The Rub | William Hawkins | Granta

The Rub

William Hawkins

My mother said all the right things when I came out to her. I was twenty-two and she was fifty-one and we were in the parking lot of a Tex-Mex restaurant on Veterans Boulevard.  It wasn’t a place we went to often. The restaurant was two storeys and decorated with fairy lights in the shape of glowing peppers and I couldn’t bear the thought of telling her what I had to tell her at a table with a glass surface still smelling of cheap cleaner so I said, ‘I’m gay.’ She was the poster child of acceptance. An unequivocal statement of love, a slight teasing of having already known  – ‘Remember, when you were in the third grade, Hat Day?’  –  a second unequivocal statement of love, adjoined with a declaration of respect, an avowal of family, of mother and son. ‘I’m so happy you told me.’ We hugged. We went inside. I can’t really remember what we talked about once we had dinner. There was chips and salsa on the table, of course; we split a plate of chicken fajitas for two. As far as I remember. It’s what we usually eat ate at those restaurants. Then it was done. There was no longer any reason I couldn’t be, as they say, my authentic self.

I get along with my family, better than many I know. I see my parents once a week. Usually once a week. They moved from my childhood home in Metairie to a lakehouse on the North Shore. ‘Easier evacuation routes,’ my father says. They are both fishing people, a passion they failed to pass down to any of their three children. It is, possibly, what sustains their marriage, this shared joy of open water, of line, tackle, and hook, fish frys on Fridays. My mother still eats only fish on Friday. She is one of the few remaining devout American Catholics. The why of it is lost in the unspoken memories of her ruthless childhood, one bordering on poverty, a physically absent father and emotionally absent mother with six mouths to feed. We went to church every Sunday as a family; my mother went, still goes, to novenas, early morning rosaries, feast days. Confession every Wednesday. I’ve wondered, now and then, if I’ve come up. If I am something she must confess.


Two weeks ago was like most weeks. I went for Sunday lunch. We were about halfway through our steaks and baked potatoes when she asked me if I was on PrEP.

‘What?’ I asked. My father huffed and said, ‘Liz,’ and continued forking potato into his mouth. It was only the three of us, my brother and sister otherwise engaged, a somewhat uncommon occurrence, my older brother being a habitual bum. No doubt that’s why she waited until then, though there were any number of moments when it was just the two of us that she might have chosen, but no. My mother works a certain way. She feels safest, I think, seated at the table. And maybe, too, she knew that I was, in a sense, trapped there, that conventions would hold me in place long enough to wring an answer out of me.

‘Why would you ask me that?’

‘I want to know that you’re staying safe.’

‘I’m safe.’

‘You’re on PrEP?’


‘You think I don’t know about these things.’ She could have been talking to either one of us. ‘I know all about these things.’

‘I know.’

‘We know, Lizzie.’

She had been a nurse, a nurse in Charity Hospital, no less, which means something if you’re within spitting distance of New Orleans. She didn’t have to be, at least, not by the time I was born; my father’s practice by then lucrative enough that she could have quit completely, or at least found somewhere less demanding. I can remember her coming home, stepping through the kitchen door and bending down to take her shoes and socks off, immediately, always the first thing she did, even as the family began to pile our needs onto her. My mother married into money, but I don’t think she ever learned to trust it, or at least to trust it enough to stop working. Or perhaps it meant that work was one of the few ways her own mother had afforded any worthiness to her. I don’t know.

‘Tell me the truth, Stephen.’

‘I’m not on PrEP.’

‘But why not?’

‘Jesus, Liz. Do we have to do this now?’

‘There’s coconut pie in the kitchen.’

‘I’m not finished with my potato.’

‘I’ll go get the pie,’ I say.

‘You,’ she said, pointing a fork at me, ‘You are going to see Cheston as soon as you can.’

‘I’m not going to see Dr. Moreno.’

‘You don’t have to see him. I’ll just have him call it in.’

