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Fiction Gay Fantasy

NORTHBOUND

By Jer Long/mrmarch1@live.com

“Hey!” I bellowed. The exasperated man on the step behind shoved me aside as he shot off the escalator, jolting me. My nose inches from the polished granite floor of 30th Street Station, someone grabbed my arm and set me right on my feet.

“Are you okay?” The tall god with scintillating silver eyes adjusted my disheveled coat.

“You sat across from me.”

“Come,” he said and guided me away from the crowd of petulant pedestrians. From nearly every track, a steady flow of frustrated travelers filed into the taxi queues of the station.  “Seems ours wasn’t the only snowbound train on the tracks.”

“Rushing to stand still, after hours on Amtrack, seems a futile act in the wee hours of the morning.”

His smile was wide and his shoulders broad and I, a hair shorter than the epaulets on his tweed jacket, felt small and insignificant standing before such handsomeness.

“Where are you headed?” Sincerity emanated from him as naturally as heat from a flame.

“Old City,” I said, noting the snow drifts grazing the tops of the taxis on the opposite side of the glass entrance. “Suppose I’ll hoof it from here. Doesn’t seem that far on the map.”

The stranger leaned against the base of the towering war memorial, Angel of the Resurrection, that I surmised to be at least thirty feet high. Gesturing to the magnificent, terrifying bronzed angel lifting a dead soldier from the flames of war, he announced proudly. “My namesake.”

“Michael?”

“I suppose Mother was praying for an angel.”

“I’m Danial.” I offered my hand and he pumped it in his enormous paw.

“You’re an angel too.”

“I am?”

“God is my judge.”

“What?”

“That’s what Danial means.”

Heavy on my shoulder, I sat my bag on the floor. “I knew we were in for the long haul when they harnessed the snowplow to the engine in Baltimore.”

“To think that I raced to station, fearing you’d leave without me.” He patted the pedestal reverently. “Never fails to move me. Passed by it a million times since I was a boy. Still.”

Sensitive. I’d misjudged him, written him off as an entitled playboy. “You grew up here?”

“Philly born and bred. I could walk this city blindfolded.” He tapped on the statue’s base. “As a matter of fact, my dad’s name is here.”

I stepped closer to read the plaque. “In the memory of the men and women of the Pennsylvania Railroad who laid down their lives for our country 1941-1945.”

“He was killed in Iwo Jima.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Fifty years ago, this year.” He ran his hand through his silver-white mane of waves. “He hadn’t the foggiest idea I was on my way.”

“Two strangers passing in the night.”

“That’s how I’ve imagined it!” He slung my bag over his shoulder as if we were traveling companions. “Ready to face the music?”

Usually independent, I surprised myself and promptly accepted his generosity. “Can you point the way to Old City?”

Tucking my scarf into the throat of my coat, he arched his brow. “It may be only inches on a map, but in this blizzard, you’ll be Frosty, the snowman, by the time you cross Independence Park.”

Our height and build varying greatly in the reflection in the glass door, we appeared to be two separate species.

He tugged on my sleeve. “Hold on.” Gesturing for me to follow, he scurried to a bank of telephones in the adjoining hall. “I’ll try the Latham Hotel. I know the manager. It’s a few blocks from here.”

 Why help me? Bored? Lonely? Attracted? Dream on Danial. Not in this lifetime.

“Answering machine. Accepting no quests. Kitchen closed.” He shook his head. “Sorry.”

“You tried.”

Lopsided, his grin was charmingly bashful. “I’m your best last chance.”

“Best but never last.”

“If you don’t mind sleeping under a My Little Pony comforter, my daughter’s room is free for the night. She’s visiting her granny in Boston.”

A married man. There it was, hanging like a bruised banana from Carmen Miranda’s Tootie-Fruity-Hat. I should’ve known better. No way he was gay. A queen that good looking would be one stuck-up-bitch.  “Are you sure?”

“A raging Nor-Easterner barreling down on a city buried under three feet of snow with another foot expected by tomorrow,” he scoffed. “I can’t send you to purgatory alone.” His stride was great, and I scampered behind to keep up.

A titanic gust of wind barreled down the colonnade as we bounded through the automatic doors, flattening me against the stone wall. Securing his cap’s strap under his chin, and with fatherly assurance, he clasped my mittened hand and stomped a path through the waist-high snow to Walnut Street Bridge.

Skating over the slick surface of the frozen Schuylkill River, a dragon blast of cold slapped my chapped cheeks. Tugging on the flapping hems of our garments, a monster gale, his laugh shrill, snatched the stocking cap off my head. “Oh!” My ginger curls snapped at the remorseless beast. Although swathed in layers of cashmere and houndstooth, I felt nude as the cold feasted on my flesh.

 Diminishing visibility made it impossible to see but a few feet ahead. So, I surrendered, body and soul, to my native guide, trusting him to deliver me the spoils of salvation. Swept along the wilderness of white, trapped in a whirling dervish of swirling snow, howling, haunting, and spitting shards of glistening ice in my face, we trudged block after block against the spirited tide until the blizzard flung us into Rittenhouse Square Park. Continuing its campaign, the winter warlock, growling, spun down Walnut Street, stripping doors and streetlamps of their holiday grandeur.  

