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Everything I Am
Martin J. Goodman

Mom says age doesn’t matter. That’s why I’m her son and she’s grown up, yet I’m a man and she’s a girl.

She touches a chrysalis with a fingertip so that it swings on the thread that binds it to a leaf. Its silver is veined with blues and pinks. "See," she says. "It’s beautiful but it’s hard. Soon its shell will crack and an insect will crawl out, spindly and fragile, and flutter off into its brief life."

"And this has something to do with me?" I ask.

A straw hat is pushed down over her curls. She tips back its brim so that the sun shines full on her face, and looks up at me. She still has freckles.

She sets the chrysalis swinging from its thread.

"Hope, Arnold. This chrysalis contains my hopes for you. You’ve made a beautiful shell to protect yourself from the world. Some day though you’ll remember. You’ll break out and spin into tremulous flight."

Mom leans forward to place her hands on the earth, and crawls away. In seconds she disappears from sight. She makes no noise, so I watch the flowers to see which way she is heading. There is no breeze, yet I see a hollyhock waving its pink blooms in the air. I get down on my knees and go find her.

Mom has a curious way of gardening. The garden was mostly lawn till I was old enough to run about and play ball. Old enough, but completely uninterested. I spent my outdoors time rooting about in the thin soil border looking for the beauty of insect life. The next summer, just as the grass was at its most verdant, Pop brought out a spade and spent the last gardening Sunday of his life. He sectioned the grass with string and stepped on the spade’s blade to cut the lawn into neat rectangles. Mom and I then rolled them up and carried them out to the sidewalk. Soon the turf was piled as high as the fence. And soon after that it was all gone, sold to the neighbors and the money stashed in a tin.

The day after we sold the lawn, we went to the nursery. Mom kept ordering assistants back to the storage sheds until we had enough bulbs and tubers to fill two shopping baskets. Some were the size of my fingernail and others bigger than my fist. The only bulbs she refused were daffodils. "Not in my garden," she told the assistant. "Gophers hate them."

Her favorite bulbs grew into grape hyacinths. In season their little sprigs of blue bubbles pierced the ground. We sat at a picnic table, flask of coffee and warm walnut cake to hand, and stared out. "There!" one of us would shout, and we’d each raise binoculars to a trembling hyacinth. First it shivered, then it swayed, then the whole plant was sucked beneath the earth. We laughed as a trio, yet tried to hold the binoculars still. Chance was that a gopher would stick up its snout and whiskers to blink back at us.

Pop always guffawed at that, and lowered the glasses to slap his thighs. "I’ll never understand why people hate gophers," he said. "They aerate the soil something wonderful. Nature delivers no pests, Arnold. A pest is a critter we’ve forgotten to enjoy."

Birds learned to gather when Mom spread flower seed. She scattered it in billows from upstairs windows when clouds gathered and suggested rain. Birds would land to chase each other across the surface of the feast, snatching up beakfuls before raindrops could fall. "The little darlings," Mom said. "They do love a taste of luxury now and again." They pecked up much of Mom’s deluxe selection and left seeds in their droppings.

Anything that came up that Mom liked the look of, she watered. If a dandelion appealed to her, she nurtured it; if an iris didn’t, she tore it out and threw it in my old playpen. This soon became compost, which she would break up and pat around the roots of her favorites. I sent away for some gardening catalogs for her. They got tossed in the compost too. She didn’t want anyone else’s expertise. No expert could know her garden as well as she knew it.

One section of the garden made me wonder whether the whole thing grew to some design, rather than chance seedings and the blowing of the wind. It consisted of grasses so tall their feathered seeds dusted my hair and shoulders when they fell. Mom brought me to it at the height of its first season. She parted the outer grasses like a curtain and invited me to crawl inside. The grass curtain sprang back into position with her on the outside.

"Now roll around," she told me. "Roll close to the edges, but not through them."

I did as she said.

"Is it flat now?" she asked.


"Then lie on your back."

I did so.

