Monday, August 18, 2008
The Emerald Mountain excerpt from Come This Way by Victor J Banis
The Emerald Mountain appears in COME THIS WAY, a collection of excerpts and short stories by Victor J Banis.
Come This Way
Regal Crest Enterprises(April 2, 2007)
We are all hearts in exile, stumbling alone in the dark, trying to find the path home. It may well be that God’s greatest gift is the loneliness of the journey.
Rain becomes San Francisco. The purples and pinks and oranges of the Victorians become pastels, the gray leaves turn green again, the sidewalks are washed clean of the dog droppings that tax the unwary pedestrian in the dryer months.
I wasn't there that day, when Simon came up from the station, but I have imagined it so often, have dreamed it so vividly, awake and sleeping, that I have only to close my eyes to see the scene as clearly as if it were memory, and not imagination.
I see him pause at the curb, waiting for the signal, enjoying the rain upon his face. People would look at him. The wind tossed his hair like a lover's fingers, and rouged those marble cheeks. No doubt he smiled. He liked to smile, and when he did it lit up his face in a magical way.
Yes, people looked….
Castro Street was a kaleidoscope of color. On the far corner, in the brightly lit windows of the Peaks, young men watched the passersby, and older men watched the young. A pedestrian, too impatient for the light, darted into the street, skirting cars and their spray. A chorus of horns scolded his audacity.
The light changed. Simon played Dodgem with umbrellas, and paused outside the bar. He felt a twinge of expectation, that sense of something impending.
The rain came down harder. Like a hand in his back, a gust of wind nudged him toward the open door. Inside, the overheated room smelled of damp clothes, of sweat and beer and too many colognes. Glasses clinked, and a murmur of voices competed with one another. He made his way to an unoccupied table.
At least, he would have sworn there was no one there when he sat down, until a voice said, almost in his ear, “I was afraid you wouldn’t get here in time.”
Simon started and turned, and found himself looking into the face of a stranger, a craggy face with a majestic nose and deeply cleft chin; and electric green eyes, fastened directly on his own, compelling attention.
“I’m sorry,” Simon stammered, and half rose to his feet. “I thought the table was empty.”
“No, please. I insist.” The stranger laughed and spread his hands. “The table is large and my drink is small.”
Simon glanced around. The other tables were full and men stood two deep at the bar. Really, it would have been a miracle to find an empty table on a day like this. It was share the table, or fight his way to the bar.
“Well, if you don’t mind." He smiled, and looked out the window, to discourage any intimacy. Outside, passengers jostled to board a bus. A Latina woman with a crying baby in her arms pressed against the bar's window in an effort to avoid the rain.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” the stranger said.
Not very original. Simon sighed, and was half out of his chair, when a young man with a tray on his hip came up and asked, “You want a drink?”
“The way you’ve been bobbing up and down, I wasn’t sure.”
Hawk eyes said, “Order a drink. And do sit down. People are staring.”
“Look, I don’t even know you. I’m sure,” Simon said. Or did he? Surely he would have remembered those eyes, the brows like caterpillars.
The waiter tapped his tray with a cerise fingernail. “Most customers don’t need an introduction before they order," he said, "But you can call me Mary.”
“I meant him,” Simon said.
The waiter cast a quick, bored glance around the room. “There’s a roomful of guys, honey, and I don’t do introductions. If you’re interested in somebody, send him a drink. Or blow a kiss, it’s cheaper. What'll you have?”
“I’m Michael,” the stranger said, and added “He can’t see me.”
Simon asked, "What do you mean, can’t see you?”
The waiter took a nervous step backward. “On second thought, sweetheart, I don’t think you need another drink,” he said. “How about coffee?”
Simon's senses felt oddly heightened. He knew people were watching, he seemed to see them without looking. The music was louder than before and he could hear snippets of conversations.
“Is this some kind of a joke you guys cooked up?” Simon asked.
The waiter took another step back. “Honey, we don’t like trouble here. Maybe you should try another place. How about The Cove, across the street.”
Even before it happened, Simon had stood, turned to look outside, as if he knew the Latina woman was going to scream, as neatly as if they had rehearsed it. She held her baby at arm’s length and shook him.
