Angus in Extremis
Joseph De Quattro
My real name is Catherine Marie Puglisi but anyone who's ever known me has always referred to me as Angus. I am 17 years old just turned, have absolutely no chest whatsoever (thank God) and believe that I've kept my period at bay through sheer will power. Presently I am writing this as I lay on a twin bed in a small motel in Marblehead, Massachusetts. It is just after dark, and every now and then I can hear the melancholy sound of a buoy telegraphing its presence somewhere out in the bay. It is not such a bad sound to hear, I do not think, near the end of one's life.
In the bed directly opposite mine my younger brother Will is sleeping. Between us stands the night table upon which sits a lamp in the shape of a schooner, the bottle of my mother's "Sleep Ease" and a fifth of cheap Scotch a kind old lady bought for me several hours ago. When I am through writing this it is my intention to consume in a fairly methodical manner the entirety of the contents upon this night table save for the lamp, in an act that will in the end hopefully ring out with the sound of grave restitution on my behalf. That, at the very least anyway, is the most I could expect. I am taking the time to first put all of this down here in order to preserve immortally my place among the male gender which, up until two nights ago, I had always been a complete and thorough part of. That, and to ultimately expose them—in particular Kenny Logan—for the selfish, fiendish, blackmailing bastards they really are. Two nights ago I was still, despite this last rather difficult week, the happy young man that I'd always been. Now, I am nothing. And much as it probably should, the very real proximity of my female anatomy at this particular moment provides me with absolutely no comfort whatsoever. But no one should get me wrong here. I've nothing at all against women, simply against the notion that I happen to be one.
As I feel it would serve myself and others well, despite possibly exacerbating the pain of my lament for my parents not to mention make me sound like a total egomaniac (I'm not), I would like to briefly add a few personal highlights in order to preclude the estimation on anyone's part that there were greater reasons for my voluntary dismissal other than the complete, tragic and recent loss of my male moorings.
For one, and although there was some initial discrepancy on the judges' part with regard to my pronunciation of "vituperative," I was the winner this spring and for the second year in a row of the Bay State Spelling Bee. Two weeks later I won the first ever Definition Bee, a title which has invariably rendered my language somewhat affected. All I know is that, with an account such as this for instance, I'd personally rather find that someone had made an effort so close to their denouement as opposed to leaving nothing at all or, even worse, something incomprehensible.
As of this fall, the fall of my junior year, I have already exhausted all the AP English courses my high school has to offer and would have had, at the time of graduation, at least 15 college credits under my belt. This summer, based on the strength of a paper I wrote on the life of Sigmund Freud, which incidentally took third place in a national high school essay competition, I was awarded a partial scholarship to Columbia University's School of Journalism which of course, at this time, should be put back in to the University system.
Lastly, and on a much more personal level, I would like to say that I prefer expressionism to impressionism, agree strongly with the views of Schopenhauer, have read Ulysses, War and Peace and the complete works of Shakespeare, and sport an extremely strong affinity for chocolate milkshakes, albeit not strong enough.
Oh what a garden the seed of my demise, planted one week ago tonight, has sprouted! Despite what Kenny Logan has obviously since maintained, I did not go into Cole's Cosmetics at the top end of Main Street last Monday evening in order to purchase make-up for reasons having to do with a sudden interest in female vanity. I had, in fact, never before that time even been inside the store and found myself there out of desperation due to the unmitigating physical changes which had gradually begun taking place over the last four to six months in the area of my person known as my face.
I have thankfully always been rather plain-looking and so through certain guises, a rippling jaw muscle or good scowl for instance, had never had too difficult a time maintaining my masculine countenance. Just before school broke for the summer, however, I noticed that I had become on more than one occasion the target of what is referred to as a furtive look from several different boys in and around school. Naturally I began spending time in front of the mirror and to my great alarm (it's impossible to capture in words the essence of just how sick I felt) found that my eyes were beginning to take on a terribly feminine come-hither look turning upwards at the ends, my lips had become almost twice as full as they once had been and my cheekbones were emerging at such a rate as to soon be capable of sinking the Titanic. So I did what I could.
I slept with scotch tape attached from the outermost part of each eye to the underside of my jaw in order to stunt their metamorphosis, and tried using my mother's cover-up on the upper and lower regions of my lips so as to give them a thinner look which after an hour or so only made me look like I had a chocolate moustache, not that I particularly cared.
As for the new cheekbones, I was at a complete and utter loss. And much as I like wearing baseball caps, after spending nearly every day of the summer wearing one with the brim pulled down so as to be almost parallel to my face, I decided to slip into Cole's to see if there was something that could be done short of plastic surgery.
"Do you have a de-accentuator?" I knew it wasn't a word but didn't know how else to refer to it. There was a woman way down at the other end of the counter. She wore a doctor's type coat and moved towards me with her hands up in the air as if she'd been startled.
"I'm sorry," she said. "A what?" She gave me a creepy smile.
"You know," I said. I was nervous and my hands started to flutter around my face. "Something that might downplay everything. I know you have products that accentuate certain areas of the face. I want something that'll do the opposite."
