Fiction

The Wedding of Tom to Tom

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 FICTION









The Wedding of Tom to Tom by Keith Banner  


The first time I saw the two of them doing something was also the first night I worked alone at the place. I was nervous from the start, and the woman on before me was a total alkie. As soon as I got there and clocked in down in the basement, she went, “They’re all in bed and they got all their pills.”


    

Then she was gone. I guess she walked off the face of the earth, because she didn’t come back the next night, when she was due on. Never called or anything.


    

Anyway, I was walking up and down the hall of the old house after she left, nervous, like I should be checking on something. It felt like a haunted house, but I felt I belonged, like I was a ghost but didn’t know it yet. I could hear the retarded people, all five of them, snoring and tossing and turning. Sleep’s

never been so loud. Then I heard real intense moans coming out of the back bedroom. They didn’t sound like they were from sleeping people at all.


    

I went to the door at the end. It had this great big poster on it of Michael Jordan shooting a basketball through outer space. The door was halfway open. Suddenly, the moaning became like some weird song. Like singing and going crazy at the same time. I slid the door open the rest of the way, thinking that somebody might have been having a seizure. I’d just seen the training video on that the other day at my orientation. They had this dramatization about a woman dying from drowning on her own vomit while having a seizure. God knows I didn’t want that my first night. I’d made a decision from the get-go: I am keeping this job, no matter what. I was gonna stop living like trash.


    

I opened the door, turned on the lights.


    

Tom B. was on his knees in front of Tom A. They were both naked and very white. I didn’t know either of them at the time, so I just stood there. Tom B. is skinny and short, and Tom A. is big-bellied with short legs and no butt. Both are about middle-aged or older. Tom B. has a burr cut, and Tom A. has curly dark hair.


    

So there they were, like that. Blow-job position.


    

I wanted to scream or laugh or cry, all at the same time. This was my first night alone, remember. I figured they shouldn’t be doing that, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I shut the door back, like a maid in a sitcom catching people in the middle of something.


    

Of course I forgot to turn off the lights. I was getting ready to open the door and turn them off when I saw that one of the Toms had already got it. Almost as

soon as it was dark in there again, they were making that same crazy silly sex music.


    

I went back to the living room. I lit up a cigarette, wondering if I should call somebody. Kate Anderson-Malloy, the home manager, told me when I saw that video the other day that if I had any questions just to beep her. “Just beep me,” she’d almost yelled, smiling like a wacko left in charge, but you had to respect her enthusiasm.


    

I could still hear them. I smoked real deep and seriously contemplated just walking off. Not beeping anybody, just going. Two retarded men participating in a blow job. I mean, I’m not some Pollyanna by any means. But yes, it shook me the hell up.


    

I was about to go back there again, stupidly afraid that maybe Tom B. might get choked or something, I was on my way, when I heard footsteps. I stopped right toward the third bedroom and I saw Tom B., back in his pj’s, tiptoeing back to his room. He had this serious face in the emergency exit–light. Half-demonic, half-angelic and dramatic, like he had gone off and now he was returning from his journey filled with beautiful new things to tell. I felt sorry for him, sort of. I heard him close his door real careful. Heard the rest of them continue with their loud, gurgled sleep.


    

Sleep deprivation — and witnessing a retarded blow-job — made me feel kind of paranoid that whole damn night. I kept smoking cigarette after cigarette. Kate Anderson-Malloy had told me at orientation that sometimes state people come out to check on group homes in the middle of the night to make sure the staff isn’t getting paid for sleeping on the job. I kept seeing headlights scatter across the walls all night.


    

Plus there was my whole ex-boyfriend thing brewing too. I was being stalked, so to speak. He didn’t know it, but his ass would soon be in jail. Anyway, to keep myself busy, I started snooping through the filing cabinets over by where the scales are, near the door to the basement, in the little makeshift office there.


    

I got out Tom A. and Tom B.’s files. I read Tom B.’s first. It said right at the start that Tom B. suffered from moderate mental retardation and also possible schizophrenia. He could talk but had trouble with his speech. He had lived his whole life in an institution in Columbus called the Orient, but was sent here when it closed down, as was Tom A. In fact, at that place, according to Tom B.’s file, both Toms had a reputation for being “obsessed with each other’s presence” so much that they often had to be split up and put into separate parts of the institution. Usually, though, according to typewritten reports in the file, they found their way back to each other. Tom A. could not talk, and was more retarded than Tom B., so his file was pretty skimpy, except I read one part about when he was four years old, his stepdad burnt him with cigars.

