The Donor

Chapter 3
      The next week Terry's fortunes changed for the better. He almost didn't bother to call the company where he'd had the baffling interview. But he ran out of followup calls to make, and he ran out of cold calls to make, and he ran out of other things to do, so he called them out of the need to be doing anything at all. His call went through a long series of largely unidentified people before he found himself speaking to the same man, who greeted him with a warmth as puzzling as his coolness during the interview.
      "I've just come from a meeting. I was going to call you this afternoon. Look, I wonder if there's a chance you'd like to look at a slightly different position here? I think we have a job that's right for you. New opening, haven't advertised it yet."
      Terry bussed over as fast as he could for the second interview, this time with an enthusiastic committee. He walked out with a job -- and a promise from Jack to show him the best places for lunch. It was a promise Terry meant to make him keep. Jack was going to be his supervisor, which put limits on the kind of friendship that could develop.
      He took a bottle of wine over to Mary and Eurick's place to celebrate. They were as ebullient as he was. Mary embraced him, the scent of roses from behind her ear sweetly reminiscent of the symbolic cookies they'd had for dessert. Eurick held the bottle at arm's length, smirked, and intoned: "I never drink . . . wine," invoking the old movies they'd watched on a bedsheet in Eurick's basement.
      So many weekend nights they had spent like that. Late night television in the halfblack of somebody's livingroom, or Eurick's ratting 16 millimeter movies. It was Craig, lubricated with Sangria provided by some liberal parent, who could most accurately render the accents of the great doomed Middle European actors. But Eurick wasn't bad at it either. Tonight the pose he struck, slightly off-keel and gloating, was good enough for a James Whale camera angle. He was certainly pale enough, and glittery-eyed enough.
      "You do the honors," Mary said, handing Terry one of those skeletal combination corkscrew-canopeners. It was old and dull and slipped on the cork so that the fang of the canopener end bit deeply into Terry's palm as he bore down on the bottle. He put the wound to his mouth. "Damn, I can be so clumsy."
      "It's all right, Eurick, I'm taking care of it," Mary said quite loud and quickly, pushing Terry into the bathroom."
      "It's just a scratch," Terry said in the doorway. "It doesn't need anything."
      Mary pushed him down on the toilet seat. "In this house we always stop the flow of blood," she said. She put a thick wad of gauze over the wound and taped it down tight.
      "I'm not infectious or anything," Terry said. "A little bandaid would have been good enough."
      Mary's eyes went wide. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to imply anything. This is what we do for anybody in this house. Really."
      Eurick had opened the wine meanwhile and was playing with the corkscrew, picking his teeth with the fang. He had a dreamy look. Terry warmed to it. But seeing Terry, Eurick dropped the corkscrew on the table with a clatter. "Well, let's drink to you, then, Terry," he said with an unexpected intensity that caused Terry's face to burn.
      "Can I have some of that too?" Dylan asked. Eurick and Mary exchanged a glance and nodded. Mary half filled a glass with water and dropped enough of the wine into it to give it a pink color. Dylan raised his glass with the adults.
      "Many happy returns," he said solemnly, and frowned when the adults laughed.
      "So, do you have a place to live yet?" Mary asked suddenly over rabbit curry. Eurick, who had never yet partaken of a meal in Terry's presence, was lounging in the chair at the far end of the room. He'd only taken a sip of the wine, but he seemed affected by it. He'd more or less dropped out of the conversation, and sat staring into space, occasionally studying Terry briefly. Terry was disconcerted: not least by how much this pleased him.
      "No. I haven't really started looking. My room's good enough for now. It's right on the J line. I've always liked the J Church."
      "The flat downstairs is empty," Mary said.
      The look that passed between Mary and Eurick was a fat tome: but Terry couldn't read it.
      "I don't know if you'd want to live here," Mary said. "With a kid upstairs, and we keep odd hours. And you're working downtown."
      "I think it would be nice to already know my neighbors," Terry mused. At least now when he was a little drunk he thought it would be delicious to live in Eurick's shadow. Two men to think about, both unattainable. Maybe the stimulation would spur him on in his nighttime forays, enough to actually meet someone. Or not, he reminded himself in an attempt to maintain a philosophical attitude.
      Suddenly Mary seemed to lose her enthusiasm for the idea. "I don't know. Maybe you should see it first."
      Mary was holding the key for the landlord. They went down the back stairs into the little square yard.
      Mary's vegetable garden was crammed into three tiers sloping up from the middle patch of cement. A short umbrella-style clothesline dominated the space like the cross on Mount Davidson dominated its slopes. Mary puzzled with the lock and key. Eurick asked Terry about the chain.
