This weekend I went back and reread “Apollo’s Curse,” and you know what? It’s fucking GREAT. I mean, as a novel, period, never mind a gayrom or anything else. It’s my best work ever under this name or any other. And it really does “read like a movie.” I could see Wes Anderson making a movie out of it! Seriously, he could do wonderful things with all the stories-within-a-story. I dreamed that Daniel Radcliffe read it and loved it and bought the rights and wanted to star as Dane! It could happen 🙂 I know that someday, this book will make my name. It’s that good. And I’m a harsh self-critic, as you know.
But while I wait for my own personal Miracle Day, it’s back to work! Rocky and Dex is flowing right out of my fingers now. Took me a lot of hunting to finally get the research material I needed to write this part, but it was worth it. Yes, what you’re about to read really happened, and the only thing I invented was the church group’s attempt to counter-protest. (Note: I’ve gone back and started breaking it up into chapters, thus the “chapter five” you see here.)
It should have been a triumphal march, Rocky knew, as he left the stage and pretty much everyone working backstage congratulated him. He nodded, smiled, and kept moving.
That was a close call, he told himself as he rode a rented Vespa back to the motel. He’d almost done it again. Almost fallen in love with Dex fucking Dexter.
How did this always happen to him? How did he always choose the ones who… No, the question was, why did he always choose the ones who wouldn’t love him back? Why did he always go into these one-way relationships with a bucket of whitewash in hand, frantically painting over every crack and warp and rusty nail? I might as well paint my own eyes shut, the way I close them to reality.
But Dex was worth his attentions, wasn’t he? He was so talented, so sexy, so…
“STOP IT!” He shouted out loud as he steered the little scooter into the parking lot.
The band was waiting for him in the lot. They’d taken a car, on the freeway, to beat him back here just for this. Korey had a bouquet of roses in his hands, and Jet popped a magnum of champagne as Rocky took off his helmet. Sam the keyboard player grinned and did a Mary Catherine split, shouting, “Superstar!”
Rocky laughed. “What, no tiara?”
“I didn’t have time to get one,” Korey said, handing him the bouquet. “Miss America, you’re beautiful.” He hugged Rocky, slapping him on the back. “Seriously, dude. That was…fantastic. Epic. One of those moments, you know?”
Rocky nodded. “Yeah, it was. You guys were awesome. The way you meshed with Dex’s band, it was like you’d been jamming together for years.”
“Right? It was magic. And you and Dex, well…” Korey flapped his hand around as if he’d burned it.
“Yeah, dude,” Jet said. “You and him. I would pay to see that.”
“That’s not gonna happen, I can guarantee you.”
“Why not?” Jet insisted. “You want it. He obviously fucking wants it. What’s standing in your way?”
Rocky let out a harsh, bitter laugh. “What’s in the way? Everything, dude. Everything.”
CHAPTER FIVE – A SUNNY DAY IN MARIETTA
“Oh, don’t you look adorable!” Miss June Glades said in her high-pitched voice, pinching Norman’s cheek. “I could just eat you up!”
Norman Rockwell McCoy, Jr. squirmed, trying to get away from the bright coral lips that were trembling ever closer to his face. The old woman smelled of lavender and mothballs, at least until she was right on you and you got a face full of her stale breath. Her grip was like iron as she forced Norman to accept her kiss.
The other old ladies twittered and clucked, charmed by the six-year-old’s behavior. “Oh, you wait a few years, this one will be a real ladies’ man!” Miss June guaranteed her friends.
“Where’s his sign?” his grandmother Faith asked. “Let’s get a picture of him with his sign.”
Miss June handed Norman a sign on a stick. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” Faith McCoy turned him to face the light. “Smile, Norman! Cheesecake for breakfast!”
That made Norman smile. The best part of staying with Grandma was the food. If he wanted cheesecake for breakfast, she’d give it to him. “He’s a big eater!” she’d tell anyone who dropped in, which in Marietta, Georgia was high praise indeed.
“Let me get another just in case.” She looked through the view finder to make sure that the sign wasn’t washed out by the glare, and that its message was clear. NO SPECIAL RIGHTS FOR SODOMITES!
Norman heard a brisk clapping that he immediately recognized as his father’s. “Okay, ladies, are we ready to go?”
“Oh Lord, yes, we sure are!”
“We are fed up with having the gay agenda crammed down our throats! This resolution by our county commissioners, one year ago, that condemned the gay lifestyle, that was the Lord’s work!”
“And those people are there in the town square to condemn the Lord’s work! On Sunday! The Lord’s day!”
“To undo the Lord’s work!”
“Then let’s go show them the Word of the Lord!”
Norman was thrilled to be part of a parade. He’d seen the disappointment on his father’s face at the turnout, and he’d tried to make sense of what the church’s members were saying as they waited for the go-ahead from Reverend McCly.
“They have police on the rooftops, you know. There was a threat on that computer thing, I think.”
“Yes, the paper said it was on the internet computer network, I heard that.”
“What’s the internet computer network?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Devil’s work, I’m sure.”
The small group, only about a dozen strong, marched determinedly towards the town square. Norman could hear the amplified voice of a speaker there.
“If there is going to be justice for some, there must be justice for all. The gay and lesbian community does not stand alone. If you want to attack them, you attack us.”
Faith snorted. She whispered to Miss June, “That’s the Jew. The Rabbi or whatever. Figures he’d be on the devil’s side.”
