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The Private Snatches of a Family Man
One meeting, a story into unchartered territory
On my very first visit to Paris in 1991. I met C; he and Fabio had become friends when Fabio had come to Paris in 1982. C was gay and has escaped the dictatorship in Uruguay. When I met C he was now a father. C inspired a novel: The Private Snatches of a Family Life. I startle now at my audacity to write a novel of a middle-aged gay man, a man who has struggled with his sexuality throughout his life, exploring his interior life, to do so when I am not a gay man, when I had only met C once outside the Pompidou centre, shared a lunch, and then later a dinner on New Year’s Eve. I had never met his family, his children. All I had were those impressions from two meetings, and Fabio’s tales of him hanging out with C and his friends in Paris and watching how their hedonistic lifestyle changed as AIDS swept through the gay community. Also, this was my first time, really interacting with a gay person.
Before, the only gay person I had seen was the window dresser who lived in a house in my childhood neighbourhood: on Saturdays and Sundays I would see him and his friends hanging out on his balcony doing their hair (his blowdried, Farah Fawcett style), their nails - he was very skinny and wore short short shorts, figure-hugging shirts he knotted at the waist and high platform heels - he did the windows for the big department stores in Bulawayo, and he was always an arresting sight as he created escape in there so that as a girl, standing on the pavement, it was like watching a piece of performance art, theatre, his long, slender arms brushing over now this, now that, his beautifully manicured hands settling objects now here, now there. He sashayed down the streets of Bulawayo with his little bag swinging on his crooked arm, an exotic bird, seemingly unflustered, at ease. I don’t remember anyone ever laughing, jeering or mocking him. Back then I didn’t understand that he was gay - no one talked about that - I just saw him as a colorful outlier in the sleepy streets and neighborhood, The Window Dresser. It is important to note here that Zimbabwe is a deeply conservative society. There are laws that criminalize homosexuality and the 2013 Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage.
Questions of appropriating a story, culture. Did I have any right to write a story about a gay man and his struggles? Did my ‘research’ count for much, or was it actually offensive to think that by reading ‘gay’ literature I would have the tools and sensibility to tell this story? - I loved the stories in the Flamingo Anthology of Gay Literature: In Another Part of the Forest, edited by Alberto Manuel and Craig Stephenson.
I think I was working on the supposition that love is love, and so I too could tell this story. But did my lack of lived experience mean that I could be unintentionally offensive, missing nuances, or just wrong no matter my intentions, would I simply be regurgitating tropes, stereotypes. Would it be brave or offensive or just cringe? As I was writing this post I found this this article on the lived experience of a young gay man in Zimbabwe, and it made me think of my Pierre in The Private Snatches of a Family Life.
Coda: Private Snatches of a Family Life (2001, never submitted, unpublished)
"I am a reformed gay man". His offering: this is what he says, what he chooses to say. It is what he has decided on. It's not clear if this is what he means to say. He has embarked on a course, now he delivers it to them, a fait accompli, a job well done. He puts the emphasis on "reformed"; this is where it should be, the key note. He has announced a condition, an event, a drama, himself.
His words are not violent ones; despite this, the room is silent in their aftermath as though a storm had just broken out, unexpectedly. He has caught them unawares, unguarded, ambushed. This pleases him. He savours the silence, his being the cause of it, the way he is in it, their unease. Then he watches helplessly as it splinters before him. He watches as the room becomes overrun by spirals of indifference. The silence, in malicious league with his listeners, like some unsparing, wilful lover, first teasing, then succumbing, without apology, without shame, discards him, freeing them. It has spurned him. Its rejection of him sets up the beginning. He must say it again. He must reclaim the quiet; the power that he had in it. Tonight he will say it three more times. And each time it will be less than before.
The words should belong to him but his awe of them distances him from them. He wants them to be held up by some steady, invisible hands, not his own, just at that unsettled, bristling space above him, like a halo over an angel, so that he may feel their possessiveness of him, his subjection to them. But the words move and dissolve; there is nothing to claim him.
He raises his head; he looks wearily, warily around him; he cranes his neck forward as though trying to fix his eyes on some object he has only had a fleeting glance of; he shakes his head suddenly in the same way an unsuspecting dog who has been sprayed with water will; he bends his head again and all of himself is lost in the dull reflection that the stretch of wood gives back to him. He has the sensation of eyes fastened on his back but when he looks up again all he finds is the silence which has recoiled into the corners and sits there chattering, mocking him.
He is alone.
When he brings the glass to his mouth the feel of it on his lips is his sadness displaced into the molecules of the glass so that if he cries, if he cries just then, the sound will be buried in that glass and the hurt will only be the sensation of sweet coldness coming from the glass.
"I am a reformed gay man". Will he ever learn to say it so that it sounds just right, even to himself? He longs to find the way of releasing the words that will not bruise or diminish him, a way that will make the silence truly still. He wants the stillness to mean that the silence acknowledges the truth of his words, that it holds them there in that infinite space for him. He wants to be free of the words and held captive by them.
It seems that he always splits the sentence, making the two things he so desperately wants to belong together appear separate. It is this chasm that falls so brutally between them which defeats him. The declaration becomes: I am reformed. I am gay. It is what they understand. And when the silence becomes fed up with the incongruity of the two sentences it flees. For what the doomed silence embraces is not the denial but the resilient factual statement embedded in it of what once was. So he is mistaken to think that he ever owned that silence, that he has rights to it. It belongs to them. It belongs to the person he is no more. What matters is not his transformation but that thing that will forever taint his life and in seeking to tear himself from it he only binds himself more tightly to that image. Had he not let the words out they would have looked at him and not imagined that he was that creature. They might have thought him odd, sad, pathetic, but not what he seeks to escape from. He creates his own unremarkable tragedy. He orchestrates his own clumsy defeat.
It is how he always begins: his form of identification, of recognising himself. It is how he would like them to address him; in hearing them the truth would be in the mouths of others; it would be out in the air mingling with other truths, possibly displacing them. It is uttered either as confession, supplication or declaration. It is not a banner for he is wary of absolutes even as he longs for it to be one. At times he is very precise about the definition of the state and what his not being the three-letter adjective entails. He says that word with his eyes closed, his fingers furiously rubbing and pressing the frowns on his forehead as though it pains him to let it in his mouth and out of it. But often he seems to expel the description out of himself; what is only required of him is to say it and it will be understood. The words and his saying of them will stand on their own: once he has done this task a sigh of relief will naturally follow. But he never sighs. There is no relief. He searches for the sighing, the relief. For several minutes he is suspended over his drink, searching, looking, his eyes poring the surface of the dark liquid as though he will find it there and then, not finding it, a tear rolls from his eye; it lands heavily in his drink sending out waves that mirror his own tremulousness. And then he bends over into the drink, picks it up and, in three actions which seem to move in contradiction to each other, takes it to his mouth, defiantly stamping out the waves. And still there is no relief. Nothing to massage and soothe the doubt, the guilt. Nothing to dispel it. Sometimes he is in the deliberate and painstaking process of convincing himself, explaining to his own ears what some other parts of himself have already worked out. Elucidating to himself what has been undergone, making this explanation available to the other bits of self that still have to be brought round to the point of view that this transformation has indeed taken place. It is remarkable! A miracle has taken place: he has worked to effect the change. He has been blessed. He has seen the light. Whatever. What is of concern is that he is no longer a gay man. If he is sure about this, even faintly so, the next question that he has to ask himself is, what now? What am I now, if not this gay man? And perhaps this is the question he is asking himself all along. That his declaration of release is, in fact, only an acknowledgment of bondage to an unknown self.
