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I was holding one of Benjamin’s socks. The vacuum attachment had choked while I was cleaning under the faded green sofa and, when I pulled the nozzle out, the curl of one sock hung—limp and trembling—from the hose opening. I was alone in my small apartment above the Chinese restaurant, with one dangling sock from the once-alive foot of my now-dead lover. The smell of egg rol s wafted in. The restaurant’s kitchen started up early. “Steven, I’m throwing a party for Papoo Dunk’s birthday. Will you come?” It was my sister, Belle’s voice, pulling me out of something that slipped around the corner as I tried to remember it.
“Belle, you’re crazy. It’s five o ’clock in the morning.” “I know that. You’ve always been a rise-at-dawn guy. Papoo Dunk’s birth- day, June 12th, is on a Saturday this year. Come on, Steven. We miss you. Papoo That’s how I ended up, nine weeks later, in a tiny airplane—the aeronautical equivalent of a bikini—on my way to Griffonia. I’ d barely been anywhere since Benjamin died. His socks were still on the closet floor and, I now knew, under the sofa. I’ d hated his habit of leaving socks around. It’s a small complaint, but I’ d resented finding them—little soft cadavers—on the bathroom tiles, on the carpet in front of the tv, even (once) on the kitchen counter. Rumpled, half inside out, a thread hanging from the heel, a hole in the toe. Benjamin had been easy to live with. Except for those socks.
The plane could fit six people and sounded like a malfunctioning blender, and it not so much flew as flopped through the air. I noticed that its passenger door had been cannibalized from a Chevy. The curtain that separated the cockpit from the section where I sat was partial y open, and I could see the copilot. He was navigating using a gas-station road map creased open on his lap. Apparently we were following Route 11.
“Let’s have breakfast,” was the first thing she said, as we stood on the hot tarmac. “Just the two of us. How about Hon’s Café?” “Is there a choice?” I said. “Is there another diner in town?” “Why do you live in New York City? You should move back.” The sign in the Hon’s Café window still read, we make our eggs with “What’ll you have, Hon?” said the waitress. She called customers “Hon” to conceal her inability to remember anyone’s name. She’ d been, to my childhood eye, ninety years old when I was six, which made her now, by my calculations, a 128-year-old. Her name was Rexel a, but everybody called her “Hon.” Every- body called everybody at Hon’s Café “Hon.” I had eggs and coffee. I especial y enjoyed the coffee, even though it was gray and lukewarm, because it tasted like a pork chop. I’ d been a vegetarian ever since getting my diagnosis—two years and eight months ago. Pork was Belle babbled local gossip. Aggie, the postmaster, had been arrested after cheating Mrs. McCoy out of $17,207—on the pretense of helping her balance her checkbook. What a shame. Aggie was unanimously liked, and nobody liked Mrs. McCoy. She would hide behind her forsythia, a garden hose clutched in her gnarled hands, and aim water at children she considered noisy. I sloshed the coffee around in the greasy cup. The coffee was an old friend. Proust’s madeleine. It made me nostalgic for all the bad cups of coffee I’ d had over the years in places that announced, in neon, world’s best cup of coffee, places that also served bad rice pudding, bad carrot cake, and Jell-O. Places with bad murals of the Acropolis. And, during holidays, plastic poinset- tias and Muzak versions of “The Little Drummer Boy”—tarumparumprump. Rump roast with instant mashed potatoes. Places with waitresses who wore short aprons and were named Marilyn or Rexel a or Hon. I stuck my hand in my pocket and fingered the plastic outline of my pill dispenser. Yes, it was nostalgia I felt for the days and nights spent in luncheon- ettes in states of stupid joy or depression. Killing time, murdering hours—wait- ing or rushing. Life, small size 75 cents, large size $1.25. What’ll you have, Hon? Outside of Hon’s Café, a kid, probably eight years old, walked by wearing a baseball uniform. On the front was the team name, griffons, and on the back was the name of the sponsor, arch & son funeral home. “Is that Maxie?” I asked. Maxie was the Son of Arch and Son Funeral “I’m surprised you recognized him,” said Belle. “When was the last time “I didn’t recognize him, exactly; it’s just that he looks so much like his Belle and I had attended elementary school with the senior Arch. He had always wanted to be an undertaker. When we played cowboys and Indians, or cops and robbers, he always took the mortician role. So we all called him Mort. Of course if he’ d walked into Hon’s Café just then, I would have called him “Hon.” After breakfast we drove to the farm where I’ d grown up. Belle and her husband, Josh, lived there with our grandfather, Papoo Dunk. Belle and Josh had moved back from the Midwest after Mom died, to take care of Papoo. The mailbox was still dented, still had the name Hambrick scrawled on it, still was missing its door. Presumably, on rainy days, unreadable soggy mail was still Papoo Dunk cornered me. He had continued to shrink since my last visit, four years ago. The top of his head reached not quite to my shoulder. “Stevie!” he squeaked. He’ d always had a high voice. He pulled on my ears to lower my face to kissing distance. A wet kiss. Definitely wet. He winked one rheumy eye at me and asked, “How are you? My little Stevie.” I told him I was fine but I knew he hadn’t heard me. He had his hearing aid turned off. He always turned