Despite his happy suburban family life, Chip Miller struggles with the realization that his growing need for something more--for something very specific--may separate him from his neighbors.
Published in The Nassau Review '06 (volume 9, number 2). An earlier version was presented at The Edinburgh International Internet Festival 2002 (August-September 2002).
At dinner one night at the dawn of the 1990s, Chip Miller stared proudly but incredulously at the surrounding family scene he so comfortably inhabited. Imagine, in this day and age, a family actually sitting around the dinner table enjoying a meal together. Not a special meal, mind you, not a holiday meal, just a regular work-night supper. He had Sally to thank for that. She insisted on preserving a tradition her family had always honored when she was growing up. Chip happily obliged, the value of the tradition on display before his eyes. To his right sat Matt Junior, now five, fully mastering the use of silverware, clearly on his way to becoming a young gentleman who would make his father proud. To his left sat Alexandria, trying her best to prove worthy of her recent graduation out of the high chair. And across from him sat Sally, living proof that a woman could leave Market Research behind and live a fulfilling life raising a family.
Chip was also gratified to think that such an inspiring sight would certainly remove any suspicion about what lurked within him, though he wondered why he couldn’t pull off the same charade with himself. He envied his neighbors, assuming they harbored a whole set of feelings foreign to him, including a deep satisfaction with life and the absolute lack of a need for anything more than their families and careers. Did he even belong to the same species? His need for something more—for something very specific—seemed to be growing daily, approaching the point where just walking down the street was becoming stressful.
On his way to work from Grand Central Terminal in a rainstorm one morning, not concentrating on anything more than maneuvering his open umbrella around all the obstacles a typical Manhattan canyon put in his way, he spotted a pair of moist, brown eyes set in a boyishly handsome face under a shiny yellow slicker’s hood and locked eyes with the stranger as they passed. They turned slightly toward each other as if to prolong the moment. And then his mind took over, wanting more. Much more. More than just making a mental note of the man’s beauty for future reference. More than registering the possibility of mutual interest. More than fantasizing about how and where they might have a longer encounter. Feeling a rumble deep in his stomach that told him his life would never make sense again now that he had let that man get away, he wondered if the man felt the same thing, trying to remember if he saw it in his eyes.
He slowly came to realize that these episodes weren’t just some strange passing fancy, because they happened every day. Different men, same experience, every day. Except on the weekends. Up in Bronxville, his affluent haven in suburban Westchester County, it was rare to lock eyes with strange men. The last time it happened, he recoiled when the man snapped his gaze away and furrowed his brow. As the man crossed the street and headed toward Womrath’s Bookshop, probably to pick up a book on military history or professional football, Chip vowed to work harder to avoid future embarrassments. But not until he finished fantasizing about the man, wondering if his apparent irritation signaled something deeper, wishing the man had lingered and explored his face—for even just a moment—before averting his glance, hoping the man would stare back at him next time, signaling that he, too, was slave to a power beyond his control.
Although he willingly entertained these fantasies, he also feared their fulfillment. Suppose the man in the yellow slicker near Grand Central had stopped dead in his tracks and refused to let him pass, reaching his hand out to stroke his cheek, letting him know it was all right to want him, reassuring him the feeling was more than mutual. Suppose they passed each other by the triceps machine at his lunchtime gym rather than out on the street, and then suppose they ran into each other again in the steam room, their nakedness making it impossible to hide their mutual interest. Would he still resist, he wondered?
Like a pop quiz, the opportunity caught him unprepared. It was just another day at Club Health, another lunch hour spent staring at the beautiful men in the weight room. But this time, someone smiled back and then followed him into the locker room. The good-looking Italian man approached him and got right to the point.
“If you’re free, why don’t we get together? I live just a few blocks away.” Unnerved by the unexpected invitation, Chip said he had to get back to work. "Maybe some other time, then," the man replied before heading off to the showers. He sped through his own shower, afraid he might reconsider the man’s offer if he lingered at the gym. Minutes later, as he stood half-dressed in front of the mirror, cursing and smacking the broken hair dryer, the man reappeared and handed him his card. Franklin Mancini. An easy enough name to remember—he had gone to high school in Virginia with a fellow named Frank Mancini. A pretty simple number, too, though Chip had the darnedest time remembering phone numbers. He threw the card into a garbage can out on the street, hoping to put the whole thing behind him. But when he woke up the following morning, the man’s name and number were intact. He thought about him throughout the long workday, wondering why he seemed so natural and open, so much at ease, as if he were simply asking Chip to get together to play tennis. What would it be like to make love to such a man? And in a proper bed?
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