Fiction. With humor and grace, Ken Harvey dissects the connective tissue between friends and lovers, parents and children. He knows the precise spot where joy and sorrow meet in the walls and chambers of the human heart. He knows how the ending of one story can be a bridge to the next. And he writes like an angel. This is a wonderful debut -- Mameve Medwed. Ken Harvey's work has been published in over fifteen literary magazines. He is the recipient of an Artists Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation.
|Publisher:||Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.53(w) x 8.51(h) x 0.66(d)|
Read an Excerpt
If You Were With Me Everything
Would Be All Right
In the used bookstore, an old white house off the Maine Turnpike that smelled of pine shelves, Owen was looking through some postcards next to a stack of Saturday Evening Posts. He picked one of these cards out of the bin to study more carefully, a blue and green sketch of the Thousand Islands International Bridge between Ivy Lea, Ontario, and Colin's Landing, New York. The caption called the bridge "the largest international project in the world" since it was made up of five bridges, including the "World's Smallest International Bridge and having ten miles of highway through the very heart of the Thousand Miles."
"What's so interesting?" Arthur asked.
"These bridges, that's all," Owen said. "You know me." Owen was an architect and was fascinated by the structure of things. "What about you? What'd you find?"
"A few books. That Gielgud bio I'd been looking for," Arthur said. "It's time to pick out your print like you promised. You feeling OK now?"
Owen had gotten dizzy in the car. He said it was a little light-headedness when he asked Arthur to drive for him. They'd come up from Boston that morning to Ogunquit where they'd planned to have dinner and browse in this store that also sold maps, historical documents, and various prints: flowers, birds, and turn-of-the-century sketches of a number of Maine's colleges, including Bowdoin, where Owen had gone over twenty years ago.Arthur never missed a chance to be sentimental and wanted to buy him a print of the college for his birthday. Because Owen thought the gift too expensive, he insisted on paying for dinner this evening as well as a room the two of them were to share in the motor lodge.
In turn, Owen agreed to pick out a print of his alma mater, even though he hated reminders of his youth. Owen was about to turn forty-five, an age, he sometimes thought, when anything good that happened to him would have to be labeled "a long time coming." He was slowly losing the lovely reddish brown waves of hair that made him so attractive all his life, and now wore glasses more to hide the thin lines around his eyes rather than to improve his vision.
"I'm feeling better, I guess," Owen said to Arthur now. He ran his finger along the International Bridge on the card, picking up dust. It seemed odd talking about his own health since Owen was used to worrying about Arthur and when he would eventually get sick. At first he thought he could handle that Arthur was infected, but as the two of them considered shifting their lives for each other, perhaps even living together someday soon, Owen had begun to panic.
Owen put his hand on top of Arthur's, the first time he had touched him since their argument in the car. It had started when Arthur suggested a word game, a simple one, he explained. All you had to do was name a topic, like gay bars, Sundays, sex, pets. The other person then tells what he either loves or hates about the subject. You could take your pick.
"You start," Arthur had said. He took a sip of coffee from the Styrofoam cup in the rack between the two seats.
"Me?" Owen said. "But it's your game." It was so like Arthur to start something, then throw the responsibility to someone else. Sometimes Arthur would call at night, say hello, then wait for Owen to pick up the conversation. Arthur was younger than Owen by about ten years, but that shouldn't mean Owen always had to take the lead.
Owen switched lanes quickly, making Arthur spill some coffee on his chest.
"Shit. My new T-shirt." Arthur directed a gay theater company in Boston and in the summer wore T-shirts from what he called his gay musical collection. Today he had on a shirt with two men dancing in farmer's overalls and straw hats with the title "Oklahomo!" at the top.
"You can soak it at the motel," Owen said.
"Well?" Arthur asked. "Are you going to play or not?"
"I really don't know how to begin," Owen said. He looked at his odometer to see how far it was to Ogunquit. The numbers seemed blurred. Then, when he squinted, he imagined the numbers were years in the future spinning by. He suddenly wondered how much longer Arthur would be with him.
"Just start," Arthur said.
"How do you get points?"
"This is just a game to know each other better. It's not a competition."
"OK, OK," Owen said. "Let's see. How about love?" He was hoping he might catch Arthur off guard and win this game, even if Arthur didn't want to give out points.
