The Donor

Chapter 5

      In the morning the day was fine and cold and Terry ran twice as far as usual. He met the usual phlegmatic cats and eager dogs. One of the cats arched its back sensuously and curled its tail around a fencepost as he ran by. There was a golden retriever who liked to join him for a block or two, circling its tail like a propeller. Today it ran three blocks with him before it went back to its home.
      When he got back the phone was ringing. He picked it up, still breathless, and wasn't really surprised to hear Jack's voice.
      "This is going to seem swinish of me," Jack said, "But I wonder if you could meet me at work for a while. I woke up with pains in my gut worrying about the project and you're the only one I think I can impose on to come in and put out some fires with me."
      Terry thought maybe Jack was being swinish -- it was clear last night that Jack knew about Terry's attraction to him, and here he was exploiting that affection to get him in to work on a holiday. But Terry was willing to be exploited, today, so he didn't have to think.
      "When were you thinking of?"
      "After lunch. Or we could start with lunch and talk about these problems that are keeping me awake nights. I could pick you up. Save you carfare."
      "No, I'll meet you," Terry said, to get out of the house that much earlier.
      Under the shower, no longer distracted, Terry kept remembering Mary's strange confession and the look on Eurick's face. The rabbit blood was real. And -- if it had been Craig upstairs, Terry could believe almost anything. But Eurick had been so gentle. Terry couldn't remember any time when Eurick had been cruel, not even when teasing his friends. Well. He did look tender with the rabbit lolled in his hands.
      Jack's face was closed up tight over lunch, strictly businesslike. Terry matched Jack's professionalism. They agreed to put in two hours, but it was dark when Jack loomed up behind Terry.
      "Sorry," said Jack as he slid his jacket on, "I didn't mean to make you work so long on a holiday."
      "Not your fault," said Terry. "I got carried away. But look at this." He ran through what he had done while Jack stood over his chair.
      "That's good," Jack said with an unaccustomed break in his voice. "Now go home. Can I drop you off?"
      Terry considered his odds for asking Jack in, decided they were slim, and declined. He took the streetcar, not the J which would take him home, but he waited for the M car and rode it to Market and Castro.
      He was getting better at the socializing aspect of this, but he seemed to miss the moment where an invitation would slip in gracefully, and he ended up going home alone. He wanted to connect so badly, he was sure that was keeping people away -- like the cat who comes to the back door for milk, skittery, barely welcome, too needy to be completely acceptable.
      There was no place to go Saturday morning but he invented one. He walked around till he thought a bookstore would be open, and then he sat and read till his eyes swam. He bought a couple of fat steamy novels and took them home and read all afternoon until he thought it was late enough to take off for the Castro.
      Sunday: about the same.
      Monday he went to work early, came home to change his clothes, and came home again at closing time but only because he struck out.
      By Thursday he was tired enough to come home and sleep straight through from five in the evening to six in the morning. Friday he went running for the first time in days. By now he had enough distance from what he'd seen that it was less real to him than the man he'd been with Wednesday night: which is to say it wasn't real to him at all.
      After work on Friday a number fo people from the office went out together. The bar was decorated for Christmas, like the whole city. Most of the decorations had been up since Halloween.
      It was so much easier to talk in this mixed group, where he wasn't trying to make anything happen, where he didn't want anything from anybody. Except maybe Jack. Jack was still confusing. Most of the time he treated Terry like everyone else. Other times Jack was so formal with him that Terry couldn't help thinking he was going to get his pink slip at the end of the week. But still other times Jack would take Terry to lunch on the pretext of work talk. Then Jack would be all over the place, smiling incongruously, holding Terry's gaze too long.
      Today the conversation got around to old movies. It should have been a safe topic for Terry, armed as he was with his parents' enthusiastic expertise and his own voracious adolescent viewing (largely at Eurick's house). The conversation got out of control, though. They started out with film noir and before he knew it Terry was defending Bela Lugosi as a comic and dramatic actor, against the incredulity of a woman named Lana whose clear eyes and defined chin Terry could envy. She said she couldn't believe that Lugosi hadn't looked as corny in 1931 as he did fifty years later.
      Terry said, "Just take the chance some time to watch the Todd Browning 'Dracula' again. Then pretend you're in a stage audience. Tell me you don't swoon."
      Jack shook his head irritably. "I don't get the attraction of the whole vampire bit. I don't like the equation of sex and death."
      The obvious subject loomed behind his words. The ubiquitous concern. AIDS. There was a short silence while the group waited to see whether it was going to be taken up or allowed to fall away. Terry didn't wait for it to fall away, he turned his back squarely on it.
      "In general, I don't either. We used to watch those old movies all the time in high school. That was the only one which was convincing. That sadness in the guy -- this doomed almost-nobility. You feel sorry for him, the way he talks about it, like you'd be willing to help him out somehow. And when they finally do do him in, it's almost sweet, like a gift, to set him at rest."