"What do you see?" she asked. "Can you see me?"


"Can you see the house?"

"No. Only the grasses and the sky."

"What’s the sky like?"

"It’s the same sky you can see."

"Nonsense. It’s just your sky."

"Blue with bulking white clouds."

"I love that. I love that the clouds are bulking. I love your way with words, Arnold. Now if you can’t see me, and you can’t see the house, who can see you?"


"Exactly. I grew this for you, Arnold. It’s your private wilderness. You’re very refined, but you’re a wild boy too. Wild like the clouds. I’m not putting ideas into your head. All the ideas are there already. But if you wanted to strip naked and feel the earth beneath you, this is the place to do it. If the space feels so good that you want to share it, for wildness is sometimes fun to pass around, then invite friends in. It’s your space, Arnold. You know where to find us when you’re through."

That was years ago, but the patch of grass is still there. Mom has paused just outside it.

"Your father takes a scythe to it every Fall," she says. "But we keep it going. You know this grass was never meant to hide you, don’t you? We’d have been quite happy to watch. It was meant to give you freedom, and open you to the sky. You do know that?"

I nod.

"Well it’s still here should you ever need it. And here’s an addition."

She crawled a little further, as far as the fence dividing us from our neighbors.

"Your father put this in, especially for today," she says, and lifts up a latch on a gate in the fence. The gate is about three feet high, and painted the same pink as the nearest hollyhocks. Mom crawls through it.

On an average day you could paint the neighbor’s garden with a palette of three colors. Green, blue and white. The green of the lawn, the blue of the swimming pool, and the white of the house. Grace, Donald’s wife, begrudges the passing of seasons and so allows no flowers on the property. Their bloomings are too brief, their withering too ugly. They employ a gardener to spend three hours a week mowing and trimming the lawn, and pulling up anything that blows as seed from Mom’s wilderness. For three years that gardener was me. Donald the neighbor called me his faun. He stayed at home those afternoons, sitting in a chaise on his patio so he could appreciate me. He paid my weekly bonus in hi-quality sun lotions, so I could work in just a pair of shorts. I learned to bronze without peeling. I’m grateful to Donald.

And today he has come through in a handsome way.

Strings of rainbow flags radiate from Donald’s cypress, spanning the garden and tied to the roof of the hacienda house. And Grace has permitted a temporary show of flowers. A series of large terracotta pots line the perimeter. In each is either a camellia, a gardenia, or a magnolia, honeybees spinning between their scents.

The drive is filled with palms and ferns each at least twelve feet high. Scarlet parrots and a toucan fly between the branches. I watch them flutter down to a waiting boy, dressed in a violet sarong and garlanded with thick strings of marigold. His skin is golden, his eyes hazel brown. The birds land on his wrists, thin wrists protected by embossed leather bracelets, and peck from the nuts and crystallized fruits on his palms.

"Isn’t it wonderful?" Mom says, and waves a hand to the stream of young men in tight black trousers, white shirts and bow-ties. They are carrying stacks of plates and trays of glasses to various tables set around the lawn, each table draped in crisp white linen. "The neighborhood loves you very much, Arnold. This is their own idea. They wouldn’t even let us contribute. It will be a twenty-first birthday party to remember."

"You said we were going to have a quiet family celebration. You, Pop, and me."

Mom smiles.

"I lied," she says. "A lily-white lie. Are you pleased?"

She looks at me.

"How right I was to warn you," she decides. "You look as comfy as a camel on an iceberg. Come back to the house. Your father has a present that will get you in the mood."

She ducks back down through the miniature gate, and I crawl through her garden in her wake.

Pop waits for me in the living room, his back to the mirror that hangs above the fireplace. He holds out a parcel, gift-wrapped in pale blue tissue with a silver bow. The tissue is coarse compared to the white folds I find inside. The garment is so fine it is almost weightless.

"Did you sew it yourself?" I ask Pop.

His fingers are chubby and his nails are broken. Such hands aren’t geared for needlework, but Pop often triumphs over such brute facts of existence.

