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LAce Posted Monday, July 19th, 2004
First Time with Varney
Charles McLeod

The first time with Varney was during our high school spring mixer. I was sitting on the gym’s bleachers, tossing pennies at girl’s ankles and drunk on rum. A large boy came over to mention my actions to me, but I took out a switchblade from my pocket and made a deep cut in the palm of my hand and showed it to him.

When the bleeding didn’t stop on its own, I shuffled to the boy’s room for some paper towel, the breast pocket of pink seersucker suit bouncing with change. After ripping the metal face from the towel holder I formed a tourniquet from half its contents. Then I stepped into one of the stalls and took off my jacket and white, ruffled shirt and applied VapoRub from a small blue jar to the pits of my arms. This was to be the first of many habits. That icy hot, what can be said? Like skiing the Alps of Swiss.

When I came out of the stall, refreshed and horny, Varney was standing there.

“Let me borrow twenty bucks,” he said.

“Oh-ho. La-bas. Beep-beep.”

“I promised Stella Hitchins dinner. Please.” He was puny and unpleasant and an asthmatic. In the artificial light Varney’s small black shoes made him appear to be balancing on hooves. I’d meant to stick around— go get the garden shears and quart of paint from the trunk of my Lincoln and conduct a sort of Best Dressed, Worst Dressed amongst the mixer attendees— but instead told Varney to meet me at the Piggly Wiggly on Leavenworth, thirty minutes. After a couple more tugs of rum I set a small fire in one of the sinks and slunk out of la danse, clean-shaven and sick with joy.

At home, my mother was eating casserole at the kitchen table.

Mother, I told her, when I leave here, I will not return.

Son, she said, you are a fag, and I don’t know how to raise such a beast.

Still, we had lived civilly.

I’d been blackmailing my father for some months before the divorce and still was, sending him brief e-mails reminding of his red-headed situation and that even now Mom could fall to pieces with six quick words. Once a week a greeting card and crisp hundred showed up at the P.O. Box I’d rented under alias at the package store. My failed advances on the male clerk, a middle-aged Korean immigrant who smelled of vitamins and could not grasp my plaisantiries often left me cheerless, and I would spend whole weekends in my room with only my oversized plush duck, Herman, and Lords of the Locker Room 8. Routine searches of my mother’s closet found her toy collection to be growing, and days I took ill from school I would lube some new addition and dream of a future, replete with hope.

Varney was standing near a grove of kudzu-wound dogwoods on the fringes of the supermarket’s lot. He was still in suit and tie and kept wiping his palms on the pleats of his pants. I steered my car toward a store employee then eased the front fender of the Lincoln into a group of shopping carts and got out.

“Do you have the twenty bucks?” Varney asked. “What do I have to do?”

I told him he had angels in his eyes, and he needed to make them sing.

We took the Lincoln on to the Old Highway and after some miles left it for an unpaved road of red dirt. I pulled the car behind a dilapidated church with a For Sale sign in front of it and Varney undid my pants and put his face between my hips. Overhead, bits of cloud sat in the night sky, backlit by a big moon. They looked like globs of grey dough.

Varney opened the car door and spat. “Give me the money,” he said, gagging, “give me what you said you would.”

But I never remembered saying anything like that to him, and got out of the car to look at the church.

The backside of the building had a stairway that spanned its length. The steps led to a set of twin posterns, hinges streaked with rust. The handles were wrapped with a padlocked chain. I threw up, and imagined ostiaries in pinstriped tuxedoes pushing the doors open, the guests spilling out, the bride lifting her gown to descend to the grass.

The Lincoln’s engine started and as Varney pulled away, the church bell began to sound from its tower. Someone was up there. I picked up a large stone, heaved it through one of the windows, and screamed and screamed my name.

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