We're not made of money. My brother works at the Holiday Inn back home. He has a girlfriend. He knows what to do. Here at the lake, alone, I write in code how my brother does push-ups naked and develops his own pictures, how I plot to glimpse his penis dark and substantial like sausage. At night he does his job. He is hard and I am soft. My father taught me this code. He's good at things like that. My mother doesn't know about it and wouldn't care. In relentless noon I lie on the dock with my notebook. On Cutter's Point, I can see Camp Assamaug. I gaze across the water to see laughing, shirtless guys appear from the pines. There's a right way and a wrong way to be. I search the woods for them and when I find one, I stare stare stare at him until my eyes ache. I love him and hate him and want to be him. He vanishes according to plan, not seeing me.
If I leave my notebook lying around, my mother sneers, "You people talk about 'vacation!' I never get a vacation! I don't know the meaning of the word 'vacation!'"
Neither do I.
Boys sail beyond the Point. White shirts billow from slender, athletic bodies, flapping like national flags. They yell. I can't take yelling.
Later, at the doorway to evening, the counselors appear from the woods. One is rangy with a squinty grin. He is hard and he is soft. He laughs and loves everyone and everyone loves him. I watch his trunks. I star in a film about a hobo boy found sleeping on a park bench. The townspeople shun him till they discover his hands can heal. He heals an old woman who's been mean to him; she begs forgiveness. He forgives her and the prettiest girl in town falls in love with him. He makes love to her, he puts it in her and masters her, and then they leave town together without telling anyone.
I watch my counselor razz the other counselors like they were his brothers. He stands erect, long arms out. His body his body his body his back his shapely (no! ick!) hairy legs arc and he plunges into the water perfectly. He knows how to do something. He learned it. His father taught him as a boy and now he is a man and he knows how. His grin pops up. He hoists himself, groin pressed to the raft edge. Big bare feet grip the raft wood as he stands dripping and powerful, but skinny.
"Next year, could I go?" I knew camp was expensive, so I quickly added, "If I won the Super Word Jumble? It's $1,200 this week."
"Well, I don't think that's worth discussing," my father said. Same as when I asked how a man could turn into a woman, like in The Christine Jorgensen Story, which I tried to glimpse as we passed the drive-in. The screen moved while everything else stayed still.
So I'd do the Super Word Jumble every week till I won, and then they'd see. I'd go to camp and be someone they liked, someone other kids liked, tan and skinny and good, who knew how to sail, and yell. "Hey! Watch out, man! You're gonna capsize us, man!" When we fell in I'd laugh. They way I am now, I don't like water. I don't like going in or wearing my bathing suit. I don't laugh around water. Camp would change me.
Saturday mornings when the paper came I hovered. Dad took forever reading it. When I finally got it, I'd say, "Wow, Word Jumble's eight hundred this week!" Silence. Then one Saturday my mother strode in, snatched the paper and screamed, "If I have to hear one more word about that damn Word Scramble, I swear to God I'll lock you out of this house and you can go beg the neighbors for your stinking money!"
I went upstairs, shut my door, and cried. My mother said "damn."
My dad hadn't said anything.
Boys in white sail out from the Point, free. They know what to do.
I took my allowance and bought my own paper and hid it under the bed.
By Thanksgiving I hadn't won, then over Christmas I missed two of them. I didn't do the Super Word Jumble again.
I star in a movie where I rescue a girl from a burning building. I get a reward but instead of using it for camp I buy my mother chocolates.
This is the code my dad taught me:
So, "I am not a man" would look like this:
"My parents love my brother more than me" would look like this:
We don't know the meaning of the word "vacation." We're here because Mr. Violet, who owns the island, fits us in for a week, free, every summer, because his father knew my mother's father, who owned the island before the Depression. At lunch today my father made suggested giving Mr. Violet "some token amount," and my mother spent lunch yelling at him. She said, "You people don't know the meaning of the word 'Depression'!" My father didn't say anything. Now they're sleeping. My mother's in the bedroom, my dad's in the living room. I take my telescope and go down to the dock.
I point my telescope across the water, at the counselors from Camp Assamaug. There's the one I love, all jock-ish and smiling squinty-eyed. I call him Eddie Tyler, like Toby Tyler, who joined the circus because nobody loved him. In my movie, Eddie plays the role of the boy on the park bench.
