Chapter no 14

A Little Life

THE FIRST TIME Willem left him—this was some twenty months ago, two Januarys ago—everything went wrong. Within two weeks of Willem’s departure to Texas to begin filming Duets, he’d had three episodes with his back (including one at the office, and another, this one at home, that had lasted a full two hours). The pain in his feet returned.

A cut (from what, he had no idea) opened up on his right calf. And yet it had all been fine. “You’re so damn cheerful about all of this,” Andy had said, when he was forced to make his second appointment with him in a week. “I’m suspicious.”

“Oh, well,” he’d said, even though he could hardly speak because the pain was so intense. “It happens, right?” That night, though, as he lay in bed, he thanked his body for keeping itself in check, for controlling itself for so long. For those months he secretly thought of as his and Willem’s courtship, he hadn’t used his wheelchair once. His episodes had been seldom, and brief, and never in Willem’s presence. He knew it was silly—Willem knew what was wrong with him, he had seen him at his worst—but he was grateful that as the two of them were beginning to view each other in a different way, he had been allowed a period of reinvention, a spell of being able to impersonate an able-bodied person. So when he was returned to his normal state, he didn’t tell Willem about what had been happening to him—he was so bored by the subject that he couldn’t imagine anyone else wouldn’t be as well—and by the time Willem came home in March, he was more or less better, walking again, the wound once again mostly under control.

Since that first time, Willem has been gone for extended periods

four additional times—twice for shooting, twice for publicity tours— and each time, sometimes the very day Willem left, his body had broken itself somehow. But he had appreciated its sense of timing, its courtesy: it was as if his body, before his mind, had decided for him that he should pursue this relationship, and had done its part by removing as many obstacles and embarrassments as possible.

Now it is mid-September, and Willem is preparing to leave again. As has become their ritual—ever since the Last Supper, a lifetime ago

—they spend the Saturday before Willem’s departure having dinner

somewhere extravagant and then the rest of the night talking. Sunday they sleep late into the morning, and Sunday afternoon, they review practicalities: things to be done while Willem is away, outstanding matters to be resolved, decisions to be made. Ever since their relationship has changed from what it had been into what it now is, their conversations have become both more intimate and more mundane, and that final weekend is always a perfect, condensed reflection of that: Saturday is for fears and secrets and confessions and remembrances; Sunday is for logistics, the daily mapmaking that keeps their life together inching along.

He likes both types of conversations with Willem, but he appreciates the mundane ones more than he’d imagined he would. He had always felt bound to Willem by the big things—love; trust—but he likes being bound to him by the small things as well: bills and taxes and dental checkups. He is always reminded of a visit to Harold and Julia’s he’d made years ago, when he had come down with a terrible cold and had wound up spending most of the weekend on the living-room sofa, wrapped in a blanket and sliding in and out of sleep. That Saturday evening, they had watched a movie together, and at one point, Harold and Julia had begun talking about the Truro house’s kitchen renovation. He half dozed, listening to their quiet talk, which had been so dull that he couldn’t follow any of the details but had also filled him with a great sense of peace: it had seemed to him the ideal expression of an adult relationship, to have someone with whom you could discuss the mechanics of a shared existence.

“So I left a message with the tree guy and told him you’re going to

call this week, right?” Willem asks. They are in the bedroom, doing the last of Willem’s packing.

“Right,” he says. “I wrote myself a note to call him tomorrow.” “And I told Mal you’d go up with him to the site next weekend, you


“I know,” he says. “I have it in my schedule.”

Willem has been dropping stacks of clothes into his bag as he talks, but now he stops and looks at him. “I feel bad,” he says. “I’m leaving you with so much stuff.”

“Don’t,” he says. “It’s not a problem, I swear.” Most of the scheduling in their lives is handled by Willem’s assistant, by his secretaries: but they are managing the details of the house upstate themselves. They never discussed how this happened, but he senses it’s important for them both to be able to participate in the creation

and witness of this place they are building together, the first place they will have built together since Lispenard Street.

Willem sighs. “But you’re so busy,” he says.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “Really, Willem. I can handle it,” although Willem continues to look worried.

That night, they lie awake. For as long as he has known Willem, he has always had the same feeling the day before he leaves, when even as he speaks to Willem he is already anticipating how much he’ll miss him when he’s gone. Now that they are actually, physically together, that feeling has, curiously, intensified; now he is so used to Willem’s presence that his absence feels more profound, more debilitating. “You know what else we have to talk about,” Willem says, and when he doesn’t say anything, Willem pushes down his sleeve and holds his left wrist, loosely, in his hand. “I want you to promise me,” Willem says.

“I swear,” he says. “I will.” Next to him, Willem releases his arm and rolls onto his back, and they are quiet.

“We’re both tired,” Willem yawns, and they are: in less than two years, Willem has been reclassified as gay; Lucien has retired from the firm and he has taken over as the chair of the litigation department; and they are building a house in the country, eighty minutes north of the city. When they are together on the weekends—and when Willem is home, he too tries to be, going into the office even earlier on the weekdays so he doesn’t have to stay as late on Saturdays—they sometimes spend the early evening simply lying together on the sofa in the living room, not speaking, as around them the light leaves the room. Sometimes they go out, but far less frequently than they used to.

“The transition to lesbiandom took much less time than I anticipated,” JB observed one evening when they had him and his new boyfriend, Fredrik, over for dinner, along with Malcolm and Sophie and Richard and India and Andy and Jane.

“Give them a break, JB,” said Richard, mildly, as everyone else laughed, but he didn’t think Willem minded, and he certainly didn’t himself. After all, what did he care about anything but Willem?

For a while he waits to see if Willem will say anything else. He wonders if he will have to have sex; he is still mostly unable to determine when Willem wants to and when he doesn’t—when an embrace will become something more invasive and unwanted—but he is always prepared for it to happen. It is—and he hates admitting this,

hates thinking it, would never say it aloud—one of the very few things he anticipates about Willem’s departures: for those weeks or months that he is away, there is no sex, and he can finally relax.

They have been having sex for eighteen months now (he realizes he has to make himself stop counting, as if his sexual life is a prison term, and he is working toward its completion), and Willem had waited for him for almost ten. During those months, he had been intensely aware that there was a clock somewhere counting itself down, and that although he didn’t know how much time he had left, he did know that as patient as Willem was, he wouldn’t be patient forever. Months before, when he had overheard Willem lie to JB about how amazing their sex life was, he had vowed to himself that he would tell Willem he was ready that night. But he had been too frightened, and had allowed himself to let the moment pass. A little more than a month after that, when they were on holiday in Southeast Asia, he once again promised himself he’d try, and once again, he had done nothing.

And then it was January, and Willem had left for Texas to film

Duets, and he had spent the weeks alone readying himself, and the night after Willem came home—he was still astonished that Willem had come back to him at all; astonished and ecstatic, so happy he had wanted to lean his head out the window and scream for no other reason but the improbability of it all—he had told Willem that he was ready.

Willem had looked at him. “Are you sure?” he’d asked him.

He wasn’t, of course. But he knew that if he wanted to be with Willem, he would have to do it eventually. “Yes,” he said.

“Do you want to, really?” Willem asked next, still looking at him.

What was this, he wondered: Was this a challenge? Or was this a real question? It was better to be safe, he thought. So “Yes,” he said. “Of course I do,” and he knew by Willem’s smile that he’d chosen the correct answer.

But first he’d had to tell Willem about his diseases. “When you have sex in the future, you’d better make sure you always disclose beforehand,” one of the doctors in Philadelphia had told him, years ago. “You don’t want to be responsible for passing these on to someone else.” The doctor had been stern, and he had never forgotten the shame he had felt, nor the fear that he might share his filth with another. And so he had written down a speech for himself and recited it until he had it memorized, but the actual telling had been much

more difficult than he had expected, and he had spoken so quietly that he’d had to repeat himself, which was somehow even worse. He had given this talk only once before, to Caleb, who had been silent and then had said in his low voice, “Jude St. Francis. A slut after all,” and he had made himself smile and agree. “College,” he had managed to say, and Caleb had smiled back at him, slightly.

Willem too had been silent, watching him, and had asked, “When did you get these, Jude?” and then, “I’m so sorry.”

They had been lying next to each other, Willem on his side, facing him, he on his back. “I had a lost year in D.C.,” he said at last, although that hadn’t been true, of course. But telling the truth would mean a longer conversation, and he wasn’t ready to have that conversation, not yet.

“Jude, I’m sorry,” Willem had said, and had reached for him. “Will you tell me about it?”

“No,” he’d said, stubbornly. “I think we should do it. Now.” He had already prepared himself. Another day of waiting wasn’t going to change things, and he would only lose his nerve.

So they had. A large part of him had hoped, expected even, that things would be different with Willem, that he would, finally, enjoy the process. But once it had begun, he could feel every bad old sensation returning. He tried to direct his attention to how this time was clearly better: how Willem was more gentle than Caleb had been, how he didn’t get impatient with him, how it was, after all, Willem, someone he loved. But when it was over, there was the same shame, the same nausea, the same desire to hurt himself, to scoop out his insides and hurl them against the wall with a bloody thwack.

“Was it okay?” Willem asked, quietly, and he turned and looked at Willem’s face, which he loved so much.

“Yes,” he said. Maybe, he thought, it would be better the next time. And then, the next time, when it had been the same, he thought it might be better the time after that. Every time, he hoped things would be different. Every time, he told himself it would be. The sorrow he felt when he realized that even Willem couldn’t save him, that he was irredeemable, that this experience was forever ruined for him, was one of the greatest of his life.

Eventually, he made some rules for himself. First, he would never refuse Willem, ever. If this was what Willem wanted, he could have it, and he would never turn him away. Willem had sacrificed so much to be with him, and had brought him such peace, that he was

determined to try to thank him however he could. Second, he would try—as Brother Luke had once asked him—to show a little life, a little enthusiasm. Toward the end of his time with Caleb, he had begun reverting to what he had done all his life: Caleb would turn him over, and pull down his pants, and he would lie there and wait. Now, with Willem, he tried to remember Brother Luke’s commands, which he had always obeyed—Roll over; Now make some noise; Now tell me you like it—and incorporate them when he could, so he would seem like an active participant. He hoped his competency would somehow conceal his lack of enthusiasm, and as Willem slept, he made himself remember the lessons that Brother Luke taught him, lessons he had spent his adulthood trying to forget. He knew Willem was surprised by his fluency: he, who had always remained silent when the others had bragged about what they’d done in bed, or what they hoped to; he, who could and did tolerate every conversation his friends had about the subject but had never engaged in them himself.

The third rule was that he would initiate sex once for every three

times Willem did, so it didn’t seem so uneven. And fourth, whatever Willem wanted him to do, he would do. This is Willem, he would remind himself, again and again. This is someone who would never intentionally hurt you. Whatever he asks you to do is within reason.

But then he would see Brother Luke’s face before him. You trusted him, too, the voice nagged him. You thought he was protecting you, too.

How dare you, he would argue with the voice. How dare you compare Willem to Brother Luke.

What’s the difference? the voice snapped back. They both want the same thing from you. You’re the same thing to them in the end.

Eventually his fear of the process diminished, though not his dread. He had always known that Willem enjoyed sex, but he had been surprised and dismayed that he seemed to enjoy it so much with him. He knew how unfair he was being, but he found himself respecting Willem less for this, and hating himself more for those feelings.

He tried to focus on what had improved about the experience since Caleb. Although it was still painful, it was less painful than it had been with anyone else, and surely that was a good thing. It was still uncomfortable, although again, less so. And it was still shameful, although with Willem, he was able to comfort himself with the knowledge that he was giving at least a small bit of pleasure to the person he cared about most, and that knowledge helped sustain him every time.

He told Willem that he had lost the ability to have erections because of the car injury, but that wasn’t true. According to Andy (this was years ago), there was no physical reason why he couldn’t have them. But at any rate, he couldn’t, and hadn’t for years, not since he was in college, and even then, they had been rare and uncontrollable. Willem asked if there was something he could do—a shot, a pill—but he told him that he was allergic to one of the ingredients in those shots and pills, and that it didn’t make a difference to him.

Caleb hadn’t been so bothered by this inability of his, but Willem was. “Isn’t there something we can do to help you?” he asked, again and again. “Have you talked to Andy? Should we try something different?” until finally he snapped at Willem to stop asking him, that he was making him feel like a freak.

“I’m sorry, Jude; I didn’t mean to,” Willem said after a silence. “I just want you to enjoy this.”

“I am,” he said. He hated lying so much to Willem, but what was the alternative? The alternative meant losing him, meant being alone forever.

Sometimes, often, he cursed himself, and how limited he was, but at other times, he was kinder: he recognized how much his mind had protected his body, how it had shut down his sexual drive in order to shelter him, how it had calcified every part of him that had caused him such pain. But usually, he knew he was wrong. He knew his resentment of Willem was wrong. He knew his impatience with Willem’s affection for foreplay—that long, embarrassing period of throat-clearing that preceded every interaction, the small physical gestures of intimacy that he knew were Willem’s way of experimenting with the depths of his own ability for arousal—was wrong. But sex in his experience was something to be gotten through as quickly as possible, with an efficiency and brusqueness that bordered on the brutal, and when he sensed Willem was trying to prolong their encounters he began offering direction with a sort of decisiveness that he later realized Willem must mistake for zeal. And then he would hear Brother Luke’s triumphant declaration in his head

I could hear you enjoying yourself—and cringe. I don’t, he had always

wanted to say, and he wanted to say it now: I don’t. But he didn’t dare. They were in a relationship. People in relationships had sex. If he wanted to keep Willem, he had to fulfill his side of the bargain, and his dislike for his duties didn’t change this.

Still, he didn’t give up. He promised himself he would work on repairing himself, for Willem’s sake if not his own. He bought— surreptitiously, his face prickling as he placed the order—three self-help books on sex and read them while Willem was on one of his publicity tours, and when Willem returned, he tried to use what he had learned, but the results had been the same. He bought magazines meant for women with articles about being better in bed, and studied them carefully. He even ordered a book about how victims of sexual abuse—a term he hated and didn’t apply to himself—dealt with sex, which he read furtively one night, locking his study door so Willem wouldn’t discover him. But after about a year, he decided to alter his ambitions: he might not ever be able to enjoy sex, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make it more enjoyable for Willem, both as an expression of gratitude and, more selfishly, a way to keep him close. So he fought past his feelings of shame; he concentrated on Willem.

Now that he was having sex again, he realized how much he had

been surrounded by it all these years, and how completely he had managed to banish thoughts of it from his waking life. For decades, he had shied from discussions of sex, but now he listened to them wherever he encountered them: he eavesdropped on his colleagues, on women in restaurants, on men walking past him on the street, all talking about sex, about when they were having it, about how they wanted it more (no one wanted it less, it seemed). It was as if he was back in college, his peers once again his unwitting teachers: always, he was alert for information, for lessons on how to be. He watched talk shows on television, many of which seemed to be about how couples eventually stop having sex; the guests were married people who hadn’t had sex in months, occasionally in years. He would study these shows, but none of them ever gave him the information he wanted: How long into the relationship did the sex last? How much longer would he have to wait until this happened to him and Willem, too? He looked at the couples: Were they happy? (Obviously not; they were on talk shows telling strangers about their sex lives and asking for help.) But they seemed happy, didn’t they, or a version of happy at least, that man and woman who hadn’t had sex in three years and yet, through the touch of the man’s hand on the woman’s arm, obviously still had affection for each other, obviously stayed together for reasons more important than sex. On planes, he watched romantic comedies, farces about married people not having sex. All the movies with young people were about wanting sex; all the movies with old people

were about wanting sex. He would watch these films and feel defeated. When did you get to stop wanting to have sex? At times he would appreciate the irony of this: Willem, the ideal partner in every way, who still wanted to have sex, and he, the unideal partner in every way, who didn’t. He, the cripple, who didn’t, and Willem, who somehow wanted him anyway. And still, Willem was his own version of happiness; he was a version of happiness he never thought he’d have.

He assured Willem that if he missed having sex with women, he should, and that he wouldn’t mind. But “I don’t,” Willem said. “I want to have sex with you.” Another person would have been moved by this, and he was too, but he also despaired: When would this end? And then, inevitably: What if it never did? What if he was never allowed to stop? He was reminded of the years in the motel rooms, although even then he’d had a date to anticipate, however false: sixteen. When he turned sixteen, he would be able to stop. Now he was forty-five, and it was as if he was eleven once again, waiting for the day when someone—once Brother Luke, now (unfair, unfair) Willem—would tell him “That’s it. You’ve fulfilled your duty. No more.” He wished someone would tell him that he was still a full human being despite his feelings; that there was nothing wrong with who he was. Surely there was someone, someone in the world who felt as he did? Surely his hatred for the act was not a deficiency to be corrected but a simple matter of preference?

One night, he and Willem were lying in bed—both of them tired

from their respective days—and Willem had begun talking, abruptly, of an old friend he’d had lunch with, a woman named Molly he’d met once or twice over the years, and who, Willem said, had been having a difficult time; now, after decades, she had finally told her mother that her father, who had died the year before, had sexually abused her.

“That’s terrible,” he said, automatically. “Poor Molly.”

“Yes,” said Willem, and there was a silence. “I just told her that she had nothing to be ashamed of, that she hadn’t done anything wrong.” He could feel himself getting hot. “You were right,” he said at last, and yawned, extravagantly. “Good night, Willem.”

For a minute or two, they were quiet. “Jude,” Willem said, gently. “Are you ever going to tell me about it?”

What could he say, he thought, as he held himself still. Why was Willem asking about this now? He thought he had been doing such a

good job being normal—but maybe he hadn’t. He would have to try harder. He never had told Willem about what had happened to him with Brother Luke, but along with being unable to speak of it, part of him knew he didn’t need to: in the past two years, Willem had tried to approach the subject through various directions—through stories of friends and acquaintances, some named, some not (he had to assume some of these people were creations, as surely no one person could have such a vast collection of sexually abused friends), through stories about pedophilia he read in magazines, through various discourses on the nature of shame, and how it was often unearned. After each speech, Willem would stop, and wait, as if he were mentally extending a hand and asking him to dance. But he never took Willem’s hand. Each time, he would remain silent, or change the subject, or simply pretend Willem had never spoken at all. He didn’t know how Willem had come to learn this about him; he didn’t want to know. Obviously the person he thought he was presenting wasn’t the person Willem—or Harold—saw.

“Why are you asking me this?” he asked.

Willem shifted. “Because,” he said, and then stopped. “Because,” he continued, “I should’ve made you talk about this a long time ago.” He stopped again. “Certainly before we started having sex.”

He closed his eyes. “Am I not doing a good enough job?” he asked, quietly, and regretted the question as soon as he said it: it was something he would have asked Brother Luke, and Willem was not Brother Luke.

He could tell from Willem’s silence that he was taken aback by the question as well. “No,” he said. “I mean, yes. But Jude—I know something happened to you. I wish you’d tell me. I wish you’d let me help you.”

“It’s over, Willem,” he said at last. “It was a long time ago. I don’t need help.”

There was another silence. “Was Brother Luke the person who hurt you?” Willem asked, and then, when he was quiet, the seconds ticking past, “Do you like having sex, Jude?”

If he spoke, he would cry, and so he didn’t speak. The word no, so short, so easy to say, a child’s sound, a noise more than a word, a sharp exhalation of air: all he had to do was part his lips, and the word would come out, and—and what? Willem would leave, and take everything with him. I can endure this, he would think when they had sex, I can endure this. He could endure it for every morning he woke

next to Willem, for every affection Willem gave him, for the comfort of his company. When Willem was watching television in the living room and he was walking by, Willem would reach out his hand and he would take it, and they would remain there, Willem watching the screen and sitting, he standing, their hands in each other’s, and finally he would let go and continue moving. He needed Willem’s presence; every day since Willem had moved back in with him, he had experienced that same feeling of calm he had when Willem had stayed with him before he left to shoot The Prince of Cinnamon. Willem was his ballast, and he clung to him, even though he was always aware of how selfish he was being. If he truly loved Willem, he knew, he would leave him. He would allow Willem—he would force him, if he had to

—to find someone better to love, someone who would enjoy having sex with him, someone who actually desired him, someone with fewer problems, someone with greater charms. Willem was good for him, but he was bad for Willem.

“Do you like having sex with me?” he asked when he could finally speak.

“Yes,” said Willem, immediately. “I love it. But do you like it?”

He swallowed, counted to three. “Yes,” he said, quietly, furious at himself and relieved as well. He had won himself more time: of Willem’s presence, but also of sex. What, he wonders, if he had said no?

