Two Stories Across from the Cemetery
My roommate miscarried and decided to leave the city. I’d always had roommates, even though I wasn’t a young man anymore, so at first it was nice.
I couldn’t really afford the rent on my own, so I cut a lot of expenses. It was easy to give up almost everything. I didn’t eat that much, and I didn’t really like going to restaurants anyway. I was never into shopping. Plus, I love to dance, and dancing is almost always free.
I’d met Lester a few weeks before, but he didn’t remember. He had paced into the deli, frantic; the deli men looked annoyed as soon as they saw him. Lester took an interest in me right away. “Did you hear what happened?” His voice was gnarled, abraded. It was clear he was gay and that he had emphysema or another disease of the lungs.
“I don’t know. What happened?”
“Miss America,” he said gravely. He nodded and pointed at the newspaper he was holding. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to talk to him. But I didn’t want to be rude, either.
“What about her?”
He widened his eyes and swatted his hand, picked up the lighter attached to the cash register by a rope, lit his cigarette. “You haven’t heard?” He paused, taking a drag. He held out an exaggerated limp wrist and leaned closer. “Miss America killed herself.” He inhaled again, nodded, then shrugged, as if to say there is nothing you or I or anyone can do about it. “Threw herself off a balcony. She was a beautiful girl. Really. Just a really, truly beautiful girl.” He paused. “And gorgeous black skin,” he added, stroking his forearms with his fingertips.
I nodded in a way that I thought seemed respectful. “That’s so sad,” I said. I moved past him and towards the door.
He shouted into the street after me. “It was in Manhattan!”
Weeks later he came into the thrift store I sometimes walk around in. He was on the phone, shouting. The voice on the other end was also shouting but you couldn’t make out what was being said, just that they were angry. “Do you work here?” he asked, talking over the voice on the phone.
“No, I don’t.” I smiled. It was nice to see him again.
He looked me up and down and put his hands on his hips, “Well, you should.”
I laughed, unsure of what he meant. The voice on the phone sounded more and more agitated.
“What’s your name, doll?”
“Judge.” I told him.
“What do you think of this, Judd?” Lester held up a tiny white polo shirt with yellowed armpits.
“Ooh, Judd doesn’t like it!” he shouted into the phone. “What about this?” He showed me a painting. It was of a Geisha’s face, but her face was a mosaic of different colors and types of flowers.
It was an awful painting. “It’s nice, pretty nice” I told him.
He yelled into the phone again, in a taunting, rhythmic way, “Ooh, Judd-is-buying-me-a-painting!” He hung up the phone and followed me into the other aisle. “You ever been to the gay club?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Really? I can’t believe you’ve never been there. It’s two stories, across from the cemetery?”
“No. I’ve never even heard of it.”
Lester couldn’t believe I’d never been there. “You should come sometime.” He seemed embarrassed then. He looked down at his shoes and ran his hands through his hair, which was a polluted sort of brown.
“I’d love to,” I told him.
He got to my building around nine o’clock.
“Juuuuuudd, it’s me. Lester.” His emphysemic voice sounded even crazier through the intercom.
I came downstairs and we walked towards the bar. Looking at him, I could tell that Lester had been beautiful when he was younger. I wished I could have seen him then. He was probably wishing that I was a little younger, too. “You know, I figure I should tell you this now. My name is Judge. Not Judd.”
“It is?” He laughed. “Well, I’m sorry sweetie.”
We stopped at a bakery. It smelled like Fabuloso and was decorated with Tibetan prayer flags. Lester bought an espresso and a piece of cake.
He sat across from me. “There’s some stuff I should tell you.” I nodded. “I have a lot of health problems.” He leaned closer, confidentially, “I’ve been poisoned twice. The first time was at a wine bar. Arsenic. That time I just had a lot of problems with my mouth. The second time it happened, my face swelled up like a pink balloon and I developed a rash all over my body. I dealt with that for three or four years.”
“And, I’ve had two major concussions. In 2018, I fell off of a high chair at a Jack in the Box. I don’t know how it happened. I was eating and reading and the next thing I know,” he smacked his hands together loudly, “without warning I’m pummeling into the cement tile floor.”
“What happened the second time?”
“You said two major concussions.”
“Oh, right, right. The second time, someone ran up behind me and bashed me in the head with a bat. He thought I was someone else.” He shrugged. “Mistaken identity.”
Xstasy is a great club. Red and green lights dance around as you enter. The bartenders are real, tough women. Big girls with muscled arms and large, bold faces. Lester immediately took me to the dance floor. He was much taller than me, so my head fell in the center of his chest as he pulled me into him. He smelled like cedar and cigarettes and dirt. My head was cradled in between his pecs and we stayed like that, swaying for a while. It was awkward because it wasn’t really a slow song.
As we waited for our drinks Lester kept looking over his shoulder, scanning the room, like he was looking for someone.
“Looking for someone?” I asked.
“Just taking inventory.” He winked.
“What? Aren’t I good enough?” I asked, a little wounded.
He turned towards me and pursed his lips. He raised his arms in a gesture that asked, you’re being serious? Then he rolled his eyes and leaned into me, like he was letting me in on a secret. “Look, when I first saw you, I knew you didn’t have no one or anything. I saw you and I knew it.”
I looked away.
“And I was right, wasn’t I?”
I nodded, uh huh.
I looked away again.
“We should never feel offended when someone makes do with our company for lack of a better companion.” He was stern but gentle as he said this.
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