Short Story: “Where Little Bluebirds Fly”

May 19th, 2009

Teaser: Sometimes you have to trust your instincts with love, even if it puts you out of your comfort zone. Two men find that out the hard way.

“Two years ago,” puff, “I never would have fit in this dress.” Puff, “Now I’m about to go onstage and my belly rolls are ready to fall into the audience again.”

Another drag on the cigarette, and put out with the sole of a red shoe.

Michael adjusted his wig. “It’s time to show these kids how it’s done.”

 

He sang “I Will Never Turn My Back On You” and after chatting with his friends, went to the bar to catch up on his drinks while they left to make an appearance at another party before coming back to close the bar.

A guy from the audience sat next to Michael and ordered a drink. “I never expected anyone to sing a Big Maybelle song,” he said.

Michael looks at him. “I always go for the songs that make the old queens cry. Did you?”

“Did I cry? No because it’s a happy song and you sang it well, but good jab at my age. I was also surprised you sang it instead of lip-syncing.”

“I’d rather do it my way than have to put on black face. Besides, I don’t need to give people another reason to hit me.” They both laughed.

The bar gets crowded and Isaac invites Michael to to a booth. “As much as I love playing dress up, this dress has to come off before it pops off by its own volition,” Michael says. 

“Well when you’re done changing there’ll be another drink for you at that booth. I’m Isaac, by the way.”

“Michael,” he says, finishes his drink and goes back to the changing room.

The regular performers left the changing room for their normal nightly set, so he had the place to himself. He sat down and tried to decide whether he should leave or go back and talk to Isaac. A free drink was always a good excuse but he was afraid of talking to this guy, especially since he seemed genuinely nice. If he were an asshole it would be more fun because Michael could make a game of it. Isaac wasn’t bad looking, but he wasn’t hot – yet what right had Michael to be picky? He thought briefly on his last relationship, a year ago, to a somewhat attractive bastard who always treated him like shit and more like a confession booth than a lover.

He changed, removed the makeup, and spent ten minutes at the mirror getting the nerve to go back. When he went back to the bar, Isaac was by himself in a booth and a bartender was just bringing out a drink for Michael. Michael sits a safe distance from Isaac. Neither talks for several minutes, but both are trying to figure out what to say first.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf? Virginia Wolf? Virginia Wolf?” Michael mock sings. This is what he does whenever he’s nervous and with strangers.

“What?”

“Oh nothing, just a joke.”

“It’s a great play,” Isaac says.

“You’ve seen Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” Michael asks.

“Certainly. It taught me how to have all-night conversations.”

“Jesus. I bet you get punched every night then.”

“No but I usually lie and say I have a son,” Isaac says. They both laugh.

Isaac asks, “Do you perform here much?”

“Only on open-mike nights and only when I can’t resist the urge to dress like a woman in front of other people – not that that’s my thing. I mean-”

“Sure.”

“No! Look, I enjoy the dress-up part. It’s just I can hide behind the dress and wig and makeup.”

“All for one song? And then as soon as you get an admirer you run off and change? Some queen you are.”

Michael sizes him up. “You look quite the straight to me, or do you dress up in private and say things like ‘it rubs the lotion on the skin?’”

“You know I never thought the first guy I meet who’s nicer to me in drag could figure it out, but yeah, no one will let me have a sex change so I’ll have to do it myself with other women’s skins.”

“Well at least you’re not a cannibal.”

They both sit in silence for a few minutes as they watch a couple at the bar.

“God. Straight people are weird,” Michael says.

“I hear it’s more common than what we do,” Isaac says.

“Gross. But look at them. Let’s say they defy the odds, get married, and live together for years and years. I bet they’ll be miserable. Yet that’s what they both want.”

“You’re not much of a people person, are you?”

“I’d rather eat them and talk to my cat.”

“At least you’re not straight and crazy. That would be just weird.”

“What’s with the assumptions buddy? Just because I sing rhythm and blues in a flattering halter top doesn’t mean I’m gay,” Michael says.

“Does that mean I can ignore your ‘straight people are weird’ comment?” Isaac says.

“Ass.”

Michael’s friends come back and stand by the door, staring at Isaac.

“I’ve got to go.”

Isaac holds out his hand. “Thanks for the company,” he says. “Hopefully I’ll see you soon.”

Michael shakes his hand, says, “Yeah I hope so too,” and leaves.

 

“Ooooo, who was that?” one of Michael’s friends asks once they’re outside the bar.

“Oh that guy?” Michael said. “That was Isaac. Just. A. Guy.”

“You two friends or what?” 

