Intermediaries arranged a meeting. They selected a neutral location, the house of a mutual friend, which granted privacy and gave neither side an advantage. Lorraine’s mother thought it a waste of time. “Can’t mend a cracked teapot,” she intoned several times. Lorraine had to maintain hope, however, because her very existence hung in the balance. She entered the meeting wearing a blue-colored dress similar to the one she wore when they first met. He had on the red shirt and tight white pants he often wore when they went to the disco. She smiled. He smiled. They sat at the table together.
Gary waited patiently by occupying himself with one of the metal tricycles in the kindergarten yard. He didn’t often get a chance to ride one. The other boys hoarded them. He once asked one of them if he could have a turn, and the other boy sneered and rode away. So Gary stopped asking. He sat alone or played in the sandbox, sometimes with some of the girls. The girls usually didn’t get turns on the tricycles either, and they didn’t sneer at him. His mother sat in the classroom. Mrs. Cobb had the main office arrange a meeting so that she could discuss her concerns with Mrs. Richards.
“He’s a fine boy, Mrs. Richards,” Mrs. Cobb said, dispelling any concerns about Gary’s behavior in class quickly. “And he’s obviously very intelligent. That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about, Mrs. Richards.”
“Oh. Then is there anything wrong, Mrs. Cobb?”
Mrs. Cobb could see out the window behind Mrs. Richards. There she saw Gary riding around the yard on a tricycle.
“Your son is rather quiet, isn’t he?” Mrs. Cobb said.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, he doesn’t seem to like to play sports or anything like that with the other boys.”
Mrs. Richards didn’t say anything.
“He often plays alone, all by himself. Or he plays with some of the girls. It’s just that most of the boys we have like to play ball or do races on the bikes, that sort of activity. They are competitive with each other. And I’m not seeing that in Gary. He’s rather passive, actually. Noncompetitive.”
Mrs. Richards sat waiting for the hook.
“You know, Mrs. Richards,” she said in a softer voice, “I’ve seen this pattern before. And as Gary’s teacher I feel that I should tell you that I think it very possible that your son is showing homosexual tendencies.”
Mrs. Richards’ eyes grew as her mouth tightened into a little ball.
Frank sat very still and let Lorraine do all the talking.
She talked about her trips to the church and how helpful the reverend was and how he was more than willing to help them both through this “difficult period.” She quoted passages from Scripture about temptation and then bubbled about the children they will eventually have and then about trips to Disneyland. She meandered from topic to topic in a jagged stream of consciousness.
Frank sat patiently listening to her, a small, sad smile appearing and disappearing on his face. He occasionally nodded out of sympathy and held hands with her when she put them on the table. She was beautiful. Her hair looked perfect, her make-up tasteful. She looked like everything he had taught himself to want in a wife.
Frank’s proudest day was when he announced to his parents that he was getting married. His father beamed. “Ah, the skirt caught him at last,” he said, slapping his son on the back. His solitude when it came to female companionship had not gone unnoticed, just unmentioned. Nonetheless, Frank noted that his parents seemed to make a bigger deal of the engagement than Lorraine’s. They held the ceremony and reception at First AME off Adams. It was a perfect day filled with family and friends. Kids played in the fountain. The couple posed for photo after photo.
She talked about their wedding day photos and how happy they both looked. Frank could see them, too, in his mind’s eye. He had looked at them not long before The Incident where Lorraine caught him on his knees.
He had just finished Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room.” A friend had given it him. He kept it in his car and read it in secret either out on the road somewhere or in a park, or in the garage. In this instance, he was in the garage. When he finished it, he put the book down and started to cry. The book exposed him and the lie he had been living for so long. He then went into the house and took out the photo album with the wedding pictures. He wanted to examine all of the photos of him with Lorraine. Both wore bright smiles in every one. And in nearly every photo, perched above his pearly white teeth, his eyes darted in one corner or the other, a subtle act of betrayal that Frank had expected to find. He closed the album and started to weep again. All these years latter, he could still recall every fine brother he was staring at while having his picture taken with his new bride.
A pause in Lorraine’s monologue gave him an in. He released her hands.
“It’s no good, Lorraine,” he said.
“What’s no good?”
“I’ve been living a lie. My whole life has been a lie. And I am sorry, so sorry to get you caught up in it.”
Mrs. Richards allowed Mrs. Cobb to continue, though she only listened to every other word the woman said. The teacher’s rambling stream of consciousness reminded her of the abstract, modernist French composers she got a kick out of listening to on KUSC. Their notes seemed to follow no particular order as the herky-jerky rhythm of the piece carried them along from one phrase to another. She described it as a mess, though the music still intrigued her. Mrs. Cobb, on the other hand, quickly descended into tedium. Long has she suffered teachers leveling peculiar accusations against her admittedly eccentric children. But this was the limit.
“Mrs. Cobb,” she interrupted. “He’s only six years old.”
Mrs. Cobb stopped mid-stream and stared at her.
“Don’t look at me like that, Lorraine. It’s not like you didn’t know. You’ve commented on my wandering eyes. They wander for a reason, and we both know what it is.”
“We’re all tempted, Frank. All of us face some temptation in our lives, but we rise above that. That’s what I’ve been saying, Frank, is that we rise above it. You need to rise above it, Frank.”
“Lorraine, I’ve been living a lie. And I exposed that lie to you in the cruelest way possible, and I’m sorry. But there’s no point in living that lie anymore. At least we don’t have any children.”
“I’ve always wanted children, Frank. You know that. I’m sure we still can, Frank. Frank? Don’t you think we can have children, Frank?”
Frank stared at her. She retreated to her happy place and wasn’t listening. He thought it cruel to continue the façade any longer, so he stood up.
“Frank? Where are you going, Frank?”