She looked at me for a moment and then rapped four grotesquely long pink fingernails on the glass counter top.
"But darling," she said and then broke into that creepy grin again. She dropped herself down a bit trying to get a better look at my face from under the brim of my hat.
"Darling why would you want to downplay such lovely features?" The darling nearly killed me. I thought right then about running from the store which, thinking about it now, may have resulted in my avoiding Kenny Logan's arrival by a few minutes, not to mention potentially making negligible the inception of the awaiting tragedy.
"See that's just it," I said to the woman. "I don't want lovely features. I want something that'll make my face look the way it used to."
"Which was how dear?"
"Plain," I said. "Just plain."
The woman took a deep breath and then said, "Well, with eyes like those—"
"Please!" Having said this a little louder than I wanted to I looked around the store. It was empty.
"Do you think you can help me?" I said more calmly.
After looking at me for a few moments with this real annoyed look on her face, the woman then proceeded to begin rummaging around in the case below. I watched her hand moving around inside the case, picking up this bottle, then that bottle, and turning each one around so she could read the label. Finally, after about a hundred or so, she came back up with one.
"This is the only thing that might be able to help." She placed the small tube on the glass. "It's a de-shiner from France—"
"Fine," I said. "I'll take it."
"Well would you perhaps like a sample application?" the woman asked.
"No," I said getting my money out. "I can manage."
I automatically pulled down on the brim of my hat the moment I came out into the street. It was then, just a few yards to the left of the store, that I discovered Kenny Logan leaning nonchalantly as hell against a parking meter. He had a smile on his face that looked as though it had been there a while.
"What the hell are you smiling at," I said going past him. Then I looked back over my shoulder and shot him one of the glares I'd been using on the boys at school. It didn't work Kenny started following me a few paces behind.
When I reached my car at the end of the block I stopped and looked at him.
"What do you want, Logan?"
Kenny came over and leaned up against the passenger side door.
"Nothing," he said in this real weird voice. And then, "Catherine."
I went kind of hot all over. Although I cannot recall the first few years of my life, I know for a fact that I have not been referred to as Catherine since the age of five when I adopted the name Angus and came into my boyhood.
I looked at Kenny without saying anything. A year ago I could have easily taken him in a fight but he had beefed up considerably over this last summer and so attempting to rush him was futile. I started around to the other side of the car.
Without moving and keeping his back to me Kenny said, "I suppose it wouldn't be too good if this got out."
"What," I said.
Now he turned around and pressed his chest against the top of the car.
"That someone saw you buying make-up at Cole's." Then in that same weird voice he said, "Angus."
I opened the car door but hesitated before getting in.
"You know, you're a real creep, Logan," I said. "And for your information it wasn't make-up."
Still, I knew right away that this was very bad. Quite possibly life altering.
"I shouldn't have to explain to a bastard like—"
"Don't need to," Kenny said and put up a hand to stop me. He stuck out his wet, fat bottom lip.
"Look," he said and started coming over to my side of the car. "I've got a proposition for you."
I didn't wait to hear what it was going to be and climbed inside the car and reached for the door. Kenny grabbed hold of it and we struggled for a couple of seconds.
"It's simple," Kenny said getting his entire body between me and the car door. "A simple request, that's all. Hear me out and—"
"All right," I said. "Just say it." I sat there looking down Main Street.
"Okay," Kenny said. "You go out with me next Saturday night and this whole thing stays with me. I swear. I won't breathe a word of it. No Cole's. No make-up."
I wish now that I could have seen the incredulous expression on my face when I looked up at him. When I did look, I noticed right away that on Kenny's own face there was that puckish, furtive stare that I'd been getting from some of the boys around school. He placed his right hand over his heart and I swear all I wanted to do in that moment was sucker punch him and head for Canada.
Instead I said, "How 'bout a counter proposition."
Kenny's eyes narrowed. "Like what?"
"Like we race," I said, "Right here, right now. I win, no date, no tell. You win, I'll entertain your sick idea."
"Only, though," I said, "if you swear not to tell anyone."
"Sounds good to me," Kenny said. He had that lip out again. "But where?"
I got out of the car.
"Up there," I said. "Boylan's alley s'bout 50 yards exactly."
I was a little surprised that Kenny had agreed so easily. Surely he must have known that it was a lost cause. He knew all about my school records in the 50- and 100-yard dashes, but I suppose his new musculature gave him a false sense of confidence.
I didn't need to limber up or anything and got down on the ground at the mouth of Boylan's alley. Kenny took off his jacket. He quickly inhaled then exhaled a few times.
"Who says go," Kenny said when he got down next to me.
Feeling like I was leading a lamb to slaughter I said, "You can."
I ran the 50 yards at about three-quarter speed and still managed to beat him by two or three steps. It wasn't that Kenny was terribly slow, I'd seen plenty that were slower, he simply didn't understand the dynamics involved in running. How to advantageously funnel one's body forward.
"Okay," I said. I wasn't at all winded and had begun walking back towards the street. "Thanks a lot, Kenny. Good race. See you around."
Kenny remained at the upper end of the alley, breathing hard and with both hands planted on his knees.
