Look Away Silence is a romance set in the time of AIDS, when ignorance could spell trouble and often did. It encompasses the author’s experiences in volunteer community service and personal friendships during a tragic period in American history. The novel is dedicated to the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, the NAMES Project and to the author’s own fallen angels. "Mothers, do not shun your children, because you never know how long you have to revel in them."
Look Away Silence
Tux and Ties proved to be a quiet cove, since few weddings and proms take place at Christmas. However, I knew that next week would bustle as New Year’s proved to be a better stimulus for formal wear. Still, Russ found something to keep him busy; a customer with a size thirteen shoe, Holy Mother of God. I dragged Matt in through the casements and called for assistance. The place appeared abandoned, but I knew better. I spied four legs behind the curtain to the dressing room. Russ was taking measurements as only he could. I cleared my throat, but to no avail. Matt appeared embarrassed, but did chuckle. He slouched on the glass case, constantly gazing back out to the mall.
Finally, I announced in a loud voice, “Anyone see a fruitcake? I’ve seemed to have lost my fruitcake.”
The curtain swished open, the customer adjusting his pants and my friend Russ pouting like Butterfly McQueen.
“Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Fancy dress ball?” I asked.
“No,” said the customer. He was a looker, every bit his shoe size. He had soft tawny curls and was a head taller than Russ. “A little private party.”
“So I see.”
“No, you don’t,” Russ snapped, striding toward the counter. “But who have we here? The man from the jacket racks.”
Matt fidgeted, blinking his gorgeous eyes. I wanted to smack Russ, but we had come to his haven for the evening’s itinerary, after all. So I accepted a little pay back.
“Russ, this is Matt.”
Russ smiled, and then touched Matt’s hat brim.
“Ride ‘em, cowboy.” He turned to the customer. “And this is . . . what’s your name?”
“Chris,” said the giant — a gentle enough looking giant. He’d be a great bookmark in the club later.
I reached for Chris’ hand — a massive hand, and as I did Russ winked.
“Good name,” Chris said. I blinked.
“So,” I said, resolved that introductions were complete. “Are we off to The Cavern, or is your private party drifting into the back room?”
“Don’t be silly,” Russ snapped. “Business is business. I’ll just finish these measurements and I’ll meet you there in an hour.” He glanced at Chris, who grinned. “Maybe two.”
Matt was halfway to the door. I didn’t think he cared too much for Russ. My flighty sister was an acquired taste, after all. To know him was to love him . . . simple soul that . . . well, there has only been one Russ amongst us, thank God. Where would we find another?
I didn’t want to lose Matt’s interest, so I bid Russ and Mr. Thirteen-inch shoe a farewell, and then headed for the parking lot. Matt drove a Ford Cherokee (go figure) and he followed my piece of shit Honda Civic to
Dusk closed in, and even more so. It felt like snow. I didn’t mind. It had been a mild winter so far — cold, but nothing more than rain. I loved a white Christmas, especially if I was getting a Christmas present — a vacuum broom. What did you think I meant? Still, I kept myself in rein. We’d park the cars near my apartment and go directly to The Cavern. If my cowboy — from Houston — why no, ma’am; from Melrose — the queers and steers ghetto — if he wandered off with another filly or proved to be a bad drunk, I’d save myself a holiday headache, although I had plenty of Motrin. Who knows? Perhaps he could sing. I would soon find out as the Jersey Gay Sparrows would be roosting at The Cavern tonight to warble a pink version of an ersatz Christmas concert — a few carols and a Chanukah melody. I had a solo.
I parked in my usual spot facing toward the beach, and then immediately directed Matt to the visitor’s lot across the street. It’s funny how we do things by rote, so much so they become lost in a haze of more important memories. However, I recall the precise logistics of that first date, for that was what this was. First dates were always awkward. Did he adjust his hair and hat before turning off the engine? Did he lock the doors? Did he hesitate before crossing the street? And, most important, did he take my hand or did he shuffle beside me down the street? In fact, Matthew Kieler didn’t hesitate, nor did he straighten his hair and hat or lock the truck door. He just strode to my side, and then rocked awaiting my directions. So I hooked myself on his arm and moved him along the street to The Cavern’s entrance. He only said one thing as we moseyed along. I’ll never forget it.
“This place must be pretty in summer.”
And I thought, do you mean to stay around and find out?
