The Donor

Chapter twelve

      Terry called Mary and asked her to come downstairs. Her voice sounded unbothered, but Terry's stomach churned as he waited for the sound of her feet on the back stairs.
      The kettle was building to a boil, the coffee filter filled, mugs on the table. He was hanging one of Mary's talisman's up when she arrived.
      "Locking the barn door," she said, her face blanked over with anger.
      "He said I should put things back," Terry said. "I thought you'd approve."
      "Of what?" She stood on the threshold, arms crossed. "I always thought you had sense. I always thought you cared what happened to people."
      "Did he tell you what I said?" He pulled out a chair, and then another, and sat.
      "You said crap." She sat, rigid. The kettle shrieked and Terry bounced up. It wasn't worse than he expected or deserved, but he felt like fleeing from this fury and had to grit his teeth to look at Mary.
      "You've got to listen," he said. "I'm no more self-destructive than you are."
      She snorted, but let him go on.
      ""I've been watching and listening all this time and there were things that just didn't make sense if things were exactly the way you said they were. If the thing was so much stronger than Eurick. The way he acted at Dylan's party. The way he acts in public. And he goes so long after he gets -- hungry --" the word was still hard to use this way, "and there were other things. I', not convinced that the thing that's happened to Eurick is anything like the stories. For one thing, Eurick's not dead. He didn't die."
      Mary shook her head. "We don't know that he died or didn't die or what that means. In the hospital they had to start his heart twice. But what does that have to do with what you did?"
      "It just seemed that you were working so hard at protecting Eurick from something you didn't need to, and it was telling on you. It seemed like the blood thing was more than you really wanted to do time after time and you were so tired. It seemed like I could do you both a favor, give you a vacation."
      "Some favor."
      "It seems to have worked out all right, doesn't it? I'm okay. And if he was worse than usual, you'd have told me, right?"
      She let out a breath. "No, he's not worse. He seems -- more satisfied. How much did you give him?"
      "I don't know."
      "Just an estimate. You must have looked at it."
      "He didn't tell you?"
      "No." Her wide eyes said she wasn't sure she wanted to know.
      Terry poured her coffee first, arranging the sentences in his mind again. "I started out to do it sort of the way you do. I think."
      She didn't pick up her cup. She watched him pouring his own coffee.
      "I didn't know whether he would actually come and get it. So I waited until I saw him before I started to draw the blood. You said it was easy," he said, unable to keep the reproach out of his voice. "I almost couldn't get it at all."
      She laughed. "It was hard for me at first too. Before I got the right equipment." But the smile faded right away. "So what happened?"
      She must know by now.
      "So Eurick kind of -- ended up taking it directly."
      "It's not what I planned. But when it happened, I knew it would be all right. Because I knew Eurick would only take as much as you usually give him. I knew it."
      "Whatever made you think that? Why do you think he asks for all this mumbojumbo in the first place? Because he doesn't trust himself! Why would you think it would be all right to pull the rug out from under him like that?"
      "Because I've seen him. Because I think the reason he wants the stuff is exactly the reason he doesn't need it. He's the same Eurick as ever. Eurick is not a person who would hurt anybody. I don't just mean he's a nice guy. He thinks about things."
      "Unlike some people," Mary muttered.
      Terry didn't deny it.
      "So what's next?" She hadn't touched her coffee. Her arms were crossed on the table top. Some of her hair had come loose from the braid.
      "I don't know. Normal life. I mean, as we know it. I'm not angling for your job. I'm just willing to pinch hit for you when you want me to."
      "I don't want you to. "
      "You don't make it seem so delightful to do it by yourself."
      "Well, you know, a person complains about things. I complained about changing Dylan's diapers too. But it comes with the territory. I'd never have wanted someone to take it over."
      "But you wouldn't have refused if someone had changed a diaper now and then."
      "How's it different?"
      She sighed. "I don't know."
      There was a silence. "Don't you want to know how it was?" he asked.
      "I didn't ask," she said, but he could hear the curiosity in her voice."
      "It wasn't bad. It was kind of enjoyable. Just -- I don't know. I imagine it's like nursing a baby?"
      Mary made a face. :That's just weird, Terry. We try to live a normal life."
      "But you're in a weird situation. You might as well find pleasure in it somewhere," Terry said. You have to feed your kid, so you enjoy cooking. Eurick feels he needs these magic symbols everywhere, so you enjoy the research and making them. How is this different?"
      "You know how it's different."
      "It's because you're afraid it will send you over the edge. Send Eurick over the edge."
      "Yes. I'd rather forgo one of the pleasures available to me than to lose all the others."
      "Why do you think it would be different with you than with me?"
      "I don't know."
      "So -- is Dylan going to summer school again this year?"
