Abba held the door open to the room where she lay. I had not been able to visit over these weeks, as I was not yet twelve. Now, apparently, such things did not matter. Now, apparently, they did not invoke policy over the dead. Only the dying.
He said I could kiss her if I wanted.
I didn’t, and I didn’t.
Behind the alter was the sacramental wine, which I sipped as my Uncle Julian prattled on about her many virtues. I intentionally say sipped because it wasn’t about trying to get drunk – that was still a few years away – but about tasting His blood. The blood of Christ, which was dry, and sour.
Christ has died, hallelujah. Christ has risen, hallelujah. Christ will come again, hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Death and dying – that was what I wrote my 8th grade term paper about.
My teacher called Abba.
In turn, Abba advised it was best to just move on.
Esther was the widow who lived kitty-corner. She smelled faintly of mothball and made good chicken soup. On my thirteenth birthday she gave me a Yo-Yo and in the morning she made Dutch Babies, which she brought to our door, with a smile and a wink at Abba that made me hate her.
Fred Benn gave me a hand-job.
I had no idea such Earthly miracles were possible.
Grandma Bea was forever on my side, which made me love her madly and doubt her at the same time. She was my mom’s mom and so, in retrospect, it’s not surprising she was against Abba marrying Esther. She attended the wedding “for you,” she told me. But she kidnapped me from the reception and we went to Duffy’s where she ordered us an entire wild blackberry pie, which we ate until our teeth turned purple.
Hoping for a car on my 16th birthday, instead I got a lame director’s chair with my initials stenciled on the back. It made me feel like Abba was saying he saw me as something akin to Charles Nelson Reilly, an association to this day I do not fully comprehend.
That’s not true.
I recall exactly where we were sitting – not a fraught point as we always sat where we always sat – when Abba said the only truly funny thing I remember him saying, as we watched the interviews before the Oscars: “I pity the poor soul who has to do Barbara Walter’s hair.”
Jack Carroll was the first to fuck me. I was moments beyond turning 18 and he was somewhere in his thirties. He told me how proud he was, of himself, for being so patient.
Karma Chameleon played as he walked in to bring me my laundry, to bare witness to Thomas Meems – roughly my own age—fucking me. He dumped the laundry on the floor and muttered an apology before closing the door.
Later, over toasted cheese sandwiches and a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, he simply said: “You just never know.”
I said, “Yep.”
Next day, I came home to find the installation of a new doorknob on my room, one with a lock.
Leaving for college was easy. Easier than I would have wished. Esther was the only one to cry. I was only an hour away and Abba had finally allowed me to trade in my director’s chair for a ’82 Cutlass so I could come back and forth.
If I wanted.
Mack Davis was Abba’s favorite singer.
My creative writing teacher told us to always, always strive to tell the utter most in as few words possible.
That was the line that immediately popped into my head.
“No, we’re good, we’re good. Well, actually, Esther’s got cancer. So.”
Oh, how I wished I were young enough to crawl upon the alter and sip some sacramental wine. But I was not so young anymore, and anyway, Esther was Jewish so there was no wine to be had. It was just Abba and me in the front row. Jason, my love, my raison d’etre, sat in the very back to keep Abba unawares.
Later, I told Jason, straight-up honestly, I thought he looked hot in a yarmulke.
Paul would be the one I would finally introduce to Abba, because finally I felt I could trust love. They got along great because, in Abba’s words, Paul “doesn’t even seem gay.”
Quintin and I filed for our domestic partnership at City Hall and then got ripping drunk over many games of disastrous pool at a Ukrainian bar we stumbled upon.
In the morning we woke to being the slices of bread on either side of a bear whose name turned out to be Igor.
“R is for writing,” Abba goaded. As a kid, it drove me crazy.
“W is for writing,” I’d insist.
“Have it your way.”
R is for resistance.
Stephanie would read all of my drafts and tell me what dreck it all was.
“I hate you,” I said.
“I know you do.”
The Threeheaded Dog published my first collection. I dedicated it to Stephanie with a sincere wink to Quintin: “She’s needier than you.”
Uncle Julian died. I didn’t attend the funeral but Abba did and he said it was “very nice.”
Vermont. Never in my wildest did I think I’d end up in Vermont, running a B&B with Michael. Our dog Toby worked his tail off as head greeter and was truly the more magnanimous of us three.
Life was good.
But if I heard one more “Darrel and Darrel” joke I would truly puke.
Waiting. Always, that seemed the through-line.
Xarelto was the drug now thinning Abba’s blood.
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.
Zebra. Because that’s the best word I conjured starting with Z. And who doesn’t love a story that ends with a horse that makes no sense?
Abba liked to say: “There are no sensible endings.
Well, death. Maybe death.”
J. Edward Kruft has had stories published in Barren and Jellyfish Review, among others, and he is editor-in-chief at trampset. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in NYC, and in the Catskills. His recent fiction can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com and he can be followed on twitter: @jedwardkruft.