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". . . the viciousness of the potatoes . . ." ~ Sylvia Plath
“Remember what I said about tonight?” Bobby warned Remy, as he stepped out of his jeep and slammed its door behind him. He rubbed his arms, shivering slightly. He had forgotten how cold it could get up at his old hometown by night - the breezes off the sea always dropped the temperature by a good, few degrees - or else he would have brought a jacket. He breathed in deeply, tasting salt, and knew he was home.
Climbing out of the other side, his boyfriend gave him an amused look, “No mentionin’ politics. No discussin’ of de X-Men. No speakin’ about how de Saints are goin’ t’win de Superbowl. No refusin’ of seconds at de table. An’ no grabbin’ your ass. I got it.”
“You got it, but I don’t seem to remember mentioning the last one.”
“So I can grab ya ass? Ya parents won’t mind?” Remy asked, his face a picture of innocence.
“Remy!” Bobby exclaimed just as the house’s porchlight came on. He looked across to see his mother silhouetted in the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron. She was a little smaller and a little thinner than she had been the last time he had come to see her, he noticed with a pang.
“Bobby, you’re here,” she said warmly when they came up the path to greet her. Closer, Bobby could see that his parent’s house had acquired the dilapidated look of all houses built near the shore. Dingy paint flaked off the boards, the gambrel roof sagged, and the wood of the porch was swollen from the humidity, “And who is your friend?”
“I’m Remy LeBeau,” Remy took her work-hardened hand in his own and kissed it, “Enchante.”
Bobby was embarrassed to see his mother blush and giggle like a schoolgirl. She patted her greying curls with a hand, stepping aside and saying, “Come on in, and say hello to William. Dinner won’t be a minute.”
Bobby took a deep breath, then entered the house. The thought of meeting his father had been a cold, hard lump in his chest for weeks. He had barely been able to sleep at nights for fear of the argument they would have when he introduced Remy to him. He didn’t know how to begin to explain to him that he was gay, that the man beside him was his date for this evening and every other. He didn’t know if he could.
“Well, this is a new development,” his father said without greeting, staring flatly at him over the top of his newspaper, “Between the nips and the muties, I thought I’d gotten used to the sort of folk you brought to dinner, but this . . . Tell me, Bobby, are you a fag now?”
“William!” his mother breathed, “Stop it!”
“Don’t be stupid,” the words seemed to race out of his mouth by themselves, “I’m not gay. Remy is just my bud. Is there a rule that says I always have to bring my girlfriends to dinner?”
He stared at his father, unable to look across at Remy and see his reaction. His stomach felt hollow within him. He had always said he would never betray him, but it had happened so quickly and so easily. He wanted to take his words back, to tell his parents the truth, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. Later, he would try and make his boyfriend understand just why he had been unable to tell his father about their relationship. He doubted he would understand, when he barely understood it himself. He certainly didn’t care about having his parents’ approval anymore, so what did it matter what they thought about him or his taste in lovers?
As his father nodded and turned his attention back to the headlines, he heard Remy clear his throat. For a brief, terrifying moment, he thought his boyfriend was going to reveal the truth to them, but he simply said: “May I use ya bathroom, Mrs Drake? I’d like t’wash up before supper.”
“Of course, dear.”
While Remy disappeared through the doorway and his mother ducked back into the kitchen, he moved to sit on the edge of the chair opposite his father. He raised his thick eyebrows to acknowledge his presence, but said nothing more to him. Feeling as awkward as always, Bobby drummed his fingers on his thighs and tried to think of a conversation that wouldn’t lead to a fight. Anything would be better than sitting in silence and thinking of what had just happened between him and the man he loved.
“Nice weather you’ve been having here,” he tried.
“Yep,” his father replied, eyes not moving from the article he was reading for a second.
“I saw Marge McAllister’s painted her house yellow. I could see it all the way from the highway.”
“Did you catch the baseball game on ESPN last night?”
“Have the Averys given up their general store? Mom said they might be selling in her last letter.”
He turned the page and smoothed out the paper, “Nope.”
Giving up on making any polysyllabic conversation with his father, Bobby leaned back into the sofa and looked around himself. As with the rest of his parent’s home, time seemed to have passed normally until the Seventies, then had simply stopped. The lounge suite with its tasteless pattern of orange and brown flowers. The sentimental prints of praying children and puppies. The hooked rug on the floor. The heavy, wooden radio on the table. It was almost like entering a time capsule where a decade had been suspended forever. The only indication that time still continued was a cheap, white clock dragging out the seconds on the mantelpiece. He wondered when - if - Remy was going to return. After what he had said, he wouldn’t blame him for slipping out of the window and disappearing. Perhaps their conversation about his parents couldn’t wait until later.
With a weak laugh, “Well, I’d better check that my friend hasn’t gotten lost.”
