by Steven Adamson
The monument has no official name. It seemed to appear out of nowhere one day when I was ten. My family was on our way to the lake, taking the red dirt road through the farmland at Lot's Acre, when I saw a white concrete obelisk at the roadside, fenced by white wood staves.
"What's that?" I asked my dad, the human encyclopedia (or so I considered him at that age.)
"There used to be a town here." He stopped the van. "Let's take a look, guys." I loved these impromptu explorations. Mom stayed with the picnic basket. "Old man McLennan put this up to celebrate the Founders," said Dad. "This is where your great-great-grandfather and all the other folk settled when they came over from Scotland." The dedication ceremony, three weeks earlier, had been attended only by the McLennan family, once owners of a big chunk of Lot's Acre.
My family had driven down this thin, straight, road to the lake a dozen times a year since before I could remember, yet this was the first time I was hearing of the town at Lot's Acre.
I looked around and, in my mind, the wheat fields on either side disappeared, replaced by carts, horses and unpainted log cabins separated by rutted wagon tracks.
"But there's nothing here now," I said, returning to the empty reality around us.
"The railway came through on the other side of the river, so everybody eventually moved there."
As we drove off, I contemplated how I was joined with the Clay County soil by generations of blood and bones. That's why it never surprised me that whenever I passed the monument afterwards, my peripheral vision flickered with glimpses of the lost town.
These days, I'm a great fan of internet porn. It's always available, it's private and the only person you have to satisfy is yourself. Of course, I have nothing to judge it against, since--at nineteen--it's the only sexual outlet I've ever had. So, take a wild guess at what I was doing that quiet Saturday night, when Rick called my cell phone.
"Hello, Ian?" he asked. In the background, I heard countless loud voices.
"That you, Rick?"
"Where are you?" he asked in that careful lilting way I thought of as a fag voice, though it wasn't, really.
"I'm at home," I said.
"Well, I am at the fairground."
I moaned. "You're kidding. I thought you weren't coming."
"Dinah begged Granny for me."
"Dude, since you said you wouldn't be there, I stayed home." This miss was typical of our quasi-romance. Just then, the phone went dead, which was even more typical.
I refused to call him back. For one thing, my back ached from mending fences all day and, for another, he had interrupted my little session at the computer. So it was back to the sleek, tanned men of the internet for me.
But just then, through the bay windows, I saw the moon for the first time that night. It was riding high over the pines, casting shadows that were like sly spells pointed right at me.
Clair de Lune.
There's a story I read once about this crazy kid who goes wandering off in the middle of the night, walking under a
magic-blue, moonlit sky. Not much plot, but the story was suffused with the moon's glow; following the boy on a visit to this girl he had a crush on. I had been sure it was a stalker story setup, but it turned out to be rather sweet: They played moonlight wiffle ball in her backyard and then she sent him on his way with a kiss.
That story was Clair de Lune. Later, I came across a poem with the same name, even a piece of music, but it is the love-struck kid that I always think of. I could never shake the way the moon lit up that night, or the vicarious thrill of new love in a simple touch of lips.
Vicarious--that was the problem. Now, for the first time since I had known Rick, I had an opportunity to be with him alone; to get in on the real thing. How stupid I was being, to give up a live, warm-hearted, warm-bodied, guy for flat pixels. From the three-quarter moon, there came to me a plan, fully formed.
There is nothing as flat as Kansas. On either side of us, bathed in moonlight, the silent wheat shone silver as I drove my Dad's rusted Ford pickup--a truck older than I was--down the ragged lake road. At this time of night I knew there would be no traffic. Now, just ten minutes after leaving the fairground, Rick and I had solitude.
"I still can't believe you can drive," he said.
I always took the bus to meet Rick in the city, trying to be less conspicuous.
"Oh, I've been driving for a long time," I told him, "even before I got my license. That's the nice thing about my dad being the sheriff, is no one hassles me on the road." I dodged the next pothole with flair only to hit two others with teeth-shattering abruptness.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"Like I said, somewhere private. I know you probably think I'm paranoid beyond belief, but I'm always so afraid someone will find out about me, you know?"
"Yes, I understand that," said Rick, "But where are we going?"
"Oh man. Ian, This place is scary."
I was stunned. It had never occurred to me, searching for my own personal Clair de Lune, that this was anything but the most romantic setting.
"You really think so?"
"Yes!" he said, "There are no lights out here."
"That only makes everything look creepier."