"I don't know," Arthur said. "There's so much. You know, like falling in love or being in love or falling out of love."
"You said just name one thing."
"Fine," Arthur said. "I'm going to surprise you. I'm going to tell you something I hate about falling in love. What I really hate is that all those fucking Dionne Warwick songs actually start to make some sense. That drives me crazy more than anything." He flipped his bare feet up on the dashboard and folded his knees under his chin.
"Arthur, that's ridiculous."
"What do you mean? I think my answer sort of covers it all," Arthur said. "Have you really listened to the lyrics to one of her songs? They're insanely trite and weepy and make total sense once you're in the throes of romance."
"'You'll Never Get To Heaven If You Break My Heart,'" Owen said. "Yes, my dear. That about covers it all."
"Look, I didn't say I liked the songs. I didn't even say that they moved me. I just said that I understand them."
"Actually, I think they do move you, Arthur," Owen said with a smirk. "That's what scares me."
"Now wait a minute," Owen said. "I was only kidding. I like how sentimental you are. It's kind of cute."
"I said fuck you."
"Come on. This was supposed to be fun, remember? We were going to smooth things over."
A few nights earlier they'd had a "crisis," as Owen called them. Arthur had arrived to pick him up for the movies. Owen was changing his clothes.
"Owen," Arthur began. "I need to ask you something."
Owen took off his shirt and rolled some deodorant under his arms. "What is it?"
"I don't know. It's hard to explain. I just get the feeling you don't like touching me anymore. I mean, we hardly ever hug just to hug and when we make love, it's like you're not really with me."
"No, listen to me. Please," Arthur said. "Why don't we ever talk about living together anymore? For a while we were checking the papers all the time for a place. That all sort of fizzled out. Is it because you don't want to sleep with me every night?" Arthur waited for an answer but Owen turned his back to get a fresh pair of socks out of his bureau. "I guess I feel like you're trying to reposition me in your life. Are you?"
Owen pulled off his jeans and stuck his hand in his bikini briefs to adjust himself. "The only thing I'm trying to reposition right now is in my shorts."
"Don't ignore me," Arthur said. "Why can't you even deal with my hands on you anymore?"
"Don't take things so personally," Owen said. "It's like the doctor slapped you on the ass when you were born and you've taken everything to heart ever since."
"I'm not going to let you shove me aside without talking about it," Arthur said. "Come on. Tell me. Tell me you're bored or angry or afraid I'm going to infect you or whatever. Just tell me what's going on."
"I don't want to have this conversation," Owen said. Arthur's eyes started to well up as they often did when he and Owen fought. He bit his lower lip and blinked his eyes quickly.
"Look, I'm sorry," Owen said. "I just get nervous, that's all. It's me. I guess I'm scared." He touched Arthur's hand.
Now, in the bookstore, Owen touched Arthur's hand again.
"I'm sorry about the misunderstanding in the car," Owen said. "Forgive me?"
"Sure," Arthur said.
The two of them were quiet. Finally Arthur took the postcard of the Thousand Islands International Bridge from Owen's hand to fill in the void. He turned the card over.
"Did you read this?" Arthur asked.
On the back of the card was a two-cent Canadian stamp and the postmark June 7, 11:00 PM., 1938, Brockville, Ontario. There was writing in black ink that varied light and dark depending on the angle of the fountain pen. The card was addressed to Robt. Carrington, 29 Childs St., East McKeesport, Penn., USA. It read:
If you were with me everything
would be all right.
They had dinner in an old inn that was a five-minute walk from the motel. Arthur said he was hungry and ordered a chicken dish with a rich white sauce. He stuffed himself with buttered rolls before the meal. The doctor had told him it was a good idea to gain a few pounds.
Owen was beginning to feel light-headed again, and he didn't know why. He was the healthy one of the two, with no trace of the virus to worry about, and he ran about six miles a day. At the motel he had gotten so dizzy in the shower that he had to hold onto the towel bar so as not to slip. Steam rose in a dense hot cloud around him, and Owen had the sensation that if he fell he might drop miles and miles before hitting the ground. He felt he was being pulled, although he had no idea where.