“My baby,” she shrieked, “He’s stopped breathing.” She looked around frantically, and suddenly stared directly, beseechingly, into Simon’s eyes. “Gran Dios. Save him, save my baby.”
There was a movement toward the door, not a stampede, exactly, but enough that Simon was jostled along. Without knowing exactly how he got there, he was outside, part of the crowd around the sobbing woman. The baby lay on the sidewalk, crimson faced, not breathing. Surely the child was dead.
Thunder rumbled. Simon shivered. It reminded him of—of what? The thought was gone as quickly as it had come. It was just a rainstorm. Just thunder. His hands felt cold and numb. He had no consciousness of moving them and yet, when he glanced down at them he saw them stretch, of their own volition, in the direction of the infant. He seemed to watch from some place outside: he saw himself lean over the child, and asked himself, what is he doing, he’s not a doctor?
The lightning struck right where he was standing. He thought, it's supposed to come before the thunder. It exploded inside his head, a blinding blue-white light. Electricity crackled along his arms and out his fingertips. His senses, preternaturally heightened an instant before, shut down completely.
It might have been seconds or hours before he became conscious of himself again. He felt as if a tornado had lifted him up and carried him a great distance, like Dorothy in that movie. Was he dead? Didn’t people die from lightning strikes?
But no, he was just where he had been, outside the Peaks. The rain still fell. Saturday afternoon traffic rushed by. Everything was as it had been.
Except, a baby was crying and—he realized this more slowly—people were staring, staring wide-eyed at him, mouths agape. He looked down. It was that baby, the one who had surely been dead before, howling lustily and kicking his feet.
“You saved my baby.” The mother scooted around clumsily on her knees and fell against Simon’s legs, seizing them so violently she nearly knocked him over. “He brought my baby back to life!” Her voice rose to a shout.
Simon shook his head in confusion and struggled to break away from her grip.
“What happened?” he asked of no one in particular.
Someone tugged at his sleeve and a voice at his ear said, "We’d better get out of here.”
It was Michael, the stranger from the bar. “What’s going on?” Simon demanded. “Is this some kind of dream?”
Michael leaned so close that Simon thought he meant to kiss him. “In a moment,” he whispered, his eyes glittering with demonic light, “They’re going to collect their wits and all hell will break loose.”
He tugged at Simon’s sleeve. Bewildered, Simon let himself be led. As if under a spell, the onlookers stepped aside, the woman surrendered her hold on Simon's legs, and in a moment, Simon and his companion were around the corner.
“What the hell is this?” Simon demanded, stopping abruptly. “What happened back there?”
“Her baby died,” Michael said, so matter-of-factly, he might have been describing the weather. “You put your hands on him, and he came back to life.”
“You’re…are you crazy? Dead? I never touched him. I never laid a hand on him.”
“You did. You put both hands on his forehead. I saw you. They saw you. What do you think…?”
From the corner behind them, someone shouted, “Hey, you, wait.”
“They’re awake,” Michael said. “Better run for it.”
He began to run and Simon ran with him, with no idea what he was frightened of, what he was running from, or to. He fled across the street, up another, until he couldn’t run any further. Side aching, he staggered against a tree.
“Listen, if you think…” he panted, and turned toward Michael—but there was no Michael, only a middle-aged man walking a spaniel on a leash, twenty feet away, who reversed himself and walked briskly in the opposite direction.
This was where I came into the picture.
I have read a great deal of nonsense about my supposed relationship with Simon. At various times it has been reported that he and I were long time companions, that we were brothers, even, ridiculously enough, that I was his father.
Simon used to laugh at my irritation with that suggestion. “It is possible, you know.”
“Only with the greatest leap of imagination,” I replied.
The truth is, until the day Joe Kelly came to me with his weird assignment, I had never heard of Peter Lucas Simon. Sometimes, I wish it had stayed that way. As any storyteller will tell you, however, some stories the teller chooses, and some stories choose the teller. This was one of the latter, and I will tell it as well as I can.
