Changes

Chapter Four: Miriam and Memories

 

Miriam stepped into the room fully and looked at her mother, brother and then fixed her stare—glare—on me. I forced myself not to turn away, and was relieved when she finally did.

Don shuffled beside me, but his arm remained around me. I could feel him take a deep breath. “Again, Miriam, what are you doing here?”

“I came to see my brother.”

There was not any warmth in that reply at all. The original ice queen?

I felt Don stiffen. “Don’t feel you have to.”

Her eyes were on me again, and I’m sure that was hatred I saw there.

Why though? I’d met her once, briefly, at our marriage ceremony. She never called or visited. Don never wanted to talk about her, either. If we were going to Rena’s for Christmas, Miriam always had to be elsewhere. Even I got the message after the second year.

“You were in an accident. I should have been here earlier.” Miriam brushed and tugged on the left sleeve of her jacket. “Can we talk?”

“We are talking.”

“Alone, Don.”

“What do you have to say, that you cannot say in front of Louis? He is my husband remember?”

“However can I forget?”

Sarcastic much? I do not want to be around this woman.

Don set his shoulders and sighed. “I think maybe you should just go, Miriam.”

“No! I didn’t come all this way … I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight. Can we please just have a few minutes alone?”

Rena was just behind her daughter and lifted her hand to get my attention. Trust me she had my immediate attention. She glanced at the door and mimed: Let’s get out of here!

I blinked and turned to Donny. If the truth be known, nothing at that moment would have sounded better to me. So I said, “I’ll … um, go. Rena and I will grab a coffee. My phone is on if you need me.” With that I gave him a small peck and slid off the bed. I put my shoes back on and Rena and I slipped out of the room.

As we waited for the elevator, I asked, “Did you know she was coming?”

“No. I haven’t heard from her since I first called when Don had the accident.”

Wow, such sisterly love and caring! Why bother now?

“Well, I hope Don will be okay.”

The elevator arrived, and we got in. I pushed ‘G’ for the main floor.

“Don’t worry, Louis. Don can deal with his sister.”

The coffee shop was small but not too busy. We paid for our drinks and sat down. I talked to Rena about my ideas for the barn in our new place, trying to get Miriam out of my mind.

“I’ve checked and there aren’t a lot of gyms for the disabled around. You know how Donny likes to work out, so I think Don would do great with his own space. There’d be an office too, so he can write. We’ll fit it out with wifi and a computer. I thought maybe a little fridge and kitchenette, so he wouldn’t have to go back to the house all the time.”

“That sounds interesting, Louis.”

“I presume he’ll still write.” I took a sip of the bitter coffee in my cup. Why do I drink this stuff? “I mean we haven’t talked about it yet. There hasn’t been time really.”

“I think you just need to broach it carefully.”

“Yeah, I’ll wait a bit longer.”

“Oh, Louis, before I forget, I won’t be home tonight until a bit later. Don’t worry about dinner for me. There is a meet-and-greet at the new agency I’m hoping to work with, so I thought I should attend.”

“Sure, no problems. I hope it goes well!”

“It should.” Rena finished her coffee and asked, “Are you okay?”

“Yes.” Was I though? It didn’t feel like it sometimes, and Miriam hadn’t helped matters either. Moreover, I missed Donny something rotten.

Rena sipped her drink and reach over to pat my right forearm. “Try not to worry. Don is doing so well and he seems to be coming to terms with things.”

Rena got to her feet. She bent and gave me a peck on the cheek.

I smiled at her.

“I know you’re right. I’ll go back up and rescue him. You go and wow them at your dinner!”

She smiled broadly, patted my shoulder, waved and walked toward the exit.

 

When I got back to Don’s room, I found him alone. I went in and sat down. “Where is she? Are you okay?”

Don sighed. “She’s gone. Frankly, Lous … I hope she never comes back. She frustrates me no end.”

“What did she want?”

“What does she ever want? She’s heard about another cure for my affliction.”

“What affliction?”

Donny glanced at me and then lingered. “My gayness.”

“What?” I was halfway to my feet.

“Shhhh.” Donny held my hand and tugged me back down.

“Sorry. But what does … I mean how can—?”

“Baby. Don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with me, or you, or any of us.” Donny massaged my hand. “This is her problem. I told her to stay away. That I don’t want her in my life if my being gay is such a problem for her.”

I guess I appeared sad or despondent because Don said, “Babe, forget her, I sent her on her way. Told her, do some reading, get some help but until you are ready to accept me and my family as we are, don’t come back.”

“I’m sorry. Donny that’s so wrong; you shouldn’t have to give up your relatives.”

“I’m not baby. You are my family, so is mom.”

“She’s your sister, Don.”

“Maybe so, but she’s toxic and I refuse to have to listen to her shit.”

The door opened then and the nurse popped her head in. “Visiting hours are ending, Louis.”

I waved. “Okay, thanks. I’ll just say good night.”

“Thank you!”

The door closed. I got up and bent to hug Don. “Oh baby, I hope you can come home soon. I miss you so much.”