‘He’s a podiatrist.’

‘A podiatrist can write a prescription.’

‘Where is this coming from?’

‘She saw it on 60 Minutes.’

‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘It was Leslie Stahl.’

‘I use condoms, Mom,’ I said. ‘If you really, really want to know.’

‘Always?’ she demanded. ‘Always, you use them? 100 percent? Guaranteed?’

‘I’m going to get the pie,’ my dad said.

‘I’ll join you.’

We left her there, berating us both for not listening. ‘I know what I’m about.’ We turned it into sketch comedy, a little performance for the benefit of each other, and then we let the subject drop and waited, listening, until we heard it hit the bottom.


I rarely use condoms when I’m having sex. I rarely have sex. But when I do, I rarely, to the point of never, use condoms. If I had to ascribe a single reason, I would say laziness. Once I’m surrendered to the situation of what’s happening, the man who is about to enter me, it’s easier, it’s always easier, to let it happen as it is. It’s easier on him, it’s easier on me, it feels better, it feels right and above all – did I mention? – it feels easy.  I probably have penetrative sex twice a year, three or four if it’s a good one. So the odds are never stacked too high against me. I do worry, of course I worry, worry is inevitable, and you have to pay the piper, the piper being an extra vial of blood at a doctor’s visit, or else a long wait in my apartment bathroom to see if the control line will be twinned.

The first time I was tested I was still ashamed. It was my first year in college, but I was too nervous to actually be tested at the student center, too afraid of attaching the test to my name. I went where the test was anonymous and free, a clinic opposite the river, which I learned too late, far too late, was an outreach program funded by a large Baptist church out of Marrero. The man who gave me my negative result was a deacon, who asked me question after question about my sex life and made long mmhmms at my promiscuity. There was no blatant religion, but there were a number of different ways he told me to be careful, all of it before finally relinquishing my negative status, in a voice of almost dissatisfaction. I went to the student health clinic after that. And not too long after, home tests were nothing more than a few clicks of the mouse and a filled-in address.


She called the Friday after.

‘Have you thought anymore about what I said?’

I hadn’t. I told her so, but softly. Guiltily. I’ve never been able to shake the guilt of disappointing my mother.

‘I wish you would, Stephen.’ There was a pause; in it I could sense her steadying her resolve. I’m not sure how I knew, what signal there was in the silence transmitting through my phone. ‘You know, I worry about you.’

‘I worry about you, too.’

‘Very funny.’ And then, ‘Did I ever tell you, I worked with some of the AIDS patients at Charity? In, 1990, it must’ve been. You were six,’ she added, helpfully. ‘Kindergarten.’

‘I didn’t know that.’

‘It wasn’t long. There was a nurse, I loved her. Who knows what happened to her. We called her JuJu, I’m not sure what her real name was. She was Black,’ my mom added, as she often added race at the end of a description, always in the manner of having nearly forgotten. ‘She was a doll. Anyway. I agreed to help cover her shifts on that ward, the AIDS ward. It was for about six months. Her mother had cancer. She was busy making sure her mother was comfortable.’

She had called me while I was in my office, a cramped space on campus, squeezed in a narrow hallway, the normal trappings of an associate professor. My door was often closed, if for nothing else than to enjoy the one luxury the office afforded, but when she called it was open, and every once in a while one of my fellow academics would pass, head down, barging toward their next destination, or else a student walking gingerly, unsure of where they were supposed to be, glancing in my open door and then away, quickly, as if they might get in trouble.

‘Are you busy?’ she asked.

‘I’m not busy.’

‘I’ve just been thinking about it lately.’

‘I didn’t know this.’

‘It was horrible,’ she said, so simply it broke my heart to hear it. ‘What the disease did to them. A lot of people wouldn’t take her shifts. A lot of people said,’ and she paused again. Where was she? Home? Not in the car, her voice was close, unobstructed; wherever she was she had her cell phone to her ear, no handsfree speaker. I might have asked but I found myself unwilling to interrupt her. ‘Well, you can imagine what they said.’


