Come you daughters and see; Behold, you fathers of sons.
Fly you unto the mountains, and get unto the hills.
I see! Oh, I see close there two men—no more than boys—
Withering and pretending. What God would smile at this?
The doors opened. They run inside to loud country music and a nod from the girl behind the conveyor belt. It was the same everyday girl. Beneath the frequently stained ceiling tiles, long rows of florescent lights illuminated dusty shelves. They deftly overstepped the dried gray sticky spills. They paid no heed to the woman with unwashed hair yelling into her phone, lollygagging the aisles.
Under the clearance sign, they stood amid hummingbird feeders and small plastic bird fountains painted like grey stone. Cameron picked up one of these and bounced it in his hands before saying, “Well? We got to get a move on.” He looked past James’ shoulder towards the windows beyond.
Too proud to beg, too poor to move: the American price.
Two dollars their souls would soothe, your change could suffice.
A few months ago, James’ aunt told him a story about when her uncles took her brothers from their home late one night. The brothers must have been eight or ten as she was older. Her uncles knocked on the back door. In town, some men were—as she told it to James—“doing funny stuff, you know” down at the bus terminal near the Presbyterian Church. Her uncles wanted to let their nephews see what justice happens on the edge of town when you do this funny stuff. Nobody much cared what happened to those bathroom boys.
Hours passed and car doors slammed her awake. Her brothers entered their shared bedroom. The red taillights through the window illuminated their white, frightened faces. They never told her what happened that night, but she heard them both quietly crying in their beds across the room until they went to school in the morning without a word to each other.
It is I who should atone, bound hand and foot to this hell,
Out on the straight edge of the known. What these men endured I cannot tell.
Decades later, one of those young nephews turned pot-bellied and tired. One night, he came upon moaning from James’ room. He wasn’t with Cameron or another boyfriend, but just a guy from school, a B-squad jock who’d let a faggot suck his dick for cash. He was not homosexual. But James had no excuse when his father caught him in the gayest of positions—the one that cannot be explained away with drink or laughed in the locker room. A position that offered no explanation but shame. He pulled his son from under the B-squad jock, his bedroom and his life. He threw him out.
That November night, James walked miles in flip-flops and gym shorts to the one-level house on Third Avenue. He banged on the door till the no trespassing sign bounced and the dogs yapped inside. He banged and he banged. His aunt opened the door.
Open the gates to me, my protector, lift high the doors and take me in.
See I stand and knock, tired and full of tears,
My face hot with shame. Lift high the doors and take me in.
“Come on, we’ve got to pick something. We’re already running late,” Cameron said. He leaned and looked at the plastic painted stone bird bath in James’ hands. “No,” he said, “no, we can’t do that one—you’re over budget, J.” “I know,” James replied, “I know.” But, he turned and started walking towards the same everyday girl at the register.
Cameron walked in front of him and stopped. He did not look him in the eyes. “J—come on—put that back—we can’t.” James looked away. They were close enough to hear each other breathe, close as they slept at night. James replied, “I know. I know.” Cameron said, “Just put it back. We can’t afford it.” James shook his head. “No, we’re doing it. I’ll eat Goddamn rice and beans all week—she deserves something nice.” And his father would be at his aunt’s birthday party.
“Something nice?” Cameron replied, “Something nice? There’s nothing nice here.” He laughed.
The sacrifices of God are troubled spirits,
And unsure divided minds, and hearts not all at ease;
For those who e’en cannot give from clearance,
And those not willing to live or love or please.
These sacrifices are poured out from unexpiring cups,
Always, resting not night or day, to the God who never hears.
They stood in line behind an elderly black woman talking to the everyday same girl. The girl was telling the woman about her babies. My babies did this. My babies did that. Can you believe what my babies did? Shew, ‘dem babies give you nothing but heartache and trouble. For some time, they went on like this to the arrhythmic beeping of the register.
James opened a magazine from the rack next to the packs of gum. One had a glossy picture of a handsome man with a blindingly white smile and a five o’clock shadow on a cover. The headline of the article read, “Star comes out as gay: why _______ is the sexiest dad!” It was in large print next to a picture of his abs and a picture of a palatial sandy estate where he makes his home with his partner and his three children. They all smiled in a family portrait on the next page. They offered advice to young gay men on staying quote-unquote fabulous.
It was their turn. “How y’all today?” the same everyday girl at the register asked them. “Just fine, thanks,” James said. “We’re in a bit of a rush,” Cameron replied. “No worries,” the young girl said, “it’ll just be seven dollars and sixty-five cents.” James brought out his checkbook and wrote in blue ink with a steady hand, offering a quiet prayer to God that it not clear the bank for three days until his paycheck was deposited. They said thank you to the girl.
The wind clobbered the dangling chimes, the whole line of them outside the store. Most were marked-down four metal tubes under faded garish suns. Cameron and James opened their mouths to fistfuls of gusts carrying the taste of hot, wet pavement. James was nearly intoxicated by it. Fencing Clark’s Highway, the trees turned paler underbellies towards a pregnant sky. “Jesus Christ! It’s bad enough—now we got to drive through all this bullshit,” Cameron huffed. They stood in front of the closed doors and, for a moment, watched the rain blow.