Such a Man
You know, I don't like to be negative, but this minister hasn't a clue. I suspect he's retired from the pulpit of his church. Does this for extra cash, but he shouldn't. His mind is slow. He stumbles over his words and seems to be fixated on hell, rather than the good stuff. Can't we celebrate life instead of speculating about death?
Wonderful! Now, he's ready to talk about Stanley. Got his little clipping in hand. Going to read directly from the newspaper obituary. Should have printed it out in large font so he could see it. Thank goodness there's only a couple of paragraphs. Otherwise, he'd never get to the end. Stumble, bumble, fumble, and now he can relax while we listen to music.
Surprise! Amazing Grace at funeral-dirge pace. A recording. Female voice with way too much vibrato. How many more verses? Will it ever end? Stanley, did you secretly pre-arrange this torture so I'd be too angry to cry? It's working, but the idea that this is your idea gives me pleasure. Yes, I know, the minister is now going to preach. His specialty. A sermon packed with threats. Readings from the Old Testament's Hebrew law, twisted into a long list of horrible things awaiting us if we don't do this, that or the other.
Good one! Did you hear that, Stanley? He's now going New Testament. Says Christ forgives Stanley Holt for his mistakes. Christ forgives all men for their bad decisions. I believe the message, but what decisions were bad, Stanley? What should you have done differently? Live out your days with a woman who turned on you? The high school sweet heart who transformed in to a viper once she had you hooked and with two kids in the household? Do you regret divorcing her, Stanley? You had to know it would put you behind the eight ball financially until the end of your days. Would it not have been preferable to persevere? To stick it out, even at the risk of losing your cool and causing her physical harm?
No, I understand. You had to remove yourself from her. Your mental health was worth every required dollar of alimony and child support, every donated dollar for automobiles, college education trust funds, and inheritances. Guilt played no part. If the Christ message is true, then surely Christ guided your decisions. You did these extra things for your wife and children because you were a good man, and always will be.
This preacher doesn't know you, Stanley. He is unaware. Must have gotten information from your ex-wife and the children she poisoned against you. How long has it been since any one of them have spoken to you? When is the last time you've seen them? I'll tell you. Randall's college graduation, seventeen years ago, and then Charlotte's, sixteen. Never mind. They're here now with their mother, their spouses and their own offspring, curious about me. I've observed their quick turns for a glimpse of me from their front-row pew. I've noted their whispers, and snickers.
A few years back, you asked my opinion on the amounts designated for them. We both agreed their appetites should be satisfied with what you're leaving them, but we knew it was impossible. Once the details are known to them, they will come for our business, Stanley. They will try for our house. They will get neither. It is their penalty for denying you access to your grandchildren.
Besides, we built that company ourselves. Your knowledge of truck parts distribution and mine of truck line operations were an ideal combination for our mobile truck repair business. As for the house, I made more than my share of sacrifices. Many a weekend did I forgo telecasts of college and pro football so we could build decks, rehab kitchen cabinets and hardwood floors, and a never-ending list of upgrades and repairs. Ask me anything about statistics or players from the years 1989 through 1996. I know little or nothing.
It's all right. A small price to pay for my time spent with you, Stanley. We made the house a home. We've enjoyed our twenty-plus years there, and I'm keeping what we built together. We made sure of that. Attorney John says your testament is air-tight. No law exists in this state which can be successfully used to challenge what we've written. John is ready. I'm willing and able, so let them bring it.
No quivering queers here. Eh, Stanley? Quiet, yes, but never scared.
Reminds me of one of the first things you did when we met. Gave me a little test of courage. You didn't intend it as such, I'm sure, but that's what it turned out to be.
"I hate queers," you said while dropping your trousers.
"I'm not queer. Just a cocksucker." My fingers crawled up the length of your abdomen. "Take off your shirt."
"Here, I'll hold it up."
"Nuh-uh. Off, or no blow job." I was not kidding. You could tell because I'd yet to take off my eyeglasses, even though your halfway hard-on was dangling right in front of me. You stood in the living room of my apartment. I sat on my hassock of perfect-performance height. My demand of shirt removal was my only requirement. I would see your chest and stomach. Your shirt would not fall and interfere at the worst moment, because inevitably you would let go of it in your excitement. All men did. I was that good, or so I'd been told.
"To hell with it, then," you huffed while lifting the golf-style knit over your head and off. "I'll go all the way naked. Will that satisfy you?"
"If you're going to do that, might as well get more comfortable. Stretch out on the bed and give your feet a rest."
"You going to get naked, too?"
"Sure. Why not?"
Turns out you were what you hated, Stanley - queer. Just didn't know it yet, and besides, the queers you hated were the in-your-face queers. The ones who insist everybody sees them walking down the street hand in hand. The ones who insist all queers proclaim themselves as such to the world. The ones who will out anyone their "gaydar" tells them might possibly be queer. Of course, you didn't really hate them. Merely a figure of speech. You felt uncomfortable being around them, and I did too. Their loud voices made life difficult for me. Scared away men who were simply horny and needing their dick sucked.
