Gay Coming of Age Fiction

My grandfather’s door was red, once. A deep burgundy sort of red, that he said made him think of an old horse he owned. Now, it’s mostly sun bleached, or peeled away to show a dull blue beneath. It’s been like that for years, but I hadn’t noticed how badly it needed a paint job until now. 

Finally, I turn the doorknob and walk in. The immediate smell beckons a thousand memories that had laid dormant for so long. I see the checkered tiles of the kitchen and think of sitting cross legged on them, trying to lure the cat. I remember tracing the patterns of the floral wallpaper my mother hated. In the cupboard to the left, grandpa kept caramel sweets, and on the fridge door, my scribbled crayon drawings are left undisturbed. 

Out of habit, I hold my breath as I walk down the dark hallway to the study. I was terrified of this hallway, not just because it was so often dark, but because of the washing machine and dryer shaking violently throughout the night. But I had to make frequent trips down this hallway, because not only did it have the bathroom, but it also had the guest room, and the study, where grandpa and I would watch movies and do puzzles. 

The door to the study squeaks its usual greeting as I enter. He taught me to play chess, and checkers here, though I was only able to beat him when the dementia kicked in. I always sat on the stool, or the glider, but he would only ever sit on the leather armchair. The arms are completely bare of leather now, and the seat has a depression so deep, you could spill water in it, and it would stay put. In the middle is a round wooden table, and to the right is an old TV with a VHS player. He never bought dvds. The shelves opposite the room are filled with old VHS tapes, complete with a thin layer of dust. I don’t think Bambi or Honey I Shrunk the Kids have moved in years, but there is one I insisted on watching every time we visited. 

I push a button on the VHS player to slide it open. It hesitates, but sure enough, the tape that ejects has a label for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast from 1991. Occasionally, my dad would try to “encourage variety”, and turn on Cool Runnings or Karate Kid. What he was really doing was trying to encourage more masculinity. Sure, it's not so odd when your son watches the occasional princess movie when he’s two, but at six, something ought to be done. 

Grandpa didn’t mind. And neither did his “friend” of six years, Ted. As a child, I got in the habit of calling Ted “Grandpa Ted”, and when my dad overheard it, he took on a serious tone and told me that Ted was not my grandfather. I didn’t understand the problem. He let me call our neighbor Auntie Angela, and she certainly wasn’t related. As a kid, it was hard to keep up with who was related and who was just a family friend, so whenever an old person spent time with us, I just assumed they were family. 

It was six months ago when Grandpa forgot my name. I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I couldn’t help it. I’d known this man my whole life, and spent a good chunk of it being raised by him, but it didn’t matter. His mind was peeling away, like burgundy paint. 

Still, there must have been something left of him near the end, because Beauty and the Beast was still in the VHS player. The last time I watched it with him, I was fourteen. We’d watched several different things since then. I like to think that seeing the old characters and hearing the voice actors sparked some kind of memory of me in him, but I can’t say for certain. I wasn’t there. 

Dad grumbled about me getting the house in the will. He said it was good that I’d have a place to stay during college, but that it would have been healthy for me to learn some things on my own about handling money. He’s right, I guess. If I still want to study astronomy in Colorado, I can’t stay in Idaho Falls. But I can’t bring myself to sell it, either, as he suggested. Dad was always able to let go of material things. Maybe it’s because all the times he moved around as a kid trained him to cling to attitudes instead. As for me, I still have the dinosaur toys I played with as a toddler. Every nostalgic thing feels like an old friend to me, and I can’t bring myself to part with it. 

I shove Grandpa’s old chair to the side to get at the lower shelves, where he kept all the science books. He used to be a professor for an astronomy class, and he kept his favorite books here, so I could look at the pictures of the stars. They may be outdated, but they’re filled with memories. And if I decide against college, then I’d like to have some piece of the stars with me. 

“There’s infinite worlds out there,” Grandpa said, “And only a handful of people give a damn. The others don’t, just because it’s not right in front of them.” He’d sigh, and shake his head, leaning back into his leather seat. “Nobody gives a damn about anything these days. They just want to be comfortable. As long as it doesn’t affect their day to day routine, they won’t try to change anything for the better.”

Grandpa didn’t normally say sad things like that unless he’d just had a conversation with Dad. Dad is a good man, but part of me doesn’t want to end up like him. Stuck in a boring desk job, only to come home to complain about it, and then watch TV. I wanted to add something of my own in some way. I wanted the world to know I was here. But once I got older, everything faded to gray with apathy. I couldn’t change the world. I was one small person. And if I couldn’t do anything immediate about it, then why bother?

I flip open one of the old textbooks. Clouds of dust erupt from the movement, and I have to cough when I accidentally breathe it in. Towards the front is a five page essay titled “A Brief Introduction” with a figure of a woman looking through a telescope. The caption below says, “With modern equipment, we can now see more of our galaxy than ever, right at home!

It occurs to me now that Grandpa used to have a fancy telescope I used to look through as a child. He eventually sold it when Grandma left him, but I remember my awe when looking through the lens. Everything was so close, and clear. Little white dots became planets, and blurs became galaxies. I’d always heard that Saturn had rings, but I didn’t think we could actually see them for ourselves. All the tools were there, and I simply hadn’t cared before. 

It’s only now that the feeling sits crooked in my head. In my own way, I am becoming like my father. Settling for what’s given to me. Only reaching for what I’m certain of. Clinging to things that will keep me safe, but also keep me from growing. Dad may have let go of material things easily, but to his job, his mindset, his standards- he was inseparable. I couldn’t be him, I just couldn’t. 

I get back in my car and head for the hardware store. I don’t want to leave Grandpa’s house the way it is. Most of the memories I’ll keep just as they are, but not everything. I can’t cling to everything. 

Forest green. A beautiful color. Like the trees in the opening of Beauty and the Beast. I get a bucket and some brushes and go back to the house, to the cracked driveway, the overgrown yard, and the peeling door. The faded burgundy my grandpa loved so much. That he never bothered to paint over, because it reminded him of his old horse, and he couldn’t find another color just like it. That held so many memories for me. 

Part of me doesn’t want to do it. Part of me wants to keep everything exactly the same, like when I was a kid, and Grandpa was alive, and I still cared about life. But whether I want it to or not, life goes on. I won’t cling to anything anymore. 

Once I have the edge taped, and the paint stirred, I dip the brush in, and scrape it off the edge of the can. What would Grandpa think? Is he terrified of what else I might do to this old place? Did he expect me to keep everything just as it was? But it doesn’t matter, does it?

With a deep breath, and a moment of hesitation, I lift the paint brush to the door, and make the first stroke of new, shining green paint. 

October 18, 2022 11:34

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Lindsay Flo
20:30 Oct 28, 2022

This is a wonderful story. The imagery is so well written...I could see the house, from the door to the long hallway to the old drawings on the fridge. I like how much is pulled into such a short story: death/loss, gay themes, the nostalgia and attachment we have to "things" and my favorite part are the quotes the grandfather says about people not caring because its not in front of them, so why change anything? This theme always has some relevancy, no matter time period it is. And how the narrator is maturing to be exactly that way. I also l...


Dakota Red
05:48 Nov 03, 2022

Thank you so much!


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