"Wait," he said or tried to say. "Wait a minute."
I stopped. "What?"
He started walking slowly towards me.
"Go out with me anyway," he said. "Please, I—"
I placed my hands over my ears.
"No, Kenny," I said. "No way." I started walking again.
"Why not?" he called after me.
"Because I'm not a girl," I said and turned around to face him again. "I mean are you gay, Kenny? Cause I'm not."
He looked at me for a moment in that way I'd been looked at a thousand times before. It's like people go along with everything, call me Angus and all, but when they suddenly hear it spelled out for them it becomes a thought they can't handle.
Kenny had straightened up.
"I'll still tell," he said and started pulling his jacket on. "Go out with me Saturday and I won't. Like I said."
"Like you said," I nearly screamed. "What about what I said? We had a deal. Are you a skunk as well as a blackmailer?"
To this Kenny waved a hand and walked past me.
"You got 'til Friday to decide," he said on the sidewalk. "See me Saturday and this stays with me forever. Don't, and by Monday the whole school will know."
I didn't say anything and thought again about rushing him. I watched him disappear around the corner. He let out a hoot when he was out of sight.
I stayed in the alley a while longer thinking it all through. Then I vomited in a corner before heading back to my car and home.
In lieu of forging straight into a formal account of the tragedy, i.e. my loss of place among men, I would like at this time to briefly turn my attention to the evidential items located here on the bed just to the right of my throwing arm. They are items which I believe will only further impress upon recipients of this testament my heretofore asserted claims.
The first is a pair of photographs depicting myself at the ages of five and seven respectively, donning one of my all-time favorite possessions from childhood, a brown felt homburg belonging to my father much like the one Winston Churchill used to wear. One photograph shows me posing on the bricks in front of our fireplace just as I completed one of my lengthy and adept displays of tap dancing, in my opinion the only manly form of dancing there is. In the other, again replete with homburg, I am sitting in the driver's seat of my father's Buick, arms crossed and sporting a rather heroic-looking gash to the right of my right eye which I obtained while trying to scale the face of a highboy located in the upstairs hall of our house. Incidentally, I went without stitches and can actually recall not shedding a single tear over the event.
On the back of each photograph you will find nothing but the name Angus written in my mother's cursive hand. I'd have brought the homburg along here but several years after these pictures were taken and unbeknownst to me at the time, it was sold at a yard sale for a gobsmacking five dollars if you can believe it. I had to press my mother for nearly an hour before she could remember that old Mr. Schulman had bought it, and then took what money I had, $30 exactly, and marched down the street to his house. I offered him the entire $30 for the hat, six times the amount he'd paid for it, but he wouldn't budge. I was just about to tell him how much this hat meant to me when he said in this real soft almost sad sort of way that it looked very much like the hat his wife had bought for him one Christmas and which he'd eventually lost when it blew off his head and down a Chicago street when he was there on business years and years ago. I wasn't sure if it was because his wife was dead or because I'd always liked Mr. Schulman, but either way I didn't say anything about how I felt about the hat and let the whole matter drop.
If the discoverers of my body should require even further evidence of my claims, may I now turn your attention to my battered figure of G.I. Joe. I would have taken along more toys which had occupied my boyhood such as the Tonka dump truck I lost in a gigantic snow bank and rediscovered the following spring, my Legos, my collection of Matchbox cars or army men, but, as you will soon find, I left my house yesterday morning in somewhat of a hurry.
I took Joe with little forethought and see now that his presence greatly juxtaposes, for instance and of course in theory only, the possible ownership on my part of a Barbie were I in reality a female in any manner other than the anatomical. On more than one occasion I entered Joe in hand-to-hand combat with Ken who, though I insult him by simply writing about him and Ken in the same context, was no match for Joe whatsoever.
The remainder of what I have here all pertains to my consistent athletic achievements already hinted at when I told of crushing Kenny Logan in the fifty yard dash in Boylan's alley. Here, you will find my captain's pins for the tennis, field hockey and baseball teams (yes, baseball, not softball) my four presidential awards and my varsity letters in track, two of which I received on my way to setting a school record in both the fifty and one hundred yard dashes. I'd have gone out for football if the bastards that be at my school had allowed me to but they didn't. For the sake of brevity I'll not go into that.
After everything is sorted out here in the morning I would like all of these things to be turned over to my brother Will. Despite the fact that he's a voracious reader, an admirer of Van Gogh and one hell of an amateur astronomer, all of which, in my opinion, are potential signs of the well-rounded man, I believe he'll soon need all the help he can find in the education of becoming one. My hanging around would probably have proved to be an auspicious factor in guiding him along his journey, but I must now nevertheless sorely conclude to the contrary. If I myself have been deprived of my own male compass, how might it ever be possible to serve or act as a literal one for Will? Terminating my life at this time, I firmly believe, will in the end be the best schooling anyone could ever offer him.
Whether it was psychosomatic or not, I developed a chill the night I raced Kenny Logan. I just couldn't seem to get warm enough and though by Tuesday morning felt a little better, I decided not to go in to school. I spent most of the day feeling nervous and jumpy and tried, to no avail mind you, to apply the de-shiner I had bought the day before but it did nothing save to make me look like a cast member from Cats. I desperately needed to talk to someone.