      Right away Terry wished he hadn't. He really didn't want to sound so eccentric in front of Jack. But Lana had been hard to resist. She was always an irresistible conversationalist. Her station was near his, and they lunched together sometimes. He gathered that Lana's supervisor didn't share Terry's high opinion of her wit and intelligence.
      This time, her witty conversation had allowed him to mire himself in a subject he'd been avoiding for a week. He changed the subject. "The actor whose popularity I could never understand is Dana Andrews. He was perfect in the sordid film noirs, but they actually cast him as a romantic lead, and I don't get that."
      "Casting against type? You never know," Lana said doubtfully.
      "Well, I'm headed home," Jack said to the group in general. "Want a lift?" to Terry. Who did.
      "But not home yet. Could you drop me off at Castro and Market?"
      "Right," Jack said, dryly.
      Terry picked up more than a trace of disapproval. He sat silent in Jack's car. He wouldn't justify himself to someone who already had his own social circle. And he certainly wouldn't try to turn his failure into a virtue, by pointing out that he rarely actually had sex with any of the men he met.
      The sky was just beginning to lighten and the air was sparking with sharp points of dew when Terry came home. It was finally cold. Terry kept his hands in the pockets of his jacket and shrunk into himself. His apartment would be stale from disuse. He had been coming home on the last bus every night If he could have spent the whole night somewhere else he would have. He should just move away.
      There was the gate, attached as tenuously as a shedding tooth. Eurick was standing before the door, just under the stairs, without a jacket. Maybe it was the cold that made him look so pitiful. His face looked deflated, his lips pinched out of fullness. Terry looked past him to the door with hits occult decorations, but he waited for EUrick to have his say.
      "I'm sorry I offended you," Eurick said softly.
      "No offense," Terry said. He heard EUrick breathe in deeply. Absurdly he thought this was proof the whole thing was fiction.
      "I don't want you to think badly of us. Of me," Eurick said.
      "I don't think badly of you," Terry said.
      "Mary misses you. You're the only person she really has to talk to."
      Terry thought: what about you, Eurick? But he said, "Well, I've been out a lot lately. Life in the fast lane."
      "I hope it's because you're having a good time."
      Terry shifted his weight. "I suppose you could say I'm having a time."
      Even without looking at him, Terry could sense Eurick's straining expression. This was new. He'd never has a supplicant before. He'd fantasized long ago about pleading his case to Eurick. He'd never imagined Eurick pleading his case to him.
      "You're wearing that chain." Eurick's voice was thick.
      Impatiently Terry flipped it out from inside his jacket and looked at Eurick's face for the first time, feeling the scowl on his own face.
      Eurick winced in a way that was becoming familiar to Terry. And that gesture -- hand to mouth, as if he had to push his lips into a weak smile.
      "Oh well," Eurick said. "I imagine you need some sleep. It's been a long week, eh?"
      "You could come in for coffee," Terry blurted. "The day's just beginning." He had a rising feeling that, Mary or no Mary, this might be his moment. Whatever happened, he could sort it out later. He put his hand on Eurick's cold arm but Eurick was hard and still and he didn't move.
      Eurick's eyes gleamed but he shook his head. "I can't come in, Terry," he said. "I can't. You come on upstairs when you've slept."
      "Eurick, I'm inviting you in now. I'm sure Mary's asleep and won't miss you for a little while."
      Eurick rubbed his finger across his lip again. "I don't think you get it. I can't go in your house. It's fixed. Don't you remember your movies?"
      Terry fought down a chill. He had almost been able to forget the game that Eurick and Mary were playing. "Well, if you're going to be that way about it, I did invite you in. If I understand you."
      "I hope you do understand me. Try, anyway. I think I understand you. Don't push it. For your own good. And Mary's. She needs a friend."
      This time Terry said it. "What about you, Eurick?"
      Eurick had begun to walk away. At the foot of the stairs he turned back and said, "Me too. I need a friend."
      He had barely wakened again when Mary sought him out. She was going Christmas shopping, she said, and wanted him to come along. If it wouldn't be too boring for him.
      "Not boring at all. I need to do it too." He had nieces and nephews. And a family which tried, over-earnestly, to take him as he was. He'd be spending Christmas week with them in Southern California, where they had moved in a feckless attempt to alleviate his mother's asthma.
      Terry was expecting a confrontation, but the day was as Mary said it would be. Mary made Christmas shopping a philosophical exercise, with a running exegesis on the nature and purpose of gifts and the statements that could be embedded in each possible choice.
      Mary had a number of nieces and nephews herself, since she counted the children of Craig's sister and Eurick's brother's ex-wife -- including one from before that marriage and one from after the divorce. "Too complicated for me." Terry said. "I'm glad my sisters are still with their first choices. And they all live in the same county."