With my arm sheltering the paper, I draw in my notebook: "Eddie Tyler in The Hands of John. In Technicolor." Eddie'd think I was sick if he saw this. I'm ashamed to draw his face. I'm no good at faces anyway, so I blending lots of pine trees into his face. He is a legend. Noble. At the top I write, "They hated him at first, but his powers turned their hate to love." Below I write, "Starts Wednesday, Prescott Lake Cinema."
At the end of the island, a bell rings. Someone wants the ferry to come get them. Mr. Violet has built this little ferry you crank by hand, a wooden platform that floats on green, scummy blocks of styrofoam.
I get an idea.
I can do it. They won't know. I just want to see him and hear his voice and feel his handshake. I just want to say hi to him and shake his hand...
I hop up with my telescope, pick my way up the bank and race up-island toward the ferry slip. I have to get there before Mr. Violet comes down from his house. I slip on pine needles, but I barely feel the thud of my butt and I'm up again. I'm on my way.
I hope onto the ferry. It lurches and I know it will dump me, but it doesn't. I grip the crank, which is level with my chest. An underwater cable from the island to the mainland goes through the crank mechanism. You turn the crank and the ferry goes along the cable, back and forth.
Now I'm alone, every muscle tense and gripping, out in the middle of the lake, cranking, cranking. I'll never get to the other side. Something huge will fall on me. Everyone can see. Eddie can see. He thinks I'm weird but he's too nice to say so. "Hey!" It's Mr. Violet. "Hey, kid! What the hell do you think you're doing?" He said "hell." Now he's caught me I can't go back. I don't know what I can do. I crank madly, both hands. I keep my head down; if I look up I'll fall. The water passes, all mine, but I don't want it! Trees loom. Now I've done it. I have done this. The ferry worked, it did it's job, for me, because I did something. Something terrible. What now? What will happen to me? The clock on the Chevron station says an hour till dinner. Eddie Tyler will pass a bowl of sweet potatoes to one of his boys. He'll tousle the boy's hair. The boy will give Eddie a love tap. Eddie will give a love tap back, then the boy again, harder. If I could win the Super Word Jumble, I could be Eddie's boy. My parents couldn't say no. I'll find Eddie. Say hi and shake his hand and he'll recognize me, he'll like me, I'll hear him say my name and he'll say I can stay at Camp Assamaug under a special arrangement. He'll explain to my parents and they'll go away.
People we know wait for the ferry: Mr. and Mrs. Kent. Mrs. Kent wears white pants, a pink blouse, chunky earrings, and pink lipstick that goes up into the cracks around her mouth. Mr. Kent's black socks come up almost to his plaid shorts. A little white, veiny skin shows. They carry folding chairs.
"Hey, Schnickelfritz," says Mr. Kent. I think, They don't know me. I'm scared. Am I still me?
"Are your parents here?" says Mrs. Kent.
I'm in a movie where I kick Mrs. Kent again and again in the stomach and elope with her daughter.
"They sent me over to Muzzy's," I say. "For bread and milk."
"We'll wait for you," says Mr. Kent. He opens one of the lawn chairs like a trap.
"It might take a while," I say, going past them, my legs weak. Mrs. Kent hisses, "Jack, the Morrisons want us at six! I can't go like this!" He says, "Let the damn Morrisons wait!" and sits. I'll never find Eddie, I will never get anything, ever. I'm panting. There's the Kents' Buick. And our peeling Plymouth sedan. Now I'm on the road. Now...
Just where is Camp Assamaug?
On Cutter's Point, which you can't see from here. I pictured it to my left. Also behind me. On our way here we pass the sign. I think of the map in our cabin. Maybe if I keep moving, I'll overcome space and just magically find it.
Behind me, I feel the Chevron station disappearing. I left my telescope on the ferry! Blood drains from my head, but I can't go back now. And once Eddie sees me, I won't need a telescope. After my parents leave he'll offer for me to stay with him because the other bunks are full, and I'll see him naked. I won't need a telescope or anything. Eddie will have everything I need.
