The poetry in writing is the illusion it creates.
(© 2017 by the author)
The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's
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I knew something was wrong the minute he walked in the door.
“Nothing.” I knew better than to go any further. I could hear him in the kitchen slamming cabinet doors, rummaging around in the frig. I’d seen him like this before, but it always passed. This time I wasn’t so sure. I moved quietly into my bedroom and closed the door.
I knew Charlie better than anyone in the world. We were born ten minutes apart. Except for a birthmark under his left arm, we were identical in appearance. Mom could tell us apart – most of the time; Dad just assumed. It was up for grabs with everyone else. And we took advantage of it in every way possible. In high school we would exchange shirts mid-day which added to the confusion of our friends and teachers. It was fun and we had a good time together.
Our years in college began to show a divergence. He majored in science and girls; I had a tough time holding my own in economics and the arts. He was fascinated with World War II and Anne Bancroft. I began writing stories and articles for the college newspaper. I was surprised and disappointed at his reaction when I sold my first story to The New Yorker. He hardly noticed.
He met Anna and soon after that, he asked me to be his best man. Of course, I said yes, but I wondered if I was his best man. The distance between us grew. We were twenty-five when he and Anna were married. I was happy for him but felt left out. I hardly saw him after that.
About a year later I heard rumors that he and Anna were not getting along. I mentioned it. He said I was crazy and changed the subject. Mom and Dad noticed a difference at holiday gatherings. Anna was bright and cheerful, but it didn’t ring true. Charlie was sullen and close-mouthed. I knew better than to broach the subject.
By the end of their second year of marriage they had separated. Charlie eluded that Anna had cheated on him. I was shocked and had a difficult time understanding it. I wasn’t close to Anna but friendly enough to ask her out for coffee. She agreed. I think she knew what I would ask her. She didn’t hold back when I did ask her, admitting that she was seeing someone else and wanted a divorce from Charlie. She hadn’t told Charlie of her decision, and I, of course, promised not to say anything to anyone.
When I asked her what had gone wrong, she looked up at me as tears ran down her checks. She wiped them away but they kept coming, “We never consummated our marriage.” I was struck dumb. My mind just whirled around for a few seconds. She told me I was the only one who knew and made me promise never to mention it. I agreed but could not wrap my brain around what she had told me.
“Nothing in all that time?”
She just shook her head.
“How about before you were married?”
“I told him I was saving myself and wouldn’t do it.”
“Could he be asexual?”
“I don’t know, Chris. He avoids talking about it.” She obviously felt relieved that she had someone to talk to.
I ventured into another territory, “Could he be…”
“…gay?” She didn’t hesitate to finish my sentence. “I don’t know. I hoped you would have some insight on that.”
“Anna, I know him better than anyone else in the world and that never crossed my mind.” We fooled around with mutual masturbation when we were kids. It was nothing more than experimenting like most kids that age do. I just could not imagine that he was gay.
“I know you think I’m a terrible person…”
“…Anna, that’s not true. That’s not true at all and never will be. I think you’ll come through this a stronger person. I hope we will remain friends.”
“Yes, Christopher, I would like that. This will be hard on Charlie, but, hopefully, a relief at the same time. I take some comfort in knowing you’ll be there for him.” She told me she had hired a divorce lawyer and was filing for divorce citing irreconcilable differences as the reason.
I figured that was the last time I would ever see Anna, and waited for Charlie to tell me of the divorce. The knock on my door came two weeks later. When I opened the door I could hardly believe it was Charlie. He looked drained and terribly unhappy. “Charlie?”
He walked into the foyer. As I closed the door, he turned to me and burst into tears. I grabbed him and held him tight. His vocal sobs tore at my heart. I came to tears myself as I felt the pain he was in. He clung to me like a life raft as his world seemed to be slipping away from him. His knees gave way and we slipped to kneeling on the floor.
When the passion subsided, he sank back on his haunches and looked at me, “What am I going to do, Chris?”
I got up and took his hand, “I’ll make some tea and we’ll have an old fashioned chin wag.” I pulled him to his feet.
“What the hell is a chin wag?” We walked into the kitchen.
“It’s something I heard in one of those British movies. It means we’re going to talk, I think. Sit, I’ll make tea.”
Charlie obediently sat down, “She filed for divorce.”
“Yes, I know.” I put the kettle on the stove.
“How do you know?”
“I had coffee with her not too long ago.”
“Why?” his question was laced with betrayal.
“Because I wanted to know what the hell was going on?”
“You had no right.”
I glared at him.
“Ok, you had a right, but why didn’t you ask me?”
I glared at him again.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
I put two cups on the table along with a tin of tea bags.
“I have to find a place to live.”
“You mean that?”
“Well of course I do. I miss you, Charlie. It will be good to have you around again. You take the spare bedroom. If you get out of line I’ll just beat the crap out of you like I used to.”
Charlie got up and threw his arms around me and began to laugh, “If memory serves me right I used to beat the crap out of you.”
“Technically yes, but I let you win.” He laughed and sat down. I poured hot water in the cups and joined him at the table. We talked into the wee hours of the morning. He laid everything out on the table for me to see. The closeness I had missed was back.
“I still love Anna. It’s just that when we…”
“It’s in the past, Charlie. Time to move on. The next hurdle you have to jump is Mom and Dad.”
“Oh jeez, what am I going to tell them?”
“Well, you can start with … the truth – not all of the truth, simply say it wasn’t meant to be.”
“Will you be there?”
“Of course I will. Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Mom will turn three shades of green as her dreams of grandchildren fade, and Dad – he’ll chomp on one of his cigars. It should be fun. Christmas is next week, tell them over the dinner table. You know how I hate this traditional stuff.”
Charlie began to laugh out loud; I thought he’d never stop. Memories of past episodes at the dinner table came back with a clarity that sent us into volumes of laughter.
Charlie moved in, it was like old times again.
Many thanks to Khris Lawrentz(aka) Gerry Young for his tireless proofreading.