      "I don't worry about the exact relationship. In a family like mine, if you're a stickler, the kids lose out. For kids, the gift is more than just an acknowledgment of the family ties. It's an acknowledgment of their own realness."
      Mary said this while scowling at a rack of brand-name baby dolls with various realistic body functions. In the end she picked up a smallish doll with very fine facial features and no gimmicks, good, she said,. for the three-year-old, because it could go in the bathtub.
      "My sister's three-year-old is a boy," Terry said.
      "Give him this, here. It's a very boyish doll. And if he doesn't get a doll at this age it will be too late because he'll already have absorbed the idea that it's not a boy's toy. But this one is so boyish that his parents can't object. And it's washable."
      "Okay, what about Dylan?" he asked finally. "I thought since what Dylan and I do together is run, I should get him something sporty. But I don't know what he likes. I'm leaning towards soccer."
      "Dylan likes everything," Mary said. "And he adores you, so whatever you pick is going to be right. And valuable: Eurick doesn't do that kind of thing."
      Terry picked a soccer ball off the shelf. Inexplicably, many of the balls had age ranges printed on the open cardboard boxes in which they were cradled. Terry got one that wasn't rated, thinking the ones for younger children might burst if kicked by an adult.
      Mary didn't shop for adults. "All the adults on my list get Mary Thiel originals. All year I do smaller pieces as I'm working up designs for the pieces that I sell. In the winter I go through them and decide who to give them to. It's hard to give them up, but satisfying when I get them matched up."
      "I have trouble with it, myself. I can't seem to hit it right," Terry said. "If I buy something that's supposed to provoke them into dealing with the fact that I'm gay, they don't notice. But if I give them something that's just supposed to be nice, and neutral, they think I'm trying to provoke a scene. And I don't want to do that -- I hate it when my mother has an asthma attack. Everything stops until it's under control."
      "You've always been responsible for your mother's emotional state. I remember when they said they were going to move after graduation, and you asked them whether they really thought pollution would be better than fog."
      "It turns out they're living beyond the worst of the pollution. So she's been doing okay. Still, when things get rough, so does her breathing."
      He wondered idly about Jack. He decided that the most he could get away with was a card -- completely standard, or humorous. Nothing actually sentimental. While he was deciding this, he missed a bit of Mary's next statement, where she explained how she ended up with the suggestion that he should "buy them a big old coffee table book about old movies."
      Finished, they headed to a restaurant. Mary said, "Let's have kung pao chicken for a change."
      "A change from kung pao rabbit?" Terry teased.
      "Don't laugh, I make it. If it has garlic in it, I make it. If it has meat in it, I put rabbit in."
      "Do you get tired of it?"
      "Why do you think I wanted to eat out?"
      The restaurant was cozy and on the dark side. Mary closed her eyes as she sat down. Opening them, she said, "It's nice to step out of the role sometimes. It's nice to be in the dark."
      Terry had spent the day forgetting there was anything odd about Mary's way of living.
      When the waiter came, Mary quizzed him about the strength of the various Szechuan-style dishes before settling on the kung pao chicken she's had in mind to begin with. Terry was inclined to go for a milder dish of shrimp and vegetables, but Mary somehow convinced him to order something crowded with garlic and chilies and he ended up eating a lot of rice to get it down.
      After a bit Mary put down her chopsticks and stared at her plate. When she looked up her expression was strained. Terry was about to ask what was bothering her.
      "You still don't believe it," Mary said. He had forgotten all about expecting a confrontation. "I thought maybe I could let it slide, since you heard and saw and you still don't believe it. But I think what you do believe is dangerous. I think you think we're playing a game. That it's some kind of kink. I can't imagine what you think we do in bed."
      "I don't think about it at all," Terry said quickly. It was almost true. There were moments -- when Eurick caressed Mary in a casual way as he passed through the room, almost without a sexual charge, in that way that old established lovers do.
      "It's trite, what we do in bed, just like millions of other people," she said. Her face colored from effort, her voice was harsh. "When I said Eurick lives a normal life, I meant it. I don't get off on controlling him. The stuff I do is to control the thing he has, not to control him. What he has is like a disease, not like a part of his personality. Do you get it?"
      "No," said Terry. "But it's all right. I don't have to."
      "No, I think you have to. I thought at first you didn't. Because you were the normal person. We could act like normal people around you. It could be another piece of the normal life we've been building."
      "Right. Like Uncle Walter. Every normal family has its Uncle Walter."
      "I guess," Mary said, biting her lip. "I wasn't thinking like that. But you don't always know what you really mean by things."
      "Oops," Terry joked. "So all those presents we bought this morning are time bombs. They might mean anything. Not necessarily what we mean them to mean."