                          

  





©1999 Keith Banner and Nerve Publishing

 FICTION






By that next morning, which was a Saturday, I knew the whole damn story by heart. Since no one had to go to the sheltered workshop, Kate Anderson-Malloy had written me a note in the log that said they all could sleep in till 8. I made a big breakfast, to let them know I was an okay chick. I mean, the works. Now that I’m a full-time shift supervisor, lead direct care in fact, I just put out the boxes of cereal and gallons of milk and they go at it. But that first morning, I made waffles and heated up the syrup in the microwave, had some sausage patties that I also nuked. Full glasses of juice and paper napkins, picnic-type dinette table set, like the Waltons were about to come down and eat. It was ready around 7:45 that morning and no one was up, so I got antsy and went down the hall again, like the warden who makes breakfast.


    

When I woke up Tom A., he looked at me like the way — I’m sorry, this sounds pretty awful — like the way my cat does. Lonesome inside, without the capability to explain, and yet also relieved that he was off the hook from

having to tell me anything. In fact he smiled at me, and I said, “Why, aren’t you chipper!”


    

I almost added, as a joke, “Looks like you got some last night.”


    

But I didn’t.


    

He sat up. His belly hung down quite a bit. He had a boyish face though. I noticed on his back all those cigar scars. He walked over to me and put his hand out, like a gentleman in a silent movie.


    

I shook it. He let out this huge scream that about killed my ears.


    

“Thanks,” I said.


    

I went and got Sally, this little woman with Down’s Syndrome who may have had Alzheimer’s too. She was in her canopy bed in her pink bedroom — that’s the way her sister painted it for her. She had on a pink flannel nightgown and looked like a melted doll in a playhouse.


    

I got Damon, a black guy with a big head that had water inside it. He had a pump installed in his skull that kept the water from drowning out his brain. I knew all this stuff from Kate Anderson-Malloy and from the files. I knew Damon used to live with his prostitute mother and she used to sell him out to freaks. He was very quiet and could only say, “Mona Lisa.”


    

Got Larry up. He talked too much. Soon as he was up, he started gabbing.


    

“Hello. You’re new here. You’re name is what? May I ask what?”


    

His eyes were open great big. He was sitting on a rocking chair in his room with posters of big-breasted women hung on the walls with black electrical tape. Tall and bony with a big bald head and very red lips.


    

“Anita,” I said.


    

“We ain’t going out anywhere today,” he said, looking out the window. You could totally tell he hated going outside.


    

“Okay,” I said. “I made breakfast for you.”


    

He turned his head toward me and clapped his hands in an exaggerated, almost sarcastic way, but his voice seemed for real. “How nice,” he said. “Don’t smoke around me. I have asthma.”


    

I said okay.


    

Tom B. was the last one, as his room was at the end. There was Michael Jordan staring at me. His door opened as soon as I got there, and he was in a pair of dress pants and a wrinkled mint green dress shirt, feet in brown vinyl slippers. He looked uptight and yet really wanting to please. His eyes still had sleep in them. I saw him from last night, naked, going down on Tom A.


    

“Breakfast is ready,” I said.


    

“Tanks,” he said. Speech impediment.


    

“You’re welcome.”


    

His smile was unnerving, shaky around the edges, and it almost made me angry at him.


    

“Tanks berry much,” he said, and then started walking toward the kitchen.


    

I followed behind him. All of the retarded people were seated at the picnic table now, and the shock on all their faces almost made me burst out crying. It was like Thanksgiving with breakfast food. I know I’m sounding like some sentimental idiot, so I won’t go on, but they really loved what I’d done, and it had been a while since I got that kind of reaction from anybody.


    

“Look at dis Tommy,” Tom B. said to Tom A. “Look what she did fow us.”


    

Tom A. smiled bigger. He grabbed his fork in one hand and his knife in the other, like any minute, any minute.


    

“Mona Lisa,” Damon said, his voice very low. “Mona. Lisa.”


  

                          

  





©1999 Keith Banner and Nerve Publishing

 FICTION






My relief came in at eleven. She seemed a little drunk too. A lot of drunks work in group homes, like it’s their way of paying penance: a vodka binge, then they go in and wipe up a retard’s ass and they think they don’t have to quit drinking. But this woman, named Raquel, could be drunk but it didn’t seem obnoxious, even at eleven in the A.M.


