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I was overwhelmed by my reception when I returned to Asheville. Suddenly people wanted to speak to me and associate with me who never had the time of day to give me when I lived there and worked in boarding houses. Everyone scrupulously avoided speaking of my origins in the city—especially the men, some of whom I recognized all too well. But I was invited everywhere and quizzed not too subtly about who was and who wasn’t depicted in The Boarding House—and whether there was another book forthcoming. There was, of course, but not one they would think of in their wildest dreams. And everywhere I turned I was subjected to family stories that would be worthy of writing about.
I shouldn’t snort at these offerings—and indeed I have not. I was grateful for them and had sufficient notes within my first week back in Asheville to serve as inspiration for three novels—all of which have been quite successful, I might add.
I referred to being back in Asheville for a visit, though, as at that point I couldn’t consider the city as home nor could I contemplate returning there—although the University of North Carolina had offered a very enticing position where I could work at least half the year anywhere I wanted outside of Chapel Hill—including Asheville, of course.
I told no one that I was there to inspect a property I owned but had never seen—I almost feared the property and what it might mean if I moved into it. In fact, I wasn’t sure I wanted to look into it at all. And perhaps if Abe hadn’t told me that it irreversibly was mine and I’d have to start paying taxes on it whether or not I acknowledged it was mine—and that I was famous enough in Asheville now that putting it on the market would turn a spotlight on how I had acquired it—I might not have returned to Asheville to inspect it at all.
While I was on the train from New York down the Eastern Seaboard into the upper south, I had to acknowledge to myself that I had heard the name Stephen Bander before. He had been that nervous almost client at Mrs. Childress’s boarding house who had paid for my time and services but who had been so reluctant and strange and had left without getting what he’d paid for. It wasn’t the name that led to the revelation as much as it was the coal dust I remembered he had under his fingernails no matter how clean his body seemed to appear. It was just the same as my father had. And when I remembered that Abe had said that the house had been in my father’s name before Bander had it, suddenly all sorts of possibilities—no, probabilities—started to fall into place.
Shortly after I arrived in Asheville, one of my first stops, of course, was Abe’s law offices on South Market Street. They were very well appointed, and I was both surprised and glad that he had become established so well. If anything, he was more handsome and robust now than when I had known him so completely just a few years previously.
“It’s a good property. In the Beaverdam area above Grove Park. Stunning views of the city from there. And it’s completely furnished. You’ve inherited it lock, stock, and barrel.”
“When will we—?”
“I believe you should go up there the first time or two by yourself, Charlie. Here are the address and directions and keys to the place. I will lend you my automobile, if you know how to drive.”
“I will have a hotel conveyance take me up,” I said, taking what he was handing me. “I’m staying at the Battery Park, and they can’t seem to do enough for me. Quite a change. I couldn’t have gotten into the servants’ entrance when I last lived here. But, why—?”
“The house is intact. Bander died quite suddenly, with little warning to himself. If there are reasons and truths for you to find up there, I think it best if you are alone with them until or unless you want to talk about them.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I answered. “But you haven’t mentioned anything about what you said over the telephone.”
“I know. I regret I said anything at all. I was just so surprised and happy I’d finally gotten you located—and finding out that you hadn’t purposely not answered my letters pushed me over the edge. And I don’t want to push you over that edge, Charlie. The idea is out there, in the open, but it’s completely up to you now whether or not you act on it.”
I sat there for a moment, both wanting to commit—I couldn’t think of anything that I would ever want to do more than live and love with Abe—but still confused and conflicted. “Thank you, Abe. That means a lot to me—that I’ll be given time to think about this. I haven’t really had this opportunity to make my own choices before, you know.”
When I checked with the concierge at the hotel, he said that, of course, a hotel automobile could take me up to Beaverdam, but did I know that there was a streetcar that went to within a few blocks of the address I showed him?
