Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 5 • Spring 2003 • Fiction


Neil Thornton

Frank woke up and discovered that Robert had changed overnight. It was about time. Frank sat up in the bed and studied Robert's sleeping form. Robert was, in shape and size, very much the same man he had always been, broad shoulders, thick waist, furry chest. The change hadn't affected his chainsaw snoring or his penchant for stealing the covers. His coloring, however, was something else.

Frank put his hand on Robert's chest and studied the contrast. Frank's hand was the freckled pink that one would expect of a sun-sensitive redhead, whereas Robert's chest, like the rest of him, from his forehead to his feet, was irrefutably, unmistakably, and consistently blue.

The deep, rich, cobalt color reminded Frank of laundry detergent. Robert's nipples, a shade darker, were the color of blueberries. Frank suppressed the desire to giggle and bent down to kiss Robert on his newly blue lips.

Robert, without opening his eyes, grumbled, smiled and shoved Frank away. "Get off me. I have dragon breath," he said, and rolled over. After studying Robert for another minute, Frank put on a t-shirt and went downstairs.

While waiting for Robert to wake up, Frank made a pot of coffee and read the paper. Some right-wing televangelist had suffocated himself by painting his entire body with cheap liquid make-up in a desperate attempt to cover up his blue skin. The article ended with a warning from the surgeon general that skin suffocation was a very real danger, and that the best thing was to come to terms with your skin color, rather than to try to cover it up.

On the front page of the "Living" section, in full color, was a picture of Tom Chauncy, heartthrob mega-hunk star of ABC's Intensive Care. He was shirtless, of course, his blue skin painted with little fluffy clouds, like some odd mix of a Mapplethorpe photo and a Magritte painting. Definitely sexy, thought Frank.

According to the article, Chauncy had surprised the nation last night by appearing on the Tonight Show in an indigo Armani suit, tailor-made to match perfectly with his new skin color. He spoke directly and eloquently about his sexuality, his boyfriend, and about how turning blue was the best thing that had ever happened to him. His only regret was not turning blue sooner. Frank had to laugh, even though he felt a tinge of worried envy.

Five years before, a grad-student geneticist at UCLA stumbled upon a vaccine for AIDS, which also managed to cure a host of other viral infections, from pinkeye to Ebola. The treatment, a genetic cocktail of resistant DNA, cobbled together from a bunch of gay men who were immune to HIV, seemed to be completely free of side effects in the initial testing, even though it slightly altered the recipient's DNA. Soon after, a worldwide campaign was launched to inoculate everyone. According to CDC reports, almost 90 percent of the world's population was treated within one year.

Frank, who was HIV positive at the time, was among the first to get his shot. Robert, on the other hand, waited almost ten months, due to his irrational fear of needles and a lingering mistrust of the government. He gave in only after his HMO threatened to terminate his coverage.

The major side-effect of the drug reared its azure head about a year later, when some of the first test subjects, most of them gay men, began showing up in hospitals -- happy, healthy, and disease free, but each one as blue as the afternoon sky.

Frank heard movement upstairs and forced himself to stay in his chair, reading the paper. He heard the sound of the toilet flushing and imagined Robert getting his first look at himself on the mirror. He was pleased to hear the sound of Robert's booming laughter.

"Holy God! I look like a fucking Smurf," Robert yelled, loudly enough for Frank to hear. Frank had to put his coffee down to keep from spilling it.

When it became clear that only men and women with the "gay gene" were turning blue, the world became a very interesting place to live. Gay rights leaders rejoiced: finally there would be no such place as a closet, they said. All of the old nature vs. nurture arguments -- over whether or not homosexuality was a "choice" -- seemed to be finally resolved. On the down side, a short but predictable rash of suicides and "blue-bashings" followed soon after the "bluing," as it came to be called. Quite a few marriages broke up rather suddenly.

As more and more men and women turned blue, however, all over the world, from pre-schoolers to geriatrics, from hair stylists to construction workers to Congressmen, homosexuality was gradually accepted as a fact of life, rather than a point of debate. Even the Catholic church, which developed an embarrassing number of blue priests, bishops, and cardinals, (blue nuns, too!), called the bluing an "act of God," and seriously revised its previous position on the topic. In India, several Hindu sects began to revere their blue people as the new acolytes of Shiva, even building temples to the new priests of Lingam worship. As a result, quite a few Americans moved to India.

