Life is pornography with practical notes written in the margins. George is so engrossed by his son that he has forgotten the boy from thirty years ago.
Just a kiss. "Hey, Dad." On the cheek. "Band practice tonight. I'll be late." He grabs an orange from the bowl of fruit on the counter, twisting his warm body comfortably around his father to reeeeeach-quite a reach, but his tiny coquette's hands do grab far and well.
In a whirlwind he is gone, kissed his mother on the top of her head, tossed his orange once in the air to catch with a toothy grin, the smug little bastard. "I'm late!" He can hear the wheels of his skateboard clicking against the floorboards in the foyer.
"Not in the house, Marty!" Lorraine grins at him over her coffee cup and shakes her head. /No point, Georgedear, you know that/. And he does. Oh, he does. /Yes, Lorrainedear, and I hope you never find out how/.
He places the last clean bowl into a slot on the drying rack and holds the sponge beneath the stream of lukewarm water coming from the tap, watching idly as white suds swirl down the drain, dripping from his fingertips. He stares at his hands in the silence of early morning, all the children out of the house and off to school. Or work, in David's case. Grown-up David. His hand curls slightly as he rests it against the aluminum silver of the sink, and he is disappointed to see that it is an adult's hand, a man's hand, heavier and more gnarled than his son's. He drops the sponge carelessly and wipes his hands on the dishtowel, grimacing as light dances across the solid band of his wedding ring.
His son's hands are delicate, but not quite like a girl's; the comparison feels like an indignation. They are delicate and pretty in the way of young men universally, the ones caressed only lightly by the fruits of puberty before being let loose into the sexual mores. The ones targeted by the pedophiles, non-threatening boys who become a girl's best friend before trying to be her lover. He had hands like that once. Nausea washes gently over him. Of course he did, and his still has them, he holds them all the time. But now they don't belong to him, they belong to his son, his baby. But he holds them all the same, kisses smooth knuckles before moving on to equally smooth lips.
No point, Georgedear. You're right, Lorrainedear. Because it's so hard to say no to Marty, who regards life as a sort of extracurricular activity. Something fun to do in his spare time, not too serious; but it might look good on his resume later on. He smiles and laughs and makes it fun and easy somehow, and George desperately wishes he could do similarly. But he always finds himself to be the one to comfort the occasional panic, dry the rare tears, and give in to the frequent cajoling. He doesn't play favorites, but if he did Marty would certainly be it, and the rest of the family knows it. Linda used to complain, why does Marty get to do whatever he wants?
He didn't have a real answer for that until recently, until he realized it was because Marty was Marty. It was because Marty had learned the value of asking for forgiveness and not permission. It was because the feeling of Marty's slim fingers tugging at his belt made his own hands shake and his mouth too dry to tell his youngest son that it's not allowed. After all, if they've crossed one of humanity's greatest sexual taboos together, what use is it telling him he can't skateboard in the house or saunter in at one-thirty a.m. with an innocent smile and a wink that says I know and you know that I could say anything at any time.
But it's an empty threat, perhaps even an imagined one. Marty has no desire to jeopardize the clandestine sexual relationship he's cultivated with his father; George tells himself this whenever danger seems to insinuate itself just below the surface of sweet smiles and ambiguous innuendos, whenever close calls are less thrilling then they are terrifying. When he's lying in Marty's too small bed with his son's head tucked innocently into the hollow between his neck and his shoulder and it's four-thirty in the morning with dawn approaching fast, George stares at the ceiling while his son dozes and wonders whether he is not the only one who is afraid of the end.
Is it some idiot delusion? he wonders the mornings after as he lackadaisically showers away their shared sweat, saliva, and semen. The wordy jargon of every socio and psychological text he has ever happened upon spews rhetoric about the abusive parent across his consciousness, and he worries particularly over the illusion of seduction masking some sort of lurid desire for power and authority that he can't entirely pinpoint or evaluate impartially or control. But, of course, that's the problem that makes his own introspection utterly useless: he is not, and never has been, in control. It was Marty who had abruptly crawled into his lap one day, no longer a child but instead a squirming, scalding furnace of barely contained sexual aggression; it had shocked George, this impulsive declaration of maturity from a being he still remembered being able to nestle in the crook of one arm.
And yet it had been there, and it had been real. His son had been real and solid and assertive, sticking his tongue down his father's throat like he had something to prove, as if the future of his independence depended solely on his gut-wrenching demonstration of dominance with neediness sublimating, barely contained, below that angry surface. So much of George's life had drifted to the wayside of hazy, ephemeral memory, but the powerhouse that was his son-and could that really be his son, affable and lovable Marty?-tugged at something he'd buried within himself years ago. He'd had time to think about it, to pick relentlessly at the suggestion of alignment, of reemergence, of cyclical history. His son had forced him to take a part of himself that was disgusting and hold it up to the light for scrutiny; he had found his feelings no less repulsive under reality's harsh light, but he'd also found that there was a piece missing.