      "What a change in subject!" She brushed the loose hairs back, laughing. "There's a whole day camp organized around soccer I thought I'd send him to. I thought he'd get a charge out of it. He's turned into such a little jock. Your influence, I suppose." She got up. "I'm afraid that for everybody's peace of mind we're going to have to restore at least some of what you've undone. Let's go look around."
      Terry waited until none o'clock before calling Jack. Jack liked to take the initiative, he had noticed, and he wanted to give him the chance to do it. But by nine o'clock he decided that the ball was still in his court.
      "Do you want to talk?" he asked.
      "Not right now," Jack said.
      Terry's stomach dropped. "Okay," he heard his voice small and soft and wished it would sound normal. Confident. "Is there a better time when I could call?"
      "Not that I can think of."
      "All right," Terry said slowly. "See you later, then."
      "Right, later," Jack said, impatiently, clicking off.
      By morning Terry's thirst and his enthusiasm had returned. He bought a bottle of mineral water on the way to the streetcar stop and in the light of day he couldn't believe that Jack was really done with him. Jack just needed time. Maybe it was punishment for the lousy way he'd treated Jack the last week. He agreed that he deserved it, and resolved to stick around and take it until Jack decided he'd had enough and came back to speaking to him,
      It was hard to keep up the optimism. Marcia kept summoning him down the hall, and he kept passing Jack's open door, and he kept racking his brains over the right expression to wear: cheerful and friendly, contrite -- or head down, not daring to look up? They were all honest feelings of his. But it didn't matter. As far as he could tell, Jack never saw him.
      And Jack never appeared anywhere close, either. He thought about going to Jack's office at lunch, but he didn't dare. He went for a walk and returned early instead. At the end of the day he hesitated, tapping the "Num Lock" key over and over, until he knew he had to leave or find some work to do. He almost detoured by Jack's door, but he hunched his shoulders and headed home.
      He called Jack as soon as he thought he would be home. The conversation was almost the same.
      "Is it a good time to talk?"
      "Not especially."
      "Okay, well. I don't mean to be a pest. You have company?" Lightly, carefully.
      "No. Just busy."
      "Okay, well. Well, . . .later."
      Restless, Terry hit the street running, ran down and down the hill, nearly falling at every step, and when he hit the bottom he was still running: across the valley defined by Church Street, Valencia, Dolores, and Mission and up the other side, and when he found himself running up Cortland Avenue he realized where he was going. As the pitch of the hill eased up, he pictured himself turning around, throwing himself back down this lower hill, back across the white streets at the valley floor, and back up his own steep narrow street. But he ran on, the breaths coming hard and painful.
      He ran past the blankfaced stucco houses and the sleepy storefronts and the empty storefronts. He'd run a long distance even for him, and he was gasping for breath even before he got to Jack's vertical street. By the time he'd loped up the hill in slow motion he was chilly from the sweat that had soaked his clothes. He stood at the foot of the steps gulping air and hugging himself.
      Finally he mounted the three steps and stood under the tiny portico. As he rang the bell he had the same vision of himself turning and fleeing, flying down the hill away from Jack's house, not having to hear what he had come to hear.
      Jack looked him up and down, not glad to see him;
      "Could I have a glass of water?" Terry asked, not clever: just parched.
      Jack pulled the door open, "You know where the kitchen is," he said, stepping back. The music that was softly playing was something with pianos, complex, atonal and arrhythmic to Terry's unsubtle ears. As he walked through the room to the stairs, Terry saw Jack's ebony table, and a construction on it that seemed to be made of mylar and plastic model parts.
      In the kitchen, Terry gulped a glass of water so fast it hurt going down, gazing out the window, remembering the warm evening Jack had taken him out there on the patio, and what they had done, among the bold architectural-looking succulents and exotics that made Jack's garden. Upstairs, Jack was sitting at the table working on the sculpture with no suggestion in his posture that he might be willing to stop and talk to Terry.
      Terry walked over to his side. "I just need to hear from you once, Jack, and then if you want I'll stop bugging you," he said, surprising himself.
      Jack looked up, pale, his eyes a dangerous color, the no-color of tule fog. The blue and yellow studs on his ear shone brilliantly against his white ear lobe. "That's strange. You dumped me, remember? I didn't hear from you once. No explanation. Just no thanks, Jack."
      Terry sputtered. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to . . . of course I knew I was screwing up." He thought about explaining what he had meant, decided that he couldn't explain it and it was too late anyway. "Well. Thanks. I'm sorry. I'll miss you."
      "You can go now," Jack said.
      "I guess," Terry said. "If you ever want to talk again . . ."
      "No thanks," Jack said.