"Not me," he laughs. His hair is newly washed. Wisps of ash-gray curls dance with the jiggling of his head. "I got a pal at work to sew it to my design."

I hold the gown up against myself, arms spread wide with the sleeves against them, and its white length drops to my ankles. Silver thread embroiders a narrow ellipsoid pattern around the plunge collar and the cuffs.

"It’s beautiful," I say.

"It will be," Mom says. "Oh it will be when you’ve put it on. Come and surprise us when you’re ready."

You should never appear in a new outfit till your skin has breathed through its fabric. Mom and Pop taught me this, so they click the door shut and they leave me to change. I slip out of my clothes. It is summer and I go nude beneath draw string satin pants. I hold the gown to my left like a companion, and face the mirror. The gown asks to be worn. A line of mother of pearl buttons are so thin they lie flat against its cotton. Sooner than undo them I raise the gown above my head and let it drop. It shimmers down my sides like a coating of cloud.

I open the door and step into the hallway. Mom and Pop are sitting on the stairs, so as to have a grandstand view of my appearance. They gasp as I emerge. Mom turns to Pop.

"More than you hoped?" she asks him.

"The proudest day in any man’s life." Tears shine in his eyes and moisten his voice. His words come out like bubbles when he’s joyful, starting in bass tones and streaming high. "Go on, son. Give us a twirl." The gown is no wider than my waist leaving little room for my feet to advance. I raise my arms till my wrists cross lightly above my head, then spring from the balls of my feet. I turn through three hundred and sixty degrees, and land with my arms stretched out. It is an offer of an embrace. Mom and Pop hurry down the stairs and step into it, Mom held under my left arm and Pop under my right. They mold close to my skin. We are a nuclear family. Fission has fused us into one cell.

When we break, for we have to break at some point, we do so with a sigh. We might never be so close again. It’s one of those moments when joy and sorrow squeeze so close together there’s nothing but an opening of the soul. We stand and look into each other’s eyes, eyes that water so we wobble out of shape.

I clasp my hands in front to of my chest, flex my knees so the hem of my gown brushes the parquet flooring, and move in a rapid sequence of tiny steps. I know the effects, having watched my self-same performance in several home movies from when I was a child. I move like a geisha, but also with the fluidity of a robot toy on wheels. Brush up against an object, a wall or a chair or even Mom and Pop, and I shift to an equally rapid reverse or sideways gear. The movement is a blend of madness and control.

The soundtrack of those home movies is of Mom and Pop laughing. I hear their laughter now, as they position themselves in different parts of the hallway so as to be in my way. I steer my little tripping steps so it seems I’m unicycling from one to the other. And back again. And back again.

"Enough," Pop says at last. He takes hold of my shoulders. He’s laughing, but both his voice and his grip are firm.

It’s good he does this. Sometimes I lose the space where a performance ends and Arnold begins, and welcome a little reminding. I’ve known a few men, but none as solid and strong as Pop. I feel some of that strength pass as energy from his hands through my shoulders and into my whole body. Pop turns me so that I catch the light coming through the colored panes of glass in the front door. He and Mom step to either side and regard me.

They view me for some minutes, in silence so profound I can hear my own heartbeat and know it is in time with theirs. Then Pop speaks.

"It’s your birthday," he declares. "Your coming of age. Time to show yourself. Time to change some lives."

"Like this?" I ask. I have several options of party clothes. None of them is a simple white cotton gown over naked skin.

"Like that," Pop says. He opens the door and Mom steps out to lead the way. "Exactly like that!"

The fence between our garden and the neighbor’s is six feet tall, so I can’t see beyond it. Mom and Pop go first. I roll the hem of the gown up to my thighs, so I am able to bend toward the miniature gate. It saves the material from the smear of grass stains. Mom and Pop have catered for the gracelessness of such an entrance. A clothes rail stands on the other side of the fence, and green velvet drapes hang from brass hoops upon it. I am given a moment to straighten my gown and collect myself, then Mom and Pop pull the drapes aside.