Miss June nodded, taking a firmer grip on her sign, on which she’d painstakingly painted LEVITICUS 18:22 AND 20:13!!!
Their makeshift parade slowed, then stalled, at the sight of police cars blocking the path to the town square.
“Oh!” Faith cried out, “look up there. That’s Jerry Caulkins, Toby Caulkins’ boy. He’s up on the roof.”
“They got the high school boys in that club, the Law Enforcement Explorers, to help them cover the rooftops. To look for snipers,” Matthew Paine said. Norman found Matthew fascinating; in church on Sundays he would go into a trance almost as soon as the music began, his face clenching and contorting as his hands waved above him in the air. Norman watched him every time, awestruck at the transformation.
“Snipers!” Miss June said, putting a hand on her heart.
Matthew nodded. “Someone said the pink triangles all those queers will be wearing on their shirts would make good targets.” He smiled as he said it, and the ladies tittered nervously.
A sheriff’s deputy stood in front of one of the cars parked in the road. He raised a hand. “Hold up there, Reverend. We’re trying to keep this civil today.”
Reverend McCoy’s eyebrows shot up. “Why, Jeremiah, we have no intention of being uncivil. This is the anniversary of Reverend Doctor King’s speech at the March on Washington, isn’t it? That’s why the…gathering in the square chose this day, right? And we’re just doing what Doctor King worked so hard to allow us to do – protest peacefully.”
Jeremiah shook his head. “This isn’t a free speech issue, today, Reverend. It’s a security issue.” They all looked up as a Georgia State Patrol helicopter cruised overhead, making a sweep of the town.
Jeremiah’s radio crackled. “They’re coming your way, now. See them out peacefully.”
“Copy,” the deputy said. “I’m going to ask you folks to step aside, we’ve got some disruptive elements coming out.”
“Disruptive elements!” Miss June squawked. “How did they get in and we can’t?”
“They came in separately, and…look, Miss June, just help us out here.”
Norman could feel it, a chill in the group, a silence as half a dozen men came out past the barricade, escorted by twice that number of police. They were…terrifying. Bald heads, black jackets, bleach-spattered jeans and big black boots, like an army of childhood nightmares. Norman stepped back into the safety of the old women’s legs.
“Fuck yeah!” one of the men shouted at the group, waving a fist. “Yeah, death to faggots!”
“Fucking burn ‘em at the stake!” another one added. They were laughing and smiling at the church group, but the Reverend watched them silently.
“Come on, man,” one of them egged the Reverend. “You want what we want, just admit it!”
Reverend McCoy shook his head. “No, son, we don’t. We love the gays, we love ‘em. Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
The men laughed as if this was the funniest thing anyone ever said. “Right. Burn the sin and not the sinner, good luck with that!”
Another bared his shoulder to reveal a tattoo, script text on an ornamental parchment. “I got it right here, man! Leviticus 20:13! Fuck yeah!”
Then they were gone. The whole thing had taken all the air out of the parade. Signs were lowered, touching the ground. A sense of embarrassment pervaded the group, as if some dark communal secret had been publicly revealed.
“We’re not like that,” Faith said, more to herself than anyone else.
Others nodded, murmuring their agreement. No. Miss June’s sign referred to the same text as the skinhead’s tattoo, Leviticus 20:13. Which clearly stated, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.”
But nobody there wanted to actually kill the gays. Yes, the Old Testament condemned them to death, but Christ could redeem them, and the New Testament was the contract amendment that would save them from that death sentence. All they had to do was accept Jesus Christ, and sin no more.
They went back the way they came, silently. Norman waved his sign enthusiastically, wanting the parade to begin again.
The group seemed to get its spirit back again as they stopped at the Cobb County Courthouse. The Reverend stood on its steps to rally his troops.
“Folks, there’s a date I want you all to remember. March 14th, of this year of our Lord 1994, when the Federal government ordered Cobb County to remove a framed copy of the Ten Commandments from this courthouse.”
This was greeted with sighs of disappointment and cries of “shame!”
Reverend McCoy nodded. “Yes, shame. Sorrow. The Psalms say, ‘if the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ The liberals in Washington, under the Liberal-In-Chief, are destroying the foundations of our country, the Biblical principles the Founding Fathers held so dear…”
As the Reverend went on, reinspiring the group to “Amens” and “Hallelujahs,” two men were passing the group, headed towards the town square. As they passed, cautiously keeping to the edge of the sidewalk, one of them saw Norman, and his sign.
Norman and the man made eye contact. Norman smiled like any normal happy boy would at a stranger, when all the strangers in his life had been friendly and approving.
But the boy could see the horror in the man’s eyes as they went from Norman to his sign and back. The man’s face suddenly expressed so much sadness, and pity. As if he’d seen something bad happening to Norman, something unspeakably awful.
It was the same look that old Gladys Maples had given him and a group of other boys who’d been caught throwing rocks at her cats. Norman hadn’t thrown any, but he’d been afraid to tell the others not to do it. She had looked at him that same way, with a disappointment and sorrow that made him want to cry.
Norman never forgot that day, that moment, the man’s face. The seed was planted in him, then, the idea that others weren’t like his family, his church, his friends, his neighbors. That they saw something terribly frightening when they looked at Norman and his people.
Years later, coming into his own sexuality, becoming Rocky and leaving Norman behind, he would remember that look, from one of his own kind. He would never forget it, The terrible certainty on the man’s face that all this, this hate, this insensibly stupid hate, would last forever, passed on from generation to generation to generation…