And so on they went. But in compensation for the sex, there is the cutting, which he has been doing more and more: to help ease the feelings of shame, and to rebuke himself for his feelings of resentment. For so long, he had been so disciplined: once a week, two cuts each time, no more. But in the past six months, he has broken his rules again and again, and now he is cutting himself as much as he had when he was with Caleb, as much as he had in the weeks before the adoption.

His accelerated cutting was the topic of their first truly awful fight, not only as a couple but ever, in their entire twenty-nine years of friendship. Sometimes the cutting has no place in their relationship. And sometimes it is their relationship, their every conversation, the thing they are discussing even when they’re not saying anything. He never knows when he’ll come to bed in his long-sleeved T-shirt and Willem will say nothing, or when Willem will begin interrogating him. He has explained to Willem so many times that he needs it, that it helps him, that he is unable to stop, but Willem cannot or will not

comprehend him.

“Don’t you understand why this upsets me so much?” Willem asks him.

“No, Willem,” he says. “I know what I’m doing. You have to trust me.”

“I do trust you, Jude,” Willem says. “But trust is not the issue here. The issue is you hurting yourself.” And then the conversation deadends itself.

Or there is the conversation that leads to Willem saying, “Jude, how would you feel if I did this to myself?” and him saying, “It’s not the same thing, Willem,” and Willem saying, “Why?” and him saying, “Because, Willem—it’s you. You don’t deserve it,” and Willem saying, “And you do?” and him being unable to answer, or at least not able to provide an answer that Willem would find adequate.

About a month before the fight, they’d had a different fight. Willem had, of course, noticed that he was cutting himself more, but he hadn’t known why, only that he was, and one night, after he was certain Willem was asleep, he was creeping toward the bathroom, when suddenly, Willem had grabbed him hard around the wrist, and he had gasped from fright. “Jesus, Willem,” he’d said. “You scared me.”

“Where are you going, Jude?” Willem had asked, his voice tense.

He’d tried to pull his arm free, but Willem’s grip was too strong. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he said. “Let go, Willem, I’m serious.” They had stared at each other in the dark until finally Willem had released him, and then had gotten out of bed as well.

“Let’s go, then,” he’d said. “I’m going to watch you.”

They had quarreled, then, hissing at each other, each of them furious at the other, each of them feeling betrayed, he accusing Willem of treating him like a child, Willem accusing him of keeping secrets from him, each as close as they had ever been to yelling at the other. It had ended with him wrenching out of Willem’s grasp and trying to run toward his study so he could lock himself in and cut himself with a pair of scissors, but in his panic he had stumbled and fallen and split his lip, and Willem had hurried over with a bag of ice and they had sat there on the living-room floor, halfway between their bedroom and his study, their arms around each other, apologizing.

“I can’t have you doing this to yourself,” Willem had said the next day.

“I can’t not,” he said, after a long silence. You don’t want to see me without it, he wanted to tell Willem, as well as: I don’t know how I’d make my way through life without it. But he didn’t. He was never able to explain to Willem what the cutting did for him in a way he’d understand: how it was a form of punishment and also of cleansing, how it allowed him to drain everything toxic and spoiled from himself, how it kept him from being irrationally angry at others, at everyone, how it kept him from shouting, from violence, how it made him feel like his body, his life, was truly his and no one else’s. Certainly he could never have sex without it. Sometimes he wondered: If Brother Luke hadn’t given it to him as a solution, who would he have become? Someone who hurt other people, he thought; someone who tried to make everyone feel as terrible as he did; someone even worse than the person he was.

Willem had been silent for even longer. “Try,” he said. “For me,

Judy. Try.”

And he did. For the next few weeks, when he woke in the night, or after they’d had sex and he was waiting for Willem to fall asleep so he could go to the bathroom, he instead made himself lie still, his hands in fists, counting his breaths, the back of his neck perspiring, his mouth dry. He pictured one of the motels’ stairwells, and throwing himself against it, the thud he would make, how satisfyingly tiring it would be, how much it would hurt. He both wished Willem knew how hard he was trying and was grateful that he didn’t.

But sometimes this wasn’t enough, and on those nights, he would skulk down to the ground floor, where he would swim, trying to exhaust himself. In the mornings, Willem demanded to look at his arms, and they had fought over that as well, but in the end it had been easier to just let Willem look. “Happy?” he barked at him, jerking his arms back from Willem’s hands, rolling his sleeves back down and buttoning the cuffs, unable to look at him.

“Jude,” Willem said, after a pause, “come lie down next to me before you go,” but he shook his head and left, and all day he had regretted it, and with every passing day that Willem didn’t ask him again, he hated himself more. Their new morning ritual was Willem examining his arms, and every time, sitting next to Willem in bed as Willem looked for evidence of cuts, he felt his frustration and humiliation increase.

One night a month after he had promised Willem he would try harder, he had known that he was in trouble, that there would be

nothing he could do to quell his desires. It had been an unexpectedly, peculiarly memory-rich day, one in which the curtain that separated his past from his present had been oddly gauzy. All evening he had seen, as if in peripheral vision, fragments of scenes drifting before him, and over dinner he had fought to stay rooted, to not let himself wander into that frightening, familiar shadow world of memories. That night was the first night he had almost told Willem he didn’t want to have sex, but in the end he had managed not to, and they had.

Afterward, he was exhausted. He always struggled to remain present when they were having sex, to not let himself float away. When he was a child and had learned that he could leave himself, the clients had complained to Brother Luke. “His eyes look dead,” they had said; they hadn’t liked it. Caleb had said the same thing to him. “Wake up,” he’d once said, tapping him on the side of his face. “Where are you?” And so he worked to stay engaged, even though it made the experience more vivid. That night he lay there, watching Willem asleep on his stomach, his arms tucked under his pillow, his face more severe in sleep than it was in wakefulness. He waited, counting to three hundred, and then three hundred again, until an hour had passed. He snapped on the light next to his side of the bed and tried to read, but all he could see was the razor, and all he could feel was his arms tingling with need, as if he had not veins but circuitry, fizzing and blipping with electricity.

“Willem,” he whispered, and when Willem didn’t answer, he placed

his hand on Willem’s neck, and when Willem didn’t move, he finally got out of bed and walked as softly as he could into their closet, where he retrieved his bag, which he had learned to store in the interior pocket of one of his winter coats, and then out of the room and across the apartment to the bathroom at the opposite end, where he closed the door. Here too there was a large shower, and he sat down inside of it and took off his shirt and leaned his back against the cool stone. His forearms were now so thickened from scar tissue that from a distance, they appeared to have been dipped in plaster, and you could barely distinguish where he had made the cuts in his suicide attempt: he had cut between and around each stripe, layering the cuts, camouflaging the scars. Lately he had begun concentrating more on his upper arms (not the biceps, which were also scarred, but the triceps, which were somehow less satisfying; he liked to see the cuts as he made them without twisting his neck), but now he made

long, careful cuts down his left tricep, counting the seconds it took to make each one—one, two, three—against his breaths.

Down he cut, four times on his left, and three times on his right, and as he was making the fourth, his hands fluttery from that delicious weakness, he had looked up and had seen Willem in the doorway, watching him. In all his decades of cutting himself, he had never been witnessed in the act itself, and he stopped, abruptly, the violation as shocking as if he had been slugged.

Willem didn’t say anything, but as he walked toward him, he cowered, pressing himself against the shower wall, mortified and terrified, waiting for what might happen. He watched Willem crouch, and gently remove the razor from his hand, and for a moment they remained in those positions, both of them staring at the razor. And then Willem stood and, without preamble or warning, sliced the razor across his own chest.

He snapped alive, then. “No!” he shouted, and tried to get up, but he didn’t have the strength, and he fell back. “Willem, no!”

“Fuck!” Willem yelled. “Fuck!” But he made a second cut anyway, right under the first.

“Stop it, Willem!” he shouted, almost in tears. “Willem, stop it!

You’re hurting yourself!”

“Oh, yeah?” asked Willem, and he could tell by how bright Willem’s eyes were that he was almost crying himself. “You see what it feels like, Jude?” And he made a third cut, cursing again.

“Willem,” he moaned, and lunged for his feet, but Willem stepped out of his way. “Please stop. Please, Willem.”

He had begged and begged, but it was only after the sixth cut that Willem stopped, slumping down against the opposite wall. “Fuck,” he said, quietly, bending over at the waist and wrapping his arms around himself. “Fuck, that hurts.” He scooted over to Willem with his bag to help clean him up, but Willem moved away from him. “Leave me alone, Jude,” he said.

“But you need to bandage them,” he said.

“Bandage your own goddamn arms,” Willem said, still not looking at him. “This isn’t some fucked-up ritual we’re going to share, you know: bandaging each other’s self-inflicted cuts.”

He shrank back. “I wasn’t trying to suggest that,” he said, but Willem didn’t answer him, and finally, he did clean off his cuts, and then slid the bag over toward Willem, who at last did the same, wincing as he did.

They sat there in silence for a long, long time, Willem still bent over, he watching Willem. “I’m sorry, Willem,” he said.

“Jesus, Jude,” Willem said, a while later. “This really hurts.” He finally looked at him. “How can you stand this?”

He shrugged. “You get used to it,” he said, and Willem shook his head.

“Oh, Jude,” Willem said, and he saw that Willem was crying, silently. “Are you even happy with me?”

He felt something in him break and fall. “Willem,” he began, and then started again. “You’ve made me happier than I’ve ever been in my life.”

Willem made a sound that he later realized was a laugh. “Then why are you cutting yourself so much?” he asked. “Why has it gotten so bad?”

“I don’t know,” he said, softly. He swallowed. “I guess I’m afraid you’re going to leave.” It wasn’t the entire story—the entire story he couldn’t say—but it was part of it.

“Why am I going to leave?” Willem asked, and then, when he couldn’t answer, “So is this a test, then? Are you trying to see how far you can push me and whether I’ll stay with you?” He looked up, wiping his eyes. “Is that it?”

He shook his head. “Maybe,” he said, to the marble floor. “I mean, not consciously. But—maybe. I don’t know.”

Willem sighed. “I don’t know what I can say to convince you I’m not going to leave, that you don’t need to test me,” he said. They were quiet again, and then Willem took a deep breath. “Jude,” he said, “do you think you should maybe go back to the hospital for a while? Just to, I don’t know, sort things out?”

“No,” he said, his throat tightening with panic. “Willem, no—you won’t make me, will you?”

Willem looked at him. “No,” he said. “No, I won’t make you.” He paused. “But I wish I could.”

Somehow, the night ended, and somehow, the next day began. He was so tired he was tipsy, but he went to work. Their fight had never ended in any conclusive way—there were no promises extracted, there were no ultimatums given—but for the next few days, Willem didn’t speak to him. Or rather: Willem spoke, but he spoke about nothing. “Have a good day,” he’d say when he left in the morning, and “How was your day?” when he came home at night.

“Fine,” he’d say. He knew Willem was wondering what to do and

how he felt about the situation, and he tried to be as unobtrusive as possible in the meantime. At night they lay in bed, and where they usually talked, they were both quiet, and their silence was like a third creature in bed between them, huge and furred and ferocious when prodded.

On the fourth night, he couldn’t tolerate it any longer, and after lying there for an hour or so, both of them silent, he rolled over the creature and wrapped his arms around Willem. “Willem,” he whispered, “I love you. Forgive me.” Willem didn’t answer him, but he plowed on. “I’m trying,” he told him. “I really am. I slipped up; I’ll try harder.” Willem still didn’t say anything, and he held him tighter. “Please, Willem,” he said. “I know it bothers you. Please give me another chance. Please don’t be mad at me.”

He could feel Willem sigh. “I’m not mad at you, Jude,” he said. “And I know you’re trying. I just wish you didn’t have to try; I wish this weren’t something you had to fight against so hard.”

Now it was his turn to be quiet. “Me too,” he said, at last.

Since that night, he has tried different methods: the swimming, of course, but also baking, late at night. He makes sure there’s always flour in the kitchen, and sugar, and eggs and yeast, and as he waits for whatever’s in the oven to finish, he sits at the dining-room table working, and by the time the bread or cake or cookies (which he has Willem’s assistant send to Harold and Julia) are done, it’s almost daylight, and he slips back into bed for an hour or two of sleep before his alarm wakes him. For the rest of the day, his eyes burn with exhaustion. He knows that Willem doesn’t like his late-night baking, but he also knows he prefers it to the alternative, which is why he says nothing. Cleaning is no longer an option: since moving to Greene Street, he has had a housekeeper, a Mrs. Zhou, who now comes four times a week and is depressingly thorough, so thorough that he is sometimes tempted to dirty things up intentionally, only so he can clean them. But he knows this is silly, and so he doesn’t.

“Let’s try something,” Willem says one evening. “When you wake

up and want to cut yourself, you wake me up, too, all right? Whatever time it is.” He looks at him. “Let’s try it, okay? Just humor me.”

So he does, mostly because he is curious to see what Willem will do. One night, very late, he rubs Willem’s shoulder and when Willem opens his eyes, he apologizes to him. But Willem shakes his head, and then moves on top of him, and holds him so tightly that he finds it difficult to breathe. “You hold me back,” Willem tells him. “Pretend

we’re falling and we’re clinging together from fear.”

He holds Willem so close that he can feel muscles from his back to his fingertips come alive, so close that he can feel Willem’s heart beating against his, can feel his rib cage against his, and his stomach deflating and inflating with air. “Harder,” Willem tells him, and he does until his arms grow first fatigued and then numb, until his body is sagging with tiredness, until he feels that he really is falling: first through the mattress, and then the bed frame, and then the floor itself, until he is sinking in slow motion through all the floors of the building, which yield and swallow him like jelly. Down he goes through the fifth floor, where Richard’s family is now storing stacks of Moroccan tiles, down through the fourth floor, which is empty, down through Richard and India’s apartment, and Richard’s studio, and then to the ground floor, and into the pool, and then down and down, farther and farther, past the subway tunnels, past bedrock and silt, through underground lakes and oceans of oil, through layers of fossils and shale, until he is drifting into the fire at the earth’s core. And the entire time, Willem is wrapped around him, and as they enter the fire, they aren’t burned but melted into one being, their legs and chests and arms and heads fusing into one. When he wakes the next morning, Willem is no longer on top of him but beside him, but they are still intertwined, and he feels slightly drugged, and relieved, for he has not only not cut himself but he has slept, deeply, two things he hasn’t done in months. That morning he feels fresh-scrubbed and cleansed, as if he is being given yet another opportunity to live his life correctly.

But of course he can’t wake Willem up whenever he feels he needs

him; he limits himself to once every ten days. The other six or seven bad nights in those ten-day periods he gets through on his own: swimming, baking, cooking. He needs physical work to stave off the craving—Richard has given him a key to his studio, and some nights he heads downstairs in his pajamas, where Richard has left him a task that is both helpfully, mindlessly repetitive and at the same time utterly mysterious: he sorts bird vertebrae by sizes one week, and separates a stack of gleaming and faintly greasy ferret pelts by color another. These tasks remind him of how, years ago, the four of them would spend their weekends untangling hair for JB, and he wishes he could tell Willem about them, but he can’t, of course. He has made Richard promise not to say anything to Willem either, but he knows Richard isn’t exactly comfortable with the situation—he has noticed

that he is never given jobs that involve razors or scissors or paring knives, which is significant considering how much of Richard’s work demands sharp edges.

One night, he peers into an old coffee can that has been left out on Richard’s desk and sees that it is full of blades: small angled ones, large wedge-shaped ones, and plain rectangles of the sort he prefers. He dips his hand cautiously into the can, scoops up a loose fistful of the blades, watches them pour from his palm. He takes one of the rectangular blades and slips it into his pants pocket, but when he’s finally ready to leave for the night—so exhausted that the floor tilts beneath him—he returns it gently to the can before he goes. In those hours he is awake and prowling through the building, he sometimes feels he is a demon who has disguised himself as a human, and only at night is it safe to shed the costume he must wear by daylight, and indulge his true nature.

And then it is Tuesday, a day that feels like summer, and Willem’s last in the city. He leaves for work early that morning but comes home at lunchtime so he can say goodbye.

“I’m going to miss you,” he tells Willem, as he always does.

“I’m going to miss you more,” Willem says, as he always does, and then, also as he always does, “Are you going to take care of yourself?” “Yes,” he says, not letting go of him. “I promise.” He feels Willem


“Remember you can always call me, no matter what time it is,” Willem tells him, and he nods.

“Go,” he says. “I’ll be fine,” and Willem sighs again, and goes.

He hates to have Willem leave, but he is excited, too: for selfish reasons, and also because he is relieved, and happy, that Willem is working so much. After they had returned from Vietnam that January, just before he left to film Duets, Willem had been alternately anxious and bluffly confident, and although he tried not to speak of his insecurities, he knew how worried Willem was. He knew Willem worried that his first movie after the announcement of their relationship was, no matter how much he protested otherwise, a gay movie. He knew Willem worried when the director of a science-fiction thriller he wanted to do didn’t call him back as quickly as he had thought he might (though he had in the end, and everything had worked out the way he had hoped). He knew Willem worried about the seemingly endless series of articles, the ceaseless requests for interviews, the speculations and television segments, the gossip

columns and the editorials, about his revelation that had greeted them on their return to the States, and which, as Kit told them, they were powerless to control or stop: they would simply have to wait until people grew bored of the subject, and that might take months. (Willem didn’t read stories about himself in general, but there were just so many of them: when they turned on the television, when they went online, when they opened the paper, there they were—stories about Willem, and what he now represented.) When they spoke on the phone—Willem in Texas, he at Greene Street—he could feel Willem trying not to talk too much about how nervous he was and knew it was because Willem didn’t want him to feel guilty. “Tell me, Willem,” he finally said. “I promise I’m not going to blame myself. I swear.” And after he had repeated this every day for a week, Willem did at last tell him, and although he did feel guilty—he cut himself after every one of these conversations—he didn’t ask Willem for reassurances, he didn’t make Willem feel worse than he already did; he only listened and tried to be as soothing as he could. Good, he’d praise himself after they’d hung up, after every time he’d kept his mouth closed against his own fears. Good job. Later, he’d burrow the tip of the razor into one of his scars, flicking the tissue upward with the razor’s corner until he had cut down to the soft flesh beneath.

He thinks it a good sign that the film Willem is shooting in London

now is, as Kit would say, a gay film. “Normally I’d say not to,” Kit told Willem. “But it’s too good a script to pass up.” The film is titled The Poisoned Apple, and is about the last few years of Alan Turing’s life, after he was arrested for indecency and was chemically castrated. He idolized Turing, of course—all mathematicians did—and had been moved almost to tears by the script. “You have to do it, Willem,” he had said.

“I don’t know,” Willem had said, smiling, “another gay movie?” “Duets did really well,” he reminded Willem—and it had: better

than anyone had thought it would—but it was a lazy sort of argument, because he knew Willem had already decided to do the film, and he was proud of him, and childishly excited to see him in it, the way he was about all of Willem’s movies.

The Saturday after Willem leaves, Malcolm meets him at the apartment and he drives the two of them north, to just outside Garrison, where they are building a house. Willem had bought the land—seventy acres, with its own lake and its own forest—three years ago, and for three years it had sat empty. Malcolm had drawn plans,

and Willem had approved them, but he had never actually told Malcolm he could begin. But one morning, about eighteen months ago, he had found Willem at the dining-room table, looking at Malcolm’s drawings.

Willem held out his hand to him, not lifting his eyes from the papers, and he took it and allowed Willem to pull him to his side. “I think we should do this,” Willem said.

And so they had met with Malcolm again, and Malcolm had drawn new plans: the original house had been two stories, a modernist saltbox, but the new house was a single level and mostly glass. He had offered to pay for it, but Willem had refused. They argued back and forth, Willem pointing out that he wasn’t contributing anything toward the maintenance of Greene Street, and he pointing out that he didn’t care. “Jude,” Willem said at last, “we’ve never fought about money. Let’s not start now.” And he knew Willem was right: their friendship had never been measured by money. They had never talked about money when they hadn’t had any—he had always considered whatever he earned Willem’s as well—and now that they had it, he felt the same way.