The neighbors laugh to see me appear. Me, I blink and gape, for here before me is the wonder of my life so far.

Some years ago I made a book of pen and ink drawings, with oils for colors. Page by page I imagined a costume for every person in my neighborhood. The pond in our park seldom freezes. When it does, its ice is so thin only a fool or Jesus would walk on it. Though you don’t see it there, I have imagined my neighbors skating on its thin ice. The outfits don’t hang, they are posed in ice-skating maneuvers. I love the costumes of ice-skaters, lean like the lines of the skaters’ bodies. They are my inspiration.

I dreamed that my neighbors shed drab skins and stepped out in these new ones.

My sketches have drifted off the pages and been fleshed out.

Mavis Boot, six times a mother, was on page four of my book. Now she stands in front of me, holding a branch of fuchsia to arch above her head. The red of the drooping flowers is caught in the heightened tones of her bouffant hair and the blush that lunchtime vodka has planted on her cheeks.

Her jacket is light, sleeveless, silk. The depth of its purple is marked by the thin black lines of a fish-scale pattern. The same material with the sheen of snakeskin coats her hips and thighs, while a cut the shape of a teardrop cradles her belly-button. The top swells around her breasts, which bounce with the hiccups that she substitutes for silence.

Only one character stretched across a fold in my pen and ink book. That’s Starling Flounder who linked pages ten and eleven. He was named years ago for the blue gloss tucked beneath his baby black skin. Now he stands to the left of Mavis Boot. A crimson catsuit is frayed to a latticework of strands above his chest. These strands twist around his ears to form a skeletal helmet. Sleeves of gold ribbons open like paper lanterns when he waves his hands at me, glad to be noticed. Orange stripes run down the watermelon contours of his body. They don’t contain Starling, for nothing can. They give him an appropriate sense of bursting.

Seventy people bedeck the lawn, all in the costumes of my skating fantasy.

Tears brim my eyes and start to fall. Mom takes hold of one shoulder and Pop the other. My breath, the size of a tennis ball, punches up from my stomach and out through my throat. The lawn is a whirl of movement and color as everyone skips into position.

"Go on, love," Mom says, and pats me on the shoulder to start me moving. The neighbors create a path, a corridor lined with people on either side. As I pass between them, each person offers a flower. When my hands are full of flowers I cradle them in my arms. When flowers obscure my sight, hands steer me by my shoulders.

The path becomes wooden and wobbles beneath my feet.

The flowers are lifted from me.

I look down to my right. And see water. Down to my left. And see water.

I am on the diving board above Donald’s swimming pool.

Three planks bound together by rope form a bridge that crosses the pool in front of the board.

"My son," Pop announces through a shiny brass bullhorn, "will now walk to the very edge of the diving board!"

There is a drum roll from a band of musicians beneath the cypress tree. Guests hurry around to ring the pool. They applaud as I step forward. And stop.

Standing still is an art. The body charged, every movement is poised to come out. I do my best to perform, though the neighbors are not an audience. They are simply waiting in line.

Donald is first. His outfit works. I waited till page twenty-three of my sketchbook before attempting it. I was learning simplicity by then. Skin-toned flesh-clutching shorts have a tongue that licks up toward his navel from where a strap reaches round his neck. Pads of dark leather sit on his shoulders like epaulettes, strapped around his armpits and his neck. From these a fringe of leather strips hangs down to skirt his body. It reveals the hidden Donald. The design is not to my taste, which is why I am proud of it. I don’t lay my fantasies on people. I prefer to liberate their own.

Donald has silver hair, cut to a Teutonic bristle so the scalp shines through. At least it shines today, for he is blushing pink from his neck up to his crown. Nipping hold of the top mother-of-pearl button on my gown, he undoes it. He looks into my eyes, smiles, and walks on.

Mavis Boot now walks the bridge and stops in front of me. Her finger strokes my Adam’s apple, and moves on down. She undoes the second button.