In another part of town, Walter had been in the bathroom for three hours. He woke up in the middle of the night to search for an antacid and received a nasty shock when he caught his reflection in the mirror. No matter how many times he blinked, his reflection was still the same. This can't be happening, he thought, as he opened his eyes again and found the same blue face staring back at him. I'm not gay; I can't be. I have a wife I love, and three kids. I'm forty-three years old. What the hell is going on? For hours, staring into this alien face in the mirror, he pored over every second of his life, but he couldn't remember one instance when he had been attracted to anyone besides Rebecca, much less to another man. Oh God, he thought, how am I going to explain this to the kids?

The sun was peeking into the bathroom window. Rebecca, who always woke up at the crack of dawn, would be knocking on the bathroom door soon. He couldn't think of anything to do, or say. Another tear crawled down his cheek, looking like a little sapphire against his skin.

Frank was amused to find that every other page of the paper had something to do with the color blue, even the ads. For instance, Lancôme had just come out with a new line of make-up for the fashion-conscious new-blue woman. Frank, however, was a little worried about the fact that he hadn't changed. He was well past the normal one-year time frame for changing, and now that Robert had changed, Frank wondered what was so wrong with him that he wasn't blue yet.

Frank was folding up the paper when Robert came into the kitchen, wearing nothing but a white towel, which contrasted nicely with his blue skin. He kissed Frank and announced, "I'm taking the day off work." He stomped across the kitchen to the coffee pot.

"Afraid to go to work?" Frank asked. "Half of your agency is blue already. You think they'll care?"

"No, white boy." Robert said, sitting in his chair and picking up the paper. "I just looked in my closet. All of my suits clash with my skin. We have to go shopping."

The kids were sent to play outside. "Daddy's very sick," Rebecca said, and the way she said it didn't sound like a lie. Walter lay in bed with the pillow over his head. Rebecca sat on the edge of the bed, just out of arm's reach. She refused to touch him, and refused to let him touch her, even though she was crying hysterically. Walter wanted so desperately to comfort her, to reassure her that he loved her and that he wasn't leaving, but Rebecca was inconsolable. "Fifteen years! And you've been lying to me all this time! How could you do this to me?"

Walter sat up and shoved the pillow aside. "I'm not... I didn't... I don't know how this happened," he said. "This is a nightmare. I feel like God is playing a cruel trick on me. I don't know what's going on."

Rebecca sobbed again. "You know Hillary Dawson? Down the street? Her husband turned blue. He said he was relieved. And then he just packed up and left. Moved to San Francisco. Is that going to happen to us? Are you leaving?"

Walter stared at the ceiling so he couldn't see his own alien hands. "I don't want to leave," he said. "I love you. I can't imagine having any other life. The only thing that changed is the color of my skin. Can't you see that?"

Rebecca didn't answer.

Walter pounded the bed. "Look at me! What do you see?"

Rebecca refused to look at him. "I don't know," she said.

Robert, proud of his new color, started going to the gym, so he could show off more of his skin at the beach next summer. Frank, who still hadn't changed, took to staring in the mirror for hours on end, searching for the faintest tinge of blue in his coloring. No luck. He even painted an old photo of himself with a blue magic marker, just to see what he would look like when the change happened. It had been too long. Nothing.

One night, Frank was flipping through the channels and stopped on a fundamentalist Christian talk show. The panel consisted of three men and one woman, all of whom had been leading the "gay lifestyle" until the bluing. When they failed to turn blue, every one of them had taken it as a sign that perhaps they weren't really gay after all. Frank couldn't figure out how, but somehow God came into the picture and set them on the path towards a happy, healthy, heterosexual, God-fearing, family-valuing lifestyle. The whole show made Frank very angry and depressed.

Around that time, Robert started pointing out good-looking blue guys on the street. "Hey. Look at that one. What a babe!" He bought a T-shirt that said, "Blue is Beautiful," and began hinting around that he was much more attracted to blue men than to guys who hadn't changed. One afternoon, as they drove past the college campus, Frank pointed out a well-built, shirtless guy playing football on the lawn. "There's a nice body," he said.

Robert look perturbed. "Too bad he isn't blue," he said, and sped past. They didn't talk for the rest of the ride.

