My partner is scrambling eggs. He says, “Have you thought about it yet at all?” almost too softly for me to hear, and it becomes one of those times when the gayness of a gay relationship must not be disregarded. This is not a marriage. But because now it can be, he wants it to be.
We used to reject heterosexist models. Why this marriage thing?
I shove egg shells down the disposal. For weeks his desire to marry has made me desire only to bring the relationship to its timely end. I have resolved to do so, and this presents itself as the moment. But a branch of the plum tree knocks the window in the wind and he looks at me and smiles and knows I know he knows I heard him and am pretending I have not, and the moment to effect the separation is past.
I step out of the car and see my boyfriend gazing vaguely up into our dying flowering non-fruiting plum tree. I have resolved, in the course of my commute, that this will be the final moment. “Spaghetti,” he says, up into the tree, with which he seems fascinated.
Because we are gay, we are expected to cook. Also, now, apparently, to marry. We are not going to marry. We will not even continue unmarried much longer, and I’m ready to let him know that, but I have some trash from the car crumpled in my fist—parking ticket, pizza menu, ancient paper coffee cup—and I go inside to throw it away, and the smell of his sauce—slow tomatoes, oregano, bay—reroutes me to the half-bath, where I wash my hands for dinner.
“That tree is infested with something,” says my significant other. He’s reading the paper and I’ve arrived to sit beside him, preparatory to breaking the news. His hairless arms remind me of other arms, hairier ones that squeezed the breath out of me in my youth, by the dozens. We are gay and not very old and owe it to ourselves to still be promiscuous. The evenings have been calling to me.
He hands me the food section, lavish photos of pies all over it, which I crumple and toss in the recycling. I head out to investigate the infestation.
At the Chinese place around the corner, I order noodles. My companion has the kung pao. There are occasional silences in which only one thing could be said, so they remain silences.
The silences, and perhaps the plum sauce, remind me of our tree.
As we rise to go, I tuck my shirt back in a bit, and he does not. Mine’s a nice forest green, and pressed. His is faded brown and limp; as he rises, the ragged bottom of it reveals itself.
I resolve to trash the shirt and not to tell him. I’ve done it before. Fashion means nothing to him. Good gay, bad gay.
Through the front window and the sparse blooms of our dying plum tree I watch my not-husband return triumphant from the gym, but I have something to tell him and there will be no sex tonight. I wipe my mouth and discard the napkin and the crumbs of my pie. Bad gay, good gay.
“I Could Have Danced All Night” fills the house while my roommate vacuums. He’s playing his six-disc anthology of show tunes, allowing them to dictate his vacuuming rhythms. We’re supposed to like them. We’re both supposed to like them. “They say no bugs,” he shouts over the vacuum and the tune as I enter the room with purpose. “Old age.”
I ask him if we can change the music to something else, but too quietly, with insufficient commitment, thrown away, my mouth half full of apple, my body half full of age, half of bugs.
Tonight my lover leads me to the bed and there is no saying no. There is no saying things end, let’s not fool ourselves, the time we always knew would come has come, no saying that although we both are men, both have men’s bodies and are therefore supposed to know what each other wants, we don’t. There is no saying anything true tonight, so when we’re finished we have nothing to say.
Unsatisfied, as so often lately, I get up to make a sandwich and see forms on the dresser, blank, some looking triplicate, and I wonder what would happen if I threw them all away.
“There’s paperwork,” he says. My mother calls him my friend. “And we’ll have to replace it with another native species.”
This seems to me impossible. To determine the appropriate species to be planted in our dying fruitless plum tree’s place. Getting permits. Proving sustainability. I will make it stop by proving unsustainability instead.
But we go together outside and stare into the tree. I am too weak for it. Incapable, in ways he is not.
But we are gay and have learned pride. He takes a granola bar from his pocket and offers it to me, as he has done a hundred times. I eat it all and let the wrapper fall to the ground.
I get out of the car, thinking I might make my chicken florentine, and Mark is in the yard. He’s cutting down the tree with an axe, feeding the pieces into a chipper, and I realize at last that that’s the sound I began to hear blocks away, annoying the entire neighborhood: the infuriating, grinding drone of disposal.
But it will be over soon, and we’ll have dinner. We have learned not to care what the world thinks of us.
Buzz Mauro’s stories have been published in River Styx, NOON, Isotope, Tampa Review, and New Orleans Review. His poems have been published in Tar River Poetry, Fugue, Poet Lore, and Main Street Rag. He has also written music and lyrics for several musicals, including The Kids’ Table, a show for teenagers designed for gender-neutral casting, and Alix in Wonderland: A Gender Journey Down the Rabbit Hole. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland and is a founder and Co-Executive Director of The Theatre Lab in Washington, DC.