In return for dressing each of them, they are undressing me.

When the twenty-seventh person has passed me by and unbuttoned me, I anticipate the exactness of Pop’s preparations. My gown is now undone to just below my navel. There will be one button for each of the costumed guests. The final guest will bend to undo the button at my ankles.

Which is exactly how it is.

Mom pulls the gown back from my shoulders as the boards that form the bridge are lifted from the pool.

I am naked.

Pop has raised his bronze bullhorn to his mouth once again.

"My son will now dive from the edge of the board, and emerge at the far end. Ladies and gentlemen, friends one and all, observe a coming of age!"

There’s little to do but follow instructions.

I flex my knees, bounce the board a few times, and spring headfirst. My fingers lead a splashless dive into the blue.

The pool is fifteen meters long. The force of my dive propels me to the far end and sets me surging through a rage of tiny bubbles

In a single movement my head breaks the water, my arms wheel round to the edge of the pool, and my body rushes up through a stream cascading from my head. I grip the stone edging and soar from the pool, my knees bending then straightening to spring me upright.

"To the minute," Mom says, for she has come around to receive me. "To the second, this is when you were born twenty-one years ago today. You were a wonder as a baby. You are a wonder now."

She takes my fingertips in a delicate hold and spreads my arms wide, then brings them together so my hands are clasped within hers. All this time she looks me in the eyes. Tears drop from mine. With the water from the pool and the smile on my face I wonder who knows I am crying.

A roar explodes behind me. I turn to see my friends from college. They are here after all, kept for now in this sequence of surprises. They must have viewed me from the house and now fill the patio. They grin as they roar. Their fists punch the air. The day keeps budding into new perfection.

"Come, son," Pop says. He lays his hand around my shoulders even though I am so wet, and steers me across the grass toward the miniature gate in the fence. "Dry clothes await you in your private patch of grass. Take your time. Come back and join us when you’re ready."

I leave the party backwards. It seems elegant somehow. More so than raising my bare ass to the throng as I crawl from sight. I offer the guests a smile as I retreat from their view.

They each smile more broadly than I.

They probably know the schedule.

As I stand up on the far side of the fence, and close the gate in front of me, a pair of arms curls round my body and holds me from behind.

"Happy Birthday Arnie."

No-one gets to call me Arnie. I’m saving that name for a special voice.

Maybe this voice.

It nuzzles in my ear, warm and young.


I ease myself loose. The embrace still holds but I can turn around.

"Pete!" I squeal.

I normally hold it together better than this. Pete laughs.

"You’re pleased then," he says. "I wasn’t sure. Despite the surveys."


I survey him. His mop of black hair. Blue eyes. Bronzed skin. High cheekbones. Straight nose that curves a touch for a slight sheen at the tip. Slight dimple to the chin. Swimmer’s shoulders. Dark blue short-sleeved cotton shirt, open at the neck, over white knee-length shorts, thonged sandals on bare feet.

He notices me check him out.

"Did your mother choose that outfit?" I ask him.

"No," he tells me. "Yours did."

Then it looks good, I decide.

"She chose yours too," he adds.

I look down at myself and blush. Pete has made me coy.

"My birthday suit," I joke. "Pop says there are some clothes in my patch of grass. Just through here."

I part the curtain of grasses, and Pete follows.

A crocheted bedspread is laid upon the ground, patterned in a mix of blue yarns. A tag is tied to a corner by a light blue ribbon.

Some blue for my boy.

With all my love, Mom

A set of new clothes is folded neatly upon it. A pair of sandals, white satin draw-string shorts, and a dark blue cotton short-sleeved shirt. An identical outfit to Pete’s.

At the top of the bedspread are two pillows, both blue. Two matching blue towels are folded to either side of the spread, and in one corner of the grass patch is a green pottery vase filled with iris. A large blue earthenware bowl stands at the foot of the spread. It is filled with water, several pink and yellow rose petals floating on top, two blue facecloths folded over the rim.