“Me too babe. Me too,” he mumbled into my neck. Then he kissed and held me tight. His arms just felt so, so good.

I kissed his cheek and stood up. “I better go. I’m sure the nurses need to have their way with you.”

Donny chuckled and grinned. “Okay, baby. Love you. Have a good night and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

After a final peck, I left, but I so did not want to.

 

***

I got home close to 8:00pm. I’d stopped and bought a burger, fries and a giant honking chocolate milkshake. If I couldn’t have my husband, then I’d have some comfort food instead.

Normally, I didn’t eat like this, but tonight it would hit the spot. I settled on the sofa with my steaming food. The fries were golden and hot. I selected two, bit, and chewed them with relish. The burger was wonderful and so was the milkshake. I’d nearly finished when the doorbell rang.

I wiped my hands on the napkin and answered it.

As I swung open the door, it was pushed and I had to move back, asking, “Hey, what the hell are you doing?”

I was surprised. It was Miriam.

“I want to talk to you.” It was a demand, not a request.

I was in no mood for her and no way was she going to bully me. Maybe Donny is right. Maybe I have changed some. “Well maybe I don’t want to talk to you. And I do not appreciate you pushing your way into our house.”

I blocked her from entering further. “So, what do you want?”

“Can I come in?”

“Why? Say what you have to say. I’m sure we don’t need to sit down.”

“Fine.” She pushed her right forefinger onto my chest. “You need to get away from my brother.”

I started to laugh. “Are you insane? You realize that Don and I are legally married, right?”

“You’re both abominations! You ruined his life. You dragged him into this disgusting mess. God needs to wipe you all out.” She was so angry, she was turning red.

“Get out.”

God, again? Poor God … he has lot of shit to do for people and a lot to answer for.

“I’m not going anywhere. Not until you say you’re leaving him.”

“Not going to happen, Miriam. He’s my husband. I love him, just as I’m sure he told you. Now, I’ll say it again, please go.”

“Or else what? You enjoy hitting women. Is that your next move?”

No, but I’d enjoy … “Really? You’re being stupid.”

“I want you to leave my brother alone. Get a divorce; just leave him. I really don’t care.”

“You’ve said this already, no need for me to repeat myself. Now, I think we’re done. Please leave.”

“Well? Are you going to do what I say?” Miriam’s voice raised an octave.

“No, of course not. We are married, get it? No one asked you to come. No one wanted you to come.” I wanted to shove her out the door, but I’d not been brought up that way. “I’d appreciate it, if you don’t like the fact we’re a happily married same-sex couple, that you just leave and don’t come back. Now, I’ll ask politely, again, for you to please leave our home.”

“I’m leaving. But you’re wrong.”

I drew in a deep breath. “Wrong?”

“Don asked me to come. Begged. He wants out. He knows he’s made a mistake … he doesn’t want to be a disgusting homosexual anymore.”

Part of me wanted to scream at her, and another part wanted to just squeeze her throat while I watched her turn purple. However, I did and said nothing other than to step toward her, grasp her shoulders, forced her back two steps, released her, turned and stepped over our threshold, and quietly closed and locked the door.

Then I leaned back against it, my whole body shook and hot tears dripped off my cheeks.

Is there anything worse than being attacked in your home?

I think I stood there for about five minutes, trying to cool off, both mentally and physically. I’m not usually a fighter, I dislike confrontation, if something needed to be stood up to it was Donny’s place to do that, not mine.

But things had changed, hadn’t they? Well, at least a bit. Donny hadn’t turned weak or stupid, but he wasn’t home. I’d found my balls, so to speak.

And they were bigger and heftier than I’d ever thought. It was a good feeling to stand up for myself.

Finally, when I felt calmer, I tidied away the remnants of my meal, slurped the now-warming chocolate shake. Close to 9:00pm, I thought I’d make a large mug of sweet tea and then sit down in front of the television for some mindless entertainment.

Granny always said, “Them Brits have it right. Sweet tea is good for what ails a body.”

I knew my Gran was a smart soul. She died when I was about twenty-two. She had been a wise woman, and I know she loved me …

 

***

When I was seventeen I was a sulky-skinny-gay boy—well, I hadn’t admitted the gay part even to myself then—and I was at loose ends during that long hot summer. My parents had flown me back to Newfoundland, fondly called The Rock by us natives, to stay with Gran and to keep me out of trouble.

My mother decided that I should spend my time, since I hadn’t sought a job, helping my grandmother around her small place. It wasn’t a farm, but there was land and the grass needed cutting and other odd jobs needed doing.

I’d just finished cutting the front lawn on one torturously hot summer’s day. Sweat ran off me in rivers. I’d pulled off my t-shirt earlier to save it from being soaked, and put out a bucket of water to warm in the sun somewhat before I’d started to work. I didn’t like ice-cold water.

Funny, I bitched about physical work, but once I’d started, I rather enjoyed how it made me feel.

Anyway, I was done. I dunked my head in the bucket and then rinsed the sweat off my chest, pits, arms and shoulders as best I could. I let myself dry in the sun before putting on my shirt and going inside to join Granny for lunch.