The bar was bellied with the beach bums — Sam, Kurt and Mother. They weren’t really bums, but they always seemed to be at the bar from the time I entered to the time I left — never failing. Mother was the oldest specimen of drag queen to my acquaintance. He must have been seventy and I would love to spin his story, if it were known. However, it was a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Mother, with his sagging falsies, shabby feather boa and askew lipstick was a fixture at The Cavern — as ubiquitous as the barstools.
The Cavern was unique. Thinking about it, years before the fire that razed it to rubble, the place had three huge rooms — a front bar, a dance floor (actually two dance floors) and a back bar. The back bar opened onto a volleyball court, where in summer we could watch the players volley in their all-together. In winter, the court was a vacancy between the back bar and the shack. The shack had yet another bar — more intimate and the place for pick-ups.
The Cavern was just that. The walls and ceiling were tan stucco, sculptured into stalagmites. The floor, except the dance areas, was uneven and gravelly. Bruce Q., the owner and a real queer StarWars geek, was inspired by the outpost bar on Mos Eisley. I often imagined Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo drifting in from the beach in search of the Millennium Falcon. The room was hung with a variety of rubbery and plastic cave creatures. The most fascinating was a thing Bruce Q. called the Zippilin, a cross between a bat and a cat. He had it rigged on a cable and, every once in a while, the thing would go sailing over the dance floor and yap like a Zippilin, however a Zippilin yapped. Scared the crap out of new visitors. The veterans just howled.
When I pulled Matt into The Cavern, no one was dancing. No one dared, even though Carlos, the DJ, spun platters. No one dared trip over the dance floor before the bewitching hour, when Donna Summer blared over the two eight foot speakers. I waved to Teddy Fitz and to Sam and Kurt, and then presented Matt to Mother. Matt was withdrawn, but that didn’t discourage me. As the Christmas elves spread the spirit, I believed he would come to life. He was a product of a gay ghetto after all —
“Mother,” I said. “May I introduce you to my friend, Matt?”
Mother’s face broke into a clownish smile. She raised her tattered begloved hand for my caress. Matt looked away — nerves bubbling. Drag queens might have been his discomfort zone — at least seventy-year-old chicken-boned crones like Mother. I learned that some gay men shunned drag queens, perhaps sensing their own inner Ethel Merman wanting to pop out and sing That’s Entertainment. This reaction was not unique.
“Matt?” I nudged.
“Glad to meet you, Miss.”
“It’s Mother,” croaked The Cavern’s icon. “Make yourself at home. Mi casa is su casa.”
Mother had somehow made the place her own over the years, the poor dear. I knew she would launch into a history of
“What’ll you have?” I asked.
I grinned. Was this to be my Sugar Daddy for the evening — Computer Programmer cash? Merry Christmas, Martin.
My usual changed from season to season, but it was, if I recall at the time, a thing called a Suffering Bastard — a double rum and
The drinks were duly prepared and served on holiday napkins.
“Where’s your elves hat?” I asked Teddy.
He laughed, and then plundered the bar for a pink stocking hat. On him it looked like a head condom. Matt laughed, and it was about time.
“C’mon,” I said, pulling Matt off his too permanent stool.
“The back bar. Santa wants to take a picture of us.”
“I don’t photograph well.”
“Hell. We all look like shit when sitting on Leather Santa’s lap.”
A queue had already formed and the music had changed to Deck the Hall with Balls of Folly.
“And what should Santa bring you, little boy?”
I giggled, Santa’s bony knee up my ass, and Matt blushing on the other knee.
“A vacuum broom. And it better have all the attachments.”
“Oh, attachments,” Santa roared. “And what might you be doing with those attachments?”
“Never you mind,” I said, standing abruptly — so abruptly, Santa’s other knee gave way, Matt sliding to the floor, his cowboy hat flying off. Mother retrieved it. She donned it and on her, it was the stuff of nightmares.
“Did you lose this?” she asked.
Matt’s good spirits fled. He snapped it off Mother’s head, brushed it off (the hat, not the head) and rushed back to the front bar. I shrugged, and then followed.
I fully expected that he would be gone. Why do I pick these guys? Where did they come from? I gather them like moss on a log.
I got to the edge of the empty dance floor, and then halted. My flighty Texan hadn’t fled. In fact, he seemed as companionable as ever at the bar and with . . . Russ, who flitted in the shadow of Customer Chris, who from a distance bookmarked the stalagmites.
“Is that your date du jour?” came a voice, a rather masculine voice. I knew it couldn’t be one of my fairy companions.
“Of course that’s our Martin’s latest squeeze,” came a silkier voice.