Dark spikes lengthen across the road. Station wagons with fake wood sides whiz by. I see people from the island, their kids' sticky fingers trailing out the car windows. Do they see me? I draw close to the back of the Assamaug sign, a plywood silhouette of the picture on the front: blond boys swimming, sailing, playing volleyball. I twist my foot on a chunk of blacktop and have to walk lopsided. Pains stab my ankle and my side. I'm not in shape, like the Assamaug boys. My mother told me to stop complaining and do push-ups. I did them every morning, then I stopped. I think she expected me to stop. Eddie will teach me exercises to make my stomach hard. We'll do them together. He'll show me and I'll go back to them all in perfect shape and not even say anything when they notice. I have to stop and bend over, panting. Finally I stand and keep going, keep going, keep going...
The Assamaug sign stands guard at a shaded road. It ends in another, better world. The afternoon is chilly. I don't know how long the road is. The raft is empty. The counselors are drying their bare bodies, in huts that smell of wood and dirty socks and bygone summers. I start down the road.
Their dinner bell rings. Strokes float like love from a piney night forever. Hair combed, the boys pass bowls of sweet potatoes. Eddie smiles. His forearms ripple as he takes and grips the bowl with his big fingers. His bathing suit hangs by his tent. The pouch hangs out. No stains, like in mine. Finally a car slows behind me, a hot rattle pulls alongside, and our peeling hood intrudes. My father snaps, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Of course. As it was in the beginning.
"Get in, now!" I star in a movie about boys born with an incurable disease that makes them attack people with axes and hack their chests open.
When we get back to the ferry, my telescope is not there.
Night. A blurred, murky image of my room obscures the lake. A powerboat makes waves that slap our dock.
My mother said they wanted to understand, but couldn't. She sent me upstairs, and then they whispered about me. Rather, she did. All I heard him say, once, was, "I don't know."
I sing naked in a Broadway musical. I star in a movie about a man who catches his son when he falls off a building. I am the son. The movie is shown at my school and everyone boos when my name comes on the screen. The teacher shuts off the projector and my classmates will never be allowed to see the movie, even after I win an Academy Award. I will press all my desires into black diamonds that will CUT!
"Could we talk, maybe...?" She says it so blubbery, like she's pretending to be afraid of me. I hate that.
She has my journal. She closes the door behind her, and comes and sits on the bed. She asks if I would come up onto her lap? We haven't done that in a long time.
My father found the journal on the dock. He decoded a part about my brother. "Now, I don't know about any 'code'..." she says, clutching the journal but not opening it, but she says, why, they love me every bit as much as my brother! How could I possibly think otherwise? It's just that he can do some things because he's a little bit older. Do I understand?
"Mm-hmm." I feel heavy on her, like I'll crush her legs.
She strokes my hair.
I didn't run away because I thought they loved my brother more, did I?
I shake my head. Her knees cut to the bones of my butt, but I don't move. My penis is very small now. Her love gives me the opposite of an erection.
"Look at me." She smoothes back the wet spears of hair. Do I know how much they love me? I nod. Do I know it would devastate her if I ever ran away and something happened to me? I nod. I hate love. So grabby. All a trick.
She holds the journal. I won't write anything about more them loving my brother more, will I? I shake my head. Now she hands me the journal.
I never write in my journal again. The pages will yellow and curl at the edges, but their hearts will remain smooth and empty and unseen. Except I'll flip through once in a while, just so someone sees them, so they have one friend and can be real.
Did they decode the stuff about my brother's penis? Did my dad decode it and not tell my mother? Did my mother see the movie ad with Eddie Tyler? If she did she probably just thought it was stupid. But I'll never know. The next day they talk brightly and quickly and joke a lot as though nothing happened.
I never write in my journal again, but that's okay. I'm forgiven. The awful thing is forgotten. That's more important than a dumb fake movie ad.
I don't tell them I lost my telescope and they don't ask. They probably forgot I had it.
I'll never run away again. I don't even have to promise. It's one of those things we all just know. Besides, I'm already gone.
I'm still here.