He found Remy standing in his old room and looking around himself. His feeling of being out of time was never more pronounced than when he was in his old room. Here was his childhood, perfectly preserved. The Spitfire jets hanging from catgut. The collections of MAD comics and baseball cards in shoeboxes. The entire set of the Hardy Boys on the bookshelf. The bed with the orange-and-brown spread that had been outdated even in the Seventies. The Star Wars posters tacked to the wall.
“Welcome to my misspent youth,” he lifted a hand to flick one of the planes. It swayed slightly on the end of its string. He remembered lying on his bed staring up at them and wishing he could fly away on one of them. He never knew quite where he wanted to go - it might be Cairo one day and Beijing the next - but it was always far away from here.
Remy gave him a thin smile, bending to inspect the shelf of books and running his hands delicately along the spines. He pulled out one of the Hardy Boys novels, and flipped it open at random. He seemed completely absorbed by it, his lips moving slightly as he read. Bobby watched him nervously, shifting from one leg to the other, as the silence stretched out into minutes. Part of him was glad that Remy was taking it so well, that his parents wouldn’t have to witness an ugly scene between them. The other part wished he would just shout or cry or throw something at him. There was some horrible about his boyfriend’s calm.
“About what I said to my folks. . . .” he said, when the quiet grew too much to bear.
“Dis isn’t de time or place,” Remy snapped the book shut and replaced it neatly on the shelf, “We’ll talk about it later, but I don’t t’ink dis is goin’ t’work. I can’t be wit’ someone who is ashamed of me.”
Bobby stared at him incredulously, his words not penetrating. The whole situation seemed too surreal for words. His lover was standing calm and beautiful in the middle of his childhood room, framed by Spitfires and baseball pennants, and was telling him it was over. Ever since he had started going out with Remy, he had expected him to tell him that they were finished, but he had never thought it would be through his own fault. He felt his gut twist within him.
“I’m not ashamed of you,” he said in a low voice, “My dad just wouldn’t have understood. His attitudes are as out of date as . . . as the rest of this place. He hates gays. It’d just have to led to a huge fight, and I’m so tired of every dinner we have ending with a fight between us. It just wasn’t worth it.”
The moment the words came out of his mouth, he knew it had been the wrong thing to say. If Remy wasn’t worth a fight with his parents, then he wasn’t worth very much at all. He looked at his boyfriend to try and gauge his reaction, but his face was expressionless. He could not tell if he was angry or hurt or simply numb. Bobby tried to stammer out an apology, but he held up a hand to stop him, “Looks like I was right about dis relationship not workin’. I’m going to call a cab to take me back to de mansion. I’ll see you in de morning.”
“Please stay,” he tried to place a hand on his arm, but he shook it off with a grunt. Desperately, Bobby added, “I love you.”
Remy stared at him for a long time, a strange expression in his flicker-flame eyes, then he shook his head, “No, ya don’t. Adieu, cheri.”
He felt cool lips brush against his own, then his boyfriend pushed past him and into the hallway. Feeling as if all the air had been forced out of his lungs, Bobby collapsed onto his bed and stared up at the swaying planes on the ceiling. He wished he could fly away on one of them right now. Through the doorway, he heard his mother ask why he wasn’t staying for dinner and Remy reply that a problem had come up back home. While his mother murmured words of polite sympathy and his father said a curt farewell, he thought how quick and simple it would be to walk into the lounge and tell his parents that Remy was his boyfriend. It would only take four, little words to do and it would prove beyond a doubt that he loved him.
But he didn’t move. He lay on the bed, not knowing how to feel, watching the Spitfires bob and weave above him, until he heard the screen-door click shut and Remy’s footsteps crunch on the gravel path.
When he was sure that Remy was gone, he got up from his bed and walked into the lounge. Nothing had changed - nothing ever changed here. His father was still sitting in his armchair glaring at the sports’ page; his mother was singing tunelessly in the kitchen to the rhythm of chopping carrots. The television flickered bluely in the corner, its volume turned down to nothing. Six, sixteen or twenty-six, the scene would have been familiar to him.
For a moment, Bobby paused in front of the screendoor, looking out through the white mesh at the driveway. Remy was leaning against one of the gateposts, a tall, slender silhouette in the half-light that spilled from the porch. He was holding a cigarette in one hand, but not smoking it. Its glowing tip shone faintly in the darkness like a firefly.
Behind him, he heard his father’s newspaper rustle and the clatter of pots in the kitchen where his mother was preparing supper. He could smell meatloaf cooking - the same meatloaf that she had dished up every Thursday of his life. And he knew that his choice to deny their relationship had been made long before he had ever met Remy LeBeau. He would always be his parent’s son, longing to fly away on the nearest plane but forever returning home when he finally did.
Turning away from the screen-door and the shadowed figure beyond it, he walked back into the living-room and sat at the table: “So, what’s cooking, good-looking?”