Standing side by side in the conciliatory calm, Michael and I gazed above us, mesmerized by the winnings of winter’s wonder. Reaching several stories to the starless, cerulean heaven, the interlocking branches of the trees, their tip-tops coifed in ivory accumulation, held a bounty of beauty in their bare, black arms.

Gigantic, geometric shapes, wrapped in radiant jewel-toned lights, were scattered about the park like a child’s discarded toys. Sapphire, topaz, ruby, and emerald, their glow reflected in the iced palace we’d stumbled upon.

“Enchanted,” I whispered reverently.

Michael dropped my hand and walked away. The chill penetrated my glove and I shivered. A yard from me, he seemed miles from my touch. My touch. The kindness of a stranger must never be misconstrued. Never. Plain people such as I, often confused reality and fantasy. No filling in the blanks Danial DuBarry.

Unimpeded by the cold, he sat on the snow pillowed bench. “Being snowbound was a favorite of mine as a boy. My speck of earth silent, swaddled in purity. My virgin land breathing a sigh of relief from the tribes of tourists trampling its history daily.” He gestured to the abandoned expanse before him. “Mine.”

I wanted to ask his daughters age and if his wife had been his college sweetheart, but questions seemed totally inappropriate. So, I joined him on the bench and wallowed in the majesty of Philadelphia.

“Look!” I jumped to my feet. There, planted in the center of the block, my future home stood before us, its lobby door missing its doorman. “My building. I move next week. Too bad I don’t have the keys. I could crash there.”

Standing, Michael mussed my hair. “Home. Let’s get you home.”

Flittering feathers of snow drifted from the sky as we tramped down the snow-blanketed Locust Street. A flicker of light caught my eye and we paused to peer into the window of the Curtis Institute of music. Its amber ambiance beckoned more than a second glance at the shimmering instruments waiting for their master’s touch.

Past the Warwick Hotel we trudged, stopping to admire St. Mark’s Church, shrouded in a thick white cape, its train trailed over the iron fence, becoming one with the street. The tops of bowed evergreens, their hairy branches iced to the stone wall of the church, formed a crystal-capped tunnel through which we passed.

Michael unlocked the door of an imposing brownstone, rising four stories from the frozen earth.  His keys jangling, he ushered me over the threshold. “In brighter days, the entire house was ours.” Transfixed on the domed center hall’s muraled ceiling, festive with frolicking cherubs, I climbed the staircase behind him. “I retain a modest condo on the top floor.”

I gasped when we entered his circus of classical antiquities. We removed our boots, and he hung our coats on carved gargoyle hooks in the vestibule.

“Relax. Make yourself at home.” Striking a match, he lit the crumpled wads of paper stuffed between the symmetrically stacked logs in the fireplace. The stone surround featured Elgin-styled friezes and was topped with a rough-cut slab of marble that showcased a collection of unframed oil paintings.

“A glass of white?” He asked.

“Please.” In his form-hugging jeans and cream fisherman’s sweater, he padded across the beaten oak floor in his nubby socks, his pale mop of hair in sharp contrast to his tawny tan. Long limbed and trim waisted, at fifty, he was far fitter than the thirty-two-year-old me.

Sinking into the luxurious down of the tufted Chesterfield sofa, I gloried in the glow of the smoldering blue flame gorging on the maple kindling.  A treasure trove of eighteenth and nineteenth century chairs, upholstered in sumptuous cobalt, jade, and crimson silks surrounded the room, whose walls displayed a gallery of art. On the side table, a photo of him and a lovely girl in a gilded frame was the single clue to his personal life.

“So, what brings you to Philly?” Michael asked after his second glass of wine.

“I’ve been invited to join an interior design firm. An offer I couldn’t refuse.”

“Sounds promising.”

“I was happily settled in D.C., working with a lovely designer, my friend, Constance, but she retired and well,” I moaned. “She arranged this job for me.”

“Someone to watch over me,” he sang sweetly, but not very well.

Smoke snaked into the fireplace flue and my heartbeat quickened. “It’s been me and no one else my entire life. Dream though I might, pray though I did, Mr. Right never galloped into Camelot on his stellar white stallion.”

He stretched his long arms across the back of the sofa and uncrossed his legs, resting his knee against mine. “Do you travel for your job?” I glanced at his taunt jawline and admired the graceful slop of his nose. A sprig of grey hair ventured beyond his rolled sweater collar and the light from the flickering flame licked his muscular neck.

“I’m a pharmaceutical rep. From Richmond to Boston, I ride the rails. Everyone needs drugs.”

“Your wife doesn’t mind?”

A blink of light from above caught my attention and I looked up into the bronzed Empire chandelier hanging from the center of an enormous skylight, its crystals tingling like ice cubes in a Manhattan. Though dusted with snow, the clear center of the glass panes, brightened by moonlight, presented an ideal view of the falling snow, soothing and silver and pure.

“She divorced me eons ago. I get Alina one weekend a month and for two weeks in the summer.”

