Marc Frazier has been widely published in journals including The Spoon River Poetry Review, ACM, Good Men Project, f(r)iction, Slant, Permafrost, Plainsongs, Poet Lore, Rhino, and Connotation Press. He is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award for poetry and has been featured on Verse Daily. His book The Way Here and his chapbooks The Gods of the Grand Resort and After are available on Amazon, as well as his second full-length collection titled Each Thing Touches from Glass Lyre Press. He has done readings and led workshops in the Chicago area for many years. His Web site is marcfrazier.org.
When she cut the rope, I felt nothing. Then, a pounding in my ears like waves upon a boat. When I was sixteen, a man had sex with me on a boat after everyone had fallen asleep. When I asked him what he was doing, he told me I’d love it. The sound of waves put me to sleep. The sound of the waves echoed the smell of his skin.
I park my car in the slushy curbs of November. The weather had warmed but is turning cold once again. Moisture forms tiny icicles that hang from the awning of the bar as I enter. Life plays itself out here these days: fast meetings, abrupt partings. Both end the same—a world where a touch has no sound after tomorrow.
I drink my beer and stare at the magazines behind the bar; they cater to every fantasy. I stare at my reflection: neatly trimmed beard, Gaelic features, slightly languid eyes. I think how sex accomplishes nothing but its own end.
Not long ago I had taken a guy home. He had spent the night and the next morning I couldn’t get rid of him. I felt like I was in a movie and that I would never be happy again. A couple of weeks later, as I pull in the drive, a car pulls in behind me. It’s the same guy. He comes in, sits at the kitchen table and rambles on. I strain to remember his name. I sit overcome with fatigue as I appear to listen. I see his lips moving and ignore the sounds.
When I jumped, the rope tightened about my neck and I gagged. Sharon came home unexpectedly. She stood in the doorway and screamed without sound. After I got out of the hospital, she tried to make me sane again by pleasing my body but I only put up with it. Hands never remember where they’ve been. I kissed him and he laughed and said, “What’s wrong with you, boy? Are you queer or something?” He fucked me and told my mother that he wondered about me sometimes.
Now I am sitting here because I have found nothing to replace sitting here. I notice a young guy enter and sit several stools down. Our eyes meet a few times and then he moves to a table, places his drink down carefully, and slides into the cushioned booth. As I look him over, I note his erect posture, the blank look on his face. He has fine, long blond hair and is very slim. He rarely moves but looks over at me a couple of times. I move and stand near him as I read a trade paper and check him out. At a closer look, I notice facial scars from acne, notice how he stares at his drink, hugs the glass with both hands.
“Mind if I join you?” I ask.
“Not at all. I was gonna say something to you, but couldn’t think of anything.”
I slide into the booth beside him.
When I hustled I meant it. It was the only time I meant what I did. My long, blond hair made men touch. My slender, young body hung from a rope. I could not see my hands or where they had been. I thought I would smell death but she cut the rope. She stood on another chair and did not jump. She hacked at the rope. I heard sirens and thought I was on a boat.
“Looks like you need another drink,” I note.
“Always.” We introduce ourselves and the awkward small talk begins.
“Do you come here much,” I ask. “I don’t recognize you.”
“No, I hardly ever get out. My girlfriend’s at her mother’s for a couple of days and my brother’s home with our daughter. I was thinking of going to Indiana for a few joints if you’d want to.”
“Well, if you don’t want to, that’s okay too. I’ll live.”
Gary embarks on his story as I encourage him and question. The scenario unfolding before me fascinates me. “Where’d you grow up?” I ask.
“All over. We spent a lot of time in the South. My dad was a drunk and my mom left. I remember living in Texas once. I was always in charge of the kids. One time some lady my dad was drinking with left her kids with me. I was watching all of us for weeks. I remember the place was filthy. I was ten. I would steal cans of soup when our stamps ran out. A health department woman came to the house. She couldn’t believe... She started crying.”
I replace Gary’s drink and the monologue continues.
“I started hustlin’, working the line here.”
“Really? I always wondered what that’d be like.”
“Well, most men just grab. You’re a gentleman. I’ll say that. I could tell that right away.”
I smile, feeling sad.
“I miss my friend Jean, this pro the apartment down. We used to help each other dress up. The men would go by slow and we’d sit out front. We used to have some great times. I got really sick near the end. I remember waking up and all these people were around. I almost died, they said.”
Gary’s mood begins to change. I wonder what I am getting involved with. How can people have had lives like this, I ask myself, lives no one knows of until it is too late?
When we had finished, our bodies smelled like an animal’s cage. When we had finished, I dug my nails across his back so hard he bled. “You fucking bitch!” he said.
“People are really fucked,” Gary continues. There was anger in his voice. I ask him if he ever goes to the bar down the street.
“They’re really fucked too,” he goes on. “They won’t even serve me, or so they say.”
“Oh, they’re just jealous. But I brought them a lot of business. They don’t have no right... They say I broke a bottle and cut a guy’s face.”
“No, they’re crazy. And after all the business I brought in, the motherfuckers.”
We talk awhile longer and then decide to try the bar down the street. We walk in and fat old George says to Gary from behind the bar, “Can’t serve ya honey, sorry.” Back out in the cold I ask Gary why. He laughs and says, “I took a bottle to this guy’s face.”
“I thought you said it wasn’t true.”
“I lied,” Gary says, pulling his coat tight across his narrow chest.
There was one who wouldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stand it. People kept calling and asking for my father. But to me he was no one. The youngest wouldn’t stop crying. I hit her. I couldn’t stand it. When this lady came, she scared me. The look on her face. I thought something was wrong with us huddled in a corner. There were tears on her cheeks. She touched me. “Are you the little man?” she asked.
When we speak over the holidays, it’s to arrange meetings. Gary’s girlfriend works nights and I stop over late. Ericka, Gary’s precocious four-year-old daughter, takes a hit off his joint, dances, and sings to Blondie. He always has a special look in his eye when he watches Ericka play. The cats wander around complaining while we try to talk.
We spend one bitterly cold January night together. Ericka falls asleep and Gary puts her to bed. She screams at the top of her lungs. Gary gets stoned, sits on the floor, and withdraws.
“Are you all right?”
He nods but I know he isn’t. He tells me how he had recently tried hanging himself. We make love and it is good. When we have finished, he turns to me and says, “Sometimes I just get so miserable, so tired. I wish you could stay.”
But we both know I have to leave and we know that I will not return. We hug on the dimly lit landing at the bottom of the steps.
“You’re a real gentleman, I’ll say that.”
The snow lies alone. There is a silence. I like the name Ericka. I like its sound. I like the way it reminds me of winter giving way to spring and light. I have tried it many ways. Lived in many places. I get so low I must hang from a rope for height. I hear Ericka, my blonde love, calling. But I am too far from anyplace, and nowhere near to home.