More to the point, there are certain situations where such announcements are unwise. Has nothing to do with geography. Has everything to do with environment. Imagine waltzing into the truck terminal loading docks where I worked with such a proclamation. "Hiya, fellas! I'm Max Crawford and I am a homosexual. Don't worry. I never look for honey where I make my money, so we should all get along fine. Okay?"
Sure we would. At best, I'd be ostracized, avoided like the plague. At worst, a goodly number would be waiting for me in the parking lot after shift, with honey the furthest thing from their minds. Fists, perhaps, but definitely a stern warning that life for me inside the terminal would be pure hell, and best I leave that particular place of employment before getting started on something I'd soon regret.
Conversely, by playing it smart, biding my time and acting the masculine part, a man like me can make connections with men who, once separated from the herd and in a social situation such as a tavern or pool hall, or even a mundane public place like a grocery store, might be inclined to offer up their packages.
Just think of it, Stanley. Had it not been for my necessary change of Friday dinner plans, I never would have crossed paths with you. My left-over roast beef looked a bit too gray and smelled much too sour for my appetite. "Chuck's Market," I said to myself, as I wrapped the rancid roast in a plastic bag and carried it to the dumpster on my way to the car.
In the parking lot of Chuck's, a little man with a smoker created some of the most heavenly barbecued meats in town, sold inside at a counter especially set up for Friday traffic. Two lines of drooling customers waited their turn. In the line next to mine, a handsome devil was one patron away from being served, while I had three ahead of me. From my behind-and-to-his-right view, his ears stuck out from reddish brown head hair, while a small circle of bare scalp whitened his crown. Melon-like buttocks filled the seat of his dark gray trousers, and when he pivoted for a killing-time gaze at his surroundings, his bright blue eyes did a double-take on me.
Caught me staring, didn't you, Stanley?
Your naturally broad chest with nipples poking on your knit shirt distracted me from the slight paunch of your gut, which I found even more adorable. I nodded my head toward the counter, but kept my eyes on yours with my lead-in. "Looks good enough to eat."
"I hope so," you grinned. "Been waiting here twenty minutes."
"Well, some things are worth waiting for. Others ain't." Could be I let my inspecting line of vision drift down below your belt, Stanley. I don't remember, but I did assure you, "I've had this before, and it's pretty good stuff."
The meat, Stanley. I referred to the meat. So, why did you wait for me? Why did you hang around outside, pretending to read the newspaper's front page through the glass of its vending machine? I lured you with football. Convinced you that watching Nebraska play Miami would be far more entertaining if you joined me at my apartment, rather than sitting alone in your hotel room. "Bring your slab of ribs," I urged. "I'll share my brisket and we'll make a mess of ourselves." An offer no lonesome, traveling truck parts salesman could refuse.
I didn't mind that you stayed the night with me and snored at a volume to rattle windows. Had no problem riding with you next day to your hotel so you could get your belongings and spend the weekend with me. Didn't bother me that you liked to get off about every four hours, or that when you sat around watching television in your underwear, your constant dribbling of anticipation made you piss a double stream and I had to clean urine off my toilet and the floor around it.
I put up with your flopping at my apartment the two weekends per month you were in town. Stayed patient until you gained the courage to try sucking on me. Stayed hopeful for the day we experimented with and accepted pleasures other than oral. Stayed ready for you to decide you no longer had reason to reside in the town where your ex-wife and kids lived, and that we might as well look for a place in my town. For us, together.
I never once tried to figure how we would progress, or predict when we would end. Cannot recall any moments of serious anger or argument between us. Not when we struggled to start up our business. Not when we fretted over finances for purchasing our permanent house, our home.
It gave me pleasure to pick up after you, Stanley. Let's face it, you are a slob. If there is one legitimate strike your ex had against you, that is the one, but it gave me no worries. Gathering your dirty clothes from the floor, wiping up your poorly-aimed urine, rinsing the sink or tub of your body hair and picking clumps out of the drains brightened my days. Reminded me that years were passing and we were still a team, growing old together. Less brown, more silver in the drains; less sex, more companionship in the home.
Our unification cannot be severed, Stanley. Do you think these past two-plus years since your stroke have been a burden on me? A tax? A bother? Do you think giving up the daily operation of our company to our foreman made me bitter? Or suspicious of him? Or frustrated with you for being nearly helpless? No, Stanley. Like attracts like. We've surrounded ourselves with good people. Our foreman. Our employees. Our lawyer John, but when it came to your irreparable body, only I could be your caretaker. Nobody but I could wipe your ass for you, or feed you or bathe you or any of the other things I've done. Not on the day we met at Chuck's Market when you were strong as an ox, nor three days ago when you fell asleep for the final time. Strange how your hand never went cold, but for some reason I knew when to let go.
We are finished with your shell, Stanley. It was nice while it lasted. Let the preacher drone on about the perils of death. You and I are here to celebrate life. Our life.
Let them bring it. They won't see me cry. They cannot make me quiver, for I am like you, Stanley. I am such a man.
© Jardonn Smith
5 Story Collection
Author: Jardonn Smith
Publisher: MLR Press
In this collection of stories, Jardonn brings the reader into the lives of some extraordinarily average men.
Take a glimpse at the lives of these men as they deal with what life throws at them with honor, dignity and the strength of their partner's love. The common theme of the stories: love doesn't need to be all flash to last the test of time.