"It's very clear to me," Arthur said. He swished the wine in his glass to make a little whirlpool. "Bob and Stanley were loversif not in a totally sexual way at least emotionally, and I believe they at least kissed, if not more. Then Stanley got scared of his passion and fled. My guess is that Stanley got married quickly and went on his honeymoon withlet's say her name is Suzyand then, once there with his wife, got this intense longing for Bob and wrote him the card."
"I think you're reading way too much into it," Owen said. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Do you really think Stanley would write something so obvious on a postcard that anyone could see? Even if there was something only remotely romantic between them, he'd never take a risk like that."
"That's part of the charm of it," Arthur said. "They were so innocent about the whole thing, so totally and obliviously in love"
"I doubt it," Owen said. He sipped the tea he'd ordered, hoping it might soothe him. "I think it's much more likely that Bob and Stanley were business partners and that Stanley was up in Canada trying to cut a deal of some sort. Somehow he blew itor blew some part of the deal, the part Bob would have been able to pull off. So he wrote him the card."
"In that case he would have called," Arthur said. "You just don't want to see what's right in front of your eyes."
"You've been listening to too much Dionne Warwick."
"It's like you don't want to believe that two men could love each other as dearly as Bob and Stanley obviously did," Arthur said. "Christ, you sound so straight when you talk like this, like one of those tediously stuffy academics who never want to believe Willa Cather was a lesbian."
The waiter came. Owen signed the bill and put his American Express card back in his wallet. "You go back to the motel and I'll take a walk. Maybe some fresh air would do me good. I'll be in later on."
"Don't be that way," Arthur said. "Can't we even discuss something like a postcard? I just think it's funny how resistant you are to Bob and Stanley's romance, that's all. Why won't you even consider the possibility unless it's completely spelled out for you? It's like one of those buildings you design. You need a blueprint first."
Owen sat on a bench along the Marginal Way, a narrow dirt path of about two miles that overlooked the ocean. He watched the last flashes of sunlight trickle off the water as it got dark. Two elderly women dressed neatly in slacks and sweaters walked by arm in arm. One had long silver hair that blew off her shoulders in the wind. They smiled at Owen as they went by him. The one with the silver hair said "hello" and the other, who seemed a bit older, said something about it being such a beautiful evening. Owen must have been distracted by somethinghis dizziness, perhaps, or the oceanbecause by the time he spoke to agree with her, to tell her it really was a gorgeous night, the two women were gone.
Owen heard a rustle in the bushes to his side. He thought it might be an animal, although he had no idea what kind of animal might live so close to the ocean and the populated business area a minute or so away. Maybe a deer or a skunk. A sharp ocean breeze cut across his face and Owen brought his hands up to rub his cheeks for warmth. He felt the salt from the water on his eyelids. He thought he might be getting dizzy again but couldn't really tell while he was sitting, so he stood up slowly, his hand on the end of the bench. He began to feel a stirring inside him, or even a cracking of something brittle, perhaps his very bones.
"You're not going anywhere before you give me my postcard back. Hand it over."
The man had come out of the brush area where Owen had heard the noise. He was about Owen's age and wore a white suit with pleated pants, a white shirt, and a thin black tie. On his lapel was a sprig of magnolia blossom that Owen assumed he'd just cut from shrubbery along the Marginal Way. When the man took off his Homburg hat, Owen noticed that his hair was slicked back.
"I'm Stanley and I said I want my postcard back. The one you bought for fifty-two cents this afternoon." He put the hat in front of Owen so he might drop the postcard inside.
Owen looked away. He slowly stood on his toes hoping he might see the two women again over the tops of the dense shrubbery.
"I'm waiting, pal," Stanley said. He tapped his foot. "And don't start moaning about how you're feeling. I know you're dizzy. That was me stirring things up a little before my grand entrance."
Owen put his hands in his pockets. "I'm afraid I don't have your postcard. I left it in the motel room. I think it's on top of the bureau."
"You think you know where it is? Boy, are you something." Stanley took out a Lucky Strike and lit it. "Now sit down."
Owen obeyed and Stanley sat next to him. Stanley crossed his legs and took a leisurely drag of his cigarette, blowing little rings of smoke when he exhaled.
"You smell like Old Spice," Owen said. "I hate that stuff. It reminds me of my father."