    

Right when Raquel walked in and went down to the basement to clock in was when Archie called me, my drug-dealing ex-fiancée. This job was sort of my antidote to all I had just gone through with him, kinda like I was paying penance too but just for being a total fucking fool. But Archie kept following me. I mean, I was living with my dad, and I was moving all my stuff out of the town house we were at one time sharing, and every time I went to get more stuff he was there, hangdog in the face. Sometimes when I was going around doing my business and shit, I would see him in his Escort in the rearview mirror with that same hangdog, stalker look. Like he was having his picture taken for the cover of Pathetic Small Town Dope Dealer magazine.


    

“What? How did you get this number, you son of a bitch?” I was whispering, hoping Raquel wouldn’t hear. Everyone was out in the living room, watching VH1, doing whatever. Tom A. and Tom B. were sitting on the love seat, of course. Holding hands. Sally was in her pink sweatsuit, on the floor, talking to a

piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Larry was really the only one watching the TV, while Damon rocked in his lounger with his eyes closed, kind of like Stevie Wonder does.


    

“I hired a private detective,” Archie said. He laughed.


    

“Bullshit. Listen, I’m at my new job, and I am trying to make something outta myself.”


    

“Okay, okay.”


    

“So it’s over.”


    

“I love you so much.”


    

“Go smoke your crack, Archie. Just fucking go smoke your crack.”


    

I hung up. As if she’d been waiting at the bottom of the stairs for me to finish, Raquel marched up, her hair all ratty-looking, in a pair of nylon sweats and flannel shirt. She smelled like perfume and cigarettes and just the thinnest vapor of Jack Daniel’s, almost sweeter-smelling than the perfume.


    

“Hey,” she said, not looking at me.


    

I had just finished up with the kitchen, so I was ready to go. Pulling an eleven to eleven was more than I thought it would be.


    

Raquel looked out in the living room. Then she got panicked sort of. She turned around and told me, “You’re letting Tom and Tom sit out there like that?”


    

“Yeah,” I said.


    

“Good God, if Kate found out . . . ”


    

Raquel yelled, “Tom. Hey Tom. Don’t hold Tommy’s hand now. You guys split up. It’s time for some alone time. Okay?” Raquel’s smile was nervous, like she was talking to someone during a hostage crisis.


    

Tom B. looked up, responding to being called Tom. He smiled. But his eyes were afraid at the same time. He blew out a sigh and let go of Tom A.’s hand and

stood up and went over beside Sally on the floor, small and polite like a little Japanese guy.


    

Raquel turned to me, “If you let them do that, they don’t know when to stop. They’ll get so into each other, they’ll not know when to quit. One time they locked themselves in the bathroom for a day and all they did was — well — you don’t want to know. Let’s just say they went through a whole bottle of hand lotion.” Raquel laughed into her hand. She flopped down at the picnic-type table, lit up a cigarette.


    

I smiled. Sally was talking to Tom B.’s foot now. I wondered just what the fuck I was getting myself into. Heard Archie’s voice in my head, pleading. At one time, he was gonna do construction and I was gonna go back to community college for something in nursing. Ha.


    

“Guess I’ll go,” I said.


    

“Yeah,” Raquel said, smoking.


    

She stood up, and with her cigarette dangling, walked out into the living room.


    

“Look at all my babies,” she said kind of loud, but then she looked up at me and her eyes were real clear. They were the eyes of a drunk lady who used to have kids but for some reason lost them and now she was in a roomful of retarded people that she was claiming as her own, and she was saying it like a joke on herself, on the retards and on me. But it wasn’t mean-spirited. It was pathetic and it was sweet.


    

I laughed a lot right then. Probably from being so sleep-stunted. Tom A. and Tom B. were trying to sneak off for a quickie, and I saw. So did Raquel, squatting next to big-headed Damon. She grabbed two throw pillows from the couch and tossed them at both the Toms, hard.


    

“Stop right there.” Her voice was joking and not.


    

They stopped, went to separate corners like obedient prize-fighters. I wanted to give them permission right then. Go for it. I wanted to get the hell out of there worse though.


    

I left that day without saying anything else. Thinking I was not ever going back.

  

                          

  





©1999 Keith Banner and Nerve Publishing

 FICTION






Time sure flies when you’re having so much fun. So to speak. I mean, it really does. That was about a year ago, all that I just explained. Of course I went back for my next shift. Actually, if I remember correctly, I got called in to cover the other drunk lady’s shift, the one who never came back.


