfillment of the American bridal ideal)—during The GreatMarch/The Follies, congress speechified and the few states that were on the fence, most having either definitively passed or failed to pass anti-same-marriage legislation, a few states railroading through bills expressly denying the validity of New Mexican marriage licenses within their borders. This prompted New Mexicans, even those who had been staunchly anti-same-sex marriage, to begin to question why they should honor not just the marriage licenses of Alabama, Florida, and Oregon, but all sort of contracts pertaining to everything from insurance regulation to return of criminals on the lam from said states. Dozens of court actions are in the wings, awaiting the outcome of the referendum. Is this the quiet before the storm, or is the storm itself just a blast of hot air that will effect mainly talk radio for a few years, leaving the choice-of-law rules just as they were before?
Keith wins a level six and immediately begins a new game at seven. He plays Tetris for hours, often late at night losing precious sleep, and when he closes his eyes finally he hallucinates the Tetris field, inventing the brick clumps in some area of his imagination that has a video card, so that he can keep playing. If the history of other highly controversial federal decisions has any relevance, and there is evidence both that this history does and that doesn’t pertain to the issue of gay marriage (neither slavery nor, a hundred years later, desegregation and busing, anti-miscegenation, nor finally abortion, having for instance prompted Congress to act as it had with DOMA, when faced by the mere possibility of legal gay marriage in a single state decision)—if the history of interracial marriage is relevant, than the storm of opposition to same-sex marriage will blow itself out in rhetoric. There will be little effective politically or extra-political action to stop what is, after all, the tide of history flowing with the force of American democratic values behind it. In the 60s most of the country understood that interracial marriage was an inevitability in a post-integration, and the rest of the country knew that, short of succession, there was no resisting this. The real crisis was over desegregation, and when that was over nobody was about to go back into to the trenches to stop two people, neither of whom you would want to have anything to do with anyway, from marrying each other. This would perhaps be the way it would go in the end with gay marriage. The opposition would thunder, but it would not risk jail time. Would the Supremes be willing to face a wall of hatred? This was not the Burger Court. On the other hand, maybe the Supremes, Ginsberg, Breyer, feel left out of all that constructive turmoil. Maybe same-sex marriage is their chance to role up their sleeves and make a name for themselves, the way the Canadian Supremes did. Shit, Keith mutters. The little tetrisoids, tumbling from the top of screen, are getting the better of him. There’s an awkward high mountain on the left. And the blocks keep coming down like a snow storm of masonry. He’s going to lose, he can see that. Why then does he still, after a mere twenty-minutes in the land of the falling bricks, feel so much better? He stands and heads for the window.
Max isn’t reading the paper after all. He’s tilted back in his springy office chair, hands clasped behind his head, eyes, through the thick, black-framed specs, on the ceiling. Keith watches two children running ahead of a group of adults in matching orange t-shirts.
“You know what I wonder?”
“No,” Keith says, but is fairly certain he is going to hear more of Max’s subtle proselytizing, and just when he was starting to relax.
“How Eve manages to smile with her ass.”
“She walks away, and then she pauses. I look, cause I always look, and her ass is smiling at me, kind of crooked smile, higher on the left cause her weight’s usually on her right leg, lopsided. You know what else I wonder?”
“No,” Keith says, sure this time he has no idea, and leaning back against the door to Gibbons’ chambers so she can’t open it by mistake and hear one of Max’s observations, which Max might well complete rather than choose to censor himself.
“What that looks like without one of those gray skirts. I bet it looks just the same, only full color. Technicolor. High-resolution surround-mind color, but the same basic good-humored, Hello there, I know you’re looking at me, and I’m looking right back at you smile.”
“You make her butt,” Keith will not say ass in this building, “sound like a Teletubby.”
“Oh, no. Nothing so cuddly as that,” Max says, a look of concentration on his brow, as if he were talking philosophy. “No, Eve’s ass is a contender. That smile is the smile of a champion, not a muppet.”
“That’s good to know. Do you want to shut up now?” The real difference between liberals and conservatives, Keith has come to understand in his year behind what was once enemy lines, is not so much the ideas they have as when they choose to express them. Keith does not express his whole self in chambers. Whereas Eve, and especially Andrea and Max give voice to curious thoughts all day long—flights of fancy, utopian visions, just plain strangeness. And they say it all right way, no matter that they are in the presence of a judge. They say something personal, then go right back to working. It’s a liberal way of conducting business. What frightens Keith is that he’s beginning to like this spontaneous mode, and he’s wondering if he’ll be able to work in an ordinary environment after clerkship. Once and a while now, after almost ten months, Keith contributes a thought of a private nature he never knew he had inside him. Mostly he just listens. When he feels the others are going too far he puts himself in time-out in his corner, inserts his headphones, listens to music he has listened to for years, familiar sensible rock, and sneaks in a game of Tetris to settle his nerves.
“Do you think Eve is close to marrying Gordon?” Max asks. Keith sighs relief. So that’s all Max is wondering this time.
“She’s not in any rush.”
“She wouldn’t be,” Max says. “She’s twenty-six and in love with me.”
“I don’t know,” Keith carefully tells his friend, “about in love.”
“Look,” Keith rolls his chair across the room, turns it and sits facing Max across its back. “You might just be her Harvey.”
“It’s well established that when a woman’s engaged, she needs a Harvey.”
“Does Harvey sleep with her?”
“Maybe once or twice. More likely he just gets confused and hurt. Not cause the woman wants to lead him on, just because she’s got two ideas in her head. One idea is that she’s ready to be a grownup and start wearing a ring and letting the teenagers who carry her groceries to the car call her ma’am. The other is that she herself is a teenager and she can neck and fool around with whomever she wants, including the teenager who carries her groceries to the car.”
“So you think I’m Eve’s Harvey and Eve’s my Bertha or whatever. But that’s what I’m asking you. Do you think she wants to marry Gordon or me?”
“I don’t know if she wants to marry either of you.”
“Thank God. I thought maybe you knew and you just weren’t telling me.”
“I do know that Harvey went away.”
“There’s a real Harvey?”
“Yes. I don’t know his real name. He called and wrote notes to Anne the whole March and April before our wedding. Dropped off a cassette of music he made up and played guitar on and sang. A song with the name Anne in it. Anne said they were just friends, that she might have had feelings for him if she was available. I doubt somehow that’s what he was saying. Anne was already wearing Mount Washington.”
“Engagement ring. Mother Theresa underwrote it. That was the first time I understood what I was going to be up against, financially and emotionally.”
“You mother-in-law bought Anne her ring.”
“I bought the setting. MT procured the rock.”
“And that was okay with Anne?”
“Yeah. She wanted the Closer to God style.”
“You’re losing me.”
“There are two kinds of engagement rings: Closer to God, which means pointy and high so that nobody can miss seeing it; and Too Cool for School, which is one of those sunken modern settings where the diamond’s points are hidden in the gold.”
“I get Closer to God. I get Harvey. Why Mount Washington?”
“Highest peak in the East.”
The Eastern System
Jon wanders in nine-thirtyish, loiters in the department office on the ground floor of Richard T. Elkins Hall, pulling mail out of his cubby, gossiping with Cynthia the secretary-by-day, folk-singer-by-night. Cythia dresses like a librarian in below-knee sandy-to-chestnut brown skirts and sensible pumps. She has acne scars and gentle off-green eyes, and the tilt of her head indicates that she is always trying to understand something deeper than what Jon is saying to her.
“How’s Sam?” she asks.
“Sam had a giggling fit last night. I thought he was crying. Scared the daylights out of me.”
Cynthia lives alone. There was a husband in one of the Carolinas. She doesn’t talk about her twenties, except to indicate that there were choices she made then that she had to un-make as she rounded the corner into her thirties.
“How was Nanny O’Brien’s?” Jon asks.
“I didn’t get on till ten. Nice people, lousy mixing board.”
Jon and Peter have heard Cynthia perform on stages the size kitchen counters in bars so crowded and smoky that only Cynthia’s aura of seriousness made it work. Like most musicians since the microchip, Cynthia has several CDs to her name, available at Phantasmagoria and online at folk web sites. Cynthia is contented with her following of a thousand or so. She says, That’s a pretty big family. She says, They know me pretty well. Peter admires her and her voice.
“Well, good morning, Dr. Cross,” Jon murmurs as Asst. Prof. Elizabeth Cross comes in, sets down her book bag and purse, gets her coffee and mail, and settles against the wall. During her not yet tenured first years, Liz adopted Jon as big brother and interpreter of odd behavior, the sudden disapproval, the equally sudden adoration, of the rest of the department. Liz has a lovely pink complexion, flaxen hair, and is often smiling widely as if a secret prank is underway.
“We’re all coming Thursday,” she says.
“Richard, Laura, Alexandra, Adam, Melissa, Sophie, Ruth, Josh, Selena, Janet, Rick, Mary-Pat, Laird, Stephen, Diana, Bill, and Mademoiselle,” Liz says, indicating Cynthia with an open palm.
“You’ll need tickets. Call the courthouse.”
“What’s supposed to happen?”
“Gibbons and Whitney are supposed to be sympathetic, but cautious. Semmes is the wild card.” Jon has a hard time persuading himself a hearing is really going to take place in two days. Every step of the legal process has occurred in slow motion, from the first filing two-and-a-half years ago to the trial at the District Court for the District of Columbia a year back, to the preparation for filing the appeal last fall. Now it’s late spring and time for another court appearance, but this one will be just an hour-and-a-half. Half the morning docket. Jon has decided the only way he can be plaintiff is to compartmentalize his feelings about the case into a part of the mind he enters only occasionally, when there’s action to be taken—a lawyer to goose or put the brakes on, a decision about the argument to be made, a media moment to be undertaken. The rest of the time he acts as if he is not deeply engaged in political action, but is just living a good private life.
“I read McGrory on Sunday. She makes you and Peter sound like PTA crusaders.”
“She’s trying to mobilize the suburb-atariat.” Jon and Liz carry second cups of coffee up to Jon’s two-room suite on the corner of the second floor of the pseudo-Gothic imitation Oxbridge extravagance.
“You pregnant this month?” Jon asks hopefully. Liz gives her breasts a little squeeze.
“Maybe. Or maybe I’m premenstrual.”
“You thinking about technology?”
“Two more months. Then we get all the pictures taken of my overpasses and underpasses and Nat does the sperm races. He’s wearing boxers now.”
“You’ll get there. You just have to tap your heels together and say, There’s no place like maternity.”
They agree to meet for lunch and Liz heads off, leaving Jon alone with his two computers and class preparation. He answers three emails from his backlog, the first to his old friend Noreen who just got divorced. It is one of those situations in which everyone is surprised, having seen none of the cracks, but being told that things were never good, that the husband was seeing another woman. Marriages are truly private in the sense that no one outside of them knows what is going on. This is perhaps why Americans since the eighteenth century have been particularly suspicious of state regulation. A propos of which the second email is to his colleague Paul Mende in the sociology department regarding a course on the history of marriage in America they are developing. He could call Paul or, heaven forbid, actually walk downstairs and through a tunnel and talk to him face-to-face, but that wouldn’t be modern at all. They send email almost every day. They are expanding the marriage part of the curriculum of the Social History survey they co-teach, so they’ll have time to get into the development of marriage law from English common, ecclesiastic, and American post-Revolutionary law. The third note is to Tim Christenfeld, one of his lawyers, who is asking for Jon’s advice about whether to argue on Thursday that today, as in the nineteenth century, the majority of Americans believe that marriage should follow the common-law tradition, that is should be based on consent of the partners, cohabitation, and reputation as married in their community, rather than on state administration. In other words, how wide should the historical context be? Jon reluctantly dissuades Tim from trying to deliver an impromptu history lecture in his twenty minutes before the appeals court. Marriage. How did this arrangement between two people, at the intersection of sex, love, money, and child-rearing, come to be the monolith in the middle of Jon’s personal, professional, and in the last three years legal, life? Ten thirty-five. He calls Peter. “Hi, Lover,” he says.
“I was just thinking about you,” Peter answers quietly.
“About how much I love you. About how sweet you were last night.”
“When Sam was giggling and you panicked.”
“I thought he was sad.”
“You made your mother’s infinite-concern-and-compassion face.”
“Sam was laughing at the curtains this morning. Sunlight is apparently almost as silly as that lamp.”
