by Milan Smith
Celine and I love the theater, we love it so much we go to every show the city puts on, even the bad ones, which is all we really get here in Cervantes. And though we adore the dramas and the comedies, we love musicals the best. Music is Celine's life, her drug of choice, she even sings for tips in a local night club – if you want to call it singing – and would do it for nothing if she had to.
In a small town like Cervantes we never get to see anything professional, so when we heard a Broadway show was coming we bought tickets the first day and waited with all impatience until play night, and then drove to the theater an hour early. While we sat there waiting I read the program three times as Celine again told me everything she knew about the show, and when she'd done that she started to make things up, telling me stories about the actors that I knew were lies. I didn't mind, I've done the same thing when I've been bored, but I was grateful when people started pouring in the theater. I could tell right away it was a sell-out crowd, and the people buzzed madly around us.
One of the first to arrive was a couple named the Delaney's, who sat next to Celine. Mr. Delaney was a thick, red-faced all-American looking guy of about 50, and Mrs. Delaney was a much younger frumpy blond, who was also six or seven months pregnant. She and Celine immediately started talking about the play. Celine, I've found, can make friends anywhere. Mrs. Delaney hadn't seen the show before, but she'd read up and knew everything about the actors and director and writer – even the gossip, which is the part Celine and I loved best. Since the play opened late, they talked for a long time, and Celine loved listening because it reminded her of her own show business traumas. They went on this way until Mrs. Delaney gave a little jump. "Oh," she said, "I think he kicked."
Celine bent over as Mrs. Delaney rubbed her stomach, and Mr. Delaney and I leaned forward to watch. The kid kicked for a few minutes, then Mrs. Delaney sighed. "I think he's done," she said. "He's been busy all week, just kicking away."
"Is he your first?" Celine asked.
"Our second, actually. Our first is three. This young man comes in two months."
Then Mrs. Delaney looked at Celine – who was a big woman, six-foot and heavy set – and pointed to her belly. "So, how far along are you?" Mrs. Delaney asked.
I cringed. Celine has a sharp tongue, which she often unleashes upon the foolish or insulting. I grabbed Celine's hand and gave her thick fingers a squeeze as she lay her other hand on her stomach. Then Celine gave Mrs. Delaney a cherub-like smile and said, "Six months."
I bit my cheeks to keep from laughing, then I leaned over, rubbed Celine's belly and said, "I can't wait, this'll be our first."
Celine slapped my hand so hard it stung – she's a strong woman. "Enough honey," she said in a loud whisper, "we're in public."
I frowned as Mr. Delaney leaned forward with his eyes blank and jaw open. I turned and sat back in my seat.
"My sweetie is a bit overeager," Celine said. "He gets excited and sometimes needs a reminder to behave."
"Oh, there's nothing wrong with that, ma'am," Mr. Delaney said, "I was a little giddy myself when Gail was pregnant the first time."
"Oh, call me Celine." Mr. Delaney nodded and leaned back.
I sighed and re-read the program as Mrs. Delaney and Celine now talked kids. Since this was Mrs. Delaney's second, she explained all the wonderful things Celine still had ahead of her. I half-listened as Mrs. Delaney described the pains and joys of natural childbirth. Celine put on a good show, and talked about her morning sickness and other fun details.
"My feet hurt all the time now," Celine said. "Is that normal?"
"I'm afraid it is," Mrs. Delaney said. "Have you gotten swollen ankles yet?"
"Well, in the mornings," Celine said. "They seem to go away after I get up, though my feet still hurt for hours." And so Mrs. Delaney poured out sympathy and understanding. She laid her hand on Celine's arm, and looked startled for a moment, then looked at me. Then she smiled sweetly, but Celine didn't notice, I think, since she was rubbing her tummy. I smiled back at Mrs. Delaney, wondering.
And so they talked on and on and on. And on. Celine always wanted to be pregnant and has read a great deal about the process – it's really touching when you consider her situation – so she was able to make her way through the conversation and sound like a real first-time mother. When they got to the subject of names, I said I wanted to call our kid Jeffrey, after me, if it was a boy. Celine gave me frightening look and I shut up.
Then the lights fell and the curtain rose. I admit I didn't like the show much, but it was funny and the lyrics catchy, and I heard Mrs. Delaney hum with a few of the songs. Homosexuality was a big theme in the play, and the jokes were about misconceptions and misunderstandings between straights and gays, with references to drag queens and how devastating it is when your lesbian lover goes off and sleeps with a man. Everyone had a good laugh, then the first act ended and the curtain dropped.