it off when he was having an exciting day. Days when he was having too many visitors or it was the last game of a World Series, or the time he had the heart arrhythmia and we rushed him to the hospital. He said Papoo Dunk told me how his prostate was acting up. His chatter steamed the windows in the front door. “Hot air,” I thought, as Papoo rambled on. “He’s That night I watched tv with Belle and Josh and Papoo Dunk, who’ d had a crush on Lady Di and insisted we see a biography special about her. “She must have had French or Welsh blood in her,” announced Papoo Dunk. “Otherwise she wouldn’t have been good looking. All them other Brit- ishers have ugly faces. You know why?” he said, jabbing me in the shoulder. “They’ve all interbred with horses is why. All those horsey faces. Think Papoo Dunk went to bed. So did Josh. Belle and I sat in the living room. The moon floated up over the pine trees and shone in. I said, “I don’t know why I’ve stalled so long. I was waiting for a good time to tell you, but I guess there’s no such thing. I’ve got AIDS.” In the long quiet I heard the refrigerator cycle on and then off. “I know,” said Belle. “I don’t know how I knew. I just knew.” She sat next to me on the sofa, her arm around me, and we talked about The next day was Papoo Dunk’s birthday, and Belle had rented the party room of the community theater where she and I had suffered through our mutual performing debut, thirty-one years earlier, when we were seven. Belle and I are twins. We had practiced our tap dance for weeks; we wore matching sailor outfits and knobby knees; and we each threw up, simultaneously, into the dressing room wastebasket, moments before curtain time.
Before entering the party room, I poked my head into the theater. There it was, the familiar smell of the dusty velvet seats that had been the 1954 gift of Belvedere Parker III, former mayor. Now deceased. He had made his money manufacturing the plastic hams used in store-window displays.
I took a deep breath; my lungs ached. Even healthy bodies have pains, I told myself. No point worrying about every little thing. Most of the town showed up to celebrate Papoo Dunk. I knew everybody, except for some round-bellied toddlers and an infant who was wailing baby angst. My nine-year-old cousin Norton was there. And my great-aunt Sma- ragda. Nobody could ever explain to me how she got that first name, but she didn’t improve on it when she went and married Bud, a plumber from the other side of the state; his last name was Mantooth. Aunt Smaragda proved she was happy to see me by poking me in the ribs, and allowing as how she was proud of having been able to squeeze herself into her old satin high- school prom gown for this event. The fit was touch-and-go. I was careful not to nudge into her for fear she would extrude herself from her dress, like “Bud can’t be here today,” said Aunt Smaragda. “He had a teensie heart attack and he’s still in the hospital.” “Belle told me,” I said. “I hope he’s OK.” “Oh, let’s not talk about it now,” she said, pulling down the bottom edge Everyone was dressed up. The party spilled out into the theater’s backyard, where Norton pounded his thumbs on the buttons of a handheld computer game. Aliens were being destroyed. I could hear the eeeeeps. Aunt Smaragda held her breasts, one in each hand, to prevent them from escaping her dress. Our neighbors Gretchen and Lester had brought their dog, Shark, a Doberman pinscher so large they both could have sat in its lap. The dog growled at the I could hear Norton’s father orating on why all homosexuals should be “He’ d have the same opinion sober,” I said. “Anyway, if there wasn’t at least one idiot cousin, it wouldn’t be a family.” Shark the Doberman gave up on the roast beef and, instead, licked birth- day cake off a paper plate. Papoo Dunk stood at the barbecue gril , burning I don’t remember the days after Papoo’s party. In a good way. I glided into an old rhythm, daydreaming like an adolescent. Hours of just sitting: in the white rocking chair on the porch; in the stillness of the barn, where Josh’s tractor filled one large corner. Belle would return from work and ask what I’ d done that day. And I’ d answer, “Nothing,” the way a teenager could say it. Often, Papoo Dunk was my only companion. Unless he was with Josh. Papoo liked to ride on the tractor and, whenever possible, would wedge him- self onto the seat next to Josh, who kept busy with what was left of the farm. Papoo would grin while the machine turned easygoing circles in the field. Josh had a master’s degree in microbiology. He and Belle had lived in Chicago for a while, when Josh worked in an immunology lab. But he’ d quit. “Too many errant radioactive tracers,” he’ d said. “I was working with dopes. They were spilling radioactive stuff on the counters by mistake, or washing it down the sink at the end of the day because the disposal regulations were too much hassle. The whole lab was contaminated. A Geiger counter would go nuts in there. There was no point switching labs, since they’re all like that, I hear. Whenever we were alone in the house, I could hear Papoo Dunk’s hum- ming—tunes off key, beyond recognition. He would patter to the refrigerator to make himself peanut butter and jel y sandwiches. He had the eating habits of a toddler. And twice, during those languorous days, we went to the movies and I sat next to him. For the first time in my life, I noticed that popcorn squeaks One afternoon Papoo Dunk said, “Stevie, how about we go for a slice of When we reached Papoo Dunk’s old brown car in the musty garage, he headed me off at the driver’s door.
