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    AC Benus
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  • 1,702 Words
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Great Mirror of Same-Sex Love - Prose - 29. David Leavitt "Gravity"




Theo had a choice between a drug that would save his sight and the drug that would keep him alive, so he chose not to go blind. He stopped the pills and started the injections – these required an implantation of an unpleasant and painful catheter just above his heart – and within a few days the clouds in his eyes started to clear up, he could see again. He remembered going into New York City to a show with his mother, when he was twelve and didn’t want to admit he needed glasses. “Can you read that?” she’d shouted, pointing to a Broadway marquee, and when he’d squinted, making out only one or two letters, she’d taken off her own glasses – harlequins with tiny rhinestones in the corners – and shoved him onto his face. The world came into focus, and he gasped, astonished at the precision around the edges of things, the legibility, the hard, sharp colorful landscape. Sylvia had to squint through Fiddler on the Roof that day, but for Theo, his face masked by his mother’s huge glasses, everything was as bright and vivid as a comic book. Even though people stared at him, and muttered things, Sylvia didn’t care, he could see.

Because he was dying again, Theo moved back to his mother’s house in New Jersey. The DHPG injections she took in stride – she’d seen her own mother through her dying, after all. Four times a day, with the equanimity of a nurse, she cleaned out the plastic tube implanted in his chest, inserted a sterilized hypodermic and slowly dripped the bag of sight-giving liquid into his veins. They endured this procedure silently, Sylvia sitting on the side of the hospital bed she’d rented for the duration of Theo’s stay – his life, he sometimes thought – watching reruns of / Love Lucy or the news, while he tried not to think about the hard piece of pipe stuck into him, even though it was a constant reminder of how wide and unswimmable the gulf was becoming between him and the ever-receding shoreline of the well. And Sylvia was intricately cheerful. Each day she urged him to go out with her somewhere – to the library, or the little museum with the dinosaur replicas he’d been fond of as a child – and when his thinness and the cane drew stares, she’d maneuver him around the people who were staring, determined to shield him from whatever they might say or do. It had been the same that afternoon so many years ago, when she’d pushed him through a lobbyful of curious and laughing faces, determined that nothing should interfere with the spectacle of his seeing. What a pair they must have made, a boy in ugly glasses and a mother daring the world to say a word about it!

This warm, breezy afternoon in May they were shopping for revenge. “Your cousin Howard’s engagement party is next month,” Sylvia explained in the car. “A very nice girl from Livingston. I met her a few days ago, and really, she is a superior person.”

“I’m glad,” Theo said. “Congratulate Howie for me.”

“Do you think you’ll be up to going to the party?”

“"I’m not sure. Would it be okay for me just to give him a gift?”

“You already have. A lovely silver tray, if I say so myself. The thank-you note is in the living room.”

“Mom,” Theo said, “why do you always have to—”

Sylvia honked her horn at a truck making an illegal left turn.

“Better they should get something than no present at all, is what I say,” she said. “But now, the problem is, I have to give Howie something, to be from me, and it better be good. It better be very, very good.”


“Don’t you remember that cheap little nothing Bibi gave you for your graduation? It was disgusting.”

“I can’t remember what she gave me.”

“Of course you can’t. It was a tacky pen-and-pencil set. Not even a real leather box. So naturally, it stands to reason that I have to get something truly spectacular for Howard’s engagement. Something that will make Bibi blanch. Anyway, I think I’ve found just the thing, but I need your advice.”

"Advice? Well, when my old roommate, Nick, got married, I gave him a garlic press. It cost five dollars and reflected exactly how much I felt, at that moment, our friendship was worth.”

Sylvia laughed. “Clever. But my idea is much more brilliant, because it makes it possible for me to get back at Bibi and give Howard the nice gift he and his girl deserve.” She smiled, clearly pleased with herself. “Ah, you live and learn.”

“You live,” Theo said.

Sylvia blinked. “Well, look, here we are.” She pulled the car into a handicapped-parking place on Morris Avenue and got out to help Theo, but he was already hoisting himself up out of his seat, using the door handle for leverage. “I can manage myself,” he said with some irritation. Sylvia stepped back.

“Clearly one advantage to all this for you,” Theo said, balancing on his cane, “is that it’s suddenly so much easier to get a parking place.”

“Oh, Theo, please,” Sylvia said. “Look, here’s where we’re going.”

She [led] him into a gift shop filled with porcelain statuettes of Snow White and all seven of the dwarves, music boxes which, when you opened them, played “The Shadow of your Smile,” complicated-smelling potpourris in purple wallpapered boxes, and stuffed snakes you were supposed to push up against drafty windows and doors.