Luckily, under pre-existing civil rights statutes, it was now impossible for Walter to lose his job because of the color of his skin. He showed up for every day, smiling bravely through the stalled conversations and the lingering stares around the office. Eventually, his co-workers seemed to get used to his appearance, and the buzz of gossip seemed to fade a bit. Some of his female clients and co-workers actually become more at ease around him, revealing secrets Walter didn't want to hear. On the whole, though, he grew a little tired of explaining his situation. "I may have the gay gene, but I'm not gay, and I'm happily married, thank you very much."

On September 14th, the first blue baby was born to a couple in Wisconsin, or at least the first reported blue baby. The proud parents displayed their robin's-egg offspring on the six o'clock news Saturday night, apparently causing a certain amount of rejoicing in the gay community. Frank and Robert decided to go out and celebrate.

At the door of the club, however, the Bouncer held his arm in front of Frank and said, "Sorry, blue-boys only."

"I'm gay," Frank said, still smiling. "Really. This is my lover." He pointed to Robert, who shrugged and nodded.

"Sorry man. Club rules." The guys in the line behind them, all of them blue, began to snicker and comment. Robert began to pull at Frank's arm.

Frank felt his face turning red. "Damn-it! I marched on Washington when I was sixteen! You're telling me I'm not gay?"

The bouncer leveled a severe glare at Frank. "No. I'm telling you you're not blue. Now please step out of the line before I remove you from it."

Frank, shaken and embarrassed, walked away. The men in line applauded and jeered, and one person said, "wanna-be!" Frank forced himself not to turn around, and nearly tripped over the curb. Robert followed him, but Frank insisted that Robert go out and enjoy himself.

Robert protested. "Fuck them," he said. "Let's go somewhere else."

"No. I'll be fine," Frank said. "Go back to the club. A lot of your friends are in there. Go have a good time."

They stared at each other for a while. Frank waited for Robert to say something to relieve the crushing feeling in his chest. Eventually, Robert shrugged and said "fine, whatever." He turned around and trotted back to the entrance of the club.

Frank saved his tears until he got home. In the bathroom, he stared in the mirror and found his own face impossibly ugly, horribly wrong. He stood there in silent, intense prayer to his own DNA, wishing, pushing, and willing his body to catch up with the rest of the world, to make him fit in.

If I don't change soon, he thought, I'm going to lose Robert. And if that happens, I swear I'll die.

Walter's son Arthur came home from school with a black eye. Rebecca stood in the door of the kitchen and watched quietly as Walter and Arthur talked about it.

"Tommy called you a 'latent homosexual,'" Arthur said. "And that you were going to run off with Mr. Repicki. I had to defend you."

"Is Mr. Repicki blue?" Walter asked, concerned that an eighth grader knew the words "latent homosexual."

Arthur nodded.

Despite everything, Walter still found himself worried about the influence of Arthur having a blue teacher. He sighed and took Arthur's arms in his hands. He still wasn't used to the sight of his own hands, especially against the pale skin of his own son. "I love your mother very much, and I love you kids just as much. I promise you -- cross my heart -- that I'll never leave you. I mean that. Do you believe me?"

Arthur looked into his father's face. His eyes, as blue as Walter's skin, were the eyes of a much older person. "I believe you."

"No more fights?"

"No more fights, I promise."

That night Rebecca allowed Walter into their bed for the first time since the change, but Walter noticed that Rebecca doused every light in the room, and kept her eyes squeezed shut.

Frank decided to get tested at the Genetic Research Center, to see what was going on. The television in the waiting room was tuned to some daytime talk show Frank had never seen. The debate was over whether or not to establish a specifically blue school for young kids. Frank couldn't tell which sides wanted the school and which didn't. There were some parents of blue children who wanted the school, and others who didn't want their children segregated. Some parents of non-blue children still wanted to remove all of the blue students and teachers from the schools, but others didn't want any blue kids to get special treatment.

"What a mess," Frank said out loud to the television.

A man in his forties, wearing a brown sweater that clashed horribly with his blue face, looked up from his magazine. "Tell me about it," he said. Frank smiled at him curtly.

Frank was called into a consultation room, where the aide, a man whose blue and black skin made him the color of an eggplant, sat him in a green plastic chair.

