I am an older white man in a small New England town. I know where I am because everyone carries heavy black thermoses here to combat the cold with tea, the chill already gnawing in the middle of autumn. They’re made of bright shiny plastic and nearly as long as our legs.
There is a woman, new to town. We cross paths on my way out of the building where I work, a tall municipal tower built of brick. The halls to the elevators have great views of the downtown, big glass windows looking over the harbor and the buildings surrounding. She walks past me, already with a thermos in tow, and disappears into an office that isn’t mine.
I’ve worked much later than I intended to, and now I’ve missed my bus off the main island by a whole hour. Plans unmoored, I wander about a two-story strip mall and think about what to do. Pairs of elderly female tourists bounce around from place to place, looking in on all the restaurants, contemplating which one to try. They declare loudly the presence or absence of the special sticker seals that act as guide-stars from the local culinary critics’ association. But they move on regardless, and the waitstaff get pissed and fester.
I don’t want to eat there either. Now I need to figure out which bus to take after all. The way from the strip mall to the station is a long feeder road parallel to an overpass, yellow streetlamp after yellow streetlamp. On my way, I remember that I’m staying at a friend’s empty place, as though I too am a tourist visiting. But I’ve left all my things at the office by mistake. Without my laptop, I wonder, how will I jerk off before falling asleep? Now I’ll have to pick a departing bus that will give me time to go gather my things.
A part of me has to work through my annoyance with myself for leaving my things. But the coming night is so tantalizing—I imagine myself in the empty apartment, quiet, mouth open gently, an idyllic night of touching myself to some perfect porno. Clashes with the vision of being unhappy, unanchored in this apartment, literally no books, no nothing on any of its shelves or tables. Moving back and forth between imagined frustration and hoped-for bliss, I grow hornier and hornier the further I go.
When I’d passed the woman new-to-town, I had felt an attraction to her through some sense foreign to me, as though the erotic pull was tangled up in the middle-aged white male shape of my dream character. I’m not often someone else in dreams. But now, imagining myself masturbating in the echoes of an empty room, I feel my desire more like I do, as who I am.
I’m working again at the Wall Street Journal, but in a short-term capacity as an actor in a video project. It should take a day or so, so I have to fly in the night before, now that I live somewhere outside of town.
The Journal’s offices are housed within a futuristic insulated urban complex, a gleaming, glaring mall version of a city, an indoor space so large it seems to have a sky. I take a slow elevator ride down from its top to its bottom. I’m sitting on a bench against the elevator’s back wall, looking out its glass front, black towers and blinking lights sliding quietly higher over the horizon. Halfway through the descent, a woman approaches me, smiles, leans forward to ask me little questions. When I rise from the bench to speak with her, it’s like she’s forgotten the moment before, withdraws, and my attention is no longer warranted.
When we reach the ground I make my way to Yun’s apartment, where I’m supposed to stay the night. He opens the door to a darkened hallway, leading me to a living room cluttered with cardboard boxes, and dim lights glowing off the bookshelves overloaded with books, papers, knickknacks, candlesticks. His exhaustion weighs heavy eyes and cheeks, his inelastic face suggests weeks of continuous stress. How are things going? I ask. Well, he says, I’ve been taking care of my mother.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see that there’s a daybed covered in a round pile of cotton topsheets, many many sheets strewn in messy waves, myriad shadows spilling over jagged peaks of cloth. Two heads emerge from the center of the pile, each covered in black hair. One is long-haired, the other short. They are naked—I can see their wrinkly shoulders, skin the color of pale milky quartz. One is Yun’s elderly mother. The other is a man her age, also Korean. She makes small, decisive movements without words or noises, with a calmness that unbalances me. He, on the other hand, is so senile that his mouth quivers, and his eyes are lost, flowing from her face to all around her in an aimless search.
He has been brought here to heal. The two draw closer together, pulled into the center of the bed. From within the blankets, she lifts a dead reptile, large as an otter, up towards his mouth. Green, cold, completely limp, its eyes closed calmly dead. Its skin seems saturated with wetness, like a thin layer of fog hovers all around it. She proceeds to push the lizard head-first into the man’s mouth. This is medicine that, in time, will help him overcome his senility. But first he must swallow the huge lizard whole, a difficult task that seems to further debilitate him, transforms him into a hole overtaken by its consumption of the animal. He gags and sputters. I cannot see his eyes or nose anymore. He is just the mouth beneath his crop of dyed black hair. But I know in the future that he will speak again.
I’ve met a couple who live on a remote island with their infant child. Overcast, lushly green, everywhere a mess of brush. They are a man and woman, both white and in their early 40s. It’s so cold but they prefer to be naked, and I see a montage of them fucking. He has a weightlifter’s body and a serious cock. Her muscles are softer, less severe. They get tangled in bushes and vines and fallen branches, rolling around to fuck fuck fuck in the landscape they refuse to clear.
Despite their existence “off-the-grid,” they maintain commitments to ongoing political struggle, centered primarily around their conservationist platforms (obviously), but widened to include solidarity with a number of issues, anything even loosely related to environmental justice. So we end up back in the city to participate in a march for queer rights. The march’s purpose is broad and largely undefined. This is a special moment for the couple as their older child, a 15-year-old boy who has been living in the city to go to school, is taking part in a protest for the first time. We meet him with an awkward greeting: timid, small and scruffy, with thick glasses and a messy beard that make him look nearly as old as his parents. They chat for a bit until he is pulled away to join the main organizers, and the march begins.
I leave the couple behind, who hold their baby and look on as I flow into the throngs of protestors. The police harassment begins immediately, they bear down particularly on the organizers, forming threatening circles around a few people at a time. I look over my shoulder to see that, in the midst of the yelling and shoving, the son looks out of his depth and afraid.
Nevertheless, we move on, down a corridor of cobblestone alleyways that eventually opens onto a boardwalk, with the city’s river on our left. It’s early evening and the sky is dark with clouds. I make my way to the very front, throw my arm around another protestor to my left and carry on. Someone else throws their arm around me from the right, a Black genderqueer with bright eyes and a sly smile, who points gently at me from the side and says, Hey, I recognize you! Mel introduced us a long time ago. I’m Jordan. They, too, are a poet, and so we chat excitedly about the scene in this city, a place I’d never been before. There’s a reading later, they’re inviting me to come along when a commotion causes us both to turn around.
A young man bursts forth from the march’s center, with the palest skin and so exposed: barefoot, in nothing but a silvery loincloth, his chest, shoulders, arms, legs, neck, all so blaringly alabaster white, it seems what little light is left in the sky is bouncing off and through his body. On top of his head, a gentle mound of loose red curls. (Is this Bunny from Delany’s Dhalgren?) He’s crying that he’s been harassed, he’s been harassed. The cops encircled him and tossed him back and forth. And he hated the feeling, being whipped like a towel, thrown like an object. I think we need to take him somewhere to calm down, recover, but before we can offer our help he runs past us and away. I watch his skinny legs push him deeper down the boardwalk and wonder when he’ll be too cold tonight, and where is he going to go?