Chapter 2.12 Mr. Mac
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June 11, 4:07 pm
“You were a little butterball, even in high school,” Michelle said, laughing. “You can’t blame it all on Richard’s cooking!”
It had been three days since the aborted hearing at the courthouse, and since the fateful evening Richard had spent with Billy at Valley Fair Mall. Three days since the appalling sight of Mattie retrieving her new servant in the blood-soaked theater. And three days since Billy had done his best to explain the Hereafter, and the looming devastation that was threatening the Salt Lake Valley. Three days since Richard had rejected Billy’s pleas for help and walked away.
And in those three days, Richard had not left Keith’s side.
This afternoon, Pil and Michelle had taken Keith out to get a suit for Richard’s funeral tomorrow. They were pawing through the suit coats at Mr. Mac in City Creek Center, not far from the Avenues.
For all of Michelle’s teasing, Richard knew she was right—Keith was no chubbier now than when they met. He had always been built like an Ewok. But that had been fine with him.
Richard spoke to Michelle as if she could hear him.
“Ideally, a boyfriend should feel like a hot water bottle full of Devonshire cream,” he said, purposefully misquoting the line. “Not a paper sack stuffed with curtain rods.”
That line was an old joke between them, and Keith would always laugh when he used it. It was easy to pretend that Keith was laughing now because of his joke, rather than at Michelle’s comment about him being a little butterball.
Maybe this is how I survive, Richard thought, running his fingers along a rack of stone jackets. I just walk around with Keith and his friends for the next fifty years, pretending I’m part of the conversation. Throwing in my jokes when I can, and convincing myself that it’s me that’s making them laugh
The appeal of wandering, impotent and unseen at Keith’s side forever, had already worn thin. And it had only been a few days.
How am I going to face it for eternity? he wondered.
When he ran from Billy that night, he felt completely certain that nothing mattered except being with Keith. He’d made his promise and he intended to honor it. He’d stay with Keith and do whatever he could to protect him and care for him. Even if that meant nothing more than just walking two steps behind him, wherever he went, for the rest of Keith’s life.
This sucks, Richard sighed, mindlessly drumming his fingers on a rock-hard stack of dress pants.
And if my resolve is already weakening, after only a few days, how can I possibly hope to make it another fifty years? And when Keith is gone—then what?
The first day he had been back with Keith, that promise had felt so right, so certain. But now, it loomed over him like a life sentence.
“I’m not sure I can do this, Baby Bear,” he sighed, leaning his head heavily against his lover’s back, as he thumbed through the coats. “But where would I go? According to Billy, there is no running, and no escaping this… place. Maybe I should just go out into the desert, like the mad ghosts he told me about. Just stare into the sun until I have no mind left to feel so alone.”
“Here, try on this gray one,” Pil said, shouldering Richard aside as he walked up next to Keith. “It looks a little roomier around the belly.”
And they all laughed again.
“Yeah, like you’re so svelte yourself,” Keith said, rolling his eyes. He poked a finger into Pil’s midsection, and Pil giggled in his imitation of the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
Their laughter was like a gnawing rodent in Richard’s gut. And it didn’t even matter what Keith said, or what he did—whether they were words of suffering or words of hope. Every look and every syllable he uttered cut into Richard and left a mark.
I’ve lost everything…
Keith was still snickering while he took the new jacket and a pair of pants to the fitting room. He’d laughed so seldom these past days.
Why does hearing him laugh cut me just as deeply as seeing him cry? Richard wondered.
Of course he wanted Keith to heal. He wanted him to lose the burden of sadness that could otherwise drown him in despair. But these past few days it felt like his husband was not only losing his sadness, but that he had regained his hope. Richard wanted to believe that it was because of his constant presence—holding his lover’s hand every night as he slept. But Keith gave no sign that it was anything other than normal healing from grief. There was a lightness in Keith’s heart today that Richard didn’t expect to see. At least not so soon.
And he had to admit, seeing it was painful. It felt as if he was being forgotten.
Keith once told him a legend he’d read, that somewhere there was a city of the dead where everyone who died had to wait. The dead would stay in this city and wait until the last person on earth forgot their names. And only then could they move on to whatever waited for them on the other side.
How long will it be before the last person on earth forgets my name? Richard wondered. And will anything be left of me then? Or anything left of this city?
More chaos had erupted in the Salt Lake valley since he had turned away from Billy. More murders, more suicides, more horrifying accidents that nobody could explain. The news and some religious leaders were finally recognizing and acknowledging that something strange was happening, but the responses so far had been limited to commentators and theologians beating their breasts about the breakdown of the social order. Richard had sat in bed with Keith the past couple nights, watching the news, and hearing those talking heads blaming the growing chaos on everything from video games to trans people in bathrooms. It was the typical masturbatory bullshit he’d had to listen to his entire life, and if he’d had any ability to use that remote, he would have snapped off the chattering baboons long ago.
