Faithless: A Response to Neil LaBute's
A Gaggle of Saints
By Christopher Okiishi
It was a beautiful night. Just that perfect blend of crisp and cool, but not too cold yet. A good night for company. The sky was clear and even in the heart of the city, the stars twinkled bright, and the moon was a big ball of...uh, I don't know...something good though. A night full of energy, full of possibilities.
I'd driven in for a couple of reasons. One, my son had this party at the plaza he wanted to go to, and I wasn't about to let him take the car. Not after the rash of tickets he got last month. Besides, it was a good time for us to spend some quality time together. He's had it pretty rough since the divorce--we both have really. My ex-wife wasn't too kind, laid into me more than once with the kid around, bringing up stuff no teenage boy wanted to hear about his dad. See, it'd taken me a little too long to admit some things to myself, and even longer to her, and even though I wasn't rejecting as much as disqualifying her, she didn't see it that way. She's quite religious, you see, and in her view fags are pretty much going to hell, and she had no qualms in letting me or the boy or anyone else know her mind. Pretty tough, since in all but one particularly crucial way, I still loved her.
So the boy and I don't get much time together, and it was nice to have the drive. We talked the entire way, about school and football and which girl he was hoping would be at the dance. He even asked my advice a bit. It was nice. When I dropped him off at the hotel and watched him join his other friends waiting to get in, all looking so sharp and polished in their rented tuxedos, I felt a pain right here. Not wanting to embarrass him by hanging around, I pulled away quick and went in search of the second reason for the trip.
See I'd been talking on-line with this guy for a couple of months. It's pretty hard to meet people up-state where we live-no bars that I know of, and I don't drink much anyway. And, let's face it, I'm old. So thank god for the internet. Every night, I meet two or three new friends, all in the same boat as me. Some are just looking for a quick hook up or even less, which has its charms, but others are pretty cool, and I end up talking for hours. This guy, Mark, was pretty special, though. Even gave me his phone number. We'd been calling every night for a couple of weeks. He's a cop here in the city, which, naturally, made me weak in the knees, but he wasn't all macho bullshit or anything. He has a daughter about half my son' s age, so we could talk about trying hard to be good dads and still hoping to get laid from time to time. We figured it was time to meet, and set up a restaurant and time. I was a little nervous, but hey, at least I'd get a good meal out of it.
Dinner was terrific. He was as fun and charming and even cuter in person than his profile suggested. And, best of all, he seemed to like me. After dinner, we went for a walk in the park, holding hands like it was no big deal. It was a big step for me, never having really dated a guy before, let alone seen in public. But he made me comfortable, easy, natural even. It was nice.
He was nice.
Far too soon, though, he looked down at his watch. He had to pick up his daughter from the sitter, and was about to be late. He promised next time to make better plans, and maybe even come see me up-state. I assured him there wasn't much to do or see up there, but he said that he'd be the judge of that, then put his hand on my shoulder and planted a kiss right on my lips.
I don't remember much about the next few minutes, other than being kinda dizzy and warm and giddy. I think we rocked around in a circle for a while, and I think he tried more than once to let go, only to start again. When I finally opened my eyes, I could see the moonlight reflected in his glasses, as he smiled at me, pushed me reluctantly away, and said goodnight.
I held myself for a minute as he walked away, still tasting him on my lips and smelling him on my hands. I looked up at the moon and thanked God for this life, for all its goodness and beauty .It was a beautiful night. Perfect.
I looked at my watch, and realized I still had a couple of hours to kill before picking up the boy. I thought I might catch a movie or get some coffee, but first I had to pee. There was a public restroom just a few feet away, and though my better judgment told me otherwise, I felt particularly safe that night. Invulnerable and strong. I even whistled as I ambled up the darkened path, sharing my sense of beauty and love with the dark world around me. Now I know its queer to whistle, but I like it; it's child-like and care-free, and innocent. You can't help but let it cheer you up.
Inside, there was a homeless fellow passed out in front of the urinals, so I took possession of one of the stalls around the comer. Sitting down, I let the events of the evening flood over me. Amazing how a simple thing like reciprocal affection can make you feel so different. I realized how much I'd been alone, how much I'd almost given up hope of feeling this way again, how much I'd forgotten what it felt like to hold another person as they held onto you. These were the times that made life good.