    

Now Raquel and me go out and get drinks together all the time. I am on my way to becoming a drunk-lady-direct-care-worker myself. Raquel and me practically run the place.


    

Some things, even with time, don’t change, however.


    

“You want to get together?” It’s Archie. I’m standing in my dad’s house right now and can hear Dad out in the garage sawing on something.


    

“Good God,” I say, and I laugh because Archie’s voice sounds so familiar and

yet shocking, like a CD you think is fucked-up and you press play and it’s not.


    

“It’s me.”


    

“You were up for six years.”


    

“Time out for good behavior. Plus Butler County ain’t got no room, and it was my first offense.”


    

He laughs, smoky-voiced. I can picture him, going bald but with a rugged face, and skin color like dank wood. And his mouth, I always can remember that fondly. Big-lipped and smiling with strong white teeth. He is so into dental hygiene.


    

Dad comes in sweaty, mouthing, “Who is it?”


    

I just roll my eyes. “Listen, I gotta go.”


    

I hang up, and Dad looks at me: “Archie?”


    

“How’d you know?”


    

“You had that look. He calling from jail?”


    

Dad is washing his hands in the sink, over all the dirty dishes. He is a tall guy with freshly cut hair. He goes to the barber three times a month. On disability because of his back, so it’s about the only place to go during the day, outside of his old work site and I think they might have told him to stop going there so much. Now he spends his time out in his garage/workshop making things like a vacuum cleaner with a digital display. Inventions he hopes to patent. He takes a lot of pills for pain.


    

“No. He’s out.”


    

Dad dries his hands on paper towels.


    

“Wow,” he says. “You know what, I had a vision.”


    

Dad thinks he’s psychic. He even has a license to be a practicing one and goes to psychic fairs in Cincinnati and Dayton. Even has business cards: ROLAND SIMMONS, L.S.P. (Licensed Spiritualist Practitioner). With that license, he can legally marry people. He’s marrying Tom A. and Tom B. tonight, in fact. Not legally, but still.


    

“You did?” I say.


    

“Yeah. I didn’t want to say nothing.” His eyes go so sincere, like Bill Clinton, when he talks psychic talk. It’s a sad yet joyous thing, his psychic powers. Like a person who can’t read suddenly being able to. The psychic stuff is one of the primary reasons Mom dumped him though.


    

Dad looks at me with big puffy Darvon eyes. “But I saw you and Archie together in a motel room.”


    

He laughs but stops.


    

“Thanks, Dad. There is no way.”


    

I go into the living room. I’ve straightened it up for the wedding tonight. It’s all planned. Me and Raquel planned it. I have white and sky blue streamers and I made a cake and punch. Dad’s technological shit is still everywhere in piles, cables and old TVs and VCRs and computer monitors and stuff, but I scooted all of it around to make it look like an aisle. At first, we were gonna rent a hall, but that would have drawn attention to it. This is sort of a secret operation, of course. If Kate knew, or if Tom A.’s brother, his legal guardian, knew, we’d all be fired, possibly up for charges or something.


    

“Think about the headlines, Anita,” Raquel said one night at Applebee’s after work, over cocktails and cigarettes. “Two Group Home Workers Force Clients into Homosexual Marriage.” We got tickled and started making up juicier and juicier

ones, ending with: “Shotgun Homosexual Retarded Marriage Performed by Crazed Psychic While Group-Home Workers Get Drunk and Laugh Their Asses Off.”


    

Anyway, Tom A. is being made to move, or at least that’s the threat. Kate Anderson- Malloy caught them one morning doing it in the bathroom about four months back, and since then she’s been on a campaign, although she’s totally professional about it. At a staff meeting, where all of us gather at the main office in Middletown, Kate, kind of flabby with really nice hair and an excellent pant suit, got into a sort of tirade. I mean, she’s a bitch, like most managers afraid of doing any real work are, but also there’s this weird, loud lovingness in her face as she pronounces her proclamations, like against her compassionate instincts she’s always having to tell us these things. And so she looked at all of us in the paneled conference room, and she went:


    

“Look. We have tried everything with those two. I mean, I’m not against love. I’m not against human sexuality. I’m against obsession. Those two are obsessed, I mean, I talked to Mr. Allen, Tom A.’s guardian, last night on the phone, and he told me they’ve been like that since they were boys, and it’s hard to stop that kind of behavior. I mean, you can’t. So we’re just gonna move Tom A. over to Franklin Street and move Juanita from over there to our place. Juanita’s real cute. You guys are gonna love her. I mean, Tom A. and Tom B. can still see each other, but supervised. I mean, what I’m afraid of is that they are gonna end up hurting each other. Physically. There’s all kinds of issues here. I mean, when I walked in on them the other morning, Tom A., excuse me, but Tom A. was anally penetrating Tom B.”


