I tried to imitate the feel that Hemingway achieved in his short story “Hills like white elephants” wherein there was a conversation between a couple about abortion but the word abortion is never mentioned and it is up to the reader to guess it for himself. In this story however it is of a guy telling his father that he is gay. I wanted to capture that awkward feeling that I imagine might happen if I had a son and he did so to me.
Rereading it it didn’t turn out as good as I thought. A lot of garbage imitation of Faulkner and scenes were cringy. I was reading “Go Down Moses” when I wrote this. Some of the sentences I felt proud to have written, though. For example when the dad sees the son. Other than that, I’m not too proud of posting this one.
The last time Bronson’s son talked to him — almost fourteen years ago, he remembered the precise date well as it was right after his graduation from the university — started with the same phrase. “I got to tell you something.” And he replied the same reply as if by an instinct primal and hard-wired. As if a way to deflect what he was about to hear because somehow, he already knew that it was going to be something he wasn’t going to like. As if to diminish in some way the impact like flooring the brakes to avoid a speeding car crossing in front. “You already did.”
The first time his son smiled a sad smile. They, he and Frankie left his wife having passed away two years ago, were in a restaurant to celebrate. No, it was nothing special but it was what he could afford and it was Japanese food, Frankie’s favorite. He remembered him there, still wearing most of his graduation outfit. He remembered how proud he felt of his son, who had graduated third in his batch in economics. He knew that many companies were already vying for his son offering him top management positions; they were there for Frank’s choosing like some sort of chocolate box. The world is your oyster, he told his son, though he never understood what that really meant just that he heard it said to people in this particular situation.
When his son finally said it Bronson’s vision enclosed itself in a tunnel and his heart started to beat fast and he felt the half-chewed shrimp and rice go cold and moist and tasteless in his mouth. He swallowed.
“Sorry?” he asked Frank.
“Shush, pop. Not so loud.”
“What do you mean to say?”
“Not so loud, pop. Please.”
“Is it an attraction?”
Everything started to float for Bronson as if the floor had left. Or as if he had left the floor. As if he were detached from his body viewing it from some virtual portal disconnected and transcendent or as if he were some ghost in the room existence unreal. He blinked and got back. Frank had his head tilted down and hands placed on the kneecaps. He sniffled.
“But son, that’s not,” Bronson said. “Not.”
“Not what, pop?”
“That’s not natural.”
“But pop, not natural? I’ve been feeling this way since before the university ever since I remembered having an attraction to anybody. And it was only in the university that I realized that others had an attraction to me too and — ”
Frank’s face had turned red, like his mother used to before him, and Bronson as before had a difficulty distinguishing it from anger or desperation or shame.
“So don’t you approve of me, pop?” asked Frank.
“I don’t approve of it.”
“But what’s wrong?”
“It’s written in the Book, Frank! You’re not supposed to do that. It’s an abomination. The good Lord made us man and woman right from the start and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
“Abomination? For crying out loud, pop. Please.”
Bronson turned his face away from his son. He couldn’t look him in the face. He couldn’t.
“Pop. It’s something I can’t stop. Can’t have control over. I see a man and I feel an attraction I didn’t choose and didn’t ask for and who else could have put that in me but the Lord himself?”
“Stop.” Bronson’s chest caved in and out with breathing heavy. “Please stop.”
Both of them had long stopped eating. The breading of the tempura had turned soggy and the oil in the soup solidified into white spots floating on the surface. He thought for a second that perhaps the people were looking at them but at this point he didn’t care. Frank had his face turned down and his hands inserted between his legs. Like a form of primitive prayer concealed and desperate.
“Your mom know?” Bronson asked.
“I never told her. Though I get the feeling she might have had an inkling. You know how she was.”
“Yeah.” Bronson cleared his throat. “You ever? With another man, I mean?” Frank hesitated to answer and Bronson regretted he had asked the question.
“Don’t answer that. Jesus.” He put his face in to his palms and he groaned. “What have we done wrong in raising you?”
“What?” Frank’s voice was becoming shaky and croaky and weak now.
“Was it something I did?”
“Or your mother? Something we didn’t do?”
“Pop, how can you say that? I thought you said you were proud of what I had done? Here I am here are my diplomas here are my medals and I did this for you and ma.”
Frank looked into his father’s eyes, the first time their eyes met since Frank had said it. It wasn’t anger that he saw now but confusion and self-pity. And a static loathing, though he wasn’t sure if he meant it for himself or for him, Frank. Or both.
“That don’t mean nothing, son,” Bronson said.
“That diploma and medals aren’t gonna matter in hell, goddammit.”
Bronson remembered when his wife had told him she thought Frank was going to be someone special. They had been constantly receiving praise from his high school teachers, that the kid had potential, that the kid was going places. He was athletic, good enough to make it to the training pool of the football team. He had many friends, boys and girls, and there was no sign at all, no hint of effeminacy or lack of virility. Sure, he didn’t have any girlfriend but so did a lot of kids his age. Damn damn damn. It was that university’s fault. Free thinkers and communists and pagans all of them.
