The next day Terry didn't have the stomach to make the rounds or even to read the want ads again. He stood at the phone booth holding a pair of dimes and the card with the phone numbers from the night before. He thought of the faces of the men who'd given him the numbers. barely interested, fading into the twilight of the bar.
He called Mary Thiele.
Mary's voice sounded richer now, and she had fewer precious idiosyncracies in speech. She didn't sound surprised to hear his voice -- just pleased.
"Come on over right away," she said. "Dylan's at summer school and I want you to myself for a while."
She lived on the un foggy eastern slope of Diamond Heights, a dozen uphill blocks from the phone Terry had used. He walked, feeling better already as he chugged up the sunny hillside past the rows of little pointed houses poking their peasant faces over their tiny front yards abandoned to wild pink valerian or stiff with shorn boxwood or juniper topiary. He found Mary's house easily. The upper story of the bungalow was reached by a long rickety wooden staircase whose stability was threatened by a furious growth of nasturtiums and tiny pink roses. As he came up the stairs he saw that the windows were crisscrossed with mystical artifacts, all different. He was startled coming up to the door by the bright colors of the god's-eye woven of ravelly yarn on rough twigs. Startled again to see that it was painted, not real. It looked so real he could anticipate the rasp of the woolen fibers if he touched it.
Mary answered the door in a big canvas smock and well-preserved jeans with tiny paint stains over all. She wore a leather thong hung with a complex array of talismans. She looked a little paler, a little slenderer than Terry remembered her, though she was not in the least insubstantial even yet. She embraced Terry as a long lost brother and drew him into the apartment which impressed him as a glow of light and air. There she held him at arm's length and squinted at him through the light. She clearly did that a lot, squinting: though her skin was firm and unlined elsewhere, she had a deep set of crow's-feet.
"So how are things with you, Terry? What brings you back to the City?" That arrogant San Franciscan trick, as if there were one city and all the others were not cities but something else, something lesser.
Terry sank warily into one of th soft roundish things that seemed to serve the purpose of chairs. "I kept hearing this was the capital of the homosexual nation and I decided I had better see for myself." Apparently this was his week for blurting.
Mary settled cross-legged on the floor flanked by a small table topped with brushes and paints and mysterious small tools, and a rank of baskets with yarns disposed by color. Behind her stood a tall tapestry loom with about half a presumably allegorical weaving on it. "I'm not so sure," she said. "Events don't always seem to bear it out. There's a lot of society here, anyway, if not much capital."
The startling thing was her lack of surprise. He hadn't said anything before he left: he had been trying, still, to think that he was only attracted to Eurick, not men in general. And he'd never written about it. Either she had lost the capacity for surprise, or she'd figured it out herself, maybe before he did.
"So -- how do you like it so far?" she asked.
"I really don't know," Terry said, relating his Castro street adventures and yesterday's strange interview as humorous anecdotes. "But the food's good at least."
He looked around. The room was clearly Mary's studio as much as it was a living room. Her work hung on the walls and leaned against the floor. The only sign of Eurick was the repetition of a figure and face that might be his. But if it were Eurick's face, he'd changed more than Mary.
"Do you need anything?" Mary asked. :I don't imagine you have a lot of contacts here."
Terry shook his head. "No, I think you and Eurick are the only people I'm planning to look up."
"I kind of lost track of mostly everyone too, after Craig died," Mary said.
"I can imagine . . . I wish I'd been here, to give you my sympathy, back then."
Mary looked up, stark, almost fierce. "It was a relief," she said.
She got up and walked into the kitchen, which was a section of the room defined by a row of cabinets. "Craig made my life hell," she said, as Terry rummaged around in his mind for something to say. Her voice was calm, as if she were recounting some other person's life. She moved around the kitchen area, pulling out tools and food. Her mother used to do that, too -- cook or wash dishes while talking to people, as if they were part of the family.
"So. How old is Dylan now? I guess he must be getting pretty big." Terry felt the awkwardness of the subject change, as if he was reproving her with Craig's child. Not what he meant to do.
"Seven." He face lit up. "You wait. You'll love him. We's a great kid. He's really attached to Eurick, and Eurick's really attached to him. They're lucky to have each other."
She lifted a large blue teakettle down from a high shelf. She filled it with water and set it to the flame, frowning pensively while Terry failed to come up with an appropriate comment.
"You know," she said. "I think I've been happier these four years than ever in my life before. Even with all that happened. Craig just wasn't like a regular person. He didn't feel the same things other people do. It's so much easier to understand Eurick."
"I never understood Eurick," terry said. "I liked him --" he almost said he loved him -- "and I admired him, you know, his generosity, his friendliness, his cleverness. His ability to handle social situations. But I never understood him. He was always doing something for somebody, but I never knew what he wanted for himself." Or dared to hope that he could guess.