    

The way she said “penetrating,” I had to laugh. Raquel looked over at me, and our eyes kind of got conspiratorial.


    

When Kate looked at me, she had to laugh too. I mean, it was funny. Eric, another guy who works with us, laughed, and then all the people, mostly new hires, well, we all got the giggles until finally Kate had to stop us.


    

“I know, I know,” she said. “This is the people business, and yes, the people business can be pretty funny. But let’s just try to make this happen smoothly okay?”


    

Then it got quiet, like we were all suddenly little kids and Kate Anderson-Malloy was the teacher.


  

                          

  





©1999 Keith Banner and Nerve Publishing

 FICTION






Dad’s standing at the podium he made for the wedding. It’s in front of the living room window where the TV used to be. He looks kind of silly, standing there, politician-dumb, like he is thinking how to talk about a big issue in little-people language for the masses.


    

But I love him. One of his visions about me, and he usually has them after eating late at night, is that I am going to be

famous somehow. He sees me getting an award on a show.


    

“Now,” he says, making sure the hair he combs over his bald spot is still in place, “So I’m just gonna treat these two like man and wife?”


    

“That’s what we want,” I say.


    

The phone rings again, and we let the machine get it. It’s Archie’s voice. He’s singing this Boys II Men song I used to really like, “The End of the Road.” It kills me, and I get embarrassed, Dad standing there, smiling.


    

“What a singer,” Dad says.


    

Archie stops then, and the answering machine has that hang-up dial tone sound for a sec. I get closer to the podium, pretending like I’m one of the Toms so I can see what it looks like. Dad’s eyes go serious. He says, “So this is the wedding of Tom A. to Tom B.” He’s reading it off an index card. Practicing. What a perfectionist.


    

“Ladies and gentleman, I now pronounce them Tom and Tom.”


    

The plan was secretly hatched in the basement, by the time clock. Raquel was taking a drink from her Super America mug, filled with vodka and red pop. One time she offered me a sip and I took it and, boy, was it vodka and red pop.


    

Anyway, it was the evening right after the staff meeting where Kate told us Tom A. was gonna have to move. We were both kind of bummed, and Raquel said, “You know, all Tom B. has ever talked about was getting married to him. I think that is so sweet.” She took a big drink.


    

The dryer was going. Big industrial one for all the piss-soaked bedsheets and other assorted piss-soaked items. I knew that already, about them wanting to get married. Not only because Tom A. had a stack of old-time bridal magazines, worn out from looking at them, stacked in his room, but Tom B. and I had gotten into many discussions about marriage too. By this time, we were pretty good friends. Tom A. was more aloof, since he couldn’t talk, but Tom B. let you know he was proud of what he and Tom A. had accomplished: twenty-four years of staying together, and when Orient shut down and they were going to be moved out, he knew Tom and him would be in the same group home because, “It went alphabetic. So I knew. It was luck. It was God too. Tink about it, Anita. Tom A. and Tom B.”


    

It made sense, didn’t it? His face, as I was trying to do my paperwork, was sincere and stupid and scary and beautiful. You can’t say no to that. Well maybe other people can, but people like me can’t.


    

By the way, Tom B. and me never did talk about me seeing them that first night I worked there, them doing the nasty, but I’m sure he would have just laughed it off like nothing. Raquel said they used to line people up at Orient in the shower room, forty at a time, and tell them to hold their noses, and spray them down with a gigantic fire hose, and then say, “Now soap up,”and forty men would soap up real quick, and then get sprayed again and some people, the people who worked there, would laugh as they sprayed them.


    

So Raquel said that night with the dryer going, “Let’s let them get married.”


    

She looked at me like we were both out of our minds. Even though she was a lifer, she was also pretty much timid and obedient, scared of Kate Anderson-Malloy and not just because she had two last names, but because Kate had sense to everything she said. Obviously it made a lot of sense to move them away from each other. Because they were getting worse. They weren’t going to workshop some mornings, clinging to each other nude in one bedroom or the other. Other times too, like they were losing their fear, like they were getting brave. Helping them to get married would only make them braver, wouldn’t it? And it definitely would not stop them from having to move away from each other.


