Fiction Literature Ron Schafrick

Two Friends

Ron Schafrick

 

It’s June again, which means another Pride, only this year it’s raining, and I’m glad.

I’m with my friend Glace and we’re sitting in a restaurant on Church Street. It’s Saturday night, and ordinarily on Pride weekend you can forget about finding an eatery with a free table, that is unless you’re willing on that most hallowed of weekends in the queer community to wait an hour or so in the gruelling UV of the sun.  But given the current weather conditions, we thought we’d take a chance and, luckily, we snagged a table right away.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The place is still packed and we just happened to be seated in the restaurant’s solarium where the rain is tap-tap-tapping on the glass above us, then sluicing down the side in long runnels.

Glace is “big-boned,” as he likes to say, a gentle way of putting it, and whenever we get together he does most of the talking, mostly about himself, which is fine by me. He’s a good storyteller, plus he’s all snaps and campy badinage (although it’d be nice if he asked me how I was doing every now and then). Sometimes I think of the hours we spend together as “The Glace McDermott Show”: Glace as some kind of flaming version of Don Cherry while I’m the more restrained Ron MacLean—though neither of us, let’s be clear, is even remotely a hockey fan. Right now Glace is rattling on about the beefy trainer he’s hired at the gym he just joined.

“So I say to him, ‘Take this superfluousness off me and transform me into your mirrored image and maybe we can talk about turning this into ninety-six hours instead of the seventy-two I’m currently booked with you.’”

“How much?” I ask.

“Thirty-three hundred,” he says.

My mouth forms an astonished little O.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Glace has got a good job, sure (he works with homeless and at-risk gay youth), but he’s a slave to the credit card and the false miracle of being catapulted into a stratospheric income bracket.

“Gotta pay your dues, honey,” he says, as if reading my thoughts, “if you wanna look good.”

It would be easy for me to insert a word or two here, to tell him to just eat healthy, exercise regularly. You don’t need a trainer, I want to say. Have a shred of self-control. But that’s territory I don’t dare venture into. If I value this friendship—and I do—I keep my mouth shut. There are things we don’t talk about and his weight problem and prodigal spending habits are just two of them.

“How’s everything, gentlemen?” says our waiter, a red-haired Australian in shorts and tank top and whose nose and shoulders are peppered with a fine spray of freckles.

“Good, thanks!” Glace and I say in happy unison, though neither meal is especially outstanding. I’m having a ho-hum butter chicken, and Glace is having an overpriced veggie wrap with a garden salad, and what’s dubious about this picture is that in public Glace makes as if he’s a dainty and health-conscious eater. The truth is that there has been more than one occasion when I’ve moseyed by his place for an evening of pizza and Netflix and witnessed him scarf down slice after slice with greedy abandon while balancing a paper plate that lies on a near-horizontal plane on his chest. His kitchen is also spotless—he doesn’t cook—and once, while ferreting around for a fork, I discovered drawer after drawer jammed with delivery and take-out menus. And then there’s the mishmash of contradiction that constitutes his fridge: frozen Jenny Craig alongside boxes of Klondike bars, jars of low-fat salad dressing wedged between full-flavored mayo and viscous leftover Chinese, not to mention all those family-sized bottles of Coke and Sprite standing in readiness, like an arsenal of high-caloric, thirst-quenching warheads: Glace’s not-so-secret secret, his shame.

“Another pint?” the waiter asks, noting my nearly drained glass.

“Why not,” I say, and quaff down the rest. “He’s cute,” I add as soon as he’s out of earshot.

Glace smiles at my predictability. “You like everybody,” he says, and siphons up a draught of Diet Coke through the straw.

It’s true. Not a day goes by when I don’t fall in love with a stranger or two. Take the four guys at a nearby table. I can’t stop checking them out: they must be half my age, all in their early twenties, all with similarly shorn hair, all terrifically cute. Americans, I’m guessing for some reason. Students likely. Here in Toronto for the weekend. And something about them tells me that no matter how much it’ll rain, nothing’s going to stop them from having a good time.