By the time we’d polished off the second bottle, he’d draped his arm around my shoulder. I watched the ash smoldering in the hearth and froze when he took my chin in his hand. tenderly, he brushed his lips against mine. I buzzed from head to toe.  

 He gazed up as if waiting for a sign from God. “I don’t know what to do. I’ve never…”

Pulling him close, I kissed him. A testament to tribal instinct, his romantic artistry bloomed bolder with exploration.

*

The sun cutting through the semi-parted blinds teased me awake. I kissed my snoring prince on the forehead and stumbled out of bed. Coffee. Coffee. Belting his too long terry robe around my waist, I tip-toed over the chilled kitchen tiles. Careful not to make a sound, I searched high and low for any form of caffeine. Nothing.

Wrapped in my woolens, I bounded out the front door. “Wow!” The sharp rays of sunlight, reflecting off the white blinded me momentarily. I rubbed my weary eyes and plodded through the slushy street, searching for a coffee shop or café. Closed. Closed. Even the quaint Violin shop was bolted, its shades pulled low.

I waved at the doorman at my building, but he didn’t return my gesture. Too busy I suppose. There know I passed a Wawa near here. The symphony of drips, trickles, and pings of water rushing through pipes and gutters cheered me, reminding me that spring was near.

An elderly man opened his creaking door, snatched his newspaper, grunted, and slammed it shut.

Across the street, a young woman clicked her kitchen light on. Touching her fingers on the counter, she arched her back and stretched her lithe limbs in opposite directions.

The sound of a window sliding echoed down the street. A young boy leaned out of a third-floor window and gleefully batted an enormous icicle with a plastic shovel until it broke off, tumbling to its death.  

“Oh!” I’d bumped into a pop-up newsstand.  A round, bundled bull of a man was riffling through a stack of magazines. “Good morning,” I trilled, but he didn’t return my greeting.  Isn’t this the city of brotherly love?

Bam! He slammed a stack of papers onto the counter and snipped the plastic straps binding them together. The bundle of newspapers metamorphosized from its chrysalis, blossoming into a neat pile of the hometown rag, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Its front-page headline slapped me hard, and I shook in my boots. 30 Perish in Amtrack Disaster! A graph, headshots of the deceased, covered three-fourths of the page. There, smack-dab in the center, smiling big and bright in black and white, were pictures of Michael and me.

I stumbled back into the pop-up, rocking the booth. The counter bobbed cock-eyed, and the flock of newspapers took flight, fluttering across the snowscape.

“What the hell!” The hefty newsstand man barked as he scurried to retrieve them.

Dizzy, I grabbed hold of the church’s iron fence to steady myself. High-pitched, the unnerving sound of metal scraping metal startled me, and I pressed my palms over my ears. Harpooning my knee, intense agony buckled me. “Help! Help!” I cried out as flames engulfed me. Scooping up handfuls of snow, I smashed it into my sizzling face.

An elderly woman seemed to make eye contact but hustled away when I approached. Humming an unfamiliar tune, a young man in a hurry bumped me and I tumbled into to a holly tree.

Penetrating my bones, the mezzo-soprano-screech of brakes punctured my eardrums as I scurried through the tunnel of thawing evergreens, sparks spraying me from either side. A colossal force barreled over me, smashing me into the ice. I pushed up and the torn flap of skin on my arm wavered. My lungs scorched, squeaks and chirps were all I could muster as I crawled out of the shaft. The lower extremities of my broken body refused to obey. So, using my charred hands as feet, I dragged myself over the pristine purity, praying I’d reach Michael’s stoop before I collapsed.  Michael! Michael! I reached for the glimmering brass knob as darkness swallowed me whole.

*

“Michael,” I whispered, my voice raspy. “How long was I asleep?”

“I stopped counting the minutes.”

My head in his lap, I glanced at the promising flames waltzing over the charred bark. “I had the most God-awful nightmare.” I sat up and he rubbed my back.

“It wasn’t a dream, Danial.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The paper boy delivered The Inquirer after you left.” He closed his eyes. “I remembered every terrifying moment of the crash.” His cheeks were wet. “I’d do it all again for you.”

My mind reeled with revelation. This is it? Quivering like a bowl of Jell-O, my insides shuddered. “Should we check in somewhere?” 

He grinned. “Except for my daughter, I don’t care. You’ve unshackled me. I had no idea it could be like this.”

I gazed at him, unable to grasp or accept what I’d hoped he’d meant.

“I love you, Danial DuBarry.”

“I’ve waited my entire life to hear those words.” I took his hand and pressed it to my chest. “Feel that?” A steady stream of tears flowed from my weary eyes. “I love you.”

Snuggling together, we gazed through the crystal-clear skylight at the coral striated clouds sailing across the periwinkle heaven. Free. I too was free. Loved. I was loved. “I’m not afraid,” I said and smiled.

Michael kissed my forehead, my chin, my lips. “Mother used to quote from the Bible when she was low.” He traced my face with his finger. “The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”

I tugged gently on his earlobe, and he rested his head against mine.

July 18, 2022 19:25

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1 comment

F.O. Morier
05:20 Jul 28, 2022

I love this story!

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