‘Do you know, the funny thing is, I haven’t really thought much of that time, until, yes, the 60 Minutes segment.’ A beat where she waited for me to make fun of her and I didn’t. ‘Not even when you, when you came out to me. Or when you were growing up.’

‘Well, why did it make you think of me?’

Another hesitation and, ‘They interviewed this young man, a boy, really. I think he was still in college. There was a whole group of them Leslie Stahl was interviewing at once. You know how they do, sometimes.’

‘I do.’

‘This young man made me think of you.’

Nothing more, nothing further. I let it lie. We started talking about my sister’s kids instead. Karrie was entering her tween years and becoming a headache to her mother, which both my mother and I delighted in. We talked about a trip she and Dad were taking to Jackson Hole for a wedding. We talked about a new restaurant she wanted to go to, next time she was in the city. We said I love you. We hung up.


There are places in the city where you can impersonate love with strangers. There are bathhouses and dark rooms and, if you’re in the know, public bathrooms, gym locker rooms, massage parlors, certain corners of City Park. I’m in the know.

Of course, now you don’t need to be in the know. All you need is the right words in a search bar. All you need is a website in which respectable services are offered alongside pictures of shirtless men.

His name – the name given to me – is Eric. He is a massage therapist. His profile lists certifications; who knows if they exist. This is me, not caring, going to his apartment, an almost off-puttingly normal apartment, which he might or might not share with a roommate. Certainly, one door in the hallway is always closed. The other two, to the bathroom, to his bedroom, remain open.

Eric does massage me. First. I guess Swedish. I’ll tell you the truth, I’ve never really been able to distinguish between masseuse styles. He uses his elbow, sometimes. But otherwise it’s a massage. Touch. A physical understanding of my body through his hands. Bearing down on the fulcrum between pain and pleasure. It is a massage. And then, inevitably, because I pay for inevitably, he begins to reach into the gluteal muscles and then to slide his fingers down my ass crack. Rubbing the space between, until I’m beginning to move my hips and, if he’s in a good mood, he’ll put his free hand on my hips, gently pushing down, denying movement, playing with me.  Making me wait. If he has somewhere to be, he allows me to hurry things along. At this point, he says, ‘Turn over.’ I do. He drapes a folded, warm towel over my eyes. He massages my chest. Circles my belly. And then, slips my cock between his hands and begins in earnest. There is no blowjob. I imagine the lube tastes horrible. Sometimes I give him a blowjob. Twice, he’s turned me back over, and fucked me over the massage table. It’s a sturdy massage table. It wasn’t any extra. The pay is always the same. It depends on his mood. Part of it is that it depends on his mood. It would lose something, if I had options.

When he’s finished with me, he says, ‘Alright.’ It might be, ‘Alright?’ I’m never really sure; his voice blurs the edges of the word, leaving it open to interpretation. I think it’s a necessity of his work. I think he himself must always be open to interpretation, in order to shift boundaries at a moment’s notice. I always thank him. I always mean it. Payment is conducted through our phones. Besides what I pay him for, we never touch.


Mom has something on her mind. More than just the worry of my sexual health. We’re having dinner in a restaurant in Carrollton, near my apartment, near enough that I walked and arrived sweating and ignoring my own sweating, which is the only way you can walk outside in Louisiana in June. At my appearance, she waves away my touch. ‘Go and wash up, you smell how you look.’

I wash up. In the bathroom, I open Grindr. There is a face that’s seventy-six feet away. I open it. They’ll see that I looked at their profile. It’s the only way I know how to be bold.

I return to our table, my appearance gentled. She has already ordered herself a glass of wine. Her lipstick is on the rim of the glass. My own cocktail is barely on the table before she starts.

‘I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it.’