My plan had been simply to drive up the road, park at the monument and then Rick and I would sit in the back of the truck, holding each other and eating chocolate. If anything else happened--the two of us being horny teenagers and all--then so be it. Now, realizing Rick's fear, the practical joker in me saw possibilities.
The headlight glare destroyed our night vision, so it was not until I stopped and shut off the lights that Rick caught sight of the obelisk, gleaming like a beacon in the moonlight, right next to us.
"What is that?" he asked.
"A cemetery," I lied.
I had never considered the two of us compatible. Rick was decent looking, but he didn't set my pants on fire. I was
action movies and guitar solos; he made me watch The Princess Diaries and listened to pop bands that even I gleefully labeled 'a bunch of fags.' I was still trying to forget the time he dragged me through three hours of shoe shopping.
The only common ground was a taste for scary movies. I figured he'd appreciate a little fright.
"Oh my God, I cannot believe you're doing this," Rick said, staring straight ahead, hands at his sides in an almost military fashion. I would have laughed if I had not sensed that he was truly scared.
God was another place we differed. For two years I had been a declared atheist. Rick, however, believed. Just this Easter he had tried convincing me to go to church. I remember asking him about it once, when we were eating at our usual table in KFC.
"I know doing stuff with another guy is a sin," he told me. "I just don't think it is going to be a big deal when God judges me." I wondered if he had ever paid attention to the hellfire in a typical sermon.
The problem was that Rick believed entirely too many things. It took severe control to bite my lip whenever he talked about his horoscope. Now, apparently he also believed in ghosts: for him this moonlight scare was a lot more real than a movie.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Look, dude, I was just kidding, this isn't a cemetery."
"You're lying." He continued to stare out the windshield.
"I'm not. I swear. You want to know what it really is?"
"There used to be a town here," I said. "This is where my forefathers settled. You want to come with me and read the inscription?"
I could feel Clair de Lune slipping out of my grasp with each second. My little joke had killed any chance of creating the mood I wanted. I twisted the car key and drove deeper into the moonlit night, Rick silent beside me.
What I really wanted to do was scream at him for being such a pussy, but I tried to salvage the situation with small talk.
"Did you tell Dinah you were leaving the fair?"
"Yes. She was surprised that I knew you."
"You see?" I said. "That's what I was talking about. I told you: everybody knows me 'round here. Because of my father. That's why I don't like you telling people we're friends."
"Yes, well, I told her that I met you at the wedding when she invited me last time, so she doesn't think that it's strange."
With his girly speech and curling hands, Rick was borderline effeminate. The real reason I hated him telling people we were friends was my fear of guilt by association. What would happen when Dinah told people that her visibly gay friend was buddies with the sheriff's son?
Do I sound like a hypocrite? If so, you've clearly never been in the closet. That's why Rick baffled me. Here was a guy who, I was sure, everyone suspected was gay when they met him, yet he seemed to float through small town society, whether it was mine or his own over in Penitence County, like a bird on a Sunday afternoon.
I liked Rick. Never mind the shoes and the chick flicks and the other crimes. Never mind the fact that our romance was cursed from the first date (which we spent watching a Left Behind movie with a roomful of evangelicals because he didn't want to see Matt Damon in an action thriller.) Rick was one of those rare people who never saw targets in other people's feelings. I was glad to know him, only terrified of the consequences. He was a sweet guy and I was too scared of what my parents would think to be decent to him. I was the real pussy.
Out of sight of the monument, I skidded to a stop. All around us, the moonlight glazed the land like fresh snow. Now that the ghosts were out of the way, I could get back to seduction. Not that I expected Rick to require any actual seducing--he and I had decided long ago that we were going to have sex. We had even tried to get together over the summer at a cabin near the lake, but his grandmother had been afraid to let him stay out overnight.
"We could just meet for a few hours at a motel here in the city," he had told me. "That way I wouldn't have to get any permission."
No, for me it was to be Clair de Lune or nothing. I wanted candlelight and music, fresh air and wine. Most of all, I wanted to hold him through the night. Or was it that I wanted him to hold me?
Grabbing the chocolate, I got out of the truck, basking in the silver silence. Rick stayed frozen.
"Aren't you coming out?" I asked.
"You still scared?"
Clair de Lune was fading fast. It was time for defibrillation.
I slipped back in beside him, an arm around his shoulder.
"Look, dude, I'm sorry about this. I was just teasing, I never thought you'd actually believe me. The important thing is none of it is true."
"I need to breathe," he said.
"Okay. Cool. I'll just relax a bit in the meantime."
I laid my head in his lap.
