The ferry ride was familiar and fabulous. The expanse of stars spread like mist across a black sky. When I tilted my head to take them in, I felt as if I’d been sucked up into the heavens. My cable knit cardigan would’ve been fine for late summer, but the early fall chill wormed its way through the fibers and I shivered all the way to the Fire Island Pines dock.
The house was still and warm. My housemates would all be joining me on the following evening, but I had to get away from New York City a day early, because that night marked one year since Darren left. When I’d returned home from work he was gone. No note. No call. No warning. No closure.
The wine was crimson and pungent. I filled a goblet and headed to the beach, my place of solace and regeneration regardless of the time of day or year. On that moonless night, the invigorating air, dark sand and black water helped me settle into my body. The red wine warmed my soul.
Darren was distant and present. On this night, I didn’t want to be in the apartment we’d shared. I didn’t want to see his shadows out the corner of my eyes. Although everything he deemed his was gone, I never saw things as his or mine, just ours. So everything he left behind, including me, was part of us.
The beach was brisk and bare. Not a soul in sight. I sat at the steps leading to the sand and hugged myself tightly. I breathed deeply. The fresh, salty air coated my throat and flushed out my lungs. The crashing waves lulled me. When I rested my head on my knees I saw a figure in the distance.
He was gray and murky. His gait was even and he appeared to be floating along the shore. It wasn’t unusual for someone to appear on the beach whenever I thought I was alone. The evidence of others always pierced my solitude. Sometimes it was simply a light turning on in a house or hearing voices in the darkness before seeing the people appear. But in between blinks he vanished.
My eyes lifted and searched. It was as if he’d been swallowed by the sand or ocean. I stood and looked across the span of beach. Had I fallen asleep momentarily? Possible. Or just imagined someone? A trick of the moonless night? As I contemplated whether I’d had a vision a warm waft of air bumped my shoulder as if someone had stumbled into me. There was no one. I looked down the dark boardwalk, then back at the soulless beach. I finished my wine and headed home.
I was jittery and conscious. I locked all the sliding glass doors and turned on the lights outside. If someone approached I’d see him. During high season an occasional concupiscent drunk would trespass, but never off season. Being enclosed, I felt at ease. Alone with my thoughts and downheartedness. There was only me and the disappeared person on the beach.
My room was still and electric. I contemplated refilling the empty wine glass on the night table. Instead, I tilted that last drop on my tongue. Then I cried. Out loud. I knew there was no one to hear, but it felt good even though tears couldn’t wash Darren away. He’d left on his own. I shoved my face in my pillow and wailed and wailed and exhausted myself. Then, I had the recurring Darren dream. The one where we sat and talked.
He was still and staring. How long had he been watching me sleep? I scrambled to the top of my bed gathering the sheets to protect me. The room was hot. It was the heat that woke me. I tried to yell but a meager yelp broke the silence. He took two steps back and vanished into the wall.
I jumped and ran. Down the hall. Unlocked and yanked back the glass front door. Charged down the path and found myself on the boardwalk outside the house. Barefoot. Naked. Cold. Alone, again. The breeze rustling the trees sounded like a Shaman’s rattle. I crouched down and weighed what to do.
I watched and waited. The groaning of the ocean was muffled by distance. I looked into the open door. The outside lights made the inside a dark chasm. I cautiously approached. I stepped in, turned on a light and yanked the cloth off the table to cover myself. Then turned on another light, then another and another. It was just past midnight. Another seven hours until sunrise. I wouldn’t return to my room. I’d sit vigilant in the open living room. I’d stay put no matter how badly my bladder pleaded.
He was made of fog and light. I didn’t dare move as he emerged from the hallway, then sat on the couch opposite me, cross-legged. He didn’t exactly touch the couch but hovered over it. Any doubt that I’d been dreaming or drunk was shattered. He looked down at his hands, blond hair falling into his face. I could see right through him and scarcely make him out.
His voice was cavernous and gentle. “I’m Patrik.” He looked at me. I couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, but blue would match everything else I could perceive. “Antonio,” I responded. “I’ve seen you a bunch of times,” he said. “Tonight, I wanted you to see me.” Then, he vanished and reappeared. “I can do that.” He chuckled.