I turned. It was my favorite ladies, if ladies you could call them — Ginger and Leslie. We hugged. Ginger, she of the deep voice and butch hair and beer belly, was less a hug than a tackle. However, Leslie’s stylish coif tickled my nose. I had known these two forever — or at least it seemed so. They both sang in the Errata Erastes Choir — Leslie a soprano — Ginger, bass.
“Which one?” Ginger asked. “The tall drink of water or the cowboy?”
“That’s no question,” Leslie said. “The cowboy. We didn’t bring our Martin up to use a stepladder in bed. Besides, he’s more Russ’ type. Right?”
“Correct, you are,” I chirped.
“Well, he’s cute,” Ginger said.
“Like you would know,” Leslie chimed in. “If he had tits, you might dance a hoe down there, but he’s definitely mucho macho, with that shadowy chin and those . . .”
“Dreamy eyes,” I said. “But I’m afraid he’s broken.”
Ginger tugged my waist, nearly breaking my back.
“They’re all defective.”
“At least, the ones you’ve picked up.”
“Standard fare for you, Martin dear.”
“Why should you be surprised?”
I pulled away.
“Stop it. It’s Christmas and I won’t be denied my New Year’s broken heart.”
“So you’re getting all the way to New Years?” Ginger asked.
“Shush, Ginger,” Leslie said. “He’s been known to get as far as Three King’s Day.”
They roared, but went suddenly demure, gathering me close.
I followed her finger, and sure as hell, in came three of the most obnoxious members of the Jersey Sparrows — from their
“You should save him,” Ginger said.
“If Todd gets his ear, he won’t be able to hold up that cowboy hat.”
I didn’t need to be told twice. The other chorus members were closing in also. They must have come in a choral caravan. They traipsed across the threshold in duos and trios, all sizes, shapes and degrees of camp. However, my concern was my date. I wouldn’t mind Matt joining the chorus, if he could sing, but Todd, Padgett and Mortimer were a troika from the Otterson clan, a rich New Birch entrepreneur, who, in my personal opinion, should stay in Oz and await a house to fall on him. I had my experiences with that coven. I got to the bar just as Todd opened his chubby mouth.
“Todd,” I said.
Padgett flanked me, and then reached behind toward Matt.
“Who do we have here?” Paddy asked.
Matt was talking about life in
“Christmas,” Mortimer said. “Bah, humbug.”
“Just because we only sang one Chanukah carol at the concert, you’ve become a bitter queen.”
“Become?” Paddy echoed.
“And I was going to buy you a drink,” Mort said.
“That would be the day,” came a rugged voice. Ginger.
“Ah, the bulldogs are here.”
Ginger growled, while Leslie chuckled.
“But no one answered my question?” Paddy complained.
“Why we only sang one Chanukah song? They’re not called carols.”
“No.” Padgett turned again toward Matt, but Russ stepped into the fray.
“Which one of you knows the line-up?” he asked.
“That would be me,” Todd said.
“Don’t believe him. The only line-up he knows was after that raid in
“Now, don’t knock it,” Todd said. “
“Well, if you two don’t know,” Russ said.
Todd and Padgett gave each other their usual withering glance. I never understood them. They were like oil and water, but were inseparable, always feeding off their essential differences. I guess they were a microcosm of the world, and thus we orbit. In either event, they marched to the small dance floor, calling the rest of the choir to attention.
“They’re sure jittery,” Matt said.
“That they are, love.”
I remembered that he smiled, a foam mustache hugging his bristling upper lip. I wanted to lick that foam away. Here was a stranger. They don’t know ya. They don’t wanna know ya. In fact, he was stranger than other strangers that I had met — an out of towner. A professional man. A cowboy and as skittish as a pancake on a grill. Still, I was a sucker for his lips, although we hadn’t locked them together yet. A thought crossed my mind — dump the chorus tonight. They don’t really need my solo. Russ could sing it or Jasper. Jasper was just itching for it.
“Martin,” Padgett called. “Are you a part of this chorus or not?”
Not. But, yeah. And who died and left Padgett director. The director hadn’t arrived, and probably wouldn’t. He often let us sail without him at impromptu gigs.
“I guess you’ve got to line up,” Matt said.
“Do you sing?”
“Like a frog.”
“A bass. Come join us.”
“You’d be sorry. And if I do, not tonight.”
I gazed at the double line that mottled across the dance floor. There they were — Padgett, Todd, Mortimer, John (in full drag), Jasper (hoping, no doubt, that I had a sore throat), Rob and Ron and Ron and Ron (three of them — three too many), Russ and Harry, and Henry, and Brian . . . and Leslie and Ginger. I guessed they were the only Errata Erastes’ here tonight.