I know what she means, even if it’s been a week since we spoke on the phone. I nod. I sip. I’ve ordered a Sazerac. I try my best to be traditional.

‘All those young men being interviewed. And the young man, that reminded me of you, also reminded me of a patient. A particular patient. I was there when he was first admitted. When he was still,’ and here she waves her hand in a gesture that signifies foolish human hope. ‘He was charming.’ She frowns. ‘I remember thinking he was charming, though I can’t remember why. Isn’t it funny?’ Our waiter returns for our order. He is, of course, the face on Grindr. I keep trying to catch his eye. He won’t look at me. My mother and I both order a seafood salad. ‘Some bread for the table, maybe,’ Mom thinks she asks. Our orders made, the waiter vanishes. He’s young, a little plump in the face, light, ginger hair in a messy cut. Milk skin. On his profile, he identified as a bottom. I watch him go. He looks like a bottom.

‘The funny thing is, what I keep remembering, he had a friend. A lesbian.’ She says lesbian at lowered volume, as she does when she says gay. I honestly don’t think she realizes she does it. A compulsion of her generation. ‘A very masculine lesbian. She was there about as much as you can be. She kept telling us she was his cousin. A lie, I think, but you know, none of us really checked up on it. As if we would ever! But she was very adamant about it. Being his cousin.’

The bread arrives. The waiter still won’t look at me. Rejection. But I’m used to it; it doesn’t ruin my appetite anymore. I slather up a dark piece of bread with butter.

‘She and I never could see eye-to-eye. I tried my best. But it was hard. We were both caring for this man, this boy, really, he couldn’t have been more than twenty-two,’ she sips her wine, ‘he was younger than you now, I’m almost sure of it. But they looked so old.’ She has closed her eyes. ‘They always looked old, in the end, no matter how young they were. Kaposi sarcoma. Do you know what that is?’ Bread in my mouth, I nod. ‘They were so often the color of wine.’ She lifts her glass as evidence. ‘Spilled red wine. This patient, this boy I’m talking about, they were all over his neck. Like a – necklace. Well. You get used to those kinds of things. But she and I, we never saw eye-to eye. I was trying to make him comfortable. She wanted us to heal him. We were in the hospital; she wanted us to make him better. That’s what I think. I kicked her out once.’

I think she’s forgotten I’m her son. Or maybe forgotten’s too strong a word. More like when you stare at something long enough that it starts to blur out of focus. Your mind understands what you see, and it isn’t necessary anymore to know it. To keep knowing it. She’s speaking through me. Maybe, if I turned my head quick enough, I could see what she’s looking at.

‘Do you know, it was always so confusing for them. The patients. So many of them were young. Youthful. And then,’ her hand shoos the air. ‘It sounds silly, or disrespectful, I know, but it made them so ugly. It made them . . . crones. It didn’t matter, man, woman, black, white. If it was sex or a needle. They just shriveled. They . . . ’

‘Imploded,’ I chance.

‘Yes! Imploded.’ She butters a slice of bread. ‘It was hard, for the friends and family. For this woman, I had to kick out. She couldn’t understand. We were supposed to cure him. But he was just imploding into his deathbed. Her beautiful friend. So ugly. Some people, they can’t take ugliness. Life, so much of life, is ugly. Don’t you think?’

I don’t answer, for fear that she will come to herself. She’s looking over my shoulder. She’s seated with her back against the wall. Over my shoulder is, presumably, the restaurant. People and tables and staff. Food coming out, dirty dishes going in. Behind a wall, the kitchen, a scene of controlled chaos. The restaurant is in a remodeled home. We are in what used to be the living room.