Just then, I heard the footsteps--a marked clacking sound on the stone floor. I relaxed a bit when a pair of dress shoes came into view. These were a good make, something no mugger would wear. No, this man was probably looking for a different kind of illegal activity. My heart skipped a beat when he took the stall next to mine, sat down, and tapped his foot three times on the floor. Mind you, I hadn't done anything like this for a while, but hey, I went to college. Every library or locker room has a designated bathroom or alcove, where, if you know the code, you can get yourself off pretty easy. To mix a metaphor, three taps is the skeleton key of man-to-man Morse code. And it was no accident either, for, when I didn't immediately respond, he repeated the message again.
In retrospect, I knew what I was doing all along, but at the time I told myself I would just see how far this would go. I let my hand dangle to my side so it would be visible under the partition. In a heart beat, he put his hand in mine, and whispered for me to meet him by the sinks. Breathing heavy now, we followed each other to the open area in the front.
The homeless man didn't look to be moving anytime soon, so we paid him no heed. I finally got a good look at my new friend. Young, not much older than my son, really, and wearing a tuxedo, though the tie was undone, and the shirt was rumpled. I smiled at the weird way things work in the world as he introduced himself. "My name's Chet," I responded, the first butch name I could come up with, which seemed to please him, because he smiled, really sweetly, like an angel, and looked me up and down. He was hesitant, like he didn't know how to get started. I felt oddly paternal as I took his hand again in mine, and whispered that everything would be okay. Then words weren't necessary anymore. We moved together, hands exploring, my mouth on his neck, his hand on my back, my fingers on his...I looked up to see if l was doing okay, and he was smiling back at me. That sweet, angel smile. Innocent and young and everything I hadn't been for so long. I wanted to take care of him and make him happy if only for a little while.
Then, I realized his gaze was looking past me, and his smile was hardening, breaking wide into a humorless smirk. He pushed me away with both hands, and clenched them into fists as his laughter grew louder and more perverse. Spinning to follow his gaze, I found the entrance blocked by two other young men, both in tuxedos, their eyes fixed menacingly on me. I looked back to my erstwhile partner, who already was motioning to the others to surround me.
I had never believed that my body would ever betray me. Sure I'd heard the expression scared shitless, but I thought I'd never face a danger that would take me over so completely. I was wrong. The boys, for that's what they were really, laughed even louder as I soiled myself with piss and shit. I tied to run, but my legs wouldn't work, and instead I fell to my knees. I was babbling something about getting things wrong and making mistakes and please and no and stop. I don't remember all I said or promised or did. It was pretty pathetic, even by my standards.
The first blow caught me across my left jaw-line. I tasted the salty bitterness of my own blood and the blinding white of pain clear into my eyes. The next strike was the tip a shoe into my stomach, doubling me over, and emptying my dinner on the dark, leaf- littered concrete. Then, like a thunderstorm, their fists rained down on me, one indiscriminant from the others, a choreography of pain and pressure and liquid and filth. Occasionally, the staccato of their destruction was counter-pointed with a snap of a breaking bone or a particularly agonized scream, but mostly it was a constant, rhythmic drumming, as the three made short work of my body.
Soon, realizing I was no longer capable of resistance or escape, they paused to survey their work. I was face down, my hands moving aimlessly at my sides, my legs indelicately spread and twitching, like a half -squashed insect, still jerking involuntarily. The two larger boys high-five'd each other, and looked to the third who had lofted a garbage receptacle above his head. "It's time to take out the trash," he hissed through clenched teeth, drawing approving laughter from his partners. The last word I heard was "Fag", and then the snap and crackle of my spine as the metal can pummeled my back.
And then, they were gone.
The homeless man, miraculously, sprang to life, and tried to carry me to safety, but I think he knew it was too late. Promising to return with help, he ran off into the shadows and left me, face up, on the path leading back to the park. I looked up at the moon, which was as full and romantic as ever, reminding me of how happy I'd been just moments before. And now I was dying, I knew it. Each breath grew more labored, it was just a matter of time. In a last gesture of defiance, or stubbornness, or desire to leave the world in beauty not ugliness, I began to whistle, but my lips were raw and swollen, and the air wouldn't flow right. So instead I sang.
(Lights fade on song)
You do something to me
Something that simply mystifies me
Yes, you do something to me that
Nobody else can do
That nobody else can do.
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