I wondered and responded. “Why did you want me to see you?” He laughed, then shrugged. “I like your sadness. I used to be sad. Had a lot of sad.” He nodded to himself, stood up and walked away. “Antonio, you and I are energy, memory, smarts, feelings and body. I once had a body, but after the body goes, all the other parts continue.”
I relaxed and stated. “You’re a ghost.” He looked back and smiled. “You’ll see me better if I turn out the lights, OK?” He proceeded to do so after I nodded. In darkness, I saw him better. Young, perfectly proportioned, completely nude. The outside lights allowed to me to also make out the couch before him and the kitchen table behind him. He kept his distance.
He sighed and hovered. He seemed like mist when he passed through the couch. I gripped the sofa, ready to sprint. “I won’t hurt you, Antonio. Don’t be scared.” I swallowed and wiped a trickle of sweat slipping down my temple. He stood before me. I took him in. He was a prize. “I never had sadness like yours, Antonio. You loved so deep it’s still wrecking you after a year. I didn’t live long enough to love like that. I had a lot of fun, but was very disposable on this island. Can I hold you?”
His look implored and persisted. I was intrigued, so I acquiesced. He moved over my entire body like a soft wind. Having every part of me touched at once raised every hair. He seeped between my toes, tickled the hairs under my under arms, stroked the sides of my balls and I became sharply aroused. Then, like a receding tide, he pulled away and sat beside me. I quivered and felt as if tiny bubbles were bursting at points along my body’s surface.
He glowed brighter and pulsed. “Your energy and feelings are beautiful.” He looked into my eyes, “I feel like crying, but I need a body to do that.” I reached out to touch him but only felt warmth as if my hand was passing through the steam of a hot shower. “I thought ghosts were supposed to be cold.” He shrugged. “We’re energy. Energy is warm.” He gave me a sly glance. “Even hot.”
He led and I followed. Into the bedroom. I laid down and he enveloped me again. Sweat dripped along the length of me. That next time he didn’t recede but continued to wash over me until I convulsed with a prolonged orgasm that threatened me with insanity. His glow not only brightened but changed from a pale yellow to a pulsing orange.
I was drained, but intrigued. “Who were you? When were you here?” He whispered, “I was 17 and a student here on Long Island when I found this paradise in my backyard. It was 1979 and I died in 1983. In this room. The owners of the house knew me, and were kind enough to take me in when everyone had disposed of me, even my parents, who pretended not to know. The couple flew a black flag on the pole outside after I died. Their friends flew black flags for them, too. I remember the hurt, but I also remember the joy and I always search for love.”
I settled and slept in his warmth.
To one random commenter, a copy of Chulito.
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Charles’ Queer Romance Recommendations
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
Chulito by Charles Rice-Gonzalez
About Charles Rice-Gonzalez
Charles Rice-González’ debut novel, Chulito, received awards and recognitions from American Library Association and the National Book Critics Circle. He co-edited From Macho To Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction and his award-winning play I Just Love Andy Gibb will be published in Blacktino Queer Performance: A Critical Anthology (Duke Press 2016). His short fiction and essays have appeared in nearly a dozen publications with the most recent one in Untangling the Knot (Ooligan Press/Portland State University 2015). He’s received several awards including the 2014 Dr. Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation. He’s the co-founder of BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance and is a Distinguished Lecturer at Hostos Community College – CUNY. Charles was born in Puerto Rico and reared in the Bronx and serves as the chair of the board for The Bronx Council on the Arts and NALAC – The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures.
Charles Rice-González’s novel Chulito has been praised by Junot Diaz, Sandra Cisneros and Jaime Manrique, and has received awards and recognitions from American Library Association, the National Book Critics Circle and others.
Set against a vibrant South Bronx neighborhood and the youth culture of Manhattan’s piers, Chulito is a coming-of-age, coming out love story of a sexy, tough, hip hop-loving, young Latino man and the colorful characters who populate his block. Chulito, which means “cutie,” is one of the boys, and buries his feelings for his best friend Carlos, but when Carlos comes home from his first year at college, they share a secret kiss. Chulito’s worlds collide as his ideas of being a young man, being macho, and being in love are challenged. Vivid, sexy, funny, heartbreaking, and fearless, this knockout novel breaks new ground as the first novel detailing a gay Puerto Rican experience in New York City.