(c) 2014, Michael Ampersant .
“I’m married to this gentleman,” I say to the immigration officer on SFO and point at Chang behind the yellow line. She beams at us and waves him forward. Some court has just overturned California’s ban on gay marriage.
“You’ll be staying in the city, right?”
“The first few days.”
“If you like to go places, you must have lunch at the River’s End. You know the Russian River?” She draws a map on a sheet of immigration paper.
We rent a cheap place in Guerneville (on the Russian River), an hour and a half north of the city. I’m working on my book; Chang is tending to the kitchen garden we inherited from previous tenants.
The weather is California-perfect and I’m sitting on the porch. I get up at 4 AM to write and can’t concentrate in the afternoon. The place next door is (even) more run-down than ours. And makes angry noises. It moans and cusses with the voice of a middle-aged woman—about—Jamie. A boy sits on a camping chair outside. His face is blank. He gets up and disappears.
Repeat, basically, for several days or weeks. We’ve met the woman in the meantime. We talked once, which was an error, we’re her enemies too, now.
“Jamie is a sweet name,” I say to Chang, “she must have loved him once.”
It’s quiet today. Jamie appears at the garden gate. “She is dead,” he says.
“Sit down,” I say and fetch a glass of water for him.
I skip a few details.
Jamie is staying with us now. He doesn’t go to school. “You’re fifteen years old, you must go to school,” I say.
“I can’t,” he says.
His mother’s still in the morgue. We had a visit from an investigator; they can’t determine “the cause”—despite the autopsy. The investigator wanted to know more from Jamie.
“Perhaps it was brain tumor,” I said.
“The cause of death. A tumor that destroyed her personality. Like in that book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. You know the book?” No, he didn’t.
A girl and a boy appear at the gate, May and Dexter. Whether I know about Jamie. They are in his class at Santa Rosa High, everybody’s concerned about Jamie, he never answers his cell. His mother died, right?
Jamie’s inside reading a math book he discovered in my makeshift book case (I dropped out of math twice).
No, he doesn’t want to see anybody.
“Jamie,” I plead, “Be a good boy.”
He gives in, follows me outside.
Jamie’s reading another math book; I’m on the laptop, half-hiding the screen from his view.
“You must do the exercises in the book,” I say. “Math books don’t work unless you do the exercises.”
Yes, he understands.
Somebody’s at the gate, from the Town, a social worker.
“How about you, Jamie?”
This situation is not conforming to regulations, Jamie. Jamie must stay with certified foster parents. And attend school. And get counseling, maybe therapy.
Jamie keeps his eyes on the book.
“What are you reading?”
It’s a classic by Alfred Tarski, “Model Theory.”
The book’s cover is half-eaten by a dog I once had. I explain about the dog.
“Thinking about modeling, huh?” the worker asks (Jamie’s handsome).
Jamie spreads out the book (formulas). “Math is therapy,” he says.
‘Dogs are therapy,’ I think.
We get a border collie from the shelter. I take the dog to the beach each afternoon, Jamie sometimes joins. May, the girl, is at the gate again. I ask her to join us.
The next day it’s Dexter. He didn’t know Jamie has a dog now. He has a dog, too. He’ll bring his dog tomorrow if that’s okay.
Funeral today. The case has been resolved. Brain tumor.
Jamie cries; first time I see him crying. Dexter puts his arm around Jamie’s shoulders.
May is at the gate. Jamie’s not in; he and Dexter are off to the beach with the dogs. Go, join them, they’ll be right next to the mouth of the river, the only place where dogs are allowed. She looks at her scooter, shakes her head.
My book case has run out of math books. I suggest Jamie go see a guy I met recently in San Francisco who’s on the faculty of Berkeley math.
“I set up an appointment.”
“You take the city bus from Santa Rosa.”
Dexter arrives with his dog and his pickup truck. “I’ll take you to Berkeley,” he says.
Early next morning, Dexter again. “There’s no way you get into Berkeley without a high school diploma, Jamie,” he says. “Come on.”
It’s Sunday morning. The girl. Jamie isn’t in. “No?”
“He’s sleeping over at Dexter’s.”
It’s Sunday again, fairly late in the morning. May and a new boy are at the gate, Axel. He’s introduced like a future fiancé. Dexter’s dog appears in the door, followed by the border collie followed by Dexter.
Let’s all go have lunch at River’s End, I suggest.
The dogs have to stay behind (major complications).
We order. We admire the view (mandatory at the River’s End). Axel bends over and asks Dexter whether the Rainbow Club has any plans for the prom. Dexter looks at Chang, then at me, then at Jamie. “What do you think?” he asks our boy.
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- Michael Ampersant has recently finished his first gay novel, “Green Eyes”, and is working on a sequel. His short stories have appeared on Etherbook and in Temptation Magazine. He lives in Southern France.
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