Holy shit. I've got my head on a guy's crotch. His cock must be right next to my face. This is so cool.
I reached up and stroked the side of his face with a finger, hoping to be playful and not annoying. Above Rick's head, through the back window, I saw the moon--my love god-- looking down at me. I searched his face for a clue, wondering how I had lost his favor.
Rick's phone went off in my ear, jarring me upright.
"Oh my God, it's Dinah," Rick said. "What should I tell her?"
"Tell her you're at my place, meeting my parents."
"Aren't your parents away for the weekend?"
"She doesn't know that."
The phone stopped ringing. Dinah left him voicemail: she was ready to go home.
Rick seemed relieved. I felt like a kidnapper. I'd never have another chance like this; I couldn't just let him go.
"What about my place?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Tell her you're spending the night at my place, that my parents invited you. I'll have to sneak you past my Uncle Ronald, but that won't be hard."
Actually, it would be near impossible, but I was desperate.
"I can't do that," Rick said. "Granny let me come because she thought I would be staying with Dinah. It would not feel right."
Like I told you: a sweet guy. So sweet I just wanted to hit him over the head with a wrench. Dude, we could be up all night making slow sweet love and you're worried about your granny?
Finally, I gave in. "Call Dinah. Tell her I'm bringing you back right now."
While he phoned, I worked on turning the pickup around. The road was built on an embankment above the wheat and was barely wide enough for two-way traffic. I reversed to the edge with care, but was late on the brakes. The rear wheels promptly slipped off the edge, the pickup's belly thudding onto the dirt.
Clair de Lune was dead.
The moon blazed down like a spotlight as Rick and I trudged back to the main road. We had not even bothered trying to get the pickup back on the road and it lay like a demented see-saw in the distant darkness.
"I am never going to forget this night," said Rick, for the fifth time.
"Yeah, me either."
"I cannot believe you did this to me."
"I'm really sorry, Rick." I squeezed his shoulder, hoping sincerity would convince him where words had failed. "You'll have to tell Dinah we got a flat tire," I added.
Just ahead stood the stark monument. I took Rick's hand in mine, hoping he would not panic. However, he was smiling.
Maybe he's cracking up.
I reviewed the evening's failure. Was I asking too much? Everyone else just got on with romance--every single nerd and outcast I'd gone through highschool with had blown right by those first steps without deifying them. My problem was an overdeveloped sense of drama. I wanted Romeo and Juliet and garden balconies. I wanted Han Solo and Princess Leia hiding out in the Millennium Falcon. I wanted--God help me--those windswept embraces on the covers of my mom's cheesy romance novels.
Rick leaned into me as we strolled past the monument, holding my hand tighter, but not too tight.
I'm just crippling myself with these expectations, anyway. Why can't I just let things happen, live in the here and now? Real life is not a story. Clair de Lune is just bullshi-
With his eyes twinkling under the smiling moon, Rick was more handsome than anyone I'd ever seen.
"I really am never going to forget tonight." He pulled me to him and waited.
I kissed him.
It was wine of the gods. It was cherry blossoms falling in wet grass. It was red lightning under my skin.
It was Clair de Lune.
In one part of my brain it was over too soon, lasting only a miraculous instant. In another, it still hasn't ended--a kiss as enduring as a black and white movie.
In my second sight, the town at Lot's Acre came alive around us.
"Ian?" said Rick.
Children in suspended trousers, ladies in plain dresses and men in mud covered boots, all stopped work and play to watch the spectacle of us.
"Ian, you're acting all weird." Rick pulled back, holding my shoulders as he inspected my eyes.
Silent anger rippled through the crowd, the men curling their fists. The women shielded their children's eyes, unable to tear away their own stares. Another ghost--a tall man with twin gun-belts and a shiny star on his vest--walked toward me.
"Are you okay?" asked Rick.
The man came close enough that I could make out his face under his hat's wide brim. An aristocrat's nose. Ears too wide. A rugged face. My father's face. My face too, in time.
"Goddammit, quit acting crazy!" Rick shook me.
The cowboy tipped his hat to us, smiling with both sadness and pride. Then he winked and disappeared into the monument, dragging the vision with him.
I grabbed Rick's wrists before he did more damage.
"I'm okay," I said. "That was just a hell of a kiss."
Without waiting to see if he bought that, I took Rick's hand and set off down the road, the whole shimmering world within my reach under the guiding moon.
MONUMENT first appeared in the supernatural, gay romance anthology Tangle XY from Blindeye Books.
Copyright 2008, Steven Adamson. All rights reserved.