After my shift I walk home. At the crest of Mosher Hill I stop to see the Sun rise, July air nuclear-bright over my old elementary school. I'm the only one to see the dawn. Then a cop car rises up and stops. They want to know what I'm doing here. They glance up and down, appraising my grease-spattered shirt and baggy pants. I cringe, trying to hide the stains from their hard eyes. I'm not in movies anymore. I have a summer job as night cleaner in the kitchen at McBurney's Tavern. Patrick, the salad boy with the big, cute grin, got off at 11:00, changed behind the boxes of powdered soap where I couldn't quite see, and with his worn jeans hugging his small, round ass he went out, keys jingling, to seek and to fuck. I worked till four a.m. in the windowless fluorescent palace echoing with AM radio: "Knowing me, knowing you, there is nothing we can do..."
Now I just want to see the Sun rise.
Convinced of my innocence, or not completely convinced of my guilt, the cops slowly roll off. I walk on downhill. They've ruined it.
In her nightgown my mother rocks herself on the couch and sniffles. "Hopeless!" she wails, the corners of her mouth pulled down in a mask of tragedy. She dabs at her eyes with a worn, wadded Kleenex. At her feet, a spot on the carpet. I stand in my bathrobe. I did what I was supposed to: shed my uniform on the porch, on yesterday's newspaper, let myself in and went straight to the shower. She wipes her eyes.
Well, don't we have something to clean it with?
She stops rocking, makes a fist around the Kleenex. "Jeepers, no one around here knows anything!" Like she might go some other place. "You have to rent a machine that costs an arm and a leg and take out every stick of furniture!" Dawn makes the curtains glow. I'm tired.
"So, is there anything I can do?"
"You can keep your damn uniform on the back porch where you're supposed to, is what you can...!"
"Hey, I did not do that!" She doesn't look at me, but her spine stiffens. I tell her, "I've taken my clothes off on the back porch every night this summer! I will not be accused..."
She looks up, eyes ablaze but not meeting mine. Like an electric saw tearing through wood: "I...didn't...say...you...did!" "I'm sorry. I..." "How dare you say I accused you of such a thing!" Her fist convulses, but doesn't punch anything. "I happen to be a little upset because there's a spot on a brand new rug, paid for with my money, and you won't indulge me that much! I see you taking deep breaths. You might choose to understand the totally demoralized state this puts a person in and for once maybe just lie down and be able to take it." She massages the Kleenex. "I guess I'd better never again talk again about anything I feel!"
The curtains glow. A cicada starts up: Naynaynaynaynaynaynay!! What are we talking about?
She stares ahead, her at is its longest and most erect. "I work hard!" As she speaks she jabs her finger toward the center of her chest. "I'm the one who has to worry about how to get a machine the size of a tank in here! I'm the one who fixes things around here, you're the one on what we laughingly call a 'vacation'!"
High school Chemistry: Pressure turns coal to diamonds. The black ones you don't see on wedding rings.
"I NEVER get a vacation! Not one stinking day! I work keeping this place clean for you and your father to turn it like a flophouse! Like I'm some kind of garbage! Like I don't even exist!"
I have pictures of naked men, upstairs. I bought a magazine in Hartford after leaving the newsstand and coming back four times. They have impossible cocks that hang like my brother's, or curve down like faucets from ruffs of pubic hair. My brother is gone now. He programs computers in Denver. They all have hard eyes -- if you bother to see their eyes -- except for one... She slips in and out of focus. I turn to go. "I wonder," she hisses, "what a psychiatrist would say about this!" I just go upstairs. I'm going to break a law. There's a guy in one of my magazines, the only one grinning. He's dressed like a state trooper but with his zipper open, long prick hanging out over his nightstick. But he's too young to be a real cop. He grins like it's all a joke and it tickles him, and that melts what's left of my heart. He could do anything with me. I do nothing without his permission...
Cross-legged, naked on my unmade bed, I dig with my thumbnail at the white flesh of my leg. I make moons, purple and yellow. With my other hand, slowly I turn pages. I take shallow breaths. My heart knocks as I draw close to it. There: uniform hanging on skinny body, veins on his thin, strong arm. The joy, the joke, the freedom of that prick. "Knowing me, knowing you, there is nothing we can do..." I touch myself. The cicadas start again.
I can't fight the heat and pressure that turn veiny erections and dimpled butts into black diamonds -- my family jewels. I jack and shoot on myself, not the boy-cop.