Eight months ago, when Malcolm was breaking ground, he and Willem had gone up to the property and had wandered around it. He had been feeling unusually well that day, and had even allowed Willem to hold his hand as they walked down the gentle hill that sloped from where the house would sit, and then left, toward the forest that held the lake in its embrace. The forest was denser than they had imagined, the ground so thick with pine needles that their every footfall sank, as if the earth beneath them was made of something rubbery and squashy and pumped half full of air. It was difficult terrain for him, and he grasped Willem’s hand in earnest, but when Willem asked him if he wanted to stop, he shook his head. About twenty minutes later, when they were almost halfway around the lake, they came to a clearing that looked like something out of a fairy tale, the sky above them all dark green fir tops, the floor beneath them that same soft pelt of the trees’ leavings. They stopped then, looking around them, quiet until Willem said, “We should just build it here,” and he smiled, but inside him something wrenched, a feeling like his entire nervous system was being tugged out of his navel, because he was remembering that other forest he had once thought he’d live in, and was realizing that he was to finally have it after all: a house in the woods, with water nearby, and someone who loved him.

And then he shuddered, a tremor that rippled its way through his body, and Willem looked at him. “Are you cold?” he asked. “No,” he said, “but let’s keep walking,” and so they had.

Since then, he has avoided the woods, but he loves coming up to the site, and is enjoying working with Malcolm again. He or Willem go up every other weekend, though he knows Malcolm prefers it when he goes, because Willem is largely uninterested in the details of the project. He trusts Malcolm, but Malcolm doesn’t want trust: he wants someone to show the silvery, stripey marble he’s found from a small quarry outside Izmir and argue about how much of it is too much; and to make smell the cypress from Gifu that he’s sourced for the bathroom tub; and to examine the objects—hammers; wrenches; pliers

—he’s embedded like trilobites in the poured concrete floors. Aside from the house and the garage, there is an outdoor pool and, in the barn, an indoor pool: the house will be done in a little more than three months, the pool and barn by the following spring.

Now he walks through the house with Malcolm, running his hands over its surfaces, listening to Malcolm instruct the contractor on everything that needs fixing. As always, he is impressed watching Malcolm at work: he never tires of watching any of his friends at work, but Malcolm’s transformation has been the most gratifying to witness, more so than even Willem’s. In these moments, he remembers how carefully and meticulously Malcolm built his imaginary houses, and with such seriousness; once, when they were sophomores, JB had (accidentally, he claimed later) set one on fire when he was high, and Malcolm had been so angry and hurt that he had almost started crying. He had followed Malcolm as he ran out of Hood, and had sat with him on the library steps in the cold. “I know it’s silly,” Malcolm had said after he’d calmed down. “But they mean something to me.”

“I know,” he’d said. He had always loved Malcolm’s houses; he still

has the first one Malcolm ever made him all those years ago, for his seventeenth birthday. “It’s not silly.” He knew what the houses meant to Malcolm: they were an assertion of control, a reminder that for all the uncertainties of his life, there was one thing that he could manipulate perfectly, that would always express what he was unable to in words. “What does Malcolm have to worry about?” JB would ask them when Malcolm was anxious about something, but he knew: he was worried because to be alive was to worry. Life was scary; it was unknowable. Even Malcolm’s money wouldn’t immunize him completely. Life would happen to him, and he would have to try to

answer it, just like the rest of them. They all—Malcolm with his houses, Willem with his girlfriends, JB with his paints, he with his razors—sought comfort, something that was theirs alone, something to hold off the terrifying largeness, the impossibility, of the world, of the relentlessness of its minutes, its hours, its days.

These days, Malcolm works on fewer and fewer residences; in fact, they see far less of him than they once did. Bellcast now has offices in London and Hong Kong, and although Malcolm handles most of the American business—he is now planning a new wing of the museum at their old college—he is increasingly scarce. But he has overseen their house himself, and he has never missed or rescheduled one of their appointments. As they leave the property, he puts his hand on Malcolm’s shoulder. “Mal,” he says, “I can’t thank you enough,” and Malcolm smiles. “This is my favorite project, Jude,” he says. “For my favorite people.”

Back in the city, he drops Malcolm off in Cobble Hill and then drives over the bridge and north, to his office. This is the final piece of pleasure he finds in Willem’s absences: because it means he can stay at work later, and longer. Without Lucien, work is simultaneously more and less enjoyable—less, because although he still sees Lucien, who has retired to a life of, as he says, pretending to enjoy golf in Connecticut, he misses talking to him daily, misses Lucien’s attempts to appall and provoke him; more, because he has found that he enjoys chairing the department, that he enjoys being on the firm’s compensation committee, deciding how the company’s profits will be divvied up each year. “Who knew you were such a powermonger, Jude?” Lucien asked him when he admitted this, and he had protested: it wasn’t that, he told Lucien—it was that he took satisfaction in seeing what had actually been brought in each year, how his hours and days at the office—his and everyone else’s—had translated themselves into numbers, and then those numbers into cash, and then that cash into the stuff of his colleagues’ lives: their houses and tuitions and vacations and cars. (He didn’t tell Lucien this part. Lucien would think he was being romantic, and there would be a wry, ironic lecture on his tendency toward sentimentalism.)

Rosen Pritchard had always been important to him, but after Caleb

it had become essential. In his life at the firm, he was assessed only by the business he secured, by the work he did: there, he had no past, he had no deficiencies. His life there began with where he had gone to law school and what he had done there; it ended with each day’s

accomplishments, with each year’s tallies of billable hours, with each new client he could attract. At Rosen Pritchard, there was no room for Brother Luke, or Caleb, or Dr. Traylor, or the monastery, or the home; they were irrelevant, they were extraneous details, they had nothing to do with the person he had created for himself. There, he wasn’t someone who cowered in the bathroom, cutting himself, but instead a series of numbers: one number to signify how much money he brought in, and another for the number of hours he billed; a third representing how many people he oversaw, a fourth for how much he rewarded them. It was something he had never been able to explain to his friends, who marveled at and pitied him for how much he worked; he could never tell them that it was at that office, surrounded by work and people he knew they found almost stultifyingly dull, that he felt at his most human, his most dignified and invulnerable.

Willem comes home twice during the course of the shoot for long

weekends; but one weekend he is sick with a stomach flu, and the next Willem is sick with bronchitis. But both times—as he feels every time he hears Willem walk into the apartment, calling his name—he must remind himself that this is his life, and that in this life, Willem is coming home to him. In those moments, he feels that his dislike of sex is miserly, that he must be misremembering how bad it is, and that even if he isn’t, he has simply to try harder, that he has to pity himself less. Toughen up, he scolds himself as he kisses Willem goodbye at the end of these weekends. Don’t you dare ruin this. Don’t you dare complain about what you don’t even deserve.

And then one night, less than a month before Willem is due to come home for good, he wakes and believes he is in the trailer of a massive semitruck, and that the bed beneath him is a dirtied blue quilt folded in half, and that his every bone is being jounced as the truck trundles its way down the highway. Oh no, he thinks, oh no, and he gets up and hurries to the piano and begins playing as many Bach partitas as he can remember, out of sequence and too loud and too fast. He is reminded of a fable Brother Luke had once told him during one of their piano lessons of an old woman in a house who played her lute faster and faster so the imps outside her door would dance themselves into a sludge. Brother Luke had told him this story to illustrate a point

—he needed to pick up his tempo—but he had always liked the image, and sometimes, when he feels a memory encroaching, just a single one, easy to control and dismiss, he sings or plays until it goes away, the music a shield between him and it.

He was in his first year of law school when his life began appearing to him as memories. He would be doing something everyday— cooking dinner, filing books at the library, frosting a cake at Batter, looking up an article for Harold—and suddenly, a scene would appear before him, a dumb show meant only for him. In those years, the memories were tableaux, not narratives, and he would see a single one repeatedly for days: a diorama of Brother Luke on top of him, or one of the counselors from the home, who used to grab him as he walked by, or a client emptying his change from his pants pockets and setting it in the dish on the nightstand that Brother Luke had placed there for that purpose. And sometimes the memories were briefer and vaguer still: a client’s blue sock patterned with horse heads that he had worn even in bed; the first meal in Philadelphia that Dr. Traylor had ever given him (a burger; a paper sleeve of French fries); a peachy woolen pillow in his room at Dr. Traylor’s house that he could never look at without thinking of torn flesh. When these memories announced themselves, he would find himself disoriented: it always took him a moment to remember that these scenes were not only from his life, but his life itself. In those days, he would let them interrupt him, and there would be times in which he would come out of his spell and would find his hand still wrapped around the plastic cone of frosting poised over the cookie before him, or still holding the book half on, half off the shelf. It was then that he began comprehending how much of his life he had learned to simply erase, even days after it had happened, and also that somehow, somewhere, he had lost that ability. He knew it was the price of enjoying life, that if he was to be alert to the things he now found pleasure in, he would have to accept its cost as well. Because as assaultive as his memories were, his life coming back to him in pieces, he knew he would endure them if it meant he could also have friends, if he kept being granted the ability to take comfort in others.

He thought of it as a slight parting of worlds, in which something

buried wisped up from the loamy, turned earth and hovered before him, waiting for him to recognize it and claim it as his own. Their very reappearance was defiant: Here we are, they seemed to say to him. Did you really think we would let you abandon us? Did you really think we wouldn’t come back? Eventually, he was also made to recognize how much he had edited—edited and reconfigured, refashioned into something easier to accept—from even the past few years: the film he had seen his junior year of two detectives coming to

tell a student at college that the man who had hurt him had died in prison hadn’t been a film at all—it had been his life, and he had been the student, and he had stood there in the Quad outside of Hood, and the two detectives were the people who had found him and arrested Dr. Traylor in the field that night, and they had taken him to the hospital and had made sure Dr. Traylor had gone to prison, and they had come to find him to tell him in person that he had nothing to fear again. “Pretty fancy stuff,” one of the detectives had said, looking around him at the beautiful campus, at its old brick buildings where you could go and be absolutely safe. “We’re proud of you, Jude.” But he had fuzzed this memory, he had changed it to the detective simply saying “We’re proud of you,” and had left off his name, just as he had left out the panic he now remembered he had vividly felt despite their news, the dread that later someone would ask him who those people were that he had been talking to, the almost nauseous wrongness of his past life intruding so physically on his present.

Eventually he had learned how to manage the memories. He

couldn’t stop them—after they had begun, they had never ended—but he had grown more adept at anticipating their arrival. He became able to diagnose it, that moment or day in which he could tell that something was going to visit him, and he would have to figure out how it wanted to be addressed: Did it want confrontation, or soothing, or simply attention? He would determine what sort of hospitality it wanted, and then he would determine how to make it leave, to retreat back to that other place.

A small memory he could contain, but as the days go by and he waits for Willem, he recognizes that this is a long eel of a memory, slippery and uncatchable, and it whipsaws its way through him, its tail slapping against his organs so that he feels the memory as something alive and wounding, feels its meaty, powerful smack against his intestines, his heart, his lungs. Sometimes they were like this, and these were the hardest to lasso and corral, and with every day it seems to grow inside him, until he feels himself stuffed not with blood and muscle and water and bone but with the memory itself, expanding balloon-like to inflate his very fingertips. After Caleb, he had realized that there were some memories he was simply not going to be able to control, and so his only recourse was to wait until they had tired themselves out, until they swam back into the dark of his subconscious and left him alone again.

And so he waits, letting the memory—the nearly two weeks he had

spent in trucks, trying to get from Montana to Boston—occupy him, as if his very mind, his body, is a motel, and this memory his sole guest. His challenge in this period is to fulfill his promise to Willem, to not cut himself, and so he creates a strict and consuming schedule for the hours between midnight and four a.m., which are the most dangerous. On Saturday he makes a list of what he will do each night for the next few weeks, rotating swimming with cooking and piano-playing and baking and work at Richard’s and sorting through all of his and Willem’s old clothes and pruning the bookcases and resewing the loose buttons on Willem’s shirt that he was going to have Mrs. Zhou do but is perfectly capable of doing himself and cleaning out the detritus that has accumulated in the drawer near the stove: twist ties and sticky rubber bands and safety pins and matchbooks. He makes pints of chicken stock and ground-lamb meatballs for Willem’s return and freezes them, and bakes loaves of bread for Richard to take to the food kitchen where they are both on the board and whose finances he helps administer. After feeding the starter, he sits at the table and reads novels, old favorites of his, the words and plots and characters comforting and lived-in and unchanged. He wishes he had a pet—a dumb, grateful dog, panting and smiling; a frigid cat, glaring judgmentally at him through her slitted orange eyes—some other breathing thing in the apartment that he could speak to, the sound of whose soft padding footsteps would bring him back to himself. He works all night, and just before he drops off to sleep, he cuts himself

—once on the left arm, once on the right—and when he wakes, he is

tired but proud of himself for making it through intact.

But then it is two weeks before Willem is to come home, and just as the memory is fading, checking out of him until the next time it comes to visit, the hyenas return. Or perhaps return is the wrong word, because once Caleb introduced them into his life, they have never left. Now, however, they don’t chase him, because they know they don’t need to: his life is a vast savanna, and he is surrounded by them. They lie splayed in the yellow grass, drape themselves lazily over the baobab trees’ low branches that spread from their trunks like tentacles, and stare at him with their keen yellow eyes. They are always there, and after he and Willem began having sex, they multiplied, and on bad days, or on days when he was particularly dreading it, they multiply further. On those days, he can feel their whiskers twitch as he moves slowly through their territory, he can feel their careless derision: he knows he is theirs, and they know it, too.

And although he craves the vacations from sex that Willem’s work provides him, he knows too that he ought not to, for the reentry into that world is always difficult; it had been that way when he was a child, too, when the only thing worse than the rhythms of sex had been readjusting to the rhythms of sex. “I can’t wait to come home and see you,” Willem says when they next speak, and although there is nothing leering in his tone, although he hasn’t mentioned sex at all, he knows from past experience that Willem will want to have it the night of his return, and that he will want to have it more times than usual for the remainder of his first week back home, and that he will especially want to have it because both of them had taken turns being sick on his two furloughs and so nothing had happened either time.

“Me too,” he says.

“How’s the cutting?” Willem asks, lightly, as if he’s asking about how Julia’s maple trees are faring, or how the weather is. He always asks this at the end of their conversations, as if the subject is something he’s only mildly interested in and is inquiring about to be polite.

“Fine,” he says, as he always does. “Only twice this week,” he adds, and this is true.

“Good, Judy,” Willem says. “Thank god. I know it’s hard. But I’m proud of you.” He always sounds so relieved in these moments, as if he is expecting to hear—which he probably is—some other answer entirely: Not well, Willem. I cut myself so much last night that my arm fell off entirely. I don’t want you to be surprised when you see me. He feels a mix of genuine pride, then, both that Willem should trust him so much and that he is actually getting to tell him the truth, and an enervating, bone-deep sorrow, that Willem should have to ask him at all, that this should be something that they are actually proud of. Other people are proud of their boyfriends’ talents or looks or athleticism; Willem, however, gets to be proud that his boyfriend has managed to pass another night without slicing himself with a razor.

And then, finally, there comes an evening in which he knows that his efforts will not satisfy him any longer: he needs to cut himself, extensively and severely. The hyenas are beginning to make little howls, sharp yelps that seem to come from some other creature within them, and he knows that they will be quieted only by his pain. He considers what to do: Willem will be home in a week. If he cuts himself now, the cuts won’t heal properly before he returns, and Willem will be angry. But if he doesn’t do something—then he doesn’t

know. He has to, he has to. He has waited too long, he realizes; he has thought he could see himself through; he has been unrealistic.

He gets up from bed and walks through the empty apartment, into the quiet kitchen. The night’s schedule—cookies for Harold; organize Willem’s sweaters; Richard’s studio—glows whitely from the counter, ignored but beckoning, pleading to be heeded, the salvation it offers as flimsy as the paper it’s printed on. For a moment he stands, unable to move, and then slowly, reluctantly, he walks to the door above the staircase and unbolts it, and then, after another moment’s pause, swings it open.

He hasn’t opened this door since the night with Caleb, and now he leans into its mouth, looking down into its black, clutching its frame as he had on that night, wondering if he can bring himself to do it. He knows this will appease the hyenas. But there is something so degrading about it, so extreme, so sick, that he knows that if he were to do it, he will have crossed some line, that he will, in fact, have become someone who needs to be hospitalized. Finally, finally, he unsticks himself from the frame, his hands shaking, and slams the door shut, slams the bolt back into its slot, and stumps away from it.

At work the next day, he goes downstairs with another of the partners, Sanjay, and a client so the client can smoke. They have a few clients who smoke, and when they go downstairs, he goes with them, and they continue their meeting on the sidewalk. Lucien had a theory that smokers are most comfortable, and relaxed, while smoking, and therefore easier to manipulate in the moment, and although he had laughed when Lucien had told him that, he knows he’s probably correct.

He is in his wheelchair that day because his feet are throbbing, although he hates to have the clients see him so impaired. “Believe me, Jude,” Lucien had said when he had worried aloud about this to him years ago, “the clients think you’re the same ball-crushing asshole whether you’re sitting down or standing up, so for god’s sake, stay in your chair.” Outside it is cold and dry, which makes his feet hurt a little less for some reason, and as the three of them talk, he finds himself staring, hypnotized, at the small orange flame at the tip of the client’s cigarette, which winks at him, growing duller and brighter, as the client exhales and inhales. Suddenly, he knows what he is going to do, but that revelation is followed almost instantly by a blunt punch to his abdomen, because he knows that he is going to betray Willem, and not only is he going to betray him but he is going to lie to him as


That day is a Friday, and as he drives to Andy’s, he works out his plan, excited and relieved to have a solution. Andy is in one of his cheerful, combative moods, and he allows himself to be distracted by him, by his brisk energy. Somewhere along the way, he and Andy have begun speaking of his legs the way one would of a troublesome and wayward relative who is nonetheless impossible to abandon and in need of constant care. “The old bastards,” Andy calls them, and the first time he did, he had begun laughing at the accuracy of the nickname, with its suggestion of exasperation that always threatened to overshadow the underlying and reluctant fondness.

“How’re the old bastards?” Andy asks him now, and he smiles and says, “Lazy and sucking up all my resources, as usual.”

But his mind is also full of what he is about to do, and when Andy asks him, “And what does your better half have to say for himself these days?” he snaps at him: “What do you mean by that?” and Andy stops and looks at him, curiously. “Nothing,” he says. “I just wanted to know how Willem’s doing.”

Willem, he thinks, and simply hearing his name said aloud fills him with anguish. “He’s great,” he says, quietly.

At the end of the appointment, as always, Andy examines his arms, and this time, as he has for the last few times, grunts his approval. “You’ve really cut back,” he says. “No pun intended.”

“You know me—always trying to better myself,” he says, keeping his tone jocular, but Andy looks him in the eyes. “I know,” he says, softly. “I know it must be hard, Jude. But I’m glad, I really am.”

Over dinner, Andy complains about his brother’s new boyfriend, whom he hates. “Andy,” he tells him, “you can’t hate all of Beckett’s boyfriends.”

“I know, I know,” Andy says. “It’s just that he’s such a lightweight, and Beckett could do so much better. I did tell you he pronounced Proust as Prowst, right?”

“Several times,” he says, smiling to himself. He had met this new reviled boyfriend of Beckett’s—a sweet, jovial aspiring landscape architect—at a dinner party at Andy’s three months ago. “But Andy—I thought he was nice. And he loves Beckett. And anyway, are you really going to sit around having conversations about Proust with him?”

Andy sighs. “You sound like Jane,” he says, grouchily.

“Well,” he says, smiling again. “Maybe you should listen to Jane.”

He laughs, then, feeling lighter than he has in weeks, and not just because of Andy’s sulky expression. “There are worse crimes than not being fully conversant with Swann’s Way, you know.”

As he drives home, he thinks of his plan, but then realizes he will have to wait, because he is going to claim that he has burned himself in a cooking accident, and if something goes wrong and he has to see Andy, Andy will ask him why he was cooking on the same night they were eating dinner. Tomorrow, then, he thinks; I’ll do it tomorrow. That way, he can write an e-mail to Willem tonight in which he’ll mention that he’s going to try to make the fried plantains JB likes: a semi-spontaneous decision that will go terribly wrong.

You do know that this is how mentally ill people make their plans, says the dry and belittling voice inside him. You do know that this planning is something only a sick person would do.

Stop it, he tells it. Stop it. The fact that I know this is sick means I’m not. At that, the voice hoots with laughter: at his defensiveness, at his six-year-old’s illogic, at his revulsion for the word “sick,” his fear that it might attach itself to him. But even the voice, its mocking, swaggering distaste for him, isn’t enough to stop him.