      It was a long way to run back to his place. Panting so hard it hurt like sobbing, he stood under the hot shower for a long time. He changed the dressing on his wrist. He dressed carefully, and went out.
      Terry was a split man. One man was grieving over the loss of Jack. The other man was gliding smooth and high on the recaptured sense of wellbeing that had to do with giving blood. It wasn't as strong as euphoria, but his mood had a euphoric quality. The light on Castro Street had the summer look, and the street was filled with jostling, calling, laughing men. The grieving Terry felt marked and apart, while the other Terry made eye and body contact with a number of bright-eyed strangers. The euphoric Terry brought along rubbers packed like carfare into his pocket, but the grieving Terry was apathetic about using them.
      Later Terry would try to reconstruct just how he did it that night and the nights that followed, when before his attempts at conversation had been so halting and his success at coupling so spotty. But it was only that he had shed the conversation and reverted to the signals he'd perfected cruising in the parks and roadside rests in his old town. He wasn't trying to make anything more happen. He wasn't really trying to do anything at all, just moving through the night on instinct.
      This was a different sort of pleasure. It was colored by the fact that the men with were, none of them, Jack. It was a bitter thing, but he had always savored bitter things, why should this be different?
      That first night he set the pattern. A man caught his eye and held it. The man was so not-Jack -- with stripes cut into his hair and a bright sweater of a complex pattern --it was the perfect painful pleasure just to contemplate having him. And after him, another man, with a Korean's strong round face. He'd have looked for another, but it was late, and he was already on his way home. He thought about the different colors of men's skin, the shapes of their bodies, the texture of their hair, the smell of their skin: all different, but all the same because they were all not-Jack. He couldn't have Jack: so he'd have all the not-Jack.
      And this was his new routine. Every night that didn't belong to Dylan belonged to the bars and the street: the not-Jack. Weekend days belonged to Dylan and to Mary. She consoled him, saying if the man couldn't give him a little slack for a gaffe he probably wasn't worth having. But she said it tentatively: Terry knew, it wasn't clear that it had been merely a gaffe.
      He didn't stop thinking about it. Sometimes he thought Jack was absolutely right, other times he thought that refusing a ride home was not such a big deal, even four nights in succession. He did come to the conclusion that he didn't want to stop missing Jack, at least not for now. Missing Jack was all he had left of having Jack. But he didn't want to mope all the time either. He managed to enjoy the enjoyable in his life.
      Eurick was more relaxed in Terry's presence now., since the thing he had feared had come to pass and yet their lives went on. It was almost like old times back in high school, the way Eurick greeted him with an arm locked around Terry's elbow, pulling him in to the office to talk shop around the computer.
      The ranks of bunnies all awaiting their fate were a little unnerving.
      He saw Jack's name on the screen. "There are other people in the world named Jack," Terry thought, but as Eurick cleared the screen to show him something he was working on, he said, "Your friend Jack is really out there hustling. He'll be able to quit his job any day now."
      "That's good," Terry said carefully. "It's what he wants."
      "What about you, Terry?" Eurick said. "It wasn't so hard to set him up with a few contacts, I could do the same for you."
      "I do enough hustling after dark," terry said. "Not interested in doing it for a living."
      He was checking Eurick for signs of fading and watching Mary to see what she would do about it. It was only just over a month since the last time Eurick had gotten blood, and he thought he could just begin to see that the peak of Eurick's well-being had passed. If he looked close enough he could see that Eurick was a little paler, and the color under his eyes a little darker. But he was vigorous, still, and comfortable.
      The pace was picking up at work. Marcia was running into interim deadlines, each one harder to meet than the last. Personnel was shifting around. Marcia was getting harder to live with, mostly for Lana. Terry went out to lunch with Lana almost every day.
      "I worry about you," Lana said.
      "I'm safe," Terry said. Grinning, he added, "Usually."
      "I didn't mean that," she said. "But that too. I meant I worry about you being lonely."
      "You're single, and you don't seem to mind it," Terry said.
      "But it's different," Lana said. "You don't seem to like it."
      "Loneliness is the basic human condition. It's not like I lost something I actually, you know, had. What are you doing about lunch?"
      "Salad. I had those godawful muffins in the morning. You should either get back with Jack or meet someone else."
      "I do," Terry said. "Sometimes I meet three or four someone elses in one night."
      "That's not what I want to hear. I want to know you when you're an old man," Lana said.
      "Heaven forbid I should ever be old. But -- I'm so safe it's boring. I probably account for the yearly production of several acres of rubber trees."
      Carefully, he asked her about her relations with Marcia.
      Lana grimaced, an expression that looked surprisingly youthful on her square-jawed face. "Worse all the time. Don't say anything. I have resumes all over town. I'm actually considering one position." She stabbed at her lettuce. "It's got so bad everybody notices it, but nobody seems to be able to do anything about it."