    

But Raquel took a big gulp from her vodka and red pop and swallowed and said, “Maybe if they get married it won’t be so bad that they can’t live together. Like Dolly Parton and her husband.”


    

I smiled. That didn’t make any sense, but it seemed right.

  

                          

  





©1999 Keith Banner and Nerve Publishing

 FICTION






Raquel is already at the group home when I pull up. She had already helped pudgy Tom A. into his suit. It’s a light blue leisure suit from when he got de-institutionalized and they gave them all new clothes, back in the late seventies. It barely fits, and he looks like some tourist guy having nerve problems on vacation. He and Raquel are sitting on the couch, and Damon and Sally and Larry the big mouth are all in the living room.


    

I step in. Eric is in the back with Tom B.


    

“He’s showing Tom how to shave good,” Raquel says.


    

Larry asks, “Are we going anywhere? We’re not going anywhere are we?” He’s got that totally freaked-out look on his face.


    

“No. Just me and Raquel and Tom A. and Tom B.,” I say.


    

“Thank the Lord. I am just so tired, Anita,” he says. He was raised by two aunts in a mansion, kept a secret there with them for years, and that’s his

personality: old-lady stubbornness and laziness and gentility.


    

Sally comes over, spit dripping down onto her pink shirt. Her face has a sweet and scary emptiness to it. She is walking around without knowing anything but with her eyes wide open.


    

“Pop,” she whispers. “Pop, candy. Pop. Candy.”


    

She has gone into this repressed memory thing, where she is always thinking she’s brushed her teeth real good and now she deserves some pop and candy. That’s the way they used to get her to brush them.


    

“I don’t have any, honey,” I say.


    

Raquel, dressed in a long jean skirt and a beautiful orange blouse, her ratty hair pulled back into a bun, gets up and gets some Tictacs out of her purse. “Here.”


    

Sally seems happy, and sits on the arm of Damon’s lounger. He pushes her off, saying what he says: “Mona Lisa.”


    

Sally flops down and grunts and kind of laughs.


    

Then Tom B. comes out with Eric, a slump-shouldered high-school dropout who wants to be a chef. He has one of those sad mustaches that is barely there. But Tom B. is perfectly clean shaven in a navy blue suit, black shoes. Handsome, I think.


    

Eric looks scared. “You guys, if anybody finds out.”


    

Larry comes in. “We ain’t going anywhere.”


    

“I know, Larry. Calm down,” Eric says. He starts to whisper, “I told Tom that he can’t say nothing, and he agreed, right Tom?”


    

Tom B. nods, “Right. I won’t.” He shakes his head real hard, and goes over to Tom A. He gives his hand to Tom A. and Tom A. looks dumbfounded for a sec. He is realizing they are actually going somewhere to get married. It doesn’t make sense to him, but still, it’s exciting.


    

“Come on,” Tom B. says, “Come on, Tommy.”


    

They’re two boys going to church. Two kids, it seems like. True love does that to you.


    

Raquel opens the door. They walk out. I look at Eric, who’s still worried.


    

“God, if anybody finds out,” he says.


    

I just go on out.


    

Raquel’s car is bigger, so we go in hers, both Toms in back, holding hands. It’s dark and chilly and the headlights shine on piles of silver gravel. I need a cigarette. I think about Archie’s voice on the phone. Pathetic but rich with feeling, and I think about the way he would look coming out of the shower, naked, and anybody naked looks like they did when they were kids, even with hair and flab and all the years added on. Something about being dripping wet and shivering and clean: that’s what a kid is. I remember loving Archie when he was wet and naked. Pretending not to see him, but he was showing off, even with his rotten body. Coming over to me while I was trying to read course descriptions.


    

“Baby,” he said.


    

“You’re getting water all over the fucking floor.”


    

He laughed. It was all I could do not to laugh with him. Maybe he was on crack right then, for all I know, because he kept all that hidden from me. In fact, maybe the crack was buried when he saw me. Put away in the chest of drawers in his head, and this was love, without crack and without any lies and without his petty-assed, trashy ways.


    

Maybe, maybe not.


    

I see them back there in the rearview. Tom A. and Tom B. Looking straight ahead.


    

“Tanks, you guys,” Tom B. says.