"Well," Mary said. "Forgive me, but it would have been unrealistic to expect you to understand anybody in those days." She smiled. "Before you understood yourself."
Terry let it pass. "So how come you married Craig in the first place instead of Eurick? Do you mind my asking?"
"Well, you know how it was with Eurick in those days. Everybody wanted him. Right?" Terry grimaced in acknowledgment. "And who could tell with him whether he was being generally friendly or specifically loving? And Craig. Craig seemed to really want me at the time."
"That makes sense,"
"But what Craig wanted wasn't me in particular at all, but something else. I was just a piece of the apparatus for getting it."
"What was it?"
Mary looked blank.
Then, "I almost figured that out. But it's scary to think about what life would have been like he'd gotten it."
"Anyway, you ended up with Eurick after all."
She produced a teapot as red as the kettle was blue, stared at it for a moment and turned to a rack crowded with little containers and knotted bags. She chose one of those and filled her palm with some kind of dried vegetable matter. "When Craig was sick only Eurick was able to help me. He was there all the time. You know how he is. He did the dirty work, too, not just the easy stuff. He was already better help with Dylan than Craig ever was. Then Craig passed the disease on to Eurick and I helped him through that. Taking care of each other brought us together."
Terry searched the room again for signs of Eurick as Mary went on with the arcane process of making tea. His eyes fell on -- Eurick himself, his cheek gone pale and his jaw gone firm, his full lips pinched at the corners, his eyes feverish. He was still, in Terry's eyes, beautiful, though he'd clearly lost more than youth. As if he had never quite recovered from the illness Mary had not named. His hand rested on the shoulder of a small wiry shorthaired boy, with a tiny curl like a piglet's tail at the nape of his neck and a silver chain dipping into his t shirt. It was the kind of chain that the boys were wearing these days, thinking somehow it made them look tough.
Eurick studied him with his head cocked like a bird. "Terry?" he ventured at last, as if he couldn't believe it.
Mary triumphed. "Look at him, doesn't he look good? I bet you run, don't you, Terry? I thought so, that's what you look like. You look just like Dylan, and he runs everywhere he goes."
Eurick hung back, smiling, not coming closer or offering to embrace Terry like the old days or even to shake his hand. At least the smile framed by deep creases looked genuine. But the lack of a physical greeting was really different.
"So you're back," Eurick said. "For good?"
"I don't know. I think so."
"Too cold back East?"
"Just about. Icy. So I'm out here looking for hot times in the sunny Mission District."
Eurick wavered. "Look, I'm sorry to be a bad host," he finally said. "But I'm going to have to leave you and Mary for a few minutes. I've got a deadline and I have to call in some work." He didn't wait for Terry to answer, but melted through one of the two doors next to the kitchen area.
"He works from home, like me," Mary said. "It's a lucky thing for him. He only has to deal with people once in a while."
Terry couldn't keep his eyebrows from raising. Eurick had been the one who was friends with everybody, able to carry on conversations with the jocks and grinds and the guys who flaunted their Hippie Hill experiences. Now he was "lucky" not to have to deal with people.
Eurick apparently worked in software, and Mary was not surprised that Terry did the same. He mentioned being a librarian, but did not this time run on about what a privilege that job had been, an exaltation to seek and find what people wanted, to gain them access to the storehouse of human experience and opinion. The gratification he could not have described anyway, from placing right into a person's hands the exact book or magazine or citation they needed, even if the right question had not been asked.
"Well, lunch is ready, we can eat," Mary said, and Terry got the pungent-smelling pot and carried it to the large brass cruciform trivet on the table which nestled up against the kitchen counter on the livingroom side. Dylan, who had disappeared, reappeared with bowls and round spoons -- three. "Rabbit stew again," he said, with a face that said his mock complaint was not meant to hide a kind of pride.
"We raise them," Mary apologized. "You know about urban homesteading? We practice French intensive method gardening out back too."
Tearing off chunks of an intriguing brown bread, she continued, "I hope it isn't all too spicy for you. Since Craig died I've been kind of a health fanatic and I use garlic and herbs kind of to excess. People say. We're used to it and don't notice mostly. They're very protective," she added, somewhat defensively. "I'd feel defenseless without them. Garlic is good for your cholesterol and your blood pressure and it's an antibacterial too."
"Not to mention keeping away evil spirits," Terry joked.
Mary looked up and around at the room, festooned with equal-opportunity talismans and fetiches. "Don't laugh too hard," she said. "My little hobby has been very good to me. Those superstitious toys give me a good living." She nodded her head to indicate a series of medium-sized paintings along the wall, each one bordered with crosses and stars and less familiar motifs.