By the time we got off the back roads, I was huddled in the passenger seat. Papoo Dunk did a steady 25 mph on a road with a 55 mph speed limit. Cars blared their horns before pulling abruptly to the left to pass, the drivers cursing and giving us the finger on the way by. “Papoo Dunk, why don’t you let me drive? It’ d be a treat; I don’t get to “No. It’s my car,” said Papoo Dunk, drifting into the adjacent lane for no apparent reason. “Never had an accident. Too much horn blowing these days. He turned off his hearing aid, because things had gotten too dang excit- ing, and then coasted in front of an accelerating teenager who was wearing a backwards baseball cap. The teenager cool y steered onto the shoulder and sped around us as I futilely thrust my foot onto an imaginary brake.
“Jesus Christ!” I said looking over at Papoo Dunk. His eyes barely cleared the dashboard. For some reason that sight made me feel positively jol y. “Wel , he can’t help it, can he?” I thought. “It’s not his fault. He can’t look to his left or right because his arthritis is so bad that he can’t turn his head any more. He can’t see how close he is to another car.” “It’s my car,” said Papoo Dunk, out of the blue, again.
“Fuck it,” I thought. “I have full-blown AIDS. My viral load is way too high. The cocktail of medications isn’t working. What have I got to be afraid of in old Papoo Dunk’s shit-brown car?” I relaxed and let him drive. It was his car, the shit-brown apple of his eye. And I was somebody who kept getting sicker, even though I took eight different “Where’s that pizza place? Did they move the thing? What the heck,” said Papoo Dunk. “I can’t tell this crossing, which looks like that other crossing, from that other crossing which looks like this one.” We were definitely in the wrong place, having passed the last intersection that could possibly have housed a pizza parlor. Papoo Dunk slowed to 15 mph. He forgot the pizza altogether, so we just took a nice drive and got home in the I had flopped into the rotting hammock and was swaying back and forth when I first noticed it: a suspicious splotch on my right leg, just below my pants cuff. I put my finger near the mark and poked. The area around the splotch was spongy. I wasn’t normal there, under my own skin. It was Kaposi’s sarcoma, the splotch. And still I swayed, suspended in the hammock, between sky and earth, my back passing this way and that across the grass, my chest and face aimed upward. My back swung open like a door, and my chest swung open like a window, and I fell into a sweet nap.
I half heard Belle’s car drive up. She went into the house and, after a minute, came running back out and said, “Help me. It’s Papoo Dunk.” He was dead, up against the hall radiator. He was on his right side, his head cocked slightly, as if listening, his red eyes milked over. I was stopped by the depth of his stillness and had to walk away to collect myself for a moment before returning. His bel y felt distended to my touch. As I knelt, I noticed that “I called Josh at the feed store,” Belle said. “He’s on his way.” Of course he was. Josh would always be there when Belle needed him. “I called an ambulance and the police, too,” said Belle. With his little red eyes open, Papoo Dunk reminded me of the pet albino rabbit Belle and I had been given once as a joint birthday present. The rabbit’s name had been Nose, so I just said the name aloud, and Belle said, “Yes.” I stroked Papoo’s few strands of hair into place and said, “You know why we always loved him so much, from when we were little? He was exactly like us on boat rides or at the carnival. Except he was a grown-up and had money “The doctors warned about a heart attack,” said Belle. No teensie heart attack for Papoo Dunk. Unlike Aunt Smaragda’s hus- band, Papoo Dunk went and had himself a big one.
