Rigoberto González

Click here to hear Rigoberto González reading "The Solider" at the 2017 University at Albany English Graduate Student Conference.

 

FAMILY OUTING

When I told my brother that I wanted to go to the beach during my visit, I imagined he understood I longed for a touristy spot where I could set up my towel and suntan lotion within walking distance of a palapa bar. I wanted to show off the improvement on my body—thirty pounds lighter and with upper torso musculature I never imagined I would ever achieve, certainly not in my mid-forties. I was also celebrating my sixth month without using a cane. After seven years with a crutch, it was an exhilarating triumph. Instead, Alex took me to a more private area that looked more like a desert than a beach. I walked over the dried skeleton of a bird to get the edge of the water lined with smooth stone pebbles and the occasional seashell. My sister-in-law, Guadalupe, and my niece, Halima, who had just turned sixteen, stayed back in the shade of the only straw hut left standing, all the others had tipped over from neglect. André, only a few months shy of seven, already knew how to unfurl the heavy net my brother would spend the next four hours casting from the shore while I baked in the sun. I made the best of it, appreciating the quiet, drifting into daydream as I watched Alex’s tenacity with his arduous task that only netted a few fish by the end of the day. But it was the exercise that kept him going, he said, and the reminder that there was something so grand and beautiful. I was surprised by the romanticism of his comment. But it made me appreciate his new life in this fishing village on the Sea of Cortez, considered the richest body of water on the planet. And when a cobalt blue fish came close to the edge I lost my words and simply pointed at it as if that was enough to pin it down long enough for my brother to run over with the net.

“Here! Here!” I blurted out finally.

Alex slowly gathered the net weighed down by sinkers, and dragged it through the water. By the time he was close, that dazzling fish had darted back into the depths of the sea.

“A bit late, Turrútut,” I said.

Alex laughed. “That was a dorado. You should have tried to grab it. Or knocked it unconsciousness with a shoe.”

“At least I got to see one,” I said, shaking off my brother’s silliness. “I’ve never seen such a gorgeous color.”

“Now you can write a poem about it. See? The trip will be worth more than sunburn.”

I checked my shoulders and chest. They had reddened, but they didn’t hurt like the area just below my receding hairline. I wasn’t looking forward to the next day.

During lunch hour, I insisted on eating with my brother on the beach. He refused to leave the fishing poles he had cast just in case something bit. André joined his mother and sister beneath the hut.

“This is paradise,” I said. Saguaros sprawled across the foot of the mountain behind us. The stark contrast to my brother’s previous residence at the impoverished El Rancho prompted me to ask if he had heard from our stepmother Amelia or her children.

“Not really,” he said. “Although I did hear something interesting about Mari, tío Rafael’s widow. Remember her?”

It had been awhile but yes, I did remember the plump lady who put up with our temperamental uncle’s shenanigans until his death. “What about her?”

“Turns out she moved in with Amelia for a bit, until she sold the house and moved back to wherever she was from.”

“The two González widows living together? Well, that’s quite a plot twist.”

I couldn’t wrap me head around it but I supposed the two women had to do what they could to survive. All of the Gonzálezes who had once lived there were gone, dead or relocated. They were the last people to arrive and yet there they were, the last two still standing. And now it was only Amelia, her five children spread out in different residences on the same block, repeating a pattern they must have learned from the González clan—stay close enough to each other in order to keep an eye on things and then talk shit about them.

“That’s pretty rich territory to write about right there,” I concluded.

After a pause, Alex changed the subject: “Let me ask you, Turrútut, did you always want to be a writer?”

I tried to explain that the easy answer was yes, because that’s what I grew to love. But the truth was that when I first fantasized about being a writer, I thought writers remained hidden away, that only their labor came to light by way of publication. If I had known then that a writer had to stand in front of people as often as I had I would have chosen a different profession. I was much too shy for this one.

“Like what?” my brother pressed. “What else did you want to do?”

