939. Faith No More

That night Ziggy and I were lying in bed in Landon’s room while waiting for Janine to come home. It had been an exhausting day and we really hadn’t done anything. Just dealing with other people’s emotions all day was enough to wear us out, I guess.

Remo had told me what he could about my mother’s treatment. Basically, pancreatic cancer is one of the worst–it was then and it still is now. If she had any chance to live, they had to try to remove a tumor, but before they could do that they had to try to shrink it with radiation and chemotherapy. So there was going to be a bunch of that before the actual surgery, and then another round after the surgery. And even then the survival chance was pretty low. He was clearly preparing himself for her to die.

Heavy stuff.

Was it callow for me to be thinking about the music industry, then? Or was it just I needed to think about something else for a while?

Ziggy snuggled back against me. “Hey.”

“Hey.” I wrapped an arm around him. We had the reading light on, but neither of us was reading. “I never did call Sarah back.”

“You can try her tomorrow night. Long distance rates go down on Sunday nights, don’t they?”

“Maybe? Man, when was the last time you worried about what a phone call cost?” I thought I worried about money a lot, but not on the same scale as that. “There were times when I was a student when I had to try to figure out how to make one can of tuna and a packet of ramen last for a couple of days, but–”

“I was under the impression that back then Bart made it his personal mission to keep you from starving.”

“He did. But I didn’t like taking charity–Oh.” I suddenly understood my sister’s feelings a little better. “Yeah, well. What do you think? You’ve been really quiet today.”

“I’m just taking it all in.” Ziggy yawned.

“You think I’m horrible for cutting off my family?”

He held my hand to his chest. “No. I don’t think they’re good for you. But you might be good for them.”

“Financially, you mean.”

“No, that’s not what I’m talking about.” He turned over restlessly to face me. “Were you surprised your mother accepted me so quickly?”

“Do you think she accepted you? Or has she just not got around to condemning you yet?” I had been thinking about Claire’s semi-positive reaction to my announcement on and off all day but I still hadn’t really processed it. “I mean, she never had high hopes for me anyway, so maybe there’s nothing to be disappointed about?”

“Maybe she’s not as keen on the institution of marriage as she was before two divorces–three, if you count Janine’s.”

“Yeah, but what about the institution of heterosexuality?” I brushed hair off his forehead. A streak there that had been blue was washing out to blond-gray. “She used to be quite keen on that.”

“Yes, but was she as much of a raging homophobe as Digger?”

“I’m sure she was.” I tried to remember something specific I could tell him, but nothing came to mind. “I’ve told you a lot of it, haven’t I?”

“You told me about her locking you out if you were out past midnight, refusing to let you play the guitar in the house, ragging on your appearance, and generally making your life a hateful misery,” he said. “I seem to recall her conflating how much she hated Digger with hating you?”

“Yeah, she was convinced I was going to grow up just like him.”

“I’m pretty sure in her mind she figures if you married me, that didn’t happen.”

“Huh.” That made sense, and yet, as we know, my mother didn’t have to make sense. “I think she both was afraid I’d turn out like Digger and afraid I’d turn out gay. Both those things. Aren’t you the one who always says not to create false dichotomies?”

“Yes. I suppose. She seems like she came to terms with it remarkably fast, though.” He sniffed. “Though she’s still wary of me.”

“Is she?”

“Yes. She hasn’t quite decided whether to let herself be charmed by me or not. I mostly stayed out of her way today.”

I lay on my back looking at the ceiling. My eyes strayed to the scratched headboard. Goosebumps crept suddenly up my neck as I recognized the scratches under the arch. These could only really be seen while lying down. I reached up and ran my fingers over them. “Is it my imagination or does that say RJ?”

Ziggy looked. “It does. Who’s RJ?”

“Ralph Johnston. Raffy he liked to be called.” I felt a flutter that verged on nausea, remembering the intensity of the crush I had on him. I’d scratched his initials where only I could see them. “I guess my old furniture was handed down.”

“This is your actual bed? From when you were growing up?”


“Okay, so what’s the deal with Raffy?”

“He was this guy I knew. Have I told you about him? The Godspell guy?”

“Godspell? I don’t think so.”

“If I ever hear the song ‘Day by Day’ again, I will break out in hives,” I said. “I got talked into being in the pit band for a high school musical. He was the star singer. I was… You know how I get.”

Ziggy chuckled knowingly. “Indeed, dear one.”

Oh, man. The story of Raffy was a whole can of worms. “That Christmas I tried to buy him a gift with my Christmas caroling money, but I didn’t really have enough in the end for that and something for my mother, so I chickened out on giving him anything or trying to talk to him at all, really, after that.” I used to lie in that very bed and fantasize about him, sometimes while jerking off, but a lot of the time not. “I didn’t usually get gifts for my parents, but, I dunno, I guess I thought it was a good idea to try.”

