(c) 2010, Kenneth Pobo
325 Oak Street talks with 318 Oak Street. Marsha says, “I had to invite the gay ones. It would look unfriendly if I didn’t.”
Belle says, “I just hope they don’t, you know, start kissing or something. Jack would probably get a gun or something.”
Both in their forties, Jeff and Jerry live at 345 Oak Street. Yesterday, after Jeff got home from his job at Home Depot, he husked corn while Jerry put push pins through the porch screen which flops down whenever there’s wind. From there it’s a quick leap to gay marriage, gay adoption, and the fall of the Western world.
Speaking of the fall, it’s early October. A breeze lifts a few paper plates off the table set in the middle of Oak Street which has been blocked off for the annual block party. Lemonade sweats in a ruby pitcher. Hamburger patties, red as faces of sprinting runners, sit under a thin plastic wrap.
Speaking of the fall. Of Western Civilization. It happens all the time. Western Civilization, nicknamed Wes, attends the block party too. He sits on a thatched chaise lounge, sips a margarita, with salt, and moans to Belle about diabetes and why it’s so hard to put together a gas grill. I mean, the box says, “4 Easy Steps” and you get in it and a billion widgets and whatsits fall out. Honestly.
Marsha offers corn chips and salsa.
“Care for some chips, Wes?”
“No thanks honey. I’m on a diet.”
Marsha breezes off–her kid Rodney knocked over the chocolate cake with vanilla icing she had made.
“Damn you, Rodney!”
The boy escapes over a hedge.
Rodney can’t stand his parents, especially his dad Charles, nicknamed Chuck, who smokes and his beer belly looks like a row boat on a choppy lake. Wes likes Rodney, calls him a “scamp,” and thinks Marsha and Charles are the salt of the Earth, licking the edge of his grita glass. He avoids Cara, the adopted five-year-old daughter of Maxine and Lila, 355 Oak, won’t even talk to her, just slumps in his chaise. A speed demon in his youth, friends called him “lead foot,” but that was long ago. Now his knees ache and it’s hard just to get up to go to the bathroom.
After stuffing themselves on dogs and burgers, Jeff and Jerry say goodbye and head back to 345. Maxine, Lila, and Cara join them. Jeff and Jerry don’t like kids, but Cara is “cute,” at least that’s what Jeff says. Jerry considers kids to be tiresome interferences in adult conversation. Maxine laughs like Tallulah Bankhead. Lila likes colorful hats with broad brims.
“That Marsha,” says Lila, “her grande-dame at forty bit is getting old. You could peel her smile off in layers, like mummy bandages.”
“She’s alright,” says Jeff, “but so nervous. I don’t know about what. She seems to have it all.”
“And that old guy, Wes, why does he have to come to these parties?” Maxine asks.
“I know, he’s a fossil, but Marsha wants to include everyone.”
“Did anyone ever like him?” Jeff asks.
“Yeah,” Lila says, “he was married once. To a beautiful woman, so I hear, named Felicia, but Felicia got bored and skedaddled all the way to Argentina. I saw a picture of Wes when he was young. Belle says he was some kind of Adonis. Who knew?”
Dusk. A pair of pink flip-flops walking between clouds. A slapping sound of hand on leg from mosquitoes.
Jerry says, “Wes sounds like a pretty sad guy. Jeff, maybe we should have him over for martinis. I know he hates gays, but you never know. Maybe he’ll come around. So what if he’s thousands of years old?
Jeff: “You always…”
Jerry: “I never!”
Jerry enjoys parties, Jeff doesn’t, and living room walls don’t dare to take sides. It’s the evening they’ve waited for—Wes has finally agreed to stop in for drinks. Jeff sees him walking up the driveway. Jerry and Jeff have been cleaning all week. Everything has to sparkle. That’s what Jeff says, sparkle, summoning up a word his mother used to say every Friday when she’d move all the furniture, even the couch, to get any errant dust fleck. She called herself The Dust Assassin. Jeff and Jerry usually live just to the north of squalor.
But for this one day the house sparkles. Diamonds, and we don’t have to tell anyone that they’re phonies, glint on the mantle and light through the bay window shows that how even the mother-in-law’s green straps shine.
“Hi Wes, how are you? Hope you’re well,” Jerry says, opening the door.
“Hello,” the voice cold, like a fork found under snow.
Jeff brings in chilled martinis, very dry. Wes grabs one, downs it, grabs another. Jerry and Jeff trade glances, laugh, and Wes begins a tirade. Every other sentence starts “I don’t like….” Jeff tries to change the subject, but the subject never settles.
Jerry fluffs a pillow and just as he’s about to bring it to Wes, he slumps.
“Wes! Wes! What’s wrong?” asks Jerry while Jeff skitters to the phone.
Too late. When the ambulance arrives, Wes is dead. A heart attack—of course in a queer house. Uh, oh, what will the newspapers say? And worse, what will Marsha say? He declined and fell even before the garlic bagel crisps made it to the coffee table.
Neighbors gather outside of 345 and watch three ambulance guys haul Wes away. Some weep and shake their heads. A cloud. Of suspicion. Hangs. Over 345.
Marsha and the others, like waves receding from a water lily, drift back to their houses. “Heart attack, ha!” Jerry hears Chuck say. Blame’s sperm meets Guilt’s egg.
A new world forms. And in the morning, the kids must be driven to band practice, haircuts happen, and jobs open their unlipsticked mouths for many on Oak Street to sidle up and kiss.
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Check out Kenneth Pobo’s poems in The Queer South (Sibling Rivalry Press).
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