But although it betrays no truth to say that I am extremely well-known throughout my town and school simply as Angus Puglisi, I am the first to admit that social intimacy has never been one of my fortes. Over the years I have been able to keep a cool, unfettered distance from my classmates. This, one can only imagine, has made life much easier for me to come by although I was finding as Tuesday night wore on that I would have exchanged a little bit of that comfort for someone I could talk to in order to inquire as to whether or not Kenny Logan had betrayed his word earlier that day. The only person I could in fact ask was my brother Will who, being a student at the nearby junior high, might have had some peripheral information.
I found him in the downstairs bathroom looking at his feet.
"What the hell are you doing," I asked.
"Shh!" Will said. He was sitting on the edge of the tub and looking at one of his outstretched feet.
"What the hell do I have to be quiet for?"
Will didn't say anything. I watched him for a minute or two as he closely inspected first his left then his right foot.
"Do my feet look funny to you, Angus?"
I wasn't all that interested but I looked just the same.
"Your feet look fine," I said. "What the hell—"
"Brian Shannon said in gym today that I had weird-looking feet. He made everybody look and a bunch of guys laughed. He said they were flat and that because of this I'd never be a very good athlete."
I felt awful for Will when I heard that. Could picture the whole humiliating scene.
"Screw what Brian Shannon has to say," I said. Then I got down on my hands and knees and wrapped a hand around each of Will's ankles. I pushed both feet flat against the tiled floor.
"See," I said. "See that?" I pointed to the space between the floor and one of Will's feet. "That's your damned arch right there."
Will peered down between his knees to see.
"Your feet are not flat," I said and stood up.
Admittedly Will's arches could have been a bit more pronounced, but it wasn't like I was lying or anything. The arches were there.
I turned around and adjusted my hat in the bathroom mirror.
"How'd the rest of the day go?" I said. I watched him from the glass.
"Fine," Will said and gave a quick shrug. "I guess."
"Nothing out of the ordinary happened?" And then I added, "I mean, aside from the foot thing and all?"
Will slowly shook his head. When we eventually made eye contact in the mirror his expression changed.
"What's that on your face?" he said. He stood up and came over to the sink.
Without even looking I realized I'd forgotten all about the now clotted whitish substance all about the area beneath and around my eyes. I bent my face into the bowl, drew some water from the tap and quickly began scrubbing.
"It isn't make—" Will started to say but I cut him off.
"No," I said reaching for a towel. "It isn't."
I began adjusting my hat again and trying for the moment not to pay him any attention. But I could see that Will had begun to move his face very close to mine for further inspection.
"Cause you know," he said in this real slow voice. "Daddy keeps saying that you're going through the change."
"The what?" I snapped.
"The change," Will said trying as best he could to get a good look at my face from under the brim of my hat. "Daddy says that women go through it twice in their lives. Once at the age you're at right now, and once later on when they're like 50 or something. I told him I didn't think so, but looking at you now I—"
I shoved him away from the sink.
"Will," I just about screamed, "I am not going through any change and certainly not a woman change. Are you nuts? D'you forget who you were talking to?"
Will sat down on the edge of the tub.
"Sorry," he said. "Sorry Angus." He started looking at his feet again.
"Damn right you're sorry," I said. "And besides, Daddy is the last person who should be giving out advice on—Oh, just forget it."
I stormed out the bathroom and went up to my room. I could have used a couple of milkshakes at that point and thought about going back down to the kitchen to make them, but instead just laid on my bed for the remainder of the night struggling with the idea of calling Kenny to see if he had in fact spilled anything. Doing so, though, I finally concluded would have provided a sniveling, conniving bastard such as he was (and would always be) with some kinky sense of power.
I knew, of course, that Will was telling me the truth about not having heard anything. In fact, the issue was moot, for he would have come to me right away. Still, if the news of my visit to Cole's had leaked it may not have reached him by the end of the day Tuesday. Thus, I awoke Wednesday morning feeling as paranoid as I'd gone to bed and it was only after I'd been inside the doors of the high school an hour or so that I began to relax. If anything had been said about me I'd have sensed it within the first hour of the day, I am completely certain.
By the end of first period I was once again receiving those queer, furtive looks from some of the boys as they passed me in the hallway and so, feeling much more at ease, I began leveling them with the steely glares I'd grown accustomed to employing. There was no whispering behind hands or lockers and, after a thorough inspection, no prophetic words about me written on the walls of the boy's bathroom which I'd been using freely since entering the high school three years earlier.
Thursday came and went in much the same manner. I did happen to see Kenny Logan once that afternoon, though at a distance and so didn't have to talk to him. He waved to me and I, for the sake of diplomacy, waved back.
So on Friday afternoon when, having escaped the week unscathed, I sat down on the edge of my bed and emitted a veritable sigh of relief. Faced at that point with nothing more than the nuisance, certainly a great nuisance, of spending an hour or so in the company of Kenny Logan the following night, I decided there and then to call him.
I chose my words carefully when he answered.