But Keith watched, and Richard could see that it troubled him greatly. He wondered if Keith had connected the violence that had happened to them with the violence that was happening now across the city. To Richard it seemed obvious, but he had the benefit of insights that his husband simply couldn’t have.
These past two days Keith had returned to work, and even had coffee one afternoon with some friends and colleagues from the library. Richard had followed, and as he did, he had been seeing many more ghosts. He didn’t know if it was because he could see them now when he couldn’t before, or whether he had learned better how to spot them. Probably many of the strangers he had seen at Liberty Park and even on the streets between the courthouse and the mall had actually been dead. But unless they were naked, or bloody, or wearing hospital sheets, Richard had probably just failed to notice them.
But now he saw them almost everywhere they went. And their helplessness and hopelessness scared him.
He had tried to talk to some. But most, as Billy had predicted, couldn’t hear him at all. A few appeared to see him, but couldn’t differentiate between him and the living. Some others clearly heard him and realized he was a ghost like them. But in all those cases, they had shied away, as if he was dangerous and threatening. And if he persisted, they fled.
And a few, but far too many, had that same madness in their eyes that he saw in Mattie.
The eyes of the angels scared him.
Once, a quarter century ago, he had been walking in the East Village in New York City. One day he’d turned a corner in Alphabet City and came unexpectedly face to face with a man that had frightened him so badly it took his breath away. He wasn’t like most of the street people in New York, who were mostly harmless (if upsetting to his privileged life). He knew instantly that this stranger was insane, disturbed, and teetering on the edge of explosive violence. And in the fraction of a second that this man looked into Richard’s eyes, it disturbed him profoundly.
The predator barely noted him and kept walking. But Richard felt he had just dodged a malicious train, and he collapsed onto a doorstep a half block away, his heart racing.
Remembering that terrifying man now, he realized he had seen that same look in Mattie’s eyes. And now, he was seeing it in a surprisingly large number of the other dead as well.
The thought of it made him shiver.
Keith came back with a coat he liked, which also buttoned comfortably across his round belly. Michelle and Pil were complementing him on how good he looked in it, and they were right. Keith was indeed very handsome.
“You clean up well, Cubby,” Richard said, touching his lover’s cheek. And realized that for perhaps the first time since his death, all four of them were smiling.
As the triad began looking for a matching shirt, Richard stood back and watched them. It was like he was seeing into Keith’s relationship with Michelle and Pil for the first time. He had never had the luxury of seeing them interact with each other like this—without him present—and the dynamic he was seeing was profound. They moved gracefully together, like dancers.
No, he thought. Not like dancers. Like a family.
He didn’t know if this was new, or something he had just never been perceptive enough to notice. But their bond was powerful. He noticed Michelle was mostly holding back, while Pil was helping Keith decide between various shirts. But she was looking at the two men with undifferentiated love in her eyes. Richard watched Pil guiding Keith through the racks of clothing, and after Keith found a shirt he liked, to and from the dressing room. The two men were gentle and graceful together. Their movements with each other were soft, punctuated by light touches on the elbow, or a hand to the lower back. Their eyes kept meeting and then parting. Meeting, and then parting. At times, it felt like perhaps they were even breathing in unison.
Richard’s reverie was broken by some commotion nearby. A mother was looking at clothes, likely for her husband. Her little girl of about seven was walking around the store, looking as if she was bored, or in a bit of a daze. Behind the little girl walked a ghost. She was a woman, likely in her mid-fifties, wasted as if by cancer or some other long illness. She wore a hospital gown. And her fiery, dark eyes never left the little girl.
Richard had the unmistakable impression that he was watching a wolf following a rabbit, and he wanted to scream at the old woman to leave the little girl alone. But he knew it would make no difference, so he just watched. The old woman touched the little girl on the head, on the shoulders, and on her back. And the little girl idly itched at the back of her hand and looked confused.
Richard watched the trio as the mother left the store, with the little girl tagging behind. Followed by the shuffling old lady, pawing at the little girl. He lost sight of them as they went past the store’s front windows.
This is the way the world ends, Richard thought.
Salt Lake was not the same city he had left. It was quickly becoming a city of madness and despair, and he wanted to retreat even more deeply from it.
The only escape he had was to keep his mind, and his eyes, eternally on Keith. That was his refuge for now. But how long could it last?