"Sorry. We didn't have Obsession to splash on like you boys do nowadays." He hit the pack of Lucky Strikes hard against the side of his hand until a cigarette popped out. "Want one?"
"No, thanks," Owen said.
"You thought we were business partners? Oh come on now, honey." Stanley shook his head disapprovingly. "Well, let me tell you something. I don't believe you love Arthur in the least. There. How do you think that feels?"
"But I do love Arthur," Owen said.
"Ohhh," Stanley said. "Now I'm supposed to believe you." Stanley put his cigarette on the edge of the bench, then took his magnolia blossom off his lapel and began plucking the petals one by one. "He loves him. He loves him not. He loves him. He loves him not." Stanley threw the stem over his shoulder. "Sorry. I don't buy it."
"How was I supposed to know you loved Bob?" Owen said. "There wasn't enough to go on."
"Wasn't enough to go on," Stanley said in mocking voice. "Well in case you have learned by now, Orson"
"Owen. The name's Owen."
"Pardon me." Stanley sighed in exasperation and for a moment Owen was afraid he might not continue. "Now are we going sit here and play Name That Skeptic or do you want to hear what I have to say?"
"Sorry," Owen said.
Stanley was quiet. It had gotten darker and Owen had a hard time seeing him, so he reached over and touched Stanley on the knee to make sure he was still there.
"Get your hands off me," Stanley said. "What are you doing cruising some guy you only know through a postcard? And what about that sweet little Arthur who's all by himself in a motel watching Siskel and Ebert fight over their favorite Shelly Winters' movie?"
"I wasn't cruising you."
"Oh, please," Stanley said. "By the way, what did you think of her in The Poseidon Adventure?"
"I never saw it," Owen said. "I didn't go to movies much once I was in college."
"I never saw it either," Stanley said. "I didn't go to movies much once I was dead."
"So what were you going to tell me?" Owen said in the darkness. "You started to say something about me not having enough to go on."
"What I was going to say," Stanley said, "was that in case you haven't learned by now, we never have that much to go on."
Owen wanted to touch him again but resisted. He brought his knee up to the bench and twisted his body so it faced Stanley. Owen could still see the outline of Stanley's long nose and could tell he'd put his hat back on. Below them, the tide had come close enough so that Owen could hear the water splashing against the rocks.
"What do you mean by that?" Owen finally asked.
"Shit," Stanley said. "I've got to be pithy, too? Isn't it enough that I've come back to talk to you? I hate it when people demand I say something meaningful. I just can't take the pressure." Owen heard Stanley take his handkerchief out of his pocket and wipe his brow.
"I don't mean to pressure you."
"It's not your fault," Stanley said. "What I'm trying to tell you, Otto"
"What I'm trying to tell you, Owen, is that sometimes the only evidence you get in life is a cheap postcard of the Thousand Islands International Bridge. Now I know that's a pretty flimsy thing to pin your faith on, but love, it's about as sure a bet as you're going to get in this world." When Stanley stood up, his knees cracked. "Bob used to hate that sound. It drove him crazy." Stanley walked around the bench as if to get the kinks out of his legs.
"So why'd you leave him?" Owen asked.
"That really doesn't matter," Stanley said. "What matters right now is that you don't leave Arthur or let Arthur leave you. Understand?"
"I think I do."
"Good," Stanley said. "Now do you guys have any good plans for the summer?"
"Well, Arthur made plans for us to go on a cruise."
"Really?" Stanley said. "Now that sounds a lot more romantic than that tacky motel you're in tonight." He suddenly sneezed, then sneezed three or four times again in rapid succession. "Damn allergies. Bad time of year." He blew his nose.
"We're going on the Queen Mary. Did you and Bob ever go on it?"
Stanley gave a little laugh. He was standing right next to the bushes where he had first appeared. "Owen, dear, you're looking at the Queen Mary."
Arthur was asleep in the motel. The TV was on, perched on the wall across from Arthur's feet. He had been watching the Weather Channel. A list of temperatures around the country was running down the screen against some canned elevator music. Owen turned the TV off and sat at the edge of the bed.
Arthur was naked. Owen rubbed his hand along his shoulder and down his side. He brushed his fingers against his hips and legs. "Hey," Arthur said, slowly turning to Owen. "Did you have a nice walk?"