“No, I didn’t know that,” I answered. “I think I’d like to do that instead. The fresh air and a walk will be illegal bahis good for me. And it will give me time to think.”
Abe had been right. Except for the narrow lane leading into the property, no one other than the resident would know there even was a cottage there. But there it was, perched on a steep slope and surrounded by trees and stands of bamboo, thickly planted, and with just a swath of clearing between the two-story back of the house and the view down into the Asheville city center. Off to the side was a carriage house large enough for two auto cars to be parked well out of sight.
He also was right about the enclosed, window-lined side porch on the house. It was well insulated and also had a fireplace for winter warmth. But most of all it had stunning views—down into the city and across to a ring of mountains. My father’s desk was there. I hadn’t even thought about where the furniture had gone that he had insisted on bringing from Pennsylvania but that my mother had almost immediately replaced. It was all here, and, surprisingly, I remembered it and instantly felt comfortable in its presence—far more comfortable than I’d ever felt in the Asheville house my mother had enlarged and opened to lodgers.
A photograph on the desk confirmed my suspicions. It was a group of men—at the Pennsylvania mine entrance. But one of them was unmistakably my father. And standing beside him in the picture was the man who had visited me at Mrs. Childress’s and had acted so strange and couldn’t perform. My father’s arm was on the much younger Bander’s shoulder.
It has always amazed me that men who love men can immediately recognize poses in photographs—or in male couples walking down a street—that clearly signal a personal, sexual relationship between two—or more—men. At the same time, women and straight men only seem able to see comradeship. In looking at the photograph, I instantly recognized that my father and the man his arm was around had been lovers.
I took the photograph out of the frame and found names inscribed on the back of it. The name next to my father’s was Stephen Bander. So much was understandable now, and I found myself actually being relieved rather than upset—relieved that my father, the man who wasn’t really my father but who really was—had had some pleasure in a life where I had seen little from the perspective of my innocent child’s eyes.
I walked around the cottage, trying my best to find something that would tell me that I couldn’t possibly live here. I went up the stairs and found two bedrooms and a bath up there—the bath quite modern for the time period in which this cottage was acquired by Bander. One bedroom was large and well appointed; the other one was small and Spartanly furnished. The bed in the large bedroom was a double of large proportions and heavy mahogany head and foot boards. It also, I realized when I looked at it, was the bed that I had been told I was born in. The rest of that room, including the clothes in the wardrobe, screamed of my father’s possession and touch. The smaller room, furnished only with a cot and a straight, straw-bottomed chair, and a wardrobe that had been in the servants’ wing of our Pennsylvania house, spoke more of Bander.
All of the clothes were in the closet in the more opulently appointed bedroom. The sizes were for two differently built men. I recognized some of the clothes as my father’s, and the familiar smell of the particular cigar he smoked permeated the closet. I thought it a little sad that Bander hadn’t been able to bear to sleep in my father’s bed after my father died but also could not bear to remove either my father’s clothes or his own from the shared closet.
Bander’s clothes reflected the possible difficulty he had had with this arrangement—which is the same impression he had given me when he visited me in the boarding house. The worn clothes were simple workman’s clothes. There were finely styled clothes as well—like what he had worn to visit me at the boarding house. But these all appeared to be almost brand new. I could see in my mind my father gifting his lover with fine clothes and Bander humoring him, but not being comfortable in the life my father was trying to create for him. I smiled, though, at the thought that my father had loved Bander so much that he had made the effort.
If the clothes had been separated into different closets there would always be the nagging doubt that they had been lovers and companions to the end—that some estrangement might have existed that had sent Bander into the other room with what seemed to be temporary furniture. Strange as it might seem, I found myself hoping that Bander’s occupancy of this room did not commence until after my father’s death and being comforted by the evidence of the shared closet that this wasn’t the case.
I felt my eyes watering at the knowledge that my father had died his lingering death down at our home in the city when this is where he should have been illegal bahis siteleri at the end—with Bander.