The next evening he changes into a short-sleeve T-shirt, one of Willem’s, and goes to the kitchen. He arranges everything he needs: the olive oil; a long wooden match. He places his left forearm in the sink, as if it’s a bird to be plucked, and chooses an area a few inches above where his palm begins, before taking the paper towel he’s wet with oil and rubbing it onto his skin in an apricot-sized circle. He stares for a few seconds at the gleaming grease stain, and then he takes a breath and strikes the match against the side of its box and holds the flame to his skin until he catches on fire.

The pain is—what is the pain? Ever since the injury, there has not been a single day in which he is not in some sort of pain. Sometimes the pain is infrequent, or mild, or intermittent. But it is always there. “You have to be careful,” Andy is always telling him. “You’ve gotten so inured to it that you’ve lost the ability to recognize when it’s a sign of something worse. So even if it’s only a five or a six, if it looks like this”—they had been speaking about one of the wounds on his legs around which he had noticed that the skin was turning a poisonous blackish gray, the color of rot—“then you have to imagine that for most people it would be a nine or a ten, and you have to, have to come see me. Okay?”

But this pain is a pain he has not felt in decades, and he screams

and screams. Voices, faces, scraps of memories, odd associations whir through his mind: the smell of smoking olive oil leads him to a memory of a meal of roasted funghi he and Willem had had in Perugia, which leads him to a Tintoretto exhibit that he and Malcolm had seen in their twenties at the Frick, which leads him to a boy in the home everyone called Frick, but he never knew why, as the boy’s name was Jed, which leads him to the nights in the barn, which leads him to a bale of hay in an empty, fog-smeared meadow outside Sonoma against which he and Brother Luke had once had sex, which leads him to, and to, and to, and to, and to. He smells burning meat, and he breaks out of his trance and looks wildly at the stove, as if he has left something there, a slab of steak seething to itself in a pan, but there is nothing, and he realizes he is smelling himself, his own arm cooking beneath him, and this makes him turn on the faucet at last and the water splashing against the burn, the oily smoke rising from it, makes him scream again. And then he is reaching, again wildly, with his right arm, his left still lying useless in the sink, an amputation in a kidney-shaped metal bowl, and he is grabbing the container of sea salt from the cupboard above the stove, and he is sobbing, rubbing a handful of the sharp-edged crystals into the burn, which reactivates the pain into something whiter than white, and it is as if he is staring into the sun and he is blinded.

When he wakes, he is on the floor, his head against the cupboard

beneath the sink. His limbs are jerking; he is feverish, but he is cold, and he presses himself against the cupboard as if it is something soft, as if it will consume him. Behind his closed eyelids he sees the hyenas, licking their snouts as if they have literally fed upon him. Happy? he asks them. Are you happy? They cannot answer, of course, but they are dazed and satiated; he can see their vigilance waning, their large eyes shutting contentedly.

The next day he has a fever. It takes him an hour to get from the kitchen to his bed; his feet are too sore, and he cannot pull himself on his arms. He doesn’t sleep so much as move in and out of consciousness, the pain sloshing through him like a tide, sometimes receding enough to let him wake, sometimes consuming him beneath a grayed, filthy wave. Late that night he rouses himself enough to look at his arm, where there is a large crisped circle, black and venomous, as if it is a piece of land where he has been practicing a terrifying occult ritual: witch-burning, perhaps. Animal sacrifice. A summoning of spirits. It looks not like skin at all (and indeed, it no

longer is) but like something that never was skin: like wood, like paper, like tarmac, all burned to ash.

By Monday, he knows it will become infected. At lunchtime he changes the bandage he had applied the night before, and as he eases it off, his skin tears as well, and he stuffs his pocket square into his mouth so he won’t scream out loud. But things are falling out of his arm, clots with the consistency of blood but the color of coal, and he sits on the floor of his bathroom, rocking himself back and forth, his stomach heaving forth old food and acids, his arm heaving forth its own disease, its own excretia.

The next day the pain is worse, and he leaves work early to go see Andy. “My god,” Andy says, seeing the wound, and for once, he is silent, utterly, which terrifies him.

“Can you fix it?” he whispers, because until that point, he had never thought himself capable of hurting himself in a way that couldn’t be fixed. He has, suddenly, a vision of Andy telling him he will lose the arm altogether, and the next thing he thinks is: What will I tell Willem?

But “Yes,” Andy says. “I’ll do what I can, and then you need to go to the hospital. Lie back.” He does, and lets Andy irrigate the wound and clean and dress it, lets Andy apologize to him when he cries out.

He is there for an hour, and when he is finally able to sit—Andy has given him a shot to numb the area—the two of them are silent.

“Are you going to tell me how you got a third-degree burn in such a perfect circle?” Andy asks him at last, and he ignores Andy’s chilly sarcasm, and instead recites to him his prepared story: the plantains, the grease fire.

Then there is another silence, this one different in a way he cannot explain but does not like. And then Andy says, very quietly, “You’re lying, Jude.”

“What do you mean?” he asks, his throat suddenly dry despite the orange juice he has been drinking.

“You’re lying,” Andy repeats, still in that same quiet voice, and he slides off the examining table, the bottle of juice slipping from his grasp and shattering on the floor, and moves for the door.

“Stop,” Andy says, and he is cold, and furious. “Jude, you fucking tell me now. What did you do?

“I told you,” he says, “I told you.”

“No,” Andy says. “You tell me what you did, Jude. You say the words. Say them. I want to hear you say them.”

I told you,” he shouts, and he feels so terrible, his brain thumping against his skull, his feet thrust full of smoldering iron ingots, his arm with its simmering cauldron burned into it. “Let me go, Andy. Let me go.”

“No,” Andy says, and he too is shouting. “Jude, you—you—” He stops, and he stops as well, and they both wait to hear what Andy will say. “You’re sick, Jude,” he says, in a low, frantic voice. “You’re crazy. This is crazy behavior. This is behavior that could and should get you locked away for years. You’re sick, you’re sick and you’re crazy and you need help.”

“Don’t you dare call me crazy,” he yells, “don’t you dare. I’m not,

I’m not.”

But Andy ignores him. “Willem gets back on Friday, right?” he asks, although he knows the answer already. “You have one week from tonight to tell him, Jude. One week. And after that, I’m telling him myself.”

“You can’t legally do that, Andy,” he shouts, and everything spins before him. “I’ll sue you for so much that you won’t even—”

“Better check your recent case law, counselor,” Andy hisses back at him. “Rodriguez versus Mehta. Two years ago. If a patient who’s been involuntarily committed attempts serious self-injury again, the patient’s doctor has the right—no, the obligation—to inform the patient’s partner or next of kin, whether that patient has fucking given consent or not.”

He is struck silent then, reeling from pain and fear and the shock of what Andy has just told him. The two of them are still standing in the examining room, that room he has visited so many, so many times, but he can feel his legs pleating beneath him, can feel the misery overtake him, can feel his anger ebb. “Andy,” he says, and he can hear the beg in his voice, “please don’t tell him. Please don’t. If you tell him, he’ll leave me.” As he says it, he knows it is true. He doesn’t know why Willem will leave him—whether it will be because of what he has done or because he has lied about it—but he knows he is correct. Willem will leave him, even though he has done what he has done so he can keep having sex, because if he stops having sex, he knows Willem will leave him anyway.

“Not this time, Jude,” says Andy, and although he isn’t yelling any longer, his voice is grim and determined. “I’m not covering for you this time. You have one week.”

“It’s not his business, though,” he says, desperately. “It’s my own.”

“That’s the thing, though, Jude,” Andy says. “It is his business. That’s what being in a goddamned relationship is—don’t you understand that yet? Don’t you get that you just can’t do what you want? Don’t you get that when you hurt yourself, you’re hurting him as well?”

“No,” he says, shaking his head, gripping the side of the examining table with his right hand to try to remain upright. “No. I do this to myself so I won’t hurt him. I’m doing it to spare him.”

“No,” Andy says. “If you ruin this, Jude—if you keep lying to someone who loves you, who really loves you, who has only ever wanted to see you exactly as you are—then you will only have yourself to blame. It will be your fault. And it’ll be your fault not because of who you are or what’s been done to you or the diseases you have or what you think you look like, but because of how you behave, because you won’t trust Willem enough to talk to him honestly, to extend to him the same sort of generosity and faith that he has always, always extended to you. I know you think you’re sparing him, but you’re not. You’re selfish. You’re selfish and you’re stubborn and you’re proud and you’re going to ruin the best thing that has happened to you. Don’t you understand that?”

He is speechless for the second time that evening, and it is only when he begins, finally, to fall, so tired is he, that Andy reaches out and grabs him around his waist and the conversation ends.

He spends the next three nights in the hospital, at Andy’s insistence. During the day, he goes to work, and then he comes back in the evening and Andy readmits him. There are two plastic bags dangling above him, one for each arm. One, he knows, has only glucose in it. The second has something else, something that makes the pain furry and gentle and that makes sleep something inky and still, like the dark blue skies in a Japanese woodblock print of winter, all snow and a silent traveler wearing a woven-straw hat beneath.

It is Friday. He returns home. Willem will be arriving at around ten that night, and although Mrs. Zhou has already cleaned, he wants to make certain there is no evidence, that he has hidden every clue, although without context, the clues—salt, matches, olive oil, paper towels—are not clues at all, they are symbols of their life together, they are things they both reach for daily.

He still hasn’t decided what he will do. He has until the following Sunday—he has begged nine extra days from Andy, has convinced him that because of the holidays, because they are driving to Boston

next Wednesday for Thanksgiving, that he needs the time—to either tell Willem, or (although he doesn’t say this) to convince Andy to change his mind. Both scenarios seem equally impossible. But he will try anyway. One of the problems with having slept so much these past few nights is that he has had very little time to think about how he can negotiate this situation. He feels he has become a spectacle to himself, with all the beings who inhabit him—the ferret-like creature; the hyenas; the voices—watching to see what he will do, so they can judge him and scoff at him and tell him he’s wrong.

He sits down on the living-room sofa to wait, and when he opens his eyes, Willem is sitting next to him, smiling at him and saying his name, and he puts his arms around him, careful not to let his left arm exert any pressure, and for that one moment, everything seems both possible—and indescribably difficult.

How could I go on without this? he asks himself. And then: What am I going to do?

Nine days, the voice inside him nags. Nine days. But he ignores it. “Willem,” he says aloud, from within the huddle of Willem’s arms.

“You’re home, you’re home.” He gives a long exhalation of air; hopes Willem doesn’t hear its shudder. “Willem,” he says again and again, letting his name fill his mouth. “Willem, Willem—you don’t know how much I missed you.”



The best part about going away is coming home. Who said that? Not him, but it might as well have been, he thinks as he moves through the apartment. It is noon: a Tuesday, and tomorrow they will drive to Boston.

If you love home—and even if you don’t—there is nothing quite as cozy, as comfortable, as delightful, as that first week back. That week, even the things that would irritate you—the alarm waahing from some car at three in the morning; the pigeons who come to clutter and cluck on the windowsill behind your bed when you’re trying to sleep in—seem instead reminders of your own permanence, of how life, your life, will always graciously allow you to step back inside of it, no matter how far you have gone away from it or how long you have left it.

Also that week, the things you like anyway seem, in their very

existence, to be worthy of celebration: the candied-walnut vendor on Crosby Street who always returns your wave as you jog past him; the

falafel sandwich with extra pickled radish from the truck down the block that you woke up craving one night in London; the apartment itself, with its sunlight that lopes from one end to the other in the course of a day, with your things and food and bed and shower and smells.

And, of course, there is the person you come back to: his face and body and voice and scent and touch, his way of waiting until you finish whatever you’re saying, no matter how lengthy, before he speaks, the way his smile moves so slowly across his face that it reminds you of moonrise, how clearly he has missed you and how clearly happy he is to have you back. Then there are the things, if you are particularly lucky, that this person has done for you while you’re away: how in the pantry, in the freezer, in the refrigerator will be all the food you like to eat, the scotch you like to drink. There will be the sweater you thought you lost the previous year at the theater, clean and folded and back on its shelf. There will be the shirt with its dangling buttons, but the buttons will be sewn back in place. There will be your mail stacked on one side of his desk; there will be a contract for an advertising campaign you’re going to do in Germany for an Austrian beer, with his notes in the margin to discuss with your lawyer. And there will be no mention of it, and you will know that it was done with genuine pleasure, and you will know that part of the reason—a small part, but a part—you love being in this apartment and in this relationship is because this other person is always making a home for you, and that when you tell him this, he won’t be offended but pleased, and you’ll be glad, because you meant it with gratitude. And in these moments—almost a week back home—you will wonder why you leave so often, and you will wonder whether, after the next year’s obligations are fulfilled, you ought not just stay here for a period, where you belong.

But you will also know—as he knows—that part of your constant

leaving is reactive. After his relationship with Jude was made public, while he and Kit and Emil were waiting to see what would happen next, he had experienced that same insecurity that had visited him as a younger man: What if he never worked again? What if this was it? And although things had, he could now see, continued with almost no discernible hitch at all, it had taken him a year to be reassured that his circumstances hadn’t changed, that he was still as he had been, desirable to some directors and not to others (“Bullshit,” Kit had said, and he was grateful for him; “anyone would want to work with you”),

and at any rate, the same actor, no better or worse, that he had been before.

But if he was allowed to be the same actor, he was not allowed to be the same person, and in the months after he was declared gay— and never refuted it; he didn’t have a publicist to issue these sorts of denials and avowals—he found himself in possession of more identities than he’d had in a very long time. For much of his adult life, he had been placed in circumstances that required the shedding of selves: no longer was he a brother; no longer was he a son. But with a single revelation, he had now become a gay man; a gay actor; a high-profile gay actor; a high-profile, nonparticipating gay actor; and, finally, a high-profile traitorous gay actor. A year or so ago he had gone to dinner with a director named Max whom he’d known for many years, and over dinner Max had tried to get him to give a speech at a gala dinner benefiting a gay-rights organization at which he would announce himself as gay. Willem had always supported this organization, and he told Max that although he would be pleased to present an award or sponsor a table—as he had every year for the past decade—he wouldn’t come out, because he didn’t believe there was anything to come out of: he wasn’t gay.

“Willem,” Max said, “you’re in a relationship, a serious relationship,

with a man. That is the very definition of gay.”

“I’m not in a relationship with a man,” he said, hearing how absurd the words were, “I’m in a relationship with Jude.”

“Oh my god,” Max muttered.

He’d sighed. Max was sixteen years older than he; he had come of age in a time when identity politics were your very identity, and he understood Max’s—and the other people who pecked at and pleaded with him to come out, and then accused him of self-loathing, and cowardice, and hypocrisy, and denial, when he didn’t—arguments; he understood that he had come to represent something he had never asked to represent; he understood that whether he wanted this representation or not was almost incidental. But he still couldn’t do it. Jude had told him that he and Caleb had told no one in their lives about the other, and although Jude’s secretiveness had been motivated by shame (and Caleb’s, Willem could only hope, by at least some small glint of guilt), he too felt that his relationship with Jude existed to no one but themselves: it seemed something sacred, and fought-for, and unique to them. Of course, this was ridiculous, but it was the way he felt—to be an actor in his position was to be, in many

ways, a possession, to be fought over and argued about and criticized by anyone who wanted to say something, anything, about his abilities or appearance or performance. But his relationship was different: in it, he played a role for one other person, and that person was his only audience, and no one else ever saw it, no matter how much they thought they might.

His relationship also felt sacred because he had just recently—in the last six months or so—felt he had gotten the rhythm of it. The person he thought he knew had turned out to be, in some ways, not the person before him, and it had taken him time to figure out how many facets he had yet to see: it was as if the shape he had all along thought was a pentagram was in reality a dodecahedron, many sided and many fractaled and much more complicated to measure. Despite this, he had never considered leaving: he stayed, unquestioningly, out of love, out of loyalty, out of curiosity. But it hadn’t been easy. In truth, it had been at times aggressively difficult, and in some ways remained so. When he had promised himself that he wouldn’t try to repair Jude, he had forgotten that to solve someone is to want to repair them: to diagnose a problem and then not try to fix that problem seemed not only neglectful but immoral.

The primary issue was sex: their sexual life, and Jude’s attitude

about it. Toward the end of the ten-month period in which he and Jude had been together and he had been waiting for him to be ready (the longest sustained period of celibacy he had endured since he was fifteen, and which he had accomplished as partly a challenge to himself, the way other people stopped eating bread or pasta because their boyfriends or girlfriends had stopped eating them as well), he had begun to seriously worry about where this was all going, and about whether sex was something Jude was simply not capable of. Somehow he knew, and had always known, that Jude had been abused, that something awful (maybe several things awful) had happened to him, but to his shame, he was unable to find the words to discuss it with him. He told himself that even if he could find the words, Jude wouldn’t talk about it until he was ready, but the truth, Willem knew, was that he was too much of a coward, and that cowardice was really the only reason for his inaction. But then he had come home from Texas, and they’d had sex after all, and he had been relieved, and relieved too that he had enjoyed it as much as he had, that there had been nothing strained or unnatural about it, and when it turned out that Jude was much more sexually dextrous than he had

assumed he would be, he allowed himself to be relieved a third time. He couldn’t bring himself, however, to determine why Jude was so experienced: Had Richard been right, and had Jude been leading some sort of double life all this time? It seemed too tidy an explanation. And yet the alternative—that this was knowledge Jude had accumulated before they had met, which meant these would have been lessons learned in childhood—was overwhelming to him. And so, to his great guilt, he said nothing. He chose to believe the theory that made his life less complicated.

One night, though, he’d had a dream that he and Jude had just had sex (which they had) and that Jude was next to him and crying, trying to stay silent and failing, and he knew, even in the dream, why he was crying: because he hated what he was doing; he hated what Willem was making him do. The next night he had asked Jude, outright: Do you like this? And he had waited, not knowing what the answer would be, until Jude had said yes, and then he had been relieved yet again: that the fiction could continue, that their equilibrium would remain unchanged, that he wouldn’t have to have a conversation that he didn’t know how to begin, much less lead. He had an image of a little boat, a dinghy, rocking wildly on the waves, but then righting itself again and sailing placidly on, even though the waters beneath it were black and filled with monsters and floes of seaweed that threatened with every current to pull the poor small boat beneath the ocean’s surface, where it would glug out of sight and be lost.

But every so often, too sporadically and randomly to track, there

would be moments when he would see Jude’s face as he pushed into him, or, after, would feel his silence, so black and total that it was almost gaseous, and he would know that Jude had lied to him: that he had asked him a question to which only one answer was acceptable, and Jude had given him that answer, but that he hadn’t meant it. And then he would argue with himself, trying to justify his behavior, and reproving himself for it as well. But when he was being very honest, he knew there was a problem.

Though he couldn’t quite articulate what the problem was: after all, Jude always seemed to want to have sex whenever he did. (Though wasn’t that suspicious in itself?) But he had never met anyone who was so opposed to foreplay, who didn’t want to even discuss sex, who never said the very word. “This is embarrassing, Willem,” Jude would say whenever he tried. “Let’s just do it.” He felt, often, as if their sessions together were being timed, and that his job was to perform as

quickly and thoroughly as he could and then never talk about it. He was less concerned with Jude’s lack of erections than he was with the curious sensation he sometimes experienced—too indefinable and contradictory to even name it with language—that with every encounter they had, he was drawing closer to Jude, even as Jude pulled further from him. Jude said all the right things; he made all the right sounds; he was affectionate and willing: but still, Willem knew something, something was wrong. He found it bewildering; people had always enjoyed having sex with him—so what was happening here? Perversely, it made him want to have it more, if only so he could find some answers, even if he also dreaded them.

And in the same way he knew there was a problem with their sex life, he also knew—knew without knowing, without ever being told— that Jude’s cutting was related to the sex. This realization would always make him shiver, as would his old, careworn way of excusing himself—Willem Ragnarsson, what do you think you’re doing? You’re too dumb to figure this out—from further exploration, from plunging an arm into the snake- and centipede-squirming muck of Jude’s past to find that many-paged book, sheathed in yellowed plastic, that would explain someone he had thought he had fundamentally understood. And then he would think how none of them—not he, not Malcolm, not JB or Richard or even Harold—had been brave enough to try. They had found other reasons to keep themselves from having to dirty their hands. Andy was the only person who could say otherwise.