On all the pages left blank I could write in sperm the sound of cicada wings -- not tissue scraping tissue -- steel scraping bone. Naynaynaynaynay-naynaynaynay! "Breaking up is never easy, I know what I had to do. Knowing me, knowing you, it's the best we can do..." The fireglow fills my room.
I pull the Metro News from under my bed. In the smudgy corner of the personals page, GWMs: "Great loving and dynamite sack action." -- two guys in Titusville looking for a third. I sent a letter to the P.O. box. My heart shook my entire frame as I wrote my address for them. I asked them to send a phone number. I get through each day thinking, today their letter will come. When it doesn't I'm relieved. I think, tomorrow. At night, alone on my knees, I scrub at glistening grease beneath the fryer. It never comes off completely. The radio crackles: "Knowing me, knowing you, it's the best we can do..." I scrub and I think of "Great loving and dynamite sack action." My chance to resume my movie career.
I won't sleep. I tuck the Metro News back under the bed and go down. She sings from the kitchen. "Good morning! Who'd like pancakes?" My favorite.
"Sure..." I say.
Cicada sounds cut the screens. They come every seventeen years but in my world the noise comes every day. In the living room the blinds are drawn. I go to open them but no. They're drawn for a reason. So the spot won't show.
"Okle-dokle!" my father says. "Breakfast!"
The house is a reactor; the heat turns the pancakes and the spot on the rug and "great loving and dynamite sack action" into black diamonds.
The letter comes with no return address. "Greetings, fellow Sybarite..." A real other male with a dick wrote this. I did something and something actually happened. His scribble speaks of "Epicurean antics" and "forbidden pleasures." Eddie Tyler's dead and gone.
There's a number: "Call anytime." I keep the letter for a week, then call one evening when my parents are out. "You wrote..." I clear my throat. I mean, I wrote you. And..." He doesn't know what I'm talking about or he'll say it's a wrong number or... "Oh, hey." Throaty and slurred. A trick? His name is Bob. "So I...wanted...to...'get together'." "Excellent." We set a time. "Bring some stuff if ya got." He doesn't mention the other guy and I don't ask. I picture Bob pliant, with a white body and a red dick standing straight up. But the other guy, the one he didn't mention, is Eddie Tyler. I'll co-star with him at last. Starring in movies. That's love.
I hold the keys. I told her I'm going to see college friends. She follows me out: "Now, you don't know this because you've never been out there, but those hills around Titusville are murder. When you shift into second..." And, "Remember, this is power steering, you're not used to it, you're liable to slam into a brick wall." My father stands behind the screen door. She tells me...
Look -- why don't you for once shut the fuck up?! Why don't you for once shut that lousy, rotten yap of yours and maybe get the idea through your skull that the rest of the world is grown up and knows what the fuck to do without you sticking your fat, loud, fat mouth into every god damn thing!
Chin quivering: "I...I...don't know what you mean..."
"Let's hold on here a minute," Dad says.
Oh, are we going to speak? After centuries of silence is The Wimp going to break his sacred silence? Gonna be a man? If you're gonna stick up for something, Marshmallow Man, why don't you stick up for taking her down to the booby hatch and having a thousand volts of electricity shot through that fucking drill sergeant brain and then maybe there'd be some peace and quiet around here. The two of you could sit in the corner and drool together, wouldn't that be fun?
She wrings her hands. She turns halfway toward my father but does not meet his eyes. "Wha..? What's happening? I don't understand..."
I snatch the garden hose and whale the end against the aluminum siding. Water flies in arcs, drops stain the concrete of the foundation and spread. "I'm! Gonna! Do! What I! Want! And you're! Not! Gonna! Stop me!"
Hate pure and electric, like a hard cock. I hold the keys. They watch me go. They'll assume so much. That brings me a sadness that "great loving and dynamite sack action" can't cure. I just want to fuck fuck fuck, lost in mad thrusts. Dynamite. But I love her in her faded house dress, warm breasts I still crave to suck.
I star in a movie where two estranged brothers reconcile in a snowball fight, then head back inside, arms around one another.
