“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust …” The priest’s voice faded in and out, phrases ringing in the stillness then slipping back into a background mumble. every not many minutes, the sounds of a plane flying overhead on last approach interrupted the religious flow. His memory slipped in and out, too, overlapping fotos from other times and other places. And running through it all, that other funeral from just a few, short months back. The frozen air chilled the tears as they ran down cheeks. Their breath puffed clouds around their faces and above their heads. It was bitterly cold in the mountain cemetery, snow lying in scones around the dark crevice of the grave.

He was alone. that guy had buried his wife; now this chab was alone. Here that guy stood, beside his most good friend as they buried his wife, too. Here that guy was, hundreds of miles from home, in his old country, with old friends and old memories, memories which still haunted his nights, freezing his arse off in the snow from which that guy had fled…and the ally this chab had fled, also. And now his ally was alone.

His friend shuddered as the coffin was lowered into the grave, the ratchet clicking off each notch as the coffin not fast dropped into the darkness of the abyss. His friend’s future, and his own, too, gaped open, raw and unyielding, unknown. that guy stretched out is hand, letting his fingers brush his friend’s shoulder, trailing down to whisper along his friend’s hand. A tight squeeze, a letting go – so much told; so not many words.

Finally, the Committal Service ended. They left the cemetery, little groups forming, breaking apart, and reforming as people went throughout the rituals of parting. this chab got into the car. His friend followed and they drove off, back to his friend’s home – his friend’s wife’s house – a home this chab would have to leave shortly. nothing was told during the drive, just hands briefly touching in comfort.

At the house, other friends had prepared a light meal. Relatives moved around, chattering brightly to every other, catching up on all the news since the final funeral, the final wedding, the final baptism, reconnecting their frenetic, dispersed lives and working hard to convince themselves that they really were a close-knit family. that guy wandered throughout the rooms, chatting to these this chab knew, being polite to those this guy didn’t, hunting for a refuge from all the memories and emotions. that guy tried a door and moved gratefully into the study. Comfortable chairs, books, papers – here that guy discovered sanctuary as this chab sank down into one of the armchairs.

Idly this chab picked up the books on the side table, flicking the pages, reading the dust jackets. Was this his friend’s book, or his wife’s? What had they been reading previous to this babe died so suddenly? images fell out, fluttering to the floor. this chab picked ’em up, looking briefly – and froze. This one, this one he remembered. In the middle of the usual family images of children and vacations, here was this old photo of the three of them, laughing, joking and having joy in front of the camera.

He remembered. That day, that picnic, the laughter and love as they played together. this chab remembered, and his heart wept silently for all the time apart since then, the time forever lost.

The door creaked open. “I thought I’d find u here,” his friend told. “They’ve all gone. The kids will be back in the morning – to check up on me.” this guy sat down in the other armchair, comfortably, his ordinary chair, quiet, waiting.

“What happens now?” that guy asked.
“I don’t know,” his friend answered.
“Where are u going to go?”
“I don’t know… I can’t stay here.”
“I know…” a long pause followed. Finally, that guy blurted out, “You can come and stay with me for a while, if you want, to catch your breath.”
Now, it was his friend’s turn to pause, and lastly to ask, “Is that really a priceless idea, after all those years?”
“I don’t know… We can try.”

The silence stretched on, and lastly changed into smth comfortable. And just like that, it was settled. So much asked and answered; so not many words, so much history unspoken between them, so much yearning, so much love, so much confusion.

He was homosexual. And his friend was not.

Over the next small in number weeks they buried themselves in busyness; books to be packed, garments to be sorted through, furniture to be moved. They rented a storage locker and began moving things into it. The cleaned the house, turned in the keys, told goodbye to allies and family. Drove to the airport and flew off – the first new adventure of 2 most excellent friends, alone again.

They landed, got a taxi and drove home, to his home in this southern city that his ally had not ever seen. This was a recent town for his friend, a recent country, who knew what the future might hold?