‘She called me,’ my mother says, ‘I don’t remember what she called me, actually. It must have been bitch. Bitch, I’m sure. She hated me. God, she hated me. I was only telling her what I had been telling her the past four nights. I said that! I said, “You know how this goes.” And her friend, he was on my side! He was telling her to go, too. He couldn’t speak very loudly, but he was telling her, “I’ll be here tomorrow.” Whispering. There were sores in his throat by that point.’ She lifts her wine to her lips, lowers it, without taking a sip. ‘That’s why he couldn’t, well. God, the things she screamed at me. She was screaming at me. I don’t think I’ve ever really felt that, before or since. Being hated. Not in the abstract. In the eyes. I shouldn’t be saying this,’ she says suddenly and leans back, a look of disgust on her face. ‘I don’t know what’s gotten into me.’

‘The 60 Minutes segment,’ I say. ‘Leslie Stahl.’

‘Fine, tease me.’

‘I wouldn’t tease you.’

‘Oh, really?’

‘I mean, not about this.’

She shrugs. Looks around, shrugs again. ‘Sometimes the past is just here. Uninvited.’


‘Your sister is bringing the kids for a weekend at the end of the month.’

‘You told me.’

‘She’s racking up the air miles.’

‘She’s not going to get divorced.’

‘Who said anything about divorce?’ Our food has arrived; the waiter still won’t look at me. Two bowls of expensive lettuce, one for me and one for her. ‘You think I want her to get divorced? I don’t want that.’

‘I don’t think that.’

‘Yes, you do.’

It goes on like this. Pulling the bone of my sister’s marriage between us. It is either that or my older brother’s continued failures at life, his new relationship that’s doomed, the ongoing threat of relapse and another stint at whatever rehabilitation program my parents will pay for. Or else we discuss my paternal aunt’s money problems, my maternal aunt’s infamous brood of petty criminals and low-energy anarchists, my father’s pinched nerve, Mrs. Brudbeaker’s garish lawn ornaments, the politics of the Endymion Krewe. My mother and I never lack for conversation. Perhaps because we both pointedly avoid talking about ourselves too much to the other. The world is something to be picked apart between us, consumed, like salads and bread. The waiter never once looks at me. The second time I go to the bathroom, after the meal is finished, I check Grindr. He’s blocked me. I know, because I added his profile to my list of favorites, to see if he would. And he did. When I go back to the table, my mother has already paid the check and is standing, maneuvering her purse strap over her shoulder, waiting for me. For a while, at our lunches, she asked me if I was dating. That stopped some time ago. It was always the same answer. We were both disappointed by it.


Eric, my guaranteed happy ending, is coming to my apartment. There are reasons, the details kept purposefully vague, that he no longer performs massages at his apartment. I think about the closed door to the other bedroom. The soft signs of another person on the furniture. I wonder if it’s a woman. I bet it’s a woman. The only question, really, is if she knows how he makes his money. If they share in this living, or not.

I’m nervous to have him over. Not the least of which, I have a terrible fantasy of him using the opportunity to rob me blind, leave me tied up in my bathroom, or worse. And yet as awful is the fantasy that this coming into my apartment, this meeting of the domicile, will create something more than a happy ending. Something more enduring. Which is also ridiculous, as the thought of actually being with Eric is non-entity, an amorphous blob of my imagination.  If he does end up robbing me blind, I’ll never hear the end of it. If I ever told anyone. I wouldn’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t even report the crime to the police. There’s really not much to steal in my apartment anyway. Middle-grade furniture, an entertainment center, a jar of quarters. My laptop, game system, the electronics, I suppose. Waiting for him in my living room, looking over everything, it occurs to me that my home is as sparse as his. To an invited eye, as lifeless. A staged home.

He’s chatty when he arrives. Asks me how I am, how’s work been, you’re a teacher, right, at where? Oh, Loyola, man, I didn’t realize that, you’re like, a professor? What in? Like black holes and stuff? Man, I don’t think I knew that, did I know that? Yeah, I can set it up right in here, this is perfect, just let me lay some towels down. No, man, you’re good, seriously, take a seat on the couch, I got everything covered. Just don’t want to get oil on your floor. No, I got it, these massage tables nowadays, they don’t weigh a thing, man. So, physics. Do you like it? That’s good, that’s good. A job is always easier when you like it. I do, actually. It’s hard work, but, yeah, it’s rewarding, when you’re helping a client through their stress. I think it’s healing. I think of myself as a healer. You want some candles? Ah, that’s tight man, dimmers, how much to get those installed? Nice, nice, this is perfect. Well, if you want to go get set up. I need to put on some music, though. I have my iPhone but, if you have something a little, yeah, man, that’s perfect. You’ve got a nice set up here, Johnny, do you know?