“How’s the review going?”
“I wrote it all in one long burst. Wonder if it makes any sense. I know the first and last words are good. I’m not so sure about the nine-hundred-fifty in the middle.”
“Like the book?”
“Not as much as I said I did. I think I made it out to be the best book ever written.”
“You make them all sound splendid. As if not reading them constitutes a life poorly spent.”
“I can’t help it. I get enthusiastic.”
“You weren’t so enthusiastic about S’s last one.”
“True, but he’s famous, and it wasn’t much of a book. Somebody had to let the cat out of the bag. When are you coming home?”
“Yeah. We need anything?”
“Calm. A good lawyer.”
“We have two good lawyers.”
“Christenfeld and Kupferberg? We make them look good. It’s like the joke about the tailor and the cripple.”
“Don’t I know all your jokes?” Jon asks.
“Guy goes to his tailor, says this suit you made me doesn’t fit. One leg is too short, this shoulder’s too high. No problemo, says the tailor. Just bend this leg a little and hunch up your left shoulder. See? Perfect. So the guy shuffles off down the street with one leg bent and one shoulder up. Two men see him. Poor cripple, one says. But what a magnificent tailor.”
“I don’t get the connection. Is our suit like the suit?”
“I wouldn’t advise reading my review. That story was transparent, relative to my review.”
“OK, calm and two lawyers. Diapers? Dog food? Dinner?”
“We’re all set. Leftover night.”
“I love you.”
Jon reads a journal and lingers in his private john, the best thing about his office. Emerges and prepares class.
“May I intrude?”
Jim Banta, his advisee, is already inside. Graduate students arrive full of need not so much for academic guidance (Jim knows exactly what he wants to write, bridles when Jon makes even the slightest suggestion or recommendation) as for recognition of their arrival on life’s stage. The rage and ambition of the young men is a tonic. It makes the most ordinary talk, such as today’s discussion of the best strategy for getting Jim a summer research trip to the University of Texas at Austin, electric.
“If those bastards weren’t so hidebound,” Jim says about the same crew, give or take a member, who will have to approve his dissertation in a year. “They know the Vasquez papers are in the manuscript room. I shouldn’t have to beg for a few dollars to do this work.” But he does have to beg and Jon helps him craft a few paragraphs explaining humbly why his topic, seminal patterns in Spanish-Native American hegemony in the Lago del Mar settlement on the Gulf Coast, 1684-97, requires him to travel to Austin in August. A few requisite jokes about the heat there, another round of vituperation against the bureaucracy, and Jim’s off for another day of desultory investigation in the stacks of Dawid Library. Bea Marshall arrives on time for her appointment.
“It’s no good, is it?” Bea says, handing Jon her week’s sheaf. Jon has a method with advisees. He asks them to bring him whatever they have written, just to hit print and let her rip, every two weeks (for undergrads, every week). From the women, and most of the department’s students are women, Jon snuffs up a dread of the future, with its unending tasks and bad options. Be a scholar and a teacher and miss time at home with family. Marry and/or have children, and never have time enough to be a scholar and a teacher. The demands the young men face are the same but male grad students don’t notice their dilemma as the women do. The men are bewildered mainly by the nation’s lack of recognition of their potential and then their achievement, depending on what year they’re in. The cup of men’s accomplishments is always a little more than half full in their own hands. While the women are as a rule overly self-critical, their cups a third full at best and cloudy with dregs—footnotes left out, drafts incomplete, children at daycare for an hour longer, dinner from the freezer, laundry piling up in the corner of their apartment bathrooms. Should they somehow manage to dissertate, the women see ahead the seven Herculean prerequisites of tenure and motherhood (book, time with child, teaching, time with mate, committee work, production of and time with second child, articles). The male minority shuffle about the department planning coups of blood and flames, an orals committee finally answering to themselves, their idea rigorous and new, not fallen-arched and flabby, as those of the current regime. The young men don’t look beyond that glorious morning when blood and ink will flow, and the rigid, arbitrary ladder of academic ascendancy will be smashed to kindling. Jon indicates to the males that they won’t be able to kill him because he knows their game and won’t turn his back to them for a minute. To the females, to Bea Marshall, he offers another message: Anatomy is not destiny. Anatomy is never having to say you’re sorry.
The pages are nine in number. Beatrice is full of shame and guilt over this meager harvest. Nine pages is half a chapter, an abundant advance, Jon reassures. Beatrice won’t look him in the eye. She is in love with him. This makes it almost impossible for him to encourage her professionally without leading her on emotionally, so he does both. The paragraphs she produces are regular in length and avoid obvious stylistic pitfalls—passives, pronouns unanchored or endlessly repeated. Yet Beatrice’s writing lacks the groove thing that would make her fun to read instead of merely clear. Loosen up, Jon tells her. Write whatever follows, even if it isn’t immediate to your thesis, whatever that may turn out to be (at the intersection of immigration policy in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the development of organized labor.) Theses are wild beasts. If you pen one in before it’s ready, it will tear your critical apparatus to pieces. You must coax wooly thesis out of the wilderness of research and daydreams, sources, empty places, so that, after a year or so of sniffing at your up-raised palm, of pricking up its ears at your soothing suasions, your thesis will settle down in the firelight of your area of specialization).
“No, this is good,” Jon says, reading. Bea raises her eyes to his chest. She has a husband and her husband wants a child. She doesn’t sleep, which makes her eyelids pinkish and her eyes perpetually tearful. She was a awarded a thesis prize as an undergraduate at G.W. (Jon advised her, and she wrote about Dupont Circle families and the transformation of Washington high society with the departure of women for the work place during the second world war). She plucked summa, her thesis published by the university press, and she was regaled after her orals and immediately invited to apply to graduate school. Jon advised her to take a few years off and then and only then to go elsewhere for her doctorate. She thanked him and immediately matriculated.
Now her life is a tunnel with loose rocks to blunder into (failure to be brilliant and the subsequent disappointment of those who believe in her) and there is only the tiny eye of light in the far end. But what is that ray? Solitude without tasks. Bea has a distant memory of playing jump rope one summer day, all by herself on the sidewalk in front of her parents’ house in Reston, Virginia. She has nothing to do but jump from one foot to the other, swing the rope forward or back. Sit on the white curb and watch the postman’s slow progress, he in shorts and shoes with high black socks walking door-to-door, progressing in his doorless blue jeep with the steering wheel on the wrong side half a block down the identical streets of subdivision toward her. This is the end of the tunnel toward which Bea tirelessly labors. A reincarnation of her ten-years-old self, before real homework. Ben Davis, her husband, offers her only love and a child of her own, soon, that largest of homework assignments. Beatrice wants to be Jon, a gay man (gay men, she believes, are free), a scholar with a stay-at-home husband. If she was Jon, she would jump or sit down and watch the postman slalom slow-motion back and forth across her street, wander up to the screen door, open it, enter the shadowed the house in search of chocolate milk.
“So the Irish moved into Tams Bridge, and that pushed the Poles back for a while.”
“Yes,” Beatrice says, looking Jon full in the face. Her make-up, a light base, pale lipstick, cautious lash enhancement, comes to bear on him like a marksman’s laser. She’s twenty-five and has been married two years. She is ascetic and quick. Neither could attend the other’s wedding because they were wed a week apart.
“Hopkington built his machine and let the Poles in. Why didn’t I think of this?” This is a frequent joke. As if Jon should know everything before Bea ferrets it out, anticipate each new direction, being the prof. Bea smiles and explains. Jon congratulates, encourages, and soothes. He sends her away, nominally for another two weeks except that she will come see him the day after tomorrow with just one question, something that wasn’t quite covered today. Her dissertation, which she will finish right on schedule in two years just before her first baby is born, will be solid and a little more than that. When she goes on the market Jon will call his few powerful friends at top history departments and Bea will wear an interview suit (it will be winter) with padded shoulders, she will wear boots of dull brown leather, and she will get a plum job—in fact, she will have to choose between two. When she is installed she and Jon will speak on the phone every month or so, and see each other at meetings thrice a year until he retires. She will name her son after him and will acknowledge him at the front of a hundred articles and four books. She is like a daughter to him, except that Nita is loud, brash, and impatient. Bea is like the daughter he might have raised with a man not Peter, a compulsive, respectful daughter.
Liz fetches him and they cross campus and 19th Street to The Roost and Jon has a salad with so much grated cheddar, olives, avocado and creamy parmesan dressing that he might as well have had the Reuben (from Reuben Kulakofsky, died 1960, American grocer, the menu tells him) he wanted. Jon runs and arrives a minute or two late to teach his seminar, or rather to observe the male graduate students fall all over each other to teach it themselves. He is like a referee in a pro-wrestling match, not really doing much, occasionally offering himself as a foil to be swatted across the room (a stuffy, Victorian closet on the north-east corner of Lehman Hall) by fellows with stage names like Last Marxist Lunkhead and New Historical Bane of Discourse, also Nit-Picker With Irritating Whining Voice and I-Just-Have-One-Point, until the fray dies down to a less homicidal pitch. Jon arrives back to his office at two-forty-five, desperate to brush his teeth, pee, and do a little writing. But in the afternoons the undergraduates appear.
“Hey, Jon. Kai come in?” Martin Papazian attended a Friend’s school in Philedelphia where all the teachers were called by their first names. Jon has suggested to him that the university is different, but Martin still calls him Jon. Martin is the most regular looking person Jon has ever seen, a Ken doll majoring, like forty-two percent of his peers, in marketing/business/communications/accounting. In theory this is a practical decision which shows how in touch with the real world today’s students are. In practice Jon finds that most of the business majors are intimidated by their parents, and slowly figuring out what a university is actually for.
“I read about you and your partner in the Post. I’m down with what you guys are doing.” Martin has the first and most common undergraduate feeling, terror, but he is in the subgroup that will not allow themselves even a shiver of awareness. He only knows that college is busy, that he hasn’t felt like himself since he left his tiny high school and the little room with the view of the dogwood tree in the backyard of the house in Gwynedd Valley, where he grew up. He also knows that, when he’s in Jon’s office, he feels better. “Hey, what if some of the guys from ßÞ come down to the court house with signs?”
“That might be fine. But maybe you should wait for the decision. Maybe you’ll agree with it.”
“Yeah, but we can tell the judge what we demand, right?” Martin comes to Jon’s office once a week. Usually he wants to talk about who he’s in love with or who’s in love with him, never the same girl. Often he has a good question or two about that week’s lecture.
“That’s possible, but not likely. There are three judges. I don’t know if they’ll see your signs. What would they say?”
“Free the DC 2.”
“I like it.”
Martin thinks gay people are styling and brave, especially one like Jon who acts regular. Having a gay professor friend is a badge. Sometimes he brings another freshman along to show off.