I pick up my shorts and prepare to put them on.

"No." Pete touches my shoulder. "You’re wet. Lay down. Let the sun dry you."

I hesitate. He lies down himself and waits for me.

"You’re beautiful," he says.

I’m standing naked and silent above him. It gets to seem wrong. I’m not the dominant type.

I lie down on my back beside him. When I wake in the mornings I sometimes lie still to recover a dream. This is different. I stay still, but my body is tense. Blades of grass tickle my balls while my shoulders dig into the earth. A spider works its way between the hairs of my right leg and I let it be. I clench my buttocks and dig my fingers into the soil, turn my focus on the heat of the sun as it steams my body dry, but it does no good. I am trembling.

It’s stage fright. For years I’ve lain here naked and alone, dreaming of a moment such as this. Those dreams were fantasies. Now I’m stuck in a body. The sun flares above my closed eyelids, yet stars burst inside my head.

"You’re gay then?" I ask. I gulp the words. He’s kind to understand them.

"Do I have to be gay to find you beautiful?"

"Yes please."

He laughs but it’s also a sigh. We’re both on our backs, talking up at the sky.

"You know when your parents came up last semester?"

"For a day. Yes."

"They came for three days."

I raise my head to look at him, then lay it back down again. He’s explaining in any case. I’ve no need to act surprised.

"Your father passed out slips of paper to everyone they met, everyone you introduced them to. They were invitations."

"To this party?"

"That came later. Invitations to their hotel the next day. He and your Mom bought everyone drinks and explained what it was they wanted."

"Were you there?"

"No. How could I be? You didn’t introduce us."

"Why should I? I hardly know you."

The irony of the situation is delicious. We let it absorb some silence for a while.

"They handed out a survey," he continues. "Asked your friends to fill it in."

"A survey?"

"Favorite drinks. Favorite food. Favorite music. Yours and theirs. Your parents wanted this party to have something for everyone. Then there was one other question. Dream mate."

I prop myself up on an elbow and look down at him. He opens his eyes, sees me, laughs, and sits up. His arms loop around his knees.

"Dream mate?" I ask him.

"I tell you, your mom and dad are wild. They explained the rules. It couldn’t be a girl for a start. God loves straight people. He loves some so much he blesses them with gay children. He loves gay people so much they attract each other. Your dream mate must be a man. Other rules? People cannot select themselves. And they cannot choose someone you’ve dated before. You’re nearly twenty-one. You might have loved, you might have been loved, but you’ve never loved equally. That’s what they want for you. A time of equal love. They were looking for someone who can give you that."

"You’re to do that for me? My friends chose you?"

Pete nods.


"Those that didn’t know me voted for their best male friend. Still, I got sixty-seven per cent."

"You think you’re up to the job?"

"Can I try?"

"Can roses bloom?"

Pete closes me in his arms and hugs me tight. I hug him back. He shakes a little. I shake a lot. When we break apart we each raise hands to wipe tears from the other’s face.

"You’re gay then?" I ask again.

He looks at me, then lets hid head drop.

"If that’s what it takes."

"Why is it so hard to say?" I wonder aloud. "Why doesn’t everyone want to be gay? It’s wonderful."

"Your Mom set a stool by the fence. I stood on it and watched your party. That’s not an ordinary crowd over there. You don’t live in an ordinary world."

"They’re just my neighbors."

"Don’t you see? Other people’s neighbors aren’t like that. Yours are different because they’re yours. Your mom and dad explained it to me. You changed them they said. You change everybody. Make them lighter."

"When did they explain all this?"

"They took me to lunch, the third day of that visit. Broke the ice by showing me your designs. They’re fabulous. Your roommate photocopied them. Your Mom borrowed the originals overnight, drew little lines in pencil, and described every color. Then your father broke the news. They had run a poll. I had been selected as the dream mate for their son."

"What did you say?"

He paused a moment.

"I thanked them very much. Said I was honored of course. But I wasn’t gay."