There I’ d been, dozing in the hammock, and all the while death was silent a few feet away, in the house, just down the hall from the front door. The morning of Papoo Dunk’s funeral I woke to a sunrise that was a blaze and mottle of orange and blue. The sky would have been garish if it had been art—trite landscape painting, white clouds done with little pushes of a wide brush. But in Griffonia, in reality, it was beautiful.
Belle and I rang the buzzer of the Arch and Son Funeral Home and were greeted by Arch senior. I said, “Hello, uh . . . Mort,” and he smiled. He was wearing a terrifyingly smooth toupee. He was careful with us and said he remembered that once, when he was a little boy, Papoo Dunk had bought him Aunt Smaragda showed up early at the funeral parlor so she could take “But why would she want these photographs?” “Maybe she wants to put them on her refrigerator,” said Belle.
“Photos of Papoo Dunk?! Dead?! On the fridge?” “Maybe. He was the oldest in the family, and she was the baby. He was her brother. Just like you and me. Only not twins.” “Belle, is this a whole family of nutcases? Are we as cracked as Papoo Except for Aunt Smaragda’s pre-funeral photo opportunity, it was a closed-coffin service. Belle and I sat together. Josh and Aunt Smaragda were in the pew in front of us. Smaragda was mauling a wrinkled handkerchief. “Isn’t it amazing how they stretch when they die?” she sniffled. “Dunk was not a big man when he was alive; but now he must be at least six feet tal . “I think all the coffins are the same size,” said Josh.
“Oh, no!” Smaragda insisted. “People stretch when they die.” Belle grabbed my hand and dragged me up the aisle and into the ladies’ room. She locked the door behind us, and we burst into our identical laughs. We clutched at the sink, bent over in the childish tittering that I’ d never shared with anyone except Belle. We were tired and punchy with grief. Laughter “I guess there’s hope for the short man, the height challenged,” said Belle, between laugh spasms. “Dying is better than wearing elevator shoes.” “How long has he been short?” I said, and we doubled over the sink again.
Back at the pews, Josh whispered, “You two are lucky I can keep a straight face; otherwise I would have charged out of here, too.” We drove to the Griffonia Cemetery. As we pulled in, I noticed a hand- written cardboard sign on the cemetery’s chain link fence. It read, Who was baking them? Who was purchasing them? Buy a pie. Buy a quiche. Buy the farm.
The sun couldn’t have been brighter. Papoo Dunk went into the warm That evening I realized that I hadn’t seen Josh for hours, and neither had Belle, so we set out to find him. He was in the field, looking at his tractor. After a long while he said, “Papoo Dunk, he loved that tractor,” and a sob pulsed out of him, as if there were a tractor in his throat, the engine trying desperately to “Mourning represents the value of life,” Benjamin had once said.
I was the only one in the house on a late afternoon when a heat wave hit. I’ d sensed the swelter coming, even in the middle of yesterday’s cool spel . What had I sensed it with? My skin? The smell of different air, far away? Had the look of the air altered? Some modification in how sound traveled? Even as a boy I had been able to sense changing weather in this town. It was a skill I hadn’t taken with me to New York, where I couldn’t tell anything without checking the radio report. But here it was again, the old wisdom. Knowledge like a burglar “I need to get to New York,” I told Belle that evening. “I have a commitment to march in the AIDS walk. People have sponsored “Don’t go back,” said Belle. “Josh and I could take care of you.” Was I? I thought of the intermittent theater jobs. Actual y, I hadn’t been able to take on a directing project since I got sick. I thought of my dark apart- ment over the Chinese restaurant on Eighth Avenue, the cans of baked beans lined up in the kitchen cabinet. The roaches, also in the kitchen cabinet.