“I’m sorry, Lorraine. But it’s over. I am sorry.”
She looked at him and a flash of anger came over her face. His outfit, the tight white pants and red shirt, the big buckle, suddenly made him look like one of those freaks in news stories about San Francisco, one of those men who go out and dance with each other, rubbing crotch to ass, bumping and grinding at the disco. Frank disappeared. A freak stood in his place. She shouted “Freak! Freak!” at him.
“Don’t end it this way, Lorraine, please. Let’s part as friends, alright?”
But she was gone. She kept shouting. Finally, Frank turned and left the room. Soon he was outside and going into his car. When Lorraine heard the car start up, she stopped shouting and rushed outside. She saw him as he pulled away.
“Don’t go Frank! We can still do this! We can make it work! I’ll do better, Frank! I swear! I’ll do better. Don’t leave me, Frank! Don’t leave! I won’t scream at your again, please! Please, Frank, don’t leave me!”
She had the same desperation in her voice, though at lower decibels. Mrs. Richards was astounded that this woman would be pleading in this way. She wanted to end this conference as amicably as possible, but an ending she wanted.
“Mrs. Cobb,” she said, interrupting yet another stream of consciousness diatribe, “I appreciate your concern. But I really don’t think there is anything further to discuss. I can’t imagine why you feel the need to concern yourself about such things, particularly about a six year old. I find that rather peculiar, Mrs. Cobb.”
“Oh, but Mrs. Richards, if you only knew what I have seen. If you only knew what life could be like . . .”
“Mrs. Cobb, my husband and I will look out for Gary like we do for all of our children. You needn’t concern yourself about his personal life,” she said in a deliberate voice. “If Gary starts to fall behind in class, I’m sure you’ll let me know. But I really must be going now.” She stood up. “Thank you again. Good bye.” She left the room. Mrs. Cobb stared as Mrs. Richards took young Gary by the hand and led him away. He looked through the window and waved at her. She failed to wave back.
After Frank failed to return, anger began to creep into her again. She finally left the mutual friend’s house and got into her own car. Her friends made her promise to call after the meeting ended, but she failed to do so. Instead she drove to the Harbor Freeway. She took it towards Downtown. Then she switched to the Hollywood Freeway. She got off at Santa Monica Boulevard and turned left. Almost immediately, she saw men in tight pants. It’s all she could see. In time she came upon a bar with a long line of men in tight pants waiting to get in. She stopped and rolled down her window and began shouting at them.
“Repent! Repent now, before it’s too late!”
“Too late for us, honey!” one of them shouted back. Others laughed.
She drove off. At every corner she saw them. Devil men she called them. To her they all looked like Frank.
She came upon a young man selling maps to stars’ homes. She pulled over and bought one. She thumbed through the pages until she found who she was looking for. Then she sped off on her crusade.
He was a black man, a singer, a famous entertainer. He had a following miles long and women swooned after him. She loved him and Frank used to buy his records for her. They played them on the stereo and danced in their own living room to them. But now Mrs. Cobb felt she knew better. Thanks to Frank, she knew the signs. She contrived a mocking smirk that hid behind the singer’s seemingly sweet smiles. She taught herself how to read between the phrases of his love songs, to know that he, too, lived a damn lie of a life. He was no better than Frank, out to ruin her.
The map led her to the singer’s house. She stormed up the long walkway from the street and rang the doorbell. The man himself answered, just as gorgeous as he had always looked. He even smiled slightly, as he asked what could he do for her.
Mrs. Cobb didn’t let any of that fool her. She knew he was a heathen. She whipped out her bible and stormed past him.
“I know who you are! You are living in sin! You must repent if you ever expect to be allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven! Repent! Repent!” She waved her bible around and began shouting Scripture passages. Another man appeared from inside the house wearing a robe and pajama pants. He stared at the woman in disbelief.
“Jay, what’s going on?” he said.
“Call the police,” Jay ordered. “Lady, you need to get out of here, now!”
“‘The Lord is my shepherd! I shall not want!’” Mrs. Cobb recited.
Jay didn’t want to touch the lady, for fear she may claim assault and then drag this whole mess into the courts. That’s the last thing he needed. But he wanted her out.
“Where is your wife?” she chided. “Does she know? Does she know about this man?”
“I am his wife,” the man said sardonically.
“Please, don’t encourage her,” Jay said. “Ma’am, you need to get out of here or we’ll call the police on you. You’re trespassing. You are not wanted here. You need to go.”
She stopped and stared at him. It was as if she hadn’t realized that she had driven to Beverly Hills and went into the man’s home. She looked at her surroundings and then at the bible in her hand. She saw the two men standing together and for an instant she could see them as a couple. She turned and exited, closing the door behind her.
“Jay, who was that woman?”
“Hell if I know,” he said, shaking his head.
Many, many years latter, while a young man in college, Gary came home with trepidations and presented his mother with a letter entitled, “What Gary Richards and James Baldwin Have in Common.” She looked at the title and put the letter down, then immediately stood to give her son a hug. Mrs. Cobb, long a footnote in the family history, did not come to mind during that tender moment of acceptance and love.
In time, though, she did tell her son about the whole ordeal of her conference with Mrs. Cobb. “That’s why you switched kindergarten teachers,” she said. “I didn’t want you in that woman’s class anymore.” Gary couldn’t stop laughing. “Well, looks like she got it right after all!” he said. They both laughed.
He didn’t tell his mother about how, around the time of the conference, at the tender age of six or seven, he used to sneak out into the backyard with photos of musclemen. They appeared in ads for weight-building supplements in the TV Times magazine from the Sunday paper. Gary took them into the backyard and stared at their bulging thighs and biceps, and the skimpiness of their black underwear.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.