"The American Diner out on Indian Ridge. Seven o'clock tomorrow night. Don't be late."
Kenny tried to say something just then, but I hung up before he could get it out.
I have attempted here, for the sake of posterity, to thus far provide all those reading this account with an accurate appraisal of my state of mind during that rather harrowing week, my last as a member of the male race. I find that I am able to recount much of it word for word, verbatim, as it were, due to the nightmarish quality those days had taken on. By Friday night, I was, in a word, exhausted.
Still, I was able to feel slightly impressed (grateful is too strong a word) that it appeared Kenny had refrained from disclosing having seen me at Cole's no matter how inaccurate his idea of my being there had been. Had I known Friday evening, however, when I at last had begun to feel a bit like myself again and actually slept well for the first time that week, that what would transpire 24 hours later would render me void of my masculinity or, at the very least, were I to have been granted a glimpse into Kenny Logan's ultimate perfidy, I'd have cancelled meeting with him there and then and so suffered all the accoutrements associated with being a pariah.
On Saturday I arrived at the diner first and as I am a huge fan of gangster films, took a booth by the window overlooking the parking lot so that I could see when Kenny pulled in. After a few minutes I went ahead and ordered a cheeseburger deluxe, rare, and two chocolate shakes.
I had chosen the American Diner because it was rarely if ever frequented by people my age. Here and there, and most of them passing through given the tractor trailers out front, were men wearing red and blue flannel shirts and donning ball caps with names like Peterbilt, Mack and Sysco, printed in block lettering on the fronts. I began to feel pretty good.
Kenny pulled up before my food came. I watched him get out of his beat-up Nissan and noticed right off that his hair was combed with some slick substance and that he was wearing what appeared to be a brand new shirt. I suddenly began to feel uneasy about the whole thing when I saw this and absently pulled down on the brim of my hat.
"I'm not late am I?" Kenny said when he reached the table.
I shook my head and he slid in across from me. The waitress handed him a menu.
"So what are you gonna have," I asked.
"I don't know," Kenny said. "I just sat down." Then he started perusing the menu like he was at the Plaza or something.
"It's a diner Kenny, for God's sake," I said. "Get a burger."
Then my food arrived and he made a face.
"Hell you ordered already," he said. He sounded genuinely hurt. It was like we were this god damned couple or something.
"Didn't know if you'd show," I said.
The waitress hung around with her pen ready and then Kenny finally ordered the same as me short of the milkshakes. He gave the waitress his order in this real deflated sort of voice that made me tense.
When she left he sat there watching me as I started eating.
"Angus look," he said. "I know I did a real kind of shitty thing to you on Monday and everything and I want to apologize. First and foremost that's what I want to do."
I didn't say anything, just kept filling my mouth with food.
"It's just, I don't know," and then he looked out the window in this real dramatic way, all for effect no doubt. "For a while now I've been wanting to ask you."
"Stop," I said and swallowed. "Please, just stop. You're gonna make me lose my appetite. We're here, Kenny, that's the end of it. Two guys out for a burger. Don't make this more difficult than it already is. Eat, say goodbye and go on your way. For as of right now, for all intents and purposes, this is finished."
If I was feeling at the time of my writing this a bit more noble of heart, I might say that Kenny Logan entered this situation completely innocent of mind, despite, of course, his recent inability to continue seeing me for the boy that I'd always been, and that it was at this point in our exchange, my reaction so to speak, which brought the deviant awake in him. I am not, however, feeling that way. Kenny Logan was, is and will always be a born, lying monster.
When his food was delivered we sat for a while in silence. I had lost all interest in eating and began working on the milkshakes. From the way Kenny responded to the arrival of his food he too had lost his appetite. He sat there staring at his plate for a couple of minutes sort of moving things around. Then he looked up at me.
"I asked you out tonight for a reason Angus."
"No," I said. "You knew on Monday that you had me over a barrel. That you could blackmail me into this." I drained the second shake. "And you did."
"No," Kenny said and moved his plate to the side. "No, Angus, please. Listen to me. There is a reason. Just hear me out."
I flagged the waitress for the check.
"Look," Kenny started saying,"You've heard of the harvest moon? The first full moon nearest the autumnal equinox?"
I shrugged. "Yeah, what about it?" I really wasn't too interested.
"Okay," Kenny said suddenly getting this real excited look on his face. "Tonight there's going to be one. A harvest moon. I can't put it into words or anything, but something spectacular takes place during one."
I took the check from the waitress and gave it close inspection.
"Yeah and so what do you want me to do about it," I said absently. Then I added up my half of the bill and started reaching for my money.
Kenny's voice slipped into a near whisper and now he was leaning, chest first, against the edge of the table.
"Angus there's this place. It's a special place. To me anyway. I've been going there alone the last couple of years on this very night to witness the," and he paused here, again merely for effect, "the phenomenon I guess you'd call it."
Now I looked at him for what I had hoped would be the last time that night.
"And like I said, Kenny, what the hell am I supposed to do about it?"
"Well, that's just it," he said. "That's why I asked you out tonight. I want to take you there and show it to you," and then he placed his hand over his heart like he did the other day. "Nothing weird," Kenny said. "I swear."