What has always distressed him is that to the world he is no more than the sum total of his gayness. It is the only thing that the world acknowledges about his existence: everything else he feels himself to be, all that he can possibly be is stripped down and goaded to this one thing and, now, in his public refutation of it, perhaps he seeks paradoxically to both reclaim what he has been and to defiantly throw it in the faces of those who have been repulsed by it, who have considered it to be the essential part of who he is. It is strange that he has never, in his past, said publicly I am a gay man. He has never felt the need to say it. He has lived it; the others have resented him for doing so. His sexuality has defined him. He should be proud that he has, to some extent, managed to carve other aspects of himself in that narrowly defined space allowed him; he has presented these parts to the world which has chosen not to regard them. But he does not know this, does not give himself the credit. All he feels is the burden of being this entirely sexual being that is all that is allotted to him in the vast catchment of "human existence". In small bits he has hated his body, this thing which betrays him, which presents itself to the open space in such a vulgar manner. He has always felt himself to be exposed so that when walking it is as if he were naked, his genitals a mangled mess which will frighten the children and shock their mothers. He is nervous about passing policemen, expecting them to smell his semen. He is a bitch on heat, the dogs will be let loose on him. He will be torn to bits, his body marring the pavement. The cleaners will find it impossible to scrape him from the stone, even the flies will flee from him.
His vision in those times when he courageously seeks to reveal himself to the others and to perhaps, in this manner, really bump into that stranger that is himself, for in the muddle he does hope for one lucid moment that will put everything in place, that will bring all the far angles into one plane, depends on how far gone he is. Before a drink he is the happy single father of three children, two girls: twins, and one boy, the pictures of whom he carries in his second-hand wallet. After two drinks he is an unhappy single father of the same children. He will heatedly point out, as though he is involved in a confrontation of some kind with some unbelieving and skeptical interlocutor, that his unhappiness is not their fault. He is adamant about this, for he wants there to be no misunderstanding on the issue of the culpability and innocence of his children. Because of his stark, resonating silence as regards to the mother it is left to the listener to assume that it must be she, the mother of his beloved offspring, who is entirely responsible for his abject misery. He does not carry a picture of her but you can see in the picture of the boy some locks of hair that fall over the left side of his face, which belong to someone cut out with a pair of blunt scissors. Sometimes, after this revelation, he lets out a long, heavy sigh and begins to cry. Then he falls asleep. But if it is bad he orders another drink and talks about "my former self" in patches that rise and fall with each sip. It is important to explain that he is no longer gay as though if he states this out from the onset it proves his objectivity, his distance. He is careful with his hands. And drink hardens his voice. He says outright now that he is miserable. That it is no use pretending or trying to be brave. That he had been so since he gave it up. He doesn't regret it; that former life was sick and sad. He has changed all that: broken off all his contacts, been vague at first with his friends, then resistant, then rude. He is now a "born again straight man" because he likes to think that his gayness was a wayward adventure. An inadvertent slip. Perhaps even a fall; that somehow his slipping got out of hand. What is important is that he has rehabilitated himself and now he is respectable. He wants this fact, this information about himself to be acknowledged by others. He wants to be happy. But this state seems impossible; unavailable to him despite his having merited it.
He cut her out of the picture after the events of that Wednesday afternoon whose entire underside had been festering, ever since they had stepped out of her apartment, with the coming ugliness of their drama. The event predictability unfolded itself, waging its tired, yet always simmering war; the tiredness was all the brittleness that was needed to effect the hostilities on this fine day which people such as them should have been determinedly, insistently enjoying, the kind of day which rarely occured in that time of the year, a Gift from Providence, as he had heard someone say. They should at least have been together as some kind of artificially organised, cohesive, physical entity whose existence would have miraculously canceled out their their abhorrence of each other.
As it is, they are stiffly closeted in the children's clinic, waiting for the twins to have their tonsils checked. He knows that the moment has come. He does nothing to snatch it from her, to disarm her. He waits for the version it will take this time. Waits calmly, not thinking that she is still capable of shocking him, of taking away his centre, of sending him spinning into orbit.
"You are incapable of loving".
These are her words.
What angers him the most is that she is speaking from a position of advantage. He does not love her. He is certain of this.
When she hissed out the words into Paul's hair whom she held so tightly that he began to cry it seemed to Pierre that she was also condemning him, spitting on him, putting some kind of curse on him. But, she had not been altogether truthful for what she had omitted to say, what she had conveniently pushed aside in her tirade against him, was that she did not love him. But that had not been the point. For her loving or not loving him was a charitable act and she had already dispensed with some of this charity when she had allowed him to be the father of her children. She had not gotten rid of them. When she had heard the twins first cry and saw their slimy bodies she had been overcome with the feeling of wanting to give them away, of wanting to sign some clean piece of paper while she was in that semi-awake state and to wake up the next morning to be told by the doctor, the nurse, another patient, see, an appendix operation is really nothing these days. To be able to feel those stitches and to know that she had dreamed the babies or had had them in another life, whatever, as long as they were not a reality. But they had been. And he could not love her even as she had done this for him.
He had sat there, holding the twins on his lap, unable to defend himself, angry that she could ruin this moment of being there together, the five of them, together with a common purpose, seeing to the health of the twins. That purpose could have held them together, for just that short time, it could have made them into a family. And he wondered, had he loved her would that have made them into a family? If he began to love her now would that transform them into one of the building blocks of society? Just the simple fact of his loving of her. Was that all that was needed? Is that what families were made of - little discrete units joined by love arrows? And the children? If mummy and daddy loved each other, lived in the same house, slept in the same room and sometimes kept the door of that room closed when they were in there together making funny noises would the children understand perhaps by some automatic, ingrained process which had been the condition of their birth that this was a family and from this understanding would they, in turn, learn to love? Was that what being human was all about? Existing as only part of a whole. And if that wasn't there did it mean that the children, his children, would be unable to reach out to either of them because the structure did not exist, had not been created for them. He did not know what the means of this reaching out could be and it had frightened him to think that by his own action, that in not loving mummy, he might have doomed his relationship with his children. As he had thought of it then it had seemed such an arbitrary, almost unfair thing, that the fact that he did not love her would mean that it was not possible to have a family. He felt how easy this loving of her suggested itself to him, how it seemed that he could say right then in that waiting room, I love you, and everything would be fixed. They would stand watch over the twins together. They would hold hands. They would sit together on park benches and tell each other secrets already shared. He could have done it just then. He felt in himself how he could have regulated in his voice the depth of his sincerity. She would have believed him. He wondered how those words were often lies and how perhaps they were always spoken by those who wanted them to be true, who believed in their truthfulness once they were released in the air that solicited and partnered the crime. He wished he were God. That he could say, let there be love, and then feel it flourishing under his feet, tickling them, and he would step to one side and pick it up and plant it in his heart. Then he would go over to her and do the same. It was possible to invent many things. An invention was just an idea of the mind, realised. A car had not existed until someone had seen it in their head. God had brought the world into being through the skillful use of words. If he thought hard enough he could call what he needed into reality. He shook his head. He did not want to have it there, even if it had been possible. He saw that when he looked at Nancy. But it could have been possible for him and her to at least like each other. To be civil, even friendly. He had wanted that.