      "I'd be looking for a way out if I were you too," Terry said, remembering he had asked Jack to try to do something about this three months ago and again two months ago. Maybe Jack couldn't do anything about it either.
      Just before leaving for the day, Terry went to Jack's office. He closed the door behind himself, softly, and stood up against it. "I just wanted to say the situation with Lana is kind of urgent," he said.
      Jack nodded. "Go on. I'm paying attention," he said briskly.
      Terry listed a few of the more recent incidents.
      "I'm working on something," Jack said.
      "Good." Terry stood there, silent, waiting for some cue from Jack, but there wasn't any.
      "Well, good-bye," he said, and left.
      The fourth of July came and went. The slide Terry expedited in Eurick's well-being didn't occur. About the time he expected to really see the changes he'd seen before, Eurick just turned around and he was at the top of his form again. Just like that, without the punctuation of the restless, arrogant glow like he had seen in February.
      It would be meanspirited and beneath him to feel disappointed, so Terry didn't. The memory of his May night with Eurick had taken on the patina of a scene from an old movie. It was sweetly confusing when he was with a man who wanted to kiss, and his head would be crowded with images of Jack and Eurick. He went through the nights in an urgent dreamy state, his eyes unfocussed in the spangling glare of streetlights in summer fog. The men he met were not-Jack, but they were not-Eurick too.
      "What we have to do is get about half these basil plants and freeze them," Mary said. "Do you have an hour to help me?"
      "Always when you want me," Terry said. He was glad of the time with her. He knew that after about fifteen minutes of garden work Dylan would skip off and he would be able to ask her about what was on his mind.
      Dylan didn't even last the fifteen minutes, as it turned out: he was off to the beach. Terry waited anyway to broach the subject.
      "Eurick's doing well," he said. "I would have thought he'd be beginning to fade about now. Didn't you say every couple of months?"
      Mary worked on as though she hadn't heard him, but the back of her neck colored up. He was breaking the roots off and dropping them in a bucket for the compost heap. He didn't press her.
      After a long silence she looked up. "I thought I could take you up on your offer. I decided to try giving him less blood more often."
      "So you . . ."
      "Already gave him blood. The first day he looked bad to me, before he even noticed it himself."
      "I hardly noticed anything myself. How was it?"
      Her color deepened, and she bent her head back down. "It was fine. It went just fine."
      A little later, she added, "It was a lot easier. I should thank you. But I think you should be careful."
      "Okay," Terry said. He let the unfinished business lie while they disposed of the compost and took the plants upstairs. They had a production line set up: plants, rinse water, drying towels, freezer bags. They were well into the rhythm of picking off the leaves and preparing them for the freezer before Terry said anything more.
      "What did you mean about taking me up on my offer?" He heard his voice go shy and soft.
      Mary hesitated. "You said you didn't mind giving Eurick blood."
      "Yes, I said that," Terry said, slowly. "It was true." He could feel his heart. It wasn't actually racing. But it had picked up speed.
      "But I don't think you said you wanted to do it regularly."
      "How regularly did you have in mind?" He was holding on to the leaf as if he could lose it. The pressure of thumb against forefinger through the plant tissue was painful.
      "About once every three months."
      "You mean about as often as you used to." Was she trying to get out of it altogether? Was that a good thing or a bad thing?
      "Yes, but less each time. He'll be getting it about every six weeks, alternating you and me."
      Terry laughed nervously. "Mary, you're weird."
      "It was you said that when you live in weird circumstances you have to make weird adjustments."
      "I said that?" He knew he wouldn't say no, but it seemed wrong not to put up some kind of argument.
      "Just look how much better things are now. How easy it is. My period was normal last time because there's so much less stress."
      "When would you be wanting me to do this?" Terry asked. "If I was going to do it."
      Mary passed a bright green bag to the freezer. She stopped, clearly recalculating the days as if she had not done it already several times.
      "Anytime in the first or second week of August would be fine," she said. "The exact date's not crucial. Especially when we're not letting him go so long."
      "What does Eurick think?" Terry asked.
      She stepped back to the sink. "I think," she said slowly, "I think it embarrasses him. I think he likes the idea. I think . . . he's embarrassed that he likes it."
      "It does sort of turn the tables on him. He never used to let people do things for him. He was always fussing over other people, giving them things, watching out for them. Now we're doing it to him."
      "That's kind of nice, isn't it?" Mary said, dreamily, taking another handful of basil from Terry's pile. More briskly,m she added, "Remember to check with me if and when you decide to do it."
      "I'll do it," Terry said. "I'll talk to you first."
      "Be careful," Mary said.

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