“Go,” Matt said, and then he kissed me. It wasn’t much of a kiss and it stunk of
Suddenly, the crowds disappeared, only he and I, alone and suspended in the midst of this Christmas carol, my voice leading him to a pre-passionate state. I’m not sure whether I could still end the number and return to The Cavern’s cabaret mirth. Still, no song goes on forever. It either finds its cadence or perhaps its coda, but never lingers beyond the last note. As I folded my hands in my ultimate Sleep in Heavenly Peace, I somehow knew there would be a last note. I looked forward to the coda.
We ended with a rousing Chanukah number with Leather Santa prancing at the dance floor’s margin and Mother managing something like a hora. Christmas became a Jewish wedding. On the last chord, which might have been the Lost Chord for the Lost Tribe, the Zippilin was let loose across the stage, cawing a strange Bruce Q. Merry Christmas. The DJ struck up Everybody Dance Now and five angels in jock straps hopped forward — three waiters, a bus boy and some new cutie, who I knew not. A general cheer went up as both dance floors were jammed with gyrating merriment.
I waved to Matt to join me. He hesitated, but finally moseyed to the margins, where I picked him off like a carousel ring, pulling him onto the dance floor. Russ and Chris the Customer joined us for a foursome. I was always amused at how gay dancers congeal into this modern version of a reel — sort of a square dance at King Henry’s court, where no one touched, but everyone danced around everyone else. Even Ginger and Leslie vied to make it a sextet crashing through our central core, wiggling their asses with lesbian aplomb.
The set was endless — one of those Black Box numbers designed to burn calories at the gym. The disco ball glittered and the lasers flashed, and all the while, the Zippilin barked or meowed or cawed. Finally, the dance slowed. I got to try my sultry steps out on my cowboy. He wasn’t sultry at all — in fact, he shuffled about like a klutz. But his eyes were glued to me, and that’s all that mattered. So I wiggled my tush and flashed my eyes. We were all smiles, until my friend John cut in.
John was a sweetheart — a petite drag queen, who did shows at The Cavern and other venues. He was a weekend queen, never dressing up for work or at home. He was barely nineteen. So, with his baby face, in drag he was a butter pat on an English muffin — all nooks and crannies. Bring the Strawberry jam in, please. When John slipped between us, Matt shuddered. I had a feeling that the drag queen phobia might erupt, and I wasn’t far from wrong. I mean, Matt didn’t throw up or anything, but his shuffle became a syncopated walk. His hands went crabby and he glanced at the bar as if the Coronas were calling him to shore.
Finally, John began to brush against me and then Matt. I should have known better and discouraged it, but I’m a natural flirt. I increased my swish and soon John and I were in full swagger — girls on the patio sort of thing. Matt stopped still, his face drawn — deep disappointment. Then he fled, but not as I supposed to the bar, but to the back room.
“What’s with him?” John asked. “Jealousy bone?”
“I don’t know, hon. I don’t think so.”
John grabbed me about the waist, and then grinded.
“He should lighten up.”
“I think he has a problem with hot mamas, like you.”
John released me and stopped his routine.
“He’s from out of town,” I explained.
“From Mars, maybe.”
“Now, Johnny, be good. He’s my try-out Christmas model.”
John raised his hands high as if to serve the cheese or the Baptist’s head.
“You’d do better with anyone else here, sweet Martin.”
I looked about the dance floor. These were my sisters, not my lovers. True I had been frisky with many of them, but then they were stuffed back in the pack and drawn out only for color and snappy conversation. I spied that boor, Todd Moorehouse, and shuddered. Now this would be the only new frontier, and I’d rather slit my wrists than be intimate with any of the Roy Otterson crowd. No, my sisters were my friends, not my lovers.
“I suppose I should see where he’s off to,” I said, shrugging.
“If you must,” John said. “But if he’s fallen down a sewer drain, I’ll be here waiting.”
“You never wait long, Sis,” I said, and then darted toward the back bar.
“Russ.” He was easy to find, given the bookmark Customer Chris, whose head scraped the stalagmites. “Have you seen . . .”
“The Midnight Cowboy?”
He cocked his head toward the volleyball court. I sighed. It was friggin’ cold outside, but I didn’t want to get my coat. Still, I was obliged to look.