“What sort of gift?”

“I’m sure I told you this before.” Although that was back when I was editing myself severely. So severely maybe it wasn’t even like I told the truth. “This is how I ended up writing ‘Candlelight.’”

“I don’t remember anything about your mother’s Christmas gift in that story. I do remember you telling me about the choir loft during midnight mass.”

“Yeah, I was up there because of Raffy. Let me back up. I’d hatched this scheme to go door to door, offering to play Christmas carols and asking for tips. I went out on a Saturday night in December and it worked pretty good. I made pretty good money that night.”

Ziggy smiled. “I can imagine people thought you were the cutest thing ever.”

“Well, I was already like sixteen by then, so it’s not like I was a little kid, but yeah, you’re probably right.” I had plenty of experience being the cute-kid-with-guitar with Remo and Nomad, after all.

“And you just rang doorbells randomly and were like, hey, pay me for a song?”

“Um, pretty much.”

“That takes balls.”

“I guess.” It didn’t seem like that big a deal to me, but when I think about it, I didn’t know anyone else who did that. “Anyway. I had gotten my grandfather to lend me the money for the downpayment on the stuff at the jewelry store.”

“Oh,” he said interestedly. “What were you going to give to this big-time crush of yours?”

Given our own recent escapade at a jewelry store I was suddenly worried he’d feel like second fiddle or something. “Well, it started out as a scheme to get a bracelet for my mother. I’d overheard her telling someone on the phone that she used to have a bracelet with a dove on it which she really liked, and so I thought aha, perfect gift, right? And then while I was looking for that, I saw a stick pin that I could image Raffy wearing on the lapel of his blazer. Maybe the jeweler even offered me some kind of a deal? Anyway, Raffy was the type who would come to school wearing a red blazer, suspenders, and a bowler hat, and not even get in trouble for violating the ‘no hats’ rule.”

“Ah, so you imagined him wearing this pin and knowing it was from you.”

“Yeah. But no one else had to know.” I tried to remember what teenage-me had been thinking. “It doesn’t all make sense now, exactly.”

“It’s okay, dear one. It doesn’t have to.” He kissed me gently. “But you didn’t give it to him in the end?”

“No. In the end I didn’t have enough money to get the bracelet and the stick pin and, well, I was going to try to get a watch for Digger, too, that he’d lost in a poker game.”

Ziggy chuckled softly. “This is turning into a real O. Henry story.”

“Well, maybe. I haven’t gotten to the ironic twist yet.”

“Tell me.”

“Okay, so, to get the amount I needed I really needed to go out and carol for money on the night of Christmas Eve. But Claire decided to throw a big party and invite all the neighbors and, like, important businesspeople in the town. And she decided I needed to stay home and–get this–play the guitar at this party.’”

“I thought she didn’t approve of you playing the guitar?”

“She didn’t, so it was this dilemma for me, like, holy shit, my mother wants me to play at this Christmas party? And show me off to all her friends? Whoa.”

“And did she?”

“She did. I played the party instead of making money. And she even sang a carol with me.” Shit. It had been a while since I thought about this. “At the time I didn’t know anything about how she’d been a Broadway singer or anything, remember. I was like, holy crap, she’s got great pipes.”

Ziggy chuckled again.

“Yeah, and it was like, holy crap, for once in my life I got her approval. And someone at the party was like you should play a song tonight at midnight mass and I was like whoa, now we’re talking the big time. So we went to midnight mass that night, and I did a song there, and then hung around in the choir loft with Raffy.”

“And that’s when you wrote ‘Candlelight.’”


“See, that’s where the story should end,” he said, wiggling closer to me under the covers. “Before the other shoe drops. Right? I can feel you getting ready to say ‘But.’”

“Yeah. The next morning I gave her the bracelet and from the moment she laid eyes on it I knew I’d made a horrible mistake. She tore into me but good for being a no-good sneak and worse.”

“Jesus. Why?”

“At the time I thought it was just that I was a bad son and deserved it, I guess? I don’t even know what I thought. But given what I know now, I suspect it was because the bracelet was a gift from Remo and she’d had to get rid of it to hide the evidence or maybe even Digger had made her get rid of it or something.”

“She probably thought Digger put you up to it to fuck with her or something.”

“Yeah, could be. Or Remo himself.”

“Oh, God, yeah. So much potential psychodrama.” He kissed me on the eyelids, which were somewhat sore and damp by that point.

“But I got a good song out of it,” I said.

“Our best,” he agreed. “I think I could use a cup of chamomile tea about now. How about you?”

“There’s chamomile tea?”

“Yes. I snooped all the cabinets earlier. Come on.”

(If you want to read the original “Candlelight” story, it was posted back in December 2014 in text, audio, and video form: https://daron.ceciliatan.com/archives/37580 -ctan)


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