“I brought my paper.” Beneath the bluster, Martin has a serious approach to his work. He was diagnosed LD long ago, the result of which is that he writes carefully and slowly, drafting his essays and getting extra help from Donna Penoyer, his section head and another history grad student. Martin is comparing the two codes of incest law in the early nineteenth century: the Southern “Biblical system” which allowed first cousins to marry but did not allow in-law marriages, such as those between a man or woman and his deceased wife or husband’s sister or brother (affinal marriages); and the Western American system, which proscribed first-cousin unions but authorized affinal ones. The accepted theory is that the Southern system helped sustain a highly stratified family-centered economic order, while the Western allowed the expansion and distribution of wealth across families lines. Both served moneyed elites, but signaled different strategies for acquisition and preservation. Jon reads. Martin’s dad owns Papazian Cleaners, a business that was once his wife’s father’s. He wants Martin and his brother Del to run it in due time. Martin senses this is a bad idea and his paper is really about the dangers of family businesses, a topic he understands from working for his dad summers and holidays since he was thirteen. In the south farmers managed larger properties but when they had children the properties were subdivided without analysis of efficiency effects. In the west farmers and ranchers tended to join ranches and farms together by marrying their kids to each other and this meant efficiency was maintained. Jon marks nothing but tells Martin that his main idea doesn’t appear until the fifth paragraph and that he should put it right at the top. Jon asks him which system became the dominant one by century’s end, and Martin says he doesn’t know but he’ll find out, and Jon has no doubt he will. Martin leaves. (Western.) Undergrads come from the whole world to GW. Some rich as thieves, others with less than a penny to their names, their debt growing hourly until they receive baccalaureates and fifteen years of indentured servitude and professional school. Almost all are away from home for the first time and this causes the eighteen-to-twenty-year-olds Jon encounters (his class is mostly for freshpersons and sophomores) terror, exhilaration, or deep boredom, just one of these feelings, as if they are looking at life and realizing that nothing that took for granted before they left home is safe (terror), or that now they can do whatever they choose and no one can stop them (exhilaration), or that this things they’ve been promised for so long, an identity of their very own, liberty, are not easy to make use of after all (boredom). Spring term Mondays and Wednesdays at ten Jon, Paul Mende, and Nadine Judkiewicz from Women’s Studies, lecture a hundred-fifty-six of them in his Core Curriculum Nineteenth Century American Social History survey. In the afternoons Jon has brief, wild conversations with them in his office. Undergraduates have no more reverence for office hours than he does. They appear anytime after noon (in the mornings they sleep in, or swim, run, and lift, or sit in classes writing down every word some teaching fellow utters as if witnessing the life of Plato, Buddha, or Christ) to complain about his section heads and grades, but just as often they come simply to have a close-up look at Jon himself, a professor, a creature they’ve heard about but never seen up close. They expect Jon to wear thick specs (he does), to be distracted and unworldly (he is), and to know everything, not just all of history, but current television and pop music (Peter does, Jon is clueless). The undergraduates hang out as if Jon’s office is a room in a dorm identical to and down the hall from their own double. They tell Jon which of the three reactions they are having and he confirms their point-of-view without trying to introduce them to the other two.
Jon looks at his two computers. His Core committee (evaluation of current social studies curriculum) is in an hour and twenty-minutes. Jon is in the middle of writing two articles, a book review, a chapter, and his third book, eight months overdue. His first book, on the demography of the General Lee’s infantry at Leesburg (who was a slave-owner, who was a working man, not earth-shaking stuff but useful to the field and arduous to research, hence a good grunt-work topic for a dues-paying grad student) came out of his dissertation. He met an editor from University of Virginia Press at his second Associated History Programs hoedown in Chicago, a woman as young and eager to be a player as himself, and soon he was rewriting the manuscript into a book. Had he not been terrified of becoming a rich man of no occupation (his father), he would never have made it to completion of the dissertation, much less the book. His second opus, on Civil War women and social transformation, was a glorious experience from inception through publication and made Jon what his friend Margaret Waller called a hag fag, i.e. a member of that national coterie of gay male scholars nudging their way into women’s studies. Ready or not, here I come, was Jon’s feeling as he delivered his first papers to what he thought would be territorial feminist historians in small conference rooms in large hotels throughout his third year as a pro. They were kind and welcoming. That book earned him tenure and a brief flurry of name-recognition. His third book, the one he is writing now in that post-tenure, father-of-two haze, a state not unlike chronic malaria—exhaustion, afternoon fevers during which the pages get written (he sits down now at the old computer and starts typing his book manuscript automatically, like Yeats at midnight), and a deep sense of relief that he won’t be turned out of his camp bed so long as he is the grips of the slowly progressing illness—his new book concerns father-son relations in nineteenth century middle-class families. The project grips him, perhaps because his own relationship with his father is so fraught with anger and disappointment. The nineteenth century saw the emergence from the earlier post-Revolution family ideal, in which the father held all the power, each home a mini-state with a permanent president, into a community-of-equals model in which women, children, even servants had rights, were in effect citizens protected each in his or her private sphere. Family law was invented in the appellate courts in the nineteenth century. The son, like Hamlet, took to the stage in a number of legal, social, and economic contexts, and began acting a little crazy at times. Jon’s thesis is basically that breaking up is hard to do, especially when you’re breaking up patriarchy and even if you’re pre-patriarch yourself. The college-age son of this era was an hysteric male de siecle suffering from an Oedipus complex waiting for Freud to pin it to a board and label it, suffering from the transformation of rural agrarianism to urban industrialism, suffering from the new and heavy demands of meritocracy, from the pleadings of women’s desire, and from sundry other complaints. Jon leaves his manuscript on the screen of his office computer and enlarges it whenever he can. He got the idea from a biography of Joyce Carol Oats Peter was reading in which the biographer explained that Oates writes several novels at a time, each one on a different computer in a different room of her Princeton home. Jon’s new computer is for all the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of the job, paper abstracts to be submitted, responses to abstracts submitted to him, syllabi, exams, memos, responses to Kupferberg and Christenfeld, to requests for interviews, to letters from gay couples married and unmarried, offended national gay and lesbian organizers, strategists and strategist wannabes, legal know-it-alls, gun-toting homophobes, shy queer teenagers, and well-wishers, a surprising number of whom knew his mother when she was a twenty-something working for the ERA back in the sixties. People write him for information, to hold his hand, to advise, vilify, threaten or seduce. Sometimes the book is all Jon wants to work on, other times he is incapable of long thoughts. Sometimes he feels part of a chapter inside him like an alien about to bust its reptilian head through his sternum. He rolls on his office chair in front of the old Gateway, his fingers leaping over the keyboard, as if he were Boris Karlof at the organ. Other times a bureaucratic frenzy takes him and he rolls his chair over to the “new” (three year old) Compac and flies through a score of student recs, book orders for next semester, his printer clicking and moaning, his modem whistling high lonesome, his thinning hair tumbling down across his forehead. There is a moment to every task.
No one comes to the door. He writes book three.
When Christenfeld called him four years back and said, I hear you’re getting married, Jon was newly tenured and still in the grips of campus- wide paranoia. Was Tim Christenfeld, who said he was over at the law school, someone he had met at a history meeting? Someone he had denied the right to deliver a paper, the privilege of inserting a couple thousand words into his trendy online social history journal with its thousand free subscribers? You’ll be in the first wave, Tim said, and Jon’s second thought was that he was another of Peter’s old beaux and felt slighted because he hadn’t made the wedding invitation cuts. But they couldn’t invite all the men Peter had gone through, could they, no matter how much of a community event the New Mexico weddings were supposed to be? Tim was neither university liability nor amorous leftover. He was instead one of those people, Jon didn’t believe in their existence until he met one every few years, who had read Jon’s work without Jon’s having xeroxed and mailed it to him. Tim was calling because, unlike most of the other gay strategist lawyers, he believed the time for a federal challenge was now, during the reaction to New Mexico. Wait for the flames to die down and there won’t be any forest left. We need to capture the flag (Tim mixed metaphors from that first conversation right through oral arguments in front of the U.S. District Court twenty months later, but somehow effectively. Tim’s haphazard imagery is endearing, like the speech impediment of a charismatic child). We gotta storm the fortress, he said, and also level the playing field. What Tim proposed was that Jon and Peter be the front men, and that Tim himself be their Atticus Finch. How can we lose the case with Tim Christenfeld arguing? Jon thought as he succumbed to the flattery, Tim saying that no one would know better than Jon himself, because of Jon’s work which Tim proceeded to misquote and misinterpret extensively—no one would know better than Jon that marriage is an evolving institution, that one generation’s ideas of what marriage is yields to an entirely new conception, and that this has been going on since day one in this country. Christenfeld had read Jon’s second book about how women during the Civil War reinvented marriage, public education, medical care. The chapters on marriage turned out to be fairly original and emphasized the relation between the ideologic discontinuity of the war and the radical transformation of domestic and community practices. Tim said, in effect, that New Mexico was the Civil War, establishing the necessary condition for transformation. Okay, Jon said at the end of a twenty minute buttering up. But I’ll have to ask Peter. Because, at the end of the day, some aspects of marriage haven’t changed all that much. And here they all are, two men and two attorneys, one successful litigation and two-and-a-half-years later.
Four-thirty-five. Time to head to Strachey Hall for the interdepartmental meeting, which started five minutes ago. Jon backs up the manuscript, now longer than it was an hour and bit before, onto his zip drive, drops the disk in his bag, makes a few more changes to the last couple paragraphs, takes out the disk and saves again, every save leading to one more revision then to a new save, and so forth, until somebody says uncle. He stands and looks around the room as if he were just arriving, instead of calling it a day. The place has changed. The light through the curtained window has gone a shade dimmer, but that’s not it. The hour-plus at the keyboard has given the funny old office a look of satiety, like a lover fervently visited.
“I don’t get it,” Lois says. “The court can’t just force people to let gays join the Home Sweet Home club. I mean, there are laws against us getting hitched in most of the states, aren’t there, including DC, which I know isn’t a state but whatever it is? Pretend I’m stupid. Pretend I don’t know anything about law and I don’t read the newspaper and that I only get my information from WHFS news breaks on my earphones when I’m riding.”
Andrea grabs Lois by the ears and pulls her head down into her lap. Eve and the two modern lovers have just eaten sloppy joes and coleslaw with lots of caraway seeds that Lois says are two of her patented poor white specials. Bud tall-boys. They recline on pillows on the floor, Andrea and Lois with their backs against Andrea’s futon in her basement apartment, Eve across from them sprawled back on her right elbow. The iridescent pink twilight enters the high-set windows across from them, coats the stove and fridge, melts in the corners by the bathroom. Andrea experiences the unfamiliar difficulty of trying to include a third party, a friend, in the confection of intimacy in which she and Lois roll round and round. She rubs Lois’ stiff short mane and starts to feel that tingle that, were the two of them alone, would trigger post-prandial lovemaking. But they aren’t and Lois sits up, a slight flush along her cheeks and neck. Eve, in her new role, smiles a mite tensely. She’s acutely jealous and she knows what of. What Lois and Andrea have. She feels like she did the evening before the night she lost her virginity with Greg Fried, her co-counselor at the waterfront at Camp Rehobeth, in the crumbling old boat shed at midnight, strips of moonlight falling white through the roof across their skinny seventeen-year-old bodies.
“Think of the federal courts as an army,” Andrea tells Lois, raising one finger mock-pedantically, then touching Lois’ nose with it. “The state legislatures are another. The state courts are a third. These three armies are arrayed across three thousand miles of policy battle lines. Sometimes two sides gang up on the third, but only in one spot or for a time. Now imagine that the federal courts attack on a particular front—desegregation, busing, abortion, same-sex marriage. The rest of the lines are stable. Only in this one place do the feds concentrate their fire power. The state courts, or half of them, join the attack. The state legislatures retreat, then reform their line.”
“So, like, even though the states don’t want gay marriage, they have to give it up?”
“You should go to law school,” Andrea says.
“Shu’ up!” Lois says, and this time it’s her turn to pull Andrea down and mess her do. Andrea sighs and closes her eyes.
“I did it,” Eve says, as much to interrupt as otherwise.
“Applied for the Supreme Courtship?” Andrea asks, still in Lois’ lap.
“Yeah. But I mean broke off my almost engagement.”
“You broke up with Gordon?” Andrea sits up.
“I tried to,” Eve says. “Listen. Can we go for a walk or something?” So Lois and Andrea disentangle themselves and the three head out across Adam’s Morgan in the last solstice daylight. Lois and Andrea swing their joined hands.
“It was hard,” Eve tells them. “I told Gordon we needed to have a talk, and he immediately began apologizing about not having the ring yet. He said he had a found a jeweler at The Torpedo Factory to make my ring, and had an appointment at her studio, but then the gal went out of business. So he lined up another jeweler and this one’s all ready to make the ring just the way,” her voice breaks, “I want it.”
“What did he say?” Lois asks. “This is so sad.”
“He said he loved me. He wanted to know what he had done wrong. I told him he hadn’t done anything wrong. I said I loved and trusted him more than anyone but that I couldn’t marry him.” They cross the Duke Ellington bridge and turn onto Connecticut. The night sky is a faint purple now. There are so many people out it looks like rush hour. It’s one of those summer nights when no one can stay home. The line at The Uptown Scoop is out the door. They walk toward it slowly, so Eve can tell them her story.
“He said he knew something was wrong but he kept telling himself it was just nerves, that we’d be all right once we had actually gotten engaged and told everybody. He said he didn’t want to pretend like everything was all right, because it wasn’t. He says if I change my mind he still wants to marry me, but he can tell I don’t want to marry him and he can’t fight that. He kept asking me what had happened. Had he changed? Had I changed? What could he do to make me want to be with him again.”
“What a great guy,” Lois says. “I never broke up with anybody that great.”