"Oh this is wonderful," Mrs. Delaney said to Celine. "I've wanted to see this show for years. I almost did when we were in New York, but Tom wanted to go to a Yankees game."
"Well, luckily it came here," Celine said.
"Oh, there ain't nothing wrong with a good ball game," Mr. Delaney said, leaning forward again.
"Besides, we don't have any pro teams 'round here."
"Yes, I know dear," Mrs. Delaney said. "Well, I have to go to the ladies room, would you excuse me?"
"Oh, I'll join you," Celine said. She put the program on her seat and turned to me. "We'll be back in few minutes," she said, and laid a heavy hand on my knee. "You be good."
"Sure," I said, "go have fun." Celine's eyes narrowed, and I tried not to smile. So Mrs. Delaney and Celine threaded their way up the aisle and out of sight.
I looked at Mr. Delaney as he stared at the crowd around us. He had a puzzled look on his face, and I assumed the play confused him somehow. Then he saw me watch him. He stuck his thumb out toward the stage and said, "So what do you think about all this stuff?"
"Well, the queer stuff."
"Oh, I don't know," I said. "Why?"
"Well, I dunno," he said. "Just asking."
I already knew what he was thinking about, and not wanting to get into it with him, I just shrugged and reached for the program. But as I did, a wicked thought came over me, as wicked thoughts often do, and I turned in my seat. "It actually seems a bit freakish," I said. "I wonder if they use real queers for the gay parts?"
Then Mr. Delaney smiled and straightened up. "I wondered that, too. They'd have to be, don't ya think, to get all that limp-wristed stuff down right?"
"Yeah, you know, that whole walking-light-in-the-loafers thing."
"Yeah," I said, "the effeminate stuff. I guess so. Of course, they're supposed to be really good actors. Broadway and all that, you know."
Mr. Delaney nodded. "Yeah, that's true," he said. He rubbed the back of his neck, which was as red as his face. Then he got up and moved one chair closer. "One thing I always wondered," he said, as he leaned toward me, "why don't those guys just get a girl and live like normal folks?"
"The gay guys?"
"Well, I don't know," I said. "To hear them say it, they were born that way, but I don't know if I buy that."
"Yeah, yeah," he said, "me, either."
"But they're here," I said, "and they're everywhere. You just can't get away from them. In TV, movies, sports, everywhere."
"Sports?" he said, and drew back. "Nah, I don't remember seeing any of them on TV."
"You can't always tell," I said. "Some act as normal as you and me."
"No, I don't believe that. I'm sure I could tell a homosexual if I seen one."
I shook my head sadly. "I'm afraid not, Mr. Delaney."
"Oh, call me Tom," he said, and stuck out his hand. It was thick and hard and calloused.
"I'm Jeffrey," I said, and felt my long, thin fingers crackle in his.
"Now, who exactly is there in the NFL that's gay?" he asked, "Or in baseball?"
Oh hell, I thought, what do I know about sports? Not a damn thing. So who, who, who? Then a name came to me, a professional baseball player, and I said it.
Mr. Delaney's eyes narrowed as he thought this over. "You don't say? Well, you know, I've always thought he was a little graceful down there on the field, now that you mention it."
Then I named an NFL player.
"Well, goddamn," Mr. Delaney said. "He's one, too? Where'd you hear that?"
"On the news," I said. "They didn't play it up too much."
"Huh, well how about that," Mr. Delaney said. "Goddamn, you think you know a feller, and he turns out to be a queer."
"Oh, but it doesn't end there," I said. "Doctors, lawyers, politicians. There's that congressman in Massachusetts, he's openly gay."
"Well, those Massachusetts people are a little funny anyway," Mr. Delaney said. "You won't see any of those kind ‘round here. Not in Congress, anyway."
"No," I said, "I guess you wouldn't." I leaned back as Mr. Delaney stuck a finger in his collar and pulled.
"I wonder what's taking Celine so long," I said, just to have something to say.
He laughed. "Oh, them pregnant women take forever," he said. "Every five minutes they have to get up and go. Better get used to it. So how long you two been married?"
"About a year," I said, and shoved my left hand, with the non-existent wedding band, under my leg. "And you?"
"Fifteen years," he said. "Pretty good years, too. But, my wife is into all that culture and opera and stuff. Kinda annoying. Sounds like yours is, too."
I nodded, but didn't pay much attention. I yearned for something to say, something to shock Mr. Delaney, really rattle him. Not to be mean, but just to have a little fun. It took a minute, but the idea came, and it was good.