  

                          

  





©1999 Keith Banner and Nerve Publishing

 FICTION






Dad awaits. So do Raquel’s two friends, drag queens that go to her AA meetings. They are dressed conservatively, like ladies who go out to lunch but who also might have some mental health issues. Big, big hair, and they sit on my dad’s couch, my dad offering them punch or something stronger.


    

“Punch. That sounds so innocent and sweet,” one drag queen says. Right when we came in, Raquel introduced us. This one is Mimi. The other’s name is Salsa.


    

“This whole thing is sweet,” Salsa says.


    

I smile, and Dad goes to get the punch, and on his way he stops by and pats both Toms on the back. They are standing near a little table of gifts. As Dad pats them, though, his face goes white as a sheet. He almost falls down and has to go over to a dinette chair, panting real bad. The Toms and Raquel all look

scared, but I focus on my dad, as Mimi and Salsa march over, Mimi saying she used to work in a hospital and knows CPR.


    

But Dad is not having a heart attack, I don’t think. His face is pale but not pained.


    

“Wow,” he whispers to me.


    

“What?”


    

“When I touched those two,” he says.


    

“Tom and Tom?”


    

“Yeah.” He laughs. People are leaning into us, and I kind of nicely push them back.


    

“What?” I say.


    

“I saw this airplane hanger. You know. Great big corrugated metal, big as hell, and it had this red, well, this pink and red light. And I was at one end of it,” Dad says, and he sits up, and I back away and all the others stand, listening. It’s suddenly quiet as hell.


    

“I was in this hanger, at one end, it was empty, and just that pink and red light. Like you know there was a fire somewhere. Then I heard this stampede coming from the other side. I swear to God. That was strong, people. Wow.” He laughs some more, and Mimi goes, “You psychic, honey?”


    

“Yes, I am,” Dad says. He looks up proudly, his bottom lip shaking like he might start crying. He’s always been emotional.


    

“He’s got a license,” I say, to back him up.


    

“Wow,” Mimi says, looking over at Raquel, like thank you for bringing us here. “Well, kiss my hand and tell me what I want for Christmas!” Mimi and Salsa laugh real loud, but Dad just stands up and walks over to the podium.


    

“Bring them over now. It’s time,” he tells Raquel, and Raquel brings Tom and Tom over in front of the podium. I run over to the lights and flick switches to make it more intimate, turn on low music.


    

“This big hanger building,” Dad says, from the podium. Tom and Tom are right there in front of him. “Pink light, like exploding roses. The red-light

district. Ha ha. No. A stampede. You gotta hear it. A thousand-plus feet. I am on the other side and I look up and all these shaved-headed people are running right at me in the red light. It’s like they just got freed, you know? Like the concentration camp just opened its doors and they got out and they’re running. They don’t know where they’re going or nothing. They’re coming right at me. And I want that to happen. I want them to run me over.”


    

My dad is smiling with glassy eyes.


    

“I want them to run me over,” he says, looking right at Tom A. and Tom B. “And they do. They stomp all over me. They gotta get somewhere, don’t they?”


    

He’s asking the Toms, and Tom B. goes, “Yes.”


    

“They gotta get somewhere,” my dad says, and he closes his eyes. Then he opens them real quick.


    

“That’s love,” he says.


    

After taking a sip from her punch, which she had to go get herself, Mimi says, “Amen, brother.”

  

                          

  





©1999 Keith Banner and Nerve Publishing

 FICTION






It goes easier after that.


    

“Do you, Tom, take Tom here to be your husband?”


    

Tom A. nods his head, silent-movie sincere.


    

“What about you, Tom?”


    

“Yes, I do.” He kind of knows this is a joke, doesn’t he? Tom B.’s pretty

smart. He knows that life is filled with little jokes you have to take serious so that something means something.


    

“Well, okay then.”


    

My dad’s face is plush and full of pride. I can see all those people coming at him, then at me. That big airport hanger or whatever, the red light. In my version, they are all smiling the way Tom A. does during a blow job session. The light is blossoming from all of that, that red light is blood light. Love light. Lava-lamp light. Archie has a lava lamp in his bedroom, or used to. He would turn it on in the dark while we made love. “Real cheesy,” he would say. “Just call me your lava-lamp porn stud.” The ceiling would get translucent blisters, like jellyfish were splattering into themselves.


    

When they kiss, Tom and Tom in my dad’s living room, it’s embarrassing, sure. They kiss long and hard, two retarded guys kissing really wet. Dad just has to look away.


    

“That is so sweet,” Mimi says.