Suburbia fitted together so tightly, so neatly, that at times he felt the breath being squeezed out of him. Picture-perfect square green lawns and modern ranch-style houses reminded him in a macabre way of the sleazy little paperbacks they used to sell on the shelves right around the corner from his precious science-fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines. Cheap, harmless-looking books with garishly colored covers and ambiguous illustrations on the front, and they had titles like "Secret Sin," "Twilight Love," "Roommates," "Brothers," and "Cry of the Loon." He'd amassed a small collection of them in college, always taking care to keep them carefully stashed beneath his mattress and feeling dirty every time he touched their flimsy, flaking covers and felt the rough newsprint of their inner pages. They had purported to show some of the things that really happened behind the closed doors of his own rigid upbringing, the naughty secrets that strict modesty and manners had made impolite to even suggest. Rock and roll had yet to completely change the world, and the media had only just begun to show awareness of fucking and sucking, licking and dicking. But those trashy little sex books had acted as an adolescent exposÃ©, one that had depicted a world in which brothers banged their sisters and fathers did their daughters with little remorse or repercussion. And, more importantly, boys went to bed with other boys.
At the time, George had found these stories to be frightening, repugnant, and painfully arousing all at once. As an adult, however, he dismisses them as poorly-written puerile fantasies. Even as his son licks the sweat from his temple and gingerly chews the flesh of his earlobe, he embraces the notion of fantasy; he is sure it can never really be happening, because real people-/good/ real people, respectable real people with steady jobs and mortgages and pleasantly vapid smiles-would never, ever allow themselves to do something so mind-bogglingly stupid.
/Good-bye, Georgedear/. Lorraine kisses him, unconsciously echoing the motions of her son. /I'll be back around six for dinner. All right, Lorrainedear, see you then/. He stands by the sink, watching idly out the window as his wife gets into her car, tosses him a final wave which he dutifully returns, and pulls out of the driveway. He waits for the minute roar of the engine to die in his ear canal, and then runs the fingertips of one hand nervously over the dry skin of his slightly parted lips. The clock in the living room tick-tick-ticks, barely audible. Sweat trickles down the back of his neck, soaking the collar of his shirt and forcing him into awareness; he is waiting, he is hoping, and he feels guilty because he should be doing neither. So he sets about the task of making coffee for himself with some reluctance, and tries to pretend that he is not waiting.
It is twenty minutes before what he is not waiting for happens, and by that time he has settled himself down at the kitchen table with a rapidly cooling mug of coffee he's barely touched and the morning paper spread out in front of him; he stares at it without reading. The screen door slams shut, and the snap of its spring is followed by a muffled swear and the conspicuous tiptoeing footsteps of someone trying to walk without making any noise. There is a pause and then the world goes the dull red-and-black of the inside of a person's palms while a voice whispers, low and husky, in his ear, "Guess who?"
"Cut it out, Marty." George waves his son away with faux impatience. He waits while Marty laughs and sighs and drapes his arms over his father's shoulders, anxiously shifting his weight from side to side with impatience. "What is this, your fifth tardy this semester?"
"My fourth." George catches Marty's beatific smile out of the corner of his eye. "But I was sort of hoping you'd call me in sick today."
"Why? You aren't sick."
Marty kisses George's cheek. "No, but if you call me in we can spend the day together." He pauses to nuzzle his father like an annoyingly affectionate kitten. "Go back to bed. Get up around noon and watch /Star Wars/. That sort of thing."
George sighs. But he knows that he will lose, and he knew this as soon as he found himself hoping that Marty would come back with his tempting invitation. Still, he thinks that he ought to make some show of reluctance, as the ostensibly responsible party. He lets nearly a minute go by before he allows Marty to coax his head to one side and kiss him sloppily. "All right," he whispers as they pause for air. "All right, I'll call. You go back to bed."
Marty clings to him suddenly. "And you...?"
"I'll be there in a couple of minutes." George soothingly brushes his son's hair off of his forehead. "Go on. I won't make you wait long." But his grip tightens rather than relaxes, and Marty bumps his brow meaningfully against George's.
"I wish you'd just hurry up and remember," he murmurs, his breath tickling George's upper lip. It is such an oddly cryptic statement from his normally straightforward son that George can't help but pull back abruptly, his features creasing in puzzlement.
"Remember what?" But Marty just stares at him helplessly, his expression stricken and sad. It makes George think about the things that should fit, that would fit if only he could find the missing pieces. "Remember what, Marty?"
"I... I don't think I should tell you." He lets go of his father and begins to toe the ground, idly bashful. "But I really want you to remember."
George toys with the edge of his newspaper for a moment. "I know," he says quietly. "I want to remember too." He bites his lower lip and closes his eyes. "Go on, go to your room. I'll be in in a minute." With his eyes still shut, he listens to the obedient pad of Marty's footsteps as they go from the kitchen to the hall.
/Spoiled brat/, he thinks as guilt washes over him. Stupid child, I love you. I'd take apart my whole world for you.
And if I only knew what I had to remember, I would promise never to forget.