“Can’t believe this weather,” Glace says, and we both stare out the window where the street is a steady stream of umbrellas. Ordinarily at Pride —that is to say when it’s not raining—Church Street is teeming with so many shirtless and chiselled bodies it’s enough to send most people’s self-esteem spiraling earthbound. Mercifully, it’s too wet and cold out for any such sultry displays tonight. Unlike Glace, I’ve got the opposite problem. I’m a slight five-four, arms of twig-like frangibility, and shoulders that are boyishly narrow. I’m also one of those people who can eat and eat and never put on a pound. And going to the gym only furnishes my muscles with a ropey look, giving me an even more emaciated mien. But like Glace, I also wear baggy clothes, only for opposite reasons: he in an attempt to conceal his mass, me to offer the illusion that I have some. “Believe me, honey,” he once said, “I’d happily go around wearing a fucking muumuu all day if I could.”

Truth be told, I hate Pride. I hate all the half-naked prancing and preening, the sunglass-shielded eyes that you know aren’t looking at you but airily gazing into the middle-distance. Oftentimes I feel like an outsider to this community of which I’m a member by default, for not only do I lack the bod but also the looks, the clothes, the campiness, the cattiness, the money, or whatever else it takes to belong. Instead of feeling at ease, I’m all too alert to the notion that I don’t fit in any of the ready-made boxes that this community tends to produce and into which people are readily slotted. When you see pictures of Pride on the news and it looks like we’re all one big happy family, don’t believe it. That’s the furthest thing from the truth.

“Sixteen years in this city,” Glace says, “and it’s the first time I’ve seen it rain like this on Pride.” He leans in to whisper, “I was hoping it would rain.”

I wince, surprised. “So was I.” Just the other day I was wishing for showers, wishing for a big Biblical downpour to send all those muscle Marys and pretty boys, the colourful floats and tents, the drag queens—all of it floating down Church Street and straight into the lake.

“Oh, I can’t stand the humidity,” Glace says, fanning his face with his hand, and I clue in that our reasons are very different. “And with the pollution my asthma starts kicking in.”

Because of his extra pounds, there’s a lot that Glace can’t or won’t do. He hates the heat, isn’t especially fond of walking, and although he’s never directly stated as much I know he deems the concept of mounting a bicycle unthinkably humiliating. He’s also got a herniated disk and often needs to sit down and take a breather. And any suggestion of doing something outside the Village—even cruising by my bachelor pad—is a no-go. His condo, his job, his doctor, his shopping and entertainment: all of it’s here, within a five-block radius, as if the world beyond it is too threatening an undertaking. Unlike me, he’s very much at home here, even if its habitués stare down their noses at him.

“So how’s the dating game going?” I ask.

“Y’know, you just can’t trust anyone anymore,” Glace says, extracting the latest-version iPhone from his pocket, an enormous paperback-sized thing that cost—including the fee to break his preceding contract—a whopping twelve hundred. “Wait till you see this,” he says, swiping and poking at the thing.

Nearly two months ago Glace broke up with his partner of five years, a good-looking Persian named Reza he met online and who had come to Canada as a refugee. Before that, when Reza was still in Iran studying hair design, the eldest of his two brothers happened upon him in a tight lip-lock with another male undergraduate. Over the course of the next thirty seconds Reza’s nose was flattened, jaw dislocated, front teeth shattered, and an hour later his eyes were transformed into grossly swollen and empurpled slits. His father said he had brought shame upon the family and tossed him into an institution for the mentally ill. There, under the muzzy haze of antipsychotics, he was subjected to electroshock therapy in a fruitless attempt to heterosexualize him. When the doctors then tried presenting him with pictures of a beach scene composed of body builders posing adjacent to bikinied girls, he was asked which he favoured. Neither, he wanted to say, because he wasn’t into muscle, and pointed instead at a German shepherd nosing a tuft of grass in the background. Not a minute later he was marched off for another jolt of electrical current to flood his already beleaguered brain.

Reza’s other brother, the more sensible middle one, took pity on him and eventually got him discharged. Reza then hightailed it out of Iran and straight for Turkey where he stayed for two years until his refugee application to Canada was approved. A week after landing he hooked up with Glace online. When I first met Reza, it was hard to believe that these events constituted his personal history. He looked like someone untouched by brutality, like some callow twenty-five-year-old whose only aspirations in life were to shop and go clubbing. Once, when I asked him if he thought Iran would ever sign a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with the US, he looked at me as if I’d mistaken him for a political insider, or a fortuneteller.

“How should I know?” he said. “No one’s interested in that sort of thing there.”