The rooms on the second story both saddened and stirred me, but they didn’t entice me to reject the thought of living here.
I returned to the first floor and checked the principle rooms out—a parlor and dining room with an exterior balcony overlooking Asheville and the mountains beyond, on all sides. A small kitchen was set to one side, the utensils simple but neatly kept. But I found I was walking in circles, always coming back to the desk on the sun porch and looking at the photograph. At length, I gave in to the inevitable and sat down at the desk and opened the center drawer.
For some reason I intuitively knew what I would see there. It was a folded piece of parchment paper . . . and it had my name inscribed on it. My memory was telling me that I’d seen this before, and it didn’t take me long to remember that the folded paper with my name on it that Stephen Bander had laid on the nightstand beside my bed when I was trying my best to earn my servicing fee from him—but that was not there any longer when he was gone.
Now, in stark contrast to then when I saw it completely outside any appropriate context, I knew in an instant that the handwriting was that of my father.
I hesitated at unfolding the paper, not wanting to intrude on the privacy of the two men, but then I laughed a hollow little laugh, realizing that I owned everything here now—and that, after all, my name was inscribed on the paper. And not least that I perhaps was the last person on earth to take umbrage at the choices my father had made or the preferences he had given into. In the ensuing months, I read what was written there so often that I could recite it word for word, but one passage, in particular, was burned into my consciousness before any other.
. . . As I’m sure you are aware, the relationship between your mother and me was built on a lie. If you are reading this, I am departed, and there is every reason to believe that your mother told you that you were not my true son—true in the sense of biological parentage—in every other respect I consider our father-son link to have been true. So true, that I suffered a thousand punishing denials to maintain that relationship—only becoming content with it almost too late in my life. But the marriage between your mother and me was no less respectful—certainly on my part—for the lie—your mother’s lie—that it was built upon.
It even endured the lie that I brought to it. I cannot possibly describe the torture of my life in knowing that, for however long, you considered me your true father—and were given every reason to—and my knowing there was no biological relationship and growing to love you as I could not love your mother as you grew into a beautiful young man. Growing to love you as society would never condone me loving you. Growing to love you as I eventually did a young man—a substitute for you, I confess—who I met in the mines of Pennsylvania.
If you are reading this, it is because Stephen has done my bidding and met you and delivered this into your hands. Stephen Bander was to me what your mother could not be—did not want to be—even though she honored me, in her own begrudging way, for having honored her in accepting her and the burden she carried. And he was to me a substitute for what I never could consummate with you.
When I gave the Beaverdam house to Stephen for me to steal away to as I could, to be with him, he understood that the house was to come to you when he no longer had need of it. But beyond that I urged him to contact you—because as you grew into a man, I discerned that you wanted the same life that I wanted. And I found Stephen such a fine fulfillment of my needs that my fondest hope was that you two would meet and come to live in the little cottage I built for Stephen and that I loved so well—and was loved so completely in—that you could love, and be loved by, Stephen as well as I was.
Whatever you choose in life when Stephen contacts you, I entreat you not to waste what can be for you as I did. I don’t regret leading a sham life with your mother—because I was leading a glorious life with you as well. But I fear I was not fair enough to myself in life. Home for me was not the house on Woodfin; it was the cottage on the slopes of Beaverdam. And for me Stephen Bander was home. So, I entreat you to find your home—sooner than I ever did. And to be true to your needs and desires, and society and the responsibilities foisted on you by others be damned . . .
I rose from the desk, letter still in hand, and walked into the entry hall, where I had seen a telephone box hanging on the wall by the front door. I wasn’t surprised that it was in working order; Abe had told me that everything would be in working order.
He answered on the first ring—whereas when I had initially called him when I arrived in Asheville, I had been filtered canlı bahis siteleri through a secretary. “It’s home, Abe,” I said into the telephone without further introduction. “It’s our home. And I want you to come home too—if you are willing.”