He thought of his own parents, of the house and the garden, his room, their bedroom, the dining-room where they had their evening meals together, his father seated at the head, his mother to the left and he on the other side, opposite her. He thought of these things and wondered what must have gone wrong that he could not think of all this as having been a family, a family life. The components were there, the kitchen with the smell of his mother's cooking, his father's coming back from work, his doing his homework in his room, and yet he could not bring all these together and say that that had been a family. It was as if the parts had not been assembled correctly. That perhaps if the kitchen had been on the other side, or even if their house had been on another street then perhaps the magic would have happened and he would have felt the loveliness of belonging. Perhaps it was the fire that burnt too brightly, lighting up his father's face and giving him a menace that kept Pierre quite at the far end, struggling with whatever homework he had brought down, trying to get away from the stuffiness of his room and only to find that suffocating heat, the silence between his mother and father which did not make him feel warm and safe, for he did not feel it as an intimate silence but one where words were being kept in check, where the supreme politeness was not speaking. Their silence was full of accusation and he was not sure what it was they were accusing each other of but it was there in their concentrated effort not to speak. Perhaps it was because he wished to be able to share a joke with his father and was unable to. Perhaps it was not they themselves who were wrong but the randomness of their being together, so that if mother had been at the place next-door she would have been happy. And if father had gone elsewhere he would have had a son who was brilliant at sports. And if he had been placed further down the street he would have felt no shame firstly in his ineptness at sport, despite his strong build, and secondly at his thoughtfulness which seemed to infuriate his father so and make his mother sad. But they had been put together and somehow they had had to be a family. And it wasn't true. None of them belonged in that space, in that house with the garden. None of them.
His mother had said to him in a voice worn and tainted with her own guilt in having brought him into being, "You are a strange child. You don't love the way children should". He had hurt his mother's feelings. He had not loved her enough. He had not loved her in the right way. Had he not loved her at all? How had she wanted him to love her? He had been a serious child. Had his mother mistaken this seriousness as not loving her? He had not run into her arms. But her arms had not been open. He had not sat on her lap and given her soaked kisses on her cheek. But she had liked to keep her dress clean and unwrinkled. She had read him stories. He had closed his eyes almost as soon as she had begun them, for he could feel the heaviness of her voice and the despair muffled in the restraint she let him hear. His mother wanted him to love her in the way that would be plain to her. The way that other children loved. He had heard the accusation, you do not love me. He was nine when she had said it and even though he had tried to do it in the way that would please her and turn him into the good child he didn't manage. He knew he didn't for she did not say, you do it like the others now. Perhaps he had been born without it. He was defective and his mother, had he been a toy, would have returned him to the manufacturer. He was without love. First his mother had found him out. Now it was Nancy. And would his children find the same thing. He could not believe it.
What he wanted to believe was that love was just there. That it existed in a kind of lump, semi-permanent, invariant sum within the person. That it had been carefully implanted there together with the liver, the kidney, the heart so that it was never a question of love not being there but on it having to be brought out, made visible, declared. That it was hidden in the tidy layers of cells, hidden between one organ and the next and that you felt it there, in that place, waiting.
He would ask himself if it were possible that the chance fusion of egg and sperm created love for a mother and father not yet seen, not touched, not smelt and perhaps not even desired? Was that all it took? And once that had occurred the rest was inevitable, whatever had to be done, whatever would take place would be under the auspices of love so that if the son killed the father it would not be the son's love that would be under question. No, never that. But wasn't love very much in the seeing, the knowing, the realisation of something long since envisioned and dreamt about and now finally held in the sudden poetry of one’s hands and if this was the nature of love and loving why would it be different between parents and their children. Why should it be an automatic response when love elsewhere required an object first seen then touched then taken into oneself. If this kind of anonymous love existed then it was as good as saying, I love God or God loves me. It was as hollow and anonymous as that. For who was God and how could you put yourself in him when he was unknown, unrealised. How could you put him in yourself when his being was absolutely closed to you and all you could do was to guess at who he was, could be? The most you could be with God was to be grateful. Grateful that he had made you and put you in this place. Perhaps you could like him. But to love him? And then there was the way in which God claimed to love. This had always been his major qualm with God. How could you trust someone who loved everybody in the same way? That God had no favourites seemed to Pierre to be faulty, a mark of weakness. Indecision. It was just like man to create a god in his own image. One who lacked discernment. One whose love had no boundaries and was hence as flimsy as air and only to be felt when the wind blew.
In all possibility a child may look at a mother and father, hold them, feel them in his small, crinkled and hesitant palms and finds that he does not like the feel of them and that he cannot bring himself to like them. Was that so improbable? So bad? And yet there were countless stories about children brutalised by their parents and who still said that they loved them. I love my daddy. I love you daddy. Daddy loves me. What made them say it? Was it because society instilled it so much in the individual conscience that a child owed his parents’ love? If the same child was adopted by caring parents was it not possible for the child to love them more than the brutal father, to love them instead of him or was that coming together of egg and sperm stronger than anything else? Stronger than love itself.
But love was in the genes. He had read that in yet another morning in the library. He had gone through the rack and the cover of the magazine had caught him for it seemed to be in conspiracy with Nancy. And after he had read the article he had wondered if she had not read it, too. If it had not confirmed everything she had suspected so that in that hospital waiting room she had found her voice, knowing that it was right. Love was about survival. And perhaps the measure of that love was that it had been denied to him, for if love was instilled in the genes to insure your investment in and protection of your mate and offspring perhaps it had been deemed that he was unworthy, unfit for love itself and for all that love was supposed to protect. He had been made gay to guarantee that his defective genes were not passed on. He had been made with no love, with vital parts missing from his genes, for it was not necessary for him to have. It would have been evolutionary waste. But somehow he had slipped up and had passed those genes on anyway. And now it was left to him to create something out of nothing. To fashion love. To make it exist. To will into himself an extra gene that contained this thing that would ward off evil from his children and that would keep them from harm. He was without love. He, Pierre.