I star in a movie where a boy loses his best friend in a car accident. When he goes back to visit the friend's family he can't leave.
I star in a movie where an abused boy escapes Czechoslovakia and comes to America. He looks up at the Statue of Liberty, and cries.
I drive. They disappear.
"Hey." Bob grins. He has a sunburn. His hair is long. Not rebel long. Long because other people have theirs long and he can't be bothered cutting it.
We sit in his parents' TV room. He doesn't mention the other guy. He gets high. I take two tokes and nothing happens. He talks about his car. We eat chips out of a bag and drink beer. I hope the other guy will come. Eddie Tyler. He'll sock me on the shoulder. He'll have hands calloused from football; he'll invite me to his house. I'll tell him about my fight with my parents and how hard it is and how hard it's always been.
Bob gets up, takes me out, shows me his pool. His parents' pool. I'm beginning to hate him. He brings me in again and talks some more. About the pool, his car, about this girl he fucked. A lot about this girl he fucked, and he asks if I want to watch TV. I say okay. He stares glassy-eyed at the glassy eye.
"So," I say, "there's...um...like...another guy, right?"
"The ad? That I answered? It said something..."
Bob chortles in kind of slow motion. "Yeah. This friend of mine. He's crazy...he just...but...um...you wanna have a wank or somethin'?"
I slide my pants down and feel like a fool when he just opens his fly and takes it out and pulls on it. He mostly stares at the TV, checks me out every once in a while. It doesn't get hard, but he's bigger than me so it doesn't have to. "Sorry, man," he concludes. "I guess not today." He puts it back, zips up and goes on watching TV. I keep going a while. He's making faces at the screen. After minutes I say I have to go soon. I finish just to get him back. I don't look at him, I don't make a sound, I don't even let my breathing or my posture change. I catch it in my hand, then ask where the bathroom is. I wash it down his parents' drain. When I come back I say, "I gotta go now." He says fine. I want to kick him. I am the hero of this pathetic movie.
"Pleasure," he says as I go. He waves.
I sit motionless in my parents' car outside his parents' house.
She was right. The hills are terrible. I sit motionless.
Holding out just in trunks on the overcast beach. Up at 5:00, got here at 9:00. Past 6:00 now. Loping down the sand with your friends, you have the most perfect squinty grin I've seen all season. Are you a lawyer, Eddie? An architect with an espresso machine? You glance. Smile -- at all the world, at all supposed creatures of God. Then go on.
Follow you to Antarctica bended knee, hold you in a sunset meant not for Prince Charmings but for contortionists, hermaphrodites, and men with dead brothers dolled-up hanging from their chests. Offer you black diamonds. No.
Now comes another one, slower, eyes sharper, in just a black Speedo. Inside, black diamonds. He knows what to do. His perfect knowledge thrills.
The movies now go unwatched. They're not wide release anymore, but independent. Limited engagements. Just home video, really, and all the same.
Eddie, come play on the empty dock, the hollow in the dunes, the enchanted places that thrill!
Instead it will be this sharp-eyed one, not in a lace-curtain bedroom or a chapel or plastic living room, but in nearby hollows where it waited, long before knowledge knew itself. To know his fears might be nice, but his job is unimportant, or where he lives. I don't want him, I want you, Eddie, gone twenty-one years but ever here in every movie, I want you to know those hollows, where Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh still play among the tombstones. We'll get together, make a little package of forever someone else can watch from their dark.
Stops. "Hi." You've gone, Eddie. Gone to humans, whose game I won't play. But I see only you. You are how it should be. I love movies. Love love love! The transaction with the Speedo is weary and blunt, vanishes in a hollow in the dunes blemished with the ruins of used rubbers. He does his job.
"Yeah, oh yeah!"..........................................................
Everyone does, I guess, but.
And The Hands of John........... will open.......... tomorrow........................... It will come.................. out of................... nowhere.............. and win................ every................ Academy Award........................... there is....................
"Oh! OH!!! Oh, shit Jesus Christ!"...................................
It comes out like mother-o'-pearl, but a microscope would show black diamonds. We live in caves of them, he and I, where no one else enters. But for just this moment, just for this moment, long gone now...
Special thanks to Joanne Gottlieb, who created the original electronic files of the code drawings.