My name is Stephen. At first, I’m not sure if Johnny isn’t, in fact, some catch-all nickname, another man, dude, bro, but it becomes clear that he thinks my name is Johnny and for a moment I’m second-guessing myself, wondering what I put on the website where I found Eric, if I put in the name Johnny as some nervous need for privacy. But no, no. I think he’s called me Stephen before; in fact, I remember because he called me ‘Stevey’, and I’m thinking all of this as I go to the bathroom, take off my clothes and cinch a bathrobe around myself, and emerge. Eric is waiting by the massage table. He’s taken his shirt off. He doesn’t wait for me to get to the massage table before he lowers himself on his knees and opens the curtain of my bathrobe. He blows me. It’s as sexy as it sounds. What am I supposed to do? I get hard. Hard’s nothing. Hard is a doctor hitting your knee with a rubber mallet. Wet, warm and tight, everything’s alright. Who said that? Who do I know who would say something like that? I’m hard, but that’s as far as I can go. He’ll dehydrate before I ever come. His eyes are closed. I put my hand on top of his head, he says, ‘Pull my hair.’ Around my cock it sounds like, ‘Per my air.’ I pull on his hair. He makes a grand performance of a deepthroat, coming up gasping for air, eyes glistening. My cock isn’t that big. It’s hard, but that’s just the blood of it. He stands up, he walks over to the massage table, he bends and slips his shorts down to his ankles. Leans against the massage table. Positions himself for me. His ass crack is mercilessly hairless. ‘You wanna fuck me?’ he asks. I’m normally a bottom, so no. I don’t have the particular urge. But he has a hand on either ass cheek, is spreading it apart. The evil eye. A joke a friend of mine made once. I almost laugh at it anew. He hasn’t mentioned condoms. He’s taking a bottle of lube from a small bag beneath the massage table, he’s getting himself ready for me, but there is still no condom. Is it my job to suggest one? No. No, he doesn’t want one. Is he on PrEP? I should ask him. The responsible thing to do is to ask him.

I fuck him from behind. It’s a bad porno, start to finish. And when I’m finished, I mean when I am finishing, I finish still inside him. I should have asked, Are you on PrEP? Or, Do you have a condom? I should have asked, but I didn’t. I should have put on a condom, but I have no condoms in my apartment. My two-bedroom apartment where only one person sleeps. When I am finished, Eric goes to the bathroom for a long time, his clothes crumpled in his right hand. When he emerges to the background of a flushing toilet, he’s dressed. He chats with me about the Saints while he packs up his massage table. I could say, I still want a massage. I can do it. I know, this knowing has a slick feel, but it’s knowing all the same, I know that whatever I tell him to do, and he’ll do, right now. There is an understanding in the air that any request has a price tag, and if I pay, he’ll do. He’s trying to get out of here before either I choose to enforce this understanding or, maybe, before he lingers. Because I think he wants to linger. I think he liked it. When I came, he pushed himself against me. I had my hands on his pecs. I was squeezing them, as hard as my shaking body allowed. I felt his cock. It was hard. But what did I just say? Hard is a reflex. What I do, what I end up doing, is helping him fold the massage table. All of it, this whole thing, has lasted fifteen minutes. When he is gone, I pay him over the phone, as I always do. I pay him the same amount as I always do. The next time I text him, he doesn’t respond. When I try to find his profile, it, too, is gone. None of this bothers me, particularly. Not particularly.