And yet it was easy for him to pretend, to ignore what he knew,

because most of the time, pretending was easy: because they were friends, because they liked being around each other, because he loved Jude, because they had a life together, because he was attracted to him, because he desired him. But there was the Jude he knew in the daylight, and even in the dusk and dawn, and then there was the Jude who possessed his friend for a few hours each night, and that Jude, he sometimes feared, was the real Jude: the one who haunted their apartment alone, the one whom he had watched draw the razor so slowly down his arm, his eyes wide with agony, the one whom he could never reach, no matter how many reassurances he made, no matter how many threats he levied. It sometimes seemed as if it was that Jude who truly directed their relationship, and when he was present, no one, not even Willem, could dispel him. And still, he remained stubborn: he would banish him, through the intensity and the force and the determination of his love. He knew this was

childish, but all stubborn acts are childish acts. Here, stubbornness was his only weapon. Patience; stubbornness; love: he had to believe these would be enough. He had to believe that they would be stronger than any habit of Jude’s, no matter how long or diligently practiced.

Sometimes he was given progress reports of sorts from Andy and Harold, both of whom thanked him whenever they saw him, which he found unnecessary but reassuring, because it meant that the changes he thought he saw in Jude—a heightened sense of demonstrativeness; a certain diminishment of physical self-consciousness—weren’t things he was imagining after all. But he also felt keenly alone, alone with his new suspicions about Jude and the depths of his difficulties, alone with the knowledge that he was unable or unwilling to properly address those difficulties. A few times he had been very close to contacting Andy and asking him what to do, asking him whether he was making the right decisions. But he hadn’t.

Instead, he allowed his native optimism to obscure his fears, to make their relationship into something essentially joyous and sunny. Often he was struck by the sensation—which he had experienced at Lispenard Street as well—that they were playing house, that he was living some boyhood fantasy of running away from the world and its rules with his best friend and living in some unsuitable but perfectly commodious structure (a train car; a tree house) that wasn’t meant to be a home but had become one because of its occupants’ shared conviction to make it so. Mr. Irvine hadn’t been entirely wrong, he would think on those days when life felt like an extended slumber party, one they’d been having for almost three decades, one that gave him the thrilling feeling that they had gotten away with something large, something they were meant to have abandoned long ago: you went to parties and when someone said something ridiculous, you’d look across the table, and he’d look back at you, expressionless, with just the barest hint of a raised eyebrow, and you’d have to hurriedly drink some water to keep from spewing out your mouthful of food with laughter, and then back at your apartment—your ridiculously beautiful apartment, which you both appreciated an almost embarrassing amount, for reasons you never had to explain to the other—you would recap the entire awful dinner, laughing so much that you began to equate happiness with pain. Or you got to discuss your problems every night with someone smarter and more thoughtful than you, or talk about the continued awe and discomfort you both felt, all these years later, about having money, absurd, comic-book-

villain money, or drive up to his parents’ house, one of you plugging into the car’s stereo an outlandish playlist, with which you would both sing along, loudly, being extravagantly silly as adults the way you never were as children. As you got older, you realized that really, there were very few people you truly wanted to be around for more than a few days at a time, and yet here you were with someone you wanted to be around for years, even when he was at his most opaque and confusing. So: happy. Yes, he was happy. He didn’t have to think about it, not really. He was, he knew, a simple person, the simplest of people, and yet he had ended up with the most complicated of people. “All I want,” he’d said to Jude one night, trying to explain the satisfaction that at that moment was burbling inside him, like water in a bright blue kettle, “is work I enjoy, and a place to live, and someone

who loves me. See? Simple.”

Jude had laughed, sadly. “Willem,” he said, “that’s all I want, too.” “But you have that,” he’d said, quietly, and Jude was quiet, too. “Yes,” he said, at last. “You’re right.” But he hadn’t sounded


That Tuesday night, they are lying next to each other, half talking and half not in one of the meandering almost-conversations they have when they both want to stay awake but are both falling asleep, when Jude says his name with a sort of seriousness that makes him open his eyes. “What is it?” he asks him, and Jude’s face is so still, so sober, that he is frightened. “Jude?” he says. “Tell me.”

“Willem, you know I’ve been trying not to cut myself,” he says, and Willem nods at him and waits. “And I’m going to keep trying,” Jude continues. “But sometimes—sometimes I might not be able to control myself.”

“I know,” he says. “I know you’re trying. I know how hard it is for you.”

Jude turns from him then, and Willem rolls over and wraps his arms around him. “I just want you to understand if I make a mistake,” Jude says, and his voice is muffled.

“Of course I will,” he says. “Jude—of course I will.” There is a long silence, and he waits to see if Jude will say anything else. He is thin, with a marathon runner’s long muscles, but in the past six months, he has become thinner still, almost as thin as when he was released from the hospital, and Willem holds him a little tighter. “You’ve lost more weight,” he tells him.

“Work,” Jude says, and they are quiet again.

“I think you should eat more,” he says. He had to gain weight to play Turing, and although he’s lost some of it, he feels massive beside Jude, something puffed and expansive. “Andy’s going to think I’m not doing a good job taking care of you and he’s going to yell at me,” he adds, and Jude makes a sound he thinks is a laugh.

The next morning, the day before Thanksgiving, they are both cheery—they both like driving—and load their bag and the boxes of cookies and pies and breads that Jude has baked for Harold and Julia into the car and set off early, the car bouncing east over the cobble-stoned streets of SoHo, and then whooshing up the FDR Drive, singing along to the Duets soundtrack. Outside Worcester they stop at a gas station and Jude goes in to buy them mints and water. He waits in the car, leafing through the paper, and when Jude’s phone rings, he reaches over and sees who it is and answers it.

“Have you told Willem yet?” he hears Andy’s voice saying even before he can say hello. “You have three more days after today, Jude, and then I’m telling him myself. I mean it.”

“Andy?” he says, and there is a sudden, sharp silence.

“Willem,” Andy says. “Fuck.” In the background, he can hear a small child’s delighted voice trill out—“Uncle Andy said a bad word!”—and then Andy swears again, and he can hear a door sliding shut. “Why’re you answering Jude’s phone?” Andy asks. “Where is he?”

“We’re driving up to Harold and Julia’s,” he says. “He’s getting water.” On the other end, there is silence. “Tell me what, Andy?” he asks.

“Willem,” Andy says, and stops. “I can’t. I told him I’d let him do it.”

“Well, he hasn’t said anything to me,” he says, and he can feel himself fill with strata of emotions: fear layered upon irritation layered upon fear layered upon curiosity layered upon fear. “Andy, you’d better tell me,” he says. Something in him starts to panic. “Is it bad?” he asks. And then he begins to plead: “Andy, don’t do this to me.”

He hears Andy breathing, slowly. “Willem,” he says, quietly. “Ask him how he really got the burn on his arm. I have to go.”

“Andy!” he yells. “Andy!” But he’s gone.

He twists his head and looks out the window and sees Jude walking toward him. The burn, he thinks: What about the burn? Jude had gotten it when he tried to make the fried plantains JB likes. “Fucking

JB,” he’d said, seeing the bandage wrapped around Jude’s arm. “Always fucking everything up,” and Jude had laughed. “Seriously, though,” he’d said, “are you okay, Judy?” And Jude had said he was: he had gone to Andy’s, and they had done a graft with some artificial skin-like material. They’d had an argument, then, that Jude hadn’t told him how serious the burn was—from Jude’s e-mail, he had assumed it was a singe, certainly not something worthy of a skin graft

—and another one this morning when Jude insisted on driving, even though his arm was still clearly hurting him, but: What about the burn? And then, suddenly, he realizes that there is only one way to interpret Andy’s words, and he has to quickly lower his head because he is as dizzy as if someone had just hit him.

“Sorry,” Jude says, easing back into the car. “The line took forever.” He shakes the mints out of the bag, and then turns and sees him. “Willem?” he asks. “What’s wrong? You look terrible.”

“Andy called,” he says, and he watches Jude’s face, watches it become stony and scared. “Jude,” he says, and his own voice sounds far away, as if he’s speaking from the depths of a gulch, “how did you get the burn on your arm?” But Jude won’t answer him, just stares at him. This isn’t happening, he tells himself.

But of course it is. “Jude,” he repeats, “how did you get the burn on your arm?” But Jude only keeps staring at him, his lips closed, and he asks again, and again. Finally, “Jude!” he shouts, astonished by his own fury, and Jude ducks his head. “Jude! Tell me! Tell me right now!” And then Jude says something so quietly he can’t hear him.

“Louder,” he shouts at him. “I can’t hear you.”

“I burned myself,” Jude says at last, very softly.

“How?” he asks, wildly, and once again, Jude’s answer is delivered in such a low voice that he misses most of it, but he can still distinguish certain words: olive oil—match—fire.

“Why?” he yells, desperately. “Why did you do this, Jude?” He is so angry—at himself, at Jude—that for the first time since he has known him, he wants to hit him, he can see his fist smashing into Jude’s nose, into his cheek. He wants to see his face shattered, and he wants to be the one to do it.

“I was trying not to cut myself,” Jude says, tinily, and this makes him newly livid.

“So it’s my fault?” he asks. “You’re doing this to punish me?” “No,” Jude pleads with him, “no, Willem, no—I just—”

But he interrupts him. “Why have you never told me who Brother

Luke is?” he hears himself ask.

He can tell that Jude is startled. “What?” he asks.

“You promised me you would,” he says. “Remember? It was my birthday present.” The final words sound more sarcastic than he intended. “Tell me,” he says. “Tell me right now.”

“I can’t, Willem,” Jude says. “Please. Please.”

He sees that Jude is in agony, and still he pushes. “You’ve had four years to figure out how to do it,” he says, and as Jude moves to put the keys in the ignition, he reaches over and snatches them from him. “I think that’s enough of a grace period. Tell me right now,” and then, when there is still no reaction, he shouts at Jude again: “Tell me.”

“He was one of the brothers at the monastery,” Jude whispers. “And?” he screams at him. I am so stupid, he thinks, even as he

yells. I am so, so, so stupid. I am so gullible. And then, simultaneously: He’s scared of me. I’m yelling at someone I love and making him scared of me. He suddenly remembers yelling at Andy all those years ago: You’re mad because you can’t figure out how to make him better and so you’re taking it out on me. Oh god, he thinks. Oh god. Why am I doing this?

“And I ran away with him,” Jude says, his voice so faint now that Willem has to lean in to hear him.

“And?” he says, but he can see that Jude is about to cry, and suddenly, he stops, and leans back, exhausted and disgusted with himself, and suddenly frightened as well: What if the next question he asks is the question that finally opens the gates, and everything he has ever wanted to know about Jude, everything he has never wanted to confront, comes surging out at last? They sit there for a long time, the car filling with their shaky breaths. He can feel his fingertips turning numb. “Let’s go,” he finally says.

“Where?” Jude asks, and Willem looks at him.

“We only have an hour to Boston,” he says. “And they’re expecting us,” and Jude nods, and wipes his face with his handkerchief, and takes the keys from him, and drives them slowly out of the gas station.

As they move down the highway, he has a sudden vision of what it really means to set yourself on fire. He thinks of the campfires he had built as a Boy Scout, the tepee of twigs you’d arrange around a knot of newspaper, the way the shimmering flames made the air around them wobbly, their awful beauty. And then he thinks of Jude doing that to his own skin, imagines orange chewing through his flesh, and he is

sick. “Pull over,” he gasps to Jude, and Jude screeches off the road and he leans out of the car and vomits until he has nothing more to expel.

“Willem,” he hears Jude saying, and the sound of his voice enrages him and devastates him, both.

They are silent for the rest of the drive, and when Jude pulls the car bumpily into Harold and Julia’s driveway, there is a brief moment in which they look at each other, and it is as if he is looking at someone he has never seen before. He looks at Jude and sees a handsome man with long hands and legs and a beautiful face, the kind of face you look at and keep looking at, and if he were meeting this man at a party or at a restaurant, he would talk to him, because it would be an excuse to keep looking at him, and he would never think that this man would be someone who cut himself so much that the skin on his arms no longer felt like skin, but cartilage, or that he once dated someone who beat him so hard he could have died, or that one night he rubbed his skin with oil so that the flame he touched to his own body would burn brighter and faster, and that he had gotten this idea from someone who had once done this very thing to him, years ago, when he was a child and had done nothing worse than take something shiny and irresistible from a loathed and loathsome guardian’s desk.

He opens his mouth to say something when they hear Harold and

Julia calling out their welcomes to them, and they both blink and turn and get out of the car, fixing their mouths into smiles as they do. As he kisses Julia, he can hear Harold, behind him, saying to Jude, “Are you okay? Are you sure? You look a little off,” and then Jude’s murmured assent.

He goes to the bedroom with their bag, and Jude goes directly to the kitchen. He takes out their toothbrushes and electric razors and puts them in the bathroom, and then he lies down on the bed.

He sleeps all afternoon; he is too overwhelmed to do anything else. Dinner is just the four of them, and he looks in the mirror, quickly practicing his laugh, before he joins the others in the dining room. Over dinner, Jude is very quiet, but Willem tries to talk and listen as if everything is normal, though it is difficult, as his mind is full of what he has learned.

Even through his rage and despair, he registers that Jude has almost nothing on his plate, but when Harold says, “Jude, you have to eat more; you’ve gotten way too skinny. Right, Willem?” and looks to him for the support and cajoling he would normally, reflexively offer, he

instead shrugs. “Jude’s an adult,” he says, his voice odd to him. “He knows what’s best for him,” and out of the corner of his eyes, he sees Julia and Harold exchange glances with each other, and Jude look down at his plate. “I ate a lot when I was cooking,” he says, and they all know this is untrue, because Jude never snacks while he’s cooking, and doesn’t let anyone else do so, either: “The Snack Stasi,” JB calls him. He watches Jude absentmindedly cup his hand around his sweatered arm right where the burn would be, and then he looks up, and sees Willem staring, and drops his hand and looks back down again.

Somehow they get through dinner, and as he and Julia do the dishes, he keeps the conversation topical and light. After, they go to the living room, where Harold is waiting for him to watch the previous weekend’s game, which he has recorded. At the entryway to the room, he pauses: normally, he would join Jude and squash in beside him on the oversize, overstuffed chair that has been squished in next to what they call Harold’s Chair, but tonight he cannot sit next to Jude—he can barely look at him. And yet if he doesn’t, Julia and Harold will know for certain that something is seriously wrong between them. But as he hesitates, Jude stands and, as if anticipating his quandary, announces that he’s tired and is going to bed. “Are you sure?” Harold asks. “The evening’s just beginning.” But Jude says he is, and kisses Julia good night and waves vaguely in Harold and Willem’s direction, and once again, he sees Julia and Harold look at each other.

Julia eventually leaves as well—she has never understood the

appeal of American football—and after she goes, Harold pauses the game and looks over at him. “Is everything okay with you two?” he asks, and Willem nods. Later, when he too is going to bed, Harold reaches out his hand for his own as he passes him. “You know, Willem,” he says, squeezing his palm, “Jude’s not the only one we love,” and he nods again, his vision blurring, and tells Harold good night and leaves.

Their bedroom is silent, and for a while he stands, staring at Jude’s form beneath the blanket. Willem can tell he’s not actually asleep—he is too still to actually be sleeping—but is pretending to be, and finally, he undresses, folding his clothes over the back of the chair near the dresser. When he slips into bed, he can tell Jude is still awake, and the two of them lie there for a long time on their opposite sides of the bed, both of them afraid of what he, Willem, might say.

He sleeps, though, and when he wakes, the room is more silent still, a real silence this time, and out of habit, he rolls toward Jude’s side of the bed, and opens his eyes when he realizes that Jude isn’t there, and that in fact his side of the bed is cool.

He sits. He stands. He hears a small sound, too small to even be named as sound, and then he turns and sees the bathroom door, closed. But all is dark. He goes to the door anyway, and fiercely turns the knob, slams it open, and the towel that’s been jammed under the door to blot out the light trails after it like a train. And there, leaning against the bathtub, is Jude, as he knew he would be, fully dressed, his eyes huge and terrified.

“Where is it?” he spits at him, although he wants to moan, he wants to cry: at his failing, at this horrible, grotesque play that is being performed night after night after night, for which he is the only, accidental audience, because even when there is no audience, the play is staged anyway to an empty house, its sole performer so diligent and dedicated that nothing can prevent him from practicing his craft.

“I’m not,” Jude says, and Willem knows he’s lying.

“Where is it, Jude?” he asks, and he crouches before him, seizes his hands: nothing. But he knows he has been cutting himself: he knows it from how large his eyes are, from how gray his lips are, from how his hands are shaking.

“I’m not, Willem, I’m not,” Jude says—they are speaking in whispers so they won’t wake Julia and Harold, one flight above them

—and then, before he can think, he is tearing at Jude, trying to pull his clothes away from him, and Jude is fighting him but he can’t use his left arm at all and isn’t at his strongest anyway, and they are screaming at each other with no sound. He is on top of Jude, then, working his knees into his shoulders the way a fightmaster on a set once taught him to do, a method he knows both paralyzes and hurts, and then he is stripping Jude’s clothes off and Jude is frantic beneath him, threatening and then begging him to stop. He thinks, dully, that anyone watching them would think this was a rape, but he isn’t trying to rape, he reminds himself: he is trying to find the razor. And then he hears it, the ping of metal on tile, and he grabs the edge of it between his fingers and throws it behind him, and then goes back to undressing him, yanking his clothes away with a brutal efficiency that surprises him even as he does it, but it isn’t until he pulls down Jude’s underwear that he sees the cuts: six of them, in neat parallel horizontal stripes, high on his left thigh, and he releases Jude and

scuttles away from him as if he is diseased.

“You—are—crazy,” he says, flatly and slowly, after his initial shock has lessened somewhat. “You’re crazy, Jude. To cut yourself on your legs, of all places. You know what can happen; you know you can get infected there. What the hell are you thinking?” He is gasping with exertion, with misery. “You’re sick,” he says, and he is recognizing, again as if Jude is a stranger, how thin he really is, and wondering why he hadn’t noticed before. “You’re sick. You need to be hospitalized. You need—”

“Stop trying to fix me, Willem,” Jude spits back at him. “What am I to you? Why are you with me anyway? I’m not your goddamned charity project. I was doing just fine without you.”

“Oh yeah?” he asks. “Sorry if I’m not living up to being the ideal boyfriend, Jude. I know you prefer your relationships heavy on the sadism, right? Maybe if I kicked you down the stairs a few times I’d be living up to your standards?” He sees Jude move back from him then, pressing himself hard against the tub, sees something in his eyes flatten and close.

“I’m not Hemming, Willem,” Jude hisses at him. “I’m not going to be the cripple you get to save for the one you couldn’t.”

He rocks back on his heels then, stands, backs away, scooping up the razor as he does and then throwing it as hard as he can at Jude’s face, Jude bringing his arms up to shield himself, the razor bouncing off his palm. “Fine,” he pants. “Fucking cut yourself to ribbons for all I care. You love the cutting more than you love me, anyway.” He leaves, wishing he could slam the door behind him, banging off the light switch as he goes.

Back in the bedroom, he grabs his pillows and one of the blankets from the bed and flings himself down on the sofa. If he could leave altogether, he would, but Harold and Julia’s presence stops him, so he doesn’t. He turns facedown and screams, really screams, into the pillow, hitting his fists and kicking his legs against the cushions like a child having a tantrum, his rage mingling with a regret so complete that he is breathless. He is thinking many things, but he cannot articulate or distinguish any of them, and three successive fantasies spool quickly through his mind: he will get in the car and escape and never talk to Jude again; he will go back into the bathroom and hold him until he acquiesces, until he can heal him; he will call Andy now, right now, and have Jude committed first thing in the morning. But he does none of those things, just beats and kicks uselessly, as if he is

swimming in place.

At last, he stops, and lies still, and finally, after what feels like a very long time, he hears Jude creep into the room, as soft and slow as something beaten, a dog perhaps, some unloved creature who lives only to be abused, and then the creak of the bed as he climbs into it.

The long ugly night lurches on, and he sleeps, a shallow, furtive slumber, and when he wakes, it isn’t quite daylight, but he pulls on his clothes and running shoes and goes outside, wrung dry with exhaustion, trying not to think of anything. As he runs, tears, whether from the cold or from everything, intermittently cloud his vision, and he rubs his eyes angrily, keeps going, making himself go faster, inhaling the wind in large, punishing gulps, feeling its ache in his lungs. When he returns, he goes back to their room, where Jude is still lying on his side, curled into himself, and for a second he imagines, with a jolt of horror, that he is dead, and is about to speak his name when Jude shifts a bit in his sleep, and he instead goes to the bathroom and showers, packs his running clothes into their bag, dresses for the day, and goes to the kitchen, shutting the bedroom door quietly behind him. There in the kitchen is Harold, who offers him a cup of coffee as he always does, and as always since he began his relationship with Jude, he shakes his head, although right now just the smell of coffee—its woody, barky warmth—makes him almost ravenous. Harold doesn’t know why he’s stopped drinking it, only that he has, and is always, as he says, trying to lead him back down the road to temptation, and although normally he would joke around with him, this morning he doesn’t. He can’t even look at Harold, he is so ashamed. And he is resentful as well: of Harold’s unspoken but, he senses, unshakable expectation that he will always know what to do about Jude; the disappointment, the disdain he knows Harold would feel for him if he knew what he had said and done in the nighttime.