“He’s angry but he’s not vindictive. Gordon’s very fair. He doesn’t want to make me feel guilty, he just wants to know how to fix things.”
“Stand-up dude,” Andrea says. “But you’ve been telling me all year you don’t want to marry him. It’s like you know him too well or something. It’s like you don’t really think he’s that…”
“What?” Eve says. “It’s okay.”
“In touch, I guess. I mean he’s a smart guy, but not about feelings. He knows how to do everything, to provide for you, to protect you, but he doesn’t know what’s going on inside you.”
“He’s so on my side,” Eve says. “I’ve known him so long, and he knows me through and through. But it’s not an adventure with him, the way it was when we were younger. I can’t make that happen by myself. You know? Like you two are for each other. With each other.” Andrea and Eve look at each other and at Eve. They get in line.
“It’s true,” Lois says. “You can’t make that happen. But when it does, you can’t let anybody take it away.”
Andrea raises Lois’ hand to her lips.
Eve buys a two-scoop sugar cone, raspberry cheesecake and mocha-chip ecstasy. If only it were that easy. Andrea and Lois share a hot fudge sundae with plain old strawberry and vanilla ice cream and whipped cream but no nuts. The three stroll back south, the quarter-mile distant magnet of Dupont Circle drawing them like a homing beacon. They cross Taft Bridge looking onto the tops of hundred-foot tall trees, like a crop of giant grass reaching almost to their fingertips. They stop and lean on the warm concrete balustrade, Eve licking her, Lois and Andrea sucking their spoons. The underbelly of the sky is orange.
“So are you finally going to go out with Max?” Andrea asks.
“We’re going to the zoo.”
“You mean like on a date?” Lois says.
“I don’t know. We’re going after work.”
“For it to be a date,” Lois says, “you have to eat, and one person has to pay for the other person.”
“You’re so traditional,” Andrea says.
“Otherwise it’s just friends doing something together,” Lois adds primly.
“What if you go Dutch but kiss at the end?” Andrea asks.
“That’s a come-on, but it doesn’t make the part that came before a date.”
“I see,” Eve says. “I agree with you about food being critical. I hadn’t thought about the money part. I have these dreams about Max and food.”
“I think,” Andrea says, “a date is when one person says to the other one first, Wanna go on a date?”
“What kind of dreams?” Lois says, spoon poised.
“Did Max say, Wanna go on a date?” Andrea insists.
“No. I said, Wanna go to the zoo?”
“Buy him food,” Lois says. “If you’re ready. But first, tell me about the dreams.”
“Well,” Eve says, “I dream about Max a lot and he always offers me food.” She is below cone-edge now and nibbles off a small row to get to the raspberry. “And,” she says, licking, then hesitates. She’s never talked about the dreams except to Alice, “he tends to be naked.”
“Oh?” Andrea asks.
Eve nods. “I dreamt about him yesterday morning between whacking my snooze alarm. We were in chambers, Max was naked. I was wearing my aerobics outfit.”
“Why were you were dressed if Max wasn’t?” Andrea cross examines.
“I’m always at least partly dressed in the dreams,” Eve explains. “Just topless sometimes.”
“What were you eating?” Lois asks.
“Nachos. We were sitting on that leather couch Patty has in the inner sanctum, the one with all that ancient crud stuck in it around the buttons.”
“The inner sanctum,” Andrea says. “How long has this been going on?”
Eve sighs and looks over the top of her glasses at her. Eve has this idea that she is betraying Alice if she talks about the things she talks about in therapy with her friends. She said something to Alice about this early on and Alice said, What makes you think that you can’t talk to other people about what we talk about here? Eve said, Oh, yeah. I guess it’s you who can’t talk about what we talk about here, unless you describe me as Miss F and say I work in the textile industry or whatever. Still, Eve liked the idea that therapy is therapy and life is life, and so she decided not to make herself talk about therapy things when she was outside Alice’s office. When she told Alice she was censoring herself, Alice said, There’s no reason why you should say what you don’t want to say, anywhere. Now she decides to go for it, without knowing quite how far she intends to go.
“All year. I told you I had dreams about Max.”
“Right. But you never said anything about food and naked.”
“No,” Eve says carefully. “But then Lois came up with her definition of a date, and it seemed relevant.” She does another row of cone and to her delight finds a lode of mocha-chip.
“I see. You’ll tell Lois things you don’t tell me. You’ve met Lois twice.”
“Stop it,” Lois says. “You don’t have to fight. There’s enough woo-man here to go around. So after he feeds you, do you have sex in the dreams?”
“We kiss, but that’s it.” Eve hesitates again, looking at Andrea for a moment. “I don’t really ever have sex in dreams. I fool around a lot, but I never really get down to it. Mostly I hold hands and kiss. The other morning, with Max—“
“In the dream,” Andrea says.
“Yes. We ate nachos and Max smiled his really slow smile, you know the one, Andrea, where he tilts his head back? And he said, ‘You are the persuasion.’”
“Wait. You never have sex in dreams?” Lois asks. “How do you get off?”
“I don’t,” Eve says, “when I’m asleep. Do you? Does everybody?”
Andrea shakes her head and Lois nods. It’s true that even though Eve has only met Lois twice, she will confide in Lois and Andrea together in a way she wouldn’t with Andrea alone. Lois and Andrea are better than Andrea solo. That’s the miracle of couples—sometimes they’re a quantum improvement on two fine individual people, and not just for each other. With Lois, Andrea is relaxed and happy and that makes Eve trust her more. Suddenly Eve sees Andrea less as a rival for star clerkdom and more as a person like herself, only luckier, radiant and silly in love.
“My dreams are sort of like Hollywood in the fifties. There’s a lot of gazing. More warm glowing feelings and less athleticism.”
“I must be produced now. I always get off in my really serious sex dreams,” Lois says. “Started when I was twelve. Apparently that’s uncommon in girls. It’s, like, required for boys.”
“The persuasion?” Andrea remembers.
“The alarm went off again and I couldn’t get back in. You know how you can get back inside a dream if you really want to for a while, until you totally wake up?” Eve asks. “I can usually do two whacks on my Dream Machine. Max said, ‘You are the persuasion,’ just before the alarm went off. I’ve got it set it for little beeps that get louder. The beeps started and I was trying to stay with Max but I thought Patty was standing in the doorway in her robe saying beep Beep BEep BEEp BEEP, like it was time to go upstairs to court and that was the signal.” Eve turns around and leans back on the concrete and pops her her cone tip, full of melted ice cream, into her mouth. A Western delicacy. God she loves those things. She could live on sugar cone tips with a little molten ice cream cupped inside. Maybe somebody could design a cereal. “So you come,” she asks Lois, licking her fingers, “in the dream? And then do you smoke a cigarette or ride off into the sunset or whatever, still in the dream?”
“I wake up,” Lois tells Eve, patting Andrea reassuringly on the arm. “I’m getting it on, I’m getting closer and closer, and then I wake up.”
“Touching yourself?” Eve asks.
“Hey,” Andrea says.
“Lighten up, Sweetie,” Lois tells Andrea. “No. I’m already coming when I wake up. Maybe my legs are stretched out straight.” Lois lifts the sundae cup and scraping the last of the ice cream down toward her tongue.
“Interesting,” Eve says, full of flavors and freedom, looking up at the orange sky. “What should we do now? Wanna walk down to Dupont?”
Sam is all baby. First of all he has that haircut, fifties conservative yet stylishly wavy, light brown, thinning in the pillow zone right where male pattern baldless will eventually startle him. He has that ruddy, round, innocent, smiling and smile-inducing twelve-weekness about him, the result of being able to focus his eyes and finding the faces that go with the voices, then realizing that when he makes expressions the face floating a foot or so in front of him makes expressions right back at him. He has the fat—cheek fat, knee fat, especially thigh fat—which creates a powerful need to knead in even casual and infant-shy visitors. You’d think, looking at Sam, that he has nothing to do but sit around and eat all day and night, waited on hand-and-foot by two men and an increasingly loving big sister, like a miniature sumo wrestler. He has the pale mysteriously veiled smoked-almond-brown eyes that roll back in his head when he has enough bottle, enough being awake, enough working the neck muscles, the running in place legs, the rapidly flailing left arm while the right is stiffly held by his side—enough of being on the job. Eyes which go elsewhere while still open, as if a movie has ended and the silky inner curtain is being drawn across the screen while the theme plays and the credits roll. Sam is all baby now at twelve weeks, in the blush of babyhood as opposed to being part alien, part underwater creature, the way he was when he was newest, wondering where the water went, why its so cold and why he can’t do flips the way he could in the sac. Sam is a hundred percent earthling now, and that makes it no less easy for Peter to entertain himself, even on his second child, even at two a.m. when he himself has just been awoken from desperately needed sleep, Sam complaining in short broken laments, like a stuttering cat, and completely intransigent in his refusal to settle down with a bottle—that makes it no less entertaining to Peter to say, Oh, don’t be such a baby!
Sleep deprivation works two ways, making Peter either giddy and giggly or surly and selfrighteous, generally giddy with Sam and surly with everybody else, but not always. Now it’s Wednesday and Valerie is coming for a visit, Lucy driving her over, Jon at work, Nita at school. Peter is pissed. Even when not exhausted and overwrought, even when more than a day away from a trial after two-and-half-years of buildup, Peter finds Valerie trying. Today he is more than a little irritated by the arrangement in which Valerie can just call up and drop in with an hours’s notice. Peter would really like to have a quiet day with Sam, who is in his blue bunny suit with the bunny embossed on the chest, lying on his belly on his quilt on the living room floor, back curved in that impossible baby yoga position Looking Straight Ahead While Lying Face Down in order to converse with the rectangular grill of the heating vent in the wall a foot or two away. Tomorrow is court day and Peter has been wondering whether to get nervous or hopeful, shy or boisterous, and whether to wear the ash gray suit Jon bought him, three button jacket, generously cut trousers, pale blue shirt, and the spit-polished Jonston-&-Murphy’s, or whether to wear his own old cotton sweater in dark olive with a braid weave, a white shirt and no tie, grey pants, unscuffed Timberlands. He needs a handler to tell him whom he is trying to appeal to in the press conferences, how they want to see him, regular joe or formal frank, rebel or respecter, Western down home or Eastern fancy. Christenfeld and Kupferberg want him to bring Sam, but Peter wants to listen and not have to worry about getting drool or worse on his chest, or about leaving the courtroom if Sam gets fussy. Christenfeld has no hands-on knowledge of child care, and Kupferberg has a wife, so when the two men speak of bringing the baby as one might speak of wearing the carnation in the lapel, Peter ignores them. On the other hand if Peter decides to bring Gramma Caroline in for the day and leave Sam home, Gramma Caroline won’t get to come to court, while if Sam and Gramma Caroline are in court, Gramma could share Sam duty on the spot.
Lucy opens the storm door. “Hello, Mr. Peter. Hello, Ella,” she says. Lucy’s trim efficient figure, her hennaed brown hair in a bun, her blue uniform, all please Peter as if she come to stay indefinitely and help him with every little thing. Valerie is a step behind her, blinking rapidly in the light but otherwise looking like anyone, properly dressed, not talking to herself. Sam pivots his head toward the intruders like a submarine rotating its periscope.
“Hi, Peter,” Valerie says, and Peter takes a quick second reading of his sis-in-law, finding her to be calm, alert, not trembling. Yet he’s wary, knowing that it is when he lets down his guard and gives Valerie the benefit of the doubt that she really does a doozy on him, saying the cruelest or strangest things, acting most dangerously. He remembers when he stopped watching her for a minute seven years ago, month-old Nita newly arrived and Peter not reconciled to just how much he and Jon were the parents and Valerie the threat. Valerie was holding Nita gently in her arms, and Peter knelt to wipe up Valerie’s spilled coffee. When he stood up Valerie was crushing Nita to her chest, inflicting a bear hug so tightly Nita could not cry out.
