Steven sipped his second glass of red wine as he reflected on his audition. He heard Luke let himself into the house.
“Honey I’m a homo.” Luke called out.
“And I’m a-starrin’ in the next Thicket extravaganza.” Steven poured Luke a glass of wine.
“You got the part? You usually don’t put out till the second call-back.” Luke sounded tense.
“Brad didn’t show?”
Since he’d become part owner of Lubba’s, Luke was more concerned with the hum and flow of the place than he had been when he was merely a Maitre’D.
“He showed. Too stoned to do much more than bus tables. Don’t they do call-backs, more call-backs and then you never hear back?”
“Not Evan. When he likes what he sees he can’t be bothered looking for better.”
“What did he see?”
“He asked me read with all the other audtioners so he saw me at my best.”
“Standing? I know you hate to audition on your back.”
Steven sensed an argument. He tried to sidetrack it. “I’ll be paid for this one.”
“Cold hard cash?”
“Stipend and more, if profits.”
“Are you sure this is theatre? After all, if there’s money it can’t be art. How much cash?”
“Evan says enough to cover transportation to rehearsals.”
“Evan? Evan Daniels?”
“Right. We saw a piece of his last year. That odd take on John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger.”
“By odd you mean idiotic. Changing the gender of Helena to male, resulting in this stupid queer thing happening.”
“You said it was beautifully acted.”
“True.” Luke poured them both more wine. “What has he planned this time?”
“I have it here. An original piece called Three-Quarter Time.”
“And? … How is it?”
“I just got cast, so … First glance shows it starts in a morgue …”
“That’s what we need, a play set in a steam bath.”
Steven choked on his wine. “You prick.”
“Let me freshen that. Oh you’ve spilled some on your pant leg.”
“Freshen this for me first.” Steven laughed, unzipped his pants. “On second thought ‘tis fresh enough,” he announced in his ripest Shakespearean. “First this play’s the thing, and then that’s the play thing.”
Yves shut Jake’s door. Jake was asleep after a bad day of chills and fevers in reaction to a change in his medications.
“How is he?” Nancy Markas, the duty nurse, asked.
“I don’t know how you do it.”
“It’s my superpower of putting men to sleep with my very touch. Call me Sleepman.”
“Must be hard on the sex life.”
“If there was a hard-on there might be hope of a sex life.”
They shared a quiet laugh. Yves ducked in to the bathroom to wash his hands before the next of his rounds. The image of Jake so thin and fragile wrapped in his baby blue blanket stayed with him.
Jake was a man he had known before the HIV crisis. Jake’s pride, the snake tattoo around his right arm, now appeared to be all that held his skin together. Yves didn’t often have before-and-now images to make the devastation more palpable.
Jake had been doorman and bouncer at several bars. A burly flirtatious guy, called Jake the Snake. He had won many “Bar Guy of the Year” awards but didn’t have any friends left. Many of his friends had preceded hime, on what he called, on the HIV express.
Yves understood how easy it was to be popular and yet not have time to build real friendships. It was a pattern in his life that he wasn’t sure how to break. Yves was a caretaker, self-evolved and emotionally detached from anything more than groups of people. The love of an audience he could handle, but anything closer eluded him.
He and Jake hung out together as people in a fluid group of bar boys. Though he had known Jake for almost fifteen years, had sex with him a couple of times, he didn’t remember a private conversation with him. That Jake’s last name was Rogers was news when he saw it on the charts. He felt that lack of knowledge was his fault.
The last two bars Jake had worked held regular fund-raisers to help him. Bar employment didn’t offer much in the way of employee benefits beyond tips. His only visits were when that money got dropped off for him.
Before his next appointment, Yves phoned to check if there had been responses on his answering machine to his flyer to share the house. The basement had been empty long enough for him to enjoy it empty and for him to miss the extra rental income.
He didn’t want any crank calls. The word gay on a public poster brought out the worst in people.
The van rattled to a stop for a red light on a hill that overlooked the city. Kevin was entranced by the endless sprawl of lights. As each apartment block flashed by, his excitement increased. He longed to jump out and run to the heart of the city.
“See that high, high light way over to your left.” Therese pointed over his shoulder. “That’s the CN Tower.”
“Right!” He fidgeted in his seat to get a better view. Once again glass was between him and life.
“You buckled up there?” Mitch asked. “If you don’t keep still you’ll be road-kill in a second.”
“Remember Mitch, you were the same when we arrived. We dropped our stuff at Sue’s. You remember Sue from home? Well, maybe you don’t. She was a school friend of mine, but anyway we jumped out of the taxi, threw our bags in the bedroom and took off.”
“Yeah, who jumped us on to the wrong subway?”
“And who kept doing it for the first month? Good thing Sue followed or we’d’ve ended up back on the east coast thanks to you.” She nudged Mitch.
“Watch it! You want to run us off the road?”