Mary's warning was on target. The food was all very strong tasting. The brown bread, with its chunks of garlic and whole little bitter leaves scattered through it, was different from anything Terry had ever eaten. He did like it, and he said so.
Conversation began to lag as the meal ran down. Mary asked Dylan about school and Dylan was evasive. He volunteered that one of his classmates was stupid and prejudiced because he kept saying that bats suck people's blood. "I told him bats just eat bugs and stuff and he wouldn't even listen."
Just when Terry thought he ought to be leaving and was mentally composing his farewells, Eurick emerged and Terry relaxed again into the straight back of the chair.
"That's taken care of for a while," Eurick said, his fingers trailing across Mary's arm as he passed to the far end of the room. He sat down under a large tapestry depicting a figure raising its arm to a sky filled with fantastic flying things. Whether the gesture was a demonstration of power or an act of supplication or warding Terry couldn't tell. Eurick looked as if he'd fallen asleep over his work and had intriguing dreams, flushed, with softened features and almost the suggestion of a smirk. "So. Tell me the story of your life, Terry," he said.
Terry recapped the last fifteen years with too much ease. Though his life had seemed, as he lived it, to have a reasonable number of events in it, in the telling it sounded flat, bleak and lonely to a degree he hadn't noticed at the time. -- Though he had been conscious of being a fish out of water in so many ways. In every group he'd been the Only: either the only westerner, or the only person with his taste in music, the only person with his politics, the only librarian, the only gay man, the only runner.
Eurick was not so forthcoming. He said he "did software" freelance, and went into no detail. Then, "I was lucky enough to move in with Mary after Craig died. I'm the beneficiary: I got a ready-made family out of the deal. I don't know if I'd ever have had one otherwise."
Dylan lingered with the grownups for a little while, making a show of collecting and stacking the lunch dishes. Terry felt him watching him. He wondered what the boy wanted from him. He couldn't remember what he'd thought of his parents' unfamiliar visitors. Suddenly he walked over to Terry and dangled his silver chain before him. It was hung with three or four charms. "You should have one of these too. I bet my mom would make you one. She made this one."
Terry, caught off guard, giggled. Shrugged. "Why do you think I should have one?"
"Because everybody around here wears one. You said you were going to live around here, right?" Mary and Eurick were both very alert, watching this conversation. Terry had noticed other parents doing this too, uncomfortable when their children spoke for themselves.
"Sure," Terry said, and didn't have to say more, because Dylan galloped grinning out of the room,
"You've got a fan," Eurick said. "He doesn't take to everybody. It's all been kind of hard on him."
"The funniest thing," Mary started. "I just made a necklace like Dylan's a little while ago. I don't do much silver work, but I just felt like it. And what's funnier, is I was thinking about you when I made it. I'd just uncovered your last letter and I was just thinking about you and that ankh belt you used to have. Do you still have it? It looks like it would still fit you."
"Funniest thing," Terry repeated, rolling up the hem of his cotton sweater to reveal the buckle sitting perfectly aligned over his neat fly. "I carried it everywhere I moved to. I don't usually wear it," a slight artificial laugh at the great understatement. "But I got it out the other day and I've been wearing it ever since. You know Eurick gave it to me, don't you?"
"Yes, I remember," Mary said, with her own self-deprecating laugh: and Terry remembered it was the same night she had given Eurick the unsettling gift. Then, "Wait right here," she said, ducking into one of the doors that opened off the main room.
She came out gently swinging a silver chain that was both rustic and delicate, with three little talismans hanging from it. He recognized the St. Andrews Cross and the weird little hand, but the third thing was new to him, a thing like an anchor with a very thick bottom.
"Duck your head," she said and stood over him like a queen about to bestow a knighthood. Terry looked into her too-serious eyes for half a beat, and then bobbed his head indulgently.
"See, it's long enough so you can tuck it into your shirt. But wear it outside, It becomes you." She backed up with her head to one side, admiring the effect.
Eurick agreed from across the room. "Mary likes to put those on people, but she's right this time," he said. "I like it. Kind of an ironic contrast to your generally preppy look. I'd like to see you in it all the time."
Terry had a dangerous thought: he could make Eurick look at him.
Terry lay long awake that night. He hadn't failed to notice how Eurick kept his distance through the whole visit, despite his warm words and interested questions. In their high school days, they'd all been touchy-feely: the group hug had been in vogue. Eurick had been freer with his body than anybody in those days. Terry remembered his first hug fest, how he'd hung back, stiff and uncomfortable, both longing for and dreading the contact, and how Eurick had drawn him in. Another time, much later, he'd lingered a fraction of a moment too long in Eurick's arms. Eurick looked at him in a puzzled way but neither of them said anything about it. They hadn't even felt it necessary to avoid touching each other after that.
to The Donor
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