“You don’t look great,” Harold tells him.

“I’m not,” he says. “Harold, I’m really sorry. Kit texted late last night, and this director I thought I was going to meet up with this week is leaving town tonight; I have to get back to the city today.”

“Oh no, Willem, really?” Harold begins, and then Jude walks in, and Harold says, “Willem says you guys have to go back to the city this morning.”

“You can stay,” he says to Jude, but doesn’t lift his eyes from the toast he’s buttering. “Keep the car. But I need to get back.”

“No,” says Jude, after a short silence. “I should get back, too.”

“What the hell kind of Thanksgiving is this? You guys just eat and run? What am I going to do with all that turkey?” Harold says, but his theatrical outrage is muted, and Willem can feel him looking at both of them in turn, trying to figure out what’s happening, what’s gone wrong.

He waits for Jude to get ready, trying to make small talk with Julia and ignore Harold’s unspoken questions. He goes to the car first to make it clear he’s driving, and as he’s saying goodbye, Harold looks at him and opens his mouth, and then shuts it, and hugs him instead. “Drive safely,” he says.

In the car he seethes, keeps accelerating and then reminding himself to slow down. It’s not even eight in the morning, and it’s Thanksgiving Day, and the highway is empty. Next to him, Jude is turned away from him, his face against the glass: Willem still hasn’t looked at him, doesn’t know what expression he wears, can’t see the smudges under his eyes that Andy had told him in the hospital were a telltale sign that Jude has been cutting himself too much. His anger quickens and recedes by the mile: sometimes he sees Jude lying to him—he is always lying to him, he realizes—and the fury fills him like hot oil. And sometimes he thinks of what he said, and the way he behaved, and the entire situation, that the person he loves is so terrible to himself, and feels such a sense of remorse that he has to grip the steering wheel to make himself focus. He thinks: Is he right? Do I see him as Hemming? And then he thinks: No. That’s Jude’s delusion, because he can’t understand why anyone would want to be with him. It’s not the truth. But the explanation doesn’t comfort him, and indeed makes him more wretched.

Just past New Haven, he stops. Normally, the passage through New

Haven is the opportunity for him to recount their favorite stories from when he and JB were roommates in grad school: The time he was made to help JB and Asian Henry Young mount their guerrilla exhibition of swaying carcasses of meat outside of the medical college. The time JB cut off all his dreads and left them in the sink until Willem finally cleaned them up two weeks later. The time he and JB danced to techno music for forty straight minutes so JB’s friend Greig, a video artist, could record them. “Tell me the one when JB filled Richard’s tub with tadpoles,” Jude would say, grinning in anticipation. “Tell me the one about the time you dated that lesbian.” “Tell me the one when JB crashed that feminist orgy.” But today neither of them says anything, and they roll past New Haven in


He gets out of the car to gas up and go to the bathroom. “I’m not stopping again,” he tells Jude, who hasn’t moved, but Jude only shakes his head, and Willem slams the door shut, his anger returning.

They are at Greene Street before noon, and they get out of the car in silence, into the elevator in silence, into the apartment in silence. He takes their bag to the bedroom; behind him, he can hear Jude sit down and begin playing something on the piano—Schumann, he recognizes, Fantasy in C: a pretty vigorous number for someone who’s so wan and helpless, he thinks sourly—and realizes he has to get out of the apartment.

He doesn’t even take his coat off, just heads back into the living room with his keys. “I’m going out,” he says, but Jude doesn’t stop playing. “Do you hear me?” he shouts. “I’m leaving.”

Then Jude looks up, stops playing. “When are you coming back?” he asks, quietly, and Willem feels his resolve weaken.

But then he remembers how angry he is. “I don’t know,” he says. “Don’t wait up.” He punches the button for the elevator. There is a pause, and then Jude resumes playing.

And then he is out in the world, and all the stores are closed, and SoHo is quiet. He walks to the West Side Highway, walks up it in silence, his sunglasses on, his scarf, which he bought in Jaipur (a gray for Jude, a blue for him), and which is of such soft cashmere that it snags on even the slightest of stubble, wrapped around his stubbly neck. He walks and walks; later, he won’t even remember what he thought about, if he thought about anything. When he is hungry, he veers east to buy a slice of pizza, which he eats on the street, hardly tasting it, before returning to the highway. This is my world, he thinks, as he stands at the river and looks across it toward New Jersey. This is my little world, and I don’t know what to do in it. He feels trapped, and yet how can he feel trapped when he can’t even negotiate the small place he occupies? How can he hope for more when he can’t comprehend what he thought he did?

Nightfall is abrupt and brief, and the wind more intense, and still he

walks. He wants warmth, food, a room with people laughing. But he can’t bear to go into a restaurant, not by himself on Thanksgiving, not in the mood he’s in: he’ll be recognized, and he doesn’t have the energy for the small talk, the bonhomie, the graciousness, that such encounters will necessitate. His friends have always teased him about his invisibility claim, his idea that he can somehow manipulate his

own visibility, his own recognizability, but he had really believed it, even when evidence kept disproving him. Now he sees this belief as yet more proof of his self-deception, his way of constantly pretending that the world will align itself to his vision of it: That Jude will get better because he wants him to. That he understands him because he likes to think he does. That he can walk through SoHo and no one will know who he is. But really, he is a prisoner: of his job, of his relationship, and mostly, of his own willful naïveté.

Finally he buys a sandwich and catches a taxi south to Perry Street, to his apartment that is barely his anymore: in a few weeks, in fact, it no longer will be, because he has sold it to Miguel, his friend from Spain, who is spending more time in the States. But tonight, it still is, and he lets himself in, cautiously, as if the apartment may have deteriorated, may have started breeding monsters, since he was last there. It is early, but he takes off his clothes anyway, and picks Miguel’s clothes off Miguel’s chaise longue and takes Miguel’s blanket off Miguel’s bed and lies down on the chaise, letting the helplessness and tumult of the day—only a day, and so much has happened!— descend, and cries.

As he’s crying, his phone rings, and he gets up, thinking it might be Jude, but it’s not: it’s Andy.

“Andy,” he cries, “I fucked up, I really fucked up. I did something horrible.”

“Willem,” Andy says gently. “I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think it is. I’m sure you’re being too hard on yourself.”

So he tells Andy, haltingly, explaining what has happened, and after he is finished, Andy is silent. “Oh, Willem,” he sighs, but he doesn’t sound angry, only sad. “Okay. It is as bad as you think it is,” and for some reason, this makes him laugh a little, but then also moan.

“What should I do?” he asks, and Andy sighs again.

“If you want to stay with him, I’d go home and talk to him,” he says, slowly. “And if you don’t want to stay with him—I’d go home and talk to him anyway.” He pauses. “Willem, I’m really sorry.”

“I know,” he says. And then, as Andy’s saying goodbye, he stops him. “Andy,” he says, “tell me honestly: Is he mentally ill?”

There’s a very long silence, until Andy says, “I don’t think so, Willem. Or rather: I don’t think there’s anything chemically wrong with him. I think his craziness is all man-made.” He is silent. “Make him talk to you, Willem,” he says. “If he talks to you, I think you’ll—I think you’ll understand why he is the way he is.” And suddenly, he

needs to get home, and he is dressing and hurrying out the door, hailing a cab and getting into it, getting out and getting into the elevator, opening the door and letting himself into the apartment, which is silent, disconcertingly silent. On the way over, he had a sudden image, one that felt like a premonition, that Jude had died, that he had killed himself, and he runs through the apartment shouting his name.

“Willem?” he hears, and he runs through their bedroom, with their bed still made, and then sees Jude in the far left corner of their closet, curled up on the ground, facing the wall. But he doesn’t think about why he’s there, he just drops to the floor next to him. He doesn’t know if he has permission to touch him, but he does so anyway, wrapping his arms around him. “I’m sorry,” he says to the back of Jude’s head. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean what I said—I would be distraught if you hurt yourself. I am distraught.” He exhales. “And I never, ever should have gotten physical with you. Jude, I’m so sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Jude whispers, and they are silent. “I’m sorry about what I said. I’m sorry I lied to you, Willem.”

They are quiet for a long time. “Do you remember the time you told me you were afraid that you were a series of nasty surprises for me?” he asks him, and Jude nods, slightly. “You aren’t,” he tells him. “You aren’t. But being with you is like being in this fantastic landscape,” he continues, slowly. “You think it’s one thing, a forest, and then suddenly it changes, and it’s a meadow, or a jungle, or cliffs of ice. And they’re all beautiful, but they’re strange as well, and you don’t have a map, and you don’t understand how you got from one terrain to the next so abruptly, and you don’t know when the next transition will arrive, and you don’t have any of the equipment you need. And so you keep walking through, and trying to adjust as you go, but you don’t really know what you’re doing, and often you make mistakes, bad mistakes. That’s sometimes what it feels like.”

They’re silent. “So basically,” Jude says at last, “basically, you’re

saying I’m New Zealand.”

It takes him a second to realize Jude is joking, and when he does he begins to laugh, unhingedly, with relief and sorrow, and he turns Jude toward him and kisses him. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, you’re New Zealand.”

Then they are quiet again, and serious, but at least they are looking at each other.

“Are you going to leave?” Jude asks, so quietly that Willem can barely hear him.

He opens his mouth; shuts it. Oddly, even with everything he has thought and not thought over the last day and night, he has not considered leaving, and now he thinks about it. “No,” he says. And then, “I don’t think so,” and he watches Jude shut his eyes and then open them, and nod. “Jude,” he says, and the words come to his mouth as he says them, and as he speaks, he knows he is doing the right thing, “I do think you need help—help I don’t know how to give you.” He takes a breath. “I either want you to voluntarily commit yourself, or I want you to start seeing Dr. Loehmann twice a week.” He watches Jude for a long time; he can’t tell what he’s thinking.

“And what if I don’t want to do either?” Jude asks. “Are you going to leave?”

He shakes his head. “Jude, I love you,” he says. “But I can’t—I can’t condone this kind of behavior. I won’t be able to stick around and watch you do this to yourself if I thought you’d interpret my presence as some sort of tacit approval. So. Yes. I guess I would.”

Again they are quiet, and Jude turns over and lies on his back. “If I tell you what happened to me,” he begins, falteringly, “if I tell you everything I can’t discuss—if I tell you, Willem, do I still have to go?”

He looks at him, shakes his head again. “Oh, Jude,” he says. “Yes. Yes, you still have to. But I hope you’ll tell me anyway, I really do. Whatever it is; whatever it is.”

They are quiet once more, and this time, their quiet turns to sleep, and the two of them fit into each other and sleep and sleep until Willem hears Jude’s voice speaking to him, and then he wakes, and he listens as Jude talks. It will take hours, because Jude is sometimes unable to continue, and Willem will wait and hold him so tightly that Jude won’t be able to breathe. Twice he will try to wrench himself away, and Willem will pin him to the ground and hold him there until he calms himself. Because they are in the closet, they won’t know what time it is, only that there has been a day that has arrived and departed, because they will have seen flat carpets of sun unroll themselves into the closet’s doorways from the bedroom, from the bathroom. He will listen to stories that are unimaginable, that are abominable; he will excuse himself, three times, to go to the bathroom and study his face in the mirror and remind himself that he has only to find the courage to listen, although he will want to cover his ears and cover Jude’s mouth to make the stories cease. He will study the

back of Jude’s head, because Jude can’t face him, and imagine the person he thinks he knows collapsing into rubble, clouds of dust gusting around him, as nearby, teams of artisans try to rebuild him in another material, in another shape, as a different person than the person who had stood for years and years. On and on and on the stories will go, and in their path will lie squalor: blood and bones and dirt and disease and misery. After Jude has finished telling him about his time with Brother Luke, Willem will ask him, again, if he enjoys having sex at all, even a little, even occasionally, and he will wait the many long minutes until Jude says he doesn’t, that he hates it, that he always has, and he will nod, devastated, but relieved to have the real answer. And then he will ask him, not even knowing where the question has been hiding, if he’s even attracted to men, and Jude will tell him, after a silence, that he’s not certain, that he had always had sex with men, and so assumed he always would. “Are you interested in having sex with women?” he’ll ask him, and he’ll watch as, after another long silence, Jude shakes his head. “No,” he’ll say. “It’s too late for me, Willem,” and he will tell him it’s not, that there are things they can do to help him, but Jude will shake his head again. “No,” he’ll say. “No, Willem, I’ve had enough. No more,” and he will realize, as if slapped, the truth of this, and will stop. They will sleep again, and this time, his dreams will be terrible. He will dream he is one of the men in the motel rooms, he will realize that he has behaved like one of them; he will wake with nightmares, and it will be Jude who has to calm him. Finally they will heave themselves from the floor—it will be Saturday afternoon, and they will have been lying in the closet since Thursday night—and shower and eat something, something hot and comforting, and then they will go directly from the kitchen into the study, where he will listen as Jude leaves a message for Dr. Loehmann, whose card Willem has kept in his wallet all these years and produces, magician-like, within seconds, and from there to bed, and they will lie there, looking at each other, each afraid to ask the other: he to ask Jude to finish his story; Jude to ask him when he is leaving, because his leaving now seems an inevitability, a matter of logistics.

On and on they stare, until Jude’s face becomes almost meaningless

as a face to him: it is a series of colors, of planes, of shapes that have been arranged in such a way to give other people pleasure, but to give its owner nothing. He doesn’t know what he is going to do. He is dizzy with what he has heard, with comprehending the enormity of

his misconceptions, with stretching his understanding past what is imaginable, with the knowledge that all of his carefully maintained edifices are now destroyed beyond repair.

But for now, they are in their bed, in their room, in their apartment, and he reaches over and takes Jude’s hand, holds it gently in his own.

“You’ve told me about how you got to Montana,” he hears himself saying. “So tell me: What happened next?”



It was a time he rarely thought about, his flight to Philadelphia, because it was a period in which he had been so afloat from himself that even as he had lived his life, it had felt dreamlike and not quite real; there had been times in those weeks when he had opened his eyes and was genuinely unable to discern whether what had just happened had actually happened, or whether he had imagined it. It had been a useful skill, this persistent and unshatterable somnambulism, and it had protected him, but then that ability, like his ability to forget, had abandoned him as well and he was never to acquire it again.

He had first noticed this suspension at the home. At nights, he would sometimes be awakened by one of the counselors, and he would follow them down to the office where one of them was always on duty, and he would do whatever they wanted. After they were done, he would be escorted back to his room—a small space with a bunk bed that he shared with a mentally disabled boy, slow and fat and frightened-looking and prone to rages, whom he knew the counselors also sometimes took with them at night—and locked in again. There were a few of them the counselors used, but aside from his roommate, he didn’t know who the other boys were, only that they existed. He was nearly mute in those sessions, and as he knelt or squatted or lay, he thought of a round clock face, its second hand gliding impassively around it, counting the revolutions until it ended. But he never begged, he never pled. He never bargained or made promises or cried. He didn’t have the energy; he didn’t have the conviction—not any longer, not anymore.

It was a few months after his weekend with the Learys that he tried

to run away. He had classes at the community college on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and on those days, one of the counselors would wait for him in the parking lot and drive him back to the home. He dreaded the end of classes, he dreaded the ride home:

he never knew which counselor would be waiting for him, and when he reached the parking lot and saw who it was, his footsteps would sometimes slow, but it was as if he was a magnet, something controlled by ions, not will, and into the car he would be drawn.

But one afternoon—this was in March, shortly before he turned fourteen—he had turned the corner and had seen the counselor, a man named Rodger who was the cruelest, the most demanding, the most vicious of them all, and he had stopped. For the first time in a long time, something in him resisted, and instead of continuing toward Rodger, he had crept backward down the hallway, and then, once he was certain he was safely out of sight, he had run.

He hadn’t prepared for this, he had no plan, but some hidden, fiery part of him had, it seemed, been making observations as the rest of his mind sat cocooned in its thick, cottony slumber, and he found himself running toward the science lab, which was being renovated, and then under a curtain of blue plastic tarp that shielded one exposed side of the building, and then worming into the eighteen inches of space that separated the decaying interior wall from the new cement exterior that they were building around it. There was just enough room for him to wedge himself in, and he burrowed himself as deep into the space as he could, carefully working himself into a horizontal position, making sure his feet weren’t visible.

As he lay there, he tried to decide what he could do next. Rodger would wait for him and then, when he didn’t appear, they would eventually look for him. But if he could last here for the night, if he could wait until everything was silent around him, then he could escape. This was as far as he could think, although he was cognizant enough to realize that his chances were poor: he had no food, no money, and although it was only five in the afternoon, it was already very cold. He could feel his back and legs and palms, all the parts pressed against the stone, numbing themselves, could feel his nerves turning to thousands of pinpricks. But he could also feel, for the first time in months, his mind coming alert, could feel, for the first time in years, the giddy thrill of being able to make a decision, however poor or ill-conceived or unlikely. Suddenly, the pinpricks felt like not a punishment but a celebration, like hundreds of miniature fireworks exploding within him and for him, as if his body were reminding him of who he was and of what he still owned: himself.

He lasted two hours before the security guard’s dog found him and

he was dragged out by his feet, his palms scraping against the cement

blocks he clung to even then, by this time so cold that he tripped as he walked, that his fingers were too iced to open the car door, and as soon as he was inside, Rodger had turned around and hit him in the face, and the blood from his nose was thick and hot and reassuring and the taste of it on his lips oddly nourishing, like soup, as if his body were something miraculous and self-healing, determined to save itself.

That evening they had taken him to the barn, where they sometimes took him at night, and beat him so badly that he had blacked out almost immediately after it had begun. He had been hospitalized that night, and then again a few weeks later, when the wounds had gotten infected. For those weeks, he had been left alone, and although they had been told at the hospital that he was a delinquent, that he was troubled, that he was a problem and a liar, the nurses were kind to him: there was one, an older woman, who had sat by his bed and held a glass of apple juice with a straw in it so he could sip from it without lifting his head (he’d had to lie on his side so they could clean his back and drain the wounds).

“I don’t care what you did,” she told him one night, after she had changed his bandages. “No one deserves this. Do you hear me, young man?”

Then help me, he wanted to say. Please help me. But he didn’t. He was too ashamed.

She sat next to him again and put her hand on his forehead. “Try to behave yourself, all right?” she had said, but her voice had been gentle. “I don’t want to see you back here.”

Help me, he wanted to say again, as she left the room. Please. Please.

But he couldn’t. He never saw her again.

Later, as an adult, he would wonder if he had invented this nurse, if he had conjured her out of desperation, a simulacrum of kindness that was almost as good as the real thing. He would argue with himself: If she had existed, truly existed, wouldn’t she have told someone about him? Wouldn’t someone have been sent to help him? But his memories from this period were something slightly blur-edged and unreliable, and as the years went by, he was to come to realize that he was, always, trying to make his life, his childhood, into something more acceptable, something more normal. He would startle himself from a dream about the counselors, and would try to comfort himself: There were only two of them who used you, he would tell himself. Maybe three. The others didn’t. They weren’t all cruel to you. And then he would

try, for days, to remember how many there had actually been: Was it two? Or was it three? For years, he couldn’t understand why this was so important to him, why it mattered to him so much, why he was always trying to argue against his own memories, to spend so much time debating the details of what had happened. And then he realized that it was because he thought that if he could convince himself that it was less awful than he remembered, then he could also convince himself that he was less damaged, that he was closer to healthy, than he feared he was.

Finally he was sent back to the home, and the first time he had seen his back, he had recoiled, moving so quickly away from the bathroom mirror that he had slipped and fallen on a section of wet tile. In those initial weeks after the beating, when the scar tissue was still forming, it had made a puffed mound of flesh on his back, and at lunch he would sit alone and the older boys would whip damp pellets of napkin at it, trying to get them to ping off of it as against a target, cheering when they hit him. Until that point, he had never thought too specifically about his appearance. He knew he was ugly. He knew he was ruined. He knew he was diseased. But he had never considered himself grotesque. But now he was. There seemed to be an inevitability to this, to his life: that every year he would become worse—more disgusting, more depraved. Every year, his right to humanness diminished; every year, he became less and less of a person. But he didn’t care any longer; he couldn’t allow himself to.