“Nice to see you up and about,” Peter tells Valerie now. She’s been out of the hospital for four days and has the hectic eyes Peter knows to be the flip-side of long despondency. She tosses her purse on a chair, kicks off her shoes, and falls to her knees too close to Sam. Peter is immediately beside her, following the rule that he will never be further from his children than Valerie is, not for an instant. Lucy declares what a grande, what a chico Sam has become in the five weeks since his arrival chez Peter and Jon, then heads for the kitchen and loads the breakfast dishes and bleaches stains out of the countertops. Ella follows her and Lucy talks to her while she changes her bowl water for fresh. If he ever decides to throw in his beliefs about domestic help, after severe head trauma, say, Peter will offer Lucy a yearly salary and she will bring him empanadas and coffee with condensed milk in his study while he writes. She will tend to the children, hush the children, drive and tutor the children, and they will all tiptoe around him. She will admire him quietly from across rooms, while he will occasionally tell her, Lucy, you’re fantastic, or, What did we ever do without you?, and this is all she will require of him. Valerie lifts Sam and places him, facing away from her, on her knees. He balances on his diaper, feeling the air with his fingers. Peter stands by.
“Lloyd says I can take Sam home soon.”
Here we go, Peter thinks. Dr. Lloyd Jones would no more say such a thing than give Valerie her own prescription pad.
“You don’t want me to get better. If I did, you wouldn’t have Nita or Sam.” Valerie’s voice is placid, even sweet, as if she were offering Peter the gentlest reprimand. “Jon will live with me. He’ll drive me to my appointments.”
“You can always count on Jon,” Peter says. “We’re not going to argue today, are we?” But Valerie has forgotten him. She lifts Sam high up and flips him around, then holds him on her knees, facing her. Sam gives her a big smile, one of his lopsided gum-revealers. The smile fades slowly when he doesn’t get anything back. Valerie looks at Sam as if she is trying to solve a riddle. Peter’s arms ache with the double work of wanting to reach out for his boy, to take him from Valerie, and of resisting this same impulse. Lucy comes in, wiping her hands on a dish towel.
“Now, Miss Valerie, we can’t stay such a long time today. You know you must not become tired.” Peter looks at her gratefully. Lucy raises her eyebrows in a tiny shrug. “Let Mr. Peter hold Sammy. Sammy’s a big boy now.” Lucy lifts Sam from Valerie and Peter stands to take him. Full diaper, he notes, surprised because it’s only been an hour. Sam looks at him proudly. Peter marches him upstairs and puts him on the changing table where he begins grunting to the invisible audience floating around in the air as his legs and bottom are exposed. He unlike Nita is a happy changeling, considering the moment a frolicsome time for frog-kicking and arm twirling. Nita always felt put upon by temperature change, however subtle. At first Peter had been reduced to changing her in the bathroom after running the shower to create warm steam. Valerie comes into the room and stands close beside him.
“You shouldn’t have a baby. You suck him. I’m going to arrest you. Lloyd says you gays are illegal.” Again the voice is gently teasing, more than accusatory. Peter finds himself flushed with anger and surprise, as if a sane adult were criticizing him in some perfectly ordinary way. His hands alone maintain their distance from the barrage, methodically cleaning Sam up, salving him, all the time keeping a cloth in place as a shield against a pee attack. He pushes the old diaper into the sealer, then bundling Sam up, clean and dry. “He’s so strong,” Valerie says now, Sam holding one of her fingers and giving her his most cunning look. “He’s a gift from God,” she adds, and Peter feels his face return to its habitual temperature. She doesn’t know when she’s speaking out loud. She is just trying out words, voices, to see what will happen.
“Why don’t you sit with him?” Peter asks Valerie, guiding her across to the rocker by the window and carefully settling Sam onto her shoulder. “Lucy?” he calls, not loudly. “Could you warm up one of the bottles on the door of the fridge and bring it up?”
“Coming,” Lucy calls back. Peter looks down upon the beauty of Sam and Valerie, she holding him with rapt attention against her left breast, he squirming, settling in, gazing up into her eyes. Valerie’s fine fair hair, Jon’s hair, only a few inches longer, hangs across her cheek. She has an innocent, unlined perfection that Peter remembers seeing in photos of Jon taken when he was sixteen. Valerie has the look of an ingenue, the kind of star who plays women ten years younger than herself. She never ventures outdoors. Her hair, her nails, her eyebrows are taken care of at Les Plis on Tuesday.
“Everything is fine?” Lucy asks, arriving silently in her rubber-soled nurse’s shoes, Ella’s jingling collar in her wake. Lucy looks closely at Peter, as if to surmise what has led him to trust Valerie so far. Valerie takes the bottle and gives it to Sam. Sam sucks, not ravenously but not frivolously, either. Valerie turns the nipple, adjusts Sam into a more comfortable position as well as anyone, any mother, could. Sam hugs his bottle with the whole of his rounded pudgy forearms—like Popeye’s, Peter thinks..
“Everything,” Peter says, “is fine.”
Your Cheetah Heart
“What about Felisha?” Eve asks, now that Max has kissed her. They are mid-zoo, having made a quick run past the tapirs and bongos (the antelope, not the little drums) before kissing in front of the peacocks. Now they stand on Olmstead Walk, elands, ibex, and ordinary white-tailed all hang on their words.
“I’ll have to tell her we’re not going to be together.”
“You mean, you’ll have to break up with her.”
“Yes.” Max is getting used to the idea that he’s going to break up with Felisha, who looks and is somewhat like a deer herself, slender, lovely, easily frightened, intrinsically good, and that when he does, he will break her heart. Most of all, he is getting used to the idea that he and Eve are going to go out, and not in any frivolous college-days type of way, but with the expressed intent of deciding whether to spend their lives together. Where is his easy charm now? Where is his never-at-a-loss-for-words now? He feels like an explorer. As if he has just given his word that he will liquidate his assets and join Eve in a journey to into unknown country to discover the source of the Potomac.
“Well, that’s settled then. Want a slushie?” Eve leads him down Valley Trail. They don’t get too far though before they’re pelvis to pelvis beneath a sycamore, its scarred bark as green as young woman’s heart, kissing again. They both have the most luscious lips either has ever met, and this lends the first deep moments a faintly Narcissus-at-the-brook quality. “Shall we try to not to be too sleazy?” Eve suggests when they start walking again. “There are two ways to go, as I see it. We can slink around and have our first experiences colored by intrigue and deception. This means of course that we’ll always wonder if we can trust each other, more than Felisha can trust you now or Gordon could trust me last week. Or,” Eve says, placing Max’s hand around the far side of her waist—just as she suspected, Max fits against her hip perfectly—“we can wait a few weeks, feel a lot more righteous, and not put you in the position of either lying to Felisha, or having to tell her that you’re already with me while you’re breaking up with her.”
Max tries to talk. He forms ideas. His larynx begins to shape itself. But nothing is coming out. Eve buys him a cherry slushie and gets grape for herself. The ice-to-syrup ratio is high. Max’s lips sting with the effort to get more than a trickle. Eve’s lips are purple and chilly when Max next encounters them.
“I know I make it sound like a foregone conclusion,” Eve continues, tossing her thick brown hair out of range of her slushie. “But it’s not, not for me. The problem with waiting, say, two weeks, which would be the shortest interval that would make any sense, since if you break up with Felisha this weekend you’ll still be talking to her often for, say, two weeks minimum, and if we’re together, that will come up in conversation and have the same effect as if we started up tonight.” Max nods. The numbness of his lips makes him feel like even less articulate. “But the problem is that if we do wait two weeks, we’re giving up that, what? What it is that we have right at the start? That pure impulse, that whatever it is we feel now. Your lips are just as tasty as I knew they would be, by the way.” She kisses him again with a grape tongue. “We can tell ourselves it will be there in two weeks, because what’s two weeks? The beginning’s still the beginning, right? But the feeling then will be entirely different than the feeling now. Maybe better, who knows, but different. Is that cowardice? Are we confining ourselves to some kind of publicly sanctioned behavior? Are we establishing that, whatever our love will be based on, it won’t be that pure, that clear thing we’ve got right now, that’s like a drug making us ache.”
The cheetah, fastest land animal, a long-legged spotted swift-moving African and formerly Asian cat (Acinonyx jubatus) about the size of a small leopard. Blunt non-retractile claws, often trained to run down game. Capable of only short bursts at seventy-five miles an hour, Max reads, to calm himself. Eve has just said love and ache. What’s more intoxicating is that she’s just as discursive as he is. It’s not only his cherry lips that have met their cold grape match here. It’s that the part of his head that takes things apart and puts them together all different ways faster than, well, not faster than Eve, his head has met its best friend. This is going to be a whole new ball game and where the hell is that cheetah anyway? Oh, he is walking serenely around that elm. They’re kissing again and Eve is leading Max around a curve in the path to a regular road for cars and then down into a concrete doorway, probably where the zoo keepers go to get into the cages, and she’s placing his hands on both of her breasts, and he groans, really quite involuntarily and loudly. What happened to the bra she was wearing in chambers an hour ago he has no idea. Eve bra-less at work would stop the legal machine in its tracks, which means she must have snuck it off in the bathroom before she put on that extra shirt she’s wearing like a jacket. She’s not kidding about that ache, judging by the way she’s well, writhing. She’s one of those women whose nipples mean a lot to them, and his rubbing her is causing her in turn to mount his thigh. Then she’s rubbing him through his Docker’s, which damn it is not Hoyle’s Rules, causing as it does Max to groan again, the sound so loud it actually echoes in the little bunker. Hope there aren’t any stray big cats in here, in which he and Eve are nearly coupling standing up, her shirt open, her blouse up, their angle forcing Max to forsake one nipple, his hand off to negotiate with the skirt Eve is wearing, pulling said skirt up over the ass that Eve has been talking to him with for nine-and-a-half months now, making him tremble like a man with a fever. He finds her skin, smooth Eve skin, above her panties, florally embossed from the momentary feel of them, before he pulls them down as far as his reach will take them. Eve’s bubbly laughter right in his ear, as he pulls just far enough back from her to get his palm onto her pubis and downward until he rises into the hottest, wettest place in the history of Max. She’s so wet, he registers, as she frees him from his undies and he has the day breeze on him. They go on for a while and then they stop before some fellow with raw meat in one hand a big steel flashlight in the other barks, What the hell do you think you’re doing in here? They smooth things over, pull things up, adjust things.
“Okay,” Eve says, back in the last hour of daylight, a light blue smoky ending, the sun a hard orange candy over the weeping willows, “so that kind of limits the non-sleazy approach, but doesn’t eliminate it. On the brighter side, it clears up once and for all what’s at stake in waiting. The loss of that hundred percent here-we-go business.” She has to stop talking for a minute because she’s panting. “Reptile Discovery?” she says. Max nods and off they go. The slushies in their sweating cups are still sitting in a niche in the wall of the wall of that cheetah access area. Too bad because because the ratio would be just about right now. Luckily it’s cool by the Tripeterus aspitoris, a pretty little thing, striped so brightly it looks like a wood bead necklace laid out flat on a log. “I never thought I’d be one of those women with the black child,” Eve says. “Everyone looking, wondering, Hers? Did she adopt? The mother has gotten used to the inquisitiveness or bored with it. She’s taken up with her kid, talking, looking, teaching, loving. Those rubberneckers in the airport or on the bus or wherever, are too small to notice. Not offensive, just small. I like the idea of being a twenty-first century person. Of having a community that’s very big because it crosses the old borders. I guess I want that more than I’m afraid of it. At least it will be new. At least it won’t be a country club.”
Max kisses Eve’s fingers, warmer, plumper, than other fingers. He finds himself thinking in terms of fertility. He relishes the easy conduit between thoughts and words that they share—or did before he lost the power of speech. “Glug,” Eve says. Yirilus coritabilis engulfs the front chasis of a rat, white and pink and clean, a house rat. They move on without immediately drawing a moral lesson from this spectacle. With its thick glass cages and echoing interior, Reptile Discover Center is lightly populated with boys and their parents. A golf-bag size Komodo Dragon is stretched across a zen-garden of white sand. “We couldn’t have married forty years ago. Sweet you and little bitty me. Nowhere except DC and California. They would have arrested us, worse if we had moved to any of those Southern states where the pecans grow and the Spanish moss gives a tragic air to untended backyards.”
“It was snake eat rat,” Max says. Eve laughs one hard burst.