It has been more than a decade, though, since I seriously attempted to write anything more than the occasional bit of fluff for The Weekly Banner—The Weakly Bladder, as those of us on the staff called our gay newspaper, though not when Joe Kelly was at hand. Whatever limited currency my name may once have possessed has long since faded into nothingness. And writing is like any other form of exercise: you lose the knack of it after a while. It’s not true, about riding a bicycle. I tried after twenty or so years, and fell flat on my ass.
Besides, and this worries me more, so much of what I must write, I know only second hand or have had to conjure. It might be supposed that the time I spent with Simon would give me some insider’s knowledge. Indeed, I was with him often—though had I known the future, that time would certainly have been greater.
“Well,” Simon used to say, “you can’t have a future except at the expense of the present, and the cost is too great.”
Of course, when Joe stopped at my desk that day, I had no inkling there would be any story to tell. I was listening to The Reverend Maxwell Marshall's "Sinner Repent Hour" on the radio. The sin of queerdom was high on Marshall's top-ten list of sins to repent. Those who didn't repent should be eradicated, "in Christ's name". He labeled Matthew Shephard's killers as "heroes". It was hate and evil cloaked in piety, and I found it grimly amusing. I especially liked to watch him on television. It was better than Oprah for a laugh.
Joe parked his shapely rear on one coffee stained corner of my desk and said, “I want you to do an interview."
I took the headphones from my ears. “Talented drag queen? New candle shop? Candidate for Empress?” I had done them all, with equal ineffectiveness.
“I’m not sure what he is.”
I sighed. “Not the Abominable Fag again."
Joe's self control was superhuman. He never laughed at my jokes. “I had a conversation with my friends Bruno and Nate," he said. "You remember them?”
“Bruno, the hot guitarist? He'd be hard to forget. I'm not sure I want to know Nate, if he's the competition.”
"Nate’s his boyfriend. He's been sick.” He gave me a significant look. Of what, I hadn't any idea.
“Half the gay community is sick. It’s a tragic story. It’s not a new story. What we do is news, isn’t it? Silly news, but news, surely. Or is that news to you?”
“Nate is no longer sick.”
“Yes. The new meds. They’ve performed miracles.”
“This appears to be a miracle.” He hesitated. “Just not that particular miracle.”
“Look, Editor-mine, what exactly am I groping for here? You want me to talk to Bruno and Nate?”
“Their neighbor, actually. His name is Peter Simon.”
This pause was even longer. I waited him out. “He healed Nate,” Joe said finally.
“He’s, what, a doctor? A miracle worker?”
“I don’t know what he is. Look, I got a couple of calls last week. Something very interesting happened on Saturday, at the Peaks.”
“Now that's a miracle,” I said. "Wait, I've heard that one. Some guy waved a magic wand and brought a dead woman back to life."
“It was a baby."
“Okay, a baby brought a woman back to life, that’s easy to explain. Mass hallucination. A really boring afternoon. Too many cocktails.”
“At least thirty people saw it."
“Thirty people saw something. I saw a two-headed calf once. Honest. Drinking Cutty. I had the damndest time getting rid of him the next morning. Taurus is a bad sign for me.”
“From the descriptions, this Peter Simon could have been the one at the Peaks,” Joe said, undaunted.
Joe and I looked hard at one another. I looked hard at a coffee stain on the table. If you looked at it long enough, you could make out the face of the Virgin Mary. “Let me see if I’m tuned in here,” I said. “You found Jesus in drag and you want me to interview him? My friend Lena said he'd be a leather dyke this time. Is this turning anti-lesbian? Joe, we publish a weekly gay rag which is read by very few, none of whom has heretofore exhibited any interest in matters religious or philosophical. Why us? Why me?”
“Because it’s the only newspaper I edit,” Joe said. He grinned and blew me a kiss. He was cute. He was exasperating. ”And because you’re the most intelligent person I know.”
Okay, he was also perceptive. “Moe and Curly will not like hearing that,” I said. We both knew I had lost the argument.
“Just talk to him. Okay?" He handed me a slip of paper with an address on it. "Talk to Bruno and Nate first. See me when you finish.” He walked away.
“I’m getting too old for this,” I said, but Joe was already out of hearing.