      "It lies next to my heart," Terry teased, and drew it out of his shirt. It caught a little ray of the low-lying sun causing Eurick to squint painfully. He nodded his head with an ironic-looking smile.
      "It really does look right at home on you," he said,.
      "You should get her to make you one. The cobbler's children?" Terry said.
      "No, it just wouldn't suit me. Silver makes my skin itch." He paused to rub his lower lip with one finger. "I have a metal allergy."
      The apartment was smaller than the upstairs one because some of the space was given over to the minimal garage. At this time of day it was overshadowed by the hill, but with the creamy white walls, it wasn't oppressively dark, even with the floors and woodwork all stained in a dark color. The three rooms strung out in front of the kitchen in the railroad-flat style had generous open doorways -- the only door was to the bathroom. It was a comfortable, contemplative space, Terry thought, a place he could bring a man home to.
      "It would be so nice to have a neighbor we know for once," Mary said. "Sometimes months go by and we don't see anybody but each other and the post office clerks."
      "I suppose it would be good to have a friend nearby," Eurick said doubtfully, frowning at the floor.
      Terry said, "I love this place. I want to live here."
      "I'll get you the landlord's number. And we'll talk to him too," Mary said.
      Terry looked at Eurick. "I won't be bothering you folks at all. I'll be going to work early, and out visiting at night. I read a lot. You can forget me except when you need me."
      Terry arrived at the flat with his duffel and two boxes. He had a few things back East to send for but he was looking forward to spending some time in an empty, clean, uncluttered space. He was coming home to those clean white walls to regenerate. He paused at the door and looked back down the slope of the street, the bungalows sidling shoulder to shoulder down the hill. A pretty view to walk out into each morning, and inside, those clean white walls.
      But when he opened the door he found his pure white walls transformed. Mary had been at them. Now they looked like her place, garlanded around the windows and doors with amulets and talismans, phrases in Latin, words in exotic scripts, stray Chinese character. And little bunches of dried flowers everywhere, over the windows and doorways, dangling from the light fixtures -- and a bowl of potpourri in every room. Holly and oak and mistletoe in the potpourri. There was a sign painted over every socket and switch plate.
      It was disconcerting. His pristine white cave had been made over gaudy and busy. It was hysterical, like the scene with the blood, as if Mary were trying to ward off some contagion of his. But it was Mary who had invited him to come.
      In the kitchen there was a salad bowl with more garlic than he would use in a year, and a loaf of that herbed bread, and a bottle of Mary's own salad dressing. On the sunny windowsill in the service porch were three little flowerpots with earnest grassy plants, crowned with balls of tiny white flowers. He sniffed one: garlic again. Somehow this made him think she had done this to welcome him, not to protect against him.
      He meant to restore his walls to their former purity sometime, but he left the decorations there for now. For now, it was not so bad to be living in Mary's world. He did set about collecting furniture, a piece at a time, from the thrift shops scattered throughout the Mission District.
      The thing he asked himself was whether moving in downstairs from Eurick wouldn't help him shirk the work of meeting new people. He made sure to go out at least a little, and told himself he had his whole life to live and he needn't hurry.
      Mary sought his company often.
      It started with a bowl of stew and a book. On a late Saturday morning, Terry was lounging in the little yard reading a fat paperback. Mary came down the back stairs with her own fat paperback novel and a tray with a large lunch on it. "Oh, you beat me to it," she said.
      "There's another chair," Terry said, "All the room in the world."
      "I won't bother you?"
      "Not if you're reading and eating." Really, he was more concerned about interrupting her.
      Mary sat and they read, without conversing, for at least half an hour. Then Mary picked up the tray and began to arrange it for eating. "Want some?" she asked.
      Terry thought it was more than possible to get tired of various kinds of spicy rabbit dishes, but he wasn't there yet. He brought out a bowl and a spoon and settled back in.
      "So what are you reading?" Terry asked.
      "Trash historical. Always trash historical."
      "Not fantasies?" In the old days, that's what they all read.
      "After Craig, all that stuff about dark powers and sinister purpose isn't fun anymore. I read this stuff and occasionally some science fiction but it's got to be pure spaceships and no magic."
      "Oh. Well, I'm reading this series -- it has telepathy and stuff, but no sinister powers."
      "Trade you when I'm done?"
      "You're on."
      And then there were movies that Dylan and Eurick wouldn't want to see but Terry and Mary loved -- movies with few special effects, but with slow burning passions and troubled glances or musical numbers: often with subtitles. Eurick didn't seem to go out often anyway, and when he did, it was mostly to take Dylan somewhere. Once he went out with Mary, and Terry was Dylan's nominal babysitter, but Dylan mostly slept and Terry had little to do.
