A Mutual Understanding
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by Caro Soles
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Gay Fiction
Description: Can a flamboyant young hairdresser find happiness with an up-tight closeted professor in small town New Brunswick in the 1984?. It is 1984. Wayne Robinson is the local hairdresser in the small college town he grew up in. Campy, demonstrative, an amateur artist and a romantic at heart, he quickly discovers an inferiority complex where Professor Adrian Taylor is concerned. Taylor is deeply closeted with a mania for privacy, a dry sense of humor and an endearing helplessness in matters of the heart. When he invites Wayne to move in as his 'tenant', their mutual misunderstanding of the arrangement causes conflict. The haunted house in the old part of town becomes a battleground as Wayne tries to retain his relationship with his new lover, his old friends, and his family. This story has been previously published.
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/MLR Press, LLC,
eBookwise Release Date: October 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [285 KB]
Reading time: 177-248 min.
The Sandersville Post Office, Spring 1984
Clothes are the colors you use to paint your every-day self-portrait. Wayne smiled, pleased with the thought. He shifted the package from one arm to the other as he studied his reflection in the grimy window of Maryanne's Boutique: the flowers hand-painted on his shirt, the choker of bright blue beads around his neck, the butter-soft brown leather of the bomber jacket that had cost almost two weeks' pay. He liked what he saw. He knew the detail behind these broad strokes would not be picked up by the causal observer. But it was certainly more true to life than the picture of the desperately bleached blond teenager he had once created, back in the days when he had let himself be defined by the hostility around him. How he had longed to get away, to go to Saint John or Halifax or Fredericton or even across the U.S. border to Boston. Now if he decided to leave his hometown, it would be on his own terms.
He turned away from the window, crossed the street and walked up the steps of the post office, carrying the large package in front of him like an offering to some pagan god. Inside it was crowded. With a sigh, he took his place at the end of the line and gave an impatient glance at the clock. He knew that his mother would be waiting on the side porch, various bags and parcels sprouting at her feet like misshapen, plastic mushrooms, an expression of long-suffering sweetness on her face. Behind the counter, the young man with the bad skin breathed heavily as he slowly, so slowly, tore off a strip of stamps with great care and slid them across to his impatient customer. Wayne had been to school with the man. He had never been very swift.
"That Fred Martins sure won't make his fortune doing piece work," muttered Mrs. Foster behind him.
"He might if he charged by the hour," suggested Wayne brightly as he turned around."Oh, I love your hat! You look real spring-like. Did you--"
He stopped in sudden confusion. A tall man had joined the line behind Mrs. Foster and was watching him with disconcerting intensity. He was dark-haired and aristocratic looking with a carefully clipped moustache and beard. But it was the brilliant blue eyes that made Wayne lose track of what he was saying.
"You look pretty spring-like yourself," said Mrs. Foster. "You've even got a touch of color in your cheeks."
Wayne laughed nervously, knowing it wasn't the spring sunshine that was giving him added color. The man was still watching him. He seemed totally unaware of the art of small town cruising. Who was he? As the line inched forward again, Wayne tried unsuccessfully to think of a suitable opening. Somehow 'come up and see me sometime' didn't seem appropriate.
"How's your mother?" Mrs. Foster went on."Her rheumatism acting up again?"
"Not too bad, thanks."
"I see you're sending something to Carl. Is he getting along okay now?"
"Fine, just fine. He's got a new job and everything's going great." A few little white lies were sometimes necessary, Wayne thought, especially where his kid brother was concerned.
"It's not his birthday, is it?"
"No, not yet."
Mrs. Foster was studying the parcel as if concentration alone could reveal the contents. Wayne turned away, shifting the bulky package to the other arm.
Perhaps if he hung around for a few minutes on the steps outside, he could talk to that wonderful man.
"Come on, Goldilocks. What are you waiting for?"
"Sorry, Fred. Just can't help myself around you, honey. You know how it is."
"Don't talk stupid."
Wayne heaved the parcel across the counter and was gratified to see Fred speed up considerably in his desire to get rid of him.
Every public building in Sandersville had a flight of steps up to the main doors. It was almost as if there were some unwritten architectural law, perhaps having something to do with dramatizing the superiority of the state to the citizens of a long gone and much more gullible age. The Post Office even had two imposing stone lions stretched out full length on either side. Wayne loitered beside one of them for several minutes before the man emerged. Their eyes made contact. The man turned, walked briskly towards his car and drove away.
And I didn't even get his licence, muttered Wayne, although he wasn't sure what good that would have done him. Maybe the man doesn't go for blonds, he thought. Or maybe he just doesn't like campy, small-town hairdressers. He glanced at his watch and swore. Mother would not be happy with him today.
Main Street was almost deserted at this hour. The bright spring sunshine showed up months of winter grime on the plate glass windows of the flat, two-story buildings lining the wide street. Not much originality had gone into the architecture, Wayne thought. Here and there an effort had been made by various shopkeepers to bring an air of village quaintness to the scene; the red and white checked curtains in the Bakery, the white wood facade with the brass carriage lamps of the Olde Tea Shoppe. The haphazard results merely intensified the dreary, earnest sameness.
Wayne hurried down the street, cut though the alley behind the supermarket and opened the gate of Elaine's back yard. The latch was falling off again and he stopped long enough to twist the screws back in with the aid of his nail file.
"Hi, girls," he called in at the open kitchen door. "Just passing through. No time to dish the dirt today." He could hear the washer and dryer thumping away loudly from the sun porch as he reached up to get the keys for Elaine's battered Plymouth from their hook under the shelf.
"Uncle Wayne! Come see what I made!" Cyndi bounced joyously around the corner. She clutched at his leg with pudgy, flour-dusted hands as she tried to drag him back to the kitchen.
"Not now, sweetie. Sorry. I've gotta pick up grandma."
"How come you're so late?" asked Elaine, appearing behind her daughter, jiggling the neighbor's jam-faced baby on one hip. "She'll be heavily into martyrdom by this time."
"Tell me about it."
"Don't forget you're sitting for me Thursday morning."
"Don't I always?"
"Want to play house, Uncle Wayne?"
"Next time, sweetie, okay? Speaking of playing house, Elaine, I just saw the most gorgeous man in the post office."
"So that's why you're late. Go tell Mom about him."
"Oh sure." He laughed. "See you later."
It occurred to him as he drove away that his life was becoming almost as regimented and family-centered as his sister's. Every Tuesday morning he drove his mother out to visit the woman they all called Aunt Marge and her decrepit mother. Spending several hours in their company did little to expand his horizons, but at least he could take some comfort from the fact that they were no real relation to him. His other morning off he usually spent babysitting for Elaine while she went to her craft class or shopping or whatever she did. As often as not he ended up doing her hair for her too when she came home. He didn't mind. She needed all the cheering up she could get, being married to Gil. The rest of the time he was working, often straight through till nine o'clock at night, all in an effort to keep his weekends free. His wonderful, lost weekends in the city were also the reason, he supposed, for the almost frantic attention he lavished on his family the rest of the week, as if time could be doled out on some sort of credit system, a way of depositing yourself with people for future use. Mostly he tried not to think about it that way. It made him nervous.
His mother was waiting on the porch, leaning wearily against one of the round pillars he and his father had painted last summer. On the way over, Wayne had promised himself not to go into a litany of excuses and was therefore totally disgusted to hear himself say, as he leapt out of the car, "I'm so sorry! I shouldn't have tried to go to the post office. It was so crowded! And if Fred Martins moved any slower they'd have to perform an autopsy!"
"He always did move like cold molasses, that one. Help me with these bags, dear."
"Why do you always wait outside, Mom?"
"When D'Arcy used to take me out to see Marge, I got into the habit, I guess. I'll hold this one on my lap. There's a casserole inside and I don't want the gravy to leak."
Of course you never had to wait for Dependable D'Arcy, thought Wayne crossly as he went around to the driver's side again. Too bad big brother didn't stick around long enough to tarnish the image a bit. It's impossible to compete with an absent saint. He slammed the door and started the car.
His mother was small and pretty, with faded blue eyes very much like his own. She was partial to crisp flowered prints with Peter Pan collars. She was quite vain about her dainty feet and always wore wildly impractical shoes. Today, for instance, for this trip to a farm on a gravel road the locals called the eighteenth line, she was wearing black patent leather shoes with Cuban heels and open toes. Noticing the new footwear, Wayne smiled. He understood completely.
"Have you seen much of your friend Earl since he moved back from the city?" she asked as they drove out of town. "I hear his dad gave him his old job back."
"Yeah. He had to beg for it, though. I guess old Mallory never heard of the prodigal son."
"I don't think the two cases are similar, dear. He owns a furniture store, after all, not an abattoir." They laughed together, their voices rising and falling, crossing back and forth, audible reflections of each other. Wayne's irritation faded with the sounds of their amusement just as his mother's face lost the patient lines of fatigue that had been there when he arrived. "We always see the funny side, don't we?" she said, wiping the tears from her eyes.
Marge and her aged mother lived in an old farmhouse that had been built in an age of large families and little plumbing. The blueprints for the place had evolved out of her grandfather's head as they went along, which gave the house an air of uncertainty, as though it was never sure how it was supposed to look. When Wayne was little, it seemed to him that there was always some sort of building going on which made the Duchenes' an exciting place to visit, especially in comparison to his own organized, smoothly running home on the edge of town.
Now the deep pasture in front of the house had returned to marsh land and there were no sleek cows grazing anywhere. The wide veranda along the front was unpainted, the front door that was never used had plastic sheeting tacked across the door frame. Wayne drove around to the back where successive additions had multiplied, each one smaller than its predecessor, until it ended in a dispirited tar-papered woodshed.
"Things sure aren't what they used to be," sighed his mother, handing him a series of bags and packages. Why Marge and old Flo needed so many supplies, Wayne had never understood. He suspected that at least some of it ended up as dinner for the pigs, a few of whom still rooted around listlessly in the muck outside the weathered barn. Seeing the barn made him think of Clarion. Be still, my heart, he murmured to himself and followed his mother up the creaking wooden steps and into the smallest of the back porches.
"Yoo-hoo, Marge! Here we are!"
"In the front room, Doris."
A large, placid dog with a white snout waddled around the corner and gave a few token barks. Wayne patted her, paying special attention to the ears. The dog whined with delight.
"I was beginning to think you couldn't make it after all," Marge called.
Wayne avoided his mother's reproachful look as he took her coat and hung it in the closet. With an automatic gesture, she checked her hair in the hall mirror as she passed. So did he.
Sunlight poured into the large room through limp lace curtains tied back at each side of the window. Marge was sitting on the edge of the sofa, struggling to get a slipcover onto one of the cushions.
"Every time I wash them, I have to go through the same battle to get them all back on again." Marge punched ineffectually at the bulge that still ballooned defiantly through the gaping zipper. She was slightly out of breath and one rigid iron-grey curl had slipped over her forehead. She stood up, patting at her ample self vaguely as if checking to see if she was all there.
"Let me help, Aunty Marge." Wayne stepped forward magnanimously, knowing if he didn't, his mother would volunteer his services. She was a firm believer in the superior physical strength of the male, no matter what evidence to the contrary she might see before her. Since Marge subscribed to his mother's view of the world, she handed him the cushion with alacrity. He was glad to note that the noisy lime greens and burgundies of the hideous pattern were finally fading and after a few more washings, should be almost bearable. Luckily, Aunt Marge considered the mere suggestion of dirt a matter demanding immediate action.
Marge's aged mother Flo was nodding over the large Bible she held clasped in her massive arms. Her small puffy feet rested on a vinyl footstool.
"Hi, Mrs. Duchene," said Wayne brightly.
She peered at him uncertainly. "Who are you?" she demanded, her voice quavering peevishly as she fumbled for her glasses.
"It's Wayne, Mama. Doris's boy, remember?"
Flo blinked and seemed to pull herself together visibly. "It's the sun," she mumbled. "Turn my chair a bit, will you, Marge? It's blinding me." There were casters on the legs, but even so, it took the combined efforts of Wayne and Marge to turn the unwieldy armchair away from the window.
"You're a good boy," said the old woman, patting Wayne's hand. "Have a peppermint. They're around here somewheres."
"No thanks, Mrs. Duchene. I'm on a diet."
"Nonsense, dear," said his mother, who had come back from the kitchen in time to hear this. "You look peaked to me."
"He needs a good woman to look after him," said Marge. "You'll see. There's a girl out there for you somewhere."
"I don't think so," said Wayne.
"Sure there is. You just haven't met the right one yet."
Marge had been waiting for him to 'meet the right girl' since he was fifteen years old and looked more like a girl than some of his female classmates. Of course all his mother's friends were of the same opinion, but most of them had stopped pushing it. Only Marge went on, week after week, patiently waiting for the right girl to come into his life.
"Did you hear about Robbie Zacks?" asked his mother, changing the subject. "He was caught smashing streetlights last night."
"Last time it was car headlights," said Wayne, still struggling with the cushion.
"What's that?" Flo leaned forward intently. "Did you say Zacks? The man's no good. Never was. Never will be. He jilted that poor Isabelle Starkie who used to live over on the fourth concession. Or was it the fourth line? I wish these country roads had names instead of numbers. It's so confusing."
"Who is she talking about?" asked Wayne.
"Robbie's father, I think. He jilted half the girls in the county, to hear her tell it."
"I hope they throw the book at him this time," said the old lady. "When do we eat? I'm starving."
"I put the casserole in the oven, Marge. Just let me check and see if it's ready."
Lunch was usually eaten in the same room on wobbly TV tables because Mrs. Duchene refused to move any more than necessary and didn't want to eat alone. Afterwards she went off for a nap in her room, to the accompaniment of much huffing and puffing and pausing for breath.
"It won't be long now," she quavered, leaning heavily on her daughter. "They're all waiting on the other side. I hear the sound of wings ..."
When Marge came back from tucking in her mother, she collapsed onto the couch with a heartfelt sigh. "This has not been one of her better days," she announced.
"It must be very trying."
"I wish I could find the kittens. She went on about them all morning. Yesterday, too. I know they're out in the barn somewhere."
"I'll take a look, if you like," Wayne offered, jumping to his feet.
"Maybe you'll have more luck. Thanks, dear."
Wayne was already halfway out the door.
The barn was only a shadow of its former glory. Whole sections were gone from part of the east wall and machinery stood about rusting in the sheds at one end. There were only three dispirited cows left from the once large herd of Jerseys and a small family of pigs, cared for by the Bunker boys next door.
Still, in spite of the air of melancholy, Wayne loved the place because of Clarion. He usually managed to find some excuse to go out there on these visits. Even when it was cloudy and dull, it seemed to him that the sun was always shining when he thought about Clarion, like that first time when Wayne had let himself slip into another dimension, a warm, dreamlike state of mind induced by the heavy perfume of the sweet-smelling hay and the closeness of that golden body. Now it was spring, but the warmth in the air made him feel like summer. He was not surprised when it all began to happen again. There was Clarion, just like the first time, standing with his muscular legs apart, high up in the loft with the sun pouring down in a wide, slanting shaft to gild his body in light so that he looked like nothing so much as an angel in a stained glass window. Wayne let out his breath in a sigh. He felt the familiar sharp ache of longing which was more than mere physical desire; the yearning to capture forever that glorious visual image and internalize it somehow, so that he could reproduce it on canvas with such realism and strength, that others would feel towards Clarion the way he did. He climbed the ladder to the loft, the wooden rungs slipping smooth under his hands. It was hot up there and clouds of dust hung in the air. Wayne felt like crying as he sank to his knees, all alone in the fragrant hay.