Today, we are excited to bring you a musical gay love story, written by Steve Berman. It will be released in a February 2012 anthology, but you get to read it here FIRST ! Stay tuned, because we’ll be releasing the story in three pieces over the coming weekend. Enjoy! (Note: Any formatting errors are ours.)
When I was seven, my babysitter sat me down on the plump couch in our basement and let me have an entire bowl of butter pecan ice cream if I would be quiet while she watched a DVD—I think she had a report due for class and decided to rent the movie than read the book. As the opening credits ran for Kiss Me, Kate I stuffed spoonful after spoonful into my mouth. But by the time the cast sang “We Open in Venice” I had forgotten about the ice cream and stared wide-mouthed at the television. My legs began to swing with the music, upsetting the bowl. Melted, sticky sweet goo spilt over both our laps.
Some might think the memory as disaster, but that night my eyes opened to new wonders, my ears heard a new heartbeat. I began begging my parents to buy me that DVD and others, too. My fairy tales were movies featuring Princes Charming like Danny Kaye and Gene Kelly. I didn’t lack for ogres—such as Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors—or wicked witches with appetites—for that, there was Lola from Damn Yankees.
I have always wished that real life were more like musicals. But people don’t burst into song and dance when their emotions rise or fall. Mouthing lyrics while listening to your iPod or wailing in the shower don’t count. I want a chorus to warn me while singing verse. I want the romance of being serenaded, of the duet. And all I get is high school.
One night, my boyfriend asked me to come over to study together. My hope was we’d be making out rather than struggling through Moby Dick, a book which squashed my brain like a lead weight whenever I tried to read more than a few pages. Then I saw what Hugh had done to his bedroom. Photocopies of thick bearded old men replaced the posters of Bob Dylan, Morissey, and the Red Caps.
“Herman Melville and Walt Whitman,” he said, with the blatant ardor most gay boys reserve for pop stars thick with eye-shadow or young actors infamous for stripping off their shirts on film.
“Like the bridge?” My experience with Whitman involved crossing the Delaware River from South Jersey into Philly so we could hit the Trocadero Theater to watch indie bands.
“Like the gay poet.”
“Oh.” I collapsed on his messy bed. I lay on my stomach and rested my chin on my hands. “So you like…really want to study?”
He nodded. “Remember our essays are due this week.”
“Fine,” I sighed. Being at the tail end of the alphabet, I planned on procrastinating until Thursday. “Can we work out an incentive program? I’m thinking it’s about time someone invented Strip Book Report.”
Hugh raised an eyebrow. The left, which went a little wild near the center of his forehead. I wanted to pluck the few errant hairs while he slept. But it matches his mop of unruly curls.
“Imagine. We take of our sneaks after writing the introductory sentence.” I roll over and dramatically kick off one cherished Converse All-Star. “State our thesis, off comes the shirts.
“By the time we’re at the conclusion, the floor is covered with our clothes.” I stretch my head back, off the side of the bed, and offer my best leer, seventeen years in the making.
He leans over and kisses me. A bit sloppy but that’s fine because we both laugh a little. Then he shakes his head. “No. I need to work on this.”
“So I’m moral support then. I can help you navigate Wikipedia for answers.”
He clamps a hand over my mouth at that. “Heresy!” I stick my tongue out and lick his palm, which doesn’t taste that great but one has to know. No boyfriend is ever perfect.
“I have this tremendous idea.”
When he takes his hand away, I feel the beginning of a frown. Hugh’s ideas, especially when he considers them tremendous or monumental usually end up being problematic. Like last summer when he decided to rewrite Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew as a webcomic featuring actual critters. I cured him by downloading the The Killer Shrews on my netbook and loudly playing clips of that awful film whenever he mentioned the otter Petruchio falling for a furry Kate.
“I’m going to do a whole presentation—not some 6th grader’s book report—on the homoeroticism in Moby Dick.”
I laughed. Awful move. Worse, I tell him: “You might as well sing it.”