I wasn’t sure what my brother was searching for, but it was making me nervous. Did I have an honest answer for that? As we munched on ceviche tostadas I considered the question. A teacher was what I always told myself, and others. I wanted a life near books, the only places that gave me comfort. Though at one time I fantasized about being an actor—a capricious dream I became embarrassed to admit later, though in fact this was another effort at escape from the person I didn’t want to be. The gay boy could hide in the silence of being a reader, or a nerd, or a character. A profession was more than a purpose, it was a disguise.

“I guess I’m doing what I always wanted now,” I said. “To be out in the open. Without fear.”

Suddenly Alex shot up from his chair and grabbed the fishing pole. He had kept his eye on the line the entire time. But after he reeled it in there was nothing caught in the hook. He grabbed the bait and jiggled what looked like a toy at me.

“I made this myself,” he said, proudly.

I had the impulse to poke fun at him, to say, “Well, I guess it sucks, doesn’t it?” But I held back.

“Don’t worry, it works sometimes,” he said, as if reading my mind. I laughed.

“Me? I don’t know. A football player. A drug lord. El Chapo.”

I rolled my eyes. “No, seriously.”

“A wrestler.”

“A wrestler? Like, an Olympic wrestler?”

“Nah, like a World Wrestling Federation wrestler. Like André the Giant. He was my hero. Why do you think I named my son after him? Just don’t go telling Guadalupe.”

I didn’t want to know if he was kidding or not, so I let it slide, especially because it was me who had come up with such a poetic name for his daughter: Halima—“she who sings and dances, even in times of sorrow.”

Once he stopped giggling he looked out into the water. “I guess I’m doing what I always wanted too. To be out in the open. Without fear.”

We were using the same words but we were talking about very different experiences: my sexuality, his freedom, the prisons we both endured locked up in our family’s houses and inside that ugly designation, orphan. After our mother died, relatives lined up to offer to take me in. I was the quiet one, the obedient one. But Alex was the rambunctious one. When my aunts offered to take me in without him I refused. I didn’t want to be separated from my brother, even if we didn’t get along much. The only person who agreed to take us both in was Abuelo, but we knew he had ulterior motives—the social security check that came with taking in the two orphans, as long as we stayed in school. I managed it, but my brother dropped out, and so he was tossed out of that house as well. What a terrible thing to feel unwanted. I understood that more than anyone, and so I kept my sexuality a secret. But now, both of us men in our 40s, we didn’t have to cower any longer. We were free.

“Maybe we’re free because everybody’s dead,” I said out loud.

My brother turned to me, aware that this was another one of my episodes in which I got lost in thought and then uttered statements without context. He wiped his hands on his shorts and turned to his net, resumed his casting and dragging. This many hours later the tide began to stretch more noisily up the shore.

All this time not a single soul came to this part of Alex’s beach. Perhaps because it was a weekday or because it was so isolated and there was nothing attractive about a spot nowhere near any amenities. If anyone had to pee, well there was the water—one just had to make sure to go in waist deep. This really was my brother’s paradise, where the only inhabitants at the moment were his immediate family and his brother from the big city who kept taking shirtless selfies and sending them to his ex-boyfriends, expecting compliments.

“Okay, supermodel,” Guadalupe chided. “Help me carry the cooler to the truck.”

I felt the sting of the heat at various points on my skin. “How long does he plan to stay out here?”

“All night if he had his way. You’re lucky we all came. Once he starts hearing the kids whining he loses his patience. He knows that time is coming soon, so let me start packing up.”

We lifted the cooler onto the truck bed and then pushed it forward. As Halima and André folded the chairs outside of earshot, I took advantage of the opportunity to speak privately with my sister-in-law.

I touched her arm. “Hey, I’m glad you and Alex are still together.”

“Well of course we are, why wouldn’t we?” she said defensively, and I knew then that Alex had never told her that I knew everything that had transpired between them. I also promised him I would keep that to myself, but it took so much effort to drown out the memory of those hurtful exchanges between them that ended with her threatening divorce or belittling him in front of their children.

“Well I’m just glad you’re looking well,” she said. “Alex told me you were falling apart. You look like you have a few more years left.”