"You know," I said, lowering my voice, "they say John Wayne was gay." Mr. Delaney looked puzzled.
"I don't believe that," Mr. Delaney said. "That's a lie."
"I know, I can't believe it either. But they say after he died they found a stack of letters from his lover, some 21-year-old Hispanic guy, named Hernando."
Of course, this was all bull, but what the hell, I was on a roll.
"You know, one of his biographers said John Wayne acted macho just to hide his true feelings. That all he really wanted was a good man to come home to after a long day's work. A man to snuggle up with on those cold western nights. And occasionally to romp around with in women's underwear."
Mr. Delaney's mouth dropped and his face got redder, and he made strange noises in the back of the throat.
"I think it's all a lie," I said, "made up by those goddamn queers to bring down an American icon."
Mr. Delaney shut his mouth and turned away. I guess I overplayed it a little because he moved back to his seat and stared down at his lap. It was clear he wouldn't say much more, but after many minutes of silence I got worried and tried to soften him up before Celine got back.
"I wonder what's taking the ladies so long," I said. No reply. "Maybe they forgot about us," I said, "women and bathrooms and all that." But I was talking to myself, so I gave up on Mr. Delaney, and began to read the program again. A few minutes later, Celine and Mrs. Delaney returned.
Celine saw something was wrong as soon as she sat down. "What are you two talking about?" she asked.
I took her hand and caressed it. "We were just discussing a thing or two about homosexuals," I said. "I was just here telling Mr. Delaney, I mean Tom, that John Wayne was a queer."
"What?" She looked at Mr. Delaney, who now stared at the people around us. I imagine he was looking for suspiciously limp wrists. "Oh, Mr. Delaney, I'm so sorry," Celine said in a whisper, "he was just kidding. Of course, John Wayne's not gay."
Mrs. Delaney stroked her husband's arm. "Honey, did you hear? It was just a joke. Calm down, honey."
But Mr. Delaney only grunted as a vein pulsed in his temple, and his face remained red. Celine sat down and wrapped her thick fingers around my knee and squeezed. "Now, honey," she said, quiet and cold, "apologize to Mr. Delaney."
As she squeezed, I gritted my teeth and leaned forward. "Mr. Delaney," I said, "I'm sorry, I was just kidding." Mr. Delaney said nothing and didn't look in my direction. Mrs. Delaney and Celine looked at each other, then at me. I shrugged and threw up my hands. Celine let me go and sat back. The lights fell and the second half started.
The second half was better than the first, but Celine and I didn't laugh much, and neither did the Delaneys. It was a tense hour-and-a-half. After the show, we stood and made our goodbyes to the Delaneys, but Mr. Delaney only grunted.
Celine and I turned and walked out of the theater. She never said a word to me, even after we were in the car and on the road home, and that wasn't normal. I expected her to yell or scream or start in with the bitchy sarcasm, but she said nothing, and that scared me a little. And so, after 20 minutes of silence, I had to say something.
"Well, what'd you and Mrs. Delaney talk about?" I asked. "You were gone a long time."
Celine stared out the window and sighed. "Pregnancy," she said. "Gail was wonderful, she gave me a lot of advice. She told me how a baby rips through your vagina, and how you scream for 16 hours while your husband sits there and tells you to breathe. She went into too much detail, but she meant well." She looked at me. "Maybe I'm not missing much after all."
I didn't answer, and she turned back to the window. I could feel her sadness, she'd never have the one thing she wanted most out of life, the one thing she wanted even more than music, and music was something she'd die without.
"I think she knew," Celine said.
"Yes. Well, I didn't ask." Celine now looked back at me. "So what happened between you and Mr. Delaney?"
"We just talked."
"And what did you talk about?"
"Oh, you know, sports and movies mostly. A little bit about politics. And Mr. Delaney said he could tell a homosexual on sight. He all but swore by it."
"And could he?"
I smiled and patted her knee. "Not quite," I said. Then I laughed. I shouldn't have, Celine wasn't feeling well at the moment, but I was proud of myself, and of the way I'd handled Mr. Delaney. And why shouldn't I be? After all, I'm gay, and Celine's really a man.
BIO: Milan Smith has published 25 short stories in various magazines, including Cynic Online Magazine (July 2007), Midnight Times (Nov. 2007), and Crimson Highway (Apr. 2008.) After he got his B.S. degree in business from the University of Florida, he worked in the business world for two years, and hated it. Then he got a job as a reporter for a year, and hated that. Finally, he decided to try writing, and now works part-time at night and writes during the mornings, and he loves it.