Portrait of a Bad Night (With Ale)
Native American culture reputedly accepted homosexuality, but Lowell gave the impression that on reservations, up in those states where it snows all the time, acceptance is more theoretical than actual. He looked like every other young man fresh off the bus, a first lover away from coming out, ready to be pulled to the city's bosom in a manner maternal. He looked careful, as if he was used to being uncomfortable.
He looked hopeful.
The city gave him hope. It gave him Stephen and Smoke. They were East Coast Indians, fast-talking and hard edged. But they were easy with him. He had a ticket. The sharp facial bones of heredity were a pass. He was a card-carrying Chippewa.
Stephen and Smoke sat with him in the park. They offered him a place to sleep. Hamburgers. Ballantine ale, minus the first swallow, spilled on the ground for the spirits that huddled up to their nativity. They gave him the bottle caps with puzzles, and the answers to the puzzles. His shoulders received one-armed manly hugs. His hair was tousled. They called him Little Brother.
Well mannered and grateful, he did not mention that the beer tasted like soapy water, or that it made him dizzy. He drank slow, afraid he would embarrass himself by puking. He tipped back his head when Smoke leaned in close and said, "Hey, drink up," but he tried to take small sips.
Stephen's jokes were mean-spirited, but that was ok. The meanness was not directed at Lowell. Stephen amused himself by shouting, "Immigrant," at passing tourists. He laughed at the astonished, guilty looks and blushes that crossed those white faces. His laugh was not mean though. He laughed deep and open mouthed. His parted teeth were wet and white. Lowell laughed too, not at the tourists, but at the way it felt good to be there. He felt grounded in Stephen's gravitational pull. Lowell longed to touch him, even if it was just in the way that men touch, a push, or a hand on a shoulder when they joke. He moved toward Stephen, stumbled on a tree root, reached out, and drove Stephen's hand into the barb of a hurricane fence.
The walk to the hospital was quiet and calm. They moved businesslike through the streets, leaving a trail of blood, like breadcrumbs. Stephen sat silently through the stitching. The walk back to the park was equally serene. They followed the bloody trail. Lowell held on to a guilty silence. In a quiet corner, Stephen said, "Hey, faggot" just before his good hand clipped Lowell's cheekbone. Smoke's fist connected with the back of his head. They broke his nose, loosened a tooth, and kicked his kidneys, which caused days of bloody urine, and then they stopped.
They slung his arms over their shoulders and dragged him back to their place. Smoke told him, "You're lucky you met us, Little Brother. White boys wouldn't beat you, then take you home."
This work will also enter the Ethnic Anthology.