Those words had suddenly come out of her at the same time as when Anna had wriggled from his grasp and was standing with assurance on the carpet, seeming to have forgotten, or at least momentarily so, that she was sick. What had attracted her attention was the boy, just opposite them, who was standing against his mother's knee and making bubbles with his spit. "You are not capable of loving." So that as Anna looked with joy at the boy with the spittle he had made a point not to look at Nancy for she would have seen his dismayed face. His incomprehension which was only a temporary respite induced by the shock, for soon comprehension set in which defeated him. She was so adamant as if he had been arguing with her over this very thing and now she was making the final point, making it in a way which said, this is the very last I have to say about this matter and what I say is irrefutable. Had she discussed this with someone and now she had shared their verdict with him? Had she prepared herself for this moment, that in this room full of posters containing warnings against childhood diseases she would tell him of this deficient? Had she wanted to purge herself of him, of his loathsome inability to offer her the promise? Was she simply informing him, letting him know of an objective truth that stood on its own so that if it had not been her who had said it there would have been another? Perhaps, Carlo. And yet he had felt her rage, the way she had breathed into Paul's hair, perhaps hoping that that fluff of curls would soak it in.
So, at home, alone, he had taken the pictures out. He had not thought at first about cutting her out. He had just wanted to look at them. The twins would go into hospital tomorrow. He had stroked all of their faces and somehow when he had got to her he had felt that next time when he opened his wallet he would be happy to see only the faces of his three children who had still made no judgments on him. It had upset him when he had opened the little dictionary and to find the first definition of family as, children and their parents and it was only the second definition which said, a person's children as though coming to the second was by way of default. What had amazed him was that nowhere was the word love in the definitions. The state seemed to be based solely on ownership. Perhaps in the bigger dictionary there would be something of that, for the small one only dealt with the essential components of the definition. The other bits perhaps enriched the definition but did not contribute anything substantial to it. Of course, he had not been able to take her out altogether. The hair was still there, telling him that she too had ownership rights.
He had thought of the story he had read in the newspapers two days ago: biological parents suing to have their child back; how they had won. The child was two, the twins’ age. Crying, she had been taken away from her adoptive parents, handed over to the new set of parents. In the picture in the paper her anguished face was squashed against the car window, her one hand pressed against it; the adoptive mother, standing on the other side of that window, her hand pressed against it too. The new parents promptly called the child by a new name. The story had shocked him; especially how they had changed the child's name as though she was a non-person who would soon become accustomed to the new label. You wouldn't do such a thing to a dog. He had thought of the twins, whether if such a thing happened to them they would soon forget his face, the fact that they called him "daddy", and whether they would transfer all their loving, he supposed that he could call it that, of him to another person. Was there a certain age when it was possible not to take children seriously, to act as though they had no will of their own, or one that counted? How was it possible to assume that the tears shed by a two-year-old were not a valid emotional expression against a tragedy taking place beyond her control, to be so sure that it was something the two-year-old couldn't process or at the least couldn't process at the level where it counted? It was as if, in order to make judgments for children and their supposed well being, it was necessary to diminish them. And he wondered if it made him a bad parent that he couldn't do this. That he couldn't think of them, the children, as children, in the way that word was understood, that because he saw them as people, only smaller than himself, he couldn't act as though his action would naturally always be for their best. He wasn't that convinced about himself or about interpreting their wants correctly. Sometimes he looked to them for advice; for the way to be a father.
He will hold his children. Anna, Paul, Michelina. He will love them. Will they allow themselves to be loved by him. Will they grant him this favour? Will they be that generous? He never questions his loving of them, only its inadequacy; their wanting and acceptance of it. How can he not love them? They are beautiful.
His becoming a father, his being a father is something that he embraces with fear. If he is no longer gay then he is the father of three children, the pictures of whom he carries with him. This is what fathers do; fathers who have not come to this state without first having to fight their way through the one that he has had. In this way he behaves like them; he is grateful that this much he can do; be proud of them. Show their pictures around and, when drunk, shed his clumsy tears into their faces.
Paul, the one who looks most like him (very often he will say, the one I look most like) does not like him. He can not help thinking that this dislike is based on this very similarity; that the likeness to father is horrible. He would chide himself, telling himself out loud what a fool he is, what a ridiculous and pathetic creature he is; it would serve him right if his children could not bring themselves to love him. They would be right.
Perhaps he will lead them to somewhere inside of himself where they can be proud of him. He had waited for them to call him daddy as though once they had done that the matter would be settled. He is in awe of them. Bewildered by their separateness from him, yet their being part of him. He looks for clues to his own childhood in them and he is happy when he finds none, for it gives him hope.
He lives in a garret in a worn-out building, mainly inhabited by the employees of the strip-joint houses indecorously lining the narrow length of road which starts off as a stinking river and which ends as a cramped cemetery. Most of the windows in the apartment are boarded up; in winter the boards disappear, the homeless use them for firewood. He has lived here for eleven years.
He is sitting on the bed, waiting for her, for the children. She is off for a week-end with a man, someone whom she says wants to marry her. Someone who will not make her nervous, panicky when they bathe the children. He has made a mistake in telling her of his former self. She does not believe that he can discard it, that he has; she feels its menace lurking in every touch he gives to the children. He tries not to touch them often when she is there. She could always take them away. Accuse him.
He is sitting upright with both his hands on his knees, clutching them as though to remain on the floor his feet need this pressure, this resolute action that is only an ineffectual mask for his tenseness and the niggling awareness that he will soon be intimidated. This is the way he always sits when he is expecting them.
They will open the door; he will struggle with whether to lift up his arms and encircle them as the benevolent father or remain as he is as the non-polluting one that will please her. He wants to please them but she has more power.
He looks at his fingers. He is irritated by them. They are gay. These are the fngers of a gay man. This is the thought that slips into his mind, that settles there. He brings one to his mouth, bites into it and is pleased when a piece of nail comes off and he sees the jagged line he has created. They should have a thin line of dirt. He looks absently round the room; finds nothing that can be used as the dirt that would admonish the gayness that his fingers hold. He knows very well that in his country of birth virile men take great care over their fingers, for well-manicured hands are the delineation between manual labourer and successful business man.
It worries him that they see him and Nancy fighting. Often. All the time they are together, in fact. He wants them to be safe; he sees in their searching eyes, their furtive movements, how the fighting puts danger in their lives.
The door opens. They hesitate, as always. Then Anna bursts in. The giggling twin. She kisses him confidently on his cheeks, leaving a sticky imprint of the caramels she likes. She ruffles his hair and says, “funny, funny hair”. The others follow: Paul, reticent, keeping in step with his mothers movements, holding onto her hand, checking; Michelina, solemn, the book tucked under her left arm. "Hello father", she says, kisses him too. He is not sure if there is affection in this slight, tentative touch of her lips and their quick withdrawal from his flesh. But she has done the proper thing. She has greeted her father. She has even kissed him. Now she hopes he will leave her alone. Nancy, the woman with the power, looks at him with that mixture of disapproval and impatience she has taken up. As though expecting a change she is now disappointed at the stasis. "Here they are", she says. "These are their clothes". She drops the bag on the table. "Paul has a cold, be careful with him. I'll be back on Monday, at two." She goes over to kiss Paul and then she is gone. This time it has gone well; he is almost grateful for the man who is waiting downstairs.