You might wonder, as did I, what he and Glace were doing together. After all—no offence to Glace—Reza is young, slim, and attractive. He dresses stylishly, can drink you under the table, and likes to snort, smoke, or otherwise ingest whatever hallucinogenic substance sails his way: things that Glace is categorically not into. But the answer to that question involves knowing a few things about Glace: that he’s a nice guy; that he’ll never stab you in the back or otherwise fool around behind it; and if you’re in his good books, he can be generous to a T (and believe me I’ve seen the wrath that’s inspired when you’re not). It helps too that Glace makes good coin.

Then, three months ago, the big fall-out. Screaming matches, thrown and smashed gewgaws, startling admissions and revelations. The short of it: Reza moved out of Glace’s condo and straight into the digs of some twenty-one-year-old named Kyle, someone he’d apparently been riding for months.

Now Glace is on the rebound, eager to fill the absence with that special someone and settle down again.

“Sorry for the wait,” announces the waiter, swapping my empty pilsner glass for a full one, its frothy foam spilling down the side.

“No worries!” I say, but he’s already bustling off to another table before our eyes have a chance to meet.

“So check this out,” Glace says, holding up his iPhone to show me a selfie of some young Asian guy: large architectural black-framed glasses, short spiky hair, mouth parted and eyebrows raised in an expression of mock surprise. Late twenties, early thirties, is my guess.

“Cute,” I say.

“And this.” More swiping, another picture. It’s pretty much the same thing: same guy, same open-mouthed expression, only now he’s wearing a blue-and-white striped button-down and tie.

“Okay.”

“Now take a look at who I met.” Glace has got this crazy smile, like he’s about to spring a joke on me, and this time in his open palm is a shot of a much older, broad-faced Asian man, close-mouthed and grim-faced, in what appears to be a trendy coffee shop. He looks to be in his mid-to-late forties and the only connection to the previous two photos is the heavy-duty glasses.

“Same guy?”

“Same guy,” Glace says, nodding solemnly. “So I walked into Starbucks and I thought, okay, he’s not here. Then this, this”—he mentally jounces around for the right word—“this man I’ve never seen before starts waving me over. So I’m like, ‘Do I know you?’ And he’s like, ‘From Grindr.’ I made sure to sneak a picture before I left.”

“Serious Photoshop job.”

Seriously,” he says. “What’d I tell you? You can’t trust anyone anymore.”

Among the four young guys at the other table, one keeps catching me eyeing him. He’s wearing a white V-neck tee, has those moist, pool-like eyes, and is especially fetching. He whispers something to his friends and all three crank heads in my direction. I feel the heat rise to my face, and I quickly sink back in my seat, allowing Glace’s girth to shield me from their line of vision. I always forget that when I was their age I wouldn’t have deigned to cast my eyes on a man inching ever closer to forty. Someone of such advancing years would have been filed into the troll box and jettisoned from view.

“You’re all red,” Glace says. “What’s the matter?”

“Must be the beer,” I say.

Glace does a quick shoulder check, leans in, then lowers his voice. “So I talked to Reza the other day.”

It’s another thing I don’t understand about Glace, why he continues to torment himself by keeping the lines of communication open with his ex. In spite of the lies and indiscretions, the obvious chicanery and philandering, he won’t let Reza go, as if hoping that things will return to the way they were when Reza first debarked in Canada and all he had was Glace.

“You know what he said to me? He said, ‘Kyle can do things.’ I said, ‘What’d you mean? I can do things.’ ‘No, I mean Kyle doesn’t have a herniated back. He can go out and do stuff.’ ‘So could I when I was twenty-one,’ I said. I said, ‘Put that bitch on the phone when she turns forty, then we’ll talk.’”

With theatrical flourish Glace sweeps long, imaginary hair over his shoulders. It’s something I love about Glace because I can see it as if it were real: Glace as a longhaired blond, Glace’s female doppelgänger.

“Shall we head?” he says.

“Splash?”

“You know it, girl.” Then, eyes wide with surprise, utters: “Oh my!”

I turn around and in the rain-soaked alley I see a creature slinking past in top-to-bottom leather—even the head is concealed, but in a black jackal mask, complete with snout and floppy ears.

Glace emits a derisive little snort. “The things people will do.”