"You weren’t? You mean you’ve changed?"

"Your Mom reached over and patted my hand. ‘Don’t worry about that, dear,’ she told me. ‘Love finds a way.’"

"She’s always said that." I think it over. "Why did they think I needed help in finding you?"

"Why did you?"

"You’re too perfect," I try. "A boy’s got to dream."

"An impossible dream. That’s what your parents called it. You used to know no limits. Then limits set in. They decided to free you. They would come and look for your impossible dream. Then make it come true."

"Are they paying you?"

"Has the world hurt you that much?" He tilts his head, as though he can see me clearly enough to find his answer. "They said it had. They said you might ask me that question. Sure, they’re paying me."

He watches the hurt settle in on my face.

"They’re paying me with you."

He leans forward and kisses me on the mouth. It’s a virginal kiss. A peck.

It’s delicious.

I reach for more.

When we break, and we smile, I pick up my clothes.

"I’ve brought other clothes," Pete says. "We don’t have to go dressed like this."

"Oh let’s!" I enthuse, and put them on. "Peas in a pod. Look at you. Look at me. We’re perfect in somebody’s eyes. Every mom must have her day. Are you nervous?"

"Yes. Aren’t you?"

"I’m giggly. Which is worse. Come on, Pete. Stand by my side. See me through."

We leave the grass patch. I pull open the gate, and we dive back through to the party.

I made no costume designs for Mom and Pop. They’re not my hometown. They’re just home. They don’t need changing.

Mom wears a sleeveless dress with a pleated skirt. It’s white, patterned with red rosebuds. The same red colors her headband and shoes. Pop is in fawn chinos, white loafers, a white shirt, and scarlet linen jacket. They are clothes we haven’t shopped for together. Though I’ve left home life goes on sweetly without me.

A circular dance floor, cut from linoleum and patterned like a wheel of fortune, is spread out across the lawn.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the accordionist announces. He is part of a gypsy trio who play from beneath the canopy of the cypress. "To the melody of our native blue Danube, we ask Arnold and Peter to open the dancing."

The zither player starts a free-flow of improvisation, his tune not yet a waltz but weaving to and fro, mapping the Danube’s early tributaries. Guests call out encouragement, and shift to left and right as though the Danube’s waters are set to flow between them.

The opening in the crowd reveals Pete at its furthest end. He walks slowly forward.

"Who leads?" he asks. We haven’t had time to work out these subtleties of our relationship.

"Who knows?" I reply. "We’ll go where the music takes us."

The trio follows us at first, placing notes against the awkward movements of our feet. Then Pete lightens. His shoulders loosen, he gives my left hand a squeeze, then lifts it higher. With a slight toss of his head he shows me his profile.

"He’s got gypsy blood in him," I think, to a thrill.

Then I know something more. I know we’ve both sat in front of late-night TV, as couples whirled and paraded ballroom dances beneath the sparkle of glitterballs. The moves we’ve watched, the twists and turns we’ve adored, are stirring in his body. They’re there. They’re close. Just a touch and they’ll show themselves.

I close my eyes. Close out for a moment the sight of this man in my arms. The spin of the waltz catches me inside its vortex and leans my back against his arm. I’m Arnold, waltzing.

There’s momentum now. We’re beginning to flow. Coursing along to the strains of old Vienna.

Faces blur behind his head while he stays in focus. We’re in orbit round the center of our new-found world. Our faces are blank with amazement. Then the dance wheels us on and the force spins us faster. It pulls wide our mouths and we’re laughing.

  ha ha ha ha 
   ha ha
Ha ha     

Laughing in tune with the Blue Danube Waltz.

The party ends yet life is still beginning. We lie on the ground in my patch of grass, Mom’s crocheted bedspread on top of us. Stars blanket the sky as we look up.

"Arnie?" Pete asks. His head rests on my chest. I feel the vibration of his voice pass through me. "Is this really how it is? Is life as good as this?"

"It can be." I stroke my fingers through his hair. "This is how good it can always be."




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