It was difficult to live without caring, however, and he found

himself curiously unable to forget Brother Luke’s promise, that when he was sixteen, his old life would stop and his new life would begin. He knew, he did, that Brother Luke had been lying, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Sixteen, he would think to himself at night. Sixteen. When I am sixteen, this will end.

He had asked Brother Luke, once, what their life would be like after he turned sixteen. “You’ll go to college,” Luke had said, immediately, and he had thrilled to this. He had asked where he would go, and Luke had named the college he had attended as well (although when he had gotten to that college after all, he had looked up Brother Luke

—Edgar Wilmot—and had realized there was no record of him having ever attended the school, and he had been relieved, relieved to not have something in common with the brother, although it was he who had let him imagine that he might someday be there). “I’ll move to Boston, too,” Luke said. “And we’ll be married, so we’ll live in an

apartment off campus.” Sometimes they discussed this: the courses he would take, the things Brother Luke had done when he was at college, the places they would travel to after he graduated. “Maybe we’ll have a son together one day,” Luke said once, and he had stiffened, for he knew without Luke saying so that Luke would do to this phantom son of theirs what had been done to him, and he remembered thinking that that would never happen, that he would never let this ghost child, this child who didn’t exist, ever exist, that he would never let another child be around Luke. He remembered thinking that he would protect this son of theirs, and for a brief, awful moment, he wished he would never turn sixteen at all, because he knew that once he did, Luke would need someone else, and that he couldn’t let that happen.

But now Luke was dead. The phantom child was safe. He could safely turn sixteen. He could turn sixteen and be safe.

The months passed. His back healed. Now a security guard waited for him after his classes and walked him to the parking lot to wait for the counselor on duty. One day at the end of the fall semester, his math professor talked to him after class had ended: Had he thought about college yet? He could help him; he could help him get there— he could go somewhere excellent, somewhere top-flight. And oh, he wanted to go, he wanted to get away, he wanted to go to college. He was tugged, in those days, between trying to resign himself to the fact that his life would forever more be what it was, and the hope, small and stupid and stubborn as it was, that it could be something else. The balance—between resignation and hope—shifted by the day, by the hour, sometimes by the minute. He was always, always trying to decide how he should be—if his thoughts should be of acceptance or of escape. In that moment he had looked at his professor, but as he was about to answer—Yes; yes, help me—something stopped him. The professor had always been kind to him, but wasn’t there something about that kindness that made him resemble Brother Luke? What if the professor’s offer of help cost him? He argued with himself as the professor waited for his answer. One more time won’t hurt you, said the desperate part of him, the part that wanted to leave, the part that was counting every day until sixteen, the part the other part of him jeered at. It’s one more time. He’s another client. Now is not the time to start getting proud.

But in the end, he had ignored that voice—he was so tired, he was

so sore, he was so exhausted from being disappointed—and had shaken his head. “College isn’t for me,” he told the professor, his voice

thin from the strain of lying. “Thank you. But I don’t need your help.” “I think you’re making a big mistake, Jude,” said his professor, after

a silence. “Promise me you’ll reconsider?” and he had reached out and touched his arm, and he had jerked away, and the professor had looked at him, strangely, and he had turned and fled the room, the hallway blurring into planes of beige.

That night he was taken to the barn. The barn was no longer a working barn, but a place to store the shop class’s and the auto repair class’s projects—in the stalls were half-assembled carburetors, and hulls of half-repaired trucks, and half-sanded rocking chairs that the home sold for money. He was in the stall with the rocking chairs, and as one of the counselors seesawed into him, he left himself and flew above the stalls, to the rafters of the barn, where he paused, looking at the scene below him, the machinery and furniture like alien sculpture, the floor dusty with dirt and the stray pieces of hay, reminders of the barn’s original life that they never seemed able to fully erase, at the two people making a strange eight-legged creature, one silent, one noisy and grunting and thrusting and alive. And then he was flying out of the round window cut high into the wall, and over the home, over its fields that were so beautiful and green and yellow with wild mustard in the summer, and now, in December, were still beautiful in their own way, a shimmering expanse of lunar white, the snow so fresh and new that no one had yet trampled it. He flew above this all, and across landscapes he had read about but had never seen, across mountains so clean that they made him feel clean just to contemplate them, over lakes as big as oceans, until he was floating above Boston, and circling down and down to that series of buildings that trimmed the side of the river, an expansive ring of structures punctuated by squares of green, where he would go and be remade, and where his life would begin, where he could pretend that everything that had come before had been someone else’s life, or a series of mistakes, never to be discussed, never to be examined.

When he came back to himself, the counselor was on top of him,

asleep. His name was Colin, and he was often drunk, as he was tonight, his hot yeasty breath puffing against his face. He was naked; Colin was wearing a sweater but nothing else, and for a while he lay there under Colin’s weight, breathing too, waiting for him to wake so he could be returned to his bedroom and cut himself.

And then, unthinkingly, almost as if he was a marionette, his limbs moving without thought, he was wriggling out from beneath Colin,

quiet and quick, and hurrying his clothes back on, and then, again before he knew it, grabbing Colin’s puffed coat from the hook on the inside of the stall and shrugging it on. Colin was much larger than he was, fatter and more muscular, but he was almost as tall, and it was less wieldy than it looked. And then he was grabbing Colin’s jeans from the ground, and snatching out his wallet, and then the money within it—he didn’t count how much it was, but he could tell by how thin a sheaf it was that it wasn’t much—and shoving that into his own jeans pocket, and then he was running. He had always been a good runner, swift and silent and certain—watching him at the track, Brother Luke had always said he must be part Mohican—and now he ran out of the barn, its doors open to the sparkling, hushed night, looking about him as he left, and then, seeing no one, toward the field behind the home’s dormitory.

It was half a mile from the dormitory to the road, and although he

would normally have been in pain after what happened in the barn, that night he felt no pain, only elation, a sense of hyper-wakefulness that seemed to have been conjured particularly for this night, for this adventure. At the edge of the property he dropped to the ground and rolled carefully under the barbed wire, wrapping Colin’s jacket sleeves around his hands and then holding the coils of wire above him so he could scoot beneath them. Once he was safely free, his elation only intensified, and he ran and ran in the direction he knew was east, toward Boston, away from the home, from the West, from everything. He knew he would eventually have to leave this road, which was narrow and mostly dirt, and move toward the highway, where he would be more exposed but also more anonymous, and he moved quickly down the hill that led toward the black dense woods that separated the road from the interstate. Running on grass was more difficult, but he did so anyway, keeping close to the edge of the forest so that if a car passed, he could duck within it and hide behind a tree. As an adult, as a crippled adult, and then as a crippled adult who was truly crippled, as someone who could no longer even walk, as someone for whom running was a magic trick, as impossible as flying, he would look back on that night with awe: how fleet he had been, how fast, how tireless, how lucky. He would wonder how long he had run that night—at least two hours, he thought, maybe three— although at the time he hadn’t thought about that at all, only that he needed to get as far as he could from the home. The sun began to appear in the sky, and he ran into the woods, which were the source

of many of the younger boys’ fears, and which were so crowded and lightless that even he was frightened, and he was not frightened in general by nature, but he had gone as deep into them as he could, both because he had to go through the woods to reach the interstate and because he knew that the deeper he hid within them, the less likely he was to be discovered, and finally he had chosen a large tree, one of the largest, as if its size offered some promise of reassurance, as if it would guard and protect him, and had tucked himself between its roots and slept.

When he woke it was dark again, although whether it was late afternoon or late evening or early morning he wasn’t certain. He began moving his way through the trees again, humming to comfort himself and to announce himself to whatever might be waiting for him, to show them he was unafraid, and by the time he had been spat out by the woods on the other side, it was still dark, so he knew it was in fact nighttime, and he had slept all day, and that knowledge made him feel stronger and more energetic. Sleep is more important than food, he remonstrated himself, because he was very hungry, and then to his legs: Move. And he did, running again uphill toward the interstate.

He had realized at some point in the forest that there was only one way he would be able to get to Boston, and so he stood by the side of the road, and when the first truck stopped for him and he climbed aboard, he knew what he would have to do when the truck stopped, and he did it. He did it again and again and again; sometimes the drivers gave him food or money, and sometimes they didn’t. They all had little nests they had made for themselves in the trailers of their trucks, and they lay there, and sometimes after it was over, they would drive him a little farther, and he would sleep, the world moving beneath him in a perpetual earthquake. At filling stations he would buy things to eat and would wait around, and eventually someone would choose him—someone always did—and he would climb into the truck.

“Where’re you headed?” they would ask him.

“Boston,” he would say. “My uncle’s there.”

Sometimes he felt the shame of what he was doing so intensely he wanted to vomit: he knew he would never be able to claim to himself that he had been coerced; he’d had sex with these men freely, he had let them do whatever they wanted, he had performed enthusiastically and well. And sometimes he was unsentimental: he was doing what he

had to do. There was no other way. This was his skill, his one great skill, and he was using it to get somewhere better. He was using himself to save himself.

Sometimes the men would want him for longer and they would get a motel room, and he would imagine Brother Luke waiting in the bathroom for him. Sometimes they would talk to him—I have a son your age, they’d say; I have a daughter your age—and he would lie there and listen. Sometimes they would watch television until they were ready to go again. Some of them were cruel to him; some of them made him fear he would be killed, or hurt so badly he wouldn’t be able to escape, and in those moments he would be terrified, and he would wish, desperately, for Brother Luke, for the monastery, for the nurse who had been so kind to him. But most of them were neither cruel nor kind. They were clients, and he was giving them what they wanted.

Years later, when he was able to review these weeks more objectively, he would be dumbstruck by how stupid he had been, by how small his oculus: Why hadn’t he simply escaped? Why hadn’t he taken the money he had earned and bought a bus ticket? He would try and try to remember how much he had earned, and although he knew it hadn’t been much, he thought that it might have been enough for a ticket somewhere, anywhere, even if not Boston. But then, it simply hadn’t occurred to him. It was as if the entire store of resourcefulness he had possessed, every piece of courage, had been spent on his flight from the home, and once on his own, he had simply let his life be dictated to him by others, following one man after the next, the way he had been taught to do. And of all the ways in which he changed himself as an adult, it would be this, this idea that he could create at least some part of his own future, that would be the most difficult lesson to learn, as well as the most rewarding.

Once there had been a man who had smelled so terribly and had

been so sweatily large that he had almost changed his mind, but although the sex had been horrific, the man had been gentle with him afterward, had bought him a sandwich and a soda and had asked him real questions about himself and had listened carefully to his made-up answers. He had stayed with the man for two nights, and as he drove, the man had listened to bluegrass music and had sung along: he had had a lovely voice, low and clear, and he had taught him the words, and he had found himself singing along with this man, the road smooth beneath them. “God, you have a nice voice, Joey,” the man

had said, and he had—how weak he was, how pathetic!—allowed himself to be warmed by this comment, had gobbled up this affection as a rat would a piece of molding bread. On the second day, the man had asked him if he wanted to stay with him; they were in Ohio, and unfortunately he wasn’t going any farther east, he was headed south now, but if he wanted to stay with him, he would be delighted, he would make sure he was taken care of. He had declined the man’s offer, and the man had nodded, as if he had expected he would, and given him a fold of money and kissed him, the first of them who had. “Good luck to you, Joey,” he said, and later, after the man had left, he had counted the money and realized it was more than he thought, it was more than he’d made in his previous ten days altogether. Later, when the next man was brutish, when he was violent and rough, he had wished he had gone with the other man: suddenly, Boston seemed less important than tenderness, than someone who would protect him and be good to him. He lamented his poor choices, how he seemed unable to appreciate the people who were actually decent to him: he thought again of Brother Luke, how Luke had never hit him or yelled at him; how he had never called him names.

Somewhere he had gotten sick, but he didn’t know if it was from his

time on the road or from the home. He made the men use condoms, but a few of them had said they would and then hadn’t, and he had struggled and shouted but there had been nothing he could do. He knew, from past experience, that he would need a doctor. He stank; he was in so much pain he could barely walk. On the outskirts of Philadelphia he decided he’d take a break—he had to. He had torn a small hole in the sleeve of Colin’s jacket and had rolled his money into a tube and shoved it inside and then closed the hole with a safety pin he had found in one of the motel rooms. He climbed out of the last truck, although at the time he hadn’t known it would be the last truck; at the time he had thought: one more. One more and I’ll make it to Boston. He hated that he had to stop now when he was so close, but he knew he needed help; he had waited as long as he could.

The driver had stopped at a filling station near Philadelphia—he

didn’t want to drive into the city. There, he made his slow way to the bathroom; he tried to clean himself. The illness made him tired; he had a fever. The last thing he remembered from that day—it had been late January, he thought; still cold, and now with a wet, stinging wind that seemed to slap against him—was walking to the edge of the gas station, where there had been a small tree, barren and unloved and

alone, and sitting down against it, resting his back in Colin’s now-filthy jacket against its spindly, unconvincing trunk, and shutting his eyes, hoping that if he slept for a while, he might feel at least a little stronger.

When he woke he knew he was in the backseat of a car, and the car was moving, and there was Schubert playing, and he allowed himself to be comforted by that, because it was something he knew, something familiar in such unfamiliarity, in a strange car being driven by a stranger, a stranger he was too weak to sit up and examine, through a strange landscape to an unknown destination. When he woke again he was in a room, a living room, and he looked around him: at the sofa he was on, the coffee table in front of it, two armchairs, a stone fireplace, all in shades of brown. He stood, still dizzy but less dizzy, and as he did, he noticed there was a man standing in a doorway, watching him, a man a little shorter than he, and thin, but with a sloping stomach and fertile, swelling hips. He had glasses that had black plastic bracketing their top half but were clear glass beneath, and a tonsure of hair trimmed very short and soft, like a mink’s coat.

“Come to the kitchen and have something to eat,” the man said in a

quiet toneless voice, and he did, walking slowly after him and into a kitchen that, except for its tiles and walls, was also brown: brown table, brown cupboards, brown chairs. He sat in the chair at the foot of the table, and the man put a plate before him with a hamburger and a slide of fries, a glass filled with milk. “I normally don’t get fast food,” the man said, and looked at him.

He wasn’t sure what to say. “Thank you,” he said, and the man nodded. “Eat,” he said, and he did, and the man sat at the head of the table and watched him. Normally this would have made him self-conscious, but he was too hungry to care this time.

When he was finished he sat back and thanked the man again, and the man nodded again, and there was a silence.

“You’re a prostitute,” the man said, and he flushed, and looked down at the table, at its shined brown wood.

“Yes,” he admitted.

The man made a little noise, a little snuffle. “How long have you been a prostitute?” he asked, but he couldn’t answer him and was silent. “Well?” the man asked. “Two years? Five years? Ten years? Your whole life?” He was impatient, or almost impatient, but his voice was soft, and he wasn’t yelling.

“Five years,” he said, and the man made the same small noise again.

“You have a venereal disease,” the man said, “I can smell it on you,” and he cringed, and bent his head, and nodded.

The man sighed. “Well,” he said, “you’re in luck, because I’m a doctor, and I happen to have some antibiotics in the house.” He got up and padded over to one of the cupboards, and came back with an orange plastic bottle, and took out a pill. “Take this,” he said, and he did. “Finish your milk,” the man said, and he did, and then the man left the room and he waited until he came back. “Well?” the man said. “Follow me.”

He did, his legs stringy beneath him, and followed the man to a door across from the living room, which the man unlocked and held open for him. He hesitated, and the man made an impatient clucking noise. “Go on,” he said. “It’s a bedroom,” and he shut his eyes, weary, and then opened them again. He began preparing himself for the man to be cruel; the quiet ones always were.

When he reached the doorway, he saw that it led to a basement, and there was a set of wooden steps, steep like a ladder, that he would have to descend, and he paused once more, wary, and the man made his strange insect-like sound again and shoved him, not hard, against the small of his back, and he stumbled down the stairs.

He had been expecting a dungeon, slippery and leaking and dank, but it really was a bedroom, with a mattress made up with a blanket and sheets, and a blue circular rug beneath it, and lining the left-hand wall, bookcases of the same unfinished wood the staircase had been made from, with books on them. The space was bright-lit in that aggressive, relentless way he remembered from hospitals and police stations, and there was a small window, about the size of a dictionary, cut high into the far wall.

“I put out some clothes for you,” the man said, and he saw that folded on the mattress was a shirt and a pair of sweatpants, and a towel and toothbrush as well. “The bathroom’s there,” the man said, pointing to the far right-hand corner of the room.

And then he began to leave. “Wait,” he called after the man, and the man stopped his climb and looked at him, and he began, under the man’s gaze, to unbutton his shirt. Something changed in the man’s face, then, and he climbed another few steps. “You’re sick,” he said. “You have to get better first,” and then he left the room, the door clicking shut after him.

He slept that night, both from lack of anything else to do and from exhaustion. The next morning he woke and smelled food, and he groaned to his feet and walked slowly up the stairs, where he found a plastic tray with a plate of eggs, poached, and two lengths of bacon, a roll, a glass of milk, a banana, and another of the white pills. He was too wobbly to bring it down without falling, so he sat there, on one of the unfinished wooden steps, and ate the food and swallowed the pill. After resting, he stood to open the door and take the tray to the kitchen, but the knob wouldn’t turn because the door was locked. There was a small square cut into the bottom of the door, a cat door, he assumed, although he hadn’t seen a cat, and he held back its curtain of rubber and poked his head out. “Hello?” he called. He realized he didn’t know the man’s name, which wasn’t unusual—he never knew their names. “Sir? Hello?” But there was no answer, and he could tell from the way the house was silent that he was alone.

He should have felt panic, he should have felt fear, but he felt

neither, only a crush of tiredness, and he left the tray at the top of the stairs and worked his way slowly down again, and then into bed, where he slept once more.

He dozed for that entire day, and when he woke, the man was standing above him again, watching him, and he sat up, abruptly. “Dinner,” the man said, and he followed him upstairs, still in his borrowed clothes, which were too wide in the waist and too short in the sleeves and legs, because when he had looked for his own clothes, they were missing. My money, he thought, but he was too addled to think beyond that.

Once again he sat in the brown kitchen, and the man brought him his pill, and a plate with brown meat loaf, and a slop of mashed potatoes, and broccoli, and another plate for himself, and they began to eat in silence. Silence didn’t make him nervous—usually, he was grateful for it—but this man’s silence was closer to inwardness, the way a cat will be silent and watching, watching, watching so fixedly that you don’t know what it sees, and then suddenly it will jump, and trap something beneath its paw.

“What kind of doctor are you?” he asked, tentatively, and the man looked at him.

“A psychiatrist,” the doctor said. “Do you know what that is?” “Yes,” he said.

The man made his noise again. “Do you like being a prostitute?” he asked, and he felt, unaccountably, tears in his eyes, but then he

blinked and they were gone. “No,” he said.

“Then why do you do it?” the man asked, and he shook his head. “Speak,” the man said.

“I don’t know,” he said, and the man made a huffing noise. “It’s what I know how to do,” he said at last.

“Are you good at it?” the man asked, and once again, he felt that sting, and he was quiet for a long time.

“Yes,” he said, and it was the worst admission he had ever made, the hardest word for him to say.

After they were done, the doctor escorted him once again to the door, and gave him the same little shove inside. “Wait,” he said to the man, as he was closing the door. “My name’s Joey,” and when the man said nothing, only stared at him, “what’s yours?”

The man kept looking at him, but now he was, he thought, almost smiling, or at least he was about to make some sort of expression. But then he didn’t. “Dr. Traylor,” the man said, and then pulled the door quickly shut behind him, as if that very information was a bird that might fly away if it too were not trapped inside with him.

The next day he felt less sore, less febrile. When he stood, though, he realized he was still weak, and he swayed and grabbed at the air and in the end, he didn’t fall. He moved toward the bookshelves, examining the books, which were paperbacks, swollen and buckling from heat and moisture and smelling sweetly of mildew. He found a copy of Emma, which he had been reading in class at the college before he ran away, and carried the book slowly up the stairs with him, where he found the place he’d left off and read as he ate his breakfast and took his pill. This time there was a sandwich as well, wrapped in a paper towel, with the word “Lunch” written on the towel in small letters. After he had eaten, he went downstairs with the book and sandwich and lay in bed, and he was reminded of how much he had missed reading, of how grateful he was for this opportunity to leave behind his life.

He slept again; woke again. By evening, he was very tired, and

some of the pain had returned, and when Dr. Traylor held open the door for him, it took him a long time to mount the stairs. At dinner, he didn’t say anything, and neither did Dr. Traylor, but when he offered to help Dr. Traylor with the dishes or the cooking, Dr. Traylor had looked at him. “You’re sick,” he said.