The children have taken up their positions.
Paul, jammed in the narrow archway between the room and the tiny kitchen and bathroom, his head bent down, absorbed in another maze. The baby mouse has lost its mother. Paul must help him get to its mother who's on the other side; the tomcat is in the middle waiting to pounce, licking his lips with his long, wet tongue. Sometimes Paul will bring the victim within reach of the peril. On purpose. Now he helps the baby find its way. The cat looks well fed; it should be punished for its greed. He turns the page over. A squirrel needs his help to find the acorns. Paul does not like how the squirrel looks and if the squirrel is stupid enough not to be able to work out this easy path Paul is not going to help him. The next page: there's a boy who has to escape from a dragon into the safety of cave.
Anna takes the broom from behind the table; she begins to sweep. The broom is too big for her. She has refused Pierre's previous offers to buy her a smaller one; she is doing real work, not pretending, not playing. She is earnest as she maneuvers it, intent on creating a home. Michelina is reading; the book is covered in brown paper keeping the title a secret from everyone except her. Pierre wonders at this impulse she has to safeguard her pleasures from them, totally. She always brings a book with her. She is seating on the bed, her legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles, her book held out in front of her. Too close, thinks Pierre. She will need glasses. Her face is serious; her forhead furrows occasionaly deepening.
Paul, Anna and Michelina. These are his children. These are my children, he says to himself. These are my own.
He sits on a chair. Lost. Anna starts sweeping under the chair. She asks him to move. She has to clean the spaces underneath, properly. He wants to be spontaneous. To be easy with authority. To bring geniality into the room. He wonders if they know that he is shy; if they hold it against him? Do they love him, even just a little? This is ridiculous. Children always love their parents but he can not bring himself to believe that he has an automatic claim to their affection. He feels somehow he had to earn it and that he hasn't really made a start. He had slept in the hospital when Anna and Michelina had had their tonsils removed. This action of his had angered Nancy. She thought he was being ridiculous. He had felt like a father then. The twins had thrown out a rope to him in all the uncertainty. They were saying, "hold onto this. We're doing it for you".
"What do you want to do?" he finally blurts out. He is trying. Anna stops sweeping. Michelina continues reading. Paul ignores him. "Let's go for a walk," he says. He is tryng, trying very hard. "I'm sick", says Paul. "Well, you can stay here then," retorts Anna. She turns to her sister, "What about it Michy? We can buy acorns and watch the pigeons in the park". She has taken charge. He admires her easy authority. He is grateful and ashamed. Michelina, only Anna calls her Michy, closes the book carefully, putting the marker in place. She puts it under the bed. She is always protecting her property. She is ready. Anna pushes Paul, dislodging him from his outpost, "Come on, she says, you're not that sick. Don't be such a baby". He is breathing hard, sometimes his face takes on a bluish tint, trying to control his anger at the insult. "Fine then! he shouts as he goes out the door. If I die you tell my mother why". "Come father", Anna says, taking his hand. He is an invalid, this is what he feels himself to be. She has arranged it all without him. It is he who has to dash back for his coat and whom the others wait for.
Outside, there is a slight chill in the air. Paul begins to cough. "Baby", teases Anna. He walks away from them. He could be disgusted with his company. Pierre is holding Anna's hand, or, more precisely she is holding his hand and Michelina is holding onto Anna. Perhaps Anna is chaperoning both of them with her quick, decisive steps. What makes her so certain about everything? So sure of herself? They walk silently. Anna is happy. Michelina: he does not know, he cannot tell, perhaps she is indifferent. Paul angry. He? He is a father with his three children, two perhaps, you can't be sure about the one out in front, out for a walk. It is a customary duty that is usually done on Sundays but perhaps he is an artist or simply unemployed. He is rather shabby- looking. There is something unhealthy, unsettling about him.
He is sixteen and through a process he does not know he is in love with the gruff gardener who comes once a week to prune the roses and the hedge. He comes home from school, flings his bicycle to one side and watches. One day, Pierre follows him to the shed. He watches him remove his overralls. His back is turned away from Pierre but somehow Pierre knows that the gardener knows he is not alone, that he is being watched, that being watched pleases him. His back is naked. He removes the jeans from the hook on the wall. He put them on. He takes a shirt from the same hook and covers his back. He runs his hand through his hair, then he turns round. He sees Pierre, or perhaps he does not. He walks out of the door.
Standing there, watching, Pierre had felt the language of want, need claiming him, yet he had not known how to respond to it. How to intepret the back that was offered to him, what gestures, words
How his mother worried about him. His father loathed him. "Chico, when are we going to see a nice girl in the house, hey", he would scowl. "Looks like I have a sissy in the house". Of course, if his father had really suspected that he would have beaten the sissiness out of him. He was saved because such things had to be hereditary and his father was a man, a man's man. There was nothing defective about him; at thirteen he had been termed a scoundrel. He suspected that the feelings he had for the gardener should have been the ones he had for Tanya who was always scribbling his name on the inside part of her desk and on pieces of papers that the girls passed around with giggles and sighs in philosophy classes. He would have liked to touch him, the gardener. Just his hands. He dreamt about him and when he woke up his penis would be stiff and sore. And he would cry into his pillow. He wanted to be held by this strong man. He wanted to say, I love you, to this one person, only to this one person. It would be alright if he didn't say the same but just for him to let this boy say it. The words ached in his mouth. They made his tongue heavy and his stomach unsettled. Most of the time he felt queasy. The boy is in love, barked the father. Who is the girl then?
The gardener stopped coming. His mother was upset. She accused him of destroying her roses. Pierre locked himself in his room. He began to stroke himself. Soon the hands that touched him were no longer his. Strong, beautiful hands were moving along him, holding him, making him feel better, giving him pleasure.
He slept with Tanya. He told his father about it who promptly rewarded him with money and the spoken conviction, "You are a son of mine, after all, although you took your time coming round to it". This son of his had felt like the town whore, cheaper still for he had come to his earnings by accident. Tanya wanted him to love her forever. She did not doubt his love, just its longevity. He would have liked to say, I feel nothing for you. You are not even a substitute and I hate myself when I am inside you but he was not mean. He did not promise her eternal love but she convinced herself that she had it. They were a couple for the rest of high school.
