issue 31: july -august 2002 

 | author bio

A graveyardVisiting My Dead Friend
John Michael Cummings

The world, full of harried students of life, should learn about us, Jerry. We were the best, the most exciting, at living, like a young god and an old devil on a bizarre day of amnesty. We mocked all of man while sharing only a decade of time. History, indeed, should include us on its shelf. We were always jaunty and musing and brooding, because we both realized and heeded the joke and warning of life: Always, it ends before it is finished.
      You ended yourself before you finished living. Once without you, I blamed you for killing yourself off, for neglecting your health like a car engine that, once gunked, overheats and blows apart along a seam. Your legs went first, their veins like wrinkled straws. But even when enfeebled, you still dominated with your endless selfishness. Yes, you loved me, yet, also true, you destroyed me as a man--by beautifying and spoiling me into thinking myself more lovely than any woman. For this reason, among others, I have today become not only as interesting but also as miserable as you.
      In another direction, I am still the same fiend you remember. Wake up, old friend, and see the narcissistic monster you created. Rise, you pervert! Did you know that, with me, you were actually a pedophile, imagine that. With my just anger for you, I should now claw the ground until I grab hold of your bones, then break them like sticks, until I clutch and crumble your rotten limbs into dust, until I...until again I sob for your death. I love you, my dead and gone pedophile.
      In my life since you died, my lovers have left me because of these strange mood swings of mine, because of my self-loathing. I am not Adonis, old friend, but Frankenstein’s creation. Like the old devil in you, I hate because I exist. Once, we both concluded that you had saved me as an insecure country boy from the local cycle of dereliction and indifference; once, we both agreed you had fostered my creativity and transformed me into a collegiate lad and corporate cadet of glib and gleeful charm. During those years, even though everyone thought us grandfather and grandson, with you in your seventies and me in my late teens, we existed together, in the mysterious undercurrents, less like family members than hideously ill-matched lovers. Your face and body disgusted me then, especially when I was prissy and depressed--but I still relished, all along, your unrelenting but harmless study of me, of my moods, my emotions, my sensitivity. All along, yours was a comfortingly eccentric mind.
      Unsurprisingly, I grew up into an artist, looking for novels to write wherever I moved, draining energy from my lovers to write them, and fighting for fame so that I could sneer at those who raised and formed me. On this morning, six years to the day since your death, I am once again stroking your warm gravestone. Lying high on this hill, where you view the Republican River snaking towards Nebraska, suits you, lazy old man. Why, being diabetic, did you eat candy bars until your arteries collapsed? Though, I do know why you chose to die: loneliness at your late age. Then, when finally fearful of death, you asked that, when my time comes, I lie beside you in the ground, to have myself placed near you for the rest of time, in gratification of your rescue of me at a young age. Today, I have returned here, to my birthplace and to your resting place, to make peace with the squalid memories of my heritage. My wife is gone, my youth behind me, my conscience troubled.
      You often remarked that nobody, to you, ever looked perfect, that always some area of everyone's anatomy looked peculiar or even ugly. Your legs, bony, scabrous and pale, repulsed me, I must now tell you. My lover Bethany, eight years older than I, walks on succulently muscled legs. Men with a taste for muscle in women eye her thighs with the fantasy of pressing them against their face like warm towels. Her thighs emerge from her shorts with size and shape, with tone and luster. When I massage them at night, after Beth has run or biked or swum, I savor them like a cannibal, nibbling and licking them.
      "Stop eating me," she complains.
      In glory of gripping them, I do not hear her. What drives me wild is their daring resemblance to those of a classical Greek man. In this respect, perhaps I, like you, am gay--or are we all bisexual? Either way, heady with desire from touching Beth, I roll my hands around her quads, my penis firm and heavy. Under me, she lies watching, curious of my fascination with what to her are only limbs.
      "That's not massaging," she points out.
      "Stopping getting off on my legs," she says with playful sass. She has the clean, keen, sun-freckled face of an athlete. Soccer, running, swimming--all have strengthened, shaped, and toned especially her thighs, from the bone to the tan of her skin. As a sex-loving man, I benefit from her dedication to sports.
      I even come on her thighs, regularly. With her strong hands, she pumps it from me, spilling the semen on her quads, pooling it there. Then I rub it up and down her legs. Always, she looks amazed. "Putting yourself into the art again?" she asks as her legs are smeared.
      "Adding a little of myself to the lost-wax process," I quip.
      She teaches art; I studied it; we both appreciate it.
      My semen, still warm, is now spread over the face of her legs.
      "That's an interesting feeling," she always admits. In the darkness, her smile is luminous. "You're an animal, David."
      Why do I have her ejaculate me on her thighs? Admittedly, I never tire of my own sexual strangeness. "Okay, I'll clean you up now," I say and do, eventually. Am I dominating her? Disrespecting her? Defiling her? No, rather, like a dog, I am marking her as mine. She is mine. What I want to say, Jerry, is that I will be buried beside her, not you. Do not wake up. You are dead.

© 2002  John Michael Cummings

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author bio John Michael Cummings

John Michael Cummings has had short stories published in North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Kansas Quarterly Review. His essays have appeared in Palo Alto Review, Pacific Review, and ACM (Another Chicago Magazine). He is a native of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and currently lives in New York City with his girlfriend Susan and their cat Sentry.
 e-mail: johnmcummings@aol.com


 tbr 31           july - august  2002

Short Fiction Laura Hird: Of Cats and Women
Rusty Haight
: Strange Things Afoot...
John Michael Cummings:
Visiting My Dead Friend
      from the Spanish
Enrique Ferrari:
Half an Hour
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