“You want her for her body right?” Scott Snow asked as the Oldsmobile chugged along I-90.
Talk like that about a girl made him feel queer. Especially about Winter. McCormick was seventeen. Going slow. He wanted her for her face.
And Snow was so Mormon. His folks were more uptight than even Barbara and Bill. How could he make Winter’s chest announce and her legs invite?
“Because she is truly terrible, man.”
In Billings they had Orange Julius, played Asteroids, then started home.
“We have to go to school tomorrow,” Snow said. “And you have to put that girl down.”
The greatest pleasure was getting back together, after having ached and cried and crawled back to the sonic womb of After the Gold Rush and walked down Senior Hall with his head under his arm day after Ichabod day.
Then Winter relents and comes back to his room. McCormick will never know physical relief more complete than the return of her long fingers to the small of his back and the points of her hips pressed to his, Jordache grinding against Levi, until 10:30 when Bill raps stern on the door and says “Time to break it up in there…”
June hears them first and pulls us into the square.
“Welcome to New York, Welcome to New York!” Two dozen big gay voices.
This is exactly why I moved to the Castro at twenty, and bought in the West Village at fifty. Freedom, like singing, comes from the drawing of breath.
Michael arrives for Empire State of Mind. We played it at our wedding.
He whoops for the top-knotted soloist, but I catch him eyeballing a hard-looking white-boy taking pictures outside the fence. He’s worried about an alt-right assault, I know it.
Dance with your daughter, McCormick. Fill your lungs.
McCormick roamed free in the backseat and had a cassette player and the bandana blanket his Yiayia made. How much longer? Bill would answer, Three Batmans, and he’d play them in his head.
He offers June this measure—two more Sophias honey—but this emphasizes the absent iPad, the actual princess. And she’s strapped into the car seat, a condition no blanket relieves. She responds with her signature hmmph.
McCormick owned that Mustang. June despises their Honda. But she has her own skills. Eyes closed, she composes…
Did you know that I love you? Do a painting all in blue…
Reading Harry Potter aloud. June tracks it, but only stops practicing headstands when there is a picture. Her favorite is a bleeding ghost.
The Hobbit had no illustrations, but Bill’s reading voice was smooth like his singing. Delaware nights. Couch up on cinder blocks, bouzouki leaning spot lit in the corner beneath a lamp.
McGonagall tells Harry he’s made the Quidditch team, like his father before him.
“Wow, now Harry knows what he’s really good at,” says McCormick, compulsive provider of object lessons.
“Now he knows he had a real family,” June answers, because she is where it all resides.
Freshmen year McCormick converted this to story:
Waking suddenly in a roadside motel (Vermont?). Ceiling tiles fallen down around around them. Barbara and Bill in opposite chairs, made visible by the cherry-red dots of their cigarettes.
Planning their next move, how to extricate a startled child in the middle of the rainy night? Assigning blame for the chaos? Anger and asbestos dust.
He doesn’t recall what they said or he wrote, but does remember sending a copy to Barbara (purple ink, yellow paper) and her reply, folded around a check for fifty dollars.
“I’m sorry you remember it that way.”
(McCormick tells Sal Bergen about the night when he was six and thought he was going to die…)
The poison-lemon-juice arrow grazed his cheek and became a part of him.
The spindly shaft matched his skeletal appendages. He was the skinniest boy in any class. Frayed green fletching precursed thrift store and even home-sewn outfits Barbara sent him off in (more out of Pioneer thrift than necessity, he explains to the crossed, hairy ankles just visible from the couch). And the crux of the biscuit, that fraudulent head, only pretending to be special.
That’s how you see yourself? Sal spits.
No, he admits. Then, yes.
Whenever he trips someone’s wires like that, McCormick knows he must be wrong.