He was in my arms within twenty minutes, and he nearly carried me upstairs to the big bed that I had been born in. And I was born again in his enveloping arms, as he managed both to embrace me closely and undress me—and to slide that magnificent ebony cock of his home inside me and make me forget all of the other lovers I had ever had.
We lived happily and privately in the cottage for over a year, as I spent some time down in the Piedmont as writer in residence at the state university and Abe continued to build his practice. Each of us were accepted in Asheville society—which I clearly knew was more difficult for him than me, even though I had been the one to prostitute myself mercilessly when I lived here before and his family had—and still did—own and operate a very respectable and needed business. But, although we often were at the same functions, we were careful not to reveal that afterward we didn’t go back to the separate homes we had established in the city—but up Beaverdam mountain to our own hidden cottage, where we fucked and laughed and gossiped about the rich and the ambitious people snoozing in their beds in the city below.
When I was in residence in the cottage, I confined myself to the sun porch—or the bedroom, of course, whenever Abe was there—and wrote furiously. Without even thinking about it—especially how it related to that first play I worked on for Stanford Dane several years previously—when I had the first sheet of blank paper before me, I wrote the title Homeward Bound at the top of the page—and then wrote my name, Charles Bairr, with two Rs, underneath.
What was flowing from my pen was a story of redemption and returning to one’s roots and making the most of the rest of life.
I was only half way through it, though, when I received the telephone call that interrupted this idyllic life totally.
* * * *
“I haven’t heard from you in almost a year. I hardly remembered that I had given you my telephone number here. If you need help with another script—”
“No,” Stanford Dane said with a voice that was diminished from what I had known of him in years past, “what I need is you. I need you to come to me.”
“That was another life, Stan,” I said, although both my mind and my heart were racing. I was as weak before him as I ever had been, and this confused and shocked me. “I have moved on. And I don’t really have the time—”
“You once pledged that whenever I called you would come to me,” he said in an admonishing tone. “I need you now.”
“I am dying, Charles. I have cancer. Advanced. Nothing to be done. I need you to help me pass out of this life. There is no other who I want to see with my last breath.”
Abe was so good about it that I wanted to scream. I wanted him to put his foot down and tell me I couldn’t go. If ever I wanted someone to assert his will over mine, this was the time.
He didn’t do that. When I left I told him he was welcome to use the cottage whenever he wanted—and that we would discuss the rest as circumstances unfolded. He was so reasonable about that too that I wanted to lash out and strike him down.
* * * *
“It won’t be long now.” I felt like I had said it aloud, but I must have just thought it.
I was hunched over the writing table in the center of the room, leaning over the top of the table from the straight-edged chair, and was just laying my pen down from having been writing intensely. I was trying to finish the manuscript—not yet knowing what I was going to do—but it was no use; there was just too much left to be written.
I heard a moan and something close to a menacing rattle from the shadows beyond and to one side of the table, where there was a narrow brass bed with a thin mattress. The figure on the bed was a man—emaciated and barely breathing, a mere shell of the flamboyant showman Stanford Dane had once been. He was laying on his back, bare torsoed, but with covers covering him to half way up his chest. He had an arm thrown across his face. I could see nothing of him except his broad, deep chest, covered in curly salt-and-pepper-colored hair and slowly, laboriously rising—and holding—before it contracted with a moan twisted into a hollow rattling sound.
And still the whole room—the whole world at the moment—focused on him.
I had been horrified when I got to Baltimore—not by the pecuniary straits he was living in—just two rooms two floors up from a bakery, but just across the street from a stage theater. Dane never could be far from his stage. The conditions he had sunk to weren’t what horrified me, though. What horrified me was his explanation of what he’d meant when he said he needed me to help him pass out of this life.
“It was all in the first play we staged together, Charles,” he said. “And I told you about it then. Don’t you remember having struggled with me on the ending and I said the whole of the play focused on that ending—that it would be my ending as well?”
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