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s still light out and raining when we’re back out on the street amid the ebb and flow of umbrellas and plastic rain ponchos. We do a cursory walkabout inspecting the various kiosks, tents, and food stalls set up all along Church Street. Glace’s umbrella—in rainbow colours no less—is positively enormous, a big-top circus tent that easily shelters us both as the rain makes its unremitting drumroll above our heads. He lays a heavy, protective paw around my shoulder, pulling me toward him and out of the rain. It’s the kind of thing he does sometimes: a warm, friendly gesture we both know is just that, nothing more, that two friends can share.

The usually busy tents and kiosks are, no surprise, mostly deserted. And the familiar information booths and pamphleteers, the hot dog and ice cream vendors, the hunky TD boys in their bank-sponsored green Speedos either have packed up for the day or are in the process of doing so. From one of the beer gardens music is thumping, but only a few bearded and rain-soaked leather daddies are milling about outside, bottles of beer in hand. And I feel horribly guilty, as if I alone am responsible for this deluge and sabotaging everybody’s idea of a good time.

When we get to Splash there’s a line-up outside, and who should be at the end of the queue but the quartet of shorn-haired boys.

“They’re so cute,” I say as we make our approach. “I’d happily spend the night with any one of them”—unsure why I keep the one I find most prepossessing a secret.

“One?” Glace says, feigning bewilderment. “Honey, don’t limit yourself, take them all.”

White Tee eyeballs me as we draw near but this time he doesn’t whisper to his companions. We line up behind them and I openly gaze at the nape of his neck and the knuckle of bone demarcating the top of his spine.

I wouldn’t mind having someone myself too but it’s not easy, believe me. Sure, there’ve been a few guys in the past—a week or two here, a couple months there—but never anything serious. It’s easy to hook up, but that’s about it. Everyone’s too guarded, too unwilling to trust and open up. And people are mean too; I could tell stories. I also do the online thing on occasion, but I’ve never had much luck in that department; most guys want one thing and one thing only. Personally, I prefer face-to-face action. I live for the spark, the chase, the bashful downward glances. So when I’m in the mood—even if it doesn’t lead to anything more—I head to the tubs, or to the labyrinthine trails down by the Port Lands, or to the nude beach at Hanlan’s. Once, on my day off from the car rental agency where I work, I was sunbathing on a half-hidden strip of lakeshore when Reza materialized from behind a sandy hillock. “Hey,” he said. He was also alone, and I was a tad sheepish because I don’t usually find myself naked with friends and acquaintances. “How’s it going?” he said, laying a beach towel next to mine. He was wearing ersatz Versace sunglasses, an A/X T-shirt, black cut-off jeans and, as was soon revealed to me, a black pair of Calvin Klein’s underneath. I watched him peel off then fold his clothes with effete delicacy and fastidiousness. His body, I discovered, was miraculously unremarkable, much thinner than I expected. Plain, like mine. His legs were wildly hairy, but from crotch up, everything was either meticulously trimmed or shaved. Even his forearms were shorn, even his hands. He also had a tattoo, the word Blessed inked across his lower abdomen in a parabola of large cursive letters.

Now, Glace is my best friend—my only friend, really—and I’ve never done anything to hurt him; but that afternoon when Reza lay down next to me, I did something that, if Glace ever got wind of it, would permanently sever all ties between us.

“I didn’t know you had a tattoo,” I said, brazenly tracing each letter with the tip of my finger.

I was just as surprised as he was by this impromptu move, and his stomach juddered with the in-breath.

“I got it after I came to Canada,” he said.

As my finger descended the long vertical slope of the d, I looked in his face. “You ever talk to your family since coming here?”

“Only my brother sometimes—the good one. My parents tell people I’m dead. That I drowned. Body never recovered.”

For the first time I noticed the subtle starboard tilt of his nose, the incisors unmistakably whiter than the bookending canines, and I felt a welling-up of something. Pity? Love? Affection? Who knows. I waited, and when I found what I was looking for I leaned in, squaring my mouth with his while my hand headed south.

“Don’t tell Glace,” he said when it was over—like an idiot.

“As if I’m going to tell Glace,” I said.

But what was surprising was how un-awkward things were afterwards, that the three of us could still get together for dinner and drinks and talk and laugh as if nothing more than a handshake had transpired between me and Reza. And sometimes, when I think too much about that frosty indifference, I have to tamp down the urge to forcibly realign that nose of his.

The four boys are admitted into the bar; then the big burly doorman lowers his arm like at a railroad crossing and tells us to wait. But not a minute later the arm goes up again and Glace and I make our ingress where we each fork over a fiver in exchange for a stamp on our wrists.