His expression grew pensive, then hurt. Like last summer when he went through a phase he called Inner Fat and wore nothing but baggy clothes. At one point, I pulled up his boxers over his navel without giving him a wedgie and told him he was ridiculous. He sulked for nearly two weeks before I dragged him free of the bad mood by insisting he watch quirky French films with me.
“It’s not a dumb idea.”
I sit up in his bed. “I never said that. But, even if there’s some gay in the book—”
“There is. Lots. Whole scenes.” He blinks at me, as if trying to wake from a bad dream. “Didn’t you read it?”
“I’m more a Spark Notes kinda guy. But, why would you want to rub their noses in it?”
“They’re not puppies,” he said.
I suddenly envisioned Mr. Shimel’s class as dogs. Tracy Borland’s thing for scrunchies earned her labradoodle status. Brian Coleman’s jaw belonged to an English bulldog. When Derek Fiesler wore his basketball jersey—a glimpse of muscled arm and hairy pits!—that would be one hot Great Dane.
“Besides. I’m out. You’re out.”
“But neither of us wears pink shirts. We’re like…assimilated. Why call so much attention to being different? Different is death in high school.”
“I’m tired of acting like everyone else,” he said. “We’re not—”
“Maybe I am.”
“You’re not. You’re a theater geek.”
“I prefer thespian.”
“You work stage crew.”
“You just used the word ‘ersatz.’ That’s a SAT expression.”
“Now a good vocab is being lavender, too?”
“Help me,” he said.
I shook my head. “And feel all those fears from when I first came out rush back into my chest? No thanks.” Even as I said that, I could feel my heartbeat race a little faster, my stomach parkour around my middle. I didn’t even want to be in class if he was going to be writing G-A-Y on the whiteboard in front of everyone. I heard phantom laughter.
“Not with this.” I grabbed my backpack, zipped up my hoodie and left his room, rushed down the stairs, didn’t even bother to call out a “Goodbye” to his folks.
The suburban streets were quiet, making my anger feel all the more necessary to keep me warm. It was early November, but few houses on the block are lit because the neighborhood prefers menorahs to tinsel. I kept to the middle of the street. My hands were tucked away in the pocket of my white hoodie.
I soon heard my boyfriend’s car whining behind me. When he rolled down the window, the radio’s song filled the air.
Then he sang:
Get in the car. It’s cold. Don’t be so angry all the time.
I kept walking but slower.
Get in the car. Don’t make me beg. Don’t make me rhyme.
I stopped and turned.
Don’t call me Ishmael.
“I won’t.” he said. “Your name is Greg.”
I took a step forward, resting my hands on the open car window.
Tell me you won’t go through with this. Tell me that tomorrow will be sane.
He shook his head.
I can’t. I won’t. Don’t you see? That would go against my grain.
They’ll laugh at you and, if I stand by you, me as well.
What else does English class do than make our lives a hell?
It’s only Melville.
I kicked the door to his car and shouted.
Don’t call me Ishmael!
He drove after me.
You’re afraid of what? That I’ll make of fool of us? But I can’t stay quiet any more.
It’s just a book about a whale. Nothing else. You’re finding fags where there aren’t, all to start some stupid war.
You saw the line. ‘Bosom friends.’ If that’s not the gayest thing you ever heard a sailor say—
I stood in the glare of his headlights.
I’m drawing a line. Right here and now on the street. Abandon please this Moby Dick essay.
It’s only Melville.
He stopped the car to lean his head out the window.
Please. Don’t call me Ishmael.
He opened the driver’s side door.
He had a voice. Like any of us, he wanted to be heard!
He’s long since dead. Are you some literary nerd?
I won’t put the man in the closet, like all the teachers do.
He’s better off in the dark. Find another book to review.
Why won’t you be my Ishmael, why won’t you be my first mate? I need your strength for this effort, I need you to relate.
I started stepping back.
I’m not some Ishmael, I am only a Gregory. You’ll do this alone. I won’t be part of some classroom… infamy.
And I ran all the way home.
Check back on Saturday June 4th for Part 2 of Gomorrahs!
This story is © 2011 by Steve Berman (http://www.steveberman.com). This is a work of fiction, as are all characters portrayed in this story. Please do not copy without permission of the author.