“Oh, I suspect I may have more than that,” I said. “I have to keep my eye on things.”

Not until that moment did I realize that I still held her partly responsible for my brother’s breakdown, for not doing enough when she was right next to him the entire time. It was unfair of me to place such blame but I couldn’t help it. Men like my abusive Abuelo and my pitiful father had wives who stuck with them, why shouldn’t my brother, who was like neither of these men, deserve as much if not more?

Suddenly I remembered the call I had made them from Venice. I was on a month-long artist residency to Italy, and had been convinced to do something extra special during my birthday, my forty-third. My companion to the floating city was a young writer from the Philippines. We marveled at the traffic on the canals and walked the winding roads until nightfall, when the streets began to empty. It was he who had also convinced me to call my brother because this was a momentous occasion and I needed to reach back to my homeland, México. Enchanted by the trip and sentimental after a few glasses of champagne, I couldn’t help myself. It would be a nice surprise for my family to hear from me all the way from Venice, I thought, and so I dialed. Guadalupe answered.

“I’m in Venice!” I yelled into the phone.

“Well, good for you,” she said, in a tone that made me realize I had interrupted something important. “I wish I could let you speak to your brother but I kicked him out.”

My heart sank. “What? I don’t understand.”

“I kicked him out. So I need another man. Bring me back an Italian.”

And then we got cut off. But I didn’t feel like dialing again. My companion saw the look of devastation on my face so he turned away to stare at the canal. A boat passed by with a group of revelers singing in a language I didn’t know. They were drunk. One of them dropped a plastic cup overboard and I wanted to scold him.

“You don’t have to keep an eye on things,” Guadalupe said. “That’s my job.”

“Oh, is it?” I snapped. “Well, one of those things is your man. Just so you know.”

When she looked at me disdainfully I became ashamed I was letting my overprotectiveness turn into an exchange of cheap shots and innuendoes. I wanted to apologize but she shifted her energy over to her children. In the distance, Alex kept casting his net, his last desperate attempts at snagging something. Guadalupe walked over to convince him to give up, Halima and André followed closely behind.

Now the family portrait was complete without me in it. This was my brother’s most hard-won journey, this twenty-year marriage and fatherhood. My one sadness was that neither of our parents was alive to witness it. But I was. I was witnessing it. And as their bodies moved forward in unison it was the most beautiful sight I saw that day.

 

Rigoberto González is the author of several poetry books, including So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks (1999), a National Poetry Series selection; Black Blossoms (2011); and Unpeopled Eden (2013), winner of a Lambda Literary Award. González lives in New York City and teaches at the MFA writing program at Rutgers University—Newark.

 


 

William C. Blome

Three Stories

 

SHAPE

Before he was arrested, tried and convicted of breaking-and-entering and stealing Mrs. June Atkinson’s lovely pearl pendant, and before he had begun to serve his eighteen-year term in the State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, Walt Klug had spoken before no less than a half dozen Seattle civic groups about how he had chanced upon Mrs. Atkinson in a large supermarket one day, how he had followed her home in his vintage Packard, and how he had then later that month burglarized her fine stone house on a moonless night and proudly sped off with the gem in his pocket. He normally went on to then tell his audience about how, the following day, he began a drive that would take him halfway across the country to Bowman, North Dakota, so he could bury his spoil at a location near his birthplace and then make the long drive back to the high-rise he called home, where he bedded down in rainy Seattle.

It was during his second year at Walla Walla that Walt Klug met and fell in love with Blues Stanton. Stanton had recently arrived to begin serving a twelve-year sentence for assaulting and nearly beating to death a security guard outside the stables at Emerald Downs. Stanton’s only defense at trial had been to render the impassioned statement that “a string of twenty-two straight losing races had made me mad as shit, and as I left the track that evening, I just wanted to pulverize the first living thing that got in my way as I struggled to remember just where I’d parked my Buick.”

