Catherine Lacey

A Couple of Queens

I have been sifting through the mess of my negligence. It is taking me years to sift, so much I have neglected. I seem to have forgotten how long I have been neglecting the mess.

One event can mark the beginning at least; my father came to town and slept behind one of the doors upstairs. That week it was rarely that I could bring myself up there; a noise was noising, a high-pitched little piece of torture, it hummed all week.

All that is over now. He's left. I can hear. The heaped laundry, stacks of mail, black-bottomed coffee cups and the gummy floor—well, I prefer it.

I should mention that my father is well-liked. When he drawls and people want to pet his hair. The women are always telling him how young he looks and he does look young. He looks about seven years old to me. Some people say he's a convincing thirteen, but I would disagree. Sometimes, if he hasn't slept, he looks like a teenager but the rest of the time he really looks about seven or eight.

On the other hand, I was born with a full head of gray hair, little wrinkles around the eyes. People joked that my mother must have been pregnant for nine decades instead of months. Ha. Ha. I never thought that was so funny.

Charles came by after my father had left. I put my hand on Charles's jaw and said, Charles, you are a beautiful man. Charles smiled and put his hands on my shoulders, and his forehead against my forehead. Adrian, he said, you are a beautiful man.

I smiled even though I didn’t want to because Charles knows how I feel about being called by a gendered pronoun. My smile made a little laugh and Charles said, No, just beautiful. You are simply beautiful. That was better, though it still seemed lacking.

Charles told me he prefers older women, actually older women and men.

I think I know what Charles means by this but what is upsetting is that Charles is fifteen years older than me. He carries it well, of course. When we're out strangers probably think I'm the lech, a cougar, a nasty old man.

Charles wants to know about my father.

I tell him, so do I.

You see, everyone enjoys my father except those who have reached the brink. I have reached the brink. My sister has reached the brink. Our mother reached the brink twenty years ago but has an inconvenient amount of patience. Pill bottles appeared in the kitchen pantry, between the Poppy Seeds and Turmeric, and that's how I learned about the brink.

Charles tells me it isn't as bad as I think. I ask him, What isn't as bad as I think and he says, Nevermind.

On the last night my father is in town he asks when he'll get to meet Charlene.

I say, who? and my father says Oh, don't play dumb. Charlene, the one you keep talking about.

You mean Charles? The man that I love named Charles?

My father says, Oh, don't be ridiculous.

He often reminds me that I was once a prom king dating the homecoming queen. It was lovely, I remember, feeling so royal and young and supple. My father took photographs of us at the mantle and on the front porch and beside the pond of ducks. All that's over now. The homecoming queen left me for a college boy and I found a minor league shortstop who, when provoked, insisted on champagne. My father saw me and the shortstop holding hands in the park and started screaming across the field about the homecoming queen and later that day, at home without a witness, I reached the brink. I put my small blue suitcase in my car, slowly backed out of the driveway and went to find my shortstop—he was right where I would have expected, out on our small town, insisting.

What about the queen? my father asks on his last night at my house.

That was ten years ago and I haven't even hugged a woman since, I say. I'm in love with Charles. We’re very happy.

I wish you would reconsider. Boys are so terrible. Trust me, I know. They do things that we all agree they shouldn't.

Ha, I say to my father.

And he wants to know, What's so funny?

Recently, Catherine Lacey has published work with Cousin Corinne's Reminder, Trnsfr, Bbook.com, Lamination Colony, etc. She is 1/8th of the team behind 3B, a cooperatively-run bed and breakfast in Downtown Brooklyn. Less frequently than she'd like, she writes for HTMLGIANT.

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