      Terry took the bowl of garlic as a challenge and brought home a couple of cookbooks, one devoted to garlic recipes. He didn't intend to make the garlic ice cream. He only really cooked on the weekends. He shared his more successful dishes with Mary and Dylan. Eurick seemed to skip most meals. Mary said he tended to snack late at night.
      Dylan revealed to Terry that his ambition was to be an ambulance driver. He did a convincing imitation of a siren as he ran up and down the back stairs with an armful of stuffed animals or three-inch plastic heroes. He sent his favorite toy, a battery-operated van with six oversized wheels and large enough to carry a raft of helpless toys, careening to the cement landing. Terry fixed it, and Dylan rewarded him with his friendship and confidence. Most of the things Dylan had to say were ordinary: the unfairness of some people who play kickball, the fact that he could run faster than anybody in his school, including the fifth graders.
      "We should go running together," Terry said. "I bet I could run faster than you."
      "That doesn't count," Dylan said. "You're a grownup."
      They did go running together. Dylan's pace was not bad, nor his endurance, though after a bit he peeled off and went to the playground.
      Summer school ended. Terry would get home from work to find Dylan sitting on the front stairs waiting for him. "What's up?" he asked.
      "Nothing. I'm bored."
      "What's with your folks?"
      "Mom's painting, Eurick's doing the rabbits."
      "So. Got anything in mind?"
      "Run to the park?"
      And this, too, became a ritual, two or three times a week, until school started and Dylan was more tired than bored most days. He still came downstairs to visit, and ran with Terry about once a week. Once Jack stopped by at the park on his way to a Saturday brunch. Terry laughed at himself after, at how he had been showing off his relationship with Dylan to get points with Jack.
      As the days got shorter Terry spent every daylight moment that he could tanning in the little patch of sunlight on the concrete out back. He fell asleep more than once in the loose-jointed aluminum chair, waking in the darkness wearing only his shorts and flip-flops. One evening he woke to a tickle around his neck, a tentative cold touching up against one side and then the other. Not yet really awake, he stayed quite still and did not open his eyes. In his still dreamy state he imagined that he was being kissed by some exotic creature.
      A sudden tiny point of a pinprick brought his eyes wide open. He saw Eurick across the yard, staring at him with his two fingers over his mouth. In the half-dark he seemed hardly to be there. In the same moment he became aware that Mary was standing behind him, fastening that silver chain she'd made around his neck. He remembered now, he'd slipped it into his pocket so he wouldn't develop a white line on his chest. He closed his eyes and opened them again as Mary stepped away. Eurick was running already, but turned back to look at Terry. As Eurick's hand moved away from his mouth, Terry thought he saw his mouth, the white teeth biting the tongue, but it was too dark, and Eurick was too far away, Terry couldn't have seen something so small as a man's teeth at that distance and in that light.
      The first small rain sprinkled the earth and Mary commandeered Terry to help prepare her winter garden.
      It was one of those hot days that suddenly punctuate the early fall. Terry worked up a sweat early in the morning as he dug and stirred the narrow ranks of terraced earth. Late in the morning Eurick came downstairs and joined him, reeking of sunblock so thick that creamy peaks of it flecked his skin. He had wraparound sunglasses on, and a baseball cap. Terry was more surprised to see him here than he had been not to see him earlier. In high school Eurick had been sedentary to the point of laziness.
      Terry kept glancing back at Eurick. He never expected to be outclassed by Eurick's power and speed in this type of endeavor. As the sun floated to the top of its arc, Terry stripped off his t-shirt soaked with his sweat, but Eurick left on his long-sleeved shirt. Not that it made any difference to his exposure. The shirt clung to Eurick and demonstrated a most surprising musculature. Where had all this come from? Especially since Eurick seemed to keep to his old languorous habits.
      Terry was interested in the change, but he wasn't sure he liked it. The old soft Eurick was what dwelled in his fantasies, not this lean, defined, powerful man.
      While Terry and Eurick dug, Mary and Dylan brought down flats of vegetable starts and loosened the baby plants. Dylan swung down the railings hand over hand with packets of seeds in his teeth, Finally Mary chased Terry and EUrick away and took over the planting.
      Eurick gazed at Terry with an intensity that Terry relished even though it made him uncomfortable. "If you keep sticking that chain in your pocket, you'll lose it," he said.
      Terry dug in his pocket and slowly withdrew the chain, and even more slowly fastened it around his neck. "Can't have that happen," he said, returning Eurick's gaze.
      "Nope, can't have that happen," Eurick agreed. "Mary would have to make you a new one and it makes me sick when she does silverwork."


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