Working on a couple of projects at once is my way. This is from THE NURSERYMAN’S WEDDING. Sam-sam is a high school kid; Jessup is his abusive dad; Larry is Jessup’s lover, and Faye is Jessup’s new female lover, who had just joined the melange and has made Sam-sam a grilled cheese sandwich while he watches TV. Excerpt choice is to honor Halloween.
Sam was watching Bewitched on TV. Samantha had done magic to help Darrin’s career and was trying to hide it. The old story. If Sam-sam had a friend who could do magic, he’d let her. Faye came from the kitchen and set a plate with a grilled cheese sandwich on the wide chair arm where he sat. They’d already had dinner, so Sam wondered about the grilled cheese even while lifting it to his mouth. Buttery, not too well done. Perfect. Maybe Larry had told her how he liked it.
She pointed to the TV screen.
“That woman’s a witch, isn’t she?”
Faye made the little chime sound Samantha made when casting a spell. “Samantha and. . . uh. . .”
“Darrin. You like this show?”
Sam shrugged. If he didn’t like it why would he be watching it? It was one of those episodes where you could pretty much predict the end, so Sam allowed his attention to drift onto Faye. Her eyes looked tired. Half her face smiled, but the other half faced into the dark of the room. Without knowing he was going to do so, Sam said, “You sick of Jessup yet?”
Faye laughed. “Every son at some point has nothing good to say about his father.”
Sam was about to ask, “What good would you say about my father?” when she said, unexpectedly,
“There were witches when I was growing up.”
“When I was growing up, there was a place by the tracks where witches came and. . . I don’t know how to describe it–”
“They had cauldrons and stuff?”
“No, not that. They’d get into a circle in the shadow of one of the railroad cars so nobody could see them. Nobody from the road. They’d build little fires. It’d be sunset and they’d build little fires out of sticks and grass like they wanted to take over the light when the sun was gone. They’d let you sit with them if you came over. They liked girls better than boys. . . or as good anyway. That was the first place I ever saw that.”
“Did they turn people into cats and that?”
“No, no. I never saw that. But they’d hold up shapes they made out of cloth and give the names of people they knew, people who were sick or. . . or troubled. . . and they’d say the names and say they were holding them in the light. ‘This is John and I’m holding him in the light,’ because John had cancer or something like that. Youngstown lay a little to the west and as the sun went down everything went golden, even the steam from the smokestacks. They chose that place–the witches did– because it was the one place that was beautiful where people would leave them alone. Maybe they do the same here and I just don’t know where to look.”
“I know some railroad tracks. Maybe we could–” Sam stopped short. He took a bite of grilled cheese.“You ever hold anybody to the light?”
“I never became one of them. I went there only a couple of times. It was hard to get away. . . especially if you were a girl. But I hold people to the light now and then. On my own. Plenty of times, in fact.”
“You hold my daddy to the light?”
She laughed, deep, a little wicked. “I’m here ain’t I?”
Sam had to smile at that one.
“Your dad calls you Sam-sam.”
“Everybody used to call me that. Mom started it. We were reading a book of bible stories one time and my favorite was Samson, but I couldn’t say it right, and it all went from there. Sam-sam. I sort of grew out of it.”
“I was called Cissy until I made everyone call me Faye, which is my name. Sometimes you have to put up a fight.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed.
Faye took a deep breath, like she was inhaling from a cigarette: “He loves you, you know.”
“Your dad, yes.”
“I don’t see it.”
“You think he has to prove it to you?”
“I sort of think he does. Now.”
Faye was quiet for a moment. She said, “Try holding him to the light. You might feel different afterward.”
Faye had cut the grilled cheese diagonally, which was exactly right. Sam pushed the half he hadn’t bitten across the plate toward her. She lifted the half sandwich and took a bite.
Sam said, “You got any kids?”
“I got a daughter who can’t stand me. So I kind of understand. . . all this.”
“You hold Larry to the light?”
“Larry was happy. Whatever was wrong with my dad, Larry was happy with him. Then you came. You ever hold him to the light?”
“I don’t know how to. He’s. . . well, you know he’s friendly and all that. Like a sister. But there’s a door closed there and it’s not going to open for me.”
“Larry and dad are–”
“What would your witches say about that?”
“They were pretty accepting of. . . all that sort of thing.”
Sam almost finished his half of sandwich before he said, “They ever hold anyone up to the dark?”
Faye hesitated before she said, “Sure. Once that I heard. You have to be pretty far gone for them to give up on you.”
Who? Who’d they hold up to the dark?”
“Husband of one of them. He beat her. Then he beat their child and he–”
Faye’s voice stopped. Sam finished the sentence inside his head. After a while he said, “Who would you hold up to the darkness?”
“Oh, Castro or somebody. I don’t know.”
Sam realized he made noise while he chewed and Faye did not. He wondered how she did that. Samantha Stevens had just winked them into a commercial. Sam set the crust knob of his sandwich down onto the plate. It was bad luck to finish every crumb.