Michael hates being interrogated by his friends.

“We just met. It’s no big deal, he’s just a nice guy.”

“Well why don’t you go back and talk to him? Your love life is more important than us right now.”

“I’m sorry miss but aren’t we all heading to free booze? I don’t care if it’s rubbing alcohol. I need my medication, ladies.” 

They locked arms and skipped down the street, singing. Michael kept thinking about Isaac and regretted not going back, but relieved that he escaped the almost overpowering awkwardness.

 

The next morning, Michael lay in bed, thinking. Everyone else is in a relationship, or at least successful at appearing that way, he thought. So why couldn’t he find someone. Hell, Isaac would do – Michael didn’t find him attractive, but he kept up with the references. No one does that – except Michael – and they weren’t even that obscure.

Perhaps that was what he was doing wrong: going after people he thought he liked but who turned out to be dull or dilettantish. Even worse were the hopelessly stereotypical. Oh god, he thought, people even think that of me. Did Isaac think I was some dime-a-dozen fag? There was now no reason Michael would allow that could get him out of bed.

On days when he is alone, Michael daydreams. He imagines a better place – an alternate ending, not a fantasy otherworld. In this world, he grows old with a guy who quietly loves Michael for who he is and asks no questions. Today he saw Isaac. Isaac, in bed, on any normal day, waking up to go to work (he was a nerdy engineer and they would laugh about how they couldn’t understand each other’s terminology). Here, Michael is a celebrated movie critic known for his wit and clever puns – and he gets up much later and works from home. Sometimes Isaac will go into work late and they’ll make love and neglect to feed their dogs and laugh about their silly carelessness.

Michael stopped. He knew that as happy as he could make the imaginary future, its impact on the present only succeeded in making him unhappy and incapable of fulfilling his dreams. That’s what he told his therapist, and he believed it for the first time.

He snuck out of the bedroom and made himself breakfast, ran back to his room, and tried to find a movie that would make him happy that he hadn’t already memorized. He passed on Nights of Cabiria and settled on Holiday. Cary Grant always made him happy. But the happy ending of the movie failed in its intention.

 

Isaac spends Saturday morning going out for a walk. Some people sleep on their decisions or problems, he just has to walk through the neighborhood. He wishes he could meet more people like Michael. Beneath the stereotypical surface is someone who is a real person. Maybe everyone is like that and I just surround myself with the phonies, he thinks. Eventually he thinks about more pressing matters.

 

The party that night was going to be about half people that Michael knew and half people he didn’t know. He didn’t want to go to any party that night but he promised his friends he’d go; there’d be free booze so at least he’d have something to look forward to. He also had an obligation to go because of the host. The more he drank the lower his inhibitions went and the better his insults became, which was a popular entertainment with his friends.

He got ready, fixing his hair, washing his face, and fretting over what to wear that will be flashy enough to distract without insulting his sensibilities. No wonder people think I’m the biggest asshole they know, he thinks as he picks out an outfit. Getting buzzed on white wine played a big part in the preparations.

Isaac was at the party early. He was a good friend of the host’s and helped set up. He spent most of the early evening listening to out-of-towners talk about their lives and chatting with the host. When the party got really going he went out on the balcony with the smokers. Isaac felt more comfortable with smokers. He figures it has to do with how the same kind of person that would take up smoking takes bigger risks and is very likely more interesting.

 

Michael is in his element at the party. He spits out his comments exactly how his friends expect.

“The asylum doesn’t let me out much. I tend to make jokes about raping small animals and the bums complain en masse.”

“Your music is alright, but I’ll wait for the cover band.”

“Those shoes are wonderful. I think the Pope wears the same kind. Have you thought about a career as a drag queen for god? I have, but I like my men butch and not twelve.”

“Hey bud, I’m not sure who your audience is, but we’ve all heard your stand up set before, and done better, by Dane Cook. And we don’t think he’s a comedian. So are you going to continue, because I need another drink.”

“You two are achingly lovely! You know it’s the shouting ‘till your hoarse together that make perfect relationships. No, I didn’t say that.”

Half an hour after arriving he spotted Isaac sitting in a chair surrounded by several people. Michael stared, which got the attention of his friends.

“There he is!” said one.

“He’s much better looking in this light,” said another.

“Hey! That’s my man you’re talking about!” Michael said.

“Well go over and talk to him.”

“I’ll need your support. First, get me a full bottle of vodka,” Michael said.

“Get it yourself while talking to him. What was his name again?”