“What do I know?” said Belle. “I’m just a small-town lawyer. But I say “OK,” said Belle. “I say, if you resist it, it’s probably the truth.” “Belle, I can’t burden you and Josh.” Belle went upstairs. I took out my pil s and lined them up on the kitchen table. It took me ten minutes to down them al . They were nasty. I’ d been nau- seated for the past three months despite the medicine I took at night to avoid a morning sickness that lasted, usual y, until 3 pm. When I wasn’t nauseated, I was tired. Usual y I was both. I was trying to reverse something that was going Just a couple of steps and I could stand where we’ d found Papoo Dunk. Up the stairs was the room where, two years ago, Belle and I had spoken in subdued voices as our mother twisted in her bed, an ill woman with a slipping brain. Outside, the evening blew by, and leaves brushed against the window. In the past years I’ d learned a new language: protease inhibitors, Com- bivir, Viread, INSTIs, fusion inhibitors, rilpivirine, NRTIs, Prezista, Aptivus, Videx, CD4 cell count, Proleukin, Remune, Rescriptor, cytomegalovirus, hydroxyurea, BAY 50-4798, Invirase, IR103, Viramune, Norvir, Zerit, Mycobac- terium kansasii, Emtriva, campylobacteriosis, CMV, CCR5 blockers, Reyataz. Science fiction text, all of it—a language with side effects. Many of my friends I headed to bed and lay there, thinking about Papoo Dunk, about how, on the day he died, he still looked like his baby pictures, the ones in the disin- tegrating family albums that, every time they were pulled off the bookshelves, shed yellowed tips of paper. Papoo Dunk had left along the same route he’ d arrived on. Papoo. What a word. It might just as well have been papoose. Josh came to the bedroom door. Nobody knocked around here; they just appeared and started in with why they’ d come. “Steven, you know, when I was in graduate school I did some research on life forms in the Antarctic Sea. I learned that there are some creatures living in there whose only function is to anchor their colony to the sea floor. That’s Belle. Me, too—on the tractor, planting things that sew the soil to itself. It’s not a burden for me. Or for Belle. It’s who we are. That’s all I’ve got to say. See you A few days later Belle drove me to the bikini plane that took me to my connecting jet to New York, which was delayed in a circling pattern above the city for hours. It was midnight by the time I final y opened my apartment door. I flipped on the tv, and the first word I heard was annihilation. I turned the tv off. Sirens came through the summer streets. I lived in a nest of them— automobile alarms, fire engines. They screamed through the night and into the morning. The sounds of trouble surrounded me. I wandered from one end of my apartment to the other. I opened the closet door, and there were Benjamin’s socks.
When the day of the AIDS walk came, it brought a thick rain. At the sign-in table the volunteer had a plastic garbage bag draped over his face and hands, so that what he was writing wouldn’t wash away. I met up with some friends who also had AIDS; we walked so slowly that we were behind the march most of the time. People waved from windows. On 74th Street, a man with a New Year’s Eve horn blared it from a slippery fire escape. Along the route, volunteers offered water in little open cups. They had expected hot sunny weather. “Have some,” one said, cheerful y. “It’s been freshly contaminated by New York City acid rain. I used to have oranges. But I have no more oranges. All I Rain jackets and hiking shoes were useless. On we walked, a visual cacoph- ony of umbrel as and ponchos, until we got into Central Park, the end of the march—the Great Lawn. Actual y, it was the Great Mud. I was half drowned in my trench coat, which the rain had made, easily, ten pounds heavier.
“You look great!” one of the greeters joked, peering into my sopping face, “I could hardly tell it was raining, you look so good. Did you just have your hair done? This way, please. Just step into the mud. It’s our way of saying, ‘Thank I had dinner with my friends at an Indian restaurant in Greenwich Vil- lage, with the waiters politely ignoring the puddles we left on the carpeted floors. Then I went home, my civic responsibility met. The days glided by again, as they had in Griffonia, except no humming Papoo Dunk stared out my apartment window at a beloved tractor. No Bel e and Josh. The days turned to weeks. Then the night sweats began. The first night, they were so bad that I woke up in damp pajamas, my head on a wet pillow, my back stuck to a moist mattress. They became a nightly event. I’ d stumble into my minuscule bathroom and sponge myself off, change into dry pajamas. Two hours later, I’ d be up again. Same thing. I was averaging four hours of sleep. I didn’t want to know. I waited a couple of months, until my next medical appointment, when my doctor said, “Anything new?” It turned out to be non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And what did that mean? It meant that despite all the medications I was on, AIDS was still the perfect crime. My rotten immune system made me vulnerable to . . . wel , just about When the doctor outlined my so-called options, all of them iffy for someone in my condition, I stopped paying attention. Chemotherapy. Radia- tion. Bone marrow transplant. I told the doctor I’ d think about it, but I lied. I couldn’t picture making it through any of the things he described. Sitting in my doctor’s office, the only thing I found I could picture was the color of Hon’s As a kid, in wintertime, whenever I’ d run toward the door without a scarf, my mother would say, “Careful, don’t go out like that, you’ll catch your death.” And here I’ d done it, gone out and caught my death. One night, I woke up, again, sweating. I imagined I was being dipped in soup. Egg drop soup, from the Chinese restaurant. It was 3 am. A thun- derstorm was stinging electricity through the air. It was what they cal , in Griffonia, a “big blow.” The streets splashed wet sounds up to my windows. Lightning scorched the sky. The air was a sodden magnet. The night groaned. I thought the weather would come in the window and crack the room apart. The storm was a huge animal, hungry for victims. It leapt from earth to sky, baring its teeth, a rumble in its guts. It stalked my apartment. It had fur and And I was my own Lear in the storm. I, “the thing itself.” And I, Shake- speare’s “poor, bare, forked animal” who had not prayed in years, prayed to the storm. “You have Benjamin,” I wailed. “Take his death, the death of a cher- ished young man, and be satisfied. And toss down, in exchange, a feeding rain, water to blood the trees, to juice the green things and the rivers. Take his loss, and give me back my life.” I was on a melodramatic jag and I wasn’t about to apologize for it—to the storm or myself.