“I’m better,” he said. “I can help you in the kitchen if you want.”

“No, I mean—you’re sick,” Dr. Traylor said. “You’re diseased. I can’t have a diseased person touching my food,” and he had looked down, humiliated.

There was a silence. “Where are your parents?” Dr. Traylor asked, and he shook his head again. “Speak,” Dr. Traylor said, and this time he was impatient, although he still hadn’t raised his voice.

“I don’t know,” he stammered, “I never had any.”

“How did you become a prostitute?” Dr. Traylor asked. “Did you start yourself, or did someone help you do it?”

He swallowed, feeling the food in his stomach turning to paste. “Someone helped me,” he whispered.

There was a silence. “You don’t like it when I call you a prostitute,” the man said, and he managed, this time, to raise his head and look at him. “No,” he said. “I understand,” the man said. “But that is what you are, isn’t it? Although I could call you something else, if you like: a whore, maybe.” He was quiet again. “Is that better?”

“No,” he whispered again.

“So,” the man said, “a prostitute it is, then, right?” and looked at him, and finally, he nodded.

That night in the bedroom, he looked for something to cut himself with, but there was nothing sharp in the room, nothing at all; even the books had only soft bloated pages. So he pressed his fingernails into his calves as hard as he could, bent over and wincing from the effort and discomfort, and finally he was able to puncture the skin, and then work his nail back and forth in the cut to make it wider. He was only able to make three incisions in his right leg, and then he was too tired, and he fell asleep again.

The third morning he felt demonstrably better: stronger, more alert. He ate his breakfast and read his book, and then he moved the tray aside and stuck his head through the flapped cutout and tried and tried to fit his shoulders through it. But no matter what angle he tried, he was simply too large and the opening too small and at last he had to stop.

After he had rested, he poked his head through the hole again. He had a direct view of the living room to his left, and the kitchen area to his right, and he looked and looked as if for clues. The house was very tidy; he could tell from how tidy it was that Dr. Traylor lived alone. If he craned his neck, he could see, on the far left, a staircase leading to a second story, and just beyond that, the front door, but he couldn’t see how many locks it had. Mainly, though, the house was defined by

its silence: there was no ticking of clocks, no sound of cars or people outside. It could have been a house zooming through space, so quiet was it. The only noise was the refrigerator, purring its intermittent whir, but when it stopped, the silence was absolute.

But as featureless as the house was, he was also fascinated by it: it was only the third house he had ever been in. The second had been the Learys’. The first house had been a client’s, a very important client, Brother Luke had told him, outside Salt Lake City, who had paid extra because he didn’t want to come to the motel room. That house had been enormous, all sandstone and glass, and Brother Luke had come with him, and had secreted himself in the bathroom—a bathroom as big as one of their motel rooms—off the bedroom where he and the client had had sex. Later, as an adult, he would fetishize houses, especially his own house, although even before he had Greene Street, or Lantern House, or the flat in London, he would treat himself every few months to a magazine about homes, about people who spent their lives making pretty places even prettier, and he would turn the pages slowly, studying every picture. His friends laughed at him for this, but he didn’t care: he dreamed of the day he’d have someplace of his own, with things that were absolutely his.

That night Dr. Traylor let him out again, and again it was the

kitchen, and the meal, and the two of them eating in silence. “I feel better now,” he ventured, and then, when Dr. Traylor didn’t say anything, “if you want to do something.” He was realistic enough to know that he wasn’t going to be allowed to leave without repaying Dr. Traylor in some way; he was hopeful enough to think that he might be allowed to leave at all.

But Dr. Traylor shook his head. “You may feel better, but you’re still diseased,” he said. “The antibiotics take ten days to eliminate the infection.” He took a fish bone, so fine it was transluscent, out of his mouth, placed it on the edge of his plate. “Don’t tell me this is the first venereal disease you’ve ever had,” he said, looking up at him, and he flushed again.

That night he thought about what to do. He was almost strong enough to run, he thought. At the next dinner, he would follow Dr. Traylor, and then when his back was turned, he would run to the door and outside and look for help. There were some problems with this plan—he still didn’t have his clothes; he didn’t have any shoes—but he knew that there was something wrong with this house, that there was something wrong with Dr. Traylor, that he had to get out.

He tried to conserve his energy the next day. He was too twitchy to read, and he had to keep himself from pacing the floor. He saved that day’s sandwich and stuffed it into the pocket of the borrowed sweatpants so he would have something to eat if he had to hide for a long period. In the other pocket he shoved the plastic bag that lined the trash can in the bathroom—he thought he could tear it in half and make shoes for himself once he was safely out of Dr. Traylor’s reach. And then he waited.

But that night he wasn’t let out of the room at all. From his perch near the flap, he could see the living room lights turning on, he could smell food cooking. “Dr. Traylor?” he called. “Hello?” But there was silence except for the sound of meat frying in a pan, the evening’s news on the television. “Dr. Traylor!” he called. “Please, please!” But nothing happened, and after calling and calling, he was spent, and slumped back down the stairs.

That night he had a dream that on the upper floor of the house was a series of other bedrooms, all with low beds and round tufted rugs beneath them, and that each bed held a boy: some of the boys were older, because they had been in the house for a long time, and some were younger. None of them knew that the others existed; none of them could hear one another. He realized that he didn’t know the physical dimensions of the house, and in the dream the house became a skyscraper, filled with hundreds of rooms, of cells, each containing a different boy, each waiting for Dr. Traylor to let him out. He woke, then, gasping, and ran to the top of the stairs, but when he pushed against the flap, it didn’t move. He lifted it up and saw that the hole had been closed with a piece of gray plastic, and as hard as he pushed against it, it wouldn’t budge.

He didn’t know what to do. He tried to stay up the rest of the night,

but he fell asleep, and when he woke, there was the tray with his breakfast and his lunch and two pills: one for the morning, one for evening. He pinched the pills between his fingers and considered them

—if he didn’t take them, he wouldn’t get better, and Dr. Traylor wouldn’t touch him unless he was well. But if he didn’t take them, then he wouldn’t get better, and he knew from prior experience how awful he would feel, how almost unimaginably filthy he would be, as if his entire self, inside and out, had been sprayed with excrement. He began to rock himself, then. What do I do, he asked, what do I do? He thought of the fat truck driver, the one who had been kind to him. Help me, he begged him, help me.

Brother Luke, he pled, help me, help me.

Once again, he thought: I have made the wrong decision. I have left somewhere where I at least had the outdoors, and school, and where I knew what was going to happen to me. And now I have none of those things.

You’re so stupid, the voice inside him said, you’re so stupid.

For six more days it went on like this: his food would appear sometime when he was sleeping. He took the pills; he couldn’t not.

On the tenth day, the door opened, and Dr. Traylor was standing there. He was so alarmed, so surprised, that he hadn’t been prepared, but before he could stand, Dr. Traylor had closed the door and was coming toward him. Over one shoulder he held an iron fire poker, loosely, as one would a baseball bat, and as he came toward him, he was terrified by it: What did it mean? What would be done to him with it?

“Take off your clothes,” Dr. Traylor said, still in his same bland voice, and he did, and Dr. Traylor swung the poker off his shoulder and he ducked, reflexively, lifting his arms over his head. He heard the doctor make his small wet noise. And then Dr. Traylor unbelted his pants and stood before him. “Take them down,” he said, and he did, but before he was able to begin, Dr. Traylor nudged him in the neck with the poker. “You try anything,” he said, “biting, anything, and I will beat you in the head with this until you become a vegetable, do you understand me?”

He nodded, too petrified to say anything. “Speak,” Dr. Traylor yelled, and he startled.

“Yes,” he gulped. “Yes, I understand.”

He was scared of Dr. Traylor, of course; he was scared of all of them. But it had never occurred to him to fight with the clients, had never occurred to him to challenge them. They were powerful and he was not. And Brother Luke had trained him too well. He was too obedient. He was, as Dr. Traylor had made him admit, a good prostitute.

Every day was like this, and although the sex was no worse than what he’d had before, he remained convinced that it was a prelude, that it would eventually get very bad, very strange. He had heard stories from Brother Luke—he had seen videos—about things people did to one another: objects they used, props and weapons. A few times he had experienced these things himself. But he knew that in many ways he was lucky: he had been spared. The terror of what might be

ahead of him was, in many ways, worse than the terror of the sex itself. At night he would imagine what he didn’t know to imagine and begin gasping with panic, his clothes—a different set of clothes now, but still not his clothes—becoming clammy with perspiration.

At the end of one session, he asked Dr. Traylor if he could leave. “Please,” he said. “Please.” But Dr. Traylor said that he had given him ten days of hospitality, and that he needed to repay those ten days. “And then can I go?” he asked, but the doctor was already walking out the door.

On the sixth day of his repayment he thought of a plan. There was a second or two—just that—in which Dr. Traylor tucked the fire poker under his left arm and unbelted his pants with his right hand. If he could time it correctly, he could hit the doctor in the face with a book, and try to run out. He would have to be very quick; he would have to be very agile.

He scanned the books on their shelves, wishing yet again that some of them were hardcovers, not these thick bricks of paperbacks. A small one, he knew, would feel more like a slap, would be more wieldy, and so finally he chose a copy of Dubliners: it was thin enough for him to grip, pliable enough to crack against a face. He tucked it under his mattress, and then realized he didn’t even need to bother with the deception; he could just leave it by his side. So he did, and waited.

And then there was Dr. Traylor and the fire poker, and as he began to unbelt his pants, he sprang up and smacked the doctor as hard as he could across his face, and he heard and felt the doctor screaming and the fire poker falling to the cement floor with a clang, and the doctor’s hand grabbing at his ankle, but he kicked away and stumbled up the stairs, tugged open the door, and ran. At the front door he saw a mess of locks, and he nearly sobbed, his fingers clumsy, throwing the bolts this way and that, and then he was outside and running, running faster than he ever had. You can do it, you can do it, screamed the voice in his head, encouraging for once, and then, more urgently, Faster, faster, faster. As he had gotten better, Dr. Traylor’s meals for him had gotten smaller and smaller, which meant that he was always weak, always tired, but now he was vividly alert and he was running, shouting for help as he did. But even as he ran and shouted, he could see that no one would hear his calls: there was no other house in sight, and although he had expected there might be trees, there weren’t, just flat blank stretches of land, with nothing to hide behind.

And then he felt how cold it was, and how things were embedding themselves into the soles of his feet, but still he ran.

And then behind him he heard another pair of footsteps slapping against the pavement, and a familiar jangling noise, and he knew it was Dr. Traylor. He didn’t even shout at him, he didn’t even threaten, but as he turned his head to see how close the doctor was—and he was very close, just a few yards behind him—he tripped and fell, his cheek banging against the road.

After he had fallen, all of his energy deserted him, a flock of birds rising noisily and swiftly flying away, and he saw that the jangling noise was Dr. Traylor’s unbuckled belt, which he was sliding out from his pants and then using to beat him, and he huddled into himself as he was hit and hit and hit. All that time, the doctor said nothing, and all he could hear were Dr. Traylor’s breaths, his gasps from exertion as he brought the belt down harder and harder on his back, his legs, his neck.

Back at the house, the beating continued, and over the next days, the next weeks, he was beat more. Not regularly—he never knew when it might happen next—but often enough so that coupled with his lack of food, he was always dizzy, he was always weak: he felt he would never have the strength to run again. As he feared, the sex also got worse, and he was made to do things that he was never able to talk about, not to anyone, not even to himself, and again, although it wasn’t always terrifying, it was often enough so that he lived in a constant half daze of fear, so that he knew that he would die in Dr. Traylor’s house. One night he had a dream of himself as a man, a real adult, but he was still in the basement and waiting for Dr. Traylor, and he knew in the dream that something had happened to him, that he had lost his mind, that he was like his roommate in the home, and he woke and prayed that he might die soon. During the daytime, as he slept, he dreamed of Brother Luke, and when he woke from those dreams he realized how much Luke had always protected him, how well he had treated him, how kind he had been to him. He had limped to the top of the wooden staircase then, and thrown himself down it, and then had pulled himself up and had done it again.

And then one day (Three months later? Four? Later, Ana would tell

him that Dr. Traylor had said it was twelve weeks after he had found him at the gas station), Dr. Traylor said, “I’m tired of you. You’re dirty and you disgust me and I want you to leave.”

He couldn’t believe it. But then he remembered to speak. “Okay,”

he said, “okay. I’ll leave now.”

“No,” said Dr. Traylor, “you’ll leave how I want you to leave.”

For several days, nothing happened, and he assumed that this too had been a lie, and he was grateful that he hadn’t gotten too excited, that he was finally able to recognize a lie when he was told it. Dr. Traylor had begun to serve him his meals on a fold of the day’s newspaper, and one day he looked at the date and realized it was his birthday. “I am fifteen,” he announced to the quiet room, and hearing himself say those words—the hopes, the fantasies, the impossibilities that only he knew lay behind them—he was sick. But he didn’t cry: his ability to not cry was his only accomplishment, the only thing he could take pride in.

And then one night Dr. Traylor came downstairs with his fire poker. “Get up,” he said, and jabbed him in the back with the poker as he fumblingly climbed the stairs, falling to his knees and getting up again and tripping again and standing again. He was prodded all the way to the front door, which was ajar, just slightly, and then outside, into the night. It was still cold, and still wet, but even through his fear he could recognize that the weather was changing, that even as time had suspended itself for him, it had not for the rest of the world, in which the seasons had marched on uncaringly; he could smell the air turning green. Next to him was a bare bush with a black branch, but at its very tip it was sprouting buboes of pale lilac, and he stared at it frantically, trying to seize a picture of it and hold it in his mind, before he was poked forward.

At the car Dr. Traylor held open the trunk and jabbed him again

with the fire poker, and he could hear himself making sounds like sobs, but he wasn’t crying, and he climbed inside, although he was so weak that Dr. Traylor had to help him, pinching the sleeve of his shirt between his fingers so he wouldn’t have to actually touch him.

They drove. The trunk was clean and large, and he rolled about in it, feeling them go around corners and up hills and down hills, and then along long stretches of plain, even road. And then the car swerved left and he was being bounced along some uneven surface and then the car stopped.

For a while, three minutes—he counted—nothing happened, and he listened and listened but he could hear nothing, just his own breaths, his own heart.

The trunk opened, and Dr. Traylor helped him out, plucking his shirt, and shoved him to the front of the car with the fire poker. “Stay

there,” he said, and he did, shivering, watching the doctor get back into the car, roll down the window, lean out at him. “Run,” the doctor said, and when he stood there, frozen, “you like running so much, right? So run.” And Dr. Traylor started the engine and finally, he woke and ran.

They were in a field, a large barren square of dirt where there would in a few weeks be grass but now there was nothing, just patches of shallow ice that broke under his bare feet like pottery, and small white pebbles that glowed like stars. The field dipped in the middle, just slightly, and on his right was the road. He couldn’t see how big the road was, only that there was one, but there were no cars passing. To his left the field was fenced with wire, but it was farther away, and he couldn’t see what lay beyond the wire.

He ran, the car just behind him. At first it actually felt good to be running, to be outdoors, to be away from that house: even this, the ice under his feet like glass, the wind smacking against his face, the tap of the fender as it nudged against the back of his legs, even all this was better than that house, that room with its cinder-block walls and window so small it was no window at all.

He ran. Dr. Traylor followed him, and sometimes he would accelerate, and he would run faster. But he couldn’t run like he used to run, and he fell, and fell again. Each time he fell, the car would slow, and Dr. Traylor would call out—not angrily, not even loudly

—“Get up. Get up and run; get up and run or we’re going back to the house,” and he would make himself stand and run again.

He ran. He didn’t know then that this was the last time in his life that he would ever run, and much later he would wonder: If I had known that, would I have been able to run faster? But of course it was an impossible question, a non-question, an axiom with no solution. He fell again and again, and on the twelfth time, he was moving his mouth, trying to say something, but nothing would come out. “Get up,” he heard the man say. “Get up. The next time you fall will be the last,” and he got up again.

By this time he was no longer running, he was walking and stumbling, he was crawling from the car and the car was bumping against him harder and harder. Make this stop, he thought, make this stop. He remembered—who had told him this? one of the brothers, but which one?—a story of a piteous little boy, a boy, he had been told, in much worse circumstances than he was in, who after being so good for so long (another way in which he and the boy had been

different), prayed one night to God to take him: I’m ready, the boy said in the story, I’m ready, and an angel, terrible and golden-winged, with eyes that burned with fire, appeared and wrapped his wings around the boy and the boy turned to cinders and was gone, released from this world.

I’m ready, he said, I’m ready, and he waited for the angel with his awful, fearsome beauty to come save him.

The last time he fell, he couldn’t get up again. “Get up!” he heard Dr. Traylor yell. “Get up!” But he couldn’t. And then he heard the engine start again, and he felt the headlights coming toward him, two streams of fire like the angel’s eyes, and he turned his head to the side and waited, and the car came toward him and then over him and it was done.

And that was the end. After that, he became an adult. As he lay in the hospital, Ana sitting by his side, he made promises to himself. He evaluated the mistakes he had made. He never had known whom to trust: he had followed anyone who had shown him any kindness. After, though, he decided that he would change this. No longer would he trust people so quickly. No longer would he have sex. No longer would he expect to be saved.

“It’ll never be this bad,” Ana used to say to him in the hospital. “Things’ll never be this bad again,” and although he knew she meant the pain, he also liked to think she meant his life in general: that with every year, things would get better. And she had been right: things did get better. And Brother Luke had been right as well, because when he was sixteen, his life changed. A year after Dr. Traylor, he was in the college he had dreamed of; with every day he didn’t have sex, he was becoming cleaner and cleaner. His life became more improbable by the year. Every year, his own good fortunes multiplied and intensified, and he was astonished again and again by the things and generosities that were bequeathed to him, by the people who entered his life, people so different from the people he had known that they seemed to be another species altogether: How, after all, could Dr. Traylor and Willem both be named the same sort of being? How could Father Gabriel and Andy? How could Brother Luke and Harold? Did what existed in the first group also exist in the second, and if so, how had that second group chosen otherwise, how had they chosen what to become? Things had not just corrected themselves; they had reversed themselves, to an almost absurd degree. He had gone from nothing to an embarrassing bounty. He would remember, then,

Harold’s claim that life compensated for its losses, and he would realize the truth of that, although sometimes it would seem like life had not just compensated for itself but had done so extravagantly, as if his very life was begging him to forgive it, as if it were piling riches upon him, smothering him in all things beautiful and wonderful and hoped-for so he wouldn’t resent it, so he would allow it to keep moving him forward. And so, as the years went by, he broke his promises to himself again and again. He did end up following people who were kind to him. He did trust people again. He did have sex again. He did hope to be saved. And he was right to do so: not every time, of course, but most of the time. He ignored what the past had taught him and more often than he should have been, he was rewarded for it. He regretted none of it, not even the sex, because he had had it with hope, and to make someone else happy, someone who had given him everything.

One night shortly after he and Willem had become a couple, they

had been at a dinner party at Richard’s, a raucous, casual affair of just people they loved and people they liked—JB and Malcolm and Black Henry Young and Asian Henry Young and Phaedra and Ali and all of their boyfriends and girlfriends, their husbands and wives. He was in the kitchen helping Richard prepare dessert, and JB came in—he was a little drunk—and put his arm around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. “Well, Judy,” he said, “you really ended up with it all in the end, didn’t you? The career, the money, the apartment, the man. How’d you get so lucky?” JB had grinned at him, and he had grinned back. He was glad Willem wasn’t there to overhear that comment, because he knew Willem would get testy at what he saw as JB’s jealousy, at his conviction that everyone else had, and had had, life easier than he did, that he, Jude, was blessed in a way that no one else was.

But he didn’t see it like this. He knew it was in part JB’s way of

being ironic, of congratulating him for fortune that they both knew was, yes, excessive but also deeply appreciated. And if he was to be honest, he was also flattered by JB’s jealousy: to JB, he wasn’t a cripple who was being cosmically repaid for a lousy run; he was JB’s equal, someone in whom JB saw only the things to envy and never the things to pity. And besides, JB was right: How did he get so lucky? How did he end up with everything he had? He was never to know; he was always to wonder.

“I don’t know, JB,” he said, handing him the first slice of cake and

smiling at him, as from the dining room, he could hear Willem’s voice saying something, and then a blast of laughter from everyone else, a sound of pure delight. “But you know, I’ve been lucky all my life.”

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