Isaac didn’t see Michael, or at least it didn’t look like it, as he was talking with someone. Michael walked over slowly, acting casually to try and look natural…but he loses his confidence and walks past the chair with Isaac, goes to the kitchen and fixes himself another drink, a stiff one. The whole bottle of vodka, if no one will notice, he thinks. In the kitchen, he grips the countertop and leans over the sink. He wants to vomit from the nervousness and fear of talking to Isaac. The idealized daydream is replaying in his mind, but it only makes him more afraid of saying the wrong thing. Who cares, right? he thinks, he still might be a bastard.

He takes a deep breath, lets go of the countertop and makes himself a drink – gin, straight up. Finished, he spins around and walks right into Isaac, freaking Michael out so much he throws his drink up and it falls into the sink. Michael is thankful he doesn’t shriek.

Now red in the face, he looks at the drink and looks at Isaac. Isaac says hi, asks if he’s all right. Michael doesn’t respond. Isaac offers to make his drink again. Michael nods. “What was it?” Isaac says. “Gin and two ice cubes.” Isaac looks at Michael then grins and pours two gin on ice. 

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. You weren’t drinking gin last night but I’m not surprised now,” Isaac says.

Michael couldn’t think of a comeback. Part of him was glad for that.

They go out to the balcony. Michael offers a cigarette and Isaac declines, explains his theory about smokers, mentions he likes the way it looks, and almost takes a cigarette. They talk about the people at the party, Isaac explains how he knows the host, Jen, and they look out on the city.

“I’ve heard that you’re quite the coffee table book at parties,” Isaac says. “Jen told me of some of her favorite stories of you. I’m surprised you haven’t insulted me like that yet.”

“I’m saving up to knock you down later. Insert sports analogy here. Boxing or something.” Michael pauses to gather his courage to ask the question, “What do you think of Annie Hall?”

“What do I think of Annie Hall?”

“Yeah. But think about it for a moment, I’m going to get more drinks. I thought I saw some lemon juice.”

Michael leaves to fix Tom Collins for both of them. On the balcony, Isaac listens in on another conversation, which is entirely about who’s sleeping with whom, and Isaac starts to get bored as Michael comes back with the drinks.

“So? Annie Hall?” Michael asks.

“Yeah what about it?”

“Tell me what you think about Annie Hall. Did you like it?”

“Yeah, it’s great. Why are you asking me about Annie Hall? Is this a set up?”

“I like to know what other people think about it,” Michael says.

“You’re stranger than I thought. Tell me, what does my response to this mythic tale portend?”

“Forget I said anything about it. I asked Jen about you-”

“No. Annie Hall. Now,” said Isaac.

“It’s nothing. Really. I just, it’s just this thing,” Michael sighs and looks away. “Normally I can’t stand anyone who doesn’t like the movie. It’s like a Rorschach test, you know. Only bastards hate the movie. Bastards with no taste. Now forget it, it’s just a thing I do and I learned it from someone else.”

Isaac looks at Michael who’s looking away. He realizes Michael’s sloppy answer is about something else entirely, so he drops the topic and resists asking Michael why he’s not living up to his reputation as having a sharp way with words.

“What did Jen say?” Isaac asks.

“Oh. Yeah, so I talked with Jen,” Michael says. “She says you two know each other from school or something. And you’re a programmer? Funny, I thought you were an engineer.”

“You could think of it the same way.”

“Yeah I guess so…”

“What else did she tell you? Did she tell you that I hate writing code? Did she tell you that I’m probably going to have to go back to school to learn something else to do?”

“No but it’s good to know I’m not the only one miserable with my career path. I edit copy for other people,” Michael says.

“What an interesting way to put that.”

“Other people’s writing unnerves me. Reading something finished under the pretense of being published is one thing, but the nearly-finished is so jarring I have to fight back the urge of destroying the document by any means necessary. There are always the wrong words, the insane sentence structures. But it’s the dialogue that’s the worst. No one ever writes conversations like people really talk.”

“I bet you’re a writer. Are you a writer?”

“I play-write.”

“Oh that’s good.”

“Let’s not talk about this.”

“Okay.”

They stand there looking at their drinks. Michael finishes off his drink, grabs Isaac’s half-drunk glass and gets more. Isaac listens in on the other conversations again on the balcony but decides not to join.

Their conversation lasts for hours. Neither wants the talking to stop but won’t say the real reason. Isaac is being polite, and Michael is scared, even if that’s not how it feels to him. Neither will remember what they talk about, but they learned how to be comfortable in each other’s company.

