After the Prom
It wasn’t the noise of them fucking that was keeping Matt awake; it was his own Goddamned erection. With a pillow over his head, he could escape the rhythmic creak of the old floorboards, the piercing squeaks of the poorly-assembled brass bed, and the shrill yelps of Michael’s saucy little minx. But, pillow or no, he couldn’t ignore Wee Willie Winkie standing at attention, eager to be recognized, unwilling to stand down.
A Monty Python tune hummed through his aching brain. It’s swell to have a stiffy; it’s divine to own a dick. “From the tiniest little tadger,” he sang, under his breath. “To the world’s biggest prick.”
Maybe it was divine to own a dick, to have the choice to fill or be filled without the need for strapped-on attachments. But was it really swell to have a stiffy? Having a penis—well, that was something he’d always enjoyed. But the stiffy part, Mr. Happy’s annoying habit of seeking attention at the worst possible times—baseball games, family dinners, those few mortifying minutes during confirmation—that, he could do without. He’d like to have a cock which responded only to the whims of, say, a remote control. Something small and thin that he could carry in his back pocket. A pause button for those drunken evenings when holding the piss back even one more moment seemed impossible. Rewind for those nights when a guy was hitting the spot too hard and too fast, fast-forward for those twilit trysts which were never over soon enough. A simple on-off switch to keep him out of trouble. And when he found the right guy, he would hand the device over, as a token of his love and affection. It would be a much more practical gift than a gold ring.
Unless, of course, it was a gold cock-ring. That would be… well, that would be…
Matt held the pillow tighter over his own head, hoping to drown out the sound of his own thoughts as well as he was drowning out the sound of his teenaged cousin’s post-prom humpfest. A gold cock-ring?!? He was full of shit, and he fucking knew it. He’d never even seen a cock-ring. And, aside from his own, he hadn’t seen any cock, ringed or not, in nearly six years. That was the real crux of the problem. Of course he was hard now, with what was going on in the room down the hall. Because, despite his loud proclamations to the contrary, Matthew Silver had been living the monastic life since his banishment to the Cape all those years ago. Garry Kent, who had been the first, had also been the last.
Garry, Garry, Garry. Now there was one time where having a stiffy was very swell indeed. Just the recollection of that first time had Matt throbbing anew. Camp Wah-Tut-Ca in wintertime… a half-dozen boys gathered in a cabin just up the hill from the lake where they would swim come summer… all of them watching their two patrol leaders wrestling on the floor, choosing sides, chanting “Matty, Matty” or “Garry, Garry”… all of it in good fun, good fun that wouldn’t be tolerated by the scoutmaster when he came back from wherever it was he was… and then there was the stiffy, the thick, hot slab of meat pressing against Garry’s ass as Matt tried to hold him down. He was sure that Garry would out him to the group—“Silver’s got a boner!”—but he didn’t. Garry tapped the knotted wood floorboards, signaling his submission, and Matt stood up, victorious. Luckily, his khaki trousers billowed out in just the right way, hiding the evidence from the now-cheering crowd. But he couldn’t deny what had happened with Garry, could he?
Garry clapped him on the shoulder. “Good match,” he said, panting. And then he squeezed. Gently, but still a squeeze.
Later, gathering firewood from the back of Mr. Stern’s oversized van, that maroon behemoth which had conveyed the lot of them from the parking lot at Aldersgate Church in Chelmsford all the way up to the wilds of Northwood, Matt and Garry made small talk, and Matt thought he might be safe, thought that maybe Garry hadn’t noticed. But then Garry asked, “Wrestling was exciting, huh?” and Matt knew that Garry knew, and Matt wondered if Garry knew that Matt knew that Garry knew.
A shrug was all that Matt gave him. “The younger kids seemed to enjoy it.”
Garry leaned against the open van door. “Seemed like you enjoyed it, too,” he said with a smirk.
“I’m sorry,” said Matt, stuttering, his arms full.
And then there was another shoulder squeeze, this one firmer, more prolonged. “Don’t be sorry,” said Garry. “I enjoyed it, too.”
And that was when the logs fell out his arms and onto the steel-toed boots Dad had just given him for Christmas, the steel-toes of which seemed to increase the pain rather than lessen it. Finally, something else throbbed in memory: his bare feet beneath the thin cotton sheet, a covering which seemed hardly enough now that he was traveling back in time, to another year, to another season entirely.
“You okay?” asked Garry, as he helped to collect the fallen logs.
“Are you…?” asked Matt, his face screwed up in pain both physical and mental.
“Don’t look so disgusted,” said Garry. “You are, too.”