He saw his city throughout new eyes as they explored it jointly. this chab showed him his beloved restaurants, his beloved walks, his favourite museums and churches and … not fast they fell into a comfortable routine. His friend turned the guest room into his own, setting up his computer and internet, starting to put out some of his own images. They purchased a little stuff together, and sluggishly the house was changed.

But this guy was gay, and his ally was not.

Months passed. They each called their children, reconnecting over distance during that first year after their wives died and their children struggled out of mom. They each flew up, over, down, wherever, to be with their children for birthdays, summer holidays. And then Thanksgiving rolled around to be followed by Advent and Christmas. What would they do?

They snuggled in front of the TV. They had become that comfortable with each other again. Hands gave every other foot-rubs, massaged sore shoulders and backs, and sometimes stole a fondle. They used to sit like this, ages ago, touching, stroking, loving every other through their fingers. But that had stopped after his friend met his eventual wife, and began to spend greater quantity and greater quantity time with her. They had been young, insecure, unwilling to take things further, to find out if their emotional closeness might lead to physical; to explore what it might mean to become paramours. And here they were again, so many years later, rediscovering that familiar, half-remembered comfort…and still half-afraid to see where things might go. The TV droned on, yet another re-run filling hundreds of stations with annoying drivel; a familiar sound, an effortless way to avoid that fearful intimacy.

“Are u flying home for Christmas, up to see your kids?”
“I don’t know… I guess I should. Are yours coming down?”

The awkward silence, filled with unspoken questions and unspoken answers, stretched on … solely the TV making sounds as their minds spun furiously to find and speak the right answers. Somehow they knew that this was an important conversation; that they couldn’t proceed to hide forever.

“Do u crave to invite them down here? Maybe we could do a family Christmas with everyone, show them the town?” The unspoken question lingered in the air. finally his friend spoke, “Is this ‘home’ then?” And there it was, lastly out in the open for ’em to examine. Had they come that far?

He drew away, turned and faced his friend. “It is if u desire it to be. I’ve never stopped loving you, despite the distance, despite the years. I still love you. you know that. Do u crave to stay? Do u …,” the words tumbled out of his mouth, rushing to be told. this chab stopped. “God, I sound pathetic, don’t I?” this chab sat in the corner of the couch, drawing into himself, pulling his hands back into his lap, staring at his own loneliness and his hopeless/hopeful love for this man.

The silence stretched out, his ally fighting his own silent battle. The TV droned on. this guy got up and left the room, going to his own bedroom and closed the door, unwilling to face the silence.

He lay in the darkness, staring at the ceiling, counting sheep, wrestling with his pillows, hands unconsciously searching for a body beside him in the large bed. Sleep was not effortless this night. Had that guy blown it? Would his ally leave, running away again, and go back north? Might he stay? Was there a chance for them, jointly? Should this chab get up and apologize, just go back to the way things had been for the past scarcely any months? Could this guy convince him to stay? Thoughts jumbled their way through his mind, leaving him restless, anxious, uncertain, frightened that his own need had lastly gotten the better of him. His loss of control might lead to a terrifying future without his friend, one time another time leaving him alone. “Oh God …,” his unspoken, half-formed prayer ran through his mind and soul. Exhausted, this chab lastly fell asleep.

He awoke in the darkness, fumbling for his glasses, still greater amount than half-asleep, unsure why this chab was awake. A hand reached out, pulling him over in the bed, stopping his reaching fingers. Fingers stroked his cheek, ruffled his hair, lips sought out his own. A first kiss, light, tentative, brushed across his lips, a second followed it, harder. he turned, opened his eyes and looked into his friend’s soul. Smiles curved their lips. His hands reached out, discovered his friend’s lithe body naked under the covers, and the years slipped away. two old chaps rediscovered excitement and love that night. They fed the fire which had laid there, dormant embers glowing, for so many years. two souls laughed jointly again, and were made whole.

Categories: Novelette

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