It’s a peeler bar where we’re at, an establishment we only sporadically patronized prior to Glace and Reza’s split-up (Reza pronounced the place tacky), but in recent months it’s become our usual Saturday night haunt. The bar is crowded, but not as full to bursting as you’d expect for Pride. Coming toward me through the throng is one of the dancers, a good-looking blond-haired fellow that I at first assume is only shirtless; but it’s when he’s about to brush past that I see he’s buck naked. I try to catch his eye, but he makes a beeline for some grey-haired daddy sitting at the bar with a drink in one hand and a surfeit of cash in the other.

Glace orders a Diet Coke and I another beer. Porn is playing on all the screens. For a while we station ourselves on the edge of the dance-floor-slash-stage where one of the peelers, presently down to his aussieBum’s, shinnies up a pole, then twirls his way back down like some circus act. With legs still hooked around the pole, he leans back and spreads his arms out wide. The audience responds with a smattering of applause.

“Tonight’s performance,” Glace shouts above the music, “has been brought to you by the letter Y.”

On the opposite side of the stage are the shorn-haired boys. They’re in the midst of appraising the on-stage acrobat, but then White Tee notices me noticing him, and for an instant our eyes meet. He takes a slug of his beer, and I know then that a door has cracked open. I resolve to wait until he repairs to the can, at which point I’ll discreetly follow. “Happy Pride,” I’ll say, sidling next to him at the urinal, then see if he’d be receptive to the offer of joining us at our table.

“Let’s give a big round of applause for François,” the DJ’s voice issues from the speakers in a voice so deeply resonant I can feel its oscillation in my ribcage.

“Look, they’re leaving,” Glace says, indicating a table that’s not too mortifyingly close to the stage and from which two bear-types are in the process of vacating. Glace and I shuffle over and stake our glasses down on the sweat-ringed tabletop.

I’m barely seated when JT appears through the crowd, floating his way toward me in a nimbus of handsomeness. “Knew it,” he says, offering his usual scintillating smile.

JT is my favourite dancer, a pantherish black man of striking appearance yet similarly modest stature as myself. Over the past couple months I’ve likely spent hundreds on private dances with him—and as a customer service rep, that’s money I simply can’t afford.

“Knew I’d see you tonight,” he says, nudging his way into the V of my lap. All he’s wearing is a pair of loose-fitting ripped-up jeans that hang precariously low on his hips. I wrap my arms around him—his body slick with sweat—and pull him in tight. I must be a little drunk because without even thinking my lips head straight for his. But he’s quick, leans back, wags a finger. “Uh, uh, uh. No can do.” Then he brushes his lips against my ear. “But if you wanna go in one of the backrooms…”

“Maybe in a little while,” I say, running a hand across the hilly topography of his pearly brown chest. “How you been? Busy tonight?”

I’m awful at this sort of thing, making that kitteny kind of chitchat with a dancer. What’s a beautiful guy like you doing in a place like this? is the thing I really want to say. Forget this dump and come home with me.

“Getting there,” he says, already bored with the conversation, and avidly starts scoping the room for clients to line up for the rest of the night. Suddenly remembering me again, he cups my head in his hands and presses his forehead against mine in the tender gesture of a man achingly in love.

“You gonna watch my show later?” he asks, and I can’t help but feel an overflow of all the emotions I shouldn’t be having for a man in his position. Funny how we most want the thing we can never have.

“You bet,” I say, like a hopeless peabrain. Then off he goes, working his way through the bar, spreading the magic of what he’s got to whoever’s willing to pay.

Glace is lip-syncing to the song pumping out of the speakers while doing a shoulder-swinging dance motion on the barstool. “Merry Gay Christmas!” he says, tilting his glass in my direction. I do likewise and together we clink.

“I think I just met my future ex-husband,” he adds, chin-jutting in the direction of the stage.

But instead of looking up, I happen to spot Reza between the high-stepping legs of the on-stage peeler, snaking his way through the ruck of carousers.

“Jesus,” Glace says, still gazing admirably up at the dancer, “I think the basement just flooded.”

Reza slides up beside White Tee and slips an arm around him. The boy starts with surprise, sees who it is, and the two of them commence a flurry of happy embraces and hello kisses.

“What the—?” I say, a little flummoxed myself.