    

Salsa says, “Look at those two go at it.”


    

Raquel gets up, goes over and whispers to the two Toms, and they stop, both out of breath, standing back.


    

“I now pronounce them Tom and Tom,” Dad says.


    

Raquel comes over.


    

“I called Motel 6. They have adjoining rooms. I was gonna take them over and stay in the next room,” Raquel says. “But Mimi wants me to go with her. She’s in some drag show. You think you could stay with them till I get done?”


    

Mimi’s right next to her, begging me in high style, both long-nailed hands pressed together.


    

“Sure,” I say.


    

Raquel comes over to me then and hugs me tight, “We are so silly,” she whispers. “Ain’t we?”


    

I look at her as we pull apart. She’s in her forties but looks about 60. Her hair is dyed. She’s about to go bald. Those eyes though. I see us at some bar next week laughing about all this.


    

“We are,” I say.


  

                          

  





©1999 Keith Banner and Nerve Publishing

 FICTION






Mimi and Salsa and Raquel go. Dad comes over, holding his head. “Migraine,” he whispers. “Tell both Toms goodbye for me. I can’t. I’m gonna go to bed.”


    

“‘Night,” I say.


    

I don’t know what else to do but tell them to get into the car. I drive them over to the Motel 6.


    

Tom B. looks at me in the mirror as I drive.


    

“We didn’t have rings, Anita,” he says, like he’s just realizing it.


    

“You know, you’re right. We’ll have to get you rings tomorrow. We can go over to K-Mart and get rings.” I try to smile.


    

They start kissing deep again in the backseat.


    

As soon as I pull into the Motel 6 lot, I tell them to break it up. I check us in. Our rooms are ready. It’s doomed, I know, Tom and Tom. Or maybe Tom B. will

escape and go and rescue Tom A. from the other group home. Maybe they’ll walk across America and find themselves in paradise.


    

Tonight is paradise, isn’t it? The Motel 6’s rooms are beige with orange bedspreads. Yellow carpet. They march into their room, and Tom A., in his leisure suit, sits down and grins. Tom B. closes the door to the adjoining room, smiling.


    

I sit down on my bed and right then is when I see him, standing in the window. Out on the patio.


    

He starts tapping on the glass.


    

I can’t help it. If he had a crack pipe I would let him stick it in my mouth, but instead I just let him into the room. He’s shivering, he’s jailhouse thin. He is in a long cowboy coat and jeans and a cowboy shirt. His eyes look hurt and happy and they seem to glow. My heart feels like all those shaved-headed freaks are marching over it. Love has to happen at the end of every night or you don’t know yourself.


    

“I’m working,” Archie tells me, standing in front of the TV.


    

I nod my head. “You are, huh?”


    

“Who the hell are they anyway?” Archie asks, and he comes over and sits down on the bed next to me. “Are they those retarded people you work with? Why’d you bring them here?”


    

“I just did,” I say. “For the hell of it.”


    

Archie laughs. It’s wheezy and warm. I want to crawl into his laugh like an orphaned baby onto a luxury liner. Go across the ocean to Europe where some kind lady wants me.


    

“I love you so much,” Archie says. “I should have told you and you could have helped me get off the stuff, but I was just ashamed. I’m sorry for what I did. I lied so much. I was sick, babe. It was like the drug took over, you know?”


    

I want to tell him to shut up. Want to kick his ass out. That’s the next instinct, right after being overjoyed at seeing him, happy at being stalked. I remember when I first met him. It was at a bar in Hamilton, skanky redneck place me and a girlfriend used to go to shoot darts and get drunk. He was standing by the dartboard drinking and smoking, still in his work clothes, and I threw a dart and it almost got him. But he wasn’t pissed.


    

“Cupid’s arrow,” he said.


    

Then Archie and me hear them. Screaming. Silly crazy sex music. There’s bumps and thumps against the thin walls. There’s laughter.


    

“Good God,” says Archie.


    

But he isn’t disgusted. He isn’t even perturbed. He doesn’t understand, but he’s here with me, and that’s next door.


    

“Are they having a good time or what?” he asks. He smells of cigarettes and beer and Brut and old pizza and sweat and love.


    

I guess I love him. I kiss him. That’s all I can do.

  

                          


For more Keith Banner, read:

Traveling, Remaining Still
Feast
Lex
Fruitcake’s First Official Murder Poem
Jamboree





©1999 Keith Banner and Nerve Publishing