Benjamin’s family had never valued him. Puzzled by his softness, they had sent him, at the age of ten, to a military boarding school where he was taught proper posture and was bullied by the other boys. His parents had buried him I remembered a vacation Benjamin and I had taken to Mendocino, where we’ d watched the boats seining at night. Each boat had a small light on the tip of its mast. Those lights had seemed so poignant to me, so brave: a few people huddled around a little wink in infinity and saying, “Ah, yes, now it’s not so dark.” And the night black around Benjamin.
I ached with feelings I couldn’t name. Pain I could name. Anger I could name. Disappointment. Mourning. Loss. But what could I call the feeling between disappointment and loss? Between mourning and anger? The storm roiled and billowed in me. Its momentum passed and left me behind, drenched in feeling, tired, flattened to my mattress. And calm.
The smell of Egg Foo Young flowed up the stairway and into my bedroom. Suddenly, I felt light, as if, no matter how much pressure I exerted, I skimmed along the surface of the world, leaving no trace. I was the wrong size, like Aunt Smaragda’s vision of Papoo Dunk in his casket. For years, I’ d had delusions of verticality. I belonged in a smaller box, one that fit me.
I called Belle and gave her the news. “It’ll take me a couple of weeks to pack.” I paused, “Belle, what if I die?” When I got back to Griffonia, Belle dropped me off at home and returned to work. I was weary, so weary. I fell asleep in the same hammock where I’ d first Maxie Arch’s yell woke me up. He was at the far end of the driveway. His face was painted green and he carried a toy bow and rubber-tipped arrows. “Hey,” he called. “Is the hunter in there?” He pointed to a large clump of Maxie nodded and headed into the bushes.
And good luck to me, I thought. Damn right there’s a hunter in there. I could hear the tractor in the cornfield. I rolled myself out of the ham- mock and wandered out toward the sound. While I was sleeping, Josh had gotten home and was sitting on the snorting tractor, which dwarfed me. It had yellow disks at the center of its huge tires and two pipes sticking off the front. “Welcome back,” he said. “You know what I like about this tractor? It’s as handy as a pocket. Easy to drive. Trustworthy. Sturdy. Smooth-running. The upkeep is real y low, and I can do nearly all of the maintenance myself. It’s efficient at hanging in, supporting loads. And it’s good for growing corn.” I didn’t know anything about tractors, but I could understand corn. “OOOOOO-klahoma!” Where “the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.” I could understand musical theater and beautiful-bodied chorus boys, like Benjamin. Boys in too much makeup, their limbs exploding to the orchestra’s cues. I turned, and there was Benjamin, sitting in the middle of the cornfield, on our New York sofa. Benjamin stroking his neck upward to the line of his hair. Benjamin twisting himself into curves and angles. His sideburns wet, clinging to his face and coming to a satyr’s point. He stood and walked toward me. His spine was long; his weight tipped saucily into his left hip. Benjamin, a long-legged laziness. A twenty-four-year-old Pan. Why wasn’t he in the woods, dipping his hooves in streams, licking summer leaves, rubbing his skin against the crusty barks of trees? Benjamin took off his shirt and let it fal to the “I better get back to work,” Josh said. And Benjamin disappeared. His name was on the list of people I’ d lost. “Benjamin,” I said out loud, and the sound of my loneliness was hollow, Josh turned the tractor engine on, and my bones shuddered at the churning sound. Smoke whirled off the machine like a dancer, like Benjamin.


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