They have found the bench. Michelina is sorry that she hasn't brought her book. It is hard to sit next to father. A book would make him invisible. Why is he always so sad? Doesn't he like to have them there with him? Does he want them to go away? Why does he always ask, what do you want to do when it is clear. She wants to read. Read until the whole world disappears and it is only her and the book. Mother doesn't like it. She says it is rude to shut yourself up like that. Making people go away. Father is different from mother. Father is quiet and sad. Mother is angry and sad. Like Paul. Mother loves Paul. She does not know if her brother has been born like their mother or if she has made him like her. And who is like father? She is quiet but she doesn't think she is sad. She is only sad when her favourite person in the book dies or if mother calls father evil. The way mother says "Pierre" does not sound like she means father. It sounds like she is talking about a monster that has to be slain. She loves him. She wishs she could make him smile like Anna can. But even then his smile is sad. He is afraid. Maybe someone has hurt him, really bad. What troubles her is that perhaps it is mother. She hated being in nursery school; the inevitable commission to draw, "your family". She could never project a harmonious quality to them. Where to put all of them on that white paper. She is like father. She doesn't like to lie. So when she drew mother, father wasn't there. When teacher asked she would say he had gone shopping. She would say the same about mother when she didn't occupy the space on the page. Because she didn't know what to do with them she would put them in a straight line. They were never doing anything together. They were always doing things separately. She always drew the same expressions on them as though they were locked into them, identification tags. Her drawings unsettled the teachers and she had to see a fat woman in a dingy office and talk about "anything". Perhaps the other children lied. The ones who had mother, father, brothers and sisters all holding hands and smiling. And she always drew father small, smaller than all of them.
There are many pigeons because the old woman has come with her brown bag to feed them. The old woman is funny; the way she becomes angry with the birds and threatens them that she will never come back: she will pick them up and throw them in her frying pan if they don't stop to say thank-you, such horrible, ungrateful creatures she has never seen. The pigeon shit makes beautiful, intricate patterns in her hair. The acorns are hot in their hands. Father, Anna, Michelina and Paul. The first three huddled together. Paul, sitting at one end, his back turned to them coughing, coughing, coughing. Wanting himself to die so that they will have to tell his mother. She will punish them, make them pay for letting him die. She will be very sad but he won't really leave her. He will come and visit. Only her. He doesn't want her to be sad. Only the others. Pierre. Wicked, wicked Pierre.
He took Tanya to the dance which celebrated their end of high school. She wanted to get engaged and it was then he realised it was time to stop the game. He told her that he didn't love her, on their fifth dance. She ran away into the bathroom and didn't come out again. He was free. His father had approved. Once manhood is affirmed it needs to be continually cultivated on other pastures or else it became barren. His mother was shocked, telling him that the girl was now ruined and it was his duty to save her. He did not want to rescue anyone. He had just delivered himself. And now that he had done that he wasn't too sure of anything else to do. He had not forgotten the gardener. If his life had been a novel he would have looked for him. Found him and felt his hands. Held him. But he had just finished high school and he had to find a job. Or go to college. He realised he had not been fair with Tanya but he said he was young and that excused him. Tanya was young too but that was her business. For once he chose to believe his father. He went to college and to go there he had to leave home. Is that why he went? He had no ambition. He wanted peace and college, away from home, seemed to offer it. Home had the struggling roses, his old bicycle and the dying hedge. He was ready to leave.
If he falls off the bench will he get more sick? If he hits his head right there on that stone will it bleed? He tries to calculate if his pain will be smaller than their worry. If it will be worth it. Will he fall sleep? They would get into trouble then. All of them. They were all scared of mother. She was strong. Stronger than Pierre and that made her better. Pierre wasn't normal; he had a disease. He had to be careful with Pierre. Otherwise he would get Pierre's sickness which couldn't be cured and which would make mother sad and Pierre happy. He wasn't to let him touch him. Anywhere. Sometimes he wished he could hit Pierre. And look how the girls were there with him as though he was brave. They didn't understand anything, the girls. They would catch the disease and it would serve them right. Pierre was horrid, wicked. He wished he could put a spell on him so that he would turn into one of those pigeons there and that that silly woman would do as she said, pick him up and fry him. That would be the end of him. Then he could always stay with mother. Sometimes she cried. In the bathroom with the door open. She would only let him in. And she would only do it when the girls weren't there. When they were out with Pierre. His mother said it was his fault. Her sadness. She could never be happy. She felt too much. That was her fault. The world was cruel if you felt as much as she did. She knew her dear boy understood. He didn't have Pierre's disease and she would make sure he never caught it.
He had wanted to laugh when the clown fell off the trapeze. He hated it that he was there with Pierre. If he had been younger he would have put his coat over himself, so that every bit of himself was covered up. He would have completely disappeared then, ceased to exist. It would not have been a pretence but a truth that his mind believed. He would have laughed then, clapped like the other children around him. But he saw Pierre and he saw mother; it was wrong to laugh.
He will put a spell on all of them; turn them all into pigeons. The woman's mouth is big enough. He will even help her cook.
College. He hated the boy he shared his room with. Pierre called him The Deadness. All facts and dead matter. He wanted to fall in love and they had given him this creature. Sometimes he wondered if he was the only one. If the others all fell in love only with long, swinging hair in silver barrettes. He would have liked to talk about it to someone but the only example of a typical man he had was his father; that was enough to keep him quiet. He was in a general economics course which he picked at random in the catalogue. Everyone was pleased with his choice. It was sensible. It would give him time to think of a specialty. His father was slightly skeptical but he hadn't gone to college, he was nervous.
On the first day he looked for the campus gardeners. All men over fifty. Then he tried the janitors, second day. Older still. He was looking for someone with those hands. It didn't matter about the face. He had never dreamed about the face. Only the hands. And these hands, all gnarled and trembling disgusted him. He wished he slept alone. The Deadness imprisoned the other hands from moving over him. He wanted to cry into the pillow and The Deadness was there, watching him, holding him captive.
He is on the bed, asleep. The hands are on him. All over him. They are different this time. Smaller and shyer but it is good to have them on him. He opens his eyes. The Deadness. He wants to stop him. Or does he? He wants to hit him. Or does he? He is sitting against the wall, on the bed and The Deadness has his head down between his legs. Why doesn't he see the gardener? Is he in love with the boy? This boy with dead, dead brain. He is pushing the head down, further down. He wants it all. And when he comes he stays against the wall, The Deadness looking timidly at him, waiting. Pierre says nothing, does nothing. The Deadness goes back to his bed.
She is holding her father's hand. Now and then she squeezes it. She feels he needs that squeeze. If she let go it will start shaking. She likes it when he smiled. But she also likes his sadness. She doesn't really call it sadness, more like his thinking. She thinks he is clever. She would like to know all the things he has in his head. She is proud of him. Of his silence and the way he takes them seriously. Other fathers annoy her. Their carefree assurance that they are always doing the right thing for their children. They never ask. Always assume. She had seen it at the nursery school and later at school although it was more mothers you saw and they were the same too. Father asked and it wasn't because he had the answer already and he was cheating you. He asked because, clever as he was, he was stuck, he needed help. She liked him because of that. She was often stuck too. It makes her happy to help him. She has helped him just now. She looks up at him and wonders why mother doesn't like him. She likes that horrible man with the big nose. The man she told father she was going to marry. Will they live with that man? She wants to live with father. She would look after him. She would even try to cook. She could make cookies now. Does he like cookies? She would buy him nice clothes so that people wouldn't look. She saw them. They thought he was funny in a nasty way. When she drew pictures of "her family" she always drew father first and took the most time with him. And some times she was so long in making him perfect that she didn't have time to draw mother and Paul.