      "No, I think when you put in the thought we did today, you can make things mean what you mean them to mean."
      "Now we're talking like people in Alice in Wonderland."
      "Humpty Dumpty. But he was talking about ignoring the meanings of words, and we were talking about picking things with the meanings we wanted. And now I'm talking about living in the situation I really live in and building meanings out of what I do in my life. Not ignoring things. The opposite of ignoring things."
      Terry wondered whether he had to help Mary talk this thing out or whether he should change the subject to something safe. He remembered what he had said about his parents, and decided he had to stay with her until she was done. He waited to see what she would say next.
      She took her time.
      "The thing is, what I told you before is true. If you shined it on so much that you don't remember it at all, I'll refresh you. Eurick is a vampire. We live our lives around that fact. The whole deal -- the symbols, our diet, the silver -- it's like insulin for a diabetic or quinine for a guy with malaria." Her hands, half-open, made a tense gathering gesture.
      Terry was distracted by it for a moment. Finally he asked, "So what about the rabbits?" There wasn't any way to ask that wasn't abrupt.
      Mar squeezed her temples and words came out. "Eurick's idea. There's something about the blood that he needs. The blood isn't the disease."
      "It works? There can't be all that many calories in rabbit blood."
      "It's not the calories. I used to try to figure it out. But I can't translate it into normal nutrition."
      "He never eats."
      "He does. Not much, and not at the same table, usually. He eats bland stuff. You know -- he's a vegetarian. Other than the rabbit blood."
      Terry laughed -- but he remembered Eurick handling the rabbit so gently.
      Mary laughed too. "There's a lot about it that's funny. The whole thing is ludicrous. We're so solemn about it mostly, and that's pretty dumb. But life wears you down sometimes and you forget to laugh about things."
      "So he's a vampire of rabbits." Terry smiled, relieved that, whatever it was, it was no more than that.
      Mary hesitated. "Yes," she said, drawn out tentatively so that Terry knew there was more she should be saying but she wouldn't say, not now, not here, not to him.
      "The blood isn't the disease," she said again. "The disease is a threat whether he gets the blood or not."
      "If the blood isn't the disease, what is?" It was a silly conversation, Terry thought, unless it was true.
      "What happened to Craig was that his greed became himself," Mary said. "No, that's not it. But you know how people talk about sharks, that they're prey machines? Craig got to be like that. Like he wasn't a person. The thing is, he went out of his way to get that to happen to him. I'm sure he must have known that might happen to him,, and he went ahead with it. Don't you think that's weird?
      "Maybe he didn't believe it."
      "I think that's not it. I think he didn't get what was so bad about it. And I think that was the difference between Craig and other people. I think another person would be horrified at losing all the loving and caring parts of themselves. The parts that worry and feel guilty and try to do the right thing. I think Craig thought those parts of him were not interesting or important and he was willing to shed them for the promise of . . ." she trailed off, frowning at the wall behind Terry,
      "Did he ever tell you what he was after? Or how he went about it?"
      "He never made sense. He talked about freedom and longevity. He made it to twenty-nine. I guess he would have lived a lot longer if it hadn't been for me and Eurick. Mainly Eurick. I figure what he meant by freedom was just that he could do what he wanted to. Without worrying about other people. But -- that means he wanted to do the kinds of things you can't do if you worry about other people."
      Was she saying that she and Eurick killed Craig? "How did Craig die?"
      "I asked Eurick. At first he thought he had killed him himself. But it didn't really make sense, the way he told it. They did do an autopsy. They said he died of an aneurism. That made sense. Eurick never really had time to do more than show Craig he was equipped to stand up to him."
      Terry shook his head. He remembered what Mary had said about Craig. You said he somehow made the thing happen to himself and also to Eurick. How did he do that?"
      "Something else that makes no sense. He told Eurick a load of mystical nonsense. I think it's more prosaic than that. A virus or something. I think it's like a virus, and Craig found a way to deliberately expose himself to it, and a way to pass it on. Eurick stopped speculating about it after he poked around in Craig's things afterwards. You'd think I'd have found all that before. But I only found the least informative bits. Eurick said Craig brought it all out for him, to try to convince him. But Eurick said it was all garbage, with no way out in it."
      "What did you do with it, then?"
      "I didn't. Eurick destroyed some of it, put some of it away, and took the old books to Moe's and Cody's."
      "So Craig tried to convince Eurick? Convince him of what?"
      "Nothing that makes sense. "
      "Maybe he thought if Eurick were like him, they could do things together."
      "Eurick said something like that. But he ought to have known that Eurick couldn't ever be like him."
      Terry gestured for the check. "Wishful thinking," he said. "Not so unusual when it comes to people dealing with Eurick."
      Mary looked at him, startled. "Of course," she said with unnecessary emphasis, "You're exactly right."


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