I placed my share of the bill onto the table, uttered a one syllable word beginning in N and ending in O, and slipped out of the booth.
In the parking lot out front Kenny caught me at my car.
"Angus I swear," he said again. "Nothing funny. Please. It isn't too far from here. Ten or 12 miles. How 'bout it? Huh? Just two guys, two friends, out looking at the moon. That's all."
I am ashamed to admit that this last utterance on Kenny's part broke my resolve but it did. And even if it hadn't I had begun at this point to worry that not accompanying him to this place, given the louse that he was, would most likely warrant full disclosure on his part come Monday morning about my visit to Cole's, not to mention a completely fabricated account of this meeting.
I said, "All I'm gonna say to you Kenny is this. We've known each other for a pretty long time. And for most of that time I've always been able to kick your ass in just about everything. Right?"
"Now, simply because I'm experiencing some physical and certainly temporary physical changes you've begun to look at me in a different way. Correct?"
"All right," I said. "I'll go along with you. With this. I'll take a few minutes to witness this phenomenon as you call it providing that you swear to me right here, right now, that you will not only never breathe a word of this meeting or of seeing me at Cole's on Monday, but that you do whatever you have to get back to the point of seeing me for the boy that you know I am."
Then I added, "And it better be convincing."
If years from now Kenny Logan should suffer from any indecision with regard to the career path he is meant to follow, may I now suggest one in the area of the dramatic arts. I do not supply my opinion here out of any concern or good will towards his future though, but merely as a humble harbinger of his invariable deceit and in order to prevent the legions of women he will undoubtedly attempt to sway with his antics from experiencing any unnecessary or undue pain.
After staring at the ground for a peculiar amount of time, much too long in my opinion, Kenny looked up at me with actual tears in his eyes.
"I am so sorry, Angus," he said. He paused here for a few moments and sobbed several times. "I'm sorry to have put you through this. Just forget it, all right? Forget the whole thin. We don't have to go. It's just this stupid place, this stupid field I wanted to show you. As a friend. That's all. I don't look at you as a girl, man. I never did. Oh, God. Oh, God. What was I thinking?"
At this, Kenny turned and put his head onto his forearms which a moment before he had heavily placed atop the roof of his car. I listened to the sound of the gravel crunch beneath my shoes as I pulled open the door of my car and got inside. I rolled down the window.
"I'll follow you," I said.
I sat there with the engine idling while Kenny kept up the act nicely. So overwhelmed with emotion and guilt was he, at least at the time that was how it looked, he had apparently lost the requisite function to move. After a minute or two more of this I employed the services of the car horn.
Finally he came over to my driver's side window.
"You sure about this," he said and sniffled.
Not being able to say anything I revved the car engine a couple of times.
The one thing Kenny hadn't lied about was that the moon was indeed full that night. It was hanging clear and fat just beyond the top of my windshield so that to see it I kept having to lean a little forward while I drove, and it remained there for the duration of the 11 miles to the place Kenny had been referring to, an extremely rural area just outside of Georgetown. I know that it was 11 miles because I set the odometer.
When we had left the diner it was just after dusk. Now it was completely dark save for the moon's whitish blue light which was throwing itself everywhere.
"It's up through here," Kenny said and we began to walk. Normally I'd have been a bit more concerned it being night and all, but the moon really was very bright and I could see everything up ahead of me as I went along including Kenny's expression whenever he turned around to see how I was fairing. It seemed to have gone, in the time it took us to get there, from tragic to gleeful, certainly the mark of a potentially fine actor with some degree of range.
I followed along behind him through this lightly wooded area and then over a low stone wall that appeared to run on deep into the woods. We never got too far from the road and once, maybe twice, I could hear car tires hum by on the pavement.
When we reached the base of this fairly steep-looking dirt incline, Kenny turned to me a little out of breath and said, "It's just beyond the top there."
Once it was surmounted and where this incline began to level off there was this large rock coming up out of the dirt. Kenny quickly scuttled up the back side of it, or what, I would soon realize was the back side of it, and I did the same. When I reached the top I stepped forward a few paces to where Kenny now was.
"This is it," he said.
Below us was a field of grass that must have been about six feet tall, perfectly even across the top and about half a football field long by half a football field wide. When I looked, I saw right away the top of it moving in the most beautiful, undulating pattern from right to left then back again and in a manner I had never actually before witnessed. I could see it clear as day, too, because the moon, unobstructed here by trees, cast an even, bright light everywhere. The sight was nothing short of hypnotic.
Kenny sat down on the rock and then clasped his hands around the front of his knees.
"So what do you think," he said without looking up at me. "Isn't it something?"
I didn't say anything right away. I kept on watching the field. It was sort of like when you rub velvet the wrong way, against the grain, and then smooth it back over again.
"Sure is," I heard myself say and then sat down on the rock at a pretty good distance from Kenny. "You must be able to see it this clearly during most full moons."
Kenny looked at me. Then he got up and came over to where I was sitting.
"No," he said squatting beside me. "See that's just it. What you're witnessing right now Angus, this field moving like this, only happens during the harvest moon. That's what I was trying to tell you before."