Was he really? Matt had wondered then, and he was wondering again now. The only man he had ever been with was Garry. And with Garry, so much of it had been about the danger, from that first fumbling night at the back of Mr. Stern’s van, where they’d exchanged nothing more than their confessions, to that last evening, in the spring, after their prom, when they’d ditched the girls they’d been obliged to bring by their parents, by the social code of their prissy little town, and come down here, down the Cape, just as Michael and Robin had tonight, to engage in a night of debauchery that they would never forget. Matt wondered if all he had really been after was the danger, the secrets, the lies. He wondered if he would still choose a man after all these years, or if the allure was gone. Grampy had accepted him for who he was, and the rest of the family knew now, even if they didn’t approve. What was there left to drive him back to that aborted life he’d left behind all those years ago.
Matt lifted the pillow from his face. The house was silent, save for the occasional creak of a shutter in the wind. They were done, Michael and Robin. Matt reached beneath the covers, felt around. He was done, too.
The next morning, a copy of Susan Minot’s Monkeys in one hand and a Tequila Sunrise in the other, Matt sat at the table of his blissfully quiet kitchen, at the back of his blissfully quiet house, and hoped that the blissful quiet would not be punctured at anytime soon by the grating laughter of chipper teenagers still riding the high of their sixth or seventh post-prom orgasm. He hoped that they had fucked themselves into a coma, if only a temporary one, and therefore it was with great dissatisfaction that he set down his book at the sound of the girl’s voice. If not both of them in a coma, then why not her instead of Michael? Michael he could deal with. Michael was blood. This girl, well she was another story.
“I’ve heard of liquid lunches,” said Robin. “But liquid breakfast?”
Matt grinned at her, sipped from his glass.
“We didn’t keep you up, did we?”
Matt shook his head. “No. Course not.”
“Good,” she said, searching the cupboards around the sink. “I got the feeling these walls were kind of thin.”
“No,” said Matt. “Grampy soundproofed the whole thing. Never knew where inspiration might strike. Wanted to be able to blow that horn of his anywhere he went, without waking anyone up.”
“Really?” she said, sounding genuinely surprised. “Because we could hear all sorts of things from our room. Old pipes, squirrels in the attic, you name it.”
“Oh,” said Matt. “Well, I couldn’t hear anything. Slept like a baby.”
She nodded. “Anything to eat?” she asked.
“I’m a gay man, Miss Gates.”
“And, I don’t like to work out. So, I don’t eat breakfast. To compensate.”
“You don’t eat breakfast?”
Matt nodded, returned to his book. “Sacrifices must be made.”
She began to search the cupboards again. Over the top of his book, when she wasn’t looking, he watched her. On the back of her black t-shirt, running horizontally along the right side, were emblazoned the words ‘further down the spiral’, and for Matt, this said everything he wanted to say about where Michael was in his life, with this girl. The front of the shirt, a coil of rope which at first glance he had thought to be a puddle of orangey cat’s vomit—they’d put anything on a t-shirt nowadays, right?—summed up his feelings nicely, too. It didn’t matter whether it was the physical representation of the spiral alluded to on the back, or a puddle of bile and regurgitated fur; either way, her shirt got right to the gist of what Matt thought of her.
“Miss Gates,” she repeated, some minutes later. “Oddly formal for the man who is supposed to be one of my boyfriend’s best friends.”
“I disapprove, if you haven’t caught on.”
She nodded as she poured a bowl of cereal for herself. He didn’t bother to tell her that the Frosted Flakes had to be about a year old by now (they had been Grampy’s favorite), or that the bowl hadn’t been washed in nearly that long.
“It’s just a little aggravating to know that my family is still associating with your family, even after—”
“Adam,” she said, finishing Matt’s sentence.
Matt nodded as she took a place at the table.
“What happened between my brother and Michael’s sister was inexcusable.”
“Inexcusable for whom?” asked Matt, finally setting his book down.
“For Adam, of course.”
Matt sipped at his drink.
“Oh my God,” she groaned, rubbing at her temples. “It’s like nobody wants him to have fun. Ashley’s on my case, and you, and… and the guys in the band.”
“No,” said Matt. “That’s not what it is. He used to be fun, before our grandfather died. A little bit too serious at times, but a certifiable goofball if you got him in the right mood. He used to run around this yard, shadowing whoever had the video camera, and he used to ham it up whenever he got in front of the lens. Fake commercials, horrible knock-knock jokes, silly faces—”
“He has fun with me,” said Robin.
“No, he doesn’t. He’s dark and gloomy and downright depressing. You bring out the worst in him. You amplify all those parts of his personality that don’t need amplifying. Michael doesn’t need black fingernails, or eyeliner, or songs about God being dead. He needs a partner who will remind him to be silly sometimes, to take a chance on smiling that awkward, beautiful smile of his every once in a while. He needs someone who will remind him that, despite the fact that our grandfather was taken away from us, that life is good, that life goes on.”
“Partner,” said Robin, sneering. “I see where this is going. You want a little gay buddy to go cruising through Provincetown with.”
“I do not want a little gay buddy, Miss Gates.” Matt laughed. “Michael couldn’t handle homosexuality.”
“You’d be surprised at some of things he can handle,” said Robin, finally spooning the soggy flakes and skim milk into her mouth.