“Mrs. Greenman,” said an expansive, gray-haired man in a cream-colored cardigan sweater. “Look who’s here, Archie, it’s Mrs. Greenman.”

Another man, this one thinner and balding, but dressed in an identical cardigan, peered out from the back of the shop. “Hello, there!” he said, smiling. He looked at Theo, and his expression changed.

“Mr. Sherman; Mr. Baker. This is my son, Theo.”

“Hello,” Mr. Sherman and Mr. Baker said. They didn’t offer to shake hands.

“Are you here for that item we discussed last week?” Mr. Sherman asked.

“Yes,” Sylvia said. “I want advice from my son here.” She walked over to a large, ridged crystal bowl, a very fifties sort of bowl, stalwart and square-jawed. “What do you think? Beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Mom, to tell the truth, I think it’s kind of ugly.”

“Four hundred and twenty-five dollars,” Sylvia said admiringly. “You have to feel it.”

Then she picked up the big bowl and tossed it to Theo, like a football.

The gentlemen in the cardigan sweaters gasped and did not exhale. When Theo caught it, it sank his hands. His cane rattled as it hit the floor.

“That’s heavy,” Sylvia said, observing with satisfaction how the bowl had weighted Theo’s arms down. “And where crystal is concerned, heavy is impressive.”

She took the bowl back from him and carried it to the counter. Mr. Sherman was mopping his brow. Theo looked at the floor, still surprised not to see shards of glass around his feet.

Since no one else seemed to be volunteering, he bent over and picked up the cane.

“Four hundred and fifty-nine, with tax," Mr. Sherman said, his voice still a bit shaky, and a look of relish came over Sylvia’s face as she pulled out her checkbook to pay. Behind the counter, Theo could see Mr. Baker put his hand on his forehead and cast his eyes to the ceiling.

It seemed Sylvia had been looking a long time for something like this, something heavy enough to leave an impression, yet so fragile it could make you sorry.



They headed back out to the car.

“Where can we go now?” Sylvia asked, as she got in. “There must be someplace else to go.”

“Home,” Theo said. “It’s almost time for my medicine.”

“Really? Oh. All right.” She pulled on her seat belt, inserted the car key in the ignition and sat there.

For just a moment, but perceptibly, her face broke. She squeezed her eyes shut so tight the blue shadow on the lids cracked.

Almost as quickly, she was back to normal again, and they were driving. “It’s getting hotter,” Sylvia said. “Shall I put on the air?”

“Sure,” Theo said. He was thinking about the bowl, or more specifically, about how surprising its weight had been, pulling his hands down. For a while now he’d been worried about his mother, worried about what damage his illness might secretly be doing to her that of course she would never admit. On the surface things seemed all right. She still broiled herself a skinned chicken breast for dinner every night, still swam a mile and a half a day, still kept used teabags wrapped in foil in the refrigerator. Yet she had also, at about three o’clock one morning, woken him up to tell him she was going to the twenty-four-hour supermarket, and was there anything he wanted. Then there was the gift shop: she had literally pitched that bowl toward him, pitched it like a ball, and as that great gleam of flight and potential regret came sailing in his direction, it had occurred to him that she was trusting his two feeble hands, out of the whole world, to keep it from shattering. What was she trying to test? Was it his newly regained vision? Was it the assurance that he was there, alive, that he hadn’t yet slipped past all her caring, a little lost boy in rhinestone-studded glasses? There are certain things you’ve already done before you even think how to do them – a child pulled from in front of a car, for instance, or the bowl, which Theo was holding before he could even begin to calculate its brief trajectory. It had pulled his arms down, and from that apish posture he’d looked at his mother, who smiled broadly, as if, in the war between heaviness and shattering, he’d just helped her win some small but sustaining victory.

—David Leavitt,[i]






[i] “Gravity” David Leavitt A Place I’ve Never Been (London 1990), ps. 76-80



Copyright © 2021 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Theo could have chosen not to attempt the catch; he saved his mother’s purchase and her pride. Theo might have chosen blindness; he chose sight. This is fascinating story. 

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On 11/13/2021 at 2:44 PM, Parker Owens said:

Theo could have chosen not to attempt the catch; he saved his mother’s purchase and her pride. Theo might have chosen blindness; he chose sight. This is fascinating story. 

@Parker OwensThank you. It seems I have known this short story for most of my life. I too find it endlessly fascinating -- the inexplicable always draws my attention, and the author very skillfully limits our POV to what's going on in Theo's head. Thanks again!  

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