"Your test results came back," the aide said. His face revealed nothing. "I don't know how you're going to take this, but we can find no evidence of the gay gene in your DNA."

Frank's stomach began to turn, and the room began to go fuzzy.

The aide continued: "So you're never going to turn blue. Is that so bad?"

"Yes! I came out when I was fourteen." Frank found himself shouting. "I've always... I never even..."

The aide held up his hand to interrupt him. "I don't know what to tell you. Mostly, I'm just a lab tech. I have the numbers of a couple of good counselors if you want."

Frank numbly accepted a handful of brochures. "Three years ago," Frank said, "I was sitting in a little office just like this one, listening to someone just like you, who told me I was HIV positive and handed me a bunch of leaflets." He stood up, holding himself steady on the doorframe. "And you know? It's funny, but I don't remember feeling half as shitty and terrified as I do right now."

He made it as far as the waiting room before collapsing into a chair. The television was still blaring. A talking head appeared on the screen, some psychologist with dubious credentials, who was talking about genetics and skin color. "It's no longer a matter of preference," the shrink said. "You're either blue or you're not. If you're blue you have the genetic propensity to be attracted to the same sex. If you're not, you don't. It has nothing to do with choice! Nothing! We all have to get used to it."

Frank looked up at the screen and gave the image the finger. "Fuck you," he said.

"Bad news?" The man across from him, the one wearing the awful sweater, was staring at him.

"Yeah. Terrible news."

"I'm sorry," the man said. "I know what you're going through. But believe me, it'll get easier after it happens."

"What are you talking about?"

"After you change. My wife and I, we had a rough time at first, after the change, but we're getting used to it. As long as you stay strong about being straight, you'll be okay."

"Excuse me? I don't think you understand," Frank said. "Um. What's your name?"


"Look Walter, you seem like a nice guy, but you're way off. Here I am, gay all my life, head over heels in love with a guy who's probably about to leave me, and I find out I'm lacking a very important gene. And here you are... blue as a... I'm sorry, but I think you're fooling yourself."

Walter didn't even flinch. He smiled instead. "Actually, I could say the same thing about you, couldn't I?"

Frank smiled a little bit. "Yeah," Frank said. "And this asshole on the screen keeps going on about 'no choice,' 'no choice.' I swear to God I hear those fucking words in my sleep."

"So do I," Walter said. "So do I."

Frank sighed. "You wanna trade skin?"

"I wish we could, buddy," Walter replied. "I wish we could."

They both smiled at each other. It was one of the better moments Frank had experienced in months.

Finally, Frank stood up and picked up his coat. He was about to leave when he turned around and asked, "Do you mind if I ask you something?"

"No. Not at all"

"Do you love your wife?"

"Of course."

"I mean, like, do you love her so much that the thought of losing her makes you want to kill yourself?"

Walter didn't have to think about it. He just nodded.

Frank lifted his hands. "See? I feel the same way about Robert. And as far as I'm concerned, and I know it's kind of cheesy, but that's all that matters. That's what I have to say about choice."

And with that said, he walked outside.

Robert was sitting on the outside stairs waiting for him. He was wearing a black suit with a long charcoal overcoat, which reminded Frank of something he had once seen in a comic book.

"I thought I might catch you," Robert said. "So what's the word?"

Frank sat down, fighting the urge to break down completely. He took a deep breath. "I don't have the gene. I'm never turning blue. I'm sorry."

Robert didn't say anything for a few seconds. "So," he said. "This means you're going leave me for some woman?"

"Don't be silly. I'm worried about what you're going to do."

"Geez. I don't know," Robert said. "You're gonna trade in all your ABBA cd's and buy the Garth Brooks boxed set?"

Frank laughed. "I doubt it."

"Then what do I care? C'mon, walk me back to work."

As they walked down the street, Robert took Frank's hand in his own. The sight of the two of them, holding hands, leaning into each other, one bright blue, the other a pale redhead, attracted quite a few turned heads. Frank looked over at Robert's face: blue, stern and ineffable. Frank wasn't sure, but something in the corner of Robert's mouth belied the beginnings of a smile.

Born and raised in Schenectady, New York, Neil Thornton received his BA from Carnegie Mellon University, and his MFA in fiction from the University of New Orleans, where he now works as an English Instructor. He's currently at work on both the novel and the screenplay of Blue, and probably will be for a while.

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