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This column appeared in August, 1997, in The Washington Blade.|
By Lawrence Biemiller
REHOBOTH BEACH -- Meghan burst into the kitchen, yelping and wagging her tail and darting from me to Mom and back -- a one-retriever pandemonium, as usual. A moment later G. Hiroshima came in, carrying his luggage and a box under one arm. "Tom's ashes," he said, loudly enough to be heard over the commotion. "Meghan! Stop!"
Meghan rolled over on her back in the middle of the floor, barking and wailing. She's always been like this: She won't quiet down until she's had her stomach rubbed for at least a full minute. She was Tom's dog. Tom and G. Hiroshima were friends for years, and then housemates, and now G. Hiroshima is both Tom's executor and the owner of his dog. Mom, always a soft touch for dogs and grandchildren, bent to pet Meghan.
"Look -- it's gift-wrapped," said G. Hiroshima, showing Mom and me the box. It was covered in white paper with a subdued pattern. An envelope on one end said "Cremation Certificate" and "Ivy Hill Cemetery."
"Nice, huh?" he said. "I need to give it to Eileen." He looked around for a place to set down the box, but Mom and I were in the middle of unloading groceries for the birthday party. "Suppose I should just leave it on the shelf in here?" I heard him call out.
"In the laundry room?" I said. "I don't think so. It's disrespectful."
Mom said, "You're going to give Tom's sister that at your party? You really think you should?"
"Not exactly a festive move," I added. "Happy birth-day, dear Greg-ory -- Oh, by the way, Eileen, here are your brother's ashes."
"Yeah, maybe not," said G. Hiroshima. "I'll just take him up to my room, then." He picked up his bags and headed for the stairs.
"What a way to start a weekend," I said to Mom. "Greg's own 40th-birthday version of Love! Valour! Compassion!"
"Yours is next," she smirked. "Six more months."
"If I were you, I wouldn't be advertising that my oldest son was about to turn 40," I said. "People might do the math."
The next day the novelist and V. arrived, along with Theo and Maggie and the novelist's sister, recently separated from her husband. Theo, who's 13, brought his skateboard and clothes big enough to fit two of him into. Maggie, nine, brought her Nanobaby, one of those little electronic toys that cries out to be cared for. Maggie's is not a virtual chicken or pet but an infant, one that requires to be fed, changed, coddled, disciplined, and taken to the doctor -- all at the touch of a few buttons. Oddly, the baby was both nameless and genderless. "You should call it Gregory," G. Hiroshima volunteered helpfully, "after me. Or Gregoria, if it's a girl."
Kristin brought party hats and noisemakers and "Happy Birthday" confetti. Mimi brought fresh figs and wrapped them in prosciutto. Jim -- "Carolyn, to you," G. Hiroshima always says -- brought a quick wit. Eileen brought Jackie, a wonderful friend from Massachusetts. Michael's Uncle Frank, known as Nana, brought perspective. Michael himself brought a warm smile to G. Hiroshima's face. He also brought champagne, which I guess is a boyfriend's job and which, in any case, I had forgotten. Meghan did her barking-and-wailing act every time the doorbell rang. It was becoming quite a party.
I was getting someone a refill when Mom cornered me by the refrigerator. "Is something going on," she whispered sharply, "between your novelist friend's husband and her sister?"
"Depends what you mean by 'something.'" But I knew exactly what she meant -- I could tell from the frown on her face.
"They can't keep their hands off each other," she said. "It's disgusting."
"If you mean, Is the sister living with them? Well, yeah. If you mean, Do they all three sleep in the same bedroom? Yeah. If you mean, Do I understand the dynamic of a marriage between two adults, one of whom has invited the younger sister of the other to join their household? The other of whom has acquiesced in this arrangement? Well, no. You've got me there."
"Well, what does she say? Why doesn't she leave him?"
"She says it's just a phase he's going through. She says he'll come back to her eventually. She says she's smoking again. And she says she's going to get the spider veins in her legs laser-zapped in November."
"What about the kids?" Mom said.
"They're too young for spider veins, Mom." She gave me a look, and I put a handful of ice in her Dry Sack. "Okay, I don't know about the kids. It's not exactly a trip to Disneyland, is it? But here's the thing about kids. Some of 'em turn out to be hoodlums even though they've been brought up in wonderful, loving homes. And some of them turn out okay in spite of their parents' worst efforts, you know? Theo and Maggie sure seem like great kids right now, and the way I see it that's the most you can hope for. And I think it's time to eat."
Dinner gave way to coffee and then dessert. Meghan howled along with the singing of "Happy Birthday" over the carrot cake the novelist had made. Much later, when everyone else had gone to bed, the novelist proposed opening yet another bottle of our precious Clos Gilroy, and I had to demur. Theo had startled me about midnight by looking at his mother, poking out his thumb like the neck of a bottle, and raising it to his lips. "Enough out of you," she said, and in truth it was enough -- enough to tell me how bad things really are. I know plenty about not feeling wanted and what it can do to a person, but I can only imagine being reminded of that feeling morning, noon, and night, right in my own house.
Mom drove home the next morning, unexpectedly. "Claimed she forgot a prescription," I told G. Hiroshima, sotto voce, in the kitchen. "A likely story. She pointedly didn't say goodbye to either of our little lovebirds." Everyone else was out on the porch. Theo was scarfing down doughnuts and Maggie and the adults were coping with a crisis: The Nanobaby seemed to have eaten poisonous mushrooms and was being hurried to the doctor.
Meghan came into the kitchen and cocked her head to one side and looked at us, worried as she always is that G. Hiroshima will abandon her forever. She flopped down on the floor and rolled over on her back and whimpered.
"Bizarre, when you think about it," I said. "My mom comes to her gay son's beach house, and it's the straight people we end up having to apologize for."
"Who ever would have thought, Lar?" G. Hiroshima said, kneeling to rub Meghan's stomach. "I don't know which of the two of them I want to kill first."
"That tango takes three, I think. And none of them seems completely innocent."
"Maybe she doesn't have enough self-esteem left to leave him," G. Hiroshima mused. "But probably it's that barn he's building for her horse. We always knew she'd get a barn of her own someday."
"Yeah, but I wish she'd stuck to writing about that stuff, instead of trying to live it," I said. Meghan was looking up adoringly as G. Hiroshima gathered her in his arms and hugged her. "All anyone wants is a little attention," I added. "Meghan, the Nanobaby, the kids. Anyone in that strange threesome, any of us on the gay beach on a sunny afternoon. Maybe a little respect, too. Is it really so much to ask?" But we both knew it was.
Copyright © 1997 by Lawrence Biemiller. Published August, 1997, in The Washington Blade.