“We get turned round the right way and we get off at Eaton’s. Your eyes were as big as I’ve ever seen’em. Pulling us all over the place.”
“I was looking for a beer.”
“So what else is new,” Kevin butted in.
“You two want to walk from here?” Mitch muttered.
“Beer! Ha! Mitch wanted a strip bar. It was most romantic. Our first night here and he can’t wait to find a strip bar.”
“To see something you don’t see down home.”
“Yeah, whatever. We certainly saw that and much more than you bargained for.”
“What? What did you see?”
“Nothing.” Mitch’s curt reply was meant to end to this.
“Inches of nothing.” Therese pinched Mitch’s cheek.
“You wanna make me run off the fuckin’ road or what?”
“What? What did you guys see?” Kevin had to have details.
“Let’s just say one of the strippers was not the she, she appeared to be, but a he. Nice set of … breasts. Your fiver, and I mean dollars, certainly fit nicely between them.”
“Let’s just say these five,” Mitch made a fist, “will fit your face nice if you don’t shut that trap of yours and I don’t mean the stink hole between your legs.”
A sullen silence descended that let Kevin revel in the city and its promise.
David dashed up the stairs to Mark’s hospice room and ran in to Yves LaPointe, a massage therapist at the hospice. He bounced off Yves and almost back down the stairs. He grabbed the rail in time.
“Fancy running into you here,” Yves groaned.
Yves offered a hand but David used the bannister steady himself.
“Anything broken?” How David might dent this power-lifter body in front of him was beyond him.
“Nothing feels broke. You’d like to check for yourself?”
David was breathless from the unexpected bump. Dizzy, he held himself closer to the rail.
“Come on.” Yves took David by the arm. “We can go upstairs.”
“Thanks. Knocked the wind out of me.”
“You’re Mark Winslow’s friend?” Yves asked as they entered the lounge.
“Right,” David sat on a small over-stuffed couch.
The lounge, known as Jungle Land, overflowed with plants given to patients who had since left or passed away. An annual plant sale didn’t dent the undergrowth in the room.
“He went down to the A.A. meeting.”
“A.A. meeting here?”
“Yeah some of the guys from his regular group put it together. They were here last week too.”
“Good stuff. I skipped supper for nothing.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Yves scratched his head. “I wonder …”
“We have time b’fore the meeting is over? I wonder if …”
“If … what?”
“To interview you for a book I’m working on.”
“A book? I haven’t had that line used on me for some time.”
“When I tell you what the book is about it’ll sound like more of a line.”
“What is it about?”
“You’re right, it does sound like a line.”
“There’s those books by women about how they feel about their breasts, their scars, their wombs. All that gyno stuff, but I’ve never seen anything where guys just talk about their dicks.”
David stared at Yves to see if this was a joke, but his expression was quite serious.
“You want to talk to me about cock? My cock?”
“If you don’t mind.” Yves took a questionnaire out of his brief case. “I’ve worked out a set of questions to get at the information without it being too …”
“I don’t think I can talk about that sort of thing here. You know, in the AIDS hospice and all. It might prejudice my answers.”
“Here’s my card. Call me when you want to set up an appointment.” He patted David on the hand.
“I will.” David was taken by the sight of Yves’ thick fingers on his thin tapering ones.
Yves stood. “Don’t wait too long or you’ll get too shy.”
“Me! Too shy? You have been speaking to the right people.”
Yves left David alone in Jungle Land.
Steven yawned and dropped the last page of the script.
“That bad, eh?”
“I couldn’t tell you. I can tell you what happens, but I’m not sure I could tell you what it’s about.”
“Is that good or bad?” Luke looked away from the television.
“Good. It’s that … there are no monologues. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a script that was all conversation with no one saying more than two lines in a row.”
“Sounds realistic, Steve. Most of us don’t talk in paragraphs.”
“Except in books.”
“Except in books.” Luke muted the television. “So …”
“I’ll do it. Just to to work with Evan Daniels.”
“Unless he asked you to play Ophelia.”
“Don’t tempt me.”
“If you can’t tell me what it’s about, at least tell me what happens.”
“The events aren’t going to tell you a thing. People dance around gurneys and fight over bodies. Absurd but powerful. I can’t wait to see what it will be like.”
“It must be good if you’ll take a role without a monologue.”
“Ha ha. Maybe you’d like to mano log this?” Steven cupped his crotch.
“After the news, Master.”
Steven stood and let Luke slide down his boxers. His cock brushed against Luke’s ear.
“Careful honey, you’re causing cable interference.” Luke held the cock in his palm. His two hands didn’t cover it’s length. “I know what this is about though.”
“Yeah. It’s about eleven inches.” He put his hands on Steven’s butt and pushed the cock to him.
Steven held Luke’s head to rock his cock in and out of his mouth. “I feel ya Ophelia, I feel ya.”