 

Several of Michael’s friends went home with some other people, one went to another party, and another one decided to get a cab and left Michael on his own, so he kept drinking. Isaac tried to find those friends but ended up helping him home. On the way back, Michael kept talking, mostly about how nice Isaac was and how kind and how he should cut the crap about trying to not be confrontational and really give in to a good argument, because he likes that. Isaac just smiled and didn’t say anything.

Isaac carried him up the stairs, and they sat together on the couch in silence for a few minutes. Michael got up and went to his computer, played “Ooh La La” and pulled Isaac up to dance. After a few more songs, Michael fell asleep and Isaac carried him to his bed. Isaac slept out on the couch.

 

Michael awoke slowly and in fits. He had an overpowering headache, an upset stomach, and an aversion to the morning light from the open window. And he thought wait. I never leave the window open. Why is the door open? I can’t sleep without the door closed. Moments later he figured it out:

Someone else had brought him home. 

He had to know who brought him home. It overrode any rational desire to deal with the hangover. He crawled out of bed onto the floor and slowly dragged himself to the bedroom door.

From the doorframe could look into the living room. Hanging from the side of the couch were two feet. Two gorgeous feet. When the feet rubbed together and their owner shifted on the couch Michael shot back into the room.

Fighting the urge to crawl back into bed, his curiosity took over and he had to see who was sleeping on the couch. But the only way to enter the room was in the form of someone who knew the score and was unconcerned that there was a guy who spent the night in his living room. But there was a guy in his living room! Even if he couldn’t remember doing anything last night yet, that guy, whoever he was, made him forget the aching.

He stood up. He grabbed the dresser for support. After practicing walking and holding his head as if he had a violent headache (which was true anyway, but it was the acting that counted), Michael walked into the living room. He walked slowly, enough to get a good look at the guy, but fast enough to not appear to be nosy.

Just as he got in position to get a good look, Isaac opened his eyes and smiled. “Good morning.”

“Hi,” Michael said. He continued his path to the sink. As he filled up a glass with water he briefly noted that the sink was empty and that conflicted with his last memory of standing there.

Isaac stretched and sat up in the couch to face towards the kitchen. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

“It feels like my body could collapse and form a black hole. So…why are you here? Did you bring me home?” Michael said.

“Yeah,” Isaac said. “Your friends had left and the party was dying out and you could barely walk. So I took you home.”

“That wasn’t necessary,” said Michael.

“Yes it was. You could barely walk. How you danced I’ll never know.”

“What?” Michael says. “Hey I’ve stumbled home many times before. I’m an expert at drunken navigation. Don’t be so chivalric. You don’t have to be nice to me out of pity or whatever you’re trying to do. The only one who can pity me is the only one who can insult me, and you’re looking at him.”

“I’m not. And pity? If I’m nice to you it’s because I want to be nice, not because-”

“Because what? I stopped taking bullshit from guys like you years ago-”

“This isn’t bullshit-”

“Yes it is. I wish guys would stop being nice just so they can feel good about helping me out. It’s the fake hope that I can’t stand.”

“Hey you’re hungover, I’m hungover, our nerves are a little raw right now. How about we go back to sleep and we’ll talk this over brunch…or lunch…or dinner…my head hurts,” Isaac said.

“This has nothing to do with my hangover! Stop acting with me, Isaac. It’s unflattering.”

“I think it’s time for me to go.” Isaac grabbed his watch and phone and walked to the door, followed closely by Michael.

Michael opened the door. “I’ll see you,” Isaac said. “Bye,” said Michael. He closed the door. Locked the door. Leaned against the door and sat down. He realized what he had just let get away, but his mind had no concrete thoughts that he could verbalize. He thought about Isaac and how he was never mean or deceitful and that’s when he almost cried. But Michael didn’t cry.

He got dressed and left to go meet his friends at the diner for lunch. Slowly, the events of the night before came back to him. On the walk there he felt the presence of everyone else and their happy lives and he cried. He ran back to the apartment and texted his friends that he couldn’t make it to lunch. They’ll all think I got lucky, he thought, but he didn’t care. 

 

A few months later, Michael was walking down a street and he thought he saw Isaac on the other side. He stepped into an alley for a better view. Isaac was having lunch with another guy at a restaurant’s patio. Michael wanted to say hi, to try and regain a little bit of decency after how they parted.

He crossed the street and walked towards the restaurant. He could see Isaac’s face, and he remembered why the sink was clean: Michael had thrown up in the sink when he got home that night. Isaac must have cleaned up after him. Michael turned around and walked away, almost.

Isaac saw Michael just as he turned around. Isaac stopped mid-drink.

“What’s the matter?” his boyfriend asked.

“I just saw a guy who got away.” Isaac said and immediately regretted letting Michael go.



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