He came to his bed on most nights. Pierre never went to his. In the mornings they did not talk, during the day they never met. He was relieved, after the first night, that in the morning his feelings for The Deadness were still the same. He did not love him. It would have distressed him if he did. Sometimes he called him to his bed. Usually he came on his own. They never had sex. He couldn't bear the thought of that deadness being inside him. The mouth was enough.
He is watching the other families. Family. The word always sounds stilted, unreal, when he is using it in relation to his own.They have all the units there. Even a mother who is out with a friend. Father is taking the children out for the day. Are the units enough? How many men are like him? How many of them have become fathers? Why can he not reach Paul? Draw him towards him? The four of them, huddled on this bench would magically transform them into a family. The psychiatrist blamed him for Paul's nervous attacks. The father. She knew about him. Another weapon for Nancy. His idiotic confession to The Doctor. They kept records and all that sworn to uphold the client's confidentiality bit was nonsense. Psychiatrists loved courts. She said he had alienated Paul. Probably unconsciously although that alleviated some of the blame. You could tell that she was displeased with this notion of "unconsciously" which professionally and objectively she had to say so she added "but it's very often the case that these things are done consciously." Paul felt alone. Rejected by his father. Of course Nancy was furious because this placed too much value on father's love. So they changed doctors.
It is getting colder now, darkness is approaching. The pigeons have tired of the woman. There are only two of them now, picking at the crumbs without any real interest. The place is deserted; it is time they left too.
It was on the way to an art cinema when Pierre saw him. Leaning against the wall of a porn shop with his oversize cap pulled way down on his head so that almost all of his face was out of sight. All you saw was the cigarette smoke rising from the pouted lips. He looked absurdly theatrical. A costume designer's bad interpretation or perhaps, send-up, of a hustler. But that hand carelessly holding the cigarette offered promise. He slowed down. He had never picked anyone up. It would be his life if he made a mistake. He was unsure what to do. How to stand there and be interested but not look it. Is this the nightmare girls lived through until someone was kind enough to marry them? He wished he knew how to flirt. There was a square just opposite. He forgot the movie. He sat on the bench and waited. He should have been smoking. It would have made his presence on the bench less conspicuous. People who smoked had a right to be on that bench on a weekday at eleven in the morning. He didn't look authentic. He should have borrowed a child, been an uncle. He sat there till it went dark. The boy never moved. If anyone was watching them they would be locked up. Then the boy sauntered up to him, flicking away his cigarette as he made the last few steps to the bench. He sat on the bench now. He took his hand and placed it on Pierre's knee. Pierre looked around nervously. There was no-one. They did not speak and when the he rose, Pierre was with him.
The hands traced his lips and because the hands were on them Pierre's lips became beautiful; he traced them with his tongue, only the tip, slowly and Pierre tasted his own, aching desire. Pierre opened his mouth, taking in the other's mouth. The other gently withdrew. He undressed himself as Pierre watched and when he lifted his green tee-shirt, seeing the movement of the greenness on the pale, pale skin, Pierre had wanted to cry. He stood before Pierre naked and then began to undress him. Every movement of physical exposure leaving Pierre's wanting and needing, open. They had held each other; it was in the holding that Pierre discovered a tenderness in himself that shocked him.
When he left him he did not want to go back to his room yet, to meet The Deadness just getting out of bed. He walked in the early, uninhabited morning. He had not wanted to take a shower. To wash the smell of their loving. But Carlo (how he savoured the name in his lips) insisted. "You can't go to a lecture like that”, he had said. They'll kill you". Now he smelt of the apple soap and he still held Carlo's massage in his neck. "It's an oil my grandmother concocted. I'm the only one she trusted so she gave me the recipe. She said it’s part aphrodisiac, part medicinal. His name was Karl but he preferred Carlo because it was more artistic. It was a name of a poet. Karl is a lawyer he had said, my mother's idea. He illustrated children's book. Later, Pierre had brought Michelina two books with his drawings. One the story of a chemist who discovered a portion that could make people he didn't like invisible. The other a story of a family of rats who learnt how to make their own cheese. Both of them cheap editions on sale. He had asked her if she liked the drawings and she had said that she didn't read the pictures. Anna didn't like them. They weren't in colour and the rats were too cute. Pierre refused to pose naked for him. To pose at all. But still Carlo had a sketch-book filled with Pierre. And it seemed that in those fine lines that he drew Pierre there was always a poignancy about them which upset Pierre. Am I that brittle? he would ask Carlo. It frightened him that he could seem to be like this. And perhaps to compensate he was sometimes harsh with Carlo. Calling him pathetic with those childish caps of his. Infantile. Not a real artist. After these outbursts he would walk out and outside feel the setting in of his dastardliness. Wonder why Carlo put up with him. If one day he would find the sketch-book torn up.
What he had liked most about Carlo were his long, lazy eyelashes. More so than his hands. He would be distressed if he saw one on the pillow or the rumpled sheets discarded from the boy's body, from his self. When the boy was asleep he would blow on them and their fragile movements would touch something frail and wounded in him. He liked it that they were hidden in those caps. Kept away from the others. It made them more his. This exclusivity, his anonymity (endearingly encapsulated in those studied poises), his inaccessibility except to him, Pierre, gave to him an importance, a substance that was elusive to Pierre in his own self. Carlo never wore hats. Too vulgar. Too obvious. And one had to be a certain age to carry off hats. A cap on a certain aged man was inane. But somehow, he felt that Carlo transcended the age limitation. He belonged to the caps. If he did not wear them he would no longer be Carlo, his Carlo.
Six months out of college (he had dropped out) with an indeterminate, murky future; a father cursing him, he had moved in with Carlo, always taking the back entrance to the apartment. When he was working (those brief, unexpected periods which interrupted his "vacations") he bought Carlo caps. Carlo gave him a home, food, love. Carlo waited for him when he was with the others.
For a long time, four entire years, Nancy had not known about Carlo; not about him either. And then he had had the virtuous impulse of honesty that was perhaps his unconscious way of repelling her. Because in some part of himself he must have realised that he did not want to be loved by her. That this idea of her loving him was in some way repulsive and dishonest. When she had found the sketch-book he could have lied. Why had he said that it was from a boyfriend? Why had he wanted to repeat that word boyfriend in an exaggerated open-eyed manner accompanied with the flourish of the hands? His victory was her incomprehension, incredulity that soon frosted into disgust. Just as he had wished. That evening she had refused that he bathe the girls.
They leave the bench. Paul marches straight ahead. Why is it so important for him to be out in front? Does he detest them all? Even his sisters? His son, banging his head on the wall, making sounds that are entirely pain. He, Pierre, his son's father, trying to hold him; Paul furiously pushing him away, surprising him with his strength, lashing out at him with every part of his fierce body and it would only be his own tiredness that would stop him. Paul would not cry. His body would slump onto the floor, betraying him; his silence would enter into all of them so that they slunk further into themselves in fear.