Reza sees us, and his smile instantly vanishes, replaced instead with that hand-in-the-cookie-jar look, as if forgetting that Glace is officially his ex now.

“What?” Glace shouts.

“I said Rez’s here.”

“Where?” His bar stool jig comes to a sudden halt. “Oh God, there he is.”

Reza untangles himself from the boy and circumnavigates the stage in our direction.

“Hello, Glace,” he says, then smiles at me. “Hey,” he says in the same lazy way he did that day on the beach.

I haven’t seen Reza in months and, I have to admit, he’s looking good post-breakup, as the instigator of these things usually does. His hair is much shorter now, parted smartly to the side, and he’s wearing sharp, angular glasses that give him something of an all-grown-up, corporate air—except for the FCUK T-shirt he’s wearing, which is ridiculously small and barely reaches his navel.

“That must be Kyle, I presume,” Glace says magisterially.

“The one and only.”

The dancer on stage is leaning his back onto the pole, doing the standard self-caress routine over the furrowed washboard of his abdomen with one hand while clutching a Jays’ cap over his package with the other. He’s making slow pelvic thrusts that are supposed to be sexy but for some reason seem hopelessly mechanical.

“She’s nice-looking,” Glace says in the tone of one admitting defeat.

Reza takes a swig of his beer, says nothing.

“Thought you didn’t like coming here.”

“Kyle wanted to come.”

Reza’s eyes have that unfocussed, red-rimmed look that tells me he’s already soused. “You going to the parade tomorrow?”

“Not if it’s raining.”

“Didn’t think so,” Reza sneers. “We’re going. We’re marching—all 2 K of it.”

“Great,” Glace says.

“Part of the Iranian contingent.”

“Wonderful. Have a good time.” Glace rises from the stool. “Well, I don’t want to keep you. You probably want to scurry back to your boy toy.”

“No need for that kind of language,” Reza says.

“Language?” Glace says, inflamed suddenly. “What language? You hear me use a four-letter word?”

“We should get going,” I say.

“Did you hear me utter something untoward? Something like—oh, I don’t know—‘two-timing whore’ or ‘gold-digging’”

“Goodbye, Reza,” I say.

“Now that’s language for you,” Glace says.

Reza bristles. He sucks in his breath, revealing the top half of a baroque swirl of arabesques constituting the B, l and d poking over the edge of his shorts.

“Give it up for Lance, everyone,” the DJ muffles, and applause erupts all around.

“Let’s go,” I say, and we head out the door.

◊ ◊ ◊

We’re in Loblaws—open till eleven!—and it’s freezing in here. Our night suddenly cut short, Glace has decided to pick up a few things for the morning: a bag of skim milk, a pint of blueberries, and a box of pricey and certified-organic low-fat breakfast cereal.

“It’s over,” he says, as we trundle from aisle to aisle. “And I mean over-over. Like completely. Finished. Done!”

He snatches up a bunch of bananas so flawlessly yellow they look manufactured rather than clipped from a tree.

“No more texting. No more phone calls. That’s it,” he declares with the same self-deceiving conviction as a New Year’s celebrant. “And did I tell you? That kid? Kyle? His family’s loaded.”

We’re making our way down the frozen foods aisle where the temperature plummets palpably.

“Last year for his birthday his parents got him a white BMW 5-Series. And this year—get this—his present was a one-bedroom condo down by the lake. A place of his own for while he’s going to school,” he says in that nasally jeering tone one adopts when mimicking an enemy. “How can I compete with that?”

I’m hugging my arms and pressing my knees together to keep warm as we stand opposite a long row of freezers dedicated solely to ice cream.

“Can you believe it? A condo! Damn it, where is it?”

“What?”

“It’s usually right here,” he says. “Ice cream. The healthy kind.”

I keep my trap shut and contemplate instead the mighty hams of Glace’s bare calves, each hair follicle a clearly defined dot. I don’t have the heart to tell him that, like me, he’ll never have the body he so desperately wants, no matter how much cash he’s willing to proffer.

“I’m a weak-willed emotional eater,” he says as he pulls open the glass door, unleashing a loud, tornadic blast. He extracts a tub of Häagen-Dazs—brownies and cookie dough—and adds it to his hand basket, the door bouncing shut before the sound once again returns to a steady whirr.

“Y’know, I was talking to Reza on the phone the other night,” he says when we’re at the checkout. “And he said something interesting.”