“Now, we’re hardly a curiosity. If we were teenagers, nobody would look twice. Tell me,” Eve says, “are you going to get bored with me? Once the daring feeling wears off?” Max shakes his head. “I can be a whiner. I have at least three days of self-absorbed moodiness a month, during which I’m not always kind. You’re going to wish it was PMS so you could mark off your calendar and work late. My three days have no correlation with the weird low before my cramps, which are terrible. I’m difficult, is the point I’m trying to make. Great Apes?”
They head through bird-twittering twilight, under the orangutan overpass. Eve knows her way around like a FONZ volunteer. Max loves not having to make decisions.
“You’re no saint yourself, aren’t you? You’re a little old and sure of yourself. I doubt anyone’s ever really disagreed with you in a sustained way. Not anyone you couldn’t argue into the ground, charm into acquiescence, or walk away from. That’s going to happen with some regularity now. I wonder if you really want that.” Max nods. “Then there’s money. Who’s going to make it? I have a fair amount of it already. How much do you have?” Max opens his mouth, but she contines. “What if I do the Supremes and you do a firm? How you going to feel about winning bread while I seek glory” After the cool serenity of Reptile Discovery, Great Apes is a real zoo. They hoot and swing around. Strong odors predominate. “Say it goes the other way? Say I’m at Hogan and Hartson and you get the Courtship? Will I flip? Will you lord it over me? How about when I take you out to dinner all the time, cause I have cash flow?” Orangutans’ shag-carpeted bellies and monks tonsures give their wide blinking eyes an air of innocence. “Gibbons?” Max nods and they’re outside again. White-handed Gibbons are slender, a couple feet tall, with curved upper backs as if from too much reading. Tail-less lesser apes, the Gibbons swing through their enclosure with an casual economy bordering on negligence. “What do you think?” Eve asks. Max holds her hands her right hands between his two, which he holds before him, as if in prayer.
“I love you. I want to be with you,” Max says. “I’ve loved you since the day I met you.”
“Appellees argue,” Laura Holmes argues, “that the Court has already recognized a fundamental right to marry. But the federal constitutional right to marry is a due-process claim which, affirmed in Washington v. Glucksberg, is based on a history and tradition test. That test cannot credibly be used to legalize same-sex marriage.” Keith has the uneasy I-told-you-so feeling that comes of having correctly laid out the war plan appellant counsel will follow. He’s pleased to have predicted the IRS-DC strategy and to have given Judge Gibbons counter-arguments. He wants the case to be well argued on both sides and for Judge Gibbons to need him more than the other clerks. They sit together at a table along the left wall of the courtroom, their computers and legal pads in front of them. On the raised dais are the Judge Victor Semmes, Judge Gibbons, and Judge Daniel Whitney, Gibbons in the middle. Along the right wall, looking forward, sit Whitney and Semmes’ clerks. IRS-DC counsel has forty minutes and past the midpoint, Neil Walsh having used up the first twenty.
“The Court’s most detailed discussion to date of the right to marry is found in Zablocki v. Redhail. The Zablocki decision, which links marriage to legally permissible sexual relations, procreation and child rearing, again highlights the heterosexual nature of the right to marry.” Holmes, tall and lean, is more effective than Walsh. She’s done her work and knows how to modulate. Holmes is taking IRS off the hot seat, and will then argue that DC had to reject Aldrich and Day’s married status. Over the last two months Keith dissected Walsh and Holmes’ brief, carefully studied amicus curiaes from professors of legislation and statutory interpretation, The National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, the Christian Legal Society, The National Legal Foundation, and the Roman Catholic Diocese. But it has been a while since Keith has heard the anti- position articulated well and out-loud. He is struck by what easy listening the conservative position is, Holmes’ unemotional, interpreting old decisions straight-forwardly. She looks past maverick state courts and methodically points out that there is no indication that the Supreme Court ever intended recognition of same-sex marriage. Downplays the possibilty of heightened scrutiny, and whether the state has an interest in restricting marriage to different-sex couples. Goes instead with the argument: (1) that the IRS was just doing its job; (2) it’s well-established for the IRS the state of residency is the relevant one for marriage status; (3) Aldrich and Day aren’t married in DC, because; (4) Congress has so legislated in its capacity as governor, and; (5) DC has the power to reject the effect of laws, including marriage laws, from other states which the forum state finds offensive, which is true not only because state governments traditionally have such power but also because; (6) the Defense of Marriage Act declares that no state shall be obliged to recognize marriages that are not the union of one man and one woman. Keith calls this the, Which part of NO don’t you understand? strategy.
“I don’t think I’m Harvey anymore,” Max whispers in Keith’s ear. Or rather, anyone else would whisper, Max speaks quietly. Not now, Keith mouths. Max shrugs, settles back. Keith can’t concentrate. He knows what Holmes is going to say, but has only a vague idea what Max might. Who are you now? Keith writes on his pad. Max leans over again. “Recognize this shirt?” he says. Cream colored, button-down lapels, a little crumpled. “Same as yesterday.” Of course, Keith thinks. Max has that hectic, loose-jointed look of a man who has just spent a night fucking instead of sleeping. Of course they did it now. End of the year, excitement of the biggest argument, June beach weather, sex weather. But what about Felisha and Gordon? Before Keith, minister’s son, can stop himself, he writes in his blocky hand, Former attachments?
Max scribbles beneath this. Broke/are breaking up. Then Patty is talking and everyone is listening. “The argument could be made that the District of Columbia has no business selecting one group of marriage licenses to void. Does the Full Faith and Credit Clause prohibit states from selectively discriminating in choice of law based on judgments about the quality of other states’ policies?”
“No,” Ms. Holmes says, not missing a beat.
“Why not?” Patty asks, with a faint twinkle in her green eyes. Holmes looks up from her papers, squares her shoulders.
“The state may select between conflicting laws using a better law analysis. They may also apply interest analysis, Second Restatement, or comparative impairment analysis.” The speed of Holmes’ response is what counts here. She’s still in the driver’s seat.
“Why doesn’t the place of celebration rule that determines the status of Mr. Aldrich and Mr. Day?” Patty rises in her chair as she extends her palms and turns her head, in what Keith calls her Nefertidi pose. “If the District can void this marriage, why not the licenses of couples who marry after short acquaintance in other states? Couples who return to the bride’s or groom’s home state to marry with no intention of establishing residency?”
“There have always been exceptions to place-of-celebration,” Holmes says.
“Yes, but these were narrowly-construed to block recognition of under-age spouses, of bigamous and incestuous marriages.” Patty looks to Semmes, who is frowning at his own folded hands, and to Whitney, who looks as if he is daydreaming, eyes wide, focused above the public. No one ever really knows what’s going on in Whitney’s head. He’s got to make the majority decision, Semmes being a lost cause. Patty has told her clerks she’ll be talking to Whitney, even though he won’t look like he’s listening. Semmes is sure to write a dissent, unless Whitney decides that same-sex marriage is just going too far, and Semmes ends up writing the majority.
“It is in keeping with this narrow construction of the public policy doctrine that the District of Columbia does not recognize the marriage of Mr. Aldrich and Mr. Day,” Holmes says calmly.
“Despite the District Council having voted to accept New Mexico’s licenses?” Patty asks, crossing her arms now and leaning forward in what Keith calls her, Oh, really? pose. She knows when and how to turn her fellow judges. Keith has been trying to figure out all year how she does it. He would like nothing more than to become a judge like her.
“Council Resolutions are not law,” Holmes says simply.
“This is true,” Whitney suddenly offers in his sonorous baritone, heard for the first time this morning. “Council Resolutions are rather like the declarations of colonists,” he continues, “acting under the law of the mother country. But what,” Whitney asks, his big voice filling the courtroom, as if he were speaking from the pulpit, “what are Resolutions of the elected representatives of the District, if not expressions of deeply held public belief?”
“Yes, your honor,” Holmes says. She has that rare talent of knowing when to concede and move on. Keith reaches over and makes a mark on the score pad Max keeps, with columns for each judge and lawyer, under GIBBONS. Then he writes, on his own pad, How was it? My God, he thinks. I’m getting as bad as Max.
“As your sister argued,” the Honorable Patricia Gibbons says, giving Eric Kupferberg her irresistible, we-all-know-better-than-that smile, “no foreign state shall impose law on the forum state which runs counter to moral belief and established public policy.” Peter finds much of court protocol endearing, such as the way the judges refer to the middle-aged lawyers as brothers and sisters. As if the opposing positions are in regard to a pinching fight under the dinner table, and the decision will be about which child started it.
“Yes,” Eric says, brushing sweat from his lip, “but—“
“But what you’re saying,” Patricia cuts in. Equally odd and delightful is the way the judges constantly interrupts the lawyers, who clearly aren’t used to it. “Is that DC under Congressional oversight may have the right to choose between its own policy and that of another state, but it may not have the power to arbitrarily disregard law of another state.”
“Exactly,” Kupferberg tries again. “Here—”
“You argue that the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage in DC does not reflect public belief. Therefore it must be a choice-of-law based on undemonstrated state interest.”
“Which runs counter,” Kupferberg says, unable to contain the quote a moment longer, “to what Justice Black called ‘the strong unifying principle embodied in the Full Faith and Credit Clause looking toward maximum enforcement in each state of the obligations or rights created or recognized by the statutes of sisters states.’”
“I’m glad that’s where you were going,” Patty says, her smile broadening as she leans back in her high, comfortable chair, inviting her two fellow judges, Semmes, who Jon says is no friend to gay folks, and Whitney, the wild card, inviting the clerks on both sides below, and then all two-hundred or so hoi polloi in the courtroom, to share her relief. “I thought for a minute you were going to ask for DC statehood right now.” Peter and Jon laugh with the rest. Gibbons keeps everyone focused, unlocks deadlocks, shuts down mini-filibusters. She reminds Peter of, well, himself. Kupferberg, earnest, handsome and compact, Superman in a blazer, starts talking about the difference between heightened scrutiny and just looking really hard at something—at least as far as Peter can tell that’s what his lawyer is getting at. Jon has explained to Peter four or five times why gays aren’t entitled to heightened scrutiny. They’re not historically disadvantaged enough, they vote too much, they can’t be picked out in a crowd, some combination of bullshit. In this case the status of ho-mo-sexuals (Eric gives even weight to the o’s, his voice quavering, whether with nerves or conviction is anybody’s guess) doesn’t merit judicial scrutiny, but it certainly warrants looking after. Eric has been harping on three main points: (1) that Peter and Jon’s marriage should be recognized in DC since DC has a long tradition of reciprocal recognition, (and without all this litigation, Peter wants to jump up and add. Who ever heard of bringing your totally legit marriage license down to city hall, with the lines they have there, and saying, Hi, we got married in New Mexico. But the thing is, me and my husband are ho-mo-sexuals. Is this thing still good, or should we just burn it?); (2) that City Council voted Resolution 352 to recognize same-sex marriage licenses issued in other states (this one has been overharped, as far as Peter as concerned, but it seems to be a critical piece of their case, so it keeps getting trotted out, like the one fine china platter, a Shropshirewitherspoon or some such, that his mother would use, at least once, whenever the Rogers or the Lipscombs, or any of the other richer neighbors, came over for dinner); and (3) the big one, that DC, by granting him and Jon guardianship over Nita (and Sam, soon enough, but that’s not yet relevant. Still, bringing Potato along was calculated to raise the point in the judges’ mind) DC already recognized the integrity of the Aldrich-Day family, so the state (they keep referring to the state, which Peter finds most irritating, since DC is about much of a state as Cuba) has a strong interest in recognizing the men’s marriage on Nita’s behalf. Eric is hitting his stride, tilting his head back and speaking with a sort of nineteenth-century Here, here, gentleman bravado.
“In Meyer v. Nebraska,” Eric says, “the Court recognized that the right of individuals to establish a home and bring up children is ‘essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.’ Implicit in the idea of establishing a home is the right to marry. It is through marriage that adults declare to their community and to the state that they are in a committed and stable relationship, and that they are ready to assume the responsibility of raising children.” The bench, a wide dais, dark wood below, black on top, is up a couple of steps, and until the judges filed in after that little speech by the bailiff, beginning with Stand please and continuing O yay! O yay! O yay! The court is now called to order!, the bailiff being one of the most doleful looking men Peter has ever seen, with Basset hounds eyes, cheeks, really everything but ears—once the judges popped up on the dais, all three at once from their hidden steps like bathing suit girls in a cheap magic show—until then the bench looked like a barricade to hold back the folks if things turned ugly. With Whitney on her left and Semmes on her right, Semmes looks just a tiny bit like a mid-reign Elizabeth flanked by Raleigh and Buckingham. On the other hand, as soon as three settled into their high-backed ultra-modern swivel chairs, all three judges sank a shade too low behind the dais. Peter half expects pleasant, middle-aged Gibbons, with her swept-back graying brown hair, her narrow shoulders, and constantly moving, slender hands, wild-eyed Whitney stage right, with his beak and quizzical avian expression, and laconic, steely-eyed Semmes, his mouth faintly pursed, his back rigid—Peter keeps expecting the three to drop to their knees out of sight behind the bench and raise puppet versions of themselves.