I made a face.
"You know how the phases of the moon affect the tides of the ocean? Well once a year, on this very night, the night of the harvest moon, fields like this one, fields all over the world, become affected in the same way." Kenny reached out his arm and with his fingers wiggling moved it back and forth in time with the field. "Just like the ocean."
Without thinking too much about it, I then automatically wet my index finger and stuck it out before me. There was a wind blowing, albeit a light one.
Kenny shook his head.
"It's not the wind, Angus," he said. "Do you have any idea the kind of wind it would take to make a field that dense, that size, move like that? Like a hurricane. A little breeze like this won't do it. If you'd come here last night or last week and there was a wind blowing five times this strong, you wouldn't see what you're seeing right now."
I kept watching the field.
"Well how long does it last?" I said.
"Long as the full moon does," Kenny said. "I stayed out here all night last year and by sun up the field wasn't moving at all. It was windier in the morning than it'd been that night, too, but there was the field still as dried cement."
Kenny and I stayed there another hour or so looking down onto the field. It never stopped moving, changed direction or slowed its pace. And I suppose that it was during this time, due in part to the fact that he never tried to get up to anything weird with me, that I went from skepticism to belief regarding what he'd told me, which only made me appreciate what I was seeing that much more. I do not feel embarrassed admitting that here, for in the two days that have since passed, I have removed Kenny Logan from the image I have in my mind of that night making the beautiful sight I witnessed mine and mine alone. At this point it makes no difference to me that what he told me was all one big lie.
We said goodbye to each other down at the cars and Kenny followed me back towards town. After we passed the American Diner I lost sight of his headlights somewhere and drove the remainder of the way home with a renewed sense of myself, of my place among men and their place in the grand scheme of things. It was to be, however, a very short-lived renewal.
I have just now returned from the back of this motel where I promptly burned two pages of this account, pages which depicted in vivid detail what transpired when I returned home that night. How Will informed me that there was not the slightest bit of evidence anywhere lending proof that the moon in any of its phases could possibly effect a field in such a way as I had recounted to him, how the meteorologist at the Weather Channel kindly said the same, or how I didn't sleep at all but instead arrived at the conclusive decisions which I enacted the following morning and for which I now find myself here. I have chosen to exclude all of that in part because I find it far too painful to experience again, but also because in as much as I was a boy 48 hours ago and now am nothing, so too did I begin this account tonight out of rage and now quite simply feel none.
Sunday morning was bright and clear, and after declining an invitation to attend Mass with my parents I quickly gathered together the items that I have here and placed them into my car. I did not at that time know where I was headed, but I did make a point of returning to the house to fetch the bottle of my mother's "Sleep Ease." I suppose you could say that in some ways I knew precisely where I was headed.
After finding the bottle I perfunctorily stuck my head in at Will's door and was surprised when I found him sitting on the edge of his bed. He looked white.
"What are you doing?" I said. "Thought you'd be at church."
"I'm sick," Will said.
"Sick? What the hell's the matter?"
He shrugged and then slit his eyes at me.
"I heard you running around up there," he said. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing," I said. Then, "Well, leaving actually."
"Leaving?" Will said. "Why?"
I shrugged. "Reasons," I said.
Will made a face. "Not cause of that crap last night."
I didn't say anything.
"Well, can I come with you?"
"No," I said. "You can't."
Upon hearing this Will laid the upper part of his body back onto the bed. I stood there for a moment or two looking at him with his legs dangling over the edge of the bed. His feet were bare.
"How're your feet?"
"Fine." He said this without lifting his head.
"I'll call you," I said and meant it. Then I went out without another word.
I had no intentions at that point of returning to the house to get Will and I would appreciate it if everyone refrained from seeing my doing so as a selfish act. I didn't mean for it to be, if, that is, everybody finds it impossible to deliver a verdict to the contrary. And like I said, scary as it might be for him to be the first to discover my body, I am convinced that the experience will ultimately do him a world of good.
I got about a mile from the house before I decided to return for Will and it took three long reports of the horn before his fully dressed, wiry figure bounded through the front door.
While I piloted the car out to the Indian Ridge Road, Will was silent and thoroughly occupied with what was taking place just beyond his window. He stayed that way for the duration of the 11 miles between the American Diner and the spot I'd gone to the night before and didn't protest when I told him to remain in the car when I pulled over.
I found my way through the wooded area and over the stone wall easily enough, thankful the moon the night before had been so bright. As I moved along there was a part of me, and a very small part of me at that, which hoped the field of grass would be as motionless now as one of those guards who stood all day out in front of Buckingham Palace.
When I reached the rock upon which Kenny and I had sat I hesitated at the back of it a while before stepping forward. The wind was blowing at about the same speed it had been the night before. I took a single deep breath and then proceeded far enough to bring the field into view. Immediately upon seeing it I felt as I had the night before though I was unable at the time to find the words to describe it. Now, though, I understood that the sensation was not unlike what I could only imagine it would be like if you were to open your eyes and find that you were somehow suspended over the middle of the ocean.