One by one his comestibles emit their heart-monitor-style beep as the cashier passes them over her scanner.

“He said you and he once fooled around on the beach.”

My stomach seesaws. I’m no longer cold and for the second time that evening I feel the heat rise to my face.

“There’s no truth to that, is there,” he says with the falling inflection of certainty, though it clearly is a question.

No,” I say, putting on my best performance at appearing dumbfounded.

Glace then does that thing you see in the movies when an actor gazes into the face of another while the eyes do their darting to-and-fro scrutiny. And I know he doesn’t believe me, even when he says, “I didn’t think so.”

He thumps down the tub of Häagen-Dazs onto the moving belt and slaps his credit card on top. “Tomorrow,” he says, “I’ll throw this shit out. Whatever’s left of it.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Back outside we discover the rain has granted us a temporary reprieve on this pluvial day. Awkwardly, we embrace in front of the sliding motion-triggered glass doors and say our goodbyes. Glace apologizes for calling it an early night and promises to make up for it. “Next Saturday for sure,” he says, “we’ll have a fun night.” Then he climbs into one of the city’s orange-and-aquamarine cabs idling along the curbside.

“Good night,” he calls through the open window as the taxi pulls away, offering a wave emblematic of the Queen. I laugh—a relieved sort of laugh—and do the same.

For a long time I wait for a streetcar to convey me home, but when none comes I decide to walk instead, ambling down quiet residential streets far away from the clubs and bars and the drunken revellers, streets that offer no indication of the festal specialness this night ought to have for someone such as myself. And I think about JT, who is undoubtedly still at Splash, maybe even doing his number this very minute for some codger in one of the toilet stall-sized backrooms, one client after another. I think about the countless hands that will have traversed his body, no part of it left unexplored, and the fat wads of twenties handed over at the end of each set, the whole thing going on until late into the night.

And I think about Reza and Kyle—the boy not an American tourist after all—and that they’ve likely moved on to Sky by now, the two of them dancing shirtless and pressed up against each other in the packed and sweaty club. Tomorrow they’ll be out in the rain again, marching amid a flag-bearing assembly of refugees and their supporters, undeterred by the inclement weather. They’ll be blowing whistles and waving to the umbrella’d crowd on the sidewalks, proud of who they are and thankful for how lucky they were to find each other.

But most of all I think about Glace, no doubt home by now and curled up on the couch, the TV on but unwatched, alternating between eating straight out of the tub of ice cream and texting long messages to Reza that will likely go unanswered until the morning. I see him not going to bed until late, staring wide-eyed at the unlit ceiling while the hamster wheel of his brain continues to whirl until the sky begins its wan early-morning paling. There will be the arguments that will ensue the following day, either by text or by phone, and to which I’ll be privy next weekend, puerile squabbling that I’ll hear all about when we next sit down to dinner before once again heading off to Splash, both he and I pretending that nothing has changed between us, though of course something has, if only slightly.

Everything could have come crashing down tonight, I think as I near my building, the darkened windows of my apartment part of a random sequence of yellow-and-black checkered squares. But then where would we be? Both of us alone? Neither one talking to the other? But in that crucial split second Glace must have weighed his options and determined it wasn’t worth it. Not any more at any rate. And I think I was lucky at that moment. You might even say we’re both lucky. Lucky to have each other. We are, after all, two old friends and probably always will be. Although I know if Reza had asked me that day on the beach to be his, I wouldn’t have thought twice before saying yes.

Without warning the clouds open up again, producing a sudden and clamorous rainfall. I snap open my umbrella and listen to the soothing racket as I turn down my street where the storm drains are blocked and the parked cars have been transformed into dark and uninhabited islands. But instead of making a circuitous bypass, I wade straight through the cool muck of rainwater, dead leaves and other flotsam, deliberately inundating my sneakers and turning them into heavy, spongy ballasts. Water, it occurs to me, that’s just deep enough for a man to drown in. And I think: Such a trifling thing for which to disown a son.

 

Ron Schafrick headshotRon Schafrick’s short fiction has appeared in The Journey Prize Stories 27, Best Gay Stories 2015, The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, Asia Literary Review, FreeFall, and elsewhere. He is the author of Interpreters (Oberon Press, 2013) and is at work on a second collection of stories. For nine years he taught ESL in South Korea but currently lives in Toronto. Why don’t you visit him at www.ronschafrick.com?

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