The volleyball court was strange that night — empty and a baffle for the music. The jollity from the shack echoed across the hollow of this solitary spot. Crouched on the sidelines was my cowboy, his head between his legs, eyes racked on folded arms. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure this man out. No amount of phobia could produce such a reaction, unless he was on something and I hadn’t detected the dosage.
I sauntered over, towering above him. He didn’t move, so I hunkered down, and whispered in his ears.
“Noise too much for you?”
He shook his head, never raising it. This was going to be fun. Merry Christmas, Martin.
“Well, too much beer in your tummy then, I supposed.”
He sniffed, raising his head. Those sea-blue eyes were cushioned in vermilion.
“I’m sorry,” he said with his soft drawl. “I guess I’m not ready for fun and games.”
He grasped my shoulders, and then hugged me.
“Hold me, will ya.”
Since he was holding me, I guess I had no choice. Still, I felt his heart beating on my chest.
“What wrong?” I muttered. “What’s upset you? Was it John?”
“He didn’t mean anything, you know. He’s always flirting with me. We’re just sisters.”
“No,” Matt said. “That’s not it. It’s that he reminds me of . . . someone.”
News at eleven. There was someone else — someone gone or left behind.
“That’s okay,” I said. “You don’t need to tell me.”
I really didn’t want to know, but it looked like the time was ripe, or at least the Coronas primed to the appropriate level.
“You should know,” Matt said.
He stood, helping me to my feet. He seemed better, but marginally so. It was cold and my hands were like ice blocks. I blew on them, but Matt took them into his, warming them, and then guided them into his pocket. That was sweet and provocative, but he wasn’t flirting or easing towards foreplay. He was just keeping my hands warm so he could unburden his heart.
“His name was Luis.”
Was. Past tense.
“Let me guess,” I said. “He was a drag queen.”
“The most beautiful drag queen you could ever set eyes on. He performed at la Chiquita Club in the
He sniffed again, and then clenched my hands closer.
“He was soft like . . . like you sorta and had a considerable following. He sang like an angel.”
Like me, sorta. I had a sinking feeling.
“Is that what you’re after,” I said. I collected my hands and did my own warming. “I’m no one’s stand in, you know.”
“No, no,” he said. “That’s not it. I know that people are different and when something is over, it’s over. But Luis was never over in the sense that we broke up.”
“Then he’s waiting for you in the
“I wish he was. Not that I can’t be with anyone else, but Luis is . . . well, he’s . . .”
He couldn’t say it, and he didn’t need to, because I wouldn’t let him.
“Killed him, they did. Bastards.”
“No, no, Matt. It’s okay. You don’t need to go through it. You don’t.”
He bawled, his head buried in my shoulder, his warm tears freezing on my shirt.
“He was such a little performer, he was. He didn’t mean any harm, but he sometimes got into trouble with some of the rougher trade. They’d call him names and he’d toss it right back at them. But that night, they waited for him. They waited and . . .”
“No,” I said. “You’ll not do this to yourself. You’re here with me and on Christmas. I’m the ghost of Christmas Present, and the ghost of Christmas Past needs to stay in the past or you’ll never be free of it.”
“It’s not that easy,” he said. “But . . .”
He sighed. His eyes were cast down onto the court. The thumpa-thumpa-boom-boom of the dance floor rumbled in the night. The laughter from the shack was in a different world. Suddenly, Matt gazed up at me. I think it was in that moment — you know the moment. Rare as it is, sometimes the fates conspire to snare the soul and the heart into a universal song, one without ending . . . never ending — never ended. Never. It was then that I knew that this Christmas gift was more precious than a vacuum broom. I scratched my head with my frozen mitts.
“I’m cold,” he said.
“I’m warmer.” The stars above were beckoning me home. “But we’d be warmer in bed, don’t you think?”
“Do you have one of those down comforters?”
“Genuine Eider,” I said. “An Icelandic beauty.”
“Thank you for your generous offer.”
“It stands only if you can leave Luis . . . outside.”
“That’ll be hard. Very hard. But, you know, the best part of Luis is inside me. He’d make a great acquaintance, if you let him. He sang like an angel — just like you.”
I grasped his hand. Cold hands in the dark.
“Well, it’s Christmas,” I said. “I guess we can let an angel watch over us.”
Suddenly, an angel appeared at the door. I shuddered, and then laughed. It was a smoking angel in a jock strap — one of The Cavern’s crew — the waiter — Bobby.
To read another excerpt from Look Away Silence, go to September 29, 2009.
To purchase the paperback, click http://www.amazon.com/Look-Away-Silence-Edward-Patterson/dp/1448651921/ref=tmm_pap_title_0