That day when they arrived home Bronson couldn’t look at his son. As if Frank still had the appearance of a loved one but he wasn’t it any longer.
Three days later Frank was gone. He had moved in with another man in another apartment in another city. After which they exchanged no words, no communication and the days passed. And yet. And yet, he never forgot about Frank. He thought about him every single day, when he ate alone. Sometimes he got so close to calling him up on the phone, ask how he was. But what would he say? I’m sorry? It was not he, Bronson, who was in the wrong.
He remembered the times when he would stand beside the phone, waiting for a call. His birthday, his wedding anniversary, his wife’s death anniversary, Christmas. He didn’t want to admit that he was waiting for something. But nevertheless he stood, waiting, unable to get himself to concentrate on anything else. He remembered on the first four years on Frank’s birthday having tried to pick up the phone and dialing the number. But he was paralyzed with what would he say. And he hung up before it could ring twice. Frank never asked for any money nor any help nor a greeting. He never asked, period.
He avoided going into Frank’s old room. It smelled too much like him and it reminded Bronson of too much. He stopped going in altogether.
The years passed and Bronson turned old, bitter. He seldom went out of the house and he couldn’t find joy in anything, be it a book or the television or a walk outside. He tried to pray. Talk to God, to his wife, but there was nothing. Nothing but a silence that mocked him. That deafening nada. Nada nada nada.
“Hello, Pop?” And so it was after fourteen years he still recognized the voice and memories started to flood back. The voice was deeper, sadder. “It’s me. I got to tell you something.”
He cleared his throat and wiped his eyes. “You already did.”
Frank chuckled and then sniffled. “I uh. I’m sick.”
“It something serious?”
“Sort of. It’s aids.”
“Yeah. It’s a problem with the immune system and — ”
“I know what it is, son.”
“Yeah. So. The doctors said I had it diagnosed too late”. Bronson could hear his son’s voice starting to get shaky. He heard his son clear his throat then there was a silence though he could hear his son’s heavy breathing over the receiver.
“They said that I can’t hope for much,” Frank said, finally. “That I may only have some months left. So.” At this point he started to sniffle and it reminded Bronson of Frank as a small boy when he came home with a failing mark on his card and couldn’t get himself to say it and sobbed instead. “So that’s why I decided to call.”
When Bronson drove to the hospital it was the first time he had driven such a length in a while and when he arrived he tried to sniff back his tears, the water rushing not just to his eyes but to his entire face it seemed to him, when he saw Frank. He was thin, emaciated, and unrecognizable save for when his head was turned away from direct light and the shadow under his cheekbones disappeared under the absence of the light and despite that pallor he, Bronson, recognized a trace of his wife’s face especially when she too had been, in a bed similar to this one, on the brink of death. Frank was covered in tubes, one tube ending in his arm and another in his nostrils, the essence of his life so warm, so organic, the very same, if not an extension of, that which coursed through Bronson himself and his wife before she passed, now provided to him, Frank, and sustained by some contraption cold and artificial and without a heart. He was still and, had he not turned his head — and it seemed to be the only part of his body still able to move — when Bronson entered, he would have taken him for dead.
It was the same Frank, yes, but looking at him inspired in Bronson no warmth, no affection as if the fourteen years had erased a natural bond though a pity and a sort of charity remained. Frank was alone in the room, and the room was bare, no decoration no gift no remembrance, as if no one else had ever come to visit. Like the fallen tree in the middle of the forest.
“Hey pop.” Frank’s voice was scarcely audible and shaky, though if it was because of the sickness or of the fear Bronson was unsure.
A total silence would have ensued were it not for ticking of the wall clock. The room smelled of disinfectant. A crucifix hung high on the wall, and Bronson could not help but compare who was thinner, more wretched, Frank or the crucified god.
“So. No one else ever come to visit you?” Bronson asked.
“No. Things just didn’t work out and I left him and moved out. Four years ago.”
“Did he hurt you?”
“No. He just started seeing others. And we decided it would be best if we separated.”
“You moved out and lived by yourself?”
“Yeah. An apartment nearby.”
“How come you never called?”
“I didn’t know what to say.”
Frank started to sob, his shoulders moving up and down. Looking at Frank in his vulnerability, in that abjectness, Bronson remembered the child the small boy, and Lisa, their days together, when he, Bronson, would contemplate the faces of the two people he loved on the earth, wishing, praying that the moment would never end, that the limbo from which time proceeded dried up and closed down, freezing that moment in eternity.
“Pop, I’m sorry,” whispered Frank. And Bronson felt that he too felt some hot spell rush to his face wanting to come out as tears from his eyes and he felt moisture cover them and the moisture precipitate. And he raised face, his eyes to keep the tears back as if to raise a glass to keep the water from spilling. Again he saw the god-man nailed to the wood on the wall, looking at them, though in reprobation or sympathy or even forgiveness he could not, dare not, decide nor tell.
They could not be stopped; two tears, one on each eye, slid down his cheeks. Since Lisa had died almost two decades ago he thought that there was no more left of that in him.
“I’m sorry too, son,” Bronson said. And he drew closer and kissed his son on his cold forehead.