The earliest memories of my mother are of her worry. A hand, pulling my shoulder away from the coat rack that I was getting lost in. This was a department store, a JCPenny, a Dillard’s. I loved to go inside the circular coat racks. I loved to hide. Her hand, when we were in the department store, was always hovering near my shoulder. That nervous hand, cupping up my face when I’m eight, her eyes searching out some cut, some injury she might have otherwise missed after I had fallen off my bike in our driveway, slick with rain. She had been watching from a kitchen window, a happenstance, but she was there in a moment, cupping my chin, confirming the alarm on my face for herself. Confirming her worry. The way she sat in the bleachers at Little League games, her left arm crossed across her body, her right elbow resting on it, her right hand near her mouth. My mother is a serial nail biter. That position, crossed left arm holding up the right, her hand near her mouth, is a position I associate with her. Which is funny, because I have to imagine that as a nurse, a nurse working in Charity Hospital, she had to see things which made my scrapes look like the pathetic war wounds they were, and yet. That worry. Hanging over me.

I have other memories. Of kindness, love. Of joy. My mother could be, can be, a joyous person. Memories of anger, memories, when I was a teenager, of sloppiness, most often after three glasses of wine. Memories of ineptitude, the woman could never cook yet kept trying for reasons none of us could understand, memories of surety, the back of her hand more capable than any thermometer. The time when my older brother, when he was a child, fell and broke his leg so that you could see, by common telling, the shape of the broken bone beneath the skin. My mom had to both console my brother and drive the car to hospital, while my father fidgeted uselessly in the back seat, unable to do either. The memories of my mother are long and varied, but there are many of her worry. Her worry, a ghost between us.

Why did she tell me that story? There was no warning in it, not really. No fable or moral play. What the story was really about was the woman, the friend, the one who refused to leave and my mother kicked out. Maybe she wanted forgiveness from me. Thought that I would have the ability to forgive her, for withholding kindness from a man dying of AIDS. She, in her time as a nurse on that ward, has a deeper connection to the plague years than I will ever have. It was 1996 and I was eleven years old when I first heard about AIDS. Maggie Bertram told kids in the playground that you had to check your seat in the movie theaters before you sat down, that a man was out there putting needles in chairs, and the needles gave you AIDS. And I still didn’t know what it was. Only that I should check my movie seat before sitting down. I can’t give my mother forgiveness for something that has nothing to do with me. For something I don’t have.

Maybe, one of these days, one of these masseuses, one of these bathroom hookups, spa quickies, one of these below-the-belt moments I will, at last, receive the human immunodeficiency virus and my mother’s worry will be fulfilled and the judgment of Bible Belt society will be fulfilled and I will be part of something. I will be one of those profiles on Grindr of a happy, fit man named Please Read Profile! and I will belong to the Poz tribe. I will be recognizable and undetectable at once. She’s right. I should be on PrEP.

It’s another Sunday. Another lunch on the North Shore. My older brother is also in attendance this time, so my mother’s worry is divided, and we all have a fine time. My father has fried fish, and there are open bottles of wine, which my brother doesn’t drink, and there is talk about the trip Mom and Dad are about to go on, which starts in the Key West and goes, by chartered boat, to Dry Tortugas. Mom and I haven’t talked much since our lunch, and neither of us have mentioned the memory she put between us. We might never. She does, at one point in lunch, when my brother and father are occupied, say, ‘Stephen,’ and I interrupt the rest with, ‘If this about PrEP, I’m on it, OK, you win, you and Leslie Stahl, you always win,’ and she laughs and squeezes my wrist and says, ‘Good,’ and believes me.


Image © Khamkéo Vilaysing 

William Hawkins

William Hawkins has been published in TriQuarterly, ZYZZYVA and He currently lives in Los Angeles and is at work on a collection of novella and linked stories titled the fairies at four a.m. and other stories, which includes ‘The Rub.’

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