by Bruce Bromley
Well, it’s the story of the 1980s.…I’m very aware that the younger generation of kids are growing up not knowing anything about this period.…And at the time it felt like it was normal to live life with this killer disease.…You have kids growing up now during the time of the coronavirus, and to them this is normal, that face masks and social distancing is completely normal. It doesn’t make them blink.…People said we were the love that dare not speak its name. And then came along a disease that dare not speak its name. Double calamity.
Russell T Davies, interview about It’s a Sin (2021)
Dr. Siegel says You’ve tested negative. His bottom lip sticks against his teeth on negative, as though he could hardly bear to let it go. But Dr. Siegel’s like that with words.
You remember—when you came before—the particular kind of quiet with which he met your nodding at his Harvard and Columbia degrees. The swimming pool trembled through the slatted blinds. You recall the way he withdrew the needle from your arm: slowly, as if he wouldn’t let it go. Now, you see Dr. Siegel offer you his hand, hear him praise your luck, as Mrs. Siegel waves from the pool still visible through the window. Once she appears in the office, you greet her as a longtime friend of your parents, and she takes your hand. You remember the time before, when you tried to shake Dr. Siegel’s hand; he removed it quickly: he could only let it go.
As you walk through the waiting room on your way to the car, you’re trying to notice the receptionist’s smile, the copies of Ladies’ Home Journal, its recipes for casseroles and cookies waiting to be used. You’re not going to recall the last time you saw Douglas in the hospital, when you attempted to feed him some translucent broth from a little spoon. You didn’t recognize his mouth. Underneath the sheets, his legs were swallowed by the bed. You wiped the broth that ran down his chin. You felt the bone there.
Driving home, you take Town Road because it cuts through the rye fields, where you can see the few houses hunched under a sky that won’t go away. When you make the left turn too fast, crows fly low, out of the rye—they brush against the windshield. You could have hit them.
You can’t want to be back with Douglas for the last time that you remember him walking. You can’t want the rye to be long and green and glimmering, as it was when you struggled to follow the footpath around the fields. His left hand hung from your shoulder: walking, he slid his feet across the ground.
No farther, he said.
You park the car, approach the house, and are about to unlock the sliding front door when you find your face reflected in the glass. It arrived there before you. Through that face, you spy the coffee mug in the dish drainer, the plate on the kitchen counter, the linoleum floor under the four coats of wax that you gave it last night because you couldn’t sleep.
Before, when you were awake, you’d sneak downstairs and sit at the kitchen table. You’d hear Douglas pad along the floor, feel him curve his lips around one of your ears. The last time, he simply stood there before you, almost murmuring—I’ve been tested.
Through those pajamas, his legs gleamed, thick with hair and veins. They seemed to be planted in the ground.
After you take off your clothes in the bedroom, you look at that negative of your body in the mirror, at the road of chest hair traveling down to the crotch, at the taut thighs between which your cock stands, without the ability to remember. The hair on your calves forgets him; it grows without thought. You think you want to say—I don’t know how to live. You try to say it.
But you can’t.
Bruce Bromley is the author of Making Figures: Reimagining Body, Sound, and Image in a World That Is Not for Us (Dalkey Archive Press, 2014) and The Life in the Sky Comes Down: Essays, Stories, Essay/Stories (Backlash Press, 2017), nominated for the 2018 Victoria & Albert Best Illustrated Book Award. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in Out Magazine; Open Democracy; Gargoyle Magazine; Fogged Clarity: An Arts Review; Environmental Philosophy; 3:AM Magazine; Cleaver Magazine; Entropy Magazine; The Nervous Breakdown, and elsewhere. He teaches writing at New York University, where he won the Golden Dozen Award for teaching excellence.