This Circlet title from 1998, part of the Ultra Violet Library imprint for queer fantasy and science fiction, is now available in digital format for the first time. Top contemporary authors bring us these stories of the realms of spirit that underlie the mundane world. Comic situations, such as a lesbian who wakes up one morning to find that she has a penis or a gay man who finds an angel tangled in his laundry line, alternate with poignant tales of loss and love. These stories are about looking for–or inadvertently finding–something more than life as we know it.
This book contains stories by Lawrence Schimel, Laura Antoniou, Michelle Sagara West, Leslea Newman, Nancy Springer, Martha Soukup, Sarah Schulman, Rand B. Lee, Kerry Bashford, and Brian Thomsen.
Excerpt under the cut…
Excerpted from The River of Time by Lawrence Schimel
I placed Eric’s ashes on the seat beside me. I wasn’t expecting to feel such relief to let go of them, which made me realize it was the right thing to do. I’d been carrying them around for so long, it seemed, walking through this last request he’d made to me: to scatter his ashes from the Christopher Street Pier into the Hudson River. I knew I was having trouble letting go of him. I’d kept putting off the day of scattering his remains with excuses: the weather wasn’t right for how I thought his last moment (as if he hadn’t already had it) should be or my work schedule meant I couldn’t do it at the “right” time of day for such an occasion, whatever it took to convince myself of the need to delay. Now that my hands were free, I rubbed my shoulders, which ached from the weight of carrying him around. The urn with his ashes was nothing, really, compared to what his physical presence had been. I was amazed that an entire human body could become so insubstantial. “We’re mostly water,” Eric had said, the first time he’d gotten really sick, when he was telling me what he wanted me to do. “They’ll just be taking all the water out. I’ll be like that freezedried food they give astronauts. Just add water and it pops back to life.”
I didn’t say anything. There was nothing I could say that would change anything, make a difference. He’d put his hand on mine and continued. “That’s why I want you to dump me in the river. I know I won’t pop back to life, not like that astronaut food. But it’ll be like mixing me up into a sort of clay and giving me a new start. Who knows where I’ll wind up? I want to go all over the world, at last get to visit all those places I never could afford to go to! And I will; I’ll be like a drop of ink falling into a cup and, over time, it colors the entire glass. You’ll never be able to see water, drink water, even be water, since that’s what you mostly are—anywhere there’s water, I’ll be there, too.”
I’d started to cry, and he stopped talking to stare at me. I’d laughed at myself then, I’m not sure why, the look on his face or my lack of control or both, and he’d reached out with one arm to wipe a tear from my cheek. “Anywhere,” he said, holding the salty tear on his finger.
He’d gotten better, only got that sick once more. But he never let it stop him; he was always living grandly, by the seat of his pants, getting into scrapes, having adventures—even those two times he was confined to a hospital bed. That first time, when he spent a week in St. Vincent’s, he’d seduced one of the male nurses, who’d broken all sorts of rules and regulations to fingerfuck him and jerk him off. There were boxes of safety rubber gloves everywhere, and medicinal lubricants. He’d claimed it was some of the best sex he’d ever had, as he gleefully told us the details one night at the restaurant.
Eric had been one of the protease success stories. He’d seemed invulnerable—except for those two hospitalizations— as he confronted elemental forces of nature: he went white water rafting, climbed mountains, went deep water scuba diving, anything and everything that would give him that terrifying, exuberating thrill. We’d all gotten used to the idea that this disease would kill him in the end, despite the drugs, as the promise of a cure kept slipping further and further back. But it had been such a shock for him to die as he had, a freak accident in his own home where he’d tripped getting out of the bathtub and cracked his skull, something having nothing to do with his HIV.
We felt cheated, I guess. At least I did. We’d always thought there’d be time to say goodbye, a long slow descent. His friend Liza had asked him once, when a group of us were getting stoned at her apartment late at night, how he felt about suicide, if he thought there might be a point when he’d want it for himself.
He hadn’t answered right away. Sitting up, he looked around, took another hit. “I’m too much of an overacheiver ever to give up,” he’d said. “By the time I got so bad that I’d want suicide, I wouldn’t be able to do it myself.” He’d smiled then. “I’d feel like such a failure if I had to have someone help me, I’d never be able to live with myself.”
I wasn’t sure why he’d picked me. We were friends, but in a casual sort of way. We were never lovers, though sometimes we flirted so madly that our acquaintances were sure we were getting it on with one another. I met him one night when I was working as a waiter at Stingy LuLu’s and he’d come in and just struck up a conversation with me every time I walked past, not hitting on me, just talk.
He became a “regular” and somehow that evolved into a friendship where we’d see each other outside the restaurant. And whenever I quit and started working elsewhere, he’d become a regular over there. He had an amazing appetite and would try anything you put in front of him, which made sense given how adventuresome he was in other parts of his life.
“Why the Hudson?” I’d asked him one time.
“Exactly!” he’d replied, and I knew there was a doozy of an explanation coming. Eric was always enthusiastic when he was telling of his exploits, and this, to him, was just one more adventure. “Who’d even notice me in there, what with all the pollution and stuff? It’s someplace I’ve always been too afraid to go swimming, but when I’m dead I won’t be so afraid. It beats getting flushed down the toilet like an alligator.
“Besides, I think it’s the perfect place for my ashes to be dumped, because whenever I got dumped, that’s where I always went: down to the piers, to drown my sorrows and the memory of my nowexboyfriend in the sticky, blissful forgetting of anonymous sex.”
So he and I were on our last excursion together, taking the subway downtown to go dump him in the river like he wanted.
Walking through the street with his ashes had felt uncomfortable at first, like when I had just realized I was gay and was afraid that everyone else could tell, too, like it was written on my face the way some of the kids at school would write signs saying KICK ME and tape them on my back when I wasn’t looking. I walked around with this awkward burden that was all that remained of my friend as if it were some secret shame; everyone who passed me stared at it, recognized what it was. When they looked at me, it was as if they thought I had murdered him, as if I were holding his dripping severed head in my hands. They wouldn’t meet my eyes.
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Top contemporary authors bring us these stories of the realms of spirit that underlie the mundane world. From comic situations to poignant tales of love and loss, these stories are about finding something more than life as we know it.