Owen said nothing but took off his clothes. He climbed into bed and pressed himself tight against Arthur. He kissed him on the forehead and on the lips.
"Hold me," Owen said.
They held each other with their heads on the pillow Owen stroked Arthur's hair and goatee.
"You didn't tell me how your walk was," Arthur said.
Owen hesitated. He wrapped his arms as tight as he could around Arthur and let out a sigh of pleasure. "That's how my walk was," Owen said. "It was as nice as that."
"Good," Arthur said.
When Owen let him go, Arthur pushed himself up on his elbows and looked around the room as if trying to wake up by exposing his eyes to light. He got out of bed and went into the bathroom. Owen heard him pee.
"I think I'd like to go for a walk, too," Arthur said when he came back into the room. He stood at the foot of the bed.
"I came back because I wanted to be with you."
"Well, you can walk with me," Arthur said. He stretched his arms over his head and yawned.
"I really don't feel like getting dressed again," Owen said.
"Then we won't."
"Thanks. Let's just stay here and snuggle, OK?"
"I meant we won't get dressed. We can still go for our walk," Arthur said. He extended his arms to lift Owen off the bed.
"What are you talking about?"
"Nobody's going to see us. It's dark outside. Come on, Owen. Be a little daring, will you?" By now Arthur was leading Owen to the door.
"But it's chilly out there. Really. You'll catch a cold."
"I'll survive," Arthur said. He opened the door and led Owen onto a small wooden porch. The two of them ran behind the hedges that lined the Marginal Way.
"I've never done anything like this," Owen said. They were now walking on tiptoe to avoid cutting their feet on the sharp stones sticking up in the gravel. Owen wrapped his arm around Arthur's waist, then rubbed his hand quickly along Arthur's side to keep him warm. Arthur stopped and turned to Owen. They kissed.
"Let's go down by the water," Arthur said.
Arthur led Owen by the hand down some large red rocks, waiting for him at the end of every step to make sure he didn't slip. The tide was still high when they finally reached the bottom of the hill.
"Let's put our feet in the water," Arthur said. He sat on a rock next to Owen.
"Are you crazy?" Owen said. "The water's freezing. I just wanted to look at the ocean for a minute and then go back."
Arthur didn't say anything. He lowered his legs and kicked his feet when a ripple from a wave came by Arthur waited for Owen to follow.
"My ankles are aching," Owen said when his feet finally touched the water. "It's so fucking cold."
"You'll get used to it," Arthur said. He leaned back against the rock and opened his arms wide. Owen thought that he had never seen anyone look so free as Arthur did right then.
"Arthur," Owen began. "I think you were right about the postcard. About Stanley and Bob, I mean. I don't know why I didn't want to think they were lovers. Of course they were. I know that now."
"You were just trying to reposition them," Arthur said. He turned to Owen and touched his cheek.
Owen reached for Arthur's hand and looked up at the stars. They were silent for a while.
"In a way it was cowardly of me not to believe they loved each other," Owen said. "I don't know why. It just feels that way to me now."
Then, to prove to Arthur that he was ready to take a leap of faith he hadn't taken with Stanley and Bob, Owen stood on the rock and walked into the ocean. He turned and saw Arthur's silhouette behind him. Owen felt a sharp pang of grief when he saw Arthur that way, dark and without features. When Arthur yelled not to worry, that he was there to save him if the tide got too much, Owen relaxed. He swam farther out. His skin tightened from cold. As he swam deeper and deeper, he grew numb until he couldn't tell his own body from the water around him. Owen stopped to let his legs rise to the surface and to stretch his arms. The surf gently lifted and lowered him. He turned his head and looked to the shore. At this distance, Arthur had completely faded from view. Owen rolled his head back and watched the sky, trying to find Arthur's face in the configuration of stars, like some new constellation. Please be with me, Owen thought. Be with me here, in this new territory of ours, where nothing seems young, not you, not love, not even death.
Table of Contents
|If You Were With Me Everything Would Be All Right||11|
|Mr. Bubble, I Love You||27|
|So This Is Pain||47|
|The Near Occasion||119|
|The Last Warm Day||201|