“The Court has indicated its appreciation of the interests implicated in relationships which have many of the features of parent-child relationships, even if neither biology nor adoption is implicated,” Eric informs in his high-minded style. “In Smith v. Organization of Foster Families for Equality and Reform, the Court implied that ‘individuals may acquire a liberty interest against arbitrary government interference in the family-like associations into which they have freely entered, even in the absence of biological connection of state-law recognition of the relationship.’”
Family-like association? Peter thinks. It’s bad enough being appellees, which always comes out sounding like a, p-lease, as in, Could you a p-lease keep it down? We’re trying to watch a movie here. The question of just what the hell Nita is doing with the two ho-mo-sexuals is always handled gently in the courtroom. How many times has Peter just wanted to stand up and say, If it please the court, actually he’d be content just to say, If it please the court, just for the beauty of the phrase, but then he’d go on and say, No reason to be all mysterious about why we’ve got Jon’s sister’s kid or rather kids now. Thing is, there are no fathers around and Mom’s not right in the head. In fact, she’s wicked weird. But instead there are all these veiled explanations in court and in the media about incapacity and disability. Who are we trying to protect? Peter is often tempted to ask. Why not just tell the story? Jon’s explanation is that social workers would jump all over Lizzie and take away her guardianship, which she legally still holds, on the theory that she might just get completely better one day next week and it would be inconvenient if her children couldn’t just come home and start taking the school bus from there. The unofficial reason is that Grampa Bailey, and Peter suspects Jon himself—Grampa Bailey doesn’t want anyone to know anything is “wrong” in the family. He puts enormous energy in misguided public relations. For some reason, Jon stand up to the old coward and say, Look, your daughter’s clinically whatever-she-is. This is not something to hide. “The supreme courts of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York have allowed both members of same-sex couples to be legal parents. In each case, the individuals had a long committed relationship with their partners and allowing the adoption was clearly in the best interest of the child. The Vermont court made clear that the ‘paramount concern should be with the effect of our laws on the reality of children’s lives.’” The reality of Nita’s life is that she’s got about ten more minutes of sitting and reading Harriet the Spy before she’s going to start squirming like a yellow octopus in her jumper that is as wide as it is long, with big buttons. The reality of Sam’s life is that he still thinks he’s in the Volvo, which is where he fell asleep, and that when he wakes up starving in about five minutes, fifteen max, and notices that he’s not in the Volvo, is drooling on the drool cloth on Peter’s shoulder, and is soaked in pee, he’s going to make a few exploratory grunts and then begin to complain to the court about the absence of rubber nibble, dry diaper, and constant motion, in a high, airy wahwahwahwah, until the state recognizes its compelling interest to supply these essentials. Peter, as the state’s representative, is ready, the diaper day pack, the bottle bag, and his own legs, on alert. It was fun seeing the reporters whispering about His Gruntness when Jon brought him in, before the Bassett Hound announced the judges’ entrance. But he won’t talk about Sam at the press conference that’s less than an hour off. He will talk about the basic stagecraft of the courtroom. You don’t have to be Peter Brooks, Peter will inform the tv crews, to notice that the bench is head-on to the public and that the lawyers are arguing with their butts in our faces. Put the bench on an angle and let the lawyers argue in three-quarters profile, and you could eliminate this in-seam view of legal procedings.
“If the Court considers the bases for the State’s classifications, sex and sexual orientation, and the right that is implicated, the right to marry, each in isolation, the Court might overlook the important fact that in this case both the right in question, and the bases for the state’s classifications, are constitutionally significant.” This may be true, but it’s a little complicated for Peter to get his head around. And he hates when people say basees instead of just basis.
“Hold on a second,” Semmes pipes up. Another convention of court that tickles Peter is the informality of the judges juxtaposed with the legal language the lawyers try to maintain. The more power you have, the more you can speak regular, is the system. “You’re saying that the men are in a group that doesn’t get scrutiny, and the right in question isn’t one that warrants scrutiny, but somehow when you when you put the two together, that warrants scrutiny? I don’t understand how that works.” Court arguments are a dialogue in a medieval play between Common Sense and Dependent Clause. Eric keeps at it.
“Even though the Court concludes that classifications drawn on the basis of gender or sexual orientation do not, in and of themselves, call for heightened scrutiny, there is no doubt that such distinctions create the types of classifications about which courts are particularly concerned.”
“So we add up bits of quasi-suspect until we’ve got a suspect class. Is that the idea?” Semmes interrupts. “If this quasi-suspect class doesn’t have what it wants, we engage in overt policy making.” Eric leans over his podium for a moment, as if praying for the strength not to shout, Shut up, you bigoted moron!
“I would simply ask,” Eric says instead, “that the State demonstrate that discrimination against Appellants serves a governmental interest narrowly tailored to serve a valid objective.” The thing Peter loves best of all about the appeals court are the portraits on the paneled walls, some of judges dead a hundred years ago, others painted last year. Portraiture in general, especially back when painters, and for that matter poets and composers, shacked up in the courts of kings or at the estates of noble people to do their work, like artists in residence crossed with house pets, strikes him as poignantly weird. Most of the portraits are in the anteroom, in which the spill-over crowd is watching today’s big event on a tv screen like fight fans in an arena yelling at closed-circuit coverage of a fight. Only a few frames hang in the courtroom itself. The older the portrait, as a rule, the smaller the judge’s head, the darker the canvas, and the more frightening the subject’s expression. There is for instance thirty feet off to Peter’s left the 1911 portrait of Judge Anton Russell Darby, gavel raised, eyebrows twirly, about seventy-percent life-size and meaner than a junkyard dog. Post-WWII portraitists are clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place, wanting to make a statement about their own originality, but knowing the courthouse isn’t the Paris Exposition. A few radicals dared to paint judges smiling on larger-than-scale faces, and to impressionistically fudge the details of the judges’ robes and shirt-and-tie-tops. The new pallet admits of pastels. Peter, a classicist at heart, can’t help wondering if these new painters could handle cloth and background as competently as the old. Ah, the life of an artist, darling of society one day, taking the big commissions, mocking the rich and powerful so subtly that only fellow artists get the joke, then falling from grace, back to the garret to measure the days with instant coffee spoons and phone calls.
“As one California Supreme Court Justice declared in 1948, when that court stood up to majority sentiment and a shameful historical legacy, ‘We must not legislate to the detriment of a class, a minority who are unable to protect themselves, when such legislation has no valid purpose. Nor may legislative power be a guise to cloak prejudice and intolerance.’ Thank you,” Eric says, and for the first time in twenty minutes, the public gets to see more than his butt and the back of his head. He turns out to have a side-part in his wavy caramel hair, a tiny tie knot, and an awesome chin dimple. He exchanges places with Tim Christenfeld, who stands and treads water for a while without actually advancing toward the lectern, his tweedy jacket, complete with leather elbows, wandering around on him, his too-light-brown shoes shuffling, his fuzzy white boy afro ungoverned, his Harpo smile and wide eyes making him look like a man you’d like to get to know. Tim is one of those souls who trail cosmic dust, a happy asteroid. He shines especially brightly after Walsh and Holmes. Walsh was boring and stiff and Holmes was smart and quick, but lacked a certain élan. Jon has tried to explain to Peter that law is a chess game, that it’s about logic, and that just because one side is passionate, the other may have the infrastructure of reasoning that the judges need to base their decision on. But Peter can’t imagine how Walsh and Holmes, with their insistence that the old way is the good way, can defeat Eric and Tim. In the year since the victory in the district court Peter has gotten cocky, and Jon has tried many times to prepare him for a reversal. But, as in many things, Peter lets Jon handle the pessimism and worry, and allows himself to feel that all is for the best in this the best of all possible legal systems.
“We have before us a great opportunity,” Tim begins now, so casually that no one expects him to pull the big guns, the love, family, and freedom stuff. “Two men, Jon Aldrich and Peter Day, love each other, and have pledged to spend their lives taking care of each other, and of the children who have been placed in their care. Jon and Peter were joined in marriage in Peter’s home state of New Mexico. The minister of the church where Peter attended Sunday school as a child presided over the ceremony. The state gladly and without reservations issued their native son and his groom a license of marriage.” Native son? Peter and Jon spent the morning of their wedding day in their room at Rio Rancho, where all the out-of-towners were staying (his mother made noises about them staying at the tiny house with her and his father, but Peter declined). They spent an hour on the phone, handling last minute ceremony and catering contingencies, in case the thunder clouds that materialized, as they had every day for a week, meant business. They got Anita and themselves dressed while the clouds rolled north and away, and suddenly it was time and they were under that blue desert sky, reciting the vows they had written together, all their best friends and their families listening to them, for once. Looking into Jon’s gray eyes, Peter remembers seeing Jon so clearly, as if the two of them had just completed a hike up Mt. Taylor and were pausing to make out, instead of standing beside the arroyo, the Fairy Dusters on the bank closed like pink fans against the heat of the day, with everybody they knew in attendance. He realized in that moment that he was marrying Jon. That now no one could ever undo what they were becoming, each minute. The words they had written over a couple months of looking through anthologies and thinking about what marriage really did mean them stopped being words only and spilled over into the sacred. Kissing Jon, not too deeply, not too quickly, then walking hand in hand with him down the aisle of white caterer’s chairs toward the adobe ranch past all those weeping, loving faces, Peter felt a new power radiate through him. Yes, he was the native son. He had brought his Jon, his Eastern man, home, and had married him under that sky.
“Two years ago, Jon and Peter asked the community in which they reside, the District of Columbia, to which they contribute taxes and in which they participate fully in civic life, to honor their pledge to one another, simply by recognizing their marriage.” Peter shivers suddenly. For two years he has assumed his new rights and moved quietly through the streets. He assumes them again now. He has that scalp-massage feeling, that awareness of his earlobes, that comes from all the people in the courtroom looking on him and Jon, taking account of them. He finds Jon’s hand with his free one, the widest, softest hand, like chamois. “The harm they have suffered is real. Filing taxes as unmarried individuals cost them six-thousand-four-hundred dollars this year,” Tim says, and bless him if he doesn’t actually turn from the judges part way to look at the rest of the folks in the room. As if in response, Sam snuffles a shallow-REM warning. Don’t wake up now, Peter prays. “How many other couples with marriage licenses from sister states of the union would accept that the District of Columbia has suddenly decided not to recognize their marriages? Their most heartfelt personal obligation? That their tax returns have been rejected, that penalties will begin to accrue immediately, bad as that is, is just money.” Tim turns back to the judges, raises his hands in a beseeching gesture. “Much more is at stake here. When the IRS informed Peter and Jon that they were not, in the eyes of the District and federal governments, married, this meant that a gulf had opened between who they believed themselves to be, and whom the state recognized them to be. It meant too that the children they are raising, little Anita over whom they have been awarded guardianship, and little Sam, over whom they are now in the process of seeking guardianship, would not have two people joined in holy matrimony to raise them. The financial and legal safety nets that marriage of the guardians provides for children were suddenly washed away, but that’s not the worst of it.” Oh, no, Peter thinks. Buckle your seat belts. But of course it doesn’t matter that Tim speaks in riddles of mixed metaphor. What matters is Tim’s gentleness, his stalwart hair, his earnestness. That’s why he earns the tiny bucks. “The worst thing was the sudden displacement out of the community in the bosom of which Jon and Peter, and the two children they will raise, count themselves. Should something happen to one of the men, would the other be able in turn could provide for Anita and Sam? Frightening of the prospect of the loss of that certainty was, that is only about money. Worse, the bulwark of the family, which Jon and Peter had build brick by brick, was suddenly threatened by the very state that has a strong interest, all agree, in shoring up families for children.” The reporters scribble away, the sounds of their pens like the rustle of leaves when the wind blows. Nita turns in her seat to watch Deb Rosenberg, from Newsweek, whom Nita got to know at the District Court trial, at work. Deb is a redhead with miss-nothing blue eyes and silk blouses. She and Nita play tic-tac-toe when they get the chance, and Deb makes sure the photographer gets Nita in all Jon and Peter’s pictures.