Pil and Michelle were leaning together now, outside of a changing room, waiting for Keith. Pil pulled his wife to him, and she enfolded his barrel-like torso with her thin arms, almost hungrily. He kissed the top of her head and leaned his cheek on her blond hair. Richard stepped close, and looked into the big man’s eyes, and saw them misty and unfocused.
“There is more between you and Keith than either of you realize,” he said, so close to the big Maori man’s face that he could feel his breath. “I can see it. And Michelle can see it. Neither of you let yourself go with it, but it’s there. It’s in the way you touch his shoulder. The shell between the two of you is so fragile. If either of you cracked it, Keith would fall into your arms.” Richard drew back, and put a hand on Pil’s cheek. “I wonder if that’s what you want. Maybe, deep down, it’s what you’ve always wanted.”
He said it, but he thought it was probably not true. Indeed, it was more likely that Pil was afraid to give Keith the affection he truly wanted because of fear of where that could lead. Perhaps he was misreading the big man and projecting his own fears and needs onto him. Perhaps Pil’s affection was no more complicated than that of a friend, or the tenderness of an overprotective brother.
That’s possible. But I don’t think so. There is something more. Something you may not know, or haven’t yet accepted.
Keith came out of the changing room, holding the shirt he had chosen. He handed it to Michelle, who draped it over her arm, along with the new suit coat. And all three of them shared a glance.
It is a quiet, gentle, and somewhat melancholy dance between you three, Richard thought. A dance I am no longer a part of. If I ever was.
They had finished their shopping, and the three of them were making their way to the cash registers.
As they walked, Richard looked closely at Michelle. He looked into her eyes as she toyed with the tags on the clothes she carried. And then she looked up, and Richard could see her silently watching the two men she loved. Her eyes went first to Keith, and then to Pil. And then back again.
She seemed inscrutable, but the one thing Richard did not doubt was the great affection in her, for both men. It wasn’t jealously she felt as she watched them, and yet it could have been a close relative of that emotion. But any fear she felt at the bond she saw between Pil and Keith was drowned out by a powerful and overwhelming love that she had for both of them.
I never truly appreciated you, Michelle, he thought. But I’m beginning to.
At the cash register, Keith was paying, and Richard watched Michelle slide an affectionate hand around her husband’s waist. He responded by leaning into her, just a bit. And as the saleswoman was wrapping up Keith’s purchases, he watched as Pil’s other hand reached out and rested itself lightly in the small of Keith’s back. His giant paw looked so gentle there, like a huge butterfly that had landed so lightly that Keith could not even feel it.
Strangely, he thought back to Mattie possessing the little boy.
What would it be like to do that? To be in a body? To be in Pil’s body, and to rest his hand—my hand—there on Keith’s back? What would it be like to feel Keith’s real and living flesh under my hand again?
And with that thought, his mind reeled, and would not stop at the thought of just a hand on his back.
What would it be like to hold Keith again? To gently unbutton his shirt and see the smooth, pale skin of his chest, and that hollow at the base of his spine? What would it be like to enfold Keith’s naked body in Pil’s huge brown arms? I could lift Keith into Pil’s lap with ease, if those arms were mine. I could hold him suspended and then bring our lips together. What would it be like to kiss him again, to feel his cock hardening against my belly? To slowly lower him down, and to hear him moan as Pil’s cock slides inside… To feel Keith clinging to me and trying to bring us closer and closer together… To forget again where one body leaves off, and the other begins…
Richard felt his breath catch in his throat, and his own ghostly cock strained against the front of his pajama pants.
If I were to possess Pil, Keith would come to me, he thought, moaning. I know he would…
Yes, of course he would. It was something they all wanted. Not only he and Keith but also Pil. Richard felt sure of it. Wouldn’t it be a kindness to them both to break through the barrier? How could it be a violation of anyone, if it was only making possible something they all longed for?
Those thoughts almost claimed Richard, and he was staring at Pil now, feeling the temptation of it thrilling through his body like so much electricity that his fingers trembled with it.
He squeezed his eyes shut, willing the temptation to go away. He knew he was creating a self-serving justification to do what he longed for. It was not for Pil, and it wasn’t even for Keith. It was for him, and him alone. Billy was right, it would be a betrayal of them both. It would be a way to salve his own need to have Keith back in his arms as a living, loving real human being. But it would be a betrayal. It would be… an abomination.
Richard struggled to put the images out of his mind. Be he feared that it was a fight he could not win for long.
As they were leaving the store, Michelle handed Keith his new suit coat, and he put it on. They all laughed and admired it. “You look so handsome, Pea,” Michelle said.
Richard’s heart felt as if it might shatter. He reached up instinctively to brush some lint off Keith’s collar. Of course, it stayed.
Pil stepped up and brushed it away.
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.