Nancy cast him in the role of wicked wolf, the big, bad wolf, who would devour her innocent child if she allowed him to. Perhaps he had reformed himself to win Paul over. To convince his son that he was clean, harmless.
He will make them soup and hamburgers. Anna will help him. Michelina will retrieve her book, do as much as she can to lose them. Paul will continue to hate him. They are all tired. He will sit on the bed with the girls. Paul will head the table; he will say he is sick but still eat the hamburger, not the soup. There is no television so they will go to sleep; the children on the bed; he, on the floor with his head under the table, his legs pointing at Paul's archway.
When he had first held the twins in the hospital he had had the urge to tell them, "Your father is gay but now he's going to stop. Just for you". Why did fatherhood seem to demand that of him? His rendition on the renouncing of all others? They lived in his room. A grim, composite family whose future depended on second-hand fake jewellery, not even good fakes. She called it costume jewellery. Before he told her she would leave the children with him. If it was a good day she came home at six. Usually by two o'clock she was back.
His children fascinated him. Anna and Michelina were identical; this fact of they having arisen from one fertilised egg split into two by some act of chance intrigued him. He could not think of any relatives of his who were twins, of any who had had twins. And she said there were none in hers although she didn't know much of them, thank God. In this sense they were pioneers, trail blazers. They should have been majestic. They had jammed a cot in the room but he hated the sight of them behind bars; he was sure that criminality might be a function of those early years in that jail. He would put them on the bed which infuriated Nancy. He would put them there and watch them. He had brought a Piagetian handbook; he carried out all the experiments. Not because he wanted to test them. He wanted to marvel at them. To stand before them in wonder. When they did something contrary to the given descriptions he was happier still. They were smarter. They were now in the same class-room; part of an ongoing twin study investigating the role of genetics and the environement on certain psychological variables (they were a control sample) which paid for their school fees.
Carlo made them mobiles. Pierre told Nancy that he had brought them in a toy shop that was closing down. He said that all the good stuff was gone except these. Sometimes Carlo came over. He was always gone by eleven. He used the back entrance. Nancy said that the mobiles made the children cry; they were being over-stimulated. The children liked Carlo and when Carlo was there Pierre lost his reclusive air with them. Carlo made funny faces at them and when they had messed themselves he changed them without making a fuss or sticking the safety pin in their skin. He also washed them. At the beginning Carlo said that he should get Nancy to express milk in a bottles for them. It was much healthier than that processed stuff. Nancy refused. I'm not a bloody cow, she said. And didn't you hear them in the hospital, I can't do it. It took him two months to find a pram. Carlo found it. His editor had had twins who were now five. Carlo received the pram as one third of his payment on some drawings he had done. Pierre told Nancy he had found it in a skip.
When Anna was three she had scrambled onto the pram, tipped it over and the steel bar hit her on the right side of the head. She had fallen unconscious. She stayed in hospital for two days and after the x-rays they released her saying that no permanent damage had been done. They got rid of the pram. Nancy said that he was irresponsible for not having put the brake on and she was convinced that the hospital was wrong. That Anna had been harmed. What did they mean by "permanent". She said that Anna wasn't normal anymore and you could tell by the way she laughed. What she meant to say was that the child's love for her father was abnormal. For Pierre was despicable. She said that you were never the same after you had lost consciousness. You underwent a rearrangement of structure. Somewhere, in there, you became confused, off-balanced. She said, before, Anna had been quiet. Now she talked. Before she had been cautious with him. Now she sought him out. She looked for bumps on the child's head as though she were an ardent phrenologist. She found many of them. She kept the child's hair short so that the searching would be easy. She was mapping out the bumpy sources of her child's increasing abnormalities. At five she found lice and she told Pierre that he was a degenerate.
He never drank in front of the children. There was no alcohol in the house. It had started when Carlo died. When he told the people in the bars that he was not as before he wished desperately that he knew his before so that they could confirm his change to himself. After Carlo's death he had slept with everybody as though he was now released. As though Carlos had said, this is what I what you to do. This is why I'm going. He cruised. In and out of toilets. In and out of clubs. In and out of empty bodies that made him part of them.
In the note Carlo had said: You are afraid of many things. You are afraid of yourself. You are afraid of love.
He is not yet asleep. Should he still see the doctor? Nancy refuses to go; she will not let Paul go alone with him. He spends most of the hour talking about Carlo. He wishes the doctor would tell him to get to the point; to talk about his son, the damage he has done.
There is a maze he always comes back to. It is in the middle of the green book. It is spread out on the two pages. There is a pirate who is after the treasure on the other end. But there are four ships of enemy pirates that have to be avoided. The maze is now overrun with pencil marks. He never rubs the failed attempts out. He always gets caught by a ship. He wants so much to get to that treasure. Every try he makes they catch him. Sometimes they take him on the ship and beat him on a pole till he dies. Sometimes they toss him into the water so that the crocodiles eat him. Sometimes they put him in a cage and make him do tricks like the monkeys at the zoo. And with each failure the treasure becomes less because the other pirates are treating themselves to it. Sometimes it makes him so angry that he wants to kill all of them. He has scribbled over the ship nearest to the treasure with purple pencil. But later, when he is trying to get to the treasure, it is that ship which catches him; the pirates there turn him into a cat which they throw into the water. He does not like to draw; when they ask him to make his family he puts five dots on the page, two very close together, almost invisible; the other three on the other side, bigger. In between he puts lines crossing, all tangled up, hard to find a way through. Above the three dots, close together, there is another dot which he inevitably scribbles out with a hard pressed pencil.
When he wakes up Pierre is tired. He walks towards the kitchen. He steps on Paul's book. He bends down, picks it up. He finds the pencil, places it in the open page. He goes back to the table, puts the book there. Perhaps he should have left it where it was. Paul will be upset. He will think that he has been spying. He lifts the book, puts it where he thinks it was. He shifts it three times to try and get the angle he found it. Where was the pencil? He lets it drop from his hand then he gives it a slight push with his heel. He decides that this is the place where it was. He pours the water into the orange plastic dish, washes his face and his armpits. He will make them breakfast. He has brought the cereal with the animal figures. This is their common ground. They all like it. Paul has it with honey. No milk. Michelina with honey and cold milk. Anna with white sugar, honey and warm milk. He with cold milk, no sugar. Then they will have to find something to do with the day. He wants to buy Michelina a book but he can't do it with the others. Whenever he buys one of them a present he has to do it when the others aren't there. He would take whoever it was on a special outing. He never had enough money to take them all on one go. He was now selling "antiques" in a shop that was two blocks away. It specialised in antique car parts. He sensed that it was a front, a cover up for something, some nocturnal activities, which he didn't want to know about. His wage was slightly more than he would have received from social benefits but that would not come with the illusion of dignity. He worked in the afternoons. When the children weren't with him he would go to the library to read the papers. Before he went to work he had lunch either at the university cafeteria or if he was feeling optimistic in one of the Chinese restaurants that lined the university street. Carlo had left him some money. He put it in the bank under his children's names and forgot about it. He never told Nancy. He thought that Carlo would have approved.