I watched the field for a few minutes, moving from right to left, rolling, as it were, majestic and impressive. I started to cry right away, the first time I'd done so since losing the six-kilometer run to Miles Tanenbaum nearly three years earlier. But back then I hadn't yet discovered that I was a sprinter and not a miler. When I was finished, I returned to the car.
Revenge, one might have thought, would have been the best antidote to the poisonous meandering of Kenny Logan's mind and I did in fact run through several scenarios as I began to drive. In the end, however, I found that even if I were to exact some type of satisfying physical revenge upon him, I would still nevertheless have to suffer the remainder of my existence with the knowledge that men such as him persist, men who perpetually taint what it means to be a man.
Although Will and I made idle chatter in the car, he thankfully did not ask me what it was I'd been doing. We ended up here at this small motel in Marblehead with little rhyme or reason supporting the intention. I suppose I may have simply wanted to be near the water.
I slept well last night and this morning after a large breakfast Will and I found a small beach nearby. As we were walking along we were approached by a man with graying hair who was walking this large black Labrador along the shore. He explained that he had just remembered a call he had to make and rather than take the dog up to the house asked if we wouldn't mind watching him for a few minutes. He pointed to an area just beyond some rocks and told us that that was where he lived.
Will and I played around with the dog for a while and it really was a very nice dog. When the man returned he gave each of us $10 and said, "Thanks a lot, boys." Then he took the dog's leash saying "Come on Sammy," and began trotting along the smooth hard sand where the waves broke.
This was the last exchange I will have ever had with another human being and though I found that it did cheer me somewhat, it did not in any way deter me from what I began feeling on Saturday was to be my ultimate fate.
If I could extend a brief word to my father, I would like to here formally free him of any past, present or future guilt which may engender as a result of the route I have chosen to go. Certainly I cannot evade the fact that he denied possession of me minutes after my birth when I, his sixth daughter, was brought to him wrapped in swaddling-clothes—a story I've heard recounted an endless number of times and to which he invariably responds with an embarrassed silence—but I believe I can, as I have before, explode the notion that his doing so had anything to do with my ultimate sexual disposition. I assure anyone reading this that it did not. That goes double for you, Max Loenfeld, my creep of a therapist for one long, miserable year who couldn't get the damned idea out of his head. I was, from the moment of my conception and up to the occurence of the events just depicted, a boy. The gravity with which I deliver this statement, make no mistake, should not be overlooked. It should not leave one at ease to walk about in their normal upright position with both feet firmly planted on the ground. No. It should, in fact, quite possibly double one over, quite possibly force one to crawl. For I was once a boy and now am nothing. Let there be no doubt about that.
If, however, it pleases the jury, I can nevertheless attest to the fact that I've always felt especially connected to my father and do admit to the occasional over-extension on my part in the role of son. But just as I was aware of my position as son, a very natural inclination on my part, so too was I aware of what it was my father wanted. Quite possibly you could say I felt bad for him. With five girls before me and a son three years my junior who was born, incidentally, in the year of the sheep, the most effeminate sign in the Chinese zodiac, how could I not feel sorry for the man, a man who on his wedding night at the Madison Hotel in Boston (since demolished) informed his wife that the most she could ever do for him would be to give him a son only to find nearly 20 years later that he was in part the father of five (not including myself) consecutive girls? Since hearing this story I have come to believe that I, Angus, in the spiritual sense anyway, was conceived that first night in the old Madison Hotel in Boston beneath a clear late December sky many years ago.
I have just now begun to feel the effects of the first few pills, each of which I washed down with a thimbleful of Scotch. It is not in any way a bad feeling, only sleepy. I imagine, given the physical shape I am in, that it will take a rather long time for me to expire. But I can't say I mind all that much. In fact, I'd prefer it if it came slowly.
Will continues to sleep soundly in the bed opposite mine and in the distance I can hear the buoy doing its job whether there is any need for it or not. The schooner shaped lamp upon the night table is lit low. It is turned on and off by tugging a little gold chain that ends in the shape of an anchor. One tug of the little gold chain that ends in the shape of an anchor would put the lamp out.
I would like everyone to know that at this very moment my mind, changing rapidly though it may be, is not occupied with thoughts of cessation, but with a warm fluid movement towards recognition. I can assure you all that it really is truly amazing how wide awake the mind becomes when moved to this point. I know for instance that somewhere at this very moment a shoe is falling silently upon an emerald green carpet, that a sandwich is being unwrapped and left uneaten, that gains and losses are being duly noted, and that a woman is laughing as a result of her own thinking. I know, too, that somewhere there is a factory situated upon a hill which produces nothing but different sizes of the letter S, that the ocean, much as I would like it to be, is not comprised of milkshakes, and that the buoy will go on making its presence known whether there's any need for it to do so or not. Even without reaching for it, I know as well that one quick tug on the little gold chain that ends in the shape of an anchor would put the schooner-shaped lamp out. Even without reaching for it I know that if I were to place my thumb and forefinger on either side of the little gold anchor and tug in a quick downward motion the schooner-shaped lamp would go out. That I know. Of that I am really quite certain. I feel extremely fortunate.