“I’m already surprised,” said Matt, looking her over, standing up. “Your family hurts my family one more time, and you’ll all regret it.”
“Oooooh,” she said, holding up her hands and feigning a shudder. “I’m shaking in my Chucks.”
Matt turned away from her, and headed for the door.
“It’s amazing,” said Michael, standing at the window. “Isn’t it? That I’d end up with a girl like her?”
Matt grunted. He maintained a fixed gaze on the book in front of him, Morison’s A Maritime History of Massachusetts.
Seemingly oblivious, Michael went on. “She is amazing in bed, Matt. Amazing. Nothing she won’t try, and—”
“How would you know?” asked Matt, dog-earing the first page of chapter nineteen, ‘Cape Cod and Cape Ann.’
“How would I know what?” asked Michael.
Matt leaned back in his chair. “How would you know if she’s amazing in bed? What basis have you for comparison?”
Michael smiled and waved an admonishing finger at his cousin. “I’ve been with Betsy Fist and the Finger Sisters enough times to know what feels good. So don’t try to pull that ‘she’s the only one you’ve ever been with’ bullshit on me. I know I’m no Don Juan like you, but come on!”
“Michael,” said Matt, “is this really the kind of girl you want to spend the rest of your life with?”
“The rest of my life?” said Michael. “Matty, I’m not thinking that far ahead.”
“Well, you’re setting a dangerous precedent. You keep on dating fast, loose women and soon that may be the only kind you—”
“Robin is not fast and loose,” said Michael.
Matt arched an eyebrow, and Michael grinned in response.
“Okay,” said Michael. “Maybe she’s a little bit loose.”
“Most Catholic kids are,” said Matt. “At least nowadays. I know Garry was. Problem is, they think they can do anything they want to so long as they visit the booth on Sundays and tell their lurid tales to their pedophile priests. At least we WASPs know better. No matter how many Hail Marys you do, you’re still going to have to answer for every blowjob, given or received, when you finally face the one guy who’s opinion really matters.”
“I’m not a WASP, Matty.”
“Being a WASP’s like being a Jew, Michael. You can’t ever really stop.”
“No,” said Michael. “What I mean is—”
“Yes, I know what you mean, Michael. You think you’re an atheist.”
“I don’t think, Matty. I know.”
“Robin an atheist, too? That why you joined up?”
“I stopped believing the moment He took Grampy away.”
Matt doubled over with laughter. “Michael… that’s ridiculous. You stopped believing the moment He took Grampy away. Seems to me you still believe.”
“The only reason human beings created God—”
“Oh, spare me!” said Matt.
“Why can’t you be happy for me?” asked Michael.
“Why?” said Matt. He stalked across the room and grabbed Michael’s hand. “You wore black nailpolish to your prom. And eyeliner, Michael. Fucking eyeliner! I didn’t wear eyeliner to my prom Michael, and I’m fucking gay!”
“So what?” said Michael. “I’m daring to be different. That’s the motto up at Kimball, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“Oh, shove that in my face,” said Matt.
“You could still go back someday.”
“My ship has sailed, Michael. I’m past all of that, and all I’m trying to do here is help you get past it too.”
“Robin makes me happy, Matty. I wish you, at least, could see that.”
Matt put his arm around Michael, and walked him toward a portrait of old Silas the ninth. “Do you remember old Silas’s story, Michael?”
“He had a dozen wives or something, right?”
Matt nodded. “He had a dream once, too. To be an actor, to have a life on the stage. He was in love with Shakespeare before the war. But when he came back, he was pressured into continuing on the family name. He was forced to give up any notion he had of a playful, adventurous life, and to get serious, to get down to business.”
“And your point is?” said Michael.
Matt turned to face his cousin. “My point is that you’re not being forced to do anything, at least right now. No one’s forcing you to give up your painting—”
“The painting was going nowhere, Matty.”
“—but you’re doing it anyway. You’re giving up your dream, and all I’m trying to say is that you’re going to run out of time to dick around eventually. Just try to be sure you’re dicking around in ways that matter to you.”
“Robin matters to me. The band matters.”
“To the kid I knew growing up, nothing mattered more than the painting.”
“Well, maybe that kid is just as dead as God is,” said Michael, stepping out from under Matt’s arm. “Maybe that kid was nothing more than a fairy tale you told yourself to make yourself feel better about your own shortcomings. ‘Oh, I can mold Michael into the new me,’ or some shit like that.”
“I was never trying—”
“Matty, as much as I wanted to be you growing up, some things just aren’t possible.”
Michael waved goodbye, heading for the door, for the stairs. “We gotta hit the road. Robin’s only a junior. She still has classes.”
“OK,” said Matt. “Drive safe.”
From the office window, he watched them go, the old Ford Tempo rumbling up the hill, some dark electronic nonsense spewing forth from the sound system. “Hey God!” screamed the car’s stereo. “Why are you doing this to me?”
“An atheist,” said Matt, mumbling to himself, grinning. He shut the window, and went back to work.