I was in a perpetual state of hunger back then, and my heart leapt at the sight of the sandwiches, pickles, and coleslaw that sat waiting on the table. But the prize was the large homemade chocolate cake that was waiting for me. Heaven.

I wolfed down my first sandwich and then availed myself of the salad and condiments that sat on the table. Granny sat with me, watching me enjoy filling my belly. She herself only nibbled a little bit.

“Louis, chew your food!”

“Mmmm yth Gran.”

She laughed. “Oh, it is good to see you enjoy yourself.”

Then she stopped smiling, reached over and held my wrist in her aged hands. They were soft and dry, and this gesture made me feel sad for some reason. I swallowed, sipped my cold iced tea and gazed at her.

“Gran?”

“Louis, are you all right?”

“Yes, Gran. I’m just fine.”

“Are you?”

“Yes.” I was puzzled by her questions. “Why?”

“Louis … Louis, I want to talk to you.”

I must have rolled my eyes or something because she squeezed my wrist and said, “Behave! This is important and needs saying.”

“Fine, Gran. Okay. I’ll behave and listen. Can I have cake first though?”

“Oh, you are a laddo!” She served me a whooper of a slice, along with a big glass of whole milk. It was just like you think it was!

After serving herself a tiny slice, she retook her seat and said, “Good. Now I want to know why you have no girlfriend. You’re a good-looking boy.”

Suddenly I felt exposed, like bacteria under a microscope. “Gran, please!”

“Louis, you do like girls?”

I groaned and was about to lie and say: Yes, of course, when she said, “It is okay if you don’t.”

Gasping, my mouth gaped like a fish out of water.

“Are you? One of those boys? What is the word now … gay?”

The blush started in my feet and soon covered my whole body, I’m sure of it! If she noticed my discomfort, Gran didn’t let on, but she wasn’t letting me off the hook either.

“Louis, whatever you decide is up to you. I knew a gay boy once. He was very sweet and kind. He lived just down the street from me, when I was a girl. We became friends and eventually he told me his orientation. Back then coming out was a dangerous, chancy thing to do around here. I was proud that he trusted me.”

Sipping my milk, I said nothing—but my hands were shaking and the glass clattered back onto the table.

She smiled and said, “Terence begged me not to tell and I never did. More than once I pretended to be his girl, when he needed one. Eventually he went to Paris, to culinary school. He met his great love there and stayed. They opened a restaurant and are happy together to this day. He still writes to me.”

I remembered. “You went to Paris last year; is that why, to see him?”

“Yes. I’ve seen them over the years. They have a once-in-a-lifetime love, just perfect for each other.” Gran sipped her tea. “My sweetest grandchild, whatever you are, whoever you love, well, I just want you to know, it is the right thing.”

We sat quietly for a few minutes. My thoughts and feelings were a jumble. I was attracted to boys, I knew that, but I wasn’t ready for love or intimacy yet. “I don’t know how I feel yet, Gran. I like boys, a lot, so maybe I am gay.”

“You are so much like Terry. I just wanted you to know that whatever happens, I love you. You are safe with me.”

 

***

A year after we’d had this talk, I met Donny—Donald Elliott McPhee—and I knew he was the man I’d marry …

I sat in our home, sipping my hot, sweet tea ruminating over my Gran’s words, and those of my sister-in-law, when I heard Rena’s key in the lock.

“Hello?” Rena called. I heard her close and lock the door.

“In the living room, Rena.”

She breezed in, smiling and happy. “Oh, it was a good night. Nice people, I’ll like working in that office I think, Louis.”

“That’s wonderful news. You had a good time.”

“I did! I had a great time.” She sat on the sofa beside me. “Was Don all right when you left him?”

“Yes he was. He … well … I—”

I hadn’t planned to tell Rena all of what happened, but it came tumbling out anyway. “She came here, told me to divorce Don. She said to me that we are vile abominations, and that Don told her to come. She said he doesn’t want to be gay any longer.”

“Oh, Louis. Oh, my God.” Rena wrung her hands. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

“It’s not your fault, Rena.” I blinked and regarded her. “Yes. I’m okay. In the end I pushed her out the door.”

“Did you? Good for you!” Rena smiled at me. “She’s my daughter, but as the years have gone by … I’ve found I don’t really like her. I’ve tried to, but every year she seems to get worse.”

“Has she ever explored getting some help?”

“Louis, she’d never go. I used to suggest it because she never had friends. I’ve never known her to have a boyfriend.”

Silently I wondered if Miriam might be gay and had been to one of those horrid places that claim they can cure the ‘scourge’ out of a person. That thought led me to wonder why straight people were so frightened of us—like we had the power to change them, or the awesome power to let them be themselves.

I didn’t know what to say. So, we sat in silence for a few minutes. I finally fell back to my Gran’s advice and asked, “Would you like a cup of tea?”

Rena smiled. “That, Louis, would be lovely.”

 ***

Authors' Note:  Thank you all for reading.  If you have comments or thoughts you'd like to share feel free at: writing.rules32@gmail.com

Thanks, tim