Tim goes on, putting forward as diplomatically as possible the notion that it is up to the federal court to take on Congress over the Defense of Marriage Act, pointing out that this case is only the first of hundreds that will follow as the thirty-thousand same-sex couples married in New Mexico grow old, prosper, and litigate. Midway down the home stretch Sam wakes up, looks about with an air of mild curiosity punctuated by gryyp, ngumm, and gppt, and then, feeling hungry and wet, begins to argue his own case. Peter asks Nita, deep in Harriet, to come with him, and skooches. By the time he and Sam have finished at the changing station, the courtroom is emptying. Peter heads down with the first elevator full and set up camp on the courthouse steps, Sam, beneath his daffodil embroidered sun hat, working on his bottle while making eyes at metropolitan police Sergeant Janet Bowdan. The crowd emerges, blinking like moviegoers, sunshine ricocheting off white granite. Jon, Eric, Tim, reporters and tv people, find Peter and start setting up. Nita and Caroline head for the grass. “How you managing, Peter?” Jon asks. The use of Peter is indicative of high anxiety. Jon never calls Peter Peter unless they’re arguing, Peter being rude and provocative, Jon is retaliating by becoming Mr. Solicitous. Now Jon looks under seige, his right eyelid is in spasm on a tiny scale that only Peter would notice, his mouth drawn into a funny duck face.
“I could use a martini,” Peter says,. “You?”
“Not so good,” Jon says.
“How was the final salvo?”
“Strong. Held Semmes off. I’m starting to think we could win. On the way out everybody was giving me that admiring look, like I had marched in front of police dogs instead of just giving up a few thousand hours of biking time to write email and talk on the phone.”
“Could you handle that?” Peter asks, smiling.
“The whole enchilada. You and me married everywhere forever.”
“Sure,” Jon says. “But what if they reverse? Or affirm but then we lose?”
“That would totally bum our high,” Peter tells him. “But that’s now what I’m asking you.” Down on the Mall, Nita is practicing cartwheels. Caroline watches each attempt, arms folded, then reports back to Nita on how straight her legs are at the top.
“Let’s get started,” Eric says. There is a great jockeying for position between print people and tv people.
“You don’t think we’ll lose,” Jon quietly says to Peter in their last un-public moments. “You think cause you win every time with me, you can have your way with these judges, all of them.” Jon lifts his chin toward the courthouse, then east toward the Supreme Court. Peter hoists Sam higher on his chest, and thinks about it.
“We are married,” Peter says. “That is what this is about.”
The men drop off Nita and Sam at Caroline and Bailey’s and are making this date night up as they go. They stop in for a minute at Kramerbooks, planning to go out to dinner, maybe to Nora’s. But no sooner do they walk into the store than Peter finds himself looking at a store display for the new hardback by his cherished rival. He immediately buys a copy (thirty bucks!) and staggers upstairs to the café, still in shock, to read it. He half hopes the book will be as good as the man is capable of, so that his own new one, several months from a first draft, will have a worthy target, or mountain, to hit, to climb, or otherwise surpass. The other half of his hope is that the book will suck eggs, so that he won’t have to worry about coming up short after taking so long. (Part of his shock is just that the cherished rival’s book is already out, a scant two years after the last one). Thing is, Peter likes this guy’s writing, always has, and ten pages in, he’s already beginning to forget that this is war. Fifteen pages and Peter’s enjoying himself and starting to marvel a little bit at how the damn thing is put together. Of course the cherished rival doesn’t have a new baby or an old trial to worry about. Peter knows the man via several friends and acquaintances without actually knowing him, but knows enough to know that the guy just sits around and writes all day, being like Peter himself in many ways, gay, not a teacher, thirty-eight, critically noticed, and unlike Peter in other ways, not married, no kids, West Coast, not monogamous, balding. Truth is he and Peter probably read each other more closely than anyone else reads either of them. They are pen pals, three thousand miles apart, exchanging long letters every few years, or in his case, two!
Peter reads, orders a frisee salad with bacon without even thinking of consulting Jon re change-of-plans, has coffee, then switches to decaf and has a second, then a third cup with cream, and half a basket of focaccio, and now dinner doesn’t really matter. Only dessert matters. Around the second cup, and halfway through the salad, Jon came up to the balcony with the new Elmore Leonard and a nineteenth-century family law book by a former student, Jon skimming for references to his own articles and book, making small satisfaction noises when he comes to one. Jon registers the food situation, orders soup and chicken satay. For a while, the men read in silence.
“How’s the book? Oh,” Jon says, when Peter lifts it and Jon sees the cherished rival (one of those pretentious first-initial Middle- Name Last-Names) on the dust-jacket, which sports an erotic but tasteful reproduction of a painting. The kind of cover, Jon registers apprehensively, that sells books.
“Good. Don’t want to talk about it.”
“Right,” Jon says, thinking, Aw oh, must be really good, and wondering if that’s good. He knows Peter and I. Wright Fine (not real name) have an intense thing, and that if one of them ever turns out a real dud, the other will be the one to cry hardest. Jon believes in Peter’s writing but wonders what will happen if Peter ever loses the touch, anyone can lose the touch, and Jack Robinson dumps him. Peter tells Jon stories about such things happening all the time, middle-age, mid-list, middle-class authors who for two decades tell themselves they have a rapport, maybe not easy, maybe not without conflict, but an understanding with an editor, only to find themselves given a pink slip in lieu of an advance one day, and then spending a decade wandering from agent to agent with their tattered manuscripts in shopping bags, shoe soles tied to their feet with string, ancient yellowed favorable reviews of their first books tucked into their coats for warmth. Publishing fiction is for Peter what philandering is for other men his age, or biking for Jon himself. Writing books that get read is that activity that reassures Peter he has a spot all his own on the planet, a thing that only he can do his way. Jon knows he’s not a competitive rider anymore, though he’s solid. What would happen if he couldn’t ever ride again? Substitute publish for ride, and that’s what he wonders about for Peter. But just because Fine’s book is fine doesn’t mean there’s less room for Day’s, which should be finished any day now. Does it? One thing’s pretty clear. Jon has about as much chance of getting laid tonight as of seeing a movie.
“Shall we, um, just eat here?”
“I’m sorry,” Peter says. “Do you mind?”
“No. I’m just surprised.”
“Yeah, I really wanted to have a—“
“—dinner with you. Quietly. With a martini. I can’t believe I forwent the martini.”
“Fine messes with you where you live.”
“We could have dessert here and then go to the circle. Read. Maybe get high.”
“God, that would be youthful.”
“How time flies when you’re having—“
“Kids,” Jon says. Peter reaches for his hand.
“I really am sorry. That was really rude of me to eat.”
“That good, huh?” Jon’s eyes flicker toward Fine.
“Bitch. Yours will be even better.”
“I better go home and write it.”
“That would be relaxing and fun. For me, especially.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Peter says, pulling Cheap Effects (not real title) toward him with his free hand and feeling, with feverish fingers, for his place mark. “Let’s have dessert. We’ll go read. We’ll score a couple joints, get fucked up. Then we’ll go home and I’ll do,” Peter looks straight into Jon’s eyes, “whatever you want.”
“Hm,” Jon says.
The fountain is blue. Not the bright aqua of a spot-lit fountain, but a cool, jazzy, natural night blue at ten-something, late June, the sky upside down in the water, the clouds pouring across the lip of the saucer bowl, obscuring SAMUAL FRANCIS DU PONT REAR ADMIRAL. Jon and Peter read on one of the comfy benches, summer camp green and cool to the touch of the forearm, the fingertips, while they listen to the water and the guitar and the clear young woman’s voice singing about love and politics on the north side. From the same area comes a dilution of the sweet smoke they inhaled, kneeling for protection among the teens and twenty-somethings, praying to the chords. Now time is stately and Jon knows he’s really on a date. Sometimes date night is more like errand night, he and Peter talking about an endless sequence of tasks, problems, decisions. But this is a date, Peter’s thigh against his, Jon’s hand on the back of Peter’s neck, Elmore Leonard supplying what will be a movie and already reads with that crisp, high-gloss Hollywood speed. Being high, being outdoors, being sure to get lucky, and not thinking about the trial or which painters to hire and what colors to have them do the house, and whether or not to have them do excessively natty work on the wainscot, not thinking about the Supreme Court, or power washing the brownstone this year, not thinking about how long it will take D.C. Circuit to issue its decision (a month to six weeks) and what that decision will be, not thinking about mowing the tiny back lawn, which takes no time but must be done again, or trying to extract the grass from the flower beds and whether to cover them in cocoa shell mulch—not thinking about any of that, or at least not talking about it, makes this a date. In the distance skateboarders dance off the angled concrete by the metro entrance, looping forward, jumping suddenly up onto the low concrete wall, their baggy shirts ballooning. Overhead pale green leaves of sycamores elms oaks chestnuts and one birch catch the streetlight and make a semi-tropical canopy of peaceful consistency. Locusts drone a light accompaniment to the guitar, this being not a thirteenth or seventeenth or other significant year, the hum creeping into the singer’s rests. Peter has a similar throb in his loins, a first-order sexual heightening, fore-foreplay, that gives the short soft hairs on the back of Jon’s neck (he leaning to read in the sodium light), the heat of Jon’s thigh, the curve of Jon’s lips, that spectral, ideal quality, as if tonight were their first or last. Peter laughs as he reads and turns to Jon with a What can I say? It’s funny, expression on his face and so Jon knows it won’t be one of those dark nights of the author’s soul when Peter becomes depressed and discouraged, rises at two to work, but will instead be one of those Get ready, cause here I come nights of the author’s soul, when Peter reads happily into the night, makes love, and then springs up earlier than usual and writes through the day. Jon will be the one to fetch Nita and Sam. Jon will improvise their picnic, load Sam and all his gear in the car, the bike trailer and both bikes onto the rack using many bungy cords, and to Silver Spring they will go. But that is tomorrow. Tonight is tonight.
They arrive home after midnight. Jon walks and feeds Ella, and brushes her for a few minutes, and when he’s done Peter is still sitting where he landed, in the front room beside Sam’s day crib, reading. Jon takes his hand and leads him upstairs, past Nita’s foldable pack shovel, her helmet, her emergency food rations (saltines, fruit paper, granola bars, juice cartons) on the landing. They kiss and fumble with belts, shirts, outside the bedroom door, relishing the run of the house and making a stab at spontaneity. Then they go and undress, wash up. Peter, stoned as he is, meticulously flosses. They lie in bed in the pewter moonlight through the skylight.
“Happy anniversary,” Peter whispers, because they met on a full moon, now here’s another one. For their first year together they kept count. Happy eleventh was the last one before they missed a couple and reverted to simply, Happy anniversary. Jon is a slow starter. He likes to work on Peter for a while, giving his own turbines a chance to slowly warm up. He knows Peter is still thinking about Fine by the slight lag time in between his ministrations and Peter’s groans, but that’s fine. He takes his husband to the edge once, twice, then thinks he might not be able to stop a full ascension, even knowing the heliography of the man’s grimaces, twitches, groans and eyelash flutters as he does. Peter reciprocates for a while and then pulls Jon onto him. Jon fucks him, face-to-face because that seems more nice, but then in silent agreement pausing, rolling Peter over, pulling him up and back, and finding him again, deeper. The man’s ass is so beautiful, his waist, his back, his shoulders. Jon tries to wait, to linger in the poetry of the moonlight, but a week is a long time and soon he is accelerating like a eighteen-wheeler on a long downgrade, pumping his newly inspected brakes and hoping they won’t overheat, looking for an emergency pull-off, one of those gravel stretches carved out of the mountainside, seeing one at last but passing it at a whistling seventy-five, managing to reach around and find the emergency brake just in case, and while he’s there to jack Peter off with a dozen long wet urgent strokes, matched by a credible, Now. Now, sweetheart, before reaching the plains and rolling steadily home.