Klug and Stanton liked one another from the very outset. Stanton was especially drawn to Klug, however, because unbeknownst to Klug, Stanton had actually been present during a monthly meeting of the Rainier Rotarians nearly two years earlier, when Walt Klug had spoken about his adventures stealing and burying the pearl. Klug, for his part, was especially enamored of Blues Stanton; Stanton’s bullet-bald head was such an appealing contrast to Klug’s own wiry locks.  Klug reveled in the stolen and carefully-out-of-sight moments when he could smooth and press his bare hands all over Blues’ shiny pate at the same time Stanton was snagging his hands through Klug’s unruly, silver hair. This fledgling, affectionate relationship intensified and endured for well over two years, until one day, out in the prison yard, Walt Klug confided to his lover not precisely where he had buried the pearl in North Dakota, but rather casually revealed the fact that he had buried it uncased, un-bagged, and completely unprotected in the Dakota soil.

Blues Stanton’s temper climbed like a rocket, and he asked Klug if had ever given any thought to what happens to a bare pearl encased in dirt. “Directly exposed like that to the elements—Christ, you’ll be lucky if there’s anything left at all for us to find by the time we get back to dig it up,” he furiously exclaimed.

But Walt Klug merely smiled and reached out to place some “calm-down, calm-down” pats on Blues Stanton’s lustrous skull. In a soft, melodious voice, he confided to Stanton that he wasn’t at all worried about the pearl’s condition, and that in fact, he had never been worried, because during that long and focused drive to Bowman in his good green Packard, he’d had the chance countless times to pinch and roll the pendant about in his fingers, to play with it and hold it up in front of his eyes and admire its wonderful contours. And really, he said, he had started to grow a little tired of it well before he got to Bowman, and the burial itself, while still necessary, had actually become something of a perfunctory gesture. But as he now looked in warm contentment and sympathy at his fuming lover and pretended to brush back imaginary strands of hair across Blues’ brow, Walt Klug murmured softly, “Maybe what I liked most about the pearl is what it taught me, sweetheart, as I twirled it around and around in my fingers, and just how important it is for me to stay in touch with things that have a curving and un-edged shape. Why, I know I’m probably going overboard here, but I tell you, such objects are like the earth surrounded by heaven. My pearl and your head: oh, promise me, Blues, you’ll value them both for what they mean to each of us.”

 

DISTURBANCE

I was thankful Andrew appeared to have set aside his arrogance and was actually squatting down to talk to my daycare kids at their own level, but I had no idea he was teaching them how to pout and strut. That wasn’t obvious for at least an hour, until I looked over and watched him instruct Maurice, Chang, Lily, and Percival on how to cross and hold their extended little arms on their chest (thereby making an “X”), while standing stolidly with their legs a bit apart and their head somewhat raised and staring off unblinkingly into the distance, before they then all began to pace up and down the playground in tight unison, brooking no interruption or distraction that might challenge their scowling countenance. It was quite a display of surprising discipline (though admittedly on the sober and sour side), and strictly to myself, I labeled them “The Mussolini Quartet.” You can best believe I was really grateful to the powers-that-be when a tropical disturbance I was vaguely aware of and knew had started several days previously down there near Martinique (and had kept determinedly chugging its way north), now began to toss rain and lightning all over my nursery’s immediate and surrounding environs, and it forced every last one of us inside for at least the remainder of the day.

 

SIX

Gusts of an off-and-on wind ruffled her hair as the governor's wife stood straight on the platform, listening to the band perform, and flexing her hands at the ready to grab the bottle of champagne she was about to be given. She'd use both her hands around its neck to sort of swing the magnum like a softball bat to christen this Liberty ship and send it down the skids into the bay. The moment came upon her fairly fast, and she swung the bottle hard, but nothing happened other than the jolting noise of something solid striking against the dark gray metal hull. The assembled officials sweetly and hurriedly had her try again, and then again and again---six times in all, in fact---but no glass broke, no bubbly ran, and needless to say, no new freighter from Connecticut joined the Allied war effort that fine fall day.

Two days later, the governor's wife was again given the honor, and this time her bosom-shaking swing easily broke the dark green bottle against the Liberty ship, and the bubbly seemed to go everywhere, but the boat did not move in the slightest, it never slid even a millimeter down the runway. A hush over the entire crowd lasted a good five seconds before the message slowly spread that the christening would now have to occur on Friday (i.e., tomorrow).

The governor's wife grew quietly determined to in no way be the reason for any additional delay in the ship's launch. To keep up her strength, she had the household staff boil plenty of spinach with her family’s dinner that night. She even had some leftover spinach fixed with her breakfast the following morning, but the result on the third day was a repeat of Day One: Six hefty swings, six loud hits, but no broken bottle and no launch.

That night the shipyard committee and several state politicians conferred, and after securing the governor's agreement, a spokesman notified the governor's wife that, sure, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, that there is nothing in the world wrong with that, and that was in fact the way God made every one of us, and not everyone, of course, was intended to christen a Liberty ship. They had decided, the spokesman said, to have a senator's daughter now do the honors, but they had also decided that the next Liberty ship built in Connecticut would be named after the governor's wife.

The truth be told, the governor's wife had no problem at all with this arrangement, for she had grown bone-tired of the whole sorry ceremony, but, to keep up both political and patriotic appearances, she asked only that she be allowed to at least attend the proceedings, an invitation to which was immediately extended and accepted.

So this time it was the senior senator's young daughter who stood near other folks at the edge of the planking and who held tightly a bottle of something that she herself wasn't legally old enough to imbibe. She held it in a chokehold, and then, upon a signal from the shipyard committee chairman, she hurled the bottle with surprising force against the ship. It easily shattered and changed into a messy, frothing liquid, and the Liberty ship clearly began its downward, backward slide into the water, but—halfway down the skids—the ship jolted to a stop, and no amount of reaching out, urging, or cajoling on the part of the assembled gathering could force the ship to complete its launch. Once again, the launching occasion for this vessel had come a cropper. Once again, there was immediate astonishment, and then a strange publicity coalesced out of the shared thoughts or actions of many, many people, from the adolescent band members directly at the scene, to, later on, nationwide viewers of movie-house newsreels, to, finally, a charming, breathy, and girlish account rendered by Tokyo Rose to American sailors and soldiers. However, none of this deterred the shipyard committee from trying yet again to get the Liberty ship christened by the senator's daughter and sent forth to help win the war.

But the fifth attempt to christen the ship was certainly the briefest, as the steadfastly enthusiastic senator's daughter attentively stood tall and was all-smiles during the National Anthem on a lovely November day, ready and determined to do what she still unmistakably believed was her sacred duty. However, she no sooner was handed the bottle of champagne than she witnessed the large end of the bottle suddenly and without reason fall off, as if it were a top to a jar that hadn’t been screwed on tight enough. The empty magnum itself (or what was left of it) then fell to the planks of the platform and rolled into the bay, thereby completing another embarrassing postponement.

As it turned out, the sixth attempt to make this Liberty ship a part of the Allies' mighty armada for victory was the final try. Everyone involved agreed that a christening by both the governor's wife and the senator's daughter was the necessary prescription now for a successful, error-free launch, and thus both ladies stood on the platform, side by side, as the band once more struck the colors. They each grasped the bottle of champagne that now hung suspended and upright on a tall table between them. But no sooner had they each touched the bottle than the entire platform and scaffolding shook violently and collapsed. Many people were roughed up, and in what some folks thought was one of the highest and deepest tragedies of the war, both the governor's wife and the senator's daughter were among a half dozen people killed on the spot.

Needless to say, there was a tremendous volume of continuing interest, discussion, and grief over the six deaths and the six failed attempts to launch the same ship, and there were numerous proposals of various ways to somehow honor the governor's deceased wife and the senator's dead daughter, though in a gesture toward Allied soldiers, airmen, and sailors in every theater of the war, both the governor and the senator firmly, finally, and convincingly nixed every one of these special overtures.


 

William C. Blome lives wedged between Baltimore and Washington, DC, and he once swiped a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University while no one was looking. His work has appeared in PRISM International, Fiction Southeast, Poetry London, and Salted Feathers.

 

Andrew Duncan Worthington

In Front of a TV

Tony McCardy, a successful NASCAR driver, had recently killed another man with a go-cart he was driving in a derby upstate. The race was semi-professional; McCardy didn’t expect to receive much or any money from it. He was doing it because he loved driving. That was what he loved. The news footage showed him driving his cart as he collides with the other man’s cart. The other man was actually a kid, Jack Testa, who then got out of his cart and started waving around as other carts were going full-speed around the track. His cart was billowing smoke, seeming like it might explode. As the cart with McCardy came back around the track, the kid Testa started waving more excessively, walking towards the area McCardy’s cart was headed. As McCardy passed, the kid flew in the air and hit the track wall, falling to the ground like a crab apple from a crab apple tree. Motionless, he just lay there. Later it was revealed he died shortly after impact. McCardy was currently being questioned by police. The only comment from either party was from the police sheriff saying, “We have no reason to believe foul play was at work, but we are reserving all judgement until we have all the facts. Obviously, the investigation is ongoing.”

“Sounds like an opinion to me,” said John, my boyfriend.

We had come to his family’s house. His family was into NASCAR, which is why we were watching NASCAR, something he and I never would have watched on our own.

“What?” I asked.

“It seems like them saying “no foul was at work” is them making an opinion,” he said.

“When did they say that?” I asked.

“Just now,” he said.

“Oh, right.”

I looked outside at the morning. A cloudy, even slightly chilly spring day can make anything feel boring. You get such a rush when there is nice day. One of those days where it feels like the world is saying, “You know you’re OK today. Come out today. Come out and play. Let’s fuck. Let’s do it 500 times. You heard what I said?” Those are the days I look forward to in the spring. I still look forward to them in the spring. As far back as I can remember, it was better to be going out in a lighter jacket than it was to be told I was good at a school subject or doing a good job around the house or told that I was cool. It was more exciting to me to have beautiful weather than almost anything else. I kind of kept staring outside and then staring at the TV. John’s dad switched the TV to Hair Rocking Bad Motherf***ing Headbangers. It’s odd to think how many more males like metal than females, but then if you think about it enoughas I just didthen you realize that there are a lot of things like that, like NASCAR. It wasn’t a coincidence that men were in charge of the TV.

“You ready to go?” asked John’s mom sort of indiscriminately, but mostly it felt like she was saying it to John’s dad.

We all looked, and I said, “Yes” and John said, “Yeah” and after a pause of a few seconds while he pulled his eyes away from the TV, John’s dad said, “OK.”

Several minutes later, we had the same group interaction, and a minute or two later we left.

The amount of highways cutting through the amount of trees in New Jersey is great, almost like a mid-sized city forever, endless.

“Do you know much about this place?” asked John’s mom.

“Where?” I asked.

“The place we are going. The art park.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, I know what John told me.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty interesting,” said John’s mom. “It’s kind of cool.” She kept looking at John as if she wanted him to confirm this to me, but he was reading on his phone.

“What are you reading?” I asked.

“Oh, just an article,” he said. I saw the article was from Jacobin, a leftist/Marxist magazine.

“Is it pretty good?” I asked.

“What?” he said. “Yeah, it’s good.”

“How long do we have to stay here?” asked John’s younger brother Tyler.

“We haven’t even got there yet, Tyler,” said his mom.

Tyler sighed and looked at his phone. John was looking at his phone. His mom was looking at her phone now, too. I looked at my phone. According to the Internet, the town we were driving past on the highway had a population of a little over 20,000 people. The temperature was 52 degrees, which seemed optimistic on the part of the highly advanced technology that was forecasting for me. It also said that there was a 50/50 chance of rain in 3 hours. If 50/50 odds were the best it could get me for that, then why trust it? What if it was a hurricane, and it reported, “25% chance your house will be demolished and you will lose a lot of your sense of humor because of it.” That wouldn’t be funny, I thought, laughing.

The art park was in a large semi-rural piece of land, which reminded me of when I was a kid, when we would go to a Mennonite restaurant and there was a flea market nearby, with a gas station nearby but a little further down the road, not unlike this art park, which also had a gas station a little further down the road. The spot we pulled into in the art park parking lot had an antique car next to it.

“Wow,” I said.

“It’s fake,” said John.

“Is it?”

“No, it’s not,” said John’s dad.

“No, it is,” said John.

We got out of the car and looked at it. It was not fake. There were gas drops under the exhaust pipe.

The tickets were bought, the park was busy, and as we entered, with each sculpture we passed, at least one of us said, “Oh, look.” Most of the sculptures were of white people, I noticed. Most of the people there were white people, too.

John and I walked away from his family a little and stood in front of statues, staring.

“Hello,” said John, to a man with a moustache, short top hat, and baby blue suit. The man didn’t respond, holding the same expression. The man stood there as we walked away. I slapped his butt. He still didn’t move. I knocked on his head. It was painted metal and made a slight echo.

“John,” said his mom, loudly.

“We’re over here,” John said.

The biggest sculpture was one of Marilyn Monroe. It stood significantly higher than most of the other sculptures. It was situated in a small lawn, away from trees, with a few other larger sculptures. Unlike the other sculptures, there was a crowd around Marilyn. I saw people standing under her and taking pictures. I walked up, stood where they stood, and saw that Marilyn had on underpants. Nothing was revealed. That’s good, I thought.

“Let’s go to the gazebo,” said John’s mom, pointing to somewhere nearby on the map.

We walked through woods and into the gazebo, which was actually a little house. We went inside and there were some cobwebs, but not much else, other than some chairs around a dining table seamlessly crafted into the floor with all the same materials. We sat there and it felt like we were a family sitting around a dining room table, except there was no dinner. Another family came in and our absent dinner was interrupted.

Using the map, we found the real gazebo, which was selling 12 dollar gin and vodka cocktails in 8-ounce cups, lemonade, Coke, bags of chips, that sort of stuff. I didn’t buy anything. John’s dad got a cocktail, his mom got a lemonade, Tyler got a Coke, and John got a bag of chips. The spicy kind that he liked but I didn’t like.

“How long do we have to be here?” said Tyler.

“There’s just few more things to see,” said his mom.

We walked past a sculpture on our way out of the gazebo area, passing a man standing against a tree.

“Shit, he’s not real,” I said.

This was the reaction we had to a lot of the sculptures, although less and less as we walked past more and more of them.

“What’s that?” I said.

“That’s the museum,” said John’s mom. “They have exhibitions there. Like temporary exhibits.”

“Oh, gotcha.”

Outside the museum there was a big cafe and bar area, with lots of people sitting around on small folding chairs around small tables, a lot of them with kids, who didn’t seem like they wanted to be there, with parents who didn’t seem like they wanted to be parents. The main exhibit in the museum was about an artist who used recurring motifs of collective despair and regeneration, focusing on 9/11 and its victims. It was a lot of American flags, or papers colored to look like American flags, some of them burned to varying degrees. I tried to imagine it have a large effect on me, which it didn’t, and which I couldn’t imagine, which made me feel bad, as if I was an unfeeling piece of shit. I thought, “What about all the innocent people we have killed in Afghanistan and Iraq” and then I thought, “That’s very morally short-sighted” and then I thought, “Fuck it, whatever.”

“Should we go?” said John.

“Yeah, I mean, is your family ready to go?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said.

In our car, on the way out, we saw some workers, identified by their jeans and t-shirts and mop bucket with a mop sticking out, who were all black standing by a dumpster but they were fake. One of the fake workers held a fake cigarette. I thought about how I would like one right now, but I didn’t smoke in front of John’s family. As we drove away, I looked back at the fake workers, who didn’t look at me, because they couldn’t.

 

Andrew Duncan Worthington is a writer and teacher living in New York. He is the author of the novel Walls and has been published in Vice, Hobart, Word Riot, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, and other publications. More at andrewduncanworthington.com and twitter.com/simplywortho.