THE DAYS OF THE DEAD
Of course, he remembers Eduardo. How could he not, he of the avid erotic gaze and Eduardo only 18, a bellhop at the Hotel de la Soledad in Morelia with lips thick and sweet as atole and a picture of the Grim Reaper in his wallet, plasticized, fondled to softness, a prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe on its back.
Yes, Eduardo had certainly been memorable.
But then too were so many other boys he had met on his travels to 56 countries and counting. One country for every year of his life, he muses, back home again in Milwaukee with his darling partner Dave or Puppy Two, tsk-tsking over him as he spills his soup, drips his coffee on their new caramel-hued carpet, so into his spreadsheets he is that, “You just can’t seem to mind, can you,” Dave’s yanked-thin voice, “Now look, look, what’s that, oh you’ve gone and done it again, naughty boy, naughty!” The exasperation Dave feels towards him is part of the glue of their relationship, Patrick knows, the strange delight he takes in commenting on Patrick’s recklessness, his laissez-faire attitude to the details of things: tidiness, monogamy.
It’s not that Patrick tries to worry Dave, needle him per se, it’s just that irrepressible desire he has to muck things up a bit, then bask in Dave’s gentle but ragged scolding. Time and time again. They’ve been together 20 years after all; Patrick can’t imagine what would sever their bond at this point, if it hasn’t happened over his slopping a Corona on Dave’s laptop or his sleeping with Rohan, John, Colin, Jim or Mr. Costa Rica with his buns of milk chocolate steel, he has a hard time fathoming what would.
Not that Dave hasn’t had his own little dalliances, but they’ve been fewer, further between, precise alignments of limbs, cleverly planned assignations with no drops wasted, no hearts wrecked. Patrick hasn’t quite managed to avoid drama, he even courts it on occasion, taking up with his married boss, the hot letter carrier and once, a punk junkie he met panhandling in the town square, paying him for a blow job only to find he couldn’t get rid of the kid afterwards. The punk had fallen in love with him for Chrissakes, to the point of camping out on his buff suburban lawn, begging him for an overnighter. Right there, in Primsville? Dave had merely shaken his head at him, snipping: “Number One Pup, he’s got to go now! Pronto!” And so Patrick had called the cops, had the boy removed in cuffs for disturbing the peace. Still, nothing had shifted Dave’s commitment to him; nor his really, what after all did wee affairs matter beside his long and weighty relationship with Dave? Until the Day of the Dead trip that is.
The girl and he had been on the same tour, an intimate cavalcade of American sightseers intrigued by the continued rituals of mourners on the island of Janitzio. For Patrick, it hadn’t been so personal, this trip; he could have chosen any number of other tourist adventures: hiking in the Andes, seal hunting in Iqualuit. This last minute group had snagged him by promising a single room, free margaritas the first night and a higher likelihood of boy watching opportunities.
Yet Patrick sensed right away that the girl, Arabella was her name, had private motivations for being on the tour. Oh who was he kidding? He hadn’t sensed this, as if he were that observant, of women anyway, she had, in fact, told him. On the third day of the weeklong sojourn, they were sitting drinking beers on the plaza, just the two of them, the remainder of the group having opted for a shop at the House of Handicrafts instead, when she pulled the picture out of her frayed copy of Under the Volcano (Arabella was one of those tourists, it was evident, who traveled little but when they did it became an obsessively nerdy pursuit in which each sight had to be matched with its related text, then the connections chronicled at length in a lined, wire-bound notebook).
A troupe of darned cute drummers had plonked themselves in front of the calavera stall across from their table; there was a Chewbacca wandering about and clumps of children painted up like miniature Catrina dolls dashing from sucker to sucker, pointing at their plastic Jack O’ Lanterns and jabbering on about needing pesos. Then Arabella slid the picture from her book and Patrick was done for. “This was my boyfriend,” the girl announced, quite flatly, crisply, “he died. At 27. In a car accident.” She had paused to let these details sink in as she watched Patrick absorb the photograph, then she continued, “That’s why I’m here.”
Patrick scarcely heard her, snared as he was with the picture of this young man: his night-coloured curls, sleek skin, slender body, no doubt otter-slick, one hand lifting a coffee mug as he stood on a balcony somewhere: autumn bright trees in the background, the curve of a deck chair rising up by his slim hip. “Well now,” he managed, “such a shame. Isn’t he a hottie!” Thinking to himself absurdly, “Why her? You didn’t want her, you want me, why not me?” And he had kept staring at the photo as she fed the air more stories of his loss, murmuring to no one, “What a doll. An angel from heaven. Truly. Cute as pie.”
He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the dead boy’s picture for the remainder of the trip, peering over Arabella’s shoulder every time she drew the photo out from that infernal book, recanting the words, if the person spoke Spanish, as most did, “Me Amor Muerte.” He even dreamed about the kid. One night they were naked in bed together, he crooning to the lad as he entered him, sliding his fist up and down the boy’s ridiculously tumescent cock, “You’re not really dead, are you, no you just pretended you’d died to get away from her and now you’re mine, all mine.” He was out of control.
The last day in Patzcuaro, he could scarcely even look at Arabella, the boy was on his mind so often. Heck, he even passed up a chance to watch the studly copper workers of Santa Clara del Cobre, preferring instead to sit on the roof of the B & B by the flower market and soak in the sun of his futile reveries. The following morning, when the girl went to pay her bill for all the fruit salads she had consumed during desayuna, Patrick took the opportunity to slide into her room, scanning it rapidly until he located the book. He leafed through it fast to find the picture. Finally it popped out at him between pages 204-205. He briefly caught the words: Kubla Khan, Consul, neurasthenia and ei ei ei ei before he’d tossed the book back where he’d found it, passing the photo under his shirt, into his waistband. Then he’d bid Arabella a rushed farewell before she suspected the photo’s absence, and flew home to Milwaukee two hours later with that bewitching picture now stuck into the one book he’d brought with him, the New and Revised Edition of The Wealthy Barber.
Ei ei ei ei. He sat on the plane, justifying his theft to himself, “What kind of person reads such silly things. Not the type of woman this boy needs. I can tell just from looking at this photo that he’s a math man, a guy who works with his hands, and a sweet and yielding lover to boot. Yowza.” For he only spoke of the dead boy in the present tense now, telling Dave when he arrived home that this had been one of his fleeting conquests in Janitzio, a fellow tourist, bi, another delicious but dismissible fling.
Dave knew better though; hadn’t they been together for 20 years, and why did Patrick keep thinking he could fool him? “This is more than a crush, Peppermint Patty,” he razzed him at first, then, “Why I believe you’re in love with this kid, Puppy One!” It was terrible. At least he could be honest with Dave when he was asked if he was in touch with him, if he and the boy kept in contact. “No,” he’d sigh, as if crestfallen, leaving out the dreams he continued to have where he and the beautiful man were both young together, frolicking freely in their perfect skins, so far from the wreckages of age, the tedium of suburbia, the blood and ravages of accidents, the eternal cold of the grave.
Click here for Catherine Owen's bio