When Carson got out of jail early that summer, the grocery store by their apartment complex was having a fair in its parking lot, almost like they were giving Car a homecoming.
Brad had gone to see Car in jail throughout his stint, but toward the end he got busy working two jobs to keep up with the rent. He was late picking Carson up, and Car was acting all pissed, looking destroyed yet happy, pale and yet very much alive, waiting on a bench outside the
correctional facility in the same clothes he had worn in: jean jacket (even though it was hot), Nikes, cuffed work pants and his Scream 2 T-shirt.
He looked up as soon as Brad stopped the car and mouthed, “Where’d you get that?”
The car was from Brad’s sister, Liz. When she’d let him borrow it, she hadn’t known he was coming here. Liz thought, in fact, that he wasn’t going to have anything else to do with Carson.
“Never mind,” Brad said, opening the door.
Climbing into the passenger seat, Carson felt upset that there was actually a new car in Brad’s life, like Brad had found fame and riches on the outside while he rotted and wasted away inside the Lebanon Ohio Correctional Facility. He could tell Brad some things about some of the guys in there and what it did to your brain or he could tell him about the guy who had a secret stash of Doritos and Hershey bars and a joint or two and this volatile nowhere they shared for five days before the dude and some other guy got caught. And thank God it was with some other guy.
Carson gave him attitude from the get-go.
“Fucking waiting to go home, man. The whole afternoon. I mean I get out and then I have to fucking wait. That’s so perfect.”
It was like he was talking to himself, maybe something he’d learned in prison. Brad felt ticking in his head like a time bomb and it maybe had something to do with horniness and nostalgia mixed. He
wanted to kiss Carson but he also had worries about what seven months in prison could do to somebody.
“You hungry?” Brad asked him.
Car could not find words. He was not a hardened fucking criminal, so being outside meant something, you know? Waiting out there for his thoughtless boyfriend to come pick him up while he could still hear the PA system from the courtyard inside the prison, and see the people passing by, and it was like, Look I’m free you motherfuckers, but nobody noticed.
Hell yes, he was hungry.
Car remembered the Thanksgiving Day feast he had prepared the night before he had to go for sentencing. Turkey and dressing and corn and peas and pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. And sometimes when he was with the Doritos guy. Car imagined it was Brad, and it was that innocent debauched evening with freezing rain and nobody around to see. Surveillance just simply disappeared. And the Doritos guy, a pot-bellied Mexican fellow, turned into Brad tall, skinny and beautiful.
“Hell yes, I’m hungry,” Car said, not making eye contact.
Brad drove down the country road, thinking about how all he could do was work when Car was gone, work two jobs, one at the laundry and one at the chili place next door to the laundry. In the work Brad found this special secrecy, like he was a war widow or something, his husband in war-torn Vietnam, maybe dead, and he couldn’t tell anyone how he felt because he knew it was kind of a stupid
story: this guy I love wrote some bad checks and now he’s in jail and I still love him so much, in fact more because he’s in prison.
Brad went to a drive-thru place on the way home and got Car what he wanted: “Two Big Macs, one large fry, a vanilla shake and a Coke. Super-size the fries, man.” Even Car’s voice was different, a put-on machismo he’d had to adopt to keep from getting raped.
Or maybe he got raped.
They never talked about that kind of crap during Brad’s visits. The couple of letters Car sent were short but sweet: “Today I mopped every inch of this place.” Or: “This one guy stabbed this other guy with a piece of glass.” Stuff like that.
They got the food from the window, and Brad pulled out. Car took a whiff of that familiar fried grease odor, could even smell the lettuce and the goddamn special sauce through the wax wrapping and paper sack. He wanted to cry. Sometimes pleasure gets distilled into tiny, excellent moments other people would just laugh at, like the ex-con ordering two Big Macs and then getting off just on the smell. Car decided to wait till they got home to eat it because he wanted to be civilized now that he was out.
“So you feel okay?” Brad asked.
“I guess,” Car said, still smelling the food.
“You look good,” Brad said.
Car saw the rides and booths of the fair in the Marsh Supermarket parking lot as soon as they pulled into the complex. No one was waiting in line yet. It was almost dusk and the neon lights were on, the orange, blue and pink lights and the little tents and the chicken wire that surrounded the dunk tank. The people who ran it were still setting up stuff. It filled Car with a joy and an ache to see
this. He smiled, with the bag of McDonald’s on his lap. There was a big flapping sign tied up to two makeshift poles in front of the fair: JUNE JAMBOREE.
Brad looked over at Carson, as he drove past the fair into the parking lot. He resembled some beautiful child from a foreign country, an innocent awe in his gaze with his big sack of American food. He couldn’t tell anybody how happy he was because he didn’t speak the language. But he was so happy to be alive, it could make other people uncomfortable.
At the apartment complex, they parked and got out in silence. Inside the place was exactly the same the same posters and rundown beanbag chair and thrift-store couch, except now everything had a nice order to it. Like in his absence Brad had gotten his shit together.
Carson sat down on the floor, Indian-style, unpacked his feast, embarrassed at being so happy.
“Didn’t you want anything?” Car said, looking up.
Brad smiled down at him and got on the floor with him and they finally kissed. The connection between them was something Brad had jerked off to and thought about and talked to himself about. He would even call his sister Liz just to piss her off and whine about how much he missed Car and she would eventually hang up on him.
Brad just sometimes needed to say Car’s name aloud. There weren’t too many people who cared not that Liz cared but at least she knew who Car was. She would say, “I don’t want to hear it, Brad.” But Brad would say, “He was always wanting to do it, Liz and so was I. It was like we needed to do it, you know?” And she would get all irritated and Brad would laugh. And then click.
Brad pushed Carson back onto the floor. He felt an animal’s bravery and stupidity. He took Car’s clothes off and Car moved to let him, not even laughing.
And Brad took one of the Big Macs, undid the thing into parts, and started feeding each part of the thing to Carson one morsel at a time: the soggy special saucedrenched bun, the lettuce leaf sliding into Carson’s baby-bird mouth. Brad got naked too, then did the first hamburger patty, and he watched Car’s mouth open as he inserted the hamburger slowly. Carson nibbled at it and he had the hugest hard-on and there was no laughing, just the silence of feeding your ex-con boyfriend a Big Mac in a silent movie way.
Then the bun between the patties, soaked with grease, then the other patty and cheese getting all over Brad’s fingers, and the bottom bun and each french fry.
Mouth stuffed, Car said, “I need something to drink.”
“Wait,” Brad said. His voice felt rough coming out, and he realized he was imitating some tough prisoner, some guy Car might have fucked in prison, and he liked the sensation of being Car’s desperate equal, in the same situation, doing this.
Carson laid there, hard-on and everything, and Brad got his drink and pretended Carson was a hospital patient in a porn movie, helpless as a baby with a broken neck after a car accident. He let Carson suck on the milkshake straw and then Brad went down rough on him and he would look up and see Car sucking on the milkshake and taking breaks from drinking, Car would moan out his pleasure, some of the shake dribbling down his chin, and Brad could not stop, filling his mouth up with this fragile invalid’s dick, this freak he missed so much. So much it had made his life seem lifeless, made his days seem endless and blank. And when Car came in Brad’s mouth, Brad felt an erotic haze seep through what had been reality, all the months of working two jobs and waiting and all the
blankness and fear melting into that taste and that texture, smooth and gummy and thick, and he swallowed it all, thinking of what they would do that night and the next night and the next.
Car wanted to go to the Jamboree, so they did, after taking a shower and dressing in jean cutoffs and T-shirts and Nikes without socks. It was humid and the whole area was lit up from the rides, light scattering across ditches and trees and parked cars. They were quiet, walking across the back of the complex. Brad almost felt the urge to hold hands but that was so fucking corny. He just watched Car’s face as they made it to the front of the fair, child-like and dim. Car was not smart, never had been, but he knew what he wanted, and that always seemed better than intelligence to Brad.
“This is so goddamn cheesy,” Car kept saying, but he was lying.
“Fucking people get killed on these cheap rides,” Brad said.
But they rode the Tilt-A-Whirl, and the makeshift rollercoaster, The Happy Dragon. It was with a bunch of loud-mouthed kids, but Car fit in, screaming louder than everybody, and then they got some elephant ears and lemonade and brats, ate them like they were starved, and Brad didn’t know where the fuck Car put it all, after eating all that McDonald’s.
They walked around where the games were, and Car of course paid ten bucks to win some dumb toy that he gave to a little girl, and right when they were going to go back to the rollercoaster was when Liz and her daughter Joy showed up, standing by the front gates to the place. Joy was a fat little three-year-old with red hair, and Liz was tall and pale, sucking on a big long cigarette, her hair tied back with a scarf.
Brad saw them first and wanted to steer clear, but Joy came running over. Liz followed right behind her.
Liz stared at him, “Where’s my car?”
“At the apartment,” Brad said, stunned.
“I was gonna let Joy ride a couple rides and then walk over and get it,” she said. She was looking at Car, and Car was looking right back at her.
“Hey there Liz,” he said.
She didn’t say anything to him.
Brad walked over to Car then. They were outdoors, but he felt foolish and nasty and alive in front of his sister.
Car felt as if he were in a post-correctional facility dream, in all the lurid colors of a jamboree and there that bitch was and then pow! Brad stepped up to him without a smile on his face and just planted one on Car’s mouth. All their secrets seemed opened wide, wind-blown and dumbstruck like a fool getting off a rollercoaster.
Brad pulled away but Car felt it too, the situation unfurling, the moment in the heat, and he took Brad into his arms really hard and tongue-kissed him back after dipping him like old time Fred Astaire shit.
By this time, people at the fair were watching. A few of them were screaming.
Brad looked at Liz. She was horror-struck, grabbing for Joy, hiding her eyes. After they split apart, laughing both of them, they noticed other people were looking and laughing and a few people looked like they wished they had guns. But Car and Brad just laughed, out of breath, stunned by